Monday, 22 December 2014

A list of scriptures supporting the doctrines of annihilationism and conditional immortality

The website Rethinking Hell also has a Facebook group where every now and then someone asks for a list of scriptures supporting the view that the wicked will one day be utterly destroyed in the lake of fire while only those who are in Christ will receive the gift of eternal life. Consider this to be my effort to fulfill that request to all those seeking to defend or introduce others to Conditionalism. Bear in mind that the traditional understanding of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment rests entirely on a specific reading of just three scriptures ( Matthew 25:46 and Revelations 14:9-11, 20:10), while the below list is constantly being updated and currently sits at well over 100 verses. Please feel free to suggest additional verses as this list below is far from complete in its current form and I could use as much help as possible in populating it.

Likewise, if a verse has been used that should not be on the list, perhaps because it speaks only of destruction or death in this life (some of the verses in the Psalms for example are unclear so I have left them out), please let me know so that I can remove it from the list. Also, most people would say that conditional immortality and annihiliationism are the same thing so why use both terms in the title; while they are certainly intertwined with one another I view them separately. One emphasizes the fate of the wicked while the other speaks of the eternal destinies of all men, whether it be life or death. Some may view this as a list of proof texts but the point is simply to show that the Bible is consistent and far from silent in its use of language and the message it presents regarding eternal life and death and I have tried to be as honest as possible in not taking anything out of context. One last note; I have purposely left this without commentary so as to let scripture speak for itself, if the reason for including a specific verse is not apparent let me know in the comments section and I will elaborate over there. Without further ado, here is my list in chronological order.

Genesis 3:3 - "It's only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, 'You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.'"
Genesis 3:22 - And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
Genesis 7:21-23 - All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. (cross reference with 2 Peter 2:5-6)
Genesis 19:24-25 - Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. (cross reference with 2 Peter 2:5-6)

Psalm 1:3-6 - The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 21:9 - You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger; the Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath,
And the fire shall devour them.
Psalm 37:1-2 - Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb.
Psalm 37:9-10 - For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
Psalm 37:20 - But the wicked will perish: Though the LORD's enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
Psalm 37:37-38 - Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace, But the transgressors shall be destroyed together, the future of the wicked will be cut off.
Psalm 68:2 - May you blow them away like smoke-- as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God.
Psalm 92:7 - Though the wicked sprout like weeds and evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever.
Psalm 94:23 - He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them.
Psalm 97:2-3 - Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
A fire goes before Him, and burns up His enemies round about.
Psalm 112:10 - The wicked will see and be vexed, they will gnash their teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Proverbs 10:25 - When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.
Proverbs 11:4 - Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

Isaiah 1:28 - But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
Isaiah 1:31 - The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire.
Isaiah 10:18 - The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the Lord will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
Isaiah 13:9 - For see, the day of the Lord is coming - the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger. The land will be made desolate, and all the sinners will be destroyed with it.
Isaiah 25:7,8 - There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken!
Isaiah 25:10 - For the Lord’s hand of blessing will rest on Jerusalem. But Moab will be crushed. It will be like straw trampled down and left to rot.
Isaiah 26:11 - Let your fire consume your enemies. But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy!
Isaiah 26:19 - For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead!
Isaiah 65:12 - Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter;
because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear,but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.”
Isaiah 66:22,24.- For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure. “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.

Ezekiel 26:19-21 - For thus says the Lord GOD, “When I make you a desolate city, like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you and the great waters cover you, then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lower parts of the earth, like the ancient waste places, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited; but I will set glory in the land of the living. “I will bring terrors on you and you will be no more; though you will be sought, you will never be found again,” declares the Lord GOD.

Daniel 12:2 - "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.

Obadiah 16 - …and they shall be as though they had never been.

Malachi 4:1-3 - “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. “You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts.

