Tag Archives: church history

God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality: My Review of Part Two

I mistakenly thought Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality consisted of only two parts, with Part One being a general appeal for acceptance of LBGTQ people into religious community based on general principles loosely derived from the Bible, and Part Two refuting the various Biblical prohibitions against same-sex sex in scripture. However, I missed Part Three, which seems to be (I’m still reading it, but I finished Part Two) a presentation of the different studies “proving” that same-sex relationships, marriage, and parenting are not only beneficial to society as a whole, but sometimes are superior to opposite-sex relationships (on p.116, Michaelson cites a study supporting same-sex parenting as superior to opposite-sex parenting, and while he says it’s important for a child to have two parents, the sexual identity and orientation of the parents is irrelevant).

I probably won’t write a formal review of Part Three only because it has virtually no bearing on the topic at hand [since originally writing this blog post, I changed my mind and wrote a review of two chapters in Part Three…see my final note below], which is the question of whether or not the Bible can be correctly interpreted as supporting marriage equality and the admission, normalization, and sanctification of same-sex relationships within the Christian and Jewish communities of faith. What secular social studies say about various aspects of gay relationships cannot answer that question, they only answer how same-sex relationships may be integrated into the larger societal milieu.

Before continuing here, if you haven’t read my review of Part One of Michaelson’s book, you might want to pause, click the link I just provided, and have a look.

Part Two is made up of seven chapters, the first (Chapter 7) called “Leviticus.” I’ve addressed this topic before, including the Hebrew word “toevah” which is often translated as “abomination,” a term applied to male-to-male sexual contact and to eating shellfish, at least according to the Torah of Moses and as applied to the ancient Israelites. Rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” so to speak, please read my blog post Leviticus, Homosexuality, and Abominations which covers the Leviticus prohibitions against homosexuality and what they really seem to mean.

I should also say that Chapter 8: “Sodom,” is correct in stating that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed a chronicle of the sin of “inhospitality” more so than homosexual rape. The fact that Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, being a pretty confusing response, is an indication that there’s more going on than uncontrolled homosexual lust. However, this is hardly any sort of justification for any form of sexual violence, whether directed by a man against a woman or a man against another man. No, Michaelson isn’t advocating sexual violence, but citing the “Sodom” incident is something of a red herring since it has no relationship to our modern conceptualization of homosexuality.

Chapter 9 “The Gospels” is an interesting case. Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality. But why should he? What did Jesus preach? What was his central message?

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand.

Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15

Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the Law and to create a new religion (and although Michaelson is Jewish, he has a pretty traditional view of Christianity, the same view Christianity has of itself). He came to re-establish devout observance of the Torah for Israel, which would have to start with repentance, because he had come to inaugurate the beginning of the New Covenant (see Derek Leman’s blog post A Closer Look at Matthew 5:17 for an “in-a-nutshell” look at how Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fill it).

In the same chapter, Michaelson brings the story of the Centurion and servant into play (see Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). If you are unfamiliar with this event, a Centurion asks Jesus to heal his male servant and displays great faith by saying if Jesus just declares the servant healed without even going to the Centurion’s home, the Centurion knows he will be healed.

MessiahThe Greek word used to describe the servant is “pais” or “boy companion” not “daulos” or “slave”. In the Roman world, it was not uncommon for a Roman citizen to have a slave, usually an adolescent boy, as a servant for a number of activities including sexual, since in Roman law, it was not forbidden for a citizen to penetrate a non-citizen or slave. That Jesus didn’t complain about this practice is supposed to be proof that he didn’t have an issue with homosexual relationships.

On the other hand…

But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew 15:24

Jesus didn’t come at that moment in time to rehabilitate the world. He came to rehabilitate Israel. Later, as the inauguration of the New Covenant continued to progress through history, the rehabilitation of a remnant of the people of the nations would begin to take place through Israel. Since Michaelson doesn’t view Christianity or the teachings of Jesus through a Messianic lens, this aspect of the impact and timing of the New Covenant would have escaped him, thus his misunderstanding of why Jesus didn’t have to care about a Roman centurion and his boy slave/companion.

If, on the other hand, Jesus had discovered this sort of relationship or any other form of sexual immorality among his people Israel, the Master’s response would have been quite different.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about John 8:1-11 where Jesus “changed the Law” about adultery and gave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship a free pass. But did he?

I won’t quote the text here, but the Torah states that anyone caught performing a violation of Torah with terminal consequences had to be brought before the Sanhedrin (see Leviticus 20:10). A trial would have to be conducted, witnesses called, and only two or more eye-witnesses could condemn the woman before the court. Only then would the court pronounce its sentence of death, and only then would the eye-witnesses lead in the stoning of the convicted woman.

