Tag Archives: fundamentalism

What Would You Do If Your Child Was Gay?

John MacArthur was recently asked by a reader how they should respond to an adult child who has acknowledged they are gay. His parenting advice?

Alienate them.

Separate them.

Isolate them.

Refuse to have a meal with them.

Turn them over to Satan.

-Benjamin L. Corey
“John MacArthur on Having Gay Children: Alienate Them & Turn Them Over to Satan”
from “Formerly Fundie: The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey”

“Formerly Fundie” is listed as a “Progressive Christian Channel” at Patheos, so chances are Corey and I don’t have a lot in common, since I’m pretty socially and politically conservative. I don’t know who this gentleman is or why he needs an “official blog” for himself and his name (and based on many of the comments on his blog, I’m glad I don’t have his readership), but a link to his blog post was inserted into Facebook by a Facebook “friend” who is about as progressive as it gets (I have a wide variety of friends, virtual and otherwise).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I almost universally disagree with just about everything Pastor MacArthur teaches, preaches, writes, and broadcasts. I found his treatment of Pentecostals at his Strange Fire conference to be typical of his highly confrontational style, and his perspectives on both ancient and modern Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, show, in my opinion, an extremely poor insight into the actual late second temple Jewish and apostolic cultural, religious, educational, and spiritual environment. He “Christianizes” every bit of scripture he touches as if he imagines Jesus and the twelve were good Baptist Preachers from the church right across the street in “Hometown, U.S.A.”

OK, that last bit might be something of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

There’s a YouTube video of MacArthur that goes along with Corey’s article. I’ll post it at the bottom of today’s “meditation” so you can actually hear what MacArthur says. I was surprised that the tone of his voice was calm, soft, and almost friendly. MacArthur isn’t quite as harsh in his language (and possibly intent) as Corey makes him out to be. But that doesn’t disguise the massive disconnect I think MacArthur is trying to sell to Christian parents of gay children.

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

In case you haven’t read them, I’ve written numerous posts on the LGBT community within both Christianity and Judaism, the latest (before this one) missive being my review of Matthew Vines’ recent book God and the Gay Christian. I also commented on Dennis Prager’s understanding on why Judaism rejected homosexuality as well as on a number of other related topics.

Am I advocating for marriage equality in the church? No, I don’t think there’s a Biblical presupposition for it. But there’s a lot going on in this dialogue that we simply cannot ignore or dismiss.

Many of you may have read about Danny Cortez, a Pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, California, who, after his fifteen year old son came out, decided to change his theological stance on homosexuality and became gay affirming, leading his church to officially become affirming of gays within their community as well.

Naturally, Christians on both sides of the issue made highly emotional pronouncements either supporting Pastor Cortez and his church or condemning them.

But what do you do when it’s your child? What happens if you’re a Christian and it’s your son or daughter who tearfully, painfully, comes out to you because he or she can’t stand holding it inside anymore, can’t stand lying, can’t stand hiding their feelings? What happens after they tell you and then they just stand there looking at you expectantly, fearing your anger but praying for your acceptance?

One of my sons has two male friends who came out within the last several years, and one of those young men comes from an Evangelical family.

What do you do?

At the church I attend, in Sunday school probably a year or more ago, the question came up of what the church would do if two lesbians came in and wanted to worship. A fellow, who is a member of the Board of Elders, responded, “Love ’em and learn ’em.” I don’t think that was overall support for acceptance of lesbian relationships in the church. He was likely communicating the idea that by welcoming them into the church community, over time, they would be influenced and understand the nature of homosexuality related to the expectations of God, as this church understands God and expectations.

women holding handsThe understanding, and I’m projecting my own conclusions into this scenario, is if this hypothetical lesbian couple chose not to accept the church’s interpretation of scripture in terms of their relationship and their lives, they’d be free to leave and seek a more accepting church or other house of worship.

But you can’t exactly do that with your kids…or can you? The quote from MacArthur above says that’s exactly what you have to do. If your gay kid won’t repent and continues to sin (presumably by just being gay), then you must do the whole Matthew 18:15-18 thing with them, confronting your child individually, and then with two or three other witnesses, and then finally in front of the whole church (I’ve heard of one set of parents who really did this). This is actually bad exegesis on MacArthur’s part, since the child, by being gay, doesn’t directly sin against his or her parents.

I don’t think I could stand to do that with any of my kids. Maybe I’m just a bad Christian. I’m sure John MacArthur would think so.

Of course, none of my children are religious let alone Christians, and from MacArthur’s point of view, if any of them were gay, they’d be sinners just like the rest of the secular world.

A church can make whatever official, doctrinal statement it wants relative to homosexuality in the covenant community and they’re within their rights to do so. I draw the line at being compelled to accept John MacArthur’s advice on how I should relate to my children and I imagine a lot of Christian parents feel similarly.

No, none of my kids are gay, but I’ve run that scenario through my head more than a few times. What if…

MacArthur made the video supposedly in response to a parent whose adult offspring did come out, and asked MacArthur what they should do, so in this case, MacArthur is responding to a real request for information. However, he felt it necessary to make a video and then to put it on YouTube, so his opinion entered the public realm and became fodder for response and reaction.

I can’t render a theological opinion but I can give you one based on my being a father and grandfather. I can’t “unlove” my children. Sure, they’ve each done things to make me pretty unhappy at different times over the years, but none of that made me want to stop being their Dad, to stop loving them, and certainly I never had any desire to “turn them over to Satan.”

in-the-dark2-blueResponding to a gay child by alienating them, separating from them, isolating them from family, and refusing even to eat with them won’t motivate them to “repent,” it will motivate them to never have a relationship with you again and to take their own course absent of your love, caring, compassion, and consultation. MacArthur’s advice is an iron-clad guarantee that even if the child somehow desired to “repent of being gay,” they would never do so. What’s their motivation? The (so called) love of Christ according to the “gospel” of MacArthur?

Even when Israel sinned grievously against God, God may have turned His face away for an instant, but He always, always took them back and He never, ever permanently abandoned or forsake them.

I know MacArthur feels he’s giving sound doctrinal advice based on scripture, but somehow he never factored in his own experience as a parent (and I imagine a grandparent, given his age) and how he would face his own children. Sadly, my experience (such as it is) with MacArthur is that he is so dogmatic and rigid, he very well could and would take his own advice and feed any child of his who came out as gay to the (proverbial) wolves.

If any of my kids (or my grandson someday) came out as gay, I’d end up having a very long talk with God about what this was supposed to mean for my relationship with the Almighty. What does God expect me to do, reject the very child He created to be a joy in my life? I couldn’t do that. Does that make me a bad Christian? I imagine a lot of people reading this will think so. Some of you may even condemn me (even if it’s within the privacy of your own hearts) for merely entertaining such an attitude.

But what would you do if it were your own son or daughter. Imagine your little boy or girl telling you they’re gay, scared to death of what it will mean, and wondering if you’ll stop loving them in the next ten seconds or so. Imagine that this is really happening. What would you do, not just your immediate reaction, but for the long run? How’s your moral certitude doing now?

I know I said in Is It For His Glory to avoid needless arguments (though I also quoted Pastor Michael Hidalgo as saying Christians need to get out of their protected enclaves and into the real world…perhaps good advice for John MacArthur), but I also said there are times to take a stand. I believe this is one of those times.

Here’s the video of MacArthur’s response to the Christian parent who asked what to do now that their child has come out as gay:

Believe in people and you will influence them to believe in themselves.