Matthew 3:12 - His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Matthew 7:13-14 - "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 10:28  - Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
 Matthew 13:30 - Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Matthew 13:40-42 - “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 16:25-27 - For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
Matthew 19:29 - And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Matthew 22:7 - "But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers and burned up their cities.
Matthew 25:46
- "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Mark 8:35-37 - For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Luke 9:24-25 - For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Luke 12:47-48 - And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
Luke 18:18 - A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke 18:29-30 - And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke 20:34-36 - Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:36 - Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.
John 4:14 - but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 5:24 - "Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
John 5:39-40 - “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.
John 6:27 - Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."
John 6:33 - For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
John 6:40  - For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day."
John 6:51 - I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
John 6:58 - "This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."
John 6:68 - Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.
John 8:21 - Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come."
John 8:24 - "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am (He), you will die in your sins."
John 8:35 - "And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever."
John 8:51 - I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!"
John 10:28 - "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand."
John 11:25-26 - Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
John 12:25 - “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”.
John 15:6 - If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Act 3:22-23  For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.
Acts 13:46 - Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

Romans 1:32 -  who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 2:6-8 - …(God) who will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath.”
Romans 2:12 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
Romans 5:21 - so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:16 - Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Romans 6:21 - What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 7:5 - For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
Romans 8:6 - For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Romans 8:11 - The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
Romans 8:13 - For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 9:22-23 - What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.

1 Corinthians 1:18 - For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 3:15-17 - If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
1 Corinthians 15:16-18 - For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
1 Corinthians 15:50 - Now this I say brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption.
1 Corinthians 15:53-54 - For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory..."

2 Corinthians 2:15 - For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 4:3 - But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,

Galatians 6:8 - Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Ephesians 1:10 - In the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth.

Philippians 1:28 - without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God.
Philippians 3:19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 – They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 - And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

1 Timothy 1:16  - “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
1 Timothy 6:15-16 - “He who is blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality…”

2 Timothy 1:1 - This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I have been sent out to tell others about the life he has promised through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:10 - ...our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Titus 3:7 - ...that having being justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Hebrews 10:27 - but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:39 - But we are not of those who draw back unto perdition (Greek: destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

James 1:11-12 - For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
James 1:15 - Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
James 4:12 – there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and destroy.
James 5:20 - …he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death

1 Peter 1:23 - For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (Jesus).

2 Peter 2:1 - But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:6 - and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly.
2 Peter 2:12 -  But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;
2 Peter 3:6-7 - by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slack concerning  His promise, as some count slackness , but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

1 John 2:17 - “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
1 John 3:14-15 - "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him."
1 John 5:11-12 - And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Jude 7 - as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 
Jude 12 - …These are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late Autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots.
Jude 21 - Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

Revelation 2:10 - Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:11 - “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Revelation 20:14 – Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Revelation 21:4 - “there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away”.
Revelation 21:8 - But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
Revelation 22:14 - Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

If this view on the end of the wicked (and the gift of God to those who believe) is new to you then check out these posts as well.

Conditional Vs Universal Immortality
Hell, thoughts on annihilationism

Friday, 19 December 2014

A quick word

Hi everyone!

If you have been clicking here every so often and have been disappointed to not see any new entries it is because I have being working on a couple of book projects that otherwise I just cannot seem to get around too. So the plan is to devote the next two or so weeks exclusively to that and then return to juggling everything once again. In the meantime though if you are looking for some quality reading material to keep you going, my friends over at MennoNerds have just published a new book as pictured below. You can go and check it out by clicking over here.  

See you all soon, have a blessed Christmas.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Who or what is the Word of God?

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. – Revelation 19:13

Recently I was reading 1 Peter 2:2 and it dawned on me just how conditioned we have become to reading things into texts which they do not actually say. That particular verse speaks of desiring the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby which most people have interpreted to say “read your bible”. However the next verse tells us that those who drink this pure milk will taste that the Lord is gracious. Then Paul uses the word scripture in verse 6 when he quotes from Isaiah and the Psalms which should tell us that he is making a clear distinction between the word and scriptures. It got me thinking about how many verses may have been misinterpreted in a similar manner and so I started looking through all the word of God or word of the Lord scriptures (about 500 of them) to see what they actually said.