None of that happened. Instead, these thugs dragged the accused woman in front of Jesus and only as a way to trap him in speaking against the Torah. It didn’t work and the trap having failed, the accusers dropped their stones and left. Since Jesus wasn’t a witness to the affair and since he wasn’t the appropriate “court,” according to the Torah, he was in no position to condemn her. But no one asked him about any legitimate cases that had come before the Sanhedrin and what he thought of their verdicts (For a more detailed description of this event and its background, see the article “Woman Caught in Adultery” by D. Thomas Lancaster in the Fall 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine, pp.10-13).

The only other thing I found in that chapter even remotely relevant was Michaelson’s treatment of “eunuchs” and how he considers those who were “eunuchs by choice” not just as celibate, but specifically attracted to men and not women. However, at best, Michaelson is being speculative with just a very small amount of evidence and a great deal of agenda to support.

The Jewish PaulChapter 10: “Romans” was very contradictory. Michaelson, on the one hand, says Paul (and all of his peers…and everyone in his period of history) had no concept of “sexual orientation” and thus Romans 1:26-27 could not possibly be applied to “loving same-sex relationships”. On the other hand, if that’s true, then nothing in the majority of the New Testament could be used to support said “loving same-sex relationships” either. You can’t have it both ways.

He did make a good point about people being “given over to their lusts” since someone “naturally” oriented to love/want sex with a same-sex partner isn’t given over to some desire and activity they’re already involved with. But he makes a mistake, a big one:

This is not exactly a celebration of sexual diversity. However, even before we turn to the language of verses 26 and 27, their context should be clear. Paul is not preaching that homosexuality is a sin — he is preaching that some form of illicit homosexual behavior is a consequence of sin. Whatever sexual behavior Paul is writing about, it is the symptom, not the cause, of the Romans’ failure: the Romans turned from God, and therefore (dio) God gave them over to sexual immorality (Rom. 1:24). This is like a parent telling a child, “If you don’t wear your jacket, you’ll get a cold.” Obviously, getting a cold is not desirable, but it’s not a sin. The real sin is not wearing a coat, or, more generally, not being careful.

-Michaelson, p.80

Here Michaelson attempts to totally disconnect behavior from consequence, as if what the type of consequence had nothing to do with the behavior that precipitated it.

Does he imagine that turning from God and engaging in pagan practices had nothing to do with sexual sin? If a person is struggling with a sin but refuses to give it up, then God can and likely will turn the person over to that specific sin, give them enough rope to hang themselves, so to speak, until (hopefully) they experience such discomfort from the sin that they will be motivated to give it up, repent (remember Christ’s central message), and return to God.

If a person is a member of the community of faith and struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, refuses to seek help or even to attempt to repent, then God could turn them over to that behavior until the consequences began to pile up, which (again, hopefully) would act as a motivator for the person to give up their sin, repent, and return.

Using Michaelson’s model of disconnected sin and consequence, it would be like saying to the drug abuser, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, you will have to wear an umbrella on your head until you’re ready to repent.” No, the actual statement would go something like, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, your drug abuse behavior will go out of control and your body and spirit will deteriorate until you either die or stop your sinful behavior and repent.”

When all else fails in this part of his book, just like Part One, Michaelson reverts to…

In the words of Rev. Michael Piazza, “From dogs to dolphins, same-gender sexual attraction is a reality. What is ‘natural’ for one individual may be a direct violation of another’s nature.”

-ibid, p.83

Except people are not dogs or dolphins. We are the only living beings created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Animals aren’t held morally accountable for their actions because they don’t have the unique calling of human beings, therefore, citing “natural law” to explain that if a male dog humps another male dog, then it’s OK for two men or two women to have sex as part of nature doesn’t cut it. There’s a difference between the broken nature of the universe and God’s plan for the redemption of that universe through Israel and thus through the redeemed remnant of the nations.

PaulChapter 11: “Corinthians and Timothy” seems to be another case of saying that whatever Paul is prohibiting, it can’t possibly have anything to do with what we now consider “sexual orientation” and “loving same-sex relationships”. If that’s true, than any commentary on Paul’s opinions and beliefs are moot. If Paul is condemning same-sex sexual contact within the context of pagan worship practices, it’s still same-sex sex. We have no evidence of any “loving same-sex relationships” as we understand them (or as we’re told we should understand them) in the world today, particularly within the ekklesia (assembly, body) of Christ (Messiah). So we have no template for understanding same-sex sexual contact other than the pagan worship context, which apparently, has nothing to do with what’s going on in the modern world (though some might say otherwise).