Your belief needs to be based on reality — so develop an eye for noticing sparks of potential in others. Be enthusiastic in selling a person to himself.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Believe in People”

Addendum: June 19, 2013: Today I received an email from a person named Dennis who informed me of an error I made regarding my mention of Pastor Danny Cortez. According to Dennis, the news article states that Pastor Cortez changed his theological stance to be affirming of gays in the Church before his son came out. This change in Pastor Cortez allowed his son to feel safer in coming out to his father. I apologize for misreading the news article and hope this correction clears things up.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Six Foundations

What are the fundamentals?

Discover the six basic teachings of Messianic faith from Hebrews 5:11-6:3. This sermon presents and introduction and overview of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Fifteen: Six Foundations
Originally presented on April 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 (NASB)

As someone commented recently on another of these reviews, in this sermon, Lancaster takes a break in teaching about Messiah as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, but frankly, so does the writer of Hebrews. Lancaster says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews became frustrated with his readers. Why? Because he wanted to get into the deep mysteries of the priesthood of Melchizedek but he felt his audience wasn’t up to the challenge. They were still struggling with the very basics, the fundamentals of faith in Messiah. They were still consuming milk when they should have been dining on t-bone steaks by now.

Lancaster pauses to say something I don’t think many Christians, including Christian teachers and Pastors, are going to like.

If you’ve been reading this review series regularly and (hopefully) been listening to the previous recordings of these lectures, you know that within the first five chapters of Hebrews, we discover a multi-layered storehouse of meaning that is not evident on a surface reading, especially in English. The level of knowledge and education required to get this far exceeds, in Lancaster’s opinion, what is being taught in most (or all) Christian seminaries today.

In my opinion, all the various expressions of the Christian Church are so married to the static doctrine of their faith, that they can’t allow themselves to seriously examine the perspectives necessary to plunge into the hidden depths this Epistle possesses.

milkThe Hebrews writer considered the readers of his letter to be infants needing milk, unable to consume solid food, much as Paul addressed his own readership in 1 Corinthians 3. But if the original readers could follow the first five chapters of Hebrews and understand the deeper meanings are considered babies (since the writer to the Hebrews must have assumed he was being understood by his readers), then what does that make us in the Church today? Less than infants? Tiny, newborns? Undeveloped babies still in the womb? That’s hardly flattering at all. But what if it’s true?

Moving back to the text, Lancaster says this part of Hebrews outlines the basic foundations of Christianity or, in this case, Messianic Judaism as it was understood, taught, and practiced in the first century. He teases out a list of six items:

  1. Repentance from dead works
  2. Faith toward God
  3. Instructions about washings
  4. Laying on of hands
  5. Resurrection of the dead
  6. Eternal judgment

Even the summary Lancaster presents in today’s sermon is dense with information, and yet, these were the very, ground floor, teachings of what we think of as early Christianity among the Jewish believers. However, as you’ll see, every one of these fundamentals of the faith are completely Jewish teachings and were endorsed by the Pharisees.

And Lancaster says that even these fundamentals are almost completely beyond the comprehension of Christians today.

Repentance from Dead Works

When most Christians, including Pastors and teachers, read “repentance from dead works,” they believe, almost by reflex, that this is talking about repenting from works of the Law, that is, repenting from performing the Torah mitzvot.

Lancaster used some pretty strong language here and says the Protestant interpretation of “dead works” is dead wrong and in fact, the exact opposite of what the letter’s writer was trying to say.

For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

TorahWe covered a lot of this last week. Obedience to God doesn’t bring death. Sin brings death. These were Jews the letter writer was addressing. It would have been insane to tell a bunch of Jews longing to return to bring offerings at the Temple that observing the Torah was “dead works”. Dead works equals sin, according to how Lancaster reads this. He not only called the current Church interpretation of “dead works” wrong, he said the teaching was satanic. This is the first time I’ve ever heard Lancaster go this far in “calling out” a traditional Church teaching.

What was the basic teaching of Jesus? Did he say, “believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die?”

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Jesus taught repentance of sins, not repentance of Torah obedience. He taught teshuvah. He taught turning away from sins and turning back to God. In Lancaster’s teaching about the New Covenant, he says over and over that Covenant is all about having a relationship with God by obedience to the mitzvot, which is what the Jewish people, including the believers, were doing. The first mitzvah is repentance, and it’s a mitzvah we must perform daily, lest we slowly, subtly fall away from the teachings of the Master and thus, fall away from God. Remember, Lancaster believes the letter’s readers were in grave danger of losing faith in Messiah and apostatizing.

Faith Toward God

You’d think this was a no brainer for the readers of the letter and for us, but faith is a lot more than just believing God exists. True, we must believe God exists before we can do anything else, but belief isn’t the goal, it’s just the starting line in the race.

In James 2:19 we learn that even the demons believe and they tremble, but we certainly can’t say that their belief somehow equals faith in God. Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a commentary about the difference between faith and trust based on a rabbinic midrash, and I think it carries Lancaster’s meaning well.

We must trust in God’s sovereignty, that He is in control, and that He rewards obedience and punishes sin, both in this life and in the life to come. That means what we do matters. Our actions aren’t worthless or, as Derek Leman once put it, our deeds are not filthy rags. A transformed life in Messiah reflects that transformation in what we do.

Having faith equals having a relationship with God and, as Lancaster states in the aforementioned “New Covenant” lectures, covenant is all about establishing relationship, in this case, between man and man and between God and man. Lancaster said it’s a false teaching that all we have to do is “believe” intellectually or emotionally and do nothing else and that we are saved. If we don’t lead a life that shows fruit, our belief means nada.

As it turns out, Judaism at its core, is not a “religion of dead works,” but instead, its a covenant of intimate relationship between Israel and God.

Instruction About Washing

Washing? What? Is this about the various ritual washings such as Netilat Yadayim?

Some English translations of the Greek “baptismo” render the word “baptism,” but the problem is the word in Greek is plural. If this is supposed to be about multiple water and spirit baptisms, then it becomes a theological problem, since we are baptized in water and receive the Spirit only once. How can immersion be “immersions?”

Remember, this is a Jewish audience, an audience that would immerse on any number of occasions in the mikvah in order to render themselves ritualistically pure. They’d immerse daily before going up to the Temple. They’d immerse before getting married, women would immerse once a month, and the Torah prescribed many other circumstances that required immersion by Jewish men and women.

So what about the immersion of John the Baptist? Didn’t that replace all of the others? Lancaster calls John’s immersion the “Immersion of Repentance” which is also immersion into the Name of Yeshua. We see the first Gentile immersed in Messiah’s name in Acts 10.

But why would a group of Jewish believers need instruction about the mikvah as a fundamental teaching Messiah? They would have already been well versed in mikvah instructions from Torah. The way that the Greek expresses it, “baptismo didacus,” Lancaster believes that these were the instructions a new disciple would be given about the teachings of Messiah before being admitted into fellowship and immersed. We may even have those instructions preserved for us in the Didache, the set of teachings provided to new Gentile disciples of the Master, probably within or soon after the Apostolic era.

Do we have this today? So many churches, according to Lancaster, are focused on getting as many people saved as possible, but the Bible doesn’t say to make converts, but to make disciples (see this book review, and this short video for more). Is discipleship a lost practice in today’s Church? For many churches, the answer is “yes,” especially when compared to the process of discipleship as it existed in the various first century Judaisms. What we may be creating instead is a body of false converts where only a small minority of people in church pews every Sunday are actual disciples who are leading transformed lives in Messiah. The rest are merely those who said “Christ is Lord” and “believe” but otherwise are unchanged human beings.

