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John MacArthur: What’s the Biggest Danger to the Church?

Famed pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, recently reacted to denominations that have taken more liberal approaches to gay marriage, among other issues, telling The Blaze that “they have no allegiance to the Bible.”

MacArthur, author of “Being a Dad Who Leads,” said that these denominations — like Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently voted to allow same-sex nuptials — and their associated seminaries have been skirting scriptural tenets for decades.

He patently described them as “false churches” that fail to teach biblical truths.

-Billy Hallowell
‘They Are Satan’s Church’: Famed Pastor’s Tough Message for Christian Denominations Condoning Homosexuality, Jul. 14, 2014
The Blaze

I guess you could say that John MacArthur is at it again. Nearly a year ago, he held his infamous Strange Fire Conference where he and a group of like-minded Pastors took Charismatics and the Pentecostal Church to task for their various failings as MacArthur sees them.

Now, he’s come up with a new label: “Satan’s Church.”

In this case, that appellation is used to describe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) specifically because of their support of and advocacy for gay marriage in their churches. I wonder if there is another conference in MacArthur’s near future to be closely followed by another published book? I suppose he could save himself the trouble, since Michael Brown recently wrote his own book on gays and the church called Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality. Coincidentally, this book was released very soon after Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships which I reviewed a couple of months back. I have also addressed other commentaries on this topic including a brief article describing MacArthur’s advice to Christian parents with gay children.

But believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about gays in the church (or gays at all) in this “meditation.” I’m not super-duper concerned about some liberal churches offering inclusiveness and equality to disenfranchised populations such at the LBGTQ community. If I have anything against the PCUSA church at all, it has to do with their current strategy of disinvestment from Israel. You know, Israel, where there’s currently a war going on (I picked that story from Arutz Sheva just because it is the most recent one published as I write this)?

It seems as if MacArthur’s reputation, what I know of it anyway, is built upon who or what he is against rather than who or what he supports. This is a pretty common tactic and I run into it all the time in the religious blogosphere. Actually, some of the more “notorious” blogs within my awareness have been rather quiet lately. Maybe people are learning that continually engaging in controversy and fomenting “us vs. them” arguments within the community of faith doesn’t really serve the cause of Heaven (but then, what am I doing now?).

Seems MacArthur hasn’t gotten the memo on this yet.

Frankly, if I had to choose between being upset because a church advocates for marriage equality or a church advocates throwing national Israel and the Jewish people under a bus, I’d get upset over the latter. If MacArthur wants to impress me (and I’m sure he doesn’t since my existence would be less than nothing to him…thankfully), he can stand up in support of Israel’s struggle against terrorism.

So I became curious. What does MacArthur think…not of the final destiny of Israel in God’s plan, but of Israel as she exists today?

It wasn’t easy to find out, at least in text form. I finally found a short video (two minutes, eleven seconds) where “Mac” put his opinion in a nutshell.

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

Basically he says that national Israel today is vulnerable, in constant danger, and the Jews are an abused and beleaguered people. Why? Because of God’s Divine judgment against Israel for rejecting her Messiah.

I hate to sound snarky but I sometimes wonder if MacArthur ever reads the Bible. I know he must because MacArthur is a staunch advocate of reading and studying the Bible (though I have issues with some of his study recommendations). It’s one of his strengths and he encourages every Christian to read the Bible frequently:

Bible study begins with reading. Yet, quite frankly, a lot of people never get to that point. At best, they nibble at the text. They may read books about the Bible or devotional materials loosely based on it, but they don’t read the Bible itself. Good Christian books and magazines that supplement your Bible reading are fine, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture.

Which makes it all the more difficult for me to understand where MacArthur got the crazy idea that God would ever judge or punish Israel for rejecting the Messiah. The Torah is replete with the conditions Israel must meet to obey God and the consequences for disobedience. Over the many years I’ve been reading and studying the Torah and the rest of the Bible, I have never found even a single verse where God directly addresses Israel stating that they would be exiled, abused, punished, judged, beleaguered, or anything else, specifically for rejecting the Messiah.

In fact, the Torah, the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) really, barely addresses the Messiah, particularly in terms of Israel’s acceptance or rejection of him. There are no blessings for recognizing and welcoming the Messiah and no consequences for failing to recognize or rejecting the Messiah.

Period.

So Israel’s exile from her Land nearly two-thousand years ago, the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, had nothing to do with “rejecting Jesus.” Orthodox Judaism tends to believe the most recent exile was due to the baseless hatred of one Jew for another although there are other opinions. If you want a more Biblical approach, study Torah Portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) and read a few commentaries for good measure. If you find anything in the curses about rejecting Jesus, please let me know.

