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This is an email I sent to someone who wrote to me (from the Netherlands!). I have edited it to make it clearer, so you are getting a better version than he did.
I would love to discuss the atonement!
There are two things I hold foundational in overthrowing false tradition about the atonement. You wrote one of them: “I realized that payment atonement is the opposite of forgiveness.”
You also touched on the other foundational idea. We can be punished for sin at the judgment (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 5:19-21; etc.). Obviously, then, the penalty for sin is not paid by Jesus’ death.
So what did Jesus “pay”? He paid a purchase price. He bought us out of slavery to sin. The Scriptures are clear on this. The price he paid was to buy us (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:20). The words “redeem” and “ransom” are also “purchase.” To redeem is re-purchase a previous possession. To ransom is to purchase something you value from a captor. The captor was sin. Jesus purchased us out of slavery to sin.
Most of the time when the Scriptures say Jesus died for the “remission” or “forgiveness” of sins, the word is “aphesis,” which means release. It has a rich history in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the early churches used and from which the New Testament primarily quotes). The word “aphesis” is the Greek word chosen to translate “Jubilee” (Lev. 25); the word for the “scapegoat” on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 26); and the word for the “release” of debts that happened every sever years under the Law of Moses (Deut. 15).
Thus, Jesus’ death produced Jubilee, the return of our rightful land to us and a release from slavery. Our sins were carried away by him (the scapegoat). All our debts are taken away.
At least three times, the New Testament says that Jesus died so that he would be complete Lord, ruler, and owner of us (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; Tit. 2:13-14). The grace we receive by faith not only recreates us for good works (Eph. 2:10), it frees from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), and teaches us to live holy (Tit. 2:11-12). This sort of thing is supposed to be taught with all authority, not allowing anyone to oppose us (Tit. 2:15).
Blood is required for that kind of “remission” (aphesis; Heb. 9:22). Plain forgiveness, charizomai in Greek, is provided by the mercy of God without blood. This is what is talked about in Psalm 51:16-17, where David says God does not want sacrifice but a contrite spirit and broken heart. It is also what Ezekiel 18 is talking about, where God says that he is a just judge that will forgive the wicked person who turns to righteousness. We did not need the availability of forgiveness. It has always been there. We need the ability to follow through on our repentance and live righteously. All who “patiently continue to do good” will be granted eternal life at the judgment (Rom. 2:6-7). The problem is that humans do not patiently continue to do good. We need God’s Spirit, so that we do not “grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:8-9). If we sow to the Spirit, and thus do not grow weary in doing good, we will reap eternal life.
All this plain truth in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude can be seen in John as well if we know just a couple things about Greek.
Ok, that’s my quick version of atonement teaching. I would love to hear your feedback.
I was horrified and appalled when my daughter told me today about the book she is reading in her college history class. The history is loaded with both falsehoods and sloppy scholarship. It is unacceptable that such a book would ever be brought by a professor into a college class except to expose the willful ignorance of some authors.
I do not have the book name or author. My daughter sent me a few screenshots of the textbook. I sent her responses to the fantasy history of the book. Some quotes from the text and my responses are below.
“Paul also taught that converts did not have to live strictly according to Jewish law. To make conversion easier, he did not require male converts to undergo the Jewish initiation right of circumcision.”
Acts 15 (in the Bible) tells us that a council in Jerusalem, led by Peter and James, was called to discuss Paul’s teaching that Gentiles (non-Jews only) did not have to keep the Law of Moses or be circumcised. The council agreed and put only 4 laws on the Gentiles.
“In early Christianity, women in some locations could be leaders—such as Lydia, a businesswoman who founded the congregation in Philippi in Greece—but many men, including Paul, opposed women’s leadership.
Acts 16 tells us that Paul is the one who found Lydia and other women meeting by a river in Philippi. He founded the church in Philippi through Lydia. He also converted a Philippian jailer there (same chapter). We have no idea who the leader was. That it was Lydia is just an assumption from the text. There is no outside literature verifying that Lydia was a leader in Philippi, just that she was the first convert. Later Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, and he mentions bishops (literally, overseers) and deacons (literally, servants). Those words are masculine in Greek, not feminine.