Why is this important?

                                          image credit facebook/UnboxedFreethinker

I think the quote above puts it well. While I have a deep love for the bible and devote a significant amount of time to studying what it says; it can easily serve as a substitute to true fellowship and intimacy with Christ. One can know the commands and even do a pretty good job adhering to them without ever knowing the one who spoke them. It is similar to what Israel did at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20 when God invited them to be a kingdom of priests (19:6). There fearful response was to tell Moses that he should rather speak to God on their behalf and they would do whatever he told them. We are comfortable with the list of do and do not’s because they deal with the external, giving us a sense of spirituality without becoming too vulnerable. Let me say it this way rather, knowing scripture is extremely important but knowing God is the non negotiable.

The word or the Word?

Most of the times that we read the phrase ‘the word’ in the bible, it is simply referring to a message from God to someone or to a group of people. There are only a few cases where one could argue that ‘the word’ may be referring to scripture as a whole (possibly 1 Timothy 5:17 and Mark 7:13). So when looking at the phrase one needs to exercise some common sense and look at the context in which it was written to determine what the writer meant. With that in mind, I would like to share some of the scriptures that I came across which perhaps do not say what we always thought they did and in doing so, make a case for ‘the word’ when it is not simply a message, almost always equating to Jesus rather than scripture.

Genesis 15:1 - After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great."

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. Abram did not receive the bible but a message from a someone.

1 Samuel 15:23 - For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king."

The word of the Lord is often referred to as a ‘he’ in scripture, this is but one example.

Psalm 105:19 - Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him.

Once again, the word sounds like a person.

John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This is probably the most famous Jesus equals the word verse but even so, I have had people fight with me arguing that even John 1 refers to the bible. To me that is outright idolatry.

John 1:14 - The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word equals Jesus.

John 17:17 - Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

The context here is confirmed in verse 19, “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” Word equals Christ.

Acts 8:14 - When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.

Who or what was the word that the Samaritans accepted? Verse 5 in the same chapter tells us, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.”

Acts 11:1 - The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

The word of God that the Gentiles received is described in Acts 10:42-43, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Acts 13:26 - Men, brothers and children of the lineage of Abraham, and those who worship God with you: To you He has been sent: The Word of Life.

A lot of versions use the phrase “message of salvation” in this verse. However the following verse reveals that Luke was referring to a person;“"For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.”

Hebrews 11:3 - By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

To state the obvious, the bible is indeed visible and did not create the world.

1 Peter 1:23 - For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

We are born again through the living Christ. Not through seminaries and verse memory cards.

1 John 1:1 - That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The next two verses reveal just who the Word of life is, “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:10 - If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Who is the word who is not in those who claim they have not sinned? According to verse 7, “…if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 2:14 - I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Verse 6 confirms who the word is who abides in us, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 5:7 - For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 

I shared this only because I was surprised at the amount of verses that confirm Jesus is the Word of God. This list is hardly exhaustive (about 20% of what I found) as I still wanted this to be readable. What can we gain from all of this? Read scripture more carefully, the bible is like a sign post pointing us toward life. Read it, see where it points you and be sure to share its message with others as well. But if we stop there we would be the most foolish of all men. Those who never received the Word that scripture pointed us to all along. 

Related posts
The Deification of the bible
On Biblical inspiration, interpretation and inerrency

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Royal Priesthood

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… - 1 Peter 2:9

 The above verse is one of those scriptures that brings me both joy and sadness. Joy in that we were chosen by God, in Christ, to be priests in his kingdom. The bible makes no distinction between clergy and laity and only sees one class of believers. The only mediator we have being given is Jesus, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”. What an amazing privilege it is we have being given!
    Yet at the same time I feel sadness in that the majority of the church has gone the same way as Israel. Let’s rewind approximately 1400 years to a time when the Israelites had just miraculously left Egypt and were sitting at the foot of Mount Sinai. Shortly before receiving the Ten Commandments (plus change) from God these words were recorded in Exodus 19:5-6

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people, for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you shall speak to the children of Israel”. 