IsraelWhile MacArthur’s opinion about the reason for Israel’s exile can’t be supported by the Bible, he also believes Israel continues to exist because God is going to save Israel. In the above-mentioned video, MacArthur states that just before all the nations of the Earth turn against Israel and go to war against her, God will save Israel by having them accept Jesus as the Messiah. Once they do and the worldwide attack against the Jewish nation begins, God will defend Israel:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves.

Zechariah 12:10-14 (NASB)

In searching for material regarding MacArthur’s views on the modern state of Israel, I came across a 2009 commentary by Russell D. Moore called Should We Support Israel? which says in part:

Dispensationalists have served the church by pointing us to our responsibility to support the Jewish people and the nation of Israel through a century that has seen the most horrific anti-Semitic violence imaginable.

We need not hold to a dispensationalist view of the future restoration of Israel (and I don’t) to agree that such support is a necessary part of a Christian eschatology (and I do).

Novelist Walker Percy pointed to the continuing existence of Jewish people as a sign of God’s presence in the world. There are no Hittites walking about on the streets of New York, he remarked.

There does appear to be a promise of a future conversion of Jewish people to Christ (Rom 9-11). The current secular state of Israel is not the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham; Jesus is.

That seems to be more or less what MacArthur is saying. There’s nothing “special” about current, secular Israel and its only unique quality is that God made an eternal promise to that nation above all other nations and God will fulfill His promise by redeeming Israel in the eschatological future. He seems to miss that Israel’s existence at all is a miracle of God and the beginning of His fulfillment of His promises to restore national Israel and return the Jewish exiles to their Land. In fact, less than a week ago, 400 Jews made aliyah from France even in the face of the current hostilities with Hamas. Those French Jews returning to their homeland are a dramatic indication that God, even now, is making good on His prophetic Word to Israel.

But along with Moore, MacArthur appears to think that all of the Jewish people will turn to Jesus, that is, convert to Christianity (though they’ll remain ethnically Jewish) and only then God will save them from their enemies.

JerusalemThat’s hardly the way I’d put it since such a viewpoint devalues current Israel and all Jewish people living today, and also replaces the Jewish people as a distinct entity with “the Church”.

Based on MacArthur’s video, he likely sees the current battles between Israel and Hamas as just another expression of God’s Divine judgment against an unbelieving Jewish nation. That would make the vicious terrorist organization Hamas an instrument of God’s judgment against the Jews, the latest in a long, long list, according to how a lot of Evangelicals see Jewish history. The Church can be very hard on Israel. More’s the pity.

In Sunday school class recently, when Charlie was asking for prayer requests, I asked for prayer for Israel. Apparently citing Psalm 122:6, he said we (Christians) are commanded to pray for the peace of Israel. You don’t hear about Christians being commanded to do very much typically, particularly in a Church setting. It was refreshing.

Yes, we should pray for the peace of the only nation that has had God as their King, the world’s only fully functional theocracy, and the only nation that is the direct object of all of the New Covenant promises of God.

MacArthur needs another windmill to tilt at and this time he’s chosen the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of their views on gay marriage. Will gays in the Church be a big focus of God’s as His redemptive plan for Israel and the rest of the world continues to move forward? How many prophecies are there regarding homosexuality within the covenant community vs. how many are there about the New Covenant, the Messianic Kingdom, and the redemption of national Israel? I’ll let you do the math.

For me, at the end of the day, it’s not that I’m against PCUSA, but rather that I stand with Israel because God stands with Israel…and He will take care of her.

“And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NASB)

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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”
patheos.com

“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”
Aish.com

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.

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.

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 3

We were sitting in the State Dining Room just to the left of George Healy’s arresting portrait of Abraham Lincoln, seated forward and listening intently. I couldn’t help recalling the stinging words from his Second Inaugural Address: “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Jewish and Catholic Views on Abortion,” pg 264 – Jan. 28, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Through Grace Church we ought to probably say for our first time guests we believe in two things that make the church what it ought to be. One is love. And that’s an honest kind of biblical love. The other is sound doctrine. And so our commitment is not only to love the brothers and exercise the ministry of spiritual gifts and the responsibilities of fellowship to one another, but it is also to systematically verse by verse teach the Bible. Believing that if we protect the saints, the saints will do the work of the ministry.

And so in our study of the Scripture, we find ourselves in the book of Acts which is the historical record of the early church from the day of Pentecost through those early years. And we have come in our study to the 18th chapter and really begun what is one message in three parts as often we find is the case. We’re studying the subject generally from Judaism to Jesus. And beginning in 18:18 the Holy Spirit gives us three incidents or three little experiences that illustrate to us the transition that was taking place from Judaism to Jesus.

-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

This is continued from Part Two of my review and is the third and final offering in MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” series and thus my third and final review of the material. I thought I was through with MacArthur when I finished my reviews of the various sessions of his Strange Fire conference, but he keeps popping up on my radar screen. Hopefully, this last review of his sermons will put all the “demons” surrounding my dubious interest in this Pastor to rest.