The Laying On of Hands

laying on of handsBesides in Pentecostalism, the Church isn’t into laying on of hands anymore. In the Bible, people were cured of illness through laying on of hands, but the practice is much older and in fact, based on the Torah and sacrificial system. The first step in offering a sacrifice at the Temple was for the person making the offering to lay hands upon it, transferring identity, if you will, so that in the case of a sin offering, the sacrifice would be made in place of the person.

Moses laid hands on Joshua to transfer authority over the tribes of Israel to him. Lancaster believes that after the mikvah, the last step in admitting a disciple into the fellowship of faith was to lay hands on the person, even as it was for the conferring of authority to a new elder in the community.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.

1 Timothy 4:14 (NASB)

Presbytery is also translated as “board of elders.”

So the basic steps of training and inducting a new disciples would be:

  1. Education in the teachings of Yeshua
  2. Acceptance into the community
  3. Immersion of repentance and into the name of Messiah
  4. Laying on of hands by the board of elders or the head teacher

All basic stuff, according to the Epistle’s writer. Fundamentals of the faith, first century Pharisaic Judaism style.

Resurrection of the Dead

Now this you’d think the Church would have down cold. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday so I’m sure Churches all over the world are preaching about the resurrection today. But according to Lancaster, many churches avoid talking about a literal, physical, bodily resurrection and instead, preach going to Heaven as a bunch of spirits. That’s eternal death (of the body) not eternal life.

The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t Heaven and it isn’t sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp forever and ever. It’s the Kingdom of God established on earth populated by a people who have been raised physically from the dead, which is why we call Yeshua our “first fruits from the dead.” It is his resurrection that is proof that we too will one day be resurrected in the faith through grace. Then we live here under the reign of King Messiah as living, breathing human beings under the New Covenant, with the Torah written on our hearts…and we will know God.

Eternal Judgment

This too should be well understood in the Church, the fact that there will be a final judgment for all humanity, when we will have to give an account for every word and deed we’ve committed in this life. Like the Master said, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was “at hand” or “imminent” because Messiah had entered the world and his death and resurrection flipped the “on” switch to start up the New Covenant. It’s on the edge of coming and is entering our world even now. And yet it will not have arrived until the Messiah returns.

repentanceWe have time, but who knows how much. Repent now. Don’t wait. Repent and obey. Lead a transformed life. Exert every effort so that when the books are opened, your name will be written in the Book of Life and not in the Book of Death.

Basic teaching. Milk.

And each and every one of these six fundamentals is what the Pharisees taught and these teachings were despised by the Sadducees. But the Sadducees had control of the Temple and the Priesthood and had no reason at all to allow the Jewish Pharisaic believers in Messiah access to the sacrificial system. So who would be their priest?

What Did I Learn?

I’d never separated out six fundamentals of faith in Messiah during the Apostolic period from Hebrews before. But what made the biggest impression was how, if we are to believe Lancaster, the vast, vast majority of the people we call Christians today are misreading not only this Epistle, but misunderstanding the fundamentals of their (our) own faith that is taught by the Bible.

I’ve written about Christian Fundamentalism before, which can trace its origins in Church history back about a century, but it doesn’t look like what Lancaster taught today. In fact, if you click the link I just provided, it too presents six fundamentals of the faith. They are just six points that don’t resemble those points we read in Hebrews 6:1-2

I felt Lancaster was a little hard on the Church, a little too critical of their mistakes and errors. After all, Lancaster was raised in the Church and his father was a Pastor. How long did Lancaster have to study and how many of his previously cherished attitudes and beliefs did he have to painfully surrender before he got to the point where he could teach this interpretation of Hebrews at Beth Immanuel?

This may sound strange, but I have the good fortune of not having spent my entire life in the Church. I had much less to “unlearn” and not too many attitudes and emotional attachments to Church tradition to give up. I have had quite a long and interesting time of putting together the Hebraic viewpoints on the Scriptures in a way that actually makes sense relative to the entire Biblical record, and I freely admit that Lancaster’s teaching, both at Beth Immanuel and through First Fruits of Zion, have been highly instrumental in that unlearning and retraining process.

But successfully transmitting that information to long-term and life-long Gentile believers is the challenge. Even getting a Christian to the point of considering that teachings like this one have value seems all but impossible. Many believers are so cemented into their theology and doctrine, that it would take dynamite to blow them out of their viewpoint and move them to a perspective where the Bible looks like and teaches something that, in my opinion, is much more consistent across the board. Many Christians don’t even believe there is more than one perspective on the Bible, and for those who do, they see those alternate perspectives are representing error, cultish belief, and even heresy.

But the end result is still the same. We enter the fellowship of Messiah through faith by grace and undergo a transformation into a new being who we are now and who we are in the process of becoming, little by little, until Messiah returns and the New Covenant is completely enacted.

followWe just need to be willing to take the risk of listening to teachings like this one critically but with an open mind. Once we learn to accept that what we’ve been taught about the Bible isn’t what the Bible actually says, we are faced with the daunting task of changing the Church from within to be more consistent with what the revealed Word of God turns out to be.

Some will follow. Others will continue to resist, clinging to the doctrines they’ve come to love, regardless of how they misconstrue God’s intent, especially toward Israel.

“Sometimes you have to move on without certain people. If they’re meant to be in your life, they’ll catch up.”

-Mandy Hale

To learn more about the six foundational principles of ancient Jewish Christianity, consider D. Thomas Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles which is being offered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) for free between now and June 3rd.

Sunday Sermon: Belief But No Spirit

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts 19:1-10 (NASB)

I know I finished my review of MacArthur’s sermon series, but today (Sunday, February 9th as I write this), the Pastor at my church delivered a sermon based on Acts 19:1-22. As you’ll recall, MacArthur’s final sermon in his series was based on Acts 19:1-7 so there is the potential for overlap between MacArthur’s message and Pastor Randy’s preaching. In fact, there was sufficient overlap and parallel, that I felt compared to present my own interpretation today.

I can only read or listen to a recording of Pastor MacArthur, but with my own Pastor, I’m sitting in the pew, watching him, listening to him, and directly experiencing his message, particularly with the background of knowing something about him and how he thinks.

He opened with the Bonfire of the Vanities, which I’ll skip, and I just thought that was a novel by Tom Wolfe, one I haven’t gotten around to reading (Pastor mentioned that Wheaton College might need to burn a few things, but I had to look that up online to know what he was talking about).

Oh, to see why bonfires are relevent to this sermon, see Acts 19:18-20. I also mention those verses at the very end of this missive.

The “MacArthur connection” came in when Pastor backed up a bit into his sermon for last week and discussed Apollos.

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 19:24-28 (NASB)

You may want to refer to the relevant sections of MacArthur’s sermon to see how MacArthur’s and Pastor Randy’s messages interface. Just a suggestion.