  Sounds familiar doesn't it? To cut a long story short, the people were afraid of God’s presence and told Moses that he should rather speak with God on their behalf and they would listen to and do whatever he told them (19:8, 20: 19). It reminds me of the story of Israel later on asking Samuel for a king. Gods response was to give the people what they wanted. He added that they had not rejected Samuel but rejected Him as the one to reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7). 

Has the church not done the same thing today? Rather than seek God together, we elect a man on our behalf to tell us “what saith the Lord”. Just as Israel wanted to be like the surrounding nations, the church wants to be like other religions and has set up a man over them. Let me be clear here that Moses is not the bad guy in Israel’s story. Likewise, most pastors are doing the best they can in the situation that the church has put itself into. This is simply a plea for the church to not be a shining example of how the Pareto principle works (where 80% do 20% and 20% do 80% of the work). He has made us, all of us, to be both kings and priests to His God and Father (Revelation 1:6). Think about that.

The anointing which you have received abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. – 1 John 2:27

Alternatively, you can give up the intimacy, the relationship and the abiding and tell someone else that they should rather do it for you and that you will be happy to follow along with the do’s and do not’s handed down to you. But do so aware that you may wind up the same way that Israel did.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Two disturbing articles about hell

Last week I read two rather disturbing articles on hell which you can go and read for yourself over here and over here. The two posts could not have been any further apart from each other theologically, the first one making a case for a God that seeks to personally torture people forever and ever purely because He is holy and good (huh?) while the second called for a Christianity where hell is completely done away with which I assume implied universal reconciliation for all of creation. You have to feel for God sometimes, people like to fight with Him when bad things happen in the world and He is seemingly absent or does not intervene. Yet at the same time when we speak about a day when God will judge the wicked people get angry about that as well.

So while I am sure that I will get 1 view for every 1000 those 2 articles managed; I would like to briefly critique both of them anyway while offering up an alternative as well.

In the first post Tim Challies goes beyond just championing the eternal conscious torment view of hell but actually reasons that “If you want a God who is good - truly good - and if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell” which Tim goes on to explain as infinite torture at the hands of God himself.

The article tries to back itself up with scriptures such as Matthew 10:28 and 25:46 (which both actually support annihilationism) and Acts 10:42 (which speaks nothing of what judgment is or looks like but rather of who the judge is). It becomes clear really soon that the author is imposing his own personal views onto the texts and from there in it only got worse as it moves completely away from scripture and into the land of assumptions. One example is when the writer reasons that because God is infinite any sin against him accrues an infinite debt so one personal call from your company phone is worthy of eternal torture.

While Jesus looks pretty awesome in the article the Father comes off looking just the opposite. In fact, in Tim’s theology Father and Son couldn't be any more different from one another. The Father demands eternal torture while Jesus freely offers forgiveness. Tim says that God’s holiness demands that He remain separate from sin and those who commit sin must be kept out of his presence. Note that He also stated that it is God who tortures the wicked in hell? I don’t know how he gets around this reasoning and I also don’t know what he thinks about God being omnipresent but more importantly, what does it say about the holiness of Jesus? The friend of sinners who hung out with all of the wrong kinds of people looks a lot like the Father who sought out Adam and Eve in the garden after they fell to me but bears little resemblance to the Father depicted in Challies article.

There are other confusing statements made in the post as well, when Tim says that “sin demands eternal punishment” he really means that “God demands eternal punishment”. The Father is the punisher while Christ is the redeemer calling for eternal love and joy. In his view God the Father and the Son share none of the same attributes but rather make up a yin yang kind of a godhead . If it was discovered that a man had chained up some of his children in his home basement and had tortured them there for several years it would horrify people and be worldwide news. If that same man claimed that he had done it because he was good and holy we would be even more disgusted and say that he does not know God. Yet so many people preach a God who is like this (but far more extreme in method and duration) than our hypothetical psychopath and yet we call it good?