When Christianity was established and a new covenant was introduced, there were many Jews who found it very difficult to make all of the transition very rapidly. And so there were people in the midst of transition, coming to Jesus Christ from Judaism and caught somewhere in the transition.

And we come in to this study to the third section of our transitional study, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 19 and we meet a group of 12 men who also are in transition. Now remember this, that the whole of Judaism pervaded all of these people’s lives, Christianity came in and it took a while for all of the adjustments to take place. In some cases like Paul, he couldn’t let go of some old patterns. Like Apollus (sic) he just didn’t know the whole Gospel.

Paul personally had two extraordinary visions of the Master, was hand-picked by the exalted Jesus to be God’s emissary to the Gentiles and to take the Gospel message to the then-civilized world, and yet MacArthur has the bald-faced chutzpah to say that Paul couldn’t let go of Judaism because “he just didn’t know the whole gospel.” Amazing.

John MacArthurI think MacArthur, like many Christians, believes that the gospel or “good news” is a New Testament invention of Jesus rather than one that is more expansive, dates back much farther in Jewish history than Jesus, and is not simply defined by the textual contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you’d like (or maybe need) a primer on what “gospel” and “the gospel message” means, please see the thirty-minute episode The Gospel Message of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come.

At this point, it might be good to have a look at the scripture MacArthur is referencing:

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.

Acts 19:1-7 (NASB)

Now remember, MacArthur is teaching that this passage indicates a transition is taking place in the lives of Jewish believers “from Judaism to Jesus.” In reading the text, I’m not seeing immediate signs of any difficulty with Judaism, struggle in transition, or some sort of apparent conflict between Judaism and Jesus. What does MacArthur have to say (besides, quite a lot)?

Now that question posed in 19:2, “have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed” has become the favorite question of a modern movement in Christianity. And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong. The point of view that I take here is simply the exposition of the text. But I want to approach it in the light of a current movement because then I think you can see its significance.

We live in a day when the movement that we know of is Pentecostalism or if you will the later movement begun in 1960 called the charismatic movement has posed this question as the question to ask Christians. “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” The view that they take is that you can be a Christian and not possess the Holy Spirit. And at some point after your salvation you then by a certain activity allowed through certain information to come to the knowledge of the fact that the Spirit is available to you and that you can receive the Holy Spirit in certain ways.

Strange FireRemember, MacArthur originally delivered this sermon in January 1974, nearly forty years before his controversial Strange Fire conference. And yet, he approaches the issue of Pentecostalism in basically the same manner four decades ago as he did just four months ago, and anticipates the response to his message in the words, “And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong,” knowing his message would sound like he was looking for a fight and to define right and wrong by his standards. When he says his point of view “is simply the exposition of the text,” he creates the illusion that he is only reporting the facts with no filters in place and no embellishment of the Biblical text. As we’ve seen time and again in analyzing his messages (and in examining just about anyone’s theological bent), there are always interpretive filters in place. The Bible can’t be understood without interpretation, even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Here, in the guise of an analysis of Acts 19 and even a replacement theory viewpoint of “from Judaism to Jesus,” MacArthur takes a stab at the Pentecostal church.

And we’re going to approach this question to try to show that the Christian, whoever he is, receives the Holy Spirit in full permanent, personal in dwelling from the moment of salvation. And this is an important question. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this. People say to me, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” And I say, “Of course.” And one fellow said, “Oh, I didn’t realize. You’re one of us.” I said, “Well I don’t know about that, I might be one of you, what are you?”

It’s actually an interesting situation. Some people who were believers received the Holy Spirit and some didn’t know that they were supposed to. I don’t think that Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10) expected to receive the Holy Spirit. They just did. For that matter, did the apostles in Acts 2 really expect to receive the Spirit as “tongues of fire” or did it just happen to them without any expectation?

Are you only a believer if you receive the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 and Acts 10 way? I don’t recall any “tongues of fire” and speaking foreign languages or prophesying when I became a believer. Maybe I’m the same boat as the disciples in Ephesus who received John’s baptism but not the Spirit. For that matter, Acts 8 records the Ethiopian becoming a believer during his conversation with Philip but is conspicuous in that he did not receive the Spirit. He was just baptised in water and went on his merry way back home. Did Philip not know about the Spirit? Did he not receive it in Acts 2?

I wonder what MacArthur would think about all these monkey wrenches in the machine? When he became a believer, did he see tongues of fire, speak in foreign languages and speak prophesies? If not, why not? Is that one of the “gifts of the Spirit” we don’t experience today? Do we just presume that the Spirit inhabits us when we declare our faith in Messiah?

