Monday, December 17, 2012

"After The Tribulation"

Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all tell the same story. Jesus’ disciples take Him to the Temple to see the buildings and He tells them that not one of its stones will be left upon another. Afterwards they all retire to the Mount of Olives and the disciples ask Him about the End Times. It’s a significant passage because the disciples ask Him about the subject specifically and He answers them at length.

He repeatedly warns them not to be deceived by false prophets or claims that He has already returned. He also warns them that they will face great persecution. So much so that, “ye shall be hated of all men for my namesake.” But He assures them that, “he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved (Mark 13:13).” The gospel will be preached in all nations, the Abomination spoken of by Daniel will be revealed, and then will come a “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:21).”

Matthew 24:23-31:

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

“Immediately after the tribulation.” It really can’t be much clearer than that.

Mark 13:24-27 reads:

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Again, “after that tribulation.” Pre-tribulationists deny that these scriptures refer to the “Rapture,” instead they argue that they are about Jesus’ return to set up His Millennial kingdom on Earth, but if that’s true, then why are the angels gathering up the elect? Weren’t they already gathered up when they were raptured?

Mark 13:27:

And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Nope. “From the uttermost part of the earth” makes it pretty clear there are still Christians here.

In Revelations chapter five John sees Jesus as the “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth (verse 6).” The Lamb is worthy to open the book sealed with seven seals. As He opens the first four seals the four Horsemen are released. The fifth seal is opened and the martyred saints cry out for justice; they are given white robes and are told to rest “until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled (Revelations 6:11).”

The sixth seal is opened and great cataclysms shake the earth and the heavens. Angels seal 144,000 servants of God, “in their foreheads (Revelations 7:3),” 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. Then John sees “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues (Revelations 7:9) worshipping before the throne of God. He is told, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelations 7:14).” Came out of the great tribulation.

When the seventh seal is opened there is silence in heaven for half an hour, then the seven angels are given seven trumpets. Another angel offers the prayers of the saints on the altar and then cast the fire of the altar on the earth. With the fifth seal the martyred saints cried for justice and were told to wait until those of their fellow saints who would be martyred were martyred. With the sixth seal those saints are before the throne of God. With the seventh seal God’s justice is being meted out onto the earth. As each trumpet is sounded great terror is unleashed on the earth and on humanity. Even the bottomless pit is opened and Hell is power to hurt mankind for five months—except “those men which have the seal of God in their foreheads (Revelations 9:4).”

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 reads,

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
At the last trump.

Revelations 11:15:

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
When the last trumpet sounds Jesus will return and His saints will put on incorruptible—at the same time!

Matthew 24:25-27:

Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
There is no secret rapture. Jesus is coming and all the world will see Him.

In continuing this study I next want to look at where the idea of a secret rapture, distinct from the Second Coming, originated. Before that, however, I recently read an interesting piece in the New York Review of Books and want to blog on that first. Til then!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas Pageant

Our church's Sunday School department gave a short nativity play today. My youngest daughter, Makayla, and my granddaughter, Talia, were both in it. Makayla was Mary and Talia was Joseph. Our Sunday School has a lot more girls than boys.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How Firm A Foundation?

I had hoped to blog more than once a month, but the year has been a busy one for me. Today I want to look at some of the verses Pre-Tribulationists commonly quote to support their view. The first three are about the Rapture itself; the last two are used to argue that the Church will escape the Tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

I’ve talked about this verse in another context. The Church of Thessalonica was concerned that those who have died would not share in the Kingdom once Jesus returned. Paul’s purpose in writing was to assure them that this was not true. When Christ returns all Christians, past and present, will meet Him in the air.