A Christianity without hell

The second article that I read dared to imagine Christianity without hell. ‘Imagine’ is the key word here as there is so much scripture that speaks of punishment and judgment in the afterlife which one could point to. I can appreciate the author’s comments that the gospel of Christ has been damaged by “those in positions of power within the institutions of Christianity (who have) have methodically, relentlessly, and with great art used the doctrine of hell to exploit the innate fear of death that is harbored by one and all.” Christianity, as the author states, has made a lot of people rich by praying on people’s fear of hell but to throw the baby out with the bathwater carries severe consequences which should be considered.

It is wishful thinking to assume that love will eventually persuade all of creation to fall in line. Lucifer knew God in a way that we cannot imagine but pride corrupted him so who is to say that the stubborn hearts of men will act or any differently than his did?

The biggest red flag for me in Taboola’s post though was the statement, “A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from”. This reasoning is not concerned with sanctification and does not recognize that man is spiritually dead, corrupt, perishing and in need of saving from other things. It concerns itself with escaping punishment but not with repentance, that is to say, a turning away from ungodly things and seeking after righteousness. It does not acknowledge that eternal life is only found in Jesus who alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15-16) and it does not realize that the restoration of all things does not equate to the survival of every living being.

He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life but the  wrath of God abides on him. - John 3:36

And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11-12

The truth is that the doctrine of hell has been distorted and abused but it should not take away from the fact that the bible does speak of a lake of fire and anyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life will go there, this is the second death (Revelations 20:14-15). They do not go there to be tortured for eternity because the goal of judgment is to do away with evil that Christ may be all in all and that creation can be “very good” once again.

Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no such power. – Revelation 20:6.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Beware of dead guys

The living dead are all around us infecting the brains of their unsuspecting victims... But I am not talking about zombies here but rather about those who have passed away while their ideas, philosophies, recordings and writings continue to influence us today. To state the obvious upfront, some people in their lifetimes influenced society in a very positive way while others did not. To know the difference is of the utmost importance; especially when we delve into the world of theology. So our focus here in this post is on the people who may have infected us with some bad doctrine.

This post was prompted by a discussion I was having with a friend a while back who is deeply concerned about false teaching in the church today as we all should be. There is no shortage of voices and opinions out there seducing us with sugar coated poo cakes. The church is weak, confused and being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine that blows past its creaky, wooden doors. Things were no different in the early church either as we read in letter after letter how Paul, John and the rest of the Beatles (just making sure that you are paying attention) addressed false teachers and exhorted other believers to hold firm to the true gospel and to the traditions that were once delivered unto the saints. So yes, just like back then, while there is an abundance of bad teaching out there today I think that there are also a lot of voices sounding the alarm bells as well which is a good thing.

But what about the dead guys? Very few people out there today seem to be discerning when it comes to things that were established in mainstream Christianity 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago or 1700 years ago…We can spot the modern wolf a mile away because his words are contrary to what has already been established in our minds. But it is far more difficult to spot the wolf that infiltrated the church years before we were born and by the time we started listening to preachers on a Sunday these ‘new ideas’ were already being taught as tried, tested and accepted old truths. Men like Augustine and Calvin both contributed greatly in certain areas doctrinally but they both strayed from Jesus and the apostle’s teachings in places as well. When something has been accepted as fact for centuries or even millennia it can be incredibly difficult to look at it objectionably again. Who knows how often we end up reading things into scripture that it never intended to say or endorse?