Relative to both Apollos and the twelve disciples Paul encounters at the very beginning of Acts 19, Pastor Randy seems to split the state of being a “believer” with being a “Christian.” I tend to use the two terms interchangeably, but Pastor Randy drew a sharp distinction based on this:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

James 2:19 (NASB)

walking_on_waterApollos and the twelve disciples were taught the baptism of John (probably not by John himself) but, as MacArthur said in his sermon, didn’t have all of the details about who and what they were being baptized into. Frankly, I really can’t place any blame at the feet of Apollos and the other disciples since they didn’t have the Internet, email, text messaging, the telephone, or any other way to quickly disseminate a unified body of information in the then-civilized world of two-thousand years ago. Written letters were slow and when copied for re-delivery, may not have been copied precisely. I imagine there were a lot of folks with only bits and pieces of the teachings of Jesus who had to interact with other believers and teachers in order to get a better picture, but this would have taken a lot of time.

Both MacArthur and Pastor Randy said (and I like Pastor Randy’s delivery a lot better) that believing isn’t enough and that at this point and until they received the Holy Spirit, Apollos and the twelve weren’t Christians. In my previous review of MacArthur, I wondered how he arrived at that conclusion and Randy was able to fill in some blanks.

But this raised other problems. Like MacArthur, Pastor Randy said that a certain passage in this text has given rise to a misunderstanding.

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

Acts 19:2 (NASB)

Depending on the translation, the question could be rendered (erroneously, according to Pastor Randy) “Having believed, did you then also receive the Holy Spirit?”

The idea is that coming to faith and believing in Christ automatically results in, as MacArthur states, a one-time, momentary miracle of receiving the Holy Spirit. Apparently (I’ve never heard this but there’s a lot I don’t know) in Pentecostalism, there’s the idea that one becomes a believer and then at a subsequent time, one receives the Holy Spirit. Randy and MacArthur both stress that coming to faith and receiving the Spirit is a simultaneous event. It’s not one and then the other.

Of course, that makes quoting James 2:19 in this context seem odd since James is saying that believing isn’t enough. Then again, James isn’t talking about believing and the Holy Spirit, but he’s “marrying” belief/faith and actions, leading a transformed life. Of course, Christianity teaches that you can’t live a transformed life without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so I suppose that’s implied.

I got to thinking about Calvinism, which both MacArthur and Pastor Randy support, the idea that only certain pre-selected individuals will ever come to faith in Messiah and that, regardless of how we evangelize the rest, they are not pre-determined to be among the elect, and therefore, they are automatically condemned to Hell before they were ever born.

arminianism-calvinism-debateAccording to Calvinists, you’ll never believe let alone receive the Holy Spirit if you are not among the pre-selected elect. The gospel message of Jesus Christ will just bounce off of you. However, if you are among the elect, you will take hold of the message of salvation and receive the Holy Spirit and become a Christian. Of course to be pre-selected also supposes that in your future at some point, you are destined to hear the message of the plan of salvation. I can’t imagine God selecting someone and then not providing the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

I also can’t imagine God selecting someone as a member of the elect and then them becoming a believer but not a Christian. But then Pastor Randy did challenge the congregation. He said that we can’t take for granted that we’re saved just because we answered some altar call once upon a time or raised our hand at a Bible camp at age 14 indicating that we believed. If we aren’t living a transformed life, we haven’t received the Spirit. We’re not really Christians.

But if belief and receiving the Spirit is a unified event and don’t take place separately, then how is it possible to be a believer and not receive the Spirit, thus becoming a Christian?

I’ll take it for granted that I missed something in Pastor Randy’s sermon, but it certainly seems based on my notes and my memory, that a contradiction exists within the body of his message.

Randy painted a picture of someone at Heaven’s Gates asking to be let in. A voice asks the person, “Why should I let you in?”

Randy said the only appropriate answer would be, “I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

Before Randy answered his own question, the first response that came to me, imagining such an august and solemn query was, “I am not worthy to enter the Heavenly Courts and to approach the Throne of God.”

Well, I’m not. Who am I? Just a guy. Why would God allow me to enter into His presence. Not because of any answer I could possibly give Him. Only because He is good and gracious and merciful. Belief and faith isn’t a magic ticket that gets you a free ride on the bus to Heaven. If God weren’t merciful in the extreme, no amount of belief we could cognitively or emotionally generate, and no acts of righteousness, even out of that faith and devotion, could sway God this way or that.

Yes, I believe human beings have free will and we can choose or reject God, but it is God who chooses to accept or reject us as Sovereign King, and the King only accepts out of His gracious mercy through our woefully inadequate and imperfect faith.

Although, thankfully, Pastor Randy didn’t use terms such as “Pre-Cross” or “wrong side of the cross,” he did characterize Apollos and the twelve disciples as “Old Testament Saints” as opposed to Christians (he also used “mini-Pentecost,” which MacArthur mentioned as well and I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean). The difference is the arrival of Jesus and the key verse “…no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). Before Jesus, Jews came to faith in God the Father and in that faith by God’s grace, there was salvation. Then Jesus arrived and faith in God was no longer the key, but rather access to God required faith in Jesus. Did God change the rules?

I’m not even going to attempt to evaluate that one and the Jewish anti-missionaries have a field day with the dissonance suggested in this doctrine.

I won’t go into the rest of Pastor Randy’s sermon since at this point, the parallels to MacArthur end, but I do want to mention the “saving grace” of the service, so to speak (not that I had anything against the preaching, but it raised as many questions as answers). Today (as I write this) is part of a series of services at my church aimed at promoting and supporting Christian missionary work, so normal Sunday school classes were suspended. Instead, one big Sunday school class with guest speakers was to be conducted in the sanctuary.

So instead of the last hymn being sung, Pastor Dave went up to the pulpit and conducted a closing commentary and prayer based on this:

Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

Acts 19:18-20 (NASB)

burningPastor Dave invited us all to consider our lives, what we have in them that is displeasing to God, those practices, materials, and beliefs we need to confess and burn (literally or otherwise), all the “stuff” that separates us from a closer relationship with God, or even having any relationship at all.

Theology aside, Pentecostalism aside, transitions from Judaism to Jesus aside, this was probably the single most practical message based on these scriptures that I heard, the urging to leave our habits, our traditions, and our comfort zones and to honestly examine ourselves, and I hope (re)examine the scriptures, and re-evaluate who we are, what we’re doing, and what sanctifies and desecrates the Name of God.

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 1

Coming to the 18th chapter of Acts, I’ve entitled this particular message, “From Judaism to Jesus.” The story of the book of Acts has proven to us to be a study in transitions. I want to belabor the point for a moment, because I think it’s important for you to understand that.

The book of Acts, written by Luke, describing the early years of the church after its beginning, is really a book of transitions. It’s a book of beginnings. In a sense, it’s the genesis of the New Covenant. It’s all of the beginnings as the church begins to find itself and form itself and sever itself from Judaism. It was particularly a time of transition for the Jews of the early church. The old things of Judaism faded out very slowly, slowly, and the new gradually phased in.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the transition, or the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus. He very clearly lays it out. He says, for example, that Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests and all of those great characters of Judaism have all been replaced, as it were, by Jesus. He goes beyond that, and he says that the laws and the ceremonies and the rituals and the patterns of the Old Testament have given way to a whole grace kind of life. No longer are you ruled by externals but you’re ruled by the Spirit within.

God’s people, Israel, have given way to God’s people, the church. The system of multiple sacrifices has given way to the one final sacrifice. All the way through Hebrews, as we studied it some months ago, we saw the tremendous viewpoint of the New Covenant as it means the old is set aside. The writer of the book of Hebrews even says, “The old decays and fades away.”