1 Corinthians 15:51-53:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul is again talking about the return of Jesus. This is a favorite for many Pre-Tribulationists who use it to reinforce the idea of His imminent return. We’ll all being going about our regular lives when in an instant—in the twinkling of an eye—Jesus will take His Church away and leave everyone else to the Tribulation. It will be so fast that those who aren’t raptured will have no idea what’s happened. Hence, a ‘secret’ rapture. But does it say that? Let’s re-read this passage, putting into a broader context:

1 Corinthians 15:35-58:

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

What kind of bodies will we have in the Resurrection? Surely the dead decay and turn to dust? Paul assures the Corinthians that there are different kinds of bodies. There is the earthly and the heavenly. The earthly body is natural and corruptible. The heavenly body is spiritual and incorruptible. When Jesus returns the dead will meet Him in their spiritual, incorruptible bodies, and so will the living. In the twinkling of an eye our mortal bodies will be transformed, incorruptible. We will never know death or the grave.

Revelations 4:1:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

This passage is often quoted, but unlike the others it is never taught to be understood as literal. In chapter four of Revelations John has just had a vision of Jesus and has been given instructions to relay to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), then he is invited through a door in the air which leads to the throne room of God. Many Pre-Tribulationists believe this passage speaks symbolically to the whole Church: Come up hither. But, of course, it only does that if you first accept the premise that the Church will be taken up before the Tribulation. There is nothing inherent in the verse itself with which to make the argument. In that it is very much like the first two verses quoted above. Neither Paul’s letter to Thessalonica nor his letter to Corinth actually says that the Church will escape the Tribulation. Both are popular because both paint vivid pictures of the Church when Jesus returns, but to accept them as proof texts for a Pre-Tribulation rapture requires that we accept the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation in the first place. As such they aren’t really proof texts at all.

Now let’s look at a couple of scriptures used to argue that the Church will escape the Tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11:

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

While it is the beginning of a new chapter, this is actually a continuation from previous quote from 1 Thessalonians 4. They have been told they will all rise to meet Jesus and now they are being commended for being ready to meet Him. Those in darkness will be caught unaware by His coming, but the church of Thessalonica is not in darkness. No, it hasn’t been given special knowledge of His coming; rather, knowing that He is coming, they have repented and put “on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” As such they will escape Hell. They and everyone else who has prepared themselves by taking advantage of the salvation made possible by Calvary. The “wraith” is Hell, not the Tribulation. Until the rise of Pre-Tribulationism that is how every Christian understood this passage, and even with the rise of Pre-Tribulationism it is how most Christians still understand it.

Revelations 3:10

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

How this verse came to be used as an argument for Pre-Tribulationist position is a long story, involving more than one method of interpreting the Book of Revelations. The verse is a part of the instructions John was given for the seven churches of Asia Minor. In this case the church of Philadelphia:

Revelations 3:7-13:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

Before Pre-Tribulationism, before Dispensationalism, there was a method of interpretation called Historicism. It interpreted Revelation as a panorama of Church history and saw each of the seven churches was representing a period of Church history. This has been adopted by Dispensationist in general and by Pre-Tribulationists. Now it is important to keep in mind that this passage records Jesus’ message to the church of Philadelphia. The message is entirely positive. They are a humble church, of “little strength,” but Jesus will raise them up to great honor because they have remained true in spite of persecution. That is what the passage is actually about. To say Philadelphia represents the Church that will be raptured is odd, because it is not the last of the seven churches. If it were the End Time church, wouldn’t that make the next church, the church of Laodicea the one that reigns with Christ through the Millennium? But the Laodicean church is upbraided for it lukewarmness. Jesus actually threatens to vomit it out of the Church if it does not repent. It cannot be the Millennial Church. In fact, most Historicists see it as the End Time Church, liberal and worldly.

What makes Revelation 3:10 so attractive to Pre-Tribulationists is that, once it is fitted into the doctrinal program is appears to give the promise that God’s people will be spared the hour of temptation. This idea flies in the face of the many thousands, and even millions, of Christians who have suffered and died for the faith. Let’s compare this verse with another written by John:

Revelations 3:10:

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

John 17:15:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

In Revelations Jesus is talking of the one church, but in John He is praying for the whole Church. Both, however, are saying the same thing: against evil, against persecution, against temptation Jesus will preserve His Church. If, like the Philadelphian church, we remain strong in Him, He will make us strong and honor us for our sufferings. Neither 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 nor Revelations 3:10 are promises to take the Church out the Tribulation.