This is why it is important to read about the men, especially the theologians, who have shaped the church for the past 2000 years and this is why it is important to try to read the bible without imposing any preconceived ideas that we have (which is close to impossible unless you grew up in a cave) onto the text. As for me, I admit that I see dimly as through a dirty glass and my understanding is just as likely as anyone's to have being influenced by the world that has shaped me up to this point. So what is the solution then? Seeing as you will certainly read and hear things from a certain preconceived perspective, I have decided that if I am going to be wearing lenses it will be those of the rabbi who once died but was raised again. I will ask “does this glorify God or someone else?”, “Does this point to Christ or man?”, “Does this lead to life in Him or to death?” or “Does this make God look more like man or like Jesus?”

Beware of dead guys, unless they are pointing you to the Risen one; chances are they may be out to feast on your brain.

*The image at the top of this article was taken from

Saturday, 18 October 2014

There is no such thing as a Christian Fundamentalist

As recently as six years ago I was a self proclaimed phundamentalist (spelt with a ‘ph’ because there is no fun in fundamentalism). It was my way of trying to set myself apart from the wishy washy Christianity portrayed on TV and in all the bestselling books. I saw myself as someone who was more serious about his faith and did not endorse their self centered messages. I later came to loath the fundamentalist tag as well though as it boxed me in with the loveless and proud folk who were labeled under the same banner (although to be honest a fair bit of that had rubbed off on me as well). Nowadays; I no longer believe that there is such a thing as a Christian fundamentalist. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a fundamentalist is “A form of religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, which upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture”.

I think what we have in certain Christian circles today would be more accurately described as “Modern Pharisaism”. They have a certain set of beliefs and practices that one must adhere to in order to be accepted; but these beliefs and practices are highly selective and do not seem to apply to all of scripture. To provide you with some examples, let me share a few things that, should they not be taken literally, would hardly raise an eyebrow amongst the fundamentalist groups I know of.

 Two things I require of you…Remove falsehood and lies from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-Feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny you and say, “who is the Lord?”. Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of the Lord. – Proverbs 30:7-9

The one who has two garments should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. – Luke 3:11

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:33

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is more profitable for you for one part of your body to perish than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.- Matthew 5:29

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? - 1 Corinthians 6:7

These are all powerful verses. But those signs of love, sacrifice and character do not seem to be as important to fundamentalism as say ones intellectual position on the age of the earth, or what translation of the bible one uses or what one believes about the end times (To be nice to fundies they do emphasize self discipline and holiness a lot as well). Here is another one from Matthew worth mentioning too as I don’t feel it holds much weight in fundamentalist circles.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”. – Matthew 5:44

Most fundamentalists cannot even love or speak well of other believers when they are in disagreement let alone bless their enemies.

In the end; I think that fundamentalism (and I am talking about those people under the label and not the mythical creatures that actually do interpret all of scripture literally) is about trying to preserve a certain view of scripture because their faith is built on a specific interpretation of the bible rather than on the person of Christ. Obviously creeds, doctrines, intelligent reasoning and preserving the truth are important and I am in no way suggesting here that they are not vital to ones faith and walk.We should all pursue truth and wisdom but build those things on Christ who is the foundation in whom those things are found. Otherwise, if we take the fundamentalist position, we find ourselves forced to defend and hold onto our preconceived ideas regardless of how nonsensical they are because when they are challenged it feels as though Christ himself is being attacked.

I think Paul nailed it in Galatians 6 when  Eugene Peterson paraphrased his words regarding ‘Christian Pharisees’ as “They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s sufferings and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves do not keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws that they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!

Don't be a fundie. Be a Christ follower.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Non violent solution in a violent situation.

Someone recorded and posted this video of a guy verbally abusing a woman before kicking out at her. Watch how a mysterious stranger comes to her aid and non-violently puts an immediate end to the situation.
I am not sure if his method will always work this well but it may come in handy if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Church Beyond Imagination

A brother and friend of mine has written a great book on the Ekklesia and I am happy to be able to share it with all of you. I met him about 5 years back, not long after I had started out on a similar journey to the one that he had been on for a number of years already. His experience with house churches proved extremely helpful to our fledgling group as well as other home fellowships that had started up in South Africa. Please feel free to download the PDF "A Church Beyond Imagination" by clicking on the image at the top right of this page.