In Chapter 12: “David and Jonathan,” the shocker for me is that Michaelson actually has a go at the relationship of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. For him it seems inconceivable that two women could be so close and so devoted to each other that there wouldn’t be a sort of “romantic” and even possibly “sexual” relationship between the two. Except we see absolutely no indication of such a relationship. It’s as if Michaelson can’t imagine two people of the same-sex being very close and sex and romance not playing a part.

Frankly, my wife is very close to my parents but I can’t in any way shape or form think of their relationship as romantic let alone sexual. Michaelson has definitely introduced another red herring here.

David and Jonathan as lovers. I’ve heard this one before. Even Michaelson doesn’t believe David is gay based on his relationship with Bathsheba and his multitude of wives and concubines.

The only thing I didn’t see coming was Saul accusing Jonathan of having a sexual relationship with David:

Saul knows it too. When David fails to appear at court for a feast, Jonathan makes an excuse for him. Saul replies, enraged: “You perverse and rebellious son! Behold, I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your shame, and the shame of your mother’s nakedness! For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the Earth, you and your kingdom will not be established” (I Sam. 20:30-31). The second line in Saul’s admonition frames Jonathan’s action in dynastic terms — but the first is clearly sexualized. Jonathan has chosen David to his shame — the Hebrew root is “bushah.” As if that weren’t clear enough, Saul emphatically calls Jonathan “perverse” and adds that his love affair with David is to the “shame of your mother’s nakedness” “ervat imecha,” a term that unambiguously refers to sexual sins.

-Michaelson, pp.98-9

Not knowing Hebrew (and Michaelson may have been counting on the majority of his readers not having access to the original language) I can’t adequately respond to Michaelson’s interpretation, but even if all this is true, Saul defines a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David as “perverse” and a “sexual sin,” and assuming that Saul’s understanding of the Torah is accurate, this transaction doesn’t support and justify same-sex romantic and erotic relationships, it condemns them.

We know that David committed other grave sins including sexual sins and that he ultimately paid for them, so even if Michaelson is accurate, the case he makes doesn’t necessarily support his cause.

Of course, even Michaelson realizes he’s guessing and can’t be sure of his conclusions, at least up to a point:

At the very least, surely we would all agree that what Jonathan felt for David can be described as a romantic love with erotic overtones.

-Michaelson, p.101

I don’t have to agree with that and, as I said, if it’s true, it doesn’t represent Biblical support for gay relationships. Add to that Michaelson’s previous statement that sexual orientation wasn’t understood as such in ancient times, and maybe we can’t compare whatever did or didn’t happen between David and Jonathan to same-sex relationships today. I think Michaelson is overextending his examples to make his point or to force his point.

gay marriagePart Two ended with Chapter 13: “Sexual diversity in Christian theology,” in which he describes, from his unique perspective, how the Bible has been misinterpreted by the Church to be “anti-gay”. Actually, I completely agree that the so-called “Church fathers” did unspeakable violence to the Biblical text, particularly in reinventing the Bible as a non-Jewish document and transforming the Jewish Messiah into a Goyishe Prince. It’s quite possible that the early Christian “luminaries” also doctored their interpretations to magnify prohibitions against homosexuality.

But I don’t really care about what Gentile Christianity did to the Bible if, removing their influence, we can’t see the Bible undeniably supporting and affirming man-to-man and woman-to-woman romantic and erotic relationships due to in-born traits, and that those relationships were accepted and normalized in ancient Biblical Judaism and Christianity (and I say “Biblical Christianity” with the understanding that in the days of the apostles, Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah were practicing a form of Judaism).

Michaelson criticizes any anti-gay statements or reforms issued by “the Church” (which for much of its early history was represented by the Roman Catholic Church) and celebrates more recent events in socially and politically liberal (i.e. “politically correct” or “progressive”) churches:

In contrast, there have been openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and surveys show that 75 percent of U.S. Episcopalians think that gays can be faithful Christians.

-ibid, p.108

And yet the actions and beliefs of the Episcopal Church can’t automatically be assumed to represent the desire of God for human beings in the ekklesia of Messiah.

Michaelson attempts to show that churches that repress homosexuality within their walls promote an increase in sexual and other sin:

As we have already mentioned, evangelical megachurch leader Ted Haggard (now making a comeback) had a multiyear relationship with a drug-dealing male prostitute. Rev. Paul Barnes, pastor of a Denver megachurch, had numerous affairs with men. Pastor Eddie Long has recently been accused of sexually abusing several teenage boys. And as we’ve already noted, George Rekers, cofounder of the Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute to accompany him on a trip to the Caribbean. Eros repressed is eros distorted, so it is no surprise that so many of the most vocal anti-gay voices are themselves…gay.