So where then does the idea come from? I am going to look at that, but before I do I am going to look at some proof texts for the Post-Tribulation position. Fair is fair. If I am going to criticize another’s position for being anti-scriptural, I should be able to scripturally prove my own.

Hopefully, it won’t take a month to do so, but right now my time in the Word is generally split between my own devotions and preparing my Sunday lessons (I am currently teaching the Adult School lessons for our church). So, soon, and hopefully it will be up quicker than this post was. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Church and The Tribulation

For the past century and a half there has been a debate in the Church as to whether Jesus will come for His Church after the Tribulation, when He inaugurates His millennial reign, or whether He will take His Church out of the world prior to the Tribulation and then after the Tribulation will return with His Church to reign a thousand years. The former position, called “post-Tribulation” or “post-trib” and is the position held by the Church, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike, from the earliest know records. The latter position, called “pre-Tribulation” or “pre-trib,” began amongst the Plymouth Brethren in the 19th century. The teaching has become wide spread in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles, popularized by things like Scofield Reference Bible and the popular Left Behind novel series.

So popular is the “pre-trib” position that many of its adherents know little of other positions. Some don’t even know there are other positions and are surprised when I tell them I am “post-trib.” Why would I want to believe that? Others have asked me to help them counter “pre-trib” arguments and that’s what I want to do with this new series of blog posts. Because of both time restraints and my work habits, I am going to do this in a piecemeal fashion, blogging on given points as I have time. Later I hope to rewrite the whole thing as a single article. As I go I will update this post with links to it all. And I’ll create a link to this post under Quick References.

Of course, the answer to the question, “Why would I want to believe that?” is simple. I believe it, because that’s what the Bible teaches. But I also believe that this is not a salvation doctrine. Whenever I’ve taught on the End Times I always start with the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). All were waiting for the Bridegroom, but only five had oil in their lamps. When the Bridegroom’s approach was announced the other five had to go find oil and missed His arrival. The point of the parable is to be ready. If we keep ourselves ready for His arrival, it won’t matter when He comes. The important thing is to be ready.

Right now I have the first three blog posts, dealing with proof texts and the origins of the idea of a secret Rapture, thought through, and to some extent on paper (well, on MSWord). I hope to have them posted soon.

How Firm A Foundation? A look at proof texts offered in support of the Pre-Tribulation position.

"After the Tribulation." The Post-Tribulation argument.

"One Church Complete" Does God have a 'spiritual' and an 'earthly' people?

Myth of the Missing Church Is it true that the Church is missing from much of the Book of Revelation?

Monday, September 03, 2012

This Weekend's News

There were a couple of important news stories this weekend.

Sun Myung Moon died. The founder of the Unification Church, popularly called 'Moonies,' was 92. If you've heard the term 'cult,' it's because of the rise of the Moonies in the 60s and 70s. As the article points out, no one calls them that any more. Now it's used as a derogatory term by Evangelicals to describe groups who are different from them. Unless they're liberals or Catholics. The terms for them are 'liberal' and 'Catholic.'

There was also an interesting development in Pakistan. for years the country's blasphemy laws have been used to harass and kill minorities. Now someone has been caught and charged for doing just that. Well, he wasn't charged for doing that. He was charged under the blasphemy laws. No word on whether the Christian woman he was trying to have killed has been released yet.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is Attendance Declining and Why?

This past Sunday I rounded off the past three months of Sunday School lessons by talking about the importance of teaching children. I don’t actually teach children. I teach the adult class, speaking every other week on a topic assigned in a quarterly teacher’s manual. This past quarter’s theme had been built around the stories of children in the Bible and ended with a lesson on the importance of children to the Church.