“Christian leaders had to build an organization from the ground up to administer their growing congregations. Finally, Christians had to decide whether women could continue as leaders in their congregations.”
The book does not specify the time period but, as you can see, there is no solid evidence that any women were leaders in any churches. That is simply the fantasy of the author. We do know from Romans 16:2 and from the possible wording of 1 Timothy 3:11 that women could be deacons, which literally means servants. That never stopped until much later in church history, maybe in the 800’s or later.
After a really excellent section on the martyrs, your book says, “This transformation was painful because early Christians fiercely disagreed about what they should believe, how they should live, and who had the authority to decide these questions. Some insisted Christians should withdraw from the everyday world to escape its evil, abandoning their families and shunning sex and reproduction. Others believed they could follow Christ’s challenging teachings while living ordinary lives.”
In A.D. 185 (or so), Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (in modern France), who had been raised up in the faith in Smyrna (in modern Turkey) and was a counselor to Roman bishops (in Italy), wrote, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God … As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.”
What the author of your book must be referring to are the tracts written by a Christian from the church in Carthage. His name was Tertullian, and he wrote about 20 years after Irenaeus. He complained about some of the worldliness going on in the churches in those tracts. This does not mean that there were Christians teaching that Christians can live ordinary lives. His tracts complain about hypocrisy in the church, Christians not living up to the standards of Christ.
What happened to Tertullian was that he was so frustrated that he ended up embracing the teachings of the prophet Montanus. Montanus was the main prophet of a movement that is named after him. His followers were called “Montanists.” Prisca and Maximilla were prophetesses with him. The churches in Asia Minor rejected their prophecies as false.
Those prophecies included things like saying that the Holy Spirit had given the churches time to mature. It had been 150 years since the apostles. While the apostles allowed widows to marry again, the Holy Spirit (through Montanus and these two ladies), was telling the churches that widows could no longer remarry. The churches at that time would allow an adulterer or murderer or robber (etc.) to repent one time and be readmitted to the church. If it happened a second time, they could never come back into the church. Montanus (and Prisca and Maximilla) taught that only God could forgive them. The churches could not forgive such people even once.
Their prophecies were rejected by the catholic churches, and their movement faded away over the next few decades.
About 20 years later—in one church, Rome—Hippolytus formed a new church because he thought the elected bishop (Callistus) was not a good person. His church stayed separate for 17 or 18 years, when another persecution arose. Both Hippolytus and the current bishop (now Pontus) were both thrown into the mines because of the persecution. There they reconciled, and that ended that.
Thirty years later, in Rome again, a man named Novatian (Greek Novatus) started a new church because he didn’t like the bishop Cornelius. This is 251 now. His split lasted for several centuries, but it did not disturb the catholic churches, which continued steadfast. In the fourth century a basic peace set in between the catholic and Novatian churches because they believed the same things. The Novatian churches were just stricter about readmitting those who sinned in some major way.
The need to deal with such tensions, to administer the congregations, and to promote spiritual communion among believers led Christians to create an official hierarchy of men, headed by bishops.
This is an extremely sloppy description of what happened. Bishops (literally overseers) had existed since the beginning of Christianity. They were also called elders. You can read about this in Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 in the Bible. You need to know the origin of the words bishop, elder, presbyter, and deacon to understand the various words used there. What those passages in the Bible say is that the Paul and Peter’s churches were led by elders (presbyters) who held the position of overseers (bishops). There were also servants (deacons) who served the churches in various capacities.
Over a century, for whatever reason, bishop (or overseer) had become separate from elders. Each church (or perhaps each city) had one bishop and many elders. From about that time (150 or so), certain bishops became preeminent. This was especially true of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. These, along with the bishop of Constantinople after it was built and consecrated around 340, became known as patriarchs. Bishops of cities that were smaller or less important, but still big, became known as metropolitans. So, yes, a hierarchy arose, but not because of the kind of disputes claimed in your book.