-ibid

According to Michaelson, the answer to all of this messy sexual business is to open the doors of all the churches everywhere and accept, affirm, and support all gay people and all gay relationships. If the church stops calling homosexuality a sin, then gays in the Church won’t have to hide who they are and men like Haggard, Barnes, and Long can function perfectly well in their churches as openly gay Pastors.

But if Eros repressed is Eros distorted, what does that mean for the concept of sexual sin in general? Michaelson’s assumption is that if you stop forbidding or repressing something, then it becomes a normal and natural part of the religious environment. Long is accused of having sexual contact with teenage boys. Assuming these boys were under the age of 18, doesn’t that belong in the area of child abuse? I know Michaelson is refuting the idea that homosexuality can involve an adult having sex with a minor, and I’m not suggesting that such a “slippery slope” necessarily exists, but once sexual boundaries start to loosen and become “fuzzy” in the church, how much control will anyone have about where those boundaries are “reset.”

Messiah Journal issue 117

Yesterday, I posted my review of David Hall’s article for Messiah Journal and I think Hall hits closer to the mark. Thematically and purposefully, the Bible may not forbid or prohibit what modern society considers consensual, same-sex erotic and romantic relationships but it definitely doesn’t support them either. I’ve thrown (in my opinion, anyway) enough “reasonable doubt” into Michaelson’s interpretations and assumptions to conclude that he hasn’t successfully made his point or adequately supported his position, thus, at best, there is insufficient Biblical evidence to warrant treating same-sex relationships in an identical manner as opposite-sex relationships within the context of Christianity and Judaism. The scriptural template for romantic/sexual relationships as part of God’s plan remains one male and one female in marriage.

While Michaelson may be correct in saying that homosexual behavior in the animal world is well-represented, that something is “natural” for animals doesn’t mean God intends that behavior for human beings. How can I explain the overwhelming number of anecdotal reports from gay men and women that they have experienced same-sex erotic attraction since childhood? In an absolute sense, I can’t. However, that doesn’t automatically mean those feelings were programmed into them by God.

We are all born broken in some way. That doesn’t mean we should allow people to remain broken and accept “broken” as natural, normal, and the final expression of God’s plan for human beings. Faith in Jesus is about taking a broken world full of broken people and starting to heal them. When Messiah comes again, he will heal everyone. Until then, all we can do is the best we can to facilitate our healing in whatever way we happen to be hurt.

I’ll be publishing an “unofficial” review of a small portion of Part Three of Michaelson’s book in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then an “extra meditation” later that same day as a “tying up” or conclusion to this project.

The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974
GTY.org

I know, I know. I promised no more MacArthur, but in this case, “Big Mac” actually did me a favor. He helped me (though I’m sure it was unintentional) figure out why “the Church” thinks the New Covenant is all about them and why the New Covenant is supposed to replace the Old. I’ve read the relevant scriptures many times, but could never figure out how Christians fit themselves (ourselves) into the New Covenant language. But let’s review a bit. I looked back on a series I wrote called “The Jesus Covenant” (no, there’s no such thing, but at one point, I had no clue how non-Jewish people could enter into any sort of relationship with God at all related to covenant, and I had to call the series something) and found the key scriptures recorded in The Jesus Covenant, Part 1: The Foundation.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law (Heb. “Torah”) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

“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 the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:22-28 (ESV)

It actually helps if you read Jeremiah and Ezekiel cover-to-cover, rather than taking verses out of context in order to preserve the entire flow of thought of these prophets. You get a much more cohesive picture of what they’re actually saying. The exile

Notice in both of the above-quoted portions of scripture that God is specifically addressing “the House of Judah” and “the House of Israel.” Unless you subscribe to the Two-House theology and believe that any non-Jew who is at all attracted to Judaism and the Torah must be a hidden member of one of the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel,” then you can plainly see that the verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel referencing the New Covenant have absolutely nothing to do with the non-Jewish nations of the world, that is to say, most of humanity.

The New Covenant language applies only to the descendants of Judah and Israel in our modern world, the Jewish people.

Period.

You can see why it took me eleven or twelve separate blog posts in order to figure out where we Gentiles fit in. There’s no smoking gun, no signposts on the road to tell us, as there is with the Jewish people, where non-Jews fit in as far as God’s plan of redemption, restoration, and Messianic Kingdom world peace is concerned. You don’t have to read the whole series (though I wouldn’t mind if you did) to get the answer.