Of course one of the points was protecting our kids from worldly influence. “Do it for the children!” It’s a popular theme, one that’s been so overused that it could even be described as burnt over. Fortunately I am given a lot of discretion in how I present the week’s topic. You see, children and worldly influences are a problem, but it’s not because evil, secular humanists are targeting them. It is because children, like their parents, are in the world. We are all in the world and the values and principles of our culture touch all of us, regardless of age.

So, how are these values effecting our churches? Its a complicated question. Church attendance is down, but it isn’t. Religiosity is down, but it isn’t--except where it is. In North America approximately 40 percent of Americans and 20 percent of Canadians tell pollsters they’ve been to a church service in the last week. Studies of actual attendance levels, however, show that half of them are lying. Only about 20 percent of Americans attend church on a weekly basis. The others believe that weekly attendance is a ‘perceived good,’ so they claim to do it even though they go much less frequently, if at all. I don’t know how many Canadians are lying. I don’t have the numbers. On the one hand, our cultures are very similar, so it’s possible that half of them are lying. On the other hand, religiosity isn’t as valued in modern Canada as it is in the States, so its possible that fewer see it as a perceived value. The number of people who attend weekly services has been remarkable stable for decades. It has resisted the great many social changes that have occurred, whether its the sexual revolution, the 60s radicalism, the Me decade, the rise of the religious right. You name it. What has changed is the number of people who identify with organized religion or who think attendance has a perceived value, and that does reflect the great changes in our society.

What is driving these changes? Is it multiculturalism and the influx of immigration. No. Absolutely not. The number of immigrants who are not Christians is tiny. The combined Jewish and Muslim populations, for example, in both Canada and the US are approximately 4 percent of the total population and about thirty percent of Muslims and more than half the Jews don’t even consider themselves to be religious. Large numbers of minority groups are Christian. Blacks and Latinos, obviously, but the number of Christians in other groups, such as Chinese and Indian, is also higher within the immigrant groups here than it is in their countries of origin.

Some churches are losing numbers. Mainstream Protestant groups, such as the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Church of Canada, for example. These churches actually lost large numbers in the mid-20th century and are seeing another decline as many of the members they held onto reach their senior years. Another form of this kind of systemic decline can be seen in Evangelical mega-churches. When they decline it can often be because they are built around the ministry of a single man, but it can also reflect demographic shifts. They begin by buying large properties on the outskirts of urban areas. Where new families are building homes. They fill up with these families, providing them with a wide range of services and recreation. These are costly and depend on a growing and generous membership. But when the next generation looks to become homeowners, they move to the newer development areas, its cheaper, and they find a church there. The mega-churches can’t follow them. They are stuck in their original locations and will decline as the area ages, with fewer new families and more people on fixed incomes.

Yet, the number of actual attendees remains consistent. Its the people who perceive a value in lying about their attendance who have declined. Why? Why do fewer people perceive any value in weekly attendance? In researching the lesson, I paid particular attention to kids, but I found something applicable to our culture generally: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This term was coined by researchers Smith and Denton, working with the National Study of Youth and Religion. Its focus was the young people of America, but from my experience and observation I am sure it can be applied more generally to our culture. Children do not grow up in a vacuum. Their values reflect the society around them and if they appear different from their parents it’s usually because they are not carry the same cultural and historical baggage. Smith and Denton define Moralistic Therapeutic Deism by these five values:

1.A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

2.God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3.The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4.God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

5.Good people go to heaven when they die.

I would replace ‘moralistic’ with ‘consumer,’ but apart from that I think this reflects the values of a lot people today. And, as these researcher point out, these values exist both within and without Christianity. These are the broad religious values of our society.

For much of the last decade there has been a lot of media attention on the rise of atheism, but their numbers are tiny and I don’t believe the shift in religious values is a reflection of their influence. Rather it is the warm and fuzzy deism characterized by people like Oprah Winfrey that is diluting Western religious precepts. No, I am not laying the blame at Oprah’s feet. What she has done is captured a zeitgeist, not created one. She is as successful as she is because she both shares and intuits her viewer’s beliefs. Would churches be more successful if they did the same? No, and its not hard to see why. If churches began to teach that all God wants is for peple to be happy, to feel good about themselves, that God’s place in their lives is determined by their level of need at any given time, how would this foster any level of commitment? Why go to church? Why commit to a given community of saints if its all about you and your happiness?