Your textbook, screen capture 8: “The bishops tried to suppress the arguments that arose in the new religion. They used their authority to define orthodoxy (true doctrine) and heresy (false doctrine).
This is sloppier than the previous one. The bishops were around from the beginning. Through the second century, the heretics were the gnostics that denied the God of the Bible, thought Jesus failed in his mission, and rejected the apostles. The Montanists did arise in the late second century, but as I said, that was a minor thing.
The authority of the bishops, which really means the authority of councils of bishops, was used to resolve fights over doctrine starting in the fourth century. That really was a bad thing, and the results were terrible. I do not deny that the fourth century begins a horrific downward spiral in the churches.
However, everything this book says about women in authority in early Christianity is speculative and unlikely to be true. The only possibilities of authoritative women, Lydia and Priscilla (not Prisca, the follower of the false prophet Montanus), were brought to Christ by Paul and trained by him (Acts 16 and 18:1-2). Since Paul did not allow women to teach (1 Timothy 2), it is very, very unlikely that either of those women were leaders except in influence.
“When the male bishops came to power, they demoted from positions of leadership.”
I hope you can see by now that this is false. That book has no business being in a college classroom. I am appalled. You are welcome to show this to your teacher. I will be glad to give her more references besides the ones I gave. A lot of the history I gave can be found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (or Church History) written in 323. Yes, that history was written by a cleric, but we have volumes of writing from Christians before Eusebius justifying his history. The history in this book you have been given is a fantasy. I would love to see what she calls her sources.
Notice the disparity in length between the quotes from the book and my answers. It take a much longer time to refute lies than to tell them. This is why falsehood can propitiate so easily. I occasionally write about evolution and Christian anti-evolutionists. I will no longer call them creationists because the many Christians who acknowledge the truth of evolution are also creationists. Creationists pump out false science by the bucket load because it takes little research to deceive. Refutation takes a long time because it does take research to prove to the deceived that the deceivers are really deceivers.
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is that Bible study is done for the sake of knowledge rather than for the sake of obedience. Obedient Christians don’t lie. Theologians are dishonest regularly, though for many of them it is simply a habit of intellectual dishonesty taught to them in school.
It is wicked, and it needs to be exposed.
Late in his life, Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus. These are probably some of the last instructions Paul would give. What did he focus on with Timothy and Titus? One way to see his focus is to read the “but you” passages. There are several of them. All these passages will be from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). There will be a lot of Scripture in today’s post.
Here’s the format: First come the things Paul complains about others doing, then follows what Paul told Timothy and Titus to do instead. Take these things to heart!
1 Timothy 6:3-12
What others did: Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth, supposing religion to be a means of gain. Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.
What Timothy should do instead: But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
2 Timothy 3:1-12
What others did: But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also. [note: In Hebrew lore Jannes and Jambres were two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses.]
What Timothy should do:Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:13-15
What others did: But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
What Timothy should do: You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 4:3-5
What others did: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
What Timothy should do: But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Titus 1:10 – Titus 2:14
What others did: For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
What Titus should do: But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to …
What We Are To Do
If this got your attention at all, I hope the first thing you will do is read the rest of Titus 2 and find Paul’s idea of “sound doctrine.” I suspect our definition of sound doctrine is not a lot like Paul’s.
The other thing we should do is avoid the things Paul complained about (“What others did”) and do the things Paul told Timothy and Titus to do. Of course, Timothy and Titus were part of Paul’s apostolic team, so what you do won’t be exactly like what they were to do. We all have our own gifts. But sound doctrine for Timothy and Titus should be the same as sound doctrine for you. Their pursuit of “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” is what we should pursue as well.
While so many were pursuing teaching and doctrine, resulting in confusion, disputing, and self-exaltation, Paul wanted men of God pursuing peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
There is a lot you can get from God by faith. If you have the right kind of faith, you could tell a tree to get up and replant itself somewhere else (Luke 17:6). The greatest thing you can get by faith, though, is access to grace.