If you enjoy it, I would love to hear from you. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Against all Odds

I love autobiographies. I still read a lot more books about theology but autobiographies are kind of where the rubber meets the road and you get to see what faith and a transformed life look like in the real world. The book which prompted this post is about a guy called Joe Tarasuk and his journey from cocaine addict and seller to being under the influence of a cult leader to serving jail time and finally to finding freedom in Christ. It is a fascinating look into a dark world that not many people have experienced (or am I just naive?). Joe recalls his journey from bondage to freedom but also that of his wife’s struggles with her own addictions. It is easy to recognize the dangers of hard drugs but there are addictions that are not as obvious but can be just as dangerous to us. Ordinary people can get addicted to things like alcohol and sex or as is the case in this book, pain medication. The consequences of abusing these kinds of things can be just as destructive as hard drugs even though they are all legal.

What makes this story inspiring is the sheer honesty Joe shares with his readers. Rarely is the Christian life portrayed as a journey of learning to crawl before one can walk and learning to walk before you can run. It also gives hope that anyone can still turn their life around. If a guy with a reading disability who once found himself in a rubber room who struggled with a cocaine addiction and was facing a very lengthy prison sentence can find freedom then anyone can. I am not really a fan of most of the pastors or books that get mentioned (the ones who I knew about anyway) in this story but in a sense I appreciated the fact that my spiritual family is bigger than the group of people who think like I do in every way and that God works outside of that.

All money raised from the sales of Against all Odds goes toward the CrossRoads Freedom Center which is a ministry started by Joe and his wife that helps people who are going through similar struggles to what he went through. You can check out the book over here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Race, Violence and Why we need to talk about it.

Events in Ferguson have put racism and violence into the spotlight recently and it is a good thing that people are speaking about it. I live on the other side of the planet so, while I am aware of the story, I have not followed it very closely but growing up in South Africa it is unfortunately something all too familiar to me.

I am in my mid-thirties now so I am too young to really have understood the apartheid era but I am young enough to be able to have witnessed the pain, hurt, fear and hatred left in its aftermath. In all honesty, I still know a lot of racist people on both sides of the fence. The healing process has being slowed by language and cultural differences (as well as mans desire for power and other bad things) and most churches today remain as segregated as ever. In my opinion; most of the progress that has taken place has come through the public schools and work places where intermingling first allowed us to get to know one another as people and then as friends.

For myself, it's natural to see from the white perspective. As a minority (8.9% of the population) you worry about your kids when you see popular politicians sing songs like "Shoot the Boer". The EFF who received 6.4% of the votes in our 2014 elections are pretty forward about their position as the photos below demonstrate.

But as a Jesus follower, I am forced to look at things from the other side as well. People don't just wake up bitter, society and circumstances have made them that way. It is not enough to say, "Well I am not part of the problem, I have friends of various color whom I love dearly and our church is a healthy mix". It is not good enough and that is what I am only now beginning to realize. As a Jesus follower, we need to be more like the Good Samaritan, the 'half breed' who contributed to the solution by seeing 'the enemy', someone who probably would not have treated him in the same manner, as his neighbor. He went out of his way to bring healing to that person and reconciliation between two different people groups. Exactly how contributing to a solution may look is still a bit unclear to me but it is something I am working on. One of my favorite verses in the bible is at the beginning of Galatians 6 where it says "Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ". I have realized that most of my friends of color and in our house church are still in my same 'class bracket', Not a good thing. Walking with our heads in the clouds when people are hurting on the ground perhaps does not make us so neutral after all. Let us consider others over ourselves starting with the least of them, where it is most inconvenient and uncomfortable. Only love can break the cycle of violence and hate.