I basically spelled it out in The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians and in The Jesus Covenant, Part 11: Building My Model. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is how in all of Church history, Christianity had misinterpreted these scriptures so badly, forcing a connection between the Church and the New Covenant which does not exist and which specifically bumps Israel out of the picture entirely.

Then, in editing my third and final review of John MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” lecture series, I saw the quote that spelled it all out. I posted it at the top but here it is again, with emphasis added:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

Do you see it? Do you see where MacArthur, and presumably all the denominations of anything calling themselves “Christian” in any way anywhere made their mistake? Israel

All of the New Covenant language expressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-28 is specifically addressed to the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Further, when you take into account the larger context of these verses, you must realize that the prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, when Messiah comes (returns) as King and inaugurates the Messianic Era, when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh in such a way that the least of all human beings will still “know God” in a greater way than John the Baptist (read Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Joel 2:28-29, 32 and Luke 22:14-23 for context). Do you really think we have that today as Christians?

Since we don’t yet have a new heart and a new Spirit in us (I’m not saying that believers don’t have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only the “first fruits,” just the very leading edge of what these prophets are talking about) so that we are all functionally prophets, and since we (Gentiles) aren’t of the House of Judah or the House of Israel, then the New Covenant language can’t be talking about the rise of “the Church” beginning with Acts 2 and progressing across the rest of the New Testament and into the last nearly two-thousand years of “Church history!” The very best we can say, as I mentioned above, is that the giving of the Spirit to the Jewish apostles in Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit to Gentiles, starting with the Roman God-Fearer Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, are a sort of “first fruits” of the New Covenant promise that is yet to come!

This will definitely not make any traditional Christian at all happy. It might make some Christians angry and defiant. Some Christians, hopefully those who investigate and realize that the Bible doesn’t actually read the way they’ve been taught, might feel a sense of loss and even depression that “the Church” isn’t the center of the universe and our guarantee that all Gentile believers are the best thing God created since sliced bread and peanut butter.

But we really have no reason to be depressed or experience loss. It’s not as if God doesn’t love all the world. It’s not like this invalidates John 3:16. God still “so loves the world,” that is to say, all the people in it, not just the Jewish people. He has a plan for us, it’s just not the plan that “the Church” believes in. This hidden but massive error is the very foundation of supersessionism and anti-Semitism at the root of all expressions of Christianity everywhere on earth. We don’t see it or feel it because it’s buried so deep in our theology. It is the heart of what Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann has called cryptosupersessionism.

Christianity is completely unconscious of its presence and yet it colors everything we in the Church say, do, think, and feel about Christianity and what we believe being a Christian means. I know a lot of Christians including a lot of Hebrew Roots Christians will be upset about what I’m writing, saying I’m doing something terrible, elevating Israel above the Church, creating inequities and all that, but it’s not like we don’t have an exceptionally vital role to play in God’s plan.

RestorationI don’t want to repeat myself, since I’ve written at length a number of times before about the plan God has for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. For examples see Provoking Zealousness, How Will Christians Perfect the World?, The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, and my recent blog post Don’t Argue. This is why First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) President and Founder Boaz Michael in his Tent Builders presentation (see his book Tent of David for the details of his plan to correct the Church’s faulty vision) says that:

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

We’ve all been taught to believe what John MacArthur believes about the New Covenant. The Christian Church in all its incarnations is guilty throughout its existence of the most heinous act of eisegesis in the history of the Bible and Biblical studies. We’ve chronically and grossly misinterpreted the Old Testament and New Testament text (and even those titles are a tremendous misrepresentation of contents and purpose) in such a way that it forces the anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah presuppositions, agendas, and biases of the Church into and onto the text.

This is the error of “the Church”. This is where, for all the good Christianity has done, the Church has gone wrong since almost the beginning. This is the problem that the Reformation failed to address. This is why Gentiles are in the Messianic movement, not to move in on Jewish worship and identity space, but to right a two-thousand year old wrong. May Heaven grant strength and endurance for those of us who are delivering this message that some ears may hear and understand and not reject and disdain.

A brother will betray his brother to death, and a father will betray his son, and children will rise up against fathers and kill them, and you will be hated by everyone for the sake of my name. But the one who keeps waiting until the time of the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22 (DHE Gospels)

This is why I’m here. This is why I write. To deliver a message that the Church doesn’t want to hear. To point to the scriptures that Christianity doesn’t want to understand. Check those scriptures for yourself leaving your eisegesis and your assumptions at the door. Do you see what I see? If you do, why are you here and what do you need to do now?