Romans 5:1 says we are justified by faith, and because of this, we have peace with God. It sounds like faith is everything here. We are justified, and we have peace with God. How could we need anything else?
Verse 2 tells us how. The apostle Paul says that by faith “we have access … to this grace by which we stand.” If you want to continue in faith (Col. 1:22-23), you need to rush on into that grace by which we stand. Faith obtains grace for you.
Access to Grace. Most Christians do not realize just what and how much this means. There’s a hint there in Romans 5:2. By grace, “we stand.” That’s just a hint, though. It’s a taste, a smell, of a fantastic feast. Maybe not a feast, but a medicine that can heal all that ails you.
Ephesians 2:8 points out that it is actually grace that saves you. We are saved “by grace,” which we obtained “through faith.” Though we did not and cannot receive that grace by works, the result of grace is that we become “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).
Grace means favor, and the favor of God means that sin cannot dominate you any more (Rom. 6:14). The favor of God that saves you also teaches you. It teaches you to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). It can teach you, and you can follow through, because sin cannot dominate you any more.
Grace helps in time of need. Note that grace and mercy are not the same thing. We often use them interchangeably. When we run to the throne of grace, we can find mercy there, but we can find more. We can also, in addition to mercy, find “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Grace is also the source of the spiritual gifts that God gives us. In Greek, grace is charis, and spiritual gifts are charismata. Peter exhorts us to be good stewards of the grace we have received (1 Pet. 4:11).
You say you have faith. Do not stop there! Faith gives you access to grace. Rush in, stand in it, triumph over sin and serve God’s people.
My wife reminded me about passages I call “global passages.” They cover the entire Christian life from conversion to the final judgment in just a few verses.
I only have two right now.
Romans 7:24 to 8:13
This passage is a little more global than the next one because it covers our sad state of bondage prior to the great and free salvation of Jesus Christ. It begins in Romans 7:24 with the agonizing cry of “Oh, wretched man that I am.” The wonderful announcement of the “Law of the Spirit of Life” that delivers us from this wretched state follows in Romans 8:2.
The Apostle Paul then explains the process. What the Law of Moses could not do because it had nothing to resolve sin in the flesh, God did. He sent his Son, clothed in our sinful flesh as a sin offering, and sin in the flesh was condemned with him (Romans 8:3). He then rose mightily from the grave, setting us free from bondage. This is assumed, though not mentioned, in the passage. When we believe in him and are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit, and if we walk in the Spirit, we fulfill the righteousness of the Law (though not the literal Law of Moses itself; rather, its fullness, Matt. 5:17-48). As long as we do this, we have life and peace, and will live. If we do not, we have death and will die (Rom. 8:5-13).
2 Peter 1:3-11
This passage begins in 2 Peter 1:3-4 with a majestic description of the gifts we have when we receive the Spirit of God and come under the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus mention in Romans 8:2 and described in Romans 8:3-4. You have to read those two verses to appreciate just who the death and resurrection of Christ and the receiving of the Holy Spirit has made you to be!
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (ESV)
Now that is worth jumping up and shouting over. In our lost state, when we decide to pursue righteousness, we want to cry out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Jesus does not just deliver us from this body of death, but he transforms us into a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) that fits the description in 2 Peter 1:3-4.
One of our greatest problems as Christians is that we do not believe what the Scriptures say of us, either because we have not been told or because we are used to counting ourselves poor sinners. We WERE poor sinners, but now we are SAVED. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10) “SAVED” is a big word. (We are commanded to think of ourselves properly in Romans 6:11.)
This hymn gives our proper response to being saved:
Redeemed; How I Love to Proclaim It
Redeemed—how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am.
Redeemed and so happy in Jesus,
No language my rapture can tell;
I know that the light of His presence
With me doth continually dwell.
I think of my blessed Redeemer,
I think of Him all the day long;
I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song.
I know I shall see in His beauty
The King in whose way I delight;
Who lovingly guardeth my footsteps,
And giveth me songs in the night.