John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 1: Paul in Transition”
Commentary on Acts 18:18-23, January 13, 1974

As Borowsky has already said, Christian scholars, educational organizations, and other groups are already changing their own assumptions which previously provided for the continuation of supersessionism and attempting to pass down their knowledge to the church. But how well is that knowledge being passed down to the families who worship in their churches every Sunday?

The answer is, not very well. This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian. Human nature tends to lead us on the path of least resistance in whatever activities we may find ourselves, including how we understand God and the Bible. While believers may go to church diligently, attend Sunday school classes, participate in mid-week Bible studies and the like, most won’t “go the extra mile” and actively pursue the latest research in New Testament studies, fresh understanding of Scripture, and become involved in interfaith activities. Most people get to a certain level in their lives, whether it is in marriage, at work, or in their faith, and then they’ll plateau and just stay there.

James Pyles
“Origin of Supersessionism in the Church:
Part 4: “Leaving Supersessionism Behind”
Messiah Journal, December 2012/Issue 112
First Fruits of Zion

When I wrote, “This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian,” perhaps I should have clarified that this can include the individual Christian Pastors and teachers, particularly those who either don’t keep up with the latest developments in Biblical scholarship or who choose to discard them in favor of centuries old Christian tradition.

I’ve been encouraged to take a look at some of the sermons of various Christian Pastors including John MacArthur. But where to start? In terms of MacArthur’s recorded messages, at the Grace to You website, if you go to the Sermons page, you’ll see a list of sermons that goes all the way back to 1969. Assuming that MacArthur’s messages were recorded for every Sunday spanning from 1969 to today, that’s a lot of material. How should I choose something representative?

I decided to do a search on a topic that is of particular interest to me. What is John MacArthur’s opinion of Messianic Judaism?

I don’t know. The search didn’t turn up any sermons that specific, but I did come across a three-part series called “From Judaism to Jesus.”

The title alone is provocative because it full-out states that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jewish Messiah, as if Judaism and the Messiah are mutually exclusive terms. That seems not only inaccurate but a little crazy. The Jewish people from ancient days have been longing for the coming of the Messiah as the savior and deliverer of Israel, as the King of the Jewish nation, and as the Monarch who would place Israel at the head of all the nations and inaugurate an age of world-wide peace.

So how could there be a “transition” from Judaism to Jesus as if Jesus was an entirely new and unanticipated “thing” in the plan of God?

John MacArthurAccording to John MacArthur, Jesus replaced Judaism. This is classic supersessionism, also known as fulfillment theology and replacement theology. I’ve been assured that MacArthur is not anti-Semitic, but I don’t know what else to call someone who advocates a theology that in part has resulted in every persecution and pogrom that has ever victimized the Jewish people, culminating in the worst of all atrocities, the Holocaust.

In part one of MacArthur’s sermon series, he invokes the Epistle to the Hebrews to support his position. The primary reason I’m reviewing D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is to see an alternate interpretation of this book of the New Testament, one that more accurately portrays the intent of the anonymous author toward his Jewish audience and that flows more evenly with the letters of Paul, which I believe also have been misunderstood, and which I believe, when correctly interpreted, offer messages of hope and good news to the Jewish people and to the normative Judaisms of his day (and for Judaism today) and only then also offer good news to the people of the nations as well.

MacArthur and other supersessionists like him, have put the cart before the horse and say that Paul, as well as the writer of the Book of Hebrews, offered “good news” to the Gentiles that grace had replaced the Law, and that if the Jews wanted a piece of it, they had to dismantle Judaism and leave its broken pieces behind them in the dirt, boarding the train to Heaven with Jesus in their new identities as goyishe Christians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

You may remember this quote from my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians. The traditional view of Paul and the mainstream historical interpretation of the message of the New Testament may seem totally benign and all but unquestionable to the Church, both across time and in the present, but the damage it has done to collective Jewry over the last twenty centuries has been incalculable.

Of course, men like MacArthur would counter that consequence aside, if how he preaches the “good news” is an accurate interpretation of the scriptures, he can only tell the truth of the Word of God. He can’t help how it’s been misused.

But he fails to ask himself the question (and frankly, I understand why) if he and the Church’s traditions and “ritual” interpretations of scripture are accurate. After all, these traditional interpretations of the Bible are based on the earliest writings of the “Church fathers” in the first few centuries of the common era, who unswervingly sought to distance the newly minted Gentile Christian “Church” from anything related to Jewish people, Judaism, and the Jewish nation that had been razed by the Romans and left wandering the diaspora without King, Temple, or Priesthood.

mj112The basic understanding of the writings of the Epistles has changed only somewhat for many Christians since the time of the Church fathers and the later Councils such as Nicaea, and for many Protestants, the core of Biblical interpretation has changed hardly at all in the five hundred years since the Reformation.

In the last part of my “Origin of Supersessionism in the Church” series for Messiah Journal, I wrote an optimistic message of how the Church was leaving behind this dark set of chapters from its past. Shocked out of apathy by Shoah, Christianity was seeking a way to reconcile with the Jewish people, and even in some cases, embracing the Jewish Roots of the faith. But that optimism may have been misplaced. I wrote it long before I read John MacArthur’s opinion on what Judaism means to Christianity today:

It was ordained of God. It’s a way of life, a point of pride, a divine institution, and it doesn’t die easily. We see that even today. Jewish people who come to Jesus Christ, if they’ve been involved in any depth of Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism in some cases, they become Christians, but it’s very difficult for them to break with all of those traditions. They very often hang on to those things.

Dr. Feinberg himself expressed to me that this is one of the tragedies or one of the problems the church has to deal with, and that is allowing the Jews to become a full part of the body of Christ. Very often, they themselves resist that. The statistics are staggering when you think that in LA there are multiple tens of thousands of Jewish believers and a few hundred of them are involved in local churches.

So it’s very difficult for the transition from Judaism to Jesus. The church needs to do everything it can to stretch out its arms of love to incorporate them in every way and at the same time allow those old institutions to die out.

It amazes me that MacArthur, in the same breath, can complain about how most believing Jews don’t join the local church and also make “from Judaism to Jesus” the key phrase of his diatribe.

Am I being too harsh in calling MacArthur’s sermon a diatribe, “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something”? Maybe. I don’t think (I’m trying to be fair) that MacArthur meant to attack the Jewish people in general and Jewish believers in particular, but imagine how all this sounds to Jewish people.

How does this sound?

In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…

I personally know Jewish people who are deeply involved in religious and cultural Judaism who are also disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and not only do they not see Judaism and faith in Moshiach as mutually exclusive, they see their devotion to the Messiah as the logical and ultimate extension of their Jewish faith and Jewish identity.

John MacArthur would take that all away and replace it with a pale shadow of the richness of a Jew kneeling before the King of Israel in homage, devotion, and in celebration that Messiah, Son of David, has come and will one day return to restore all that has been lost, bringing the world to perfection in the coming Messianic Age.

It’s funny, because MacArthur saw this vision as well, he simply rejected it out of hand.