There’s going to be an extra meditation today. I need to inject some balance into the messages I’ve been writing lately about the Church. In spite of all I just said, there is also much good in the Church. You’ll see.

The Challies Chronicles: The Puritan Commitment to Sola Scriptura

The Westminster DivinesThe final session on day two of the Strange Fire conference was led by Steven Lawson who spoke on “The Puritan Commitment to Sola Scriptura.” This was another historical message meant to demonstrate how our forebears were committed to the doctrine of Scripture alone.

Tonight the focus of our study will be another historical theology overview of a critical issue that ties in wonderfully with this entire conference.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: Scripture Alone,” October 18, 2013
Challies.com

I have a strange relationship with Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) having written about it on a few occasions. My general understanding is when a Christian says “sola scriptura,” they mean “only scripture” in the sense that any contextual cues that the original audience may have had available to them that would have modified their understanding of scripture beyond the plain meaning of the text are never allowed for us in the 21st century. It would interfere with too much of our Protestant tradition if we had to read the various sections of the Bible in a manner consistent with the original authors and readers, that is to say, with a Jewish perspective.

So you can imagine as I approached this next “strange” and “fiery” presentation, I was a little hesitant. Nevertheless, I said I would see this project through to its end and so I shall.

Rome said “We accept Scripture, but also Church tradition, ecclesiastical hierarchies, etc.” But the Reformers said “No, it’s sola scriptura. If anything else is added to the foundation of the church, the foundation will be split and unable to hold the rest of the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If I’d been in the room when Lawson made that statement, I’d have had a terrifically difficult time keeping a straight face. Is Lawson actually suggesting that the Catholics view scripture through the lens of Church tradition but the Protestant Church in the modern age (inheritors of the “Reformers”) does not?

Upon the foundation of sola scripture are three massive pillars which frame and uphold the gospel in its most basic formulation—by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. And when this foundation and these pillars are in place, the crown can be erected across which is written soli Deo gloria.

And you don’t call that artificial structure a “tradition?” Where does it say such a thing in the Bible directly and how much inference and interpretation through the lens of tradition does it take to create this structure of pillars?

What are the distinguishing marks out of the Bible itself regarding sola scriptura?

Lawson then goes through a list of the “distinguishing marks” of sola scriptura as defined by the Westminster Divines, which according to Wikipedia, are “a synod composed of theologians (or “divines”) and members of Parliament appointed to restructure the Church of England…The Assembly met for ten years (1643–53), and in the process produced a new Form of Government, a Confession of Faith, two catechisms (Shorter and Larger), and a liturgical manual for the Churches of England and Scotland.”

bet_midrash_temaniI don’t suppose they consulted a more ancient Hebraic lens in looking at scripture before making such decisions. Probably not.

In that case, I have to believe they missed a step or two (or three or four).

You can read the Challies blog post to get the full list of “distinguishing marks,” but I think Lawson must have been building up to point number nine:

Ninth, and finally, sola scriptura implies the finality of Scripture. That there is no new revelation to be given to man after the close of the canon of Scripture, the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

There is no adding to the Bible once canon is closed. I think most people can believe in that. We don’t see radically different versions of the Bible circling around different streams of Christianity and Judaism (keeping in mind Christianity has a whole section of the Bible that Judaism discounts).

Whenever God opens the heavens to bless his people, the devil opens his mouth to blast them. At the exact same time as the Westminster Divines were writing the Confession, the Quakers were forming. They claimed to be receiving new revelations and prophecies. They were lead by a man named George Fox. At the heart of their theology was this message, that one can be saved apart from the Scripture, that there is an inner light in all man, and this inner revelation makes salvation for all humanity possible. They called this light within the “indwelling spirit” which they claimed was even in unbelievers.

As they gathered together, the Quakers claimed that they had the Holy Spirit within them. Their worship services had no ordained pastors. They would all sit in a building like we’re sitting here and would be encouraged to meditate, and as you would feel prompted, you were encouraged to stand up and speak your thoughts to others. This commitment to be open and uncautious led them into all kinds of bizarre behaviors and beliefs, including going naked as a sign of judgment to others.

I’m telling you, if you take one step off of sola scriptura you have put your foot on a theological banana peel that will send you down till you hit bottom.

OK, I see where Lawson is going with this. The Puritans were giants for establishing sola scriptura but the Quakers undermined that principle by claiming direct (and new) revelation from the Holy Spirit detaching themselves from scripture entirely, thus Lawson draws a comparison between Christian Evangelicals (MacArthur, et al) and Pentecostals/Charismatics.