If you make the book of Acts the norm, then you got tremendous problems. You’re going to have to allow for revelation current today. You’re going to have to allow for Apostles today. You’re going to have to allow for all of the signs and wonders and miracles that accompanied the early church and the various manifestations. Not just in some segments of Christianity, but throughout unqualified. There are many problems.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur spends quite some time going over various arguments he has with Pentecostals, which isn’t what I expected to read about and isn’t the focus of my interest in this sermon series. He does seem to say that we can’t expect to receive the Holy Spirit as believers in the manner commonly observed in the Book of Acts, so I guess that covers those of us who didn’t have a “tongues of fire” experience. Actually in this, I tend to agree more with MacArthur than some of his opponents. We don’t seem to find the same experiences when we become believers as the apostles and early disciples did.

So now we’re back to MacArthur the Supersessionist:

So as we see in the book of Acts is a transition. The new covenant comes, the old covenant has died and as the book of Hebrews says, “It fades away, it decays and grows old.” But as the new covenant arrives, the people come to Christ which is a momentary miracle; they still find it difficult to make the full transition. And so in the book of Acts, there are various transitional things occurring. There are some old things that just kind of die slowly. Some old forms like for example, the early church met in the synagogue.

Again, this is straight replacement theology, with the New Covenant directly replacing the Old Covenant rather than, as we see in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the New Covenant restating and reasserting the conditions of the previous covenants for Israel. In fact, only one condition in the Abrahamic Covenant can be directly applied to Gentiles having a binding relationship with God, and that’s only through faith as Abraham had faith. And it’s only because that one condition in the Abrahamic covenant is carried over and restated in the New Covenant that Gentiles have access to reconciliation with God through faith.

In other words, there’s no provision in the covenantal structure for new to replace old. New simply ratifies older and re-emphasizes it. It took me a long time to figure this out, about eleven blog posts worth, starting with this one. The revelation in my self-education is why I can’t swallow the traditional Christian replacement theology model. The Bible, and particularly the language around the New Covenant, just doesn’t support it.

“Paul after this charity good while in Corinth and then he took his leave of the brothern, (sic) sailed from there to Syria, with him Priscilla and Aquila. Paul having cut his hair in Cenchrea for he had a vow.” And that tells us he was in transition, he was still making vows on an Old Testament basis, Nazarite vow and he did it in thanks to God for delivering him from Gallio and from those Jews in Corinth who wanted to take his life.

No, Pastor MacArthur, that tells us Paul took a Nazarite vow in accordance to Numbers 6. There’s nothing in the text that says anything about a transition. Please stop reading into the text.

Now this shows you this stringent nature of Paul’s Judaism, even though he was a Christian, he still wanted to fulfill this vow in the right way and he wanted to be there for the feast which was a Judaistic feast.

MacArthur sets Christianity and Judaism in sharp contrast to one another, making them mutually exclusive. One could not practice Judaism as a Jew and at the same time pay homage to and be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

That is a crazy statement to make, but all too many Christians don’t see the glaring error in Biblical interpretation. If Sola Scriptura is really supposed to mean “by scripture alone,” traditional Biblical interpretation in the modern Christian church doesn’t meet this standard by a long shot. You can’t be reading the plain meaning of the text in the larger context of the book and the even larger context of all of the scriptures and come to the conclusions at which MacArthur arrives.

I was about ready to dismiss the rest of his sermon when I came across this paragraph:

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.

MessiahI find it astonishing that MacArthur can read one of the key texts that describe the New Covenant and still not know what it means. Do we have a new heart and a new spirit yet as Christians? We do? Really? Then why do we still struggle? Why do we still sin? If we got that new heart and new spirit already, what can we look forward to in the Messianic Era when human beings are perfected and King Messiah establishes his reign of total peace and understanding of God?

I hope you understand that. And again I hope you understand that this is said with a sense of love and a sensitivity to the fact that many could construe that I am bitter towards these people (the twelve disciples Paul encounters in Acts 19:1-7). I am not; I am zealous for the glory of God. Well so we meet the third party in transition. Let me close by saying this. We met three little transitions here, didn’t we? First Paul, then Apollos, then the 12. And you know something? We’re a long way from the book of Acts. But we see these three groups still. You know that in the church of Jesus Christ we’ve got people like Paul who are saved, have come all the way to Jesus Christ, but they’re hanging on to legalism?

There’s no way to know what MacArthur really thinks and feels, so I guess I have to take it for granted that MacArthur really doesn’t have it in for the twelve presumably Jewish disciples under discussion because they had the baptism of John but not the Holy Spirit. MacArthur, referencing his first two sermons as well as this one, says that Paul, Apollos, and the twelve were all Jews in transition from Judaism to Jesus.