It indicates the difficulty in his mind of seeing Christianity as a unit all its own composed of Jew and Gentile, but rather, they saw it as an extension of Judaism. It’s understandable, right, because Jesus was their Messiah? He was the fulfillment of Judaism.

burning-the-talmudMacArthur couldn’t have mapped out his theology more openly (and notice that he said Jesus was – past tense – the Jewish Messiah, not is). Instead of seeing Biblical history extending forward across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings into the Apostolic scriptures and up through history to today, an extension of the original promises of God to Israel culminated in Messiah, he sees a total break in Biblical prophesy. The “extension” shatters at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and by the time Luke records the Acts of the Apostles, those promises have reformed into an entirely new and unanticipated entity. Jews are absorbed into the new thing called “the Church” where Jews and Gentiles are rendered as a completely homogenous mass, something like mixing the different ingredients for “Wonder Bread” into a bowl and baking it up in an oven. Once it’s fully baked, take out the loaf, slice it up, and each piece is pretty much like any other piece…

…anonymous and nutritionally deficient. Everything important has been bleached out.

You have to remember, then, that there was flux in the book of Acts, and that many of these Jewish people who are coming to Christ are finding it hard to get all the way over to the features of Christianity. Not only because of the strength of Judaism but watch this— Secondly, because all of the features of Christianity hadn’t been revealed yet. They really didn’t know what to substitute for it.

Christianity is a substitute for Judaism or rather, a replacement. As the missus would say, “Oy!”

In fact, the Romans considered Christianity a sect of Judaism. As they stood apart and looked at it, they just figured it’s a sect of Judaism. That’s how tightly tied it was.

I apologize, but there’s only one response to that last quote: Oh, duh!

To give you an idea of how entrenched he (the apostle Paul) was in Judaism, Galatians 1:13. He says, “You heard of my manner of life in time past in Judaism. Beyond measure I persecuted the church and wasted it. I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation. More exceedingly zealous in the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “I was a Jew in every sense, even beyond the normal pattern of my fellows.”

Philippians 3:5. “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was a superlegalist. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” He carried through every little nitpicking iota of the ceremonial legalist system. He was a Jew at the limit of Judaism’s capacities.

Yet he became a Christian. When he became a Christian, you can’t make a change even though the man’s heart was changed, and he was a new creation, the transformation of his person took time. I’ve always said, “You take a person with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition and get him saved, and you’ve got a Christian with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.”

MacArthur says that Paul was “entrenched” in Jewish tradition, but in reading MacArthur’s sermon, it’s more than abundantly clear that his own entrenchment in Christian interpretive tradition has blinded him to what the Bible is actually saying. MacArthur’s shooting all around the target but even after decades, he’s still missing it.

In the quote above, MacArthur unfavorably compares Judaism to having “a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.” He had to know how this would sound. I guess his audience didn’t mind. I know I would have, though. In fact, I do mind it right now.

So what am I supposed to learn from reading the sermons of Christian Pastors? What am I supposed to learn from reading John MacArthur’s sermons? Granted, he delivered this sermon over forty years ago, but based on his more recent sermons and commentaries, I have no reason to believe he’s changed his viewpoints on Jews and Judaism one bit.

If I’m being offered a choice between MacArthur’s version of Christianity and a more Judaic and Messianic perspective, based on part one of “From Judaism to Jesus,” I know which direction to go in.

The road

Addendum: In his sermon, MacArthur said that by Acts 2, God considered Judaism to be a dead issue. I just read that in 1942, Adolf Hitler said something quite similar and planned to create “a Museum of Judaism, to remember the dead Jewish religion, culture and people.” Go to the small article at Aish.com and find out how Hitler’s intent completely backfired and ended up “as a living testimony to the indestructibility of the Jewish people.” I think that speaks to Christian assumptions about the “death” of Judaism as well.

For more, go to Part 2 of my review.

The Challies Chronicles: John MacArthur Tests the Spirits

john-macarthurThe second day of the Strange Fire conference began with John MacArthur preaching a message titled “Testing the Spirits.” It was based on 1 John 4: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: John MacArthur Tests the Spirits,” October 17, 2013

This is a continuation of my Challies Chronicles series, reviewing the live blogging of Pastor Tim Challies on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. Based on a conversation I had last week with my Pastor and what I wrote in a previous blog post, I’ll try to exercise more restraint or at least be a little more even-handed in my responses to this topic.

As far as the above-quoted statement goes, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen more than few people in church (not necessarily the one I go to now) attribute their emotional states to an influence of the Holy Spirit. Typically, if a person is facing a tough decision and they pray about it, and then, when they consider one of their options and they experience “a peace” about it, they say that was confirmation from the Spirit that it’s the right decision.

Well, maybe.

And maybe the person just feels at peace with the decision they’d prefer to make, not whether or not it is in the will of God. After all, who says God is in the business of always making us feel good or giving us our heart’s desire constantly. From my experience, God tends to guide people into areas of challenge and difficulty, not on board the gravy train to Heaven.

But let’s see what else Pastor Challies has to say about this presentation by MacArthur.

There are many places in the New Testament where we are told to test all things and this is critical because Satan and his demons exist and because they operate a kingdom of lies that dominates the world. Satan has been allowed to run loose in this world and he and his agents are disguised as angels of light. We should not be surprised that Satan operates 99% of the time in false religion, in lies and deception. He is not the one behind the corruption in sinful society—the flesh takes care of that. He is behind the false systems of belief that pervade this world.

MacArthur said that many Christians get spiritual warfare all wrong and turned briefly to 2 Corinthians 10:3ff where we see that the weapons of our warfare are not human and that we cannot rely on anything concocted by man. Our weapons must be divinely powerful. Why? Because we must be engaged in the destruction of fortresses. The picture here is that human weapons are no match for a huge and impregnable fortress. We are assaulting formidable edifices and cannot use pea-shooters. These fortresses are speculations, ideas, psychologies, and religions. Spiritual warfare is not about running off demons, but battling for the mind.

I have to admit that I am confused about to what extent MacArthur believes the Spirit of God intervenes in our world? How much of what goes on around us can we attribute to God vs. other influences, most of all being human influences, including our personal, internal states?

Calvin and Hobbes discuss evil

MacArthur seems to imbue evil spirits with a great deal of power on the surface, but then he says, “These fortresses are speculations, ideas, psychologies, and religions. Spiritual warfare is not about running off demons, but battling for the mind.”

So really then, “spiritual warfare” isn’t actually battling in a supernatural realm, but dealing with our own thoughts and feelings as well as the stuff that goes on around us in the world every day like cults, new age philosophies, and other institutions. OK, I get that you can’t trust politicians or Scientology. Of course, since he mentioned it, MacArthur’s track record dealing with psychology is pretty sketchy from my point of view.

He is also an advocate of Nouthetic Counseling, which stresses the Bible as a sufficient tool for counseling people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. MacArthur does not reject all forms of psychological theories and techniques, though he considers some psychology and psychiatry as contrary to the Bible.

MacArthur has argued that “True psychology (i.e. “the study of the soul”) can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have the resources for understanding and transforming the soul. The secular discipline of psychology is based on godless assumptions and evolutionary foundations and is capable of dealing with people only superficially and only on the temporal level… Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, Christian psychology is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency….

Wikipedia on MacArthur

By the way, that point of view of mine comes from a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, and fifteen years of post-graduate practice, so it’s not like I don’t have a basis for my opinion. I don’t think counseling psychological disorders absolutely requires that the therapist be a Christian or that the counseling techniques be strictly based on the Bible.

CounselingSure, MacArthur isn’t specifically referencing Nouthetic counseling but since he brought the topic up, I think the it becomes relevant to the current discussion.

But I do believe that people more often than not, create their own problems. They don’t need to look to a supernatural cause right away. When any of us have some sort of difficulty in our lives, the first person we should consider is the one we see in the bathroom mirror every morning.

The architect of it all is Satan, the arch-deceiver.