I like the banana peel analogy. I think it’s cute.

But let’s take a look at what else the “Divines” believed in:

While the issue of biblical inerrancy, the belief that there are no errors in the Bible, did not arise until the eighteenth century, the divines clearly did not believe the Bible to contain any errors. Many of the divines held a rather mechanical view of biblical inspiration, believing that not only the words but the letters and vowel points of the Hebrew text were inspired by God, while often acknowledging that the text was at the same time written by humans in their own styles. They did not make any distinction between essential and incidental matters with respect to biblical inspiration.

Source: Letham, Robert (2009). The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context. The Westminster Assembly and the Reformed Faith. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. ISBN 978-0-87552-612-6.

This doesn’t torpedo the “Divines” as a valid information source for Lawson’s presentation, but it does add an interesting bit of color to this assembly, or at least some of their members, since according to Jewish Virtual Library:

Because of this system of assigning numerical values to letters, every word has a numerical value. There is an entire discipline of Jewish mysticism known as Gematria that is devoted to finding hidden meanings in the numerical values of words. For example, the number 18 is very significant, because it is the numerical value of the word Chai, meaning life. Donations to Jewish charities are routinely made in denominations of 18 for that reason.

oral-tradition-talmudThe point I’m trying to make is that you can’t hand-pick the little bits and pieces of history that support an argument without dragging along the rest of the historical, cultural, and theological context to which those bits are attached. I seriously doubt that Lawson would take on board a belief that each letter and vowel point, or for that matter, the numerical value of each Hebrew letter, were particularly significant let alone inspired by God.

One “slippery slope” I think Lawson failed to take into account in his presentation was how difficult it would be to apply a “good guys” and “bad guys” paradigm to the current Evangelicalism vs. Pentecostalism debate using a historical precedence. While I certainly don’t support the historical Quaker’s method of worship and how they conceptualized theology (from what little I know about it), I can’t say that it directly speaks to the current debate, anymore than “the Divines” (and their views on the significance of the letters and vowel points of the Hebrew in the Bible) could be considered directly applicable to Lawson’s and MacArthur’s side of the conversation.

My conclusion is that, while Lawson’s presentation may have carried with it some interesting historical information, it contributed little if anything to the overall presentation of “Strange Fire” and their case against the Pentecostals/Charismatics. I know where he was going with this, but Church history has many strange and even cruel (and even murderous) aspects. One must take great care in summoning history into the present as if they are indistinguishable. They’re not, as I’m sure the apostle Paul could attest.

The Challies Chronicles: Steve Lawson and the Charismatic Calvinists

steve_lawsonJohn MacArthur opened the conference with broad statements about the purpose of the conference and what he perceives as the main challenges of the charismatic movement. Joni Eareckson Tada offered her unique testimony and this was followed by R.C. Sproul’s theological perspective. And now added to the mix is Steve Lawson and his perspective from church history.

With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Steve Lawson,” October 16, 2013
Challies.com

This is a continuation of my Challies Chronicles series, an analysis of Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference as “live blogged” by Pastor Challies. I guess I should just resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to know anything about the presenters at this conference, including Steve Lawson. I guess I’m just out of the loop as far as who is a popular Fundamentalist Pastor in modern Christianity.

Anyway, church history is a weak area of mine, so I can’t say this presentation was a complete waste. I learned a few things and even agreed with some of what Lawson said.

With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.

This merging has gone virtually unaddressed within the reformed community. I believe there is no one better to address these charismatic Calvinists than Calvin himself.

Calvin faced a charismatic crisis of his own in his own day. I want to look at how he addressed them. As the leading reformer in that day, whatever faced the church faced John Calvin. He had the dominant voice and people looked to him to address issues.

john-calvinI have real issues with Calvin (Calvinism is resurging? Oy!) and suspect there is a significant “dark side” to the Reformation, even though there were also obvious benefits (something I’ll have to explore in more detail at a later time). I didn’t even know you could be a “charismatic Calvinist” (or that you’d want to be), but as I said, church history isn’t something I know much (or anything) about.

Then there were the Libertines who were one of the subgroups under the Anabaptists. They were antinomians. They abused Christian liberty and proved themselves to be, most likely, unconverted. Calvin called them a sect one hundred times more dangerous than the Roman Catholic church itself. They were lead by fleshly impulses and believed the Holy Spirit was adding new revelation to the Bible. They set aside the Scripture and wanted to follow the inner impulses that they thought were the Spirit. They lived in open licentiousness. They wanted an easy moral path without having to fight sin or temptation.