They’re hanging on to old patterns, traditions, even some Jewish people who find it very difficult to fully absorb themselves in the life of the church. And I say this; I praise God for Jewish Christians who function fruitfully in the ministry of the body of Christ as opposed to maintaining isolation. But you know we have many believers today in Christ who are still they’re not in yet. They’re still holding on to old things. And then we have people like Apollos, sure we have people who good people, honest people, repentive sin, they just believe in God, but they’ve never met Christ.

It seems that MacArthur is praising the Jewish people who have become believers and assimilated into the Gentile Christian Church, while “challenging” or “not praising” those Jews who are believers but who “can’t let go of the old ways” and saying they know God but haven’t met Christ. They’re “not in yet,” according to MacArthur. So much for Messianic Jews, apparently. They aren’t real believers until they set aside the mitzvot and the traditions and function just like goyim in the Church. Ham sandwich, anyone?

Maybe they think of Jesus as a wonderful teacher, a man of great ethics, they never come to the cross and the resurrection. And then we’ve got a lot of people running around who are uninstructed in the Holy Spirit. Much of it is because they don’t even know Jesus Christ. Some know Christ. And grieve the Spirit by misunderstanding His marvelous work. I hope you’re not in transition. I hope like the writer of Hebrews says, “you will come all the way to the fullness of experiencing all that God has provided for you.” Let’s pray.

Ending MacArthur seriesAnd so we come to the end of the sermon and the end of the sermon series. As far as praying goes, now that I’ve reviewed three of MacArthur’s sermons as well as writing multiple reviews of the “Strange Fire” presentations, I pray I can let go of John MacArthur. He can travel his particular trajectory and I can travel mine.

We both read the same Bible and we pray to the same God but, like Abraham Lincoln once said, in our own ways, as Messianic to supersessionistic Christian, we “each invoke God’s aid against the other.” I actually don’t want to oppose Pastor John MacArthur. I don’t want to define myself as an “anti-MacArthurite.” But I do, as I have made abundantly clear, disagree with him pretty much across the board. I think he represents everything that inhibits Boaz Michael’s vision of Gentiles partnering with Israel in rebuilding David’s fallen tent. I think MacArthur is the living embodiment of Boaz’s statement, “The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.”

More’s the pity.

Addendum: Turns out my Pastor preached on this part of Acts as well recently. Tomorrow’s morning meditation will contain my Pastor’s take on some of this, which should augment and occasionally modify what MacArthur preached.

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 2

Now, I’ve entitled this portion, beginning in chapter 18 verse 18 through chapter 19 verse 7, we’ve entitle (sic) it From Judaism to Jesus because it does portray for us a transition. We have made the mention in past studies that the Book of Acts records for us transitions and we see the fading out of Judaism and the coming in of Christianity. In understanding this, we have to understand that it sometimes was a slow transition. Salvation is not a transition; it’s a momentary miracle. But losing all of the trappings of Judaism came a little slower. People would get saved and then find it hard to let go over everything, and so there was a certain amount of difficulty in making the transition from Judaism to Jesus. And as I said last week, we find that true very often today, even with Jews who come to Jesus Christ and find it difficult to break with patterns that were so much a part of Judaism.

Now, I think part of this is due to the fact, maybe most of it is due to the fact that Judaism in itself is such a distinct kind of life. Now, we could talk for a long time about the distinctions of Judaism and I don’t mean to do that, but in some generality to point out to you the distinctness of Judaism, in order that you might understand how difficult the transition comes about.

-John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 2,” January 20, 1974
Commentary on Acts 18:24-28
GTY.org

I reviewed part one of this series last week and I can’t say I’ve received Pastor MacArthur’s rendering of ancient or modern Judaism with any sort of enthusiasm. MacArthur characterizes the Book of Acts as a chronicle of transition, literally “from Judaism to Jesus.” I couldn’t disagree more, but to give him a fair shake (to the best of my admittedly waning ability), I’ll continue to read the sermons of this series and offer my comments.

MacArthur says that the transition away from Judaism was really difficult for the Jewish people because of this:

For example, a Jewish town or a Jewish city or township or village, no matter whether it was centered right in the midst of a Pagan country or whether it was butted up against a Pagan society in another city, still maintained an amazing uniqueness, and no matter how much interrelation and intercourse economically and culturally and all it happened to have with Pagans, it seemed never to be tainted by Paganism. There was just such a unique identity and this was particularly around the time of Christ and the time of the New Testament.

You couldn’t even enter a Jewish town or enter a Jewish village without feeling like you had almost stepped into another world. You get that feeling today when you go to Jerusalem, not so much when you see the hustle and bustle of a modern city, but when you happen to be isolated with a group, say, of Orthodox Jews who are doing what only Orthodox Jews do, you feel that somehow something’s wrong. You’re out of whack or they’re out of whack with the world.