On the other hand, MacArthur is saying that all of these human caused problems have a supernatural source.

And his solution?

What is our responsibility as Christians? It is to smash these ideologies, to crush these fortifications, and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Once again, we need to remember that we are engaged in a battle for how people think. (emph. mine)

Sorry. Got caught up in the martial language there for a minute.

I’m OK with “obedience to Christ,” but I’m a little worried about “a battle for how people think.” Who is supposed to control my thinking, the Jesus of the Bible, or a particular movement in Christianity? I would prefer the former and turn myself over to God than to man, but that may not mean I’ll always agree with MacArthur or others like him on everything. If I don’t, would he think I was being influenced by Satan? I don’t know. I’ve recently called myself a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism, so I imagine he’d have an opinion on that.

When the Great Awakening broke out, there was much debate about what was and what was not a true work of the Spirit. Jonathan Edwards went to 1 John 4 and MacArthur closely followed Edwards’ The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God…

We are all responsible to assess anything and everything that is claimed to be a work of the Holy Spirit. These are timeless tests for all movements, all preaching, and all preachers. What is truly of the Holy Spirit will conform to these marks.

MacArthur lost me at the Great Awakening. My primary orientation when trying to understand God is the Bible. I’ve recently been chastised by a good friend for not knowing Christian history, but how much authority should I insert into particular events in the history of Christianity vs. the Bible in trying to understand the work of the Holy Spirit?

This is one of those times when my not being a “typical Christian” doesn’t work out so well.

The context for this passage is the work of the Spirit (see 3:24). While the working of the Holy Spirit is invisible, the manifestations of his work are visible. We know Christ abides in us because the Spirit he has given is manifested in us. What is the Spirit doing in us? MacArthur provided a long list. The Spirit creates a desire for repentance, a hatred of sin, a belief in the gospel, a love for Christ, a desire to be a slave of Christ, a delight in Scripture, a longing for obedience, joy in trials, love of other believers, desire for fellowship, illumination of Scripture, a heart of praise, worship as a way of life, increasing Christ-likeness and much more besides.

I’m reassured a bit since MacArthur does believe that the Holy Spirit does have an influence and a tangible impact on our day-to-day lives, prompting us to repentance, inspiring love of Messiah, supporting us in our trials, and so forth.

His major critique of the charismatic movement is that it focuses undue attention on the Holy Spirit and does so at the expense of Christ. Any true preacher will be Christ-dominated and present him in an accurate and exalting way. It is a matter of sound theology and also a matter of preeminence. Where you see any deficiency in the nature and preeminence of Christ, this is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is always to point you to Jesus Christ. Anyone who pollutes the gospel or distracts from the Son to the Spirit is not operating in the Spirit.

The devil would never want men to have more honorable thoughts of Christ and for that reason loves to draw attention away from Christ to a false image of the Holy Spirit. And all the while he pretends to draw attention to Jesus. A true work of the Spirit exalts the true Christ. If the charismatic movement was a movement of the Spirit, it would be Christ-dominated and everyone in the movement would be bowing the knee to the true Christ in belief of the true gospel.

According to leading charismatics, a distinctiveness of the charismatic movement is the preeminence of the Holy Spirit. They have a passion to experience the Spirit’s presence and power. But if the Spirit is the person sought, his work has been rejected. In this movement Christ is obscured, Scripture is depreciated, and a preoccupation with experience is elevated.

Off balanceSorry for the numerous and lengthy quotes, but there’s a lot going on here. I know time and again, I’ve been told to focus on Jesus, only Jesus. I can see that if, as a believer, I want the Holy Spirit to do this dramatic thing or that dramatic thing, or some other dramatic thing, that I’m probably caught up in a religion of sensation and that I’m way off-balance. I get that.

But when told to only, only, only focus on Jesus, I wonder where did God the Father run off to? I mean, MacArthur and a lot of other Christians talk about the Holy Spirit, and they talk lots and lots about Jesus, but where is God? I know. In a trinitarian view, all of them are God, but if that’s true, doesn’t focusing on any one aspect of the trinity make us unbalanced? If it’s possible to focus too much on the Spirit, is it also possible to focus too much on the Son?

I almost never, ever hear anything spoken among Christians about God the Father or, as He would be expressed in the Tanakh (older Jewish scriptures known in Christianity as the “Old Testament”), Hashem. But Jesus talked about Him all the time.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

John 5:19 (NASB)

In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

John 16:23 (NASB)

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You…”

John 17:1 (NASB)

I’m saying all this not to be a theological pain in the neck, but to point out that Jesus always re-directed the attention of his disciples to the Father.

The charismatic movement fails this test of exalting Christ above all. MacArthur said, Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and I’ll show you a person not filled by the Spirit. Show me a person obsessed with Jesus Christ and I’ll show you a Spirit-filled person.

I learned in the Bible to always pray to God in the name of the Messiah. Am I wrong? Am I supposed to pray to Jesus? Am I supposed to be “obsessed” with Jesus so I can “prove” that I’m filled with the Spirit? MacArthur said to “exalt Jesus above all.” I can’t believe he means to exalt the Son over the Father, does he?

Coffee and BibleI agree we need to be mindful of anything we consider a supernatural experience or a “movement of the Spirit.” I’m not much of a spiritualist and I’m certainly not a mystic (although the writings of the mystics make wonderful metaphors). I like reading and I like studying. I think I’m “wired” to go in that direction. But I’m also wired to pay attention to what I read, which most certainly includes the Bible.

I know MacArthur is trying to make a point and the scope of his presentation, his conference, and his book probably don’t allow for answering more broad-based questions, but inadvertently, he brought this subject up so now I think he should have to deal with it.

The Bible doesn’t elevate Jesus above God the Father just as it doesn’t elevate the Spirit above the Father. MacArthur says that overindulging in the Spirit of God to the detriment of everything else God is leads to error, and I completely believe it. But how does MacArthur avoid the same problem when he demands that we should obsess on Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father?

A Sketch of Christian Fundamentalism

How Christian Fundamentalists are seenChristian fundamentalists, who belong in the center field of Biblical theology, find themselves grouped by the media in the same category as militant political extremists, fascists, snake handlers, and Islamic fundamentalists. It’s about time somebody called foul!

The term “fundamentalism,” as Bible-believing Christians use it, identifies a system of beliefs that are foundational, or fundamental, to the Christian faith. Coined at the turn of the twentieth century, in an era of emerging, aggressive theological error, the term still stands as a watershed between truth and apostasy.

-from the pamphlet
“Fundamentally Sound: Understanding Our Faith”
Regular Baptist Press: Building Lives by the Book

(Note: I just want to point out that when you do a Google image search on “Christian fundamentalism” or “Christian fundamentalists,” the results are never pretty).

A Challies Chronicles Interlude

I’ve been trying not to mention my Pastor and my church to any extent in my blog posts to avoid even the hint that I am being critical of either, but there’s no other way to write this “meditation.” Pastor brought to my attention that I might not quite understand the term “fundamentalism” and have even been using it in a pejorative manner. He also explained some differences relative to how Reformed theology is understood.