What I anticipate happening over the next few years (actually, more than a few years, as these things are often generational) is that the number of people who identify themselves as regular attendees will continue to decline even as the number of actual attendees sees little or no change. On the surface that might not seem like a problem. It might even seem an improvement. As those who are less committed drop off, the core membership will be stronger. But stronger for what purpose? The Church is supposed to big a city on a hill top, drawing the world to Christ. I am opposed to direct political activity, but that’s not the same thing as being a social influence. If the Church wants to check this trend it needs to remember is that what offers, what no one else can offer, is a relationship to Jesus Christ and to His Body, the Church. The first strength in weathering life’s storms is knowing who you are. Know who Jesus is. Learn how to explain your relationship to HIm and to teach others about it. It’s one of those things that is so simple, people often assume there must be more, but anything more is only an addition to this foundation. Without the foundation, whatever else you build won’t stand.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Kenyan Attack

Fifteen people were killed and at least forty injured in a church attack in Kenya. Islamists are thought responsible, but unlike the Nigerian attacks these aren't local. The Kenyan army has been stepping operations against Somali Islamists who have been raiding the border area and kidnapping people. The attackers are believed to be Somalis and sympathizers.

I am about to leave for church myself and all I have to worry about is holiday traffic and the Sunday School lesson I am teaching.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rick Geary's Revelation

Rick Geary is one of the great non-fiction graphic storytellers, though his interests lay largely with historical true crime. For the first volume of the new Graphic Canon series, however, he adapts the 'Book of Revelation.' Well worth taking a look.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Not Just For Eastor Anymore

This Sunday saw two churches attacked in Nigeria, with seven dead and many injured. While no one has claimed responsibility, it is believed to be the work of Boko Haram, an Islamist group pledged to drive all Christians from northern Nigeria.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Two Thoughts

As I preprared this morning's Sunday School lesson, about the Church, I had a couple of thoughts I want to share with you now.

The first is about baptism (yes, again). The Great Commission reads:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

This commandment is threefold: go, teach, baptize. Many churches are happy with two out of three. They're happy to evangelize and disciple, but they're not so keen on baptism. But Jesus clearly instructs us to do all three. Putting aside questions of why we baptize, or how, the Church is told to do it. Wouldn't that make not doing it a sin of ommission?

The second is about attendance. We often quote Hebrews 10:25--"not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together"--when teaching about the need to attendance services regularly, but the word "church" itself instructs us to do so. Well, not the English word "church." That's derived from a word meaning a lord's manor (any lord's). The word translated church is actually "ekklesia" in the original Greek. Church groups were called "ekklesia." The word was used in Greek civic politics to describe those citizens called together to do the city's business. A town meeting. A "church" is a called assembly.

Let's compare it to baptism. We baptize by immersion because the word itself means "to immerse." Likewise, we gather together to worship because a church, or an ekklesia, means to assemble. You can't have an assembly all by yourself.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15 (ESV)

The Resurrection of Christ

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Mystery and Victory

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I taught a lesson recently on Job. He's an interesting character study and one who, for all that's been written and taught on him, one that is still often misunderstood. Everyone has heard of the Patience of Job and know that his book is a key text on the nature of suffering, but if you've the idea that he responds to his situation like a Hollywood version of a Zen master, you're much mistaken. Job is not a passive suffering--and suffering is what the word patience actually refers to.

His story begins in Heaven, where God asks Satan if he's considered his servant Job, a man who fears God and turns from evil. Satan answers that Job has every reason to serve God, given all the blessings he has received, but take those away and he'll serve no longer. So God gives Satan permission to do just that and in the course of a single day Job learns that all his property has been stolen or destroyed and his children are dead. God points out to Satan that Job still serves him and Satan replies that Job is ultimately only concerned about himself. Take his health and he'll fail. So God says, fine, but don't take his life. So there he is. Once a rich and important man, respected by all, even God, and now he sits on an ash heap scrapping his sores with a pottery shard.