Interestingly enough, even among modern observant Jews, the sense of distinctiveness between the Jewish community and the surrounding peoples is considered not only normal but necessary in order to fulfill the requirements of God for the Jewish people.

MacArthur distinguishes Christianity and Judaism in a number of ways during his sermon, but I found this paragraph rather telling.

I think that, for most of us, we tend to look at religion in this frame. But Judaism was not such an isolated creed of theology. You see, it was a whole way of life. It pervaded every single human relationship. It pervaded every single attitude toward eating and drinking and clothing and all kinds of things in terms of economy, not just a set of observances, not just a creed, but a way of life and you could never just suck Jewish theology out and remove Judaism. No, because Judaism was a way of life.

Although, at least in theory, being a Christian should also be a way of life, in fact, MacArthur seems to say that Judaism is more of a way of life than Christianity. He says this is why the Jewish people had so difficult a time in giving up Judaism, because it completely defined every aspect of Jewish living. Really, MacArthur. You say all that and you still don’t see a problem with requiring that Jewish people surrender everything that defines them, makes them unique, and enables them to continue forward through history without being destroyed on the altar of assimilation?

To his credit, MacArthur does say that there was faith, grace, and salvation in the Old Testament, but he blows past that part very quickly and “starts in” on the Rabbis.

…throughout the history of Israel, there have always been rabbis, which means teacher or master. And all of these rabbis were teaching and interpreting and adding to Scripture. And, of course, the esteem of a rabbi was so great that what the rabbi said was often written down. And all of these things were gathered and gathered and accumulated until today, you have this monstrous set of volumes known as the Talmud. And the Talmud is all of these rabbinical statements added onto the Biblical, and you will find that if you visit any rabbi who was at all involved in what he ought to be involved in as a rabbi, you would find that he has not only prescribed his life around the Old Testament, but perhaps even more so around the Talmud where he is following up all of the interpretations and suggestions of all the rabbis, some of which, most of which are unnecessary and unbiblical.

ancient_rabbisThis is MacArthur’s conceptualization of Rabbinic Judaism, the body of religious and cultural Judaism that enabled the continuation of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple and after most of collective human Israel had been exiled from their Land. In the world according to MacArthur, the Rabbis were just a bunch of guys who added unnecessary stuff to the Bible.

He briefly makes some sort of commentary on the “Shimah.” I’ll take it for granted that whoever transcribed MacArthur’s sermon didn’t know the accepted English spelling of “Shema” and that MacArthur didn’t find it necessary to proofread the text. On the other hand, his sermons could have been transcribed years or decades after the fact.

But then there’s this story:

There was a rabbi by the name of Rabbi Jacanon Van Saccai (sic). It was written of him that he said this at his death. And it was interesting because he was called The Light of Israel. He lived at the time of the destruction of the temple. He was a very famous man, highly esteemed. And he was the president of the San Hedron (sic) or the ruling body of Israel. So he was not a small-time rabbi, but a very important man. On his deathbed, he began to weep just bitterly and profusely, and some of his students who had studied under him and sat at his feet couldn’t believe this.

Just to clarify, MacArthur is referring to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai who I’ll discuss a bit later, and the “San Hedron” is the Sanhedrin, which is not a ruling body but the highest religious court assembly in ancient Israel.

And they asked him how such a man who had lived as he could have such fear of death, and this was his reply and I quote, “If I were now to be brought before an Earthly kind who lives today and dies tomorrow, whose wrath and whose bonds are not everlasting and whose sentence of death even is not that to everlasting death, who can be assuaged by arguments or perhaps bought off by money, I should still tremble and weep. How much more reason have I for it when about to be led before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed by (sic) He who liveth and abideth forever, whose chains are chains forevermore, whose sentence of death kills forever, whom I cannot assuage with words nor bride (sic) with money and not only so, but there are before me two ways: one’s a paradise and the other one to hell. And I know not which of the two ways I shall have to go. How then shall I not shed tears?” End quote. The man believed that there was only one (way) to enter into heaven and that was to keep the law and he knew in his conscious (conscience?) that he hadn’t done it, and he had a fear of spending forever in hell. You see, he had no concept of faith, no concept of grace. He was in a system that bound him and if he didn’t do what the system wanted him to do, he believed he’d go to hell forever.

This is a fairly well-known story, but my memory of it didn’t match MacArthur’s description which seems to contain blatant assumptions about why the revered sage was so fearful. I did a bit of research and found more about the rather tragic deathbed scene as recorded by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld at Torah.org

In spite of it all, R. Yochanan was plagued with doubts for the rest of his life. The Talmud records that on his deathbed, he tearfully told his students that he has two paths before him — to Heaven and to Hell — and he was literally unsure along which one he would be led (Brachos 28b). He took it upon himself to change the course of Jewish history, and to his dying moments was never truly sure he had chosen right. (I heard this explanation of the Talmud from R. Berel Wein.)

jewish-traditionBut according to Rabbi Rosenfeld, R. Yochanan was not terrified of “going to Hell” because he relied on an unreliable Torah and lacked the grace of Jesus Christ, he was deeply troubled that he had not made the correct decision in preserving the Jewish people and the Torah.