In an effort to be fair, and to cement this in my memory, I decided to construct a little summary of “what is Christian fundamentalism.” I won’t go into the history (though I took copious notes of Pastor’s discussion), however, after a series of annual conferences held by leading Christian thinkers from America and Canada starting in 1890 and extending to 1930, the “Fundamentals of the Faith” were established, recorded, and published. The first five were fully agreed upon and the sixth was debated and later added. Here’s the list as we have it today:

  1. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture: God authored the entire Bible — every word of it and every part of it (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible is God’s Truth (John 17:17). It is without error!
  2. The Deity of Jesus Christ: He is fully God as well as fully man. He has always existed as God, and He always will be God (John 1:1; 20:31; 1 Tim. 3:16).
  3. Christ’s Virgin Birth and Miracles: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25) and was sinless (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). He performed miracles to authenticate His credentials as Israel’s Messiah (John 20:30, 31).
  4. Christ’s Blood Atonement for Sin: Jesus shed His blood as the payment for our sins. Without the shedding of His blood, there would be no remission of sin (Romans 3:24-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Heb. 9:14-28; Rev. 1:5).
  5. Christ’s Bodily Resurrection: Jesus arose bodily from the grave, triumphing over death and assuring believers of their future resurrection (Luke 24:1-12, 34-38; 1 Cor.15:1-20).
  6. Christ’s Personal Return: Jesus assured His disciples that He will come again (John 14:1-3). Angels announced His return (Acts 1:1), and the apostles taught that He will return (1 Thess. 4:13-17; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:1-10; 1 John 3:2).

This describes the core beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity and as far as I can tell, these six points are generally accepted by most if not all Christians. In fact, if you dispute any one of these points, according to a fundamentalist point of view, you can’t really be called a Christian.

It’s funny how much the topic of apostasy has come up in the Christian, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Jewish areas of the blogosphere lately.

I don’t doubt that many of you out there will have something to say about this list. I copied it word for word from the aforementioned pamphlet, so as far as it goes, I’m just transmitting information, not engaging in editorial commentary (that comes later).

christian-fundamentals-101It all sounds so simple on the surface, but even accepting those six points, there’s still room for a huge amount of variability beneath the overall Christian “umbrella.” As I mentioned to my Pastor last Wednesday, everyone who claims Yeshua-faith as well as religious Jews who deny Yeshua (Jesus) was/is the Messiah all state that scripture supports their positions. Even when considering the rules of Biblical interpretation, there is always the filter of interpretive tradition each religious stream in Christianity and Judaism utilizes to color understanding and meaning. No one has pure, unbiased access to the Bible.

We are all on a journey attempting to discover truth, attempting to achieve ever higher fidelity to the original, that is, the truth of God, and yet we all fall short. This isn’t to say we should all give up, and it isn’t to say that we can’t come closer to truth as we continue our efforts, but achieving the mind of God is like traveling at the speed of light. To do so would require the expenditure of infinite energy and would result in us laboring under infinite mass.

In other words, no matter how hard we try, and what technologies we use, pushing an object in space faster and faster and faster will get us (marginally) closer and closer to the light speed limit, but we will not only fail to ever achieve it, we will probably fall significantly short of our target.

But that doesn’t mean we will ever stop trying, and in fact, NASA continues to look into developing warp drive.

People of faith continue to strive to break the bonds of our humanity in an effort to touch the Divine. The moral equivalent of developing “warp drive.”

My Pastor suggested that it might be helpful for me to listen to some sermons and to gain some actual experience and perspective on Christian thought and Christian leaders. We discussed John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steven J. Cole, and Chuck Swindoll.

I didn’t tell Pastor this (but since he reads my blog posts, he’s about to find out), but I gave up listening to sermons on Christian radio well over a decade ago. Even as a “young Christian,” I found some of the sermons too elementary, some too confusing, and most too critical of Judaism and Israel to be of much help. Sooner or later, the speaker would say something that would make my blood boil, and my commute home from work would be shot as would my mood when I got home.

I listen to the 1960s “oldies” station now and am much happier on my drives.

I’m a guy sitting on a fence. I go to a Christian church, but I think like a “Messianic” (however you want to define the term). More to the point, I think and enjoy Biblical lessons that focus on understanding scripture from the Judaic thought process, linguistic, social, ethnic, and yes, Rabbinic context of the times when those scriptures were authored, and from the viewpoint of the intended Jewish (in most cases) audience.

Hillel and ShammaiKnowing the original languages isn’t enough, because how we interpret what was actually being said has been stripped of most of its contextual meaning. From a Messianic viewpoint, you can’t read the teachings of Jesus without, in some cases, summoning up Hillel and Shammai, who taught a generation before Christ. They were Jewish teachers, Jesus was a Jewish teacher. In many ways, Jesus had a lot more in common with Hillel and Shammai than he has with MacArthur, Sproul, Cole, and Swindoll. I’m not trying to be mean or insulting. It’s a statement of fact. Jesus wouldn’t call himself a “Christian.” He wouldn’t say that the Law was “nailed to the cross.” He wouldn’t disdain the Shabbat, New Moons, or other Biblical festivals.

To understand Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or James, it makes more sense to seek out sources closer to them, not only historically and linguistically, but culturally, ethnically, ethically, as well as in terms of what Jewish traditions and interpretative methods were in play in that place at that time.

I’m not sure how men like MacArthur or even the very user-friendly Chuck Swindoll would approach such a context. I don’t want to be unfair, but I do want to be realistic.

This all goes back to Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David and my recent review of who I am and what I mean within the cultural and theological context of Christianity as an institution.

So far, I see one of three outcomes of my “church experience:”

  1. I stay at church and “assimilate,” becoming a “regular Christian” and abandoning any mental, emotional, theological linkage with Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, and any “Judaic” viewpoint on the Bible.
  2. I stay at church but maintain my current perspective, even expanding it though self-study and contact (real or virtual) with others who share my basic viewpoint, generally being a curiosity, a pain in the neck, or ideally, a refreshing conveyer of the Messianic perspective within the church environment.
  3. I give up on Christianity as an institution entirely, leave church, and pursue a life of faith as an independent “free-agent.”

As the end of my first year in church approaches (or has it arrived by now?), I feel like I’m crossing some sort of milestone or threshold. A year in church as resulted in me learning more about the history and institution of Christianity, but it hasn’t diminished the perspective I possessed when I went back to church a year ago. If anything, having to debate my perspective has driven me to do even more reading and studying, strengthening my belief in a Jewish Yeshua and the continuance of Jewish Torah observance for all Jews of faith, including Jews in the body of Messiah.

Every time I enter into such a brain bending set of debates and discussions, I have to get away for a while afterward and be alone with God. God may not be entirely knowable, but He isn’t confusing, either. He is a listener. He doesn’t have much to say most of the time when I pray, but it’s good to be able to tell Him how crazy religion makes me sometimes.

praying-aloneI’m glad He’s there. I’m glad I can remember that regardless of all the religious preachers and pastors and rabbis and sages rolling around human history and the current theological landscape, there is an eternal God who is the point of everything everyone is trying to do. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the arguments. In the end, God reigns supreme. In the end, God will stop listening and start talking. Then, if we are wise even to the slightest degree, we will stop talking and listen.

It’s in moments like these that I continue to pursue God, moments when it is dark and quiet, and the only sound is the passage of my voice to the Heavens. God listens. Being with Him is very peaceful and comforting. The chaos of human religion seems miles away.

I’ll return to my review of the Strange Fire conference soon.

In the meantime, tomorrow’s latest review of an episode of First Fruits of Zion’s television series and Wednesday’s follow up on that content continues the discussion of who I am as a believer. I said above that I was sitting on a fence. Wednesday, you will see me hopping off and I will show you on which side of the fence I land.