There can be no lesser reaction to 2 Peter 1:3-4 than described in that hymn.
In 2 Peter 1:5-8, Peter describes how to turn that “great salvation” (Heb. 2:3) into a life of abundant fruitfulness and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. Finally, though, we must remember that Hebrews 2:3 is a warning not to neglect our “great salvation.” We must work out our own salvation (Php. 2:12), not by our own power (Jn. 15:5) but by our own volition. If we want that rich and abundant promised entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, King Jesus, we must be diligent to follow the path Peter describes in 2 Peter 1:5-8 (2 Peter 1:9-11).
The Ante-Nicene Fathers Series refers to this section of The Shepherd of Hermas as “Commandment XII.” The Lightfoot translation that I am quoting from and linking to calls it Mandate 12. Search “Mandate 12” (or phrases in the quote) at the link to find the passage. It speaks for itself without my commentary.
3:1 “I would fain know, Sir,” say I, “in what ways I ought to serve the good desire.” “Listen,” saith he; “practice righteousness and virtue, truth and the fear of the Lord, faith and gentleness, and as many good deeds as are like these. Practicing these thou shalt be well-pleasing as a servant of God, and shalt live unto Him; yea, and every one who shall serve the good desire shall live unto God.”
3:2 So he completed the twelve commandments, and he saith to me; Thou hast these commandments; walk in them, and exhort thy hearers that their repentance may become pure for the rest of the days of their life.
3:3 This ministration, which I give thee, fulfill thou with all diligence to the end, and thou shalt effect much. For thou shalt find favor among those who are about to repent, and they shall obey thy words. For I will be with thee, and will compel them to obey thee.”
3:4 I say to him; “Sir, these commandments are great and beautiful and glorious, and are able to gladden the heart of the man who is able to observe them. But I know not whether these commandments can be kept by a man, for they are very hard.”
3:5 He answered and said unto me; “If thou set it before thyself that they can be kept, thou wilt easily keep them, and they will not be hard; but if it once enter into thy heart that they cannot be kept by a man, thou wilt not keep them.
3:6 But now I say unto thee; if thou keep them not. but neglect them thou shalt not have salvation, neither thy children nor thy household, since thou hast already pronounced judgment against thyself that these commandments cannot be kept by a man.”
4:1 And these things he said to me very angrily, so that I was confounded, and feared him exceedingly; for his form was changed, so that a man could not endure his anger.
4:2 And when he saw that I was altogether disturbed and confounded, he began to speak more kindly [and cheerfully] to me, and he saith; “Foolish fellow, void of understanding and of doubtful mind, perceivest thou not the glory of God, how great and mighty and marvelous it is, how that He created the world for man’s sake, and subjected all His creation to man, and gave all authority to him, that he should be master over all things under the heaven?
4:3 If then,” [he saith,] “man is lord of all the creatures of God and mastereth all things, cannot he also master these commandments Aye,” saith he, “the man that hath the Lord in his heart can master [all things and] all these commandments.
4:4 But they that have the Lord on their lips, while their heart is hardened, and are far from the Lord, to them these commandments are hard and inaccessible.
4:5 Therefore do ye, who are empty and fickle in the faith, set your Lord in your heart, and ye shall perceive that nothing is easier than these commandments, nor sweeter, nor more gentle.
I haven’t written here in four months, but I have not been inactive.
I have completed the rough draft of “Taking Aim at Rome’s Audacious Claim.” The rough draft is 256 pages. I suspect I will lose at least 20 pages in editing. I do need to add an appendix or three. The book is a historical look at how the Roman Catholic papacy developed.
I want to give praise for the spiritual growth I have seen in our community, Rose Creek Village. A lot of that has been the direct result of prayer. Pray, see quick answers; point out problems to God, see quick answers. That part is delightful. Working out issues when your church is very close and interacts with each other often can be painful because God requires us to be honest with one another. This can be done safely where brothers and sisters feel safe with one another. Maintaining that safeness with one another spiritually, that is the work.