Three of his friends come; Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They sit in silence for a week, mourning him, and then begin what could only be called an intervention. God is merciful, repent of whatever brought you to this point and He is sure to forgive and restore you. Job insists he's done nothing wrong and if he could learn what it was he is supposed to have done, that he was brought so low, he could refute the charges. They go back and forth. The Book of Job is really a series of dialogues and could easily be staged as a play. But nothing is resolved. Everyone gets angrier. No one backs down. Eventually, they just run out of things to say and shut up. Then a fifth character, Elihu, speaks up. He's disappointed with everything he's heard, especially Job constantly justifying himself, and goes on at length arguing that God isn't accountable. Then God enters the picture. Instead of replying to Job, He reiterates His role as sovereign and creator. Job repents of his presumption and then prays for his three friends. His friends flock back to him, each giving him a little money. God blesses him again and by the time of his death Job is a richer man than ever.

Its an interesting book, with two important lessons. The first is that terrible things happen, even to those who don't deserve it. When studying for this lesson I came across writers who assumed Job must have done something wrong, or he wouldn't have been punished so severely. But Job wasn't being punished. In fact, everything that happened to him happened to him because God had faith in Job's faithfulness. Two thousand years after our Saviour died a tortuous death because of our sins, and not because of any fault of His own, you'd think people would have a handle on this, but many don't. Tragedy, misfortune, even poverty, are not a sign of God's disfavour.

The second lesson, and the one that is really hammered home once God responds to Job, is that God is sovereign. The Bible does teach what Christians call the Law of Sowing and Reaping. You sow what you reap. Bless and you will be blessed. But that is a principle, if you will, and not a 'law.' God's sovereignty, His power and authority over all His Creation, comes first. Without this God becomes a thing, a tool, and our behaviour comes to dictate our relationship. This is a mistake that Satan, Job's friends, and even Job, make. Satan argued that Job served God because God blessed him. Job's friends argued that Job had been cursed because God was punishing him for some wrong. But while the lives we have do reflect the lives we live, we are not in control. God is.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Nominees and Religion

There is no other Western nation in which a political candidate’s religion is as important as it is in America. It’s strange. I don’t think America is really that religious a nation. In public surveys twice as many Americans say they have attended church in the past week than citizens of other nations do, but deeper research says that attendance rates are only half what people claim. So America is no more religious than most Western nations, at least if attendance is considered a valuable measure (and I think it is), so why do they lie about it? One possibility, put forward by those studying the phenomenon, is that people lie to pollsters about socially desirable behavior, and if they consider church attendance to be socially desirable, then they’re likely to say they do it, even if they don’t.

It also seems to be an issue in picking leaders, more for Republicans, than Democrats, perhaps, but being a good Christian seems to be a desirable trait in leadership candidates in America as a whole; certainly more so than anywhere else (the Vatican notwithstanding). So how do the candidates stack up?

Mitt Romney

Should Romney win the nomination, he will be the first Mormon candidate put forward by a major party. Not as important as being the first black nominee, but interesting nevertheless. So far all of America’s presidents have been Protestant Christians, except Kennedy, who was Catholic.

One question that has dogged him is whether or not Mormons are even Christians? It hasn’t been directly addressed too often out of a misplaced sense of politeness. As if to raise the question were to be intolerant. Now I don’t think that his Mormonism should stand in the way of elected office, and I am very much opposed to some of the darker sniping that is directed towards Mormons as a whole, but I am going to come right out and say what most Christians privately acknowledge: Mormons are not Christians.