These were the things Calvin faced in his day. So the charismatic chaos we see now, in our day, is nothing new. It was prevalent in Calvin’s day, as it has been in other eras as well. So Calvin was not silent about it.

Here’s the part I agree with (odd, that I should agree with Calvin on anything). I don’t think you can choose to set aside the Bible and pretend that all your emotional experiences are the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t think your emotions should tell you how to live and what is Holy, especially in contradiction to what we read in scripture. I don’t think it’s just the Libertines of Calvin’s day who live like this, and I don’t think it has to involve “dramatic” behaviors we see in Charismatic churches today. Plenty of liberal denominations are following the emotional leading of what we call “progressive” or “politically correct” in telling themselves what is right and wrong. If your church looks, acts, and believes exactly the way we’re being told to look, act, and believe by CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times, then you have no doubt set the Bible aside and are listening to another “spirit,” the “spirit” of the popular, mainstream news media.

But I digress.

In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 10:1, he states that the office of apostleship was a temporary office. The apostles were the foundation of the church, and you only lay a foundation only once. They were given miracles to authenticate their authority as messengers of the revelation of God in Christ.

I’ll agree that, as far as I know, miracles from God are pretty rare in our day and age relative to what we see in the New Testament, but I’m not willing to draw a hard and fast line and say they’re impossible, either. Nor do miracles only have to exist to validate the original apostles. After all, there are miracles all through the Tanakh (Old Testament) and ultimately, when you take their “purpose” down to its core, all manifestations of the power of God in our world are for the glory of God. You don’t have to write a bunch of rules around them and try to put God in a box. In this case, Calvin (and probably Lawson) is drawing a conclusion he can’t possibly prove.

Institutes 1.9.3 – Word and Spirit belong inseparably together. If you take anything away from Calvin, take this. “For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we may in turn embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word.”

Institutes 2.15.2 – “This, however, remains certain: the perfect doctrine he has brought has made an end to all prophecies. All those, then, who, not content with the gospel, patch it with something extraneous to it, detract from Christ’s authority.”

nadab-abihu-fireI don’t think we should fall into the trap of believing the Calvin was always right just because he was Calvin or because we (or some people) hold the Reformation in such high esteem. I think Calvin, at least from what I’m reading here, didn’t have a particularly “Judaic” view of the Bible and thus probably missed a lot of meaning and depth in the Gospel message because he didn’t try to tune in to the intent of the original writers of the New Testament or their first century Jewish and Greek audiences. I can agree that Word and Spirit must be in agreement, but I believe that the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures must also be in agreement without a lot of theological gymnastics being necessary. I’m not sure Calvin would agree with me on that.

A charismatic Calvinist is, to Calvin, an oxymoron. It can’t exist.

I almost don’t care about this statement (almost, but not quite), because I think that all manifestations of the church in our era or any other (apart from the first century Jewish stream of “the Way”) have “missed the mark” in some manner or fashion. We have the Bible, the record of God’s interaction with human beings, primarily Jewish human beings. Then we have all of the systems we’ve built around that document, and we use those systems to tell us what the Bible means. Those systems aren’t perfect and objective because people aren’t perfect and objective. The numerous variations of Christianity aren’t perfect. Only God is perfect. I don’t think we always understand God.

We are all aiming at achieving high fidelity to the original and probably aren’t doing a very good job at it. I agree with some of the things Lawson had to say, mirroring some of the things Calvin had to say. You can’t pretend your emotions are really the Holy Spirit and then do anything you want, especially in contradiction to the Bible. But let’s be clear, no one of us and no one religious group has the inside track on exactly what the Bible is saying all of the time.

So far, I get the feeling that “Strange Fire” is trying to say that Pentecostalism is wrong and Fundamentalism is right. However, even if MacArthur and Company can reasonably convince me that Pentecostalism is essentially flawed and non-Biblical, that does not automatically grant Fundamentalism a rating of being perfect and always correct. On a math test, two students can get two different answers for the same problem but just because one student is wrong, doesn’t mean the other student is right. They could both be wrong, but in different ways.

Glasses on Open BibleThat’s why we always study. That’s why we’re still trying to learn. That’s why we struggle. That’s why we try to understand but in the end, we keep “understanding” differently from one another.

One question remains from Lawson’s presentation. Is he making a direct comparison between the Libertines of Calvin’s day and the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement? If he is, then he’s saying Pentecostals are letting their emotions not only re-write the Bible, but that they’re disregarding the Bible in favor of their emotive states.

Is that a fair comparison?