I am part of an accountability group of six brothers. We have explored different ways of making our time as worthwhile as possible. We are about to begin a discipleship program from zumeproject.com. We already know something about provoking one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24) and holding each other accountable, but we want to be trained to be influencers who touch the lives of those around us. Hopefully, we already do this, but we want it to be purposeful and to reach outside our church community into Selmer.
To begin that process, we have started a Bible study in town with a couple sisters we know. I’d love to have brothers there, too, but that’s not what we have right now. Our goal is to reach that neighborhood with the Gospel in a purposeful manner. We are not starting a church. We are teaching these ladies how to behave like the members of the one church in Selmer that they are.
A young brother managed to hear about and bring me to the ministerial association in our county. I was more than thrilled the month one of the local pastors (or “of First Christian Church”) talked about the difference between just working together and displaying the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:20. There was a lot of resistance from the seven or eight other pastors there, which discouraged the First Christian pastor a bit. He told me so at a lunch later. He asked me if I was surprised at the resistance. I told him I had been pushing this message for over 30 years, and I was surprised at the acceptance. At least two of the other pastors were very open to talking about real unity versus just working together. To me a 70-80% rejection rate is infinitely better than a 100% rejection rate (both practically and, if you use the approval rate rather than the rejection rate, mathematically).
I don’t know what will happen with the Bible study or the ministerial association. For me, the next step is to ask for a regular prayer meeting to be scheduled with the pastors at the ministerial association. We need both the power and the guidance of Jesus, the Lord of the church and our Head.
That’s catching up. In the next post, I will share my favorite passage from the early Christian writings. (I have more than one favorite, so I have other favorites to share in the future.)
To be sure, the cross of Jesus Christ was an amazing place. I cannot do justice to its importance or to the unfathomable spiritual battle that happened there. The cross released us from all that had held us in bondage. There the fall of man was undone. Adam made us sinners at the tree of transgression; Jesus made us righteous at the tree of his obedience, the cross.
The resurrection was equally important. While he released our debts to the law with his cursed death on the cross and paid our ransom and redemption price with his blood, he made the release practical when he rose from the dead, leading captivity captive. He gave us resurrection life, a new creation, a new race as sons of God rather than sons of Adam. As we were baptized in the likeness of his death, released from our old man and our old life, so we were raised into newness of life.
We cannot compare the importance of the cross and the importance of the resurrection. Both were absolutely important, and there is no salvation without both.
That said, the following statement, which I found in the writings of a teacher I respect very much, is not true.
We are going to consider … that which is the essential foundation of the church, and that is the Cross. (T. Austin Sparks, The Lord’s Assembly: Part 2, ch. 1)
The cross is not the foundation of the Church. Jesus is the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3:11), and Jesus said he would build his Church on the rock of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16-18). Jesus is the foundation, Peter was the first rock put upon it because he was the first to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. As we each are given the same revelation by hearing the good news that he is Christ, Lord, Judge, and Son of God, then we become rocks added to the foundation as well.
The crucifixion of God’s Son was the most important event in the history of the world, but its power is not contingent upon us believing in its power. Its power is contingent on our confessing that Jesus is Lord because we believe that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-13).
It is good to teach about the cross. It is not good to teach that the cross is foundation of the Church because it is not; Jesus is.
As usual, the rest of Mr. Sparks teaching has amazing truths in it that many of us never see. Nonetheless, when you get the foundation wrong, the teachings that you build off that wrong foundation will always be skewed, maybe a little or maybe a lot.
Some writers struggle with writer’s block. My problem is having too many things to write about!
I have to finish Rome’s Audacious Claim. That is a priority. The draft in 90% done, but there will be a lot of editing and rewriting, and I want to release it June 1. On the other hand, the “Rebuilding the Foundations” series, which I started on this blog, is really what is on my heart. It will be the next book after Rome’s Audacious Claim.
“Rebuilding the Foundations” is a series of teachings, though, and I am going to break it down into small bits so that others can teach it as well. Since I need to post regularly on this blog anyway, I will return to writing those small bits on this blog.