Yes, they’re good people. Yes, some Christians would be better Christians if they behaved more like them. And, yes, Romney may even make a good president. But Mormonism’s teachings are just too far off the doctrinal map. For example, even though Christians are described as joint heirs with Christ, we are not going to go on to become gods of our own worlds. That may strike some people as an obscure point, but it’s exactly the sort of belief that stands between Mormonism and Christianity and between Romney and the wholehearted support of his party.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum

Trailing Romney for the Republican nomination are two Catholics, Gingrich and Santorum. Of the two Santorum’s religiosity is taken more seriously. Gingrich became a Catholic because his third wife is one. She is described as a very serious Catholic, but she was also his mistress during his second marriage and no one who has known Gingrich for any length of time seems to think the conversion has made any change in him at all.

Santorum’s religious bona fides have not been questioned, but he recently raised some strange questions himself in his attack on the only Catholic to become president. Many Americans were concerned that a Catholic president would follow the instructions of the Pope, that a vote for a Catholic would put America under the rule of a foreign power. Kennedy assured them that this was not true. That his government’s policies would not be mandated by religious doctrine and that, should he ever find himself in a position where he was forced to choose between his religious beliefs and the American constitution, he would resign from office rather than compromise America’s religious freedom.

Santorum has repudiated Kennedy’s stand, going as far as to say it makes him sick. Does that mean a vote for Santorum is a vote for the Vatican? It’s not a question that is going to be seriously addressed, of course. Both Gingrich and Santorum are still seen as spoilers and so not given the same amount of scrutiny as Romney. It is interesting to note, however, that a prominent Evangelical leader recently referred to Santorum as a “man of faith.” Not a Christian, a man of faith; a broad term that could encompass a broad range of religious backgrounds.

Ron Paul and Barack Obama

That leaves one more Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee.

Religion has never played a prominent role in Paul’s campaign, but he is a conservative Baptist. That might surprise some who see him as a libertarian first, but American libertarianism is a mixed bag when it comes to interpreting what Libertarianism means (and that seems appropriate). In an interview with Christianity Today Paul discussed his interpretation and revealed that his libertarianism is really a very traditional anti-federalism. He is not opposed to governments making laws governing our behaviour, per se; he is opposed to the federal government doing so. As positions go, it’s a fairly common one amongst the religious right and one that can be traced back to the federal government dismantling the Jim Crow laws in the 50s and 60s and to the Civil War before that (yes, seriously).

So why isn’t he a stronger candidate? Because he is a fringe candidate, a boutique candidate, if you will, running a campaign in which values are promoted ahead of winning, and as commendable as that might be, in order for the religious right to have an influence over the future of the party, they have to back a winner. Paul won’t be that man.

That leaves the Democratic nominee, the incumbent president, Barack Obama. Obama was not raised in a religious family. His father came from a Muslim family, but was an avowed Atheist. Obama started to come to church as a young community worker, attending the same services as the people around him. Not a very dramatic conversion, but it is how most people pick a church. You know people. They go to church. You join them. This is why a Christian’s witness is so important.

The church he attended was a politically active, predominantly black church and that activism was used as a wedge issue to paint both Obama and the church’s leadership as radicals. Obama left the church as a result. Beneath the politics, however, was a church organized on traditional Congregationalist lines. Congregationalism, as an organization hasn’t been a force in the US for more than a century, but the nation’s Puritan founders gave rise to the Congregationalists, who believed in putting power in the hands of the laity and not the clergy. So Obama not only came to church in the most conventional way, he joined a church linked to America’s beginnings. Since leaving it, however, he has not found a new church home. Like most Americans he does not attend church regularly.

You might think this is a strength for him, he is the candidate Americans are most likely to see themselves in, but if attendance is a desirable factor, then it is not likely to help him. You want the candidate to be the person you want to be. But whether religion helps him or not, he is considered the candidate most likely to win.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who Decides?

The recent controversy about birth control and health insurance in the US raises an interesting question. The Catholic church is adament in its opposition to birth control, but almost all (98 percent is the figure that's always being thrown about) American Catholics do pratice birth control. Who determines what a church believes? Is it the doctrines preached by the clergy or the lives lived by the laity?