According to the Talmud (Gittin 56), when the Romans had surrounded Jerusalem in the final siege that heralded the destruction of the Temple, many Jewish people wanted to fight and die rather than give in to the Romans, but R. Yochanan was concerned that this would only result in total extermination of the Jews and elimination of the Torah from all the earth.

As the story goes, R. Yochanan had himself smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin and eventually made an arrangement with the Roman general Vespasian to establish a center of learning in Yavneh, along with its sages, so that the study and observance of Torah could continue.

This agreement wasn’t incredibly popular with a lot of Jewish people as you might imagine, and even to the end of his days, R. Yochanan was tortured with whether or not he made the right decision to hand Jerusalem and the Temple over to the enemy, even to preserve Jewish lives and ensure the continuation of Torah study.

Sorry to occupy so much space on what seems to be a minor portion of MacArthur’s sermon, but I felt it necessary to set the record straight and present the Jewish point of view (to the best of my ability) on the life and death of Yochanan ben Zakkai.

MacArthur tends to play fast and loose with Jewish history, Jewish concepts, and Jewish people (see his comments on “sloppy” below), and since he’s made the decision to eliminate Judaism at Acts 2 and to declare that it was going through a slow and agonizing death, I have some concerns that MacArthur, for all of his apparent education, may not truly understand some of the things and people he’s talking about.

Now that we have MacArthur’s opinion on R. Yochanan, this is how he sees the apostle Paul:

Well, now watch. Into this system comes a man by the name of Paul and he’s running around say(ing), “Grace. Grace. Forget all the laws.” And the Jews are having culture shock. There’s no way they can handle that. That’s why when he went into the synagogue the reaction was so violent. See?

Never mind a more scholarly approach that does not present Paul as rather gleefully “Law-free,” such as what I’ve been studying in the Mark Nanos books The Mystery of Romans and The Irony of Galatians. According to MacArthur, Paul just made Judaism go away and proceeded to enter the various synagogues in the diaspora claiming, “Grace. Grace. Forget all the laws.” This isn’t a description of a real to life, complicated, intelligent human being with a very difficult task as the Jewish emissary of Messiah to the Gentiles. MacArthur seems to be describing Paul as a cartoon. Who’s adding to scripture now?

And what about Peter and Acts 10?

“And which were all matter of four-footed beasts of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things,” that’s snakes and reptiles and birds, fowls of the air. “And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.'” Now, that sounds like a simple thing. He sees in his vision all these animals and the voice says, “Go ahead, Peter, just kill them all and eat.”

Now what’s he saying? Well, in effect, he’s saying there’s no distinction because in the Old Testament there were certain things a Jew couldn’t eat, right? And Peter had lived all his life that way. And now in the New Covenant, Jew and Gentile were going to be one in the church, and God didn’t want any difference anymore. There is no difference.

You think Peter could’ve gone, “Oh, fine Lord. Sure. Just pass the plate. I’ll eat whatever’s there.” No. Couldn’t handle it.

Verse 14. “And Peter said, ‘Not so Lord.'” Peter actually said, “No, Lord.” That’s pretty flagrant disobedience. This can’t be. Are you kidding me? “For I’ve never eaten anything that is common or unclean in my life, I’ve never done that. Salvation or no salvation, I can’t handle it.” See.

jewish-t-shirtMaybe what’s rubbing me the wrong way is MacArthur’s casual and even disrespectful manner in talking about Yochanan ben Zakkai, Paul, and Peter. He seems to be making fun of them because they couldn’t “let go” of this “Jewish stuff.” Maybe it’s because my wife and kids are Jewish. I just get the feeling MacArthur wants to laugh at them or to discount them. I hope I’m not being too personal in my review.

It also seems like MacArthur is reading a lot into the text (adding to scripture?), as if God really expected Peter to start shoveling a sheet load of “trief” down without so much as a by your leave. In fact, the vision of Peter in Acts 10 had nothing to do with unclean food:

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. (emph. mine)

Acts 10:28

There’s also a difference between unkosher animals and unclean foods, but for the sake of time, I’ll refer you to the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television episode All Foods Clean or my review of the program for the details.

Of the lives of the apostles, MacArthur said:

Now, we want to live by biblical doctrine, but I’m not interested in going back there. I’m not interested in having trouble over what I eat like Peter did. I’m not interested in going over to the temple in Jerusalem and making vows like Paul did and having to take a Nazarite vow and cut all my hair and haul my hair half way across the world so I can burn it properly in Jerusalem. I’m not interested in all the trappings of Judaism.