The first small bit is the Gospel.
Rebuilding the Foundations: What is the Gospel?
This foundation is based on four passages, though there are many more Old Testament prophecies and New Testament passages that could be cited.
In this passage, Simon confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus changes his name to Peter (Petros=Rock), tells him that he will build the church on him, and then makes several wonderful promises to him.
We all know that Jesus is the only foundation for the Christian and the Church (1 Cor. 3:11). Peter is not the foundation itself, but he is the first rock set upon the foundation of Christ. All the major branches of Christianity believe that Peter’s confession is also the rock.
If Peter’s confession is the rock as well, then Jesus is building his Church on it. If Jesus is building his Church on it, then we should too!
The other passages we will look at simply prove that the apostles preached the Gospel in such a way as to get their converts to make the same confession Peter made.
No explanation needed here. John said that he wrote his Gospel to get people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, which was exactly Peter’s confession. Those who believe Peter’s confession have life through Jesus’ name.
Acts 2:36 is an example that is true of all the rests of the apostles’ preaching in Acts. Peter first proclaims that the Holy Spirit has arrived according to the prophecy of Joel. Then he preaches Jesus, telling the Jews first that they killed him, then that he rose from the dead, and finally calling all Israel to “know for certain” (NASB) that Jesus is “Lord and Christ.”
His whole sermon is based on the idea that the resurrection establishes Jesus as “Lord and Christ,” not exactly the same as “Christ, the Son of the Living God,” but the same idea and conclusion.
We learn from Acts 2:36 that it is not the exact terminology that matters. Believing that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ=Messiah) or Lord is the same as believing he is the Son of God because the Messiah is said to be the Son of God in Psalm 2:7 and the Lord in Psalm 110:1.
Here we see from Paul the same thing that we find in Acts 2 (and the rest of Acts). The goal of the apostles preaching was to get their hearers to believe that Jesus rose from the dead because this would prove that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the confession on which Jesus builds his Church.
“[He] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,” Paul wrote (v. 4). He says that this is “the Gospel of God” (v. 1).
As a side note, in verse 5, Paul says that he is bringing about “obedience” to this faith. Our modern preaching to the lost is primarily based on the atonement, believing that Jesus died for our sins. While Jesus did die for our sins, one cannot “obey” faith in Jesus’ atonement. Faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, however, does call for obedience to Jesus, because the Christ is not just the Son of God. The Messiah also sits on the throne of David to rule God’s kingdom forever (Ps. 2:2,6,12; 110:1-2).
Again, much of evangelical Gospel preaching calls on hearers to believe that Jesus died for their sins and to confess that he is their Savior. Romans 10:9-10, though, says that salvation and righteousness come to those who confess Jesus as their Lord and who believe he rose from the dead. This is the rock upon which Jesus said he would build his Church.
This lines right up, obviously, with the other passages we have looked at. Our initial Gospel preaching should lead hearers to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, proven to be so by his resurrection.
The Gospel contains much more than just the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is evidenced by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of which contain Jesus’ teaching, life, miracles, his death, his resurrection and some of what those things mean for us. Thus, the contain much more than just the confession that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus’ death for sins is not only true and important, it is part of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-3).
Nonetheless, the purpose of our Gospel preaching should be to prove to the lost that Jesus is the resurrected Christ and Son of God, for it is by believing this, and then becoming obedient to that faith, that they will be saved. Jesus died for our sins, but believing that he died for our sins is not enough. It is through calling on him as the resurrected Lord of our lives that we are saved (Rom. 10:9-13).
It is a wonderful sounding term, and it is associated with several important scriptural doctrines.
- There are two spiritual kingdoms. One is the kingdom of this world run by “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The whole world is under his sway (1 Jn. 5:19). The other is the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Christians live as citizens, servants, and ambassadors of God’s kingdom (Php. 3:20; 2 Cor. 5:20).
- The Gospel is the good news of a King, Jesus the Son of God, and the opportunity to enter his kingdom by repentance, faith, and baptism. (Many benefits are of course associated with entering God’s kingdom.)