Before you pick one or the other, keep in mind that in many cases the laity looks to the clergy to be the sort of Christian they think they should be, whether they are or not.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


Since the beginning of the Reformation, Protestants have had a hard time with the concept of works. We are saved by faith, Ephesians 2:8, but if we have no works, then our faith is dead, James 2:17. Things have not become any clearer over the past five centuries. Even to bring up the subject is to invite accusations of legalism.

Legalism is a pejorative, largely used to spurn those whose standards of conduct are higher than one’s own, but attempts to live a godly life can lead in some strange directions, directions marked by Procrustean standards and scrupulosity. ‘Procrustean’ is derived from Procrustes, a mythical lunatic from ancient Greece. He owned an iron bed and when weary travellers needed a place to sleep he would offer it to them. Hospitality was an extremely important virtue in ancient Greece. But if the visitor was shorter than the bed, then Procrustes would stretch them out on a rack until they fit. If they were too tall, he’d start cutting. A Procrustean standard is one that is arbitrarily selected, but strenuously enforced. Scrupulosity is a religious form of OCD. It is an obsession over details, procedures, and conduct marked with great fear and guilt if one were to omit anything or leave something undone. It is important to recognize these for what they are, but it is also important to recognize that the accusation of legalism and the antipathy towards works that has become so common in our generation is something that flies in the face of scripture.

The Bible teaches:

We are created to do good works(Ephesians 2:10).

We are to be zealous of good works(Titus 2:14).

We are awarded according to our works(Matthew 16:27).

Our works reveal our relationship with the Lord (Titus 1:16).

If the Bible tells us to do, or to not do, something, then far from being a work, rather it is the very least can do:

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’

Luke 17: 7-10

There is a part of us that naturally disdains holiness, but that is the flesh and not the liberty of Christ’s grace. We love Him because He first loved us, 1 John 4:19, but if we love him, then we will obey His commandments:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:2-3

His commandments are not burdens and His expectations are not more than we can bear:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it

1 Corinthians 10:13

In all this we have an example in Christ, our Redeemer and our Role Model:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cornerstone Pentecostal Church

January was a transitional month for us, the congregations of Christian Life Church of Victoria and The Rock Church of Sidney, but its been very smooth. The process is merging churches is one with many steps and one of them has been the offering. We have our offering plates up front and people come up and give theirs. This month there have really been two offerings. Because of the legal work offerings were still going to the original churches, even though they were going to one purpose. Today was the last day we did that. Starting next week there is only one offering, for one church. Not the most important thing in the world, I know, but a very practical sign that we are now one.

And we have a new name. The congregations got together and picked Cornerstone Pentecostal Church. We've got a Facebook page and there are a few photos up (none of me though, I was the guy taking them). Oh, and click the 'Like,' please and thank you!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


It’s January. A time when the Christmas bills come in and you start thinking about putting together all that paperwork for your income taxes. All that thinking about finances suggests an obvious study theme: stewardship. In fact, asked my wife what she wanted to study at our family altar and that is exactly what she suggested.

I’ve seen a lot of studies on stewardship. They tend to focus on managing our time and our finances. The Bible itself has some important things to say about the subject, but one thing I noticed in prepping the lesson is that when the Bible talks about stewardship it isn’t talking about time or money.

To start, it might help to understand what a steward is. A steward is someone in charge of, or responsible for, the property of another. It’s not about taking care of yourself or your own interests. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church saying, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).” And what is this mystery that we are stewards of? It is the knowledge of the grace of God and the good news of Christ’s victory over death and sin.

A steward is to found faithful and prepared to do the work of his master (Luke 12:35-48). He is to be bold, confident. In the “Parable of the Talents” (Luke 19:12-27, Matthew 25:14-30) the steward who failed was the one who acted fearfully. Take care of your money. If your creditors have rule over you, you’ll have no peace. Take care of your time. Our generation seems uniquely unable to manage their day. But if you’re wondering about stewardship and what the Bible expects of you ask yourself, what have I done with the grace entrusted to me? What have I done with the gospel entrusted to me? What have I done for the kingdom?