I suppose I don’t blame him for saying that since he believes Judaism was horribly burdensome and became extinct after Acts 2, but he really shouldn’t worry since, not being Jewish, he wouldn’t have been required to observe Torah in the manner of believing (or unbelieving) Jews (see the Acts 15 legal decision). Besides, a Nazarite vow was totally voluntary and most Jews likely never took that particular vow.

But what does any of this have to do with Acts 18:24-28? Not much. Apparently it takes MacArthur quite a while to set the stage for what he’s actually going to talk about.

And you see, here’s Paul. You say, “He’s a Christian. What’s he doing?” Sure, he’s a Christian, but as a Christian, he’s also a Jew. He’s been a Christian a little while. He’s been a Jew all his life. And he’s saying to himself, “I’m grateful to God for what He did, and the way that I know best how to show Him how grateful I am is to do what all good Jews do.” And the high point of their thanks is to take a Nazarite vow, and so he did what a Jew would do. Because that was his life, that was the way he thought.

This is part of what was taught during the sermon and at Sunday school last week at the church I attend. I didn’t go last week, but I did do the homework for class, which is based in part on MacArthur’s opinion of Paul and Nazarite vows. I didn’t find anything in Numbers 6 that mapped to why MacArthur believes one takes such a vow out of gratitude for what God has done. My understanding is that one took a Nazarite vow in order to temporarily experience a heightened state of ritual purity.

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 18:24-28 (NASB)

I didn’t really think much about all this. It made sense in those days that because information traveled rather slowly throughout the then-civilized world, different bodies of believers might have inconsistent knowledge of the teachings of the Master and the experience of disciples in other places.

But MacArthur interprets this portion of scripture in a unique way:

Now, Apollos is a Jew and he is from the city of Alexandria.

He was a powerful man in terms of teaching. And let me just say at this point that his power at this point was the natural. He was not a Christian at this point, so consequently, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I believe that Apollos was not a Christian but that he was a student of John the Baptist.

Now, see, here is a man who accepted all the way of the Lord in the Old Testament, accepted the ministry of John the Baptist, saw that John pointed to Jesus and said, Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” and he believed that Jesus was the Messiah. You say then, “Why wasn’t he a Christian?” Because he didn’t know what happened in the death, resurrection and Pentecost that followed the life of Jesus. He was pre-cross.

On the wrong side of the cross? Oh gee. Is that concept even in scripture as applied to the apostolic age? And Apollos didn’t have the Spirit?  What about verse 25 where it says, “and being fervent in spirit?” In reading MacArthur’s sermons, I get the impression the man is always shooting from the hip. Anyway…

No, he wasn’t a Christian. But technically, neither were any of the apostles, including Paul, or any of the Jewish (and arguably Gentile) disciples. You can’t anachronistically force the concept of Christianity as we understand it today back into the apostolic era. Apollos was a Jew and he practiced Judaism as a disciple of Moshiach (Messiah).

And just to wrap things up:

Now, there’s another angle in this word. It’s used one other time in Ephesians 5:15, which would be helpful. Paul says “See that you walk acrabos, with exactness.” The Christian should live his life with the same kind of preciseness that we interpret the Scripture, with the same kind of preciseness that God wrote it. God didn’t give us a sloppy revelation, did he? And God doesn’t want us to slop up his revelation and God doesn’t want us to slop up our lives either. Same word in all three areas.

Well, there you meet two in transition, Paul and Apollos. And how exciting it is to see what God is doing in their lives and how grateful we are that the Spirit of God brought about the transition that they might have influence on us.

MacArthur in churchSee what I mean about “sloppy?”

What really scares me is the thought that, back in January 1974 (and no doubt today), the people listening to MacArthur’s sermon probably lapped it up. How many of them would have decided to look up his references and examine his sources, especially about Jewish Biblical and Rabbinic history? After all, the entire thrust of this sermon series is to declare the elimination of Judaism in any form in the pages of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. But I don’t find MacArthur’s presentation on Judaism to be either serious or accurate.

It’s like he’s saying, “Gee, look how dumb these Jews were. They had Jesus and grace and still couldn’t give up that nasty, ol’ law. Thank the Lord we’re nothing like them. I’m so glad God doesn’t care about what food I eat or what day of the week I worship, or any of that terrible stuff.”

OK, I made that last bit up, but it certainly seems to fit the tone of what MacArthur was preaching.

I can’t do this. I can’t think like he does. I can’t believe like he does. How am I supposed to participate in the rebuilding of the Tent of David in the Christian church when men like MacArthur and sermons such as this one are expending no small effort in cheerfully burning that tent down to the ground?

See Part 3 of my review on this series to see how it turns out.