- Obedience to Jesus is an “of course” response to the Gospel because Jesus is King.
As wonderful as these things are, in many cases Kingdom Christianity has been associated with modern Anabaptist movements such as the Mennonites and Amish. This has resulted in an overemphasis on doctrines unique to that movement. Those are:
- Modest dress (for both men and women)
- No divorce and remarriage
- Wearing head coverings (for women)
It is not wrong to address these issues. The complete disregard for these issues in most evangelical churches does call for reform, and thus for those who are willing to be bold reformers.
On the other hand, an overboard focus on these issues can lead to a problem Jesus talked about in Matthew 23:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23, NASB)
Divorce and remarriage is a much more important subject than making sure one’s tithe includes the spices on the spice rack. Nonetheless, it is still wrong to exalt the strict wording of a teaching above “the weightier provisions of the law.” Justice and mercy and faithfulness trump strict, legal adherence to even valid teachings of Scripture.
As an example, the adulterous woman in John 8:3-11 should have been stoned to death according to the Law of Moses (Lev. 20:10). The man should have been brought to be stoned as well, but that is irrelevant to the current point. Jesus did not condone the stoning of the woman, but with wise words (“Let him who has no sin cast the first stone”) he saved her life and sent her away without condemnation and with a command to repent.
Strict, unbending adherence to the Law of Moses or even the commands of Jesus is highly commendable … until people show up.
As an example, I met a family–this is a true story–with ten children. The father and mother had been married for twenty years. The mother, however, had married as a teen on a whim. The marriage lasted seven days before the couple divorced.
Here they were, more than twenty years later, and the family was rejected in Anabaptist circles because of their teaching on divorce and remarriage. That rejection was based on a rigorous, but not righteous, adherence to the teachings of Jesus, it was based on a pharisaical rejection of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
In dealing with the adulteress woman, Jesus was showing a principle I call “… and then there are people.”
In fact, a better word than people is persons. Real, live persons with real, live, and unusual experiences, such as the family mentioned above. Rigorous application of the words of Jesus sometimes mows such people under, leaving them to be trampled and ignored. Jesus was not like this. If he had to choose between people and the Law–” living oracles” (Acts 7:38)–he chose people.
We like to exegete (expound upon or interpret) the Scriptures. They are letters on a page. They endure from generation to generation, and the curve balls thrown to us in certain odd verses do not bother us much. Generations before us have taken care of that for us, exploring them, and writing dozens of commentaries on them.
Jesus, however, exegeted God (Jn. 1:18). Our infinite God is not so easy to exegete as a 1200-page book; so Jesus came down and showed us his exegesis. He lived it out in front of us (Jn. 14:9ff). That exegesis of God ought to affect our exegesis of the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39-40).
Jesus’s exegesis of God was that he cares more about people than he does the Law of Moses. It was better for the women who had a flow of blood, and was thus unclean, to touch Jesus and be made whole than to obey the Law and stay away from him (and those she must pushed past in order to touch him).
Innocence, Impurity, Repentance, and Purity
It is a very cool principle that Jesus changed the flow of impurity. When the Law of Moses is applied, impurity flows from impure things and defiles pure ones. When Jesus arrives, however, purity flows from pure things and purifies impure ones. Even in the Old Testament, where we find pre-incarnate Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, sitting on the throne in heaven (Jn. 12:40-41), Isaiah’s unclean lips do not make the coal from the altar impure. Rather, the coal purifies Isaiah’s lips. (Thank you, Bible Project, for pointing this out.)
Jesus explained with his life that God does not pitilessly reject the impure. He lovingly accepts the repentant, and lovingly and boldly rejects the self-righteous until they too repent.
If Jesus wanted innocent people in his Church, he would have seen to it that Adam and Eve were never tempted. He would never have allowed us to become sinners. He wants purified people in his Church. Purity is different than innocence, which is why the entrance requirement into his kingdom and his Church is repentance rather than righteousness.