This post is part of the September synchroblog based on race and violence. Check out the other bloggers writing about Race, Violence, and Why We Need to Talk About It:

Jeremy Myers – It’s the White Man’s Fault! It’s the Black Man’s Fault!
Wendy McCaig – Race, Violence, and a Silent White America
Glenn Hager – Can We Even Talk About Racial Issues?
Carol Kuniholm – Who is Allowed to Vote? 
Sarah Quezada – Race, Violence, and the Airport Immigration Agent
Kathy Escobar – We Have a Dream
Liz Dyer – Why are American Churches Still So Racially Segregated?
Loveday Anyim Snr – The Dangers of Racism and Violence on the Society 
Juliet Birkbeck – Remembering Voices of Hatred 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The day that God took a selfie

 John told us that God is love and in the words of Jesus; "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends".

What does God look like? He looks like Jesus who bore his image 100% and revealed to us what the Father is like (Hebrews 1:3). Perhaps captured nowhere more clearly than in this moment.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Four fathers

Once upon a time there were four fathers who were all raising sons and daughters. The first father liked to spoil his children. Nothing was more important to him than their happiness and comfort. His children were encouraged to dream big, to want the best and to be the best. In fact, these things already belonged to them and all they needed to do was claim the promises for themselves and watch them unfold. Because image was of the utmost importance in the household; when things were not going well the kids would sometimes experience a sense of shame but keep their struggles to themselves, the house could be a lonely place sometimes.

The second father was not a hands on kind of a fellow. He was a stubborn man and could not be swayed in his thinking. While his children were still in their mother’s womb he had already decided how he felt about them. Some of them he would accept but most of them he would write off before they had even being born. Being a meticulous man; he planned out every detail of his kids lives. His will would determine what they would wear, which schools they would attend, who they would one day marry and what careers they would pursue. His children had no say in the matter neither could they ever know if they were really accepted or not. If you seemed to be in but the relationship was somehow strained at a later stage it was only proof that you were ‘out’ all along. Everything was a test for the kids but because they never got to see the report cards the only means of measuring themselves was by comparing themselves to one another.

The third father was not really concerned with his children at all. They were like worms to him and he did not delight in them the way that most parents do. He was a hard man and his children feared him. The kids could however remain in his good books as long as they attended the appropriate gatherings, spoke the right way and did what was expected of them.His children soon became hardened to everyone outside of their circle as well, even those that bore the family name.

The fourth father was different than the first three. He loved all his children dearly. While he did all he could to instruct them in living rightly and warn them of the repercussions a lifestyle of bad choices would lead too; he did not seek to control them or manipulate them into doing things his way. He left the welcome mat out for those who chose to leave his house and always kept an eye out longing for their return. His will was simple; he wanted his children to know that they were loved and for them to love him and one another in return. He delighted in watching his children dream, create and achieve things; so long as it kept within his desire that it helped rather than hindered others. Like the third father; he too could be hard and firm with his children but it seemed to emanate from his passion for them rather than his own anger issues.

Maybe you too have met these four fathers before? Maybe you have experienced more than four of them? And maybe some of the children of the first three fathers would point out that I have oversimplified things and they could mention several good things about those fathers which I failed to do. That’s fine. All I am saying here is this; someone once said that God once made man in his image and then we went and returned the favor. Does the Father you know look like Jesus or someone else? It's something to think about.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Church may not be for everyone but the church is

In my last two posts I spent some time looking at  the church being a place that welcomes unbelievers as well as believers who are unrepentant and doing the wrong things into fellowship and whether that is a good or a bad thing. I do not want to go over those points again (you can read them by clicking here and here) but I would like to have a look at the topic from some different angles today. Here are some extra points worth considering.

We have the wrong mindset about church

For some reason, even though we know better, we still keep thinking of the church as the building where good people go to on Sunday mornings. Anyone can go to a religious meeting, all you have to do is shake someone’s hand at the door and you are in. But to be grafted into the body of Christ requires death and resurrection. The church is not something you go to but rather it is something one is a part of. It is Christ’s body, it is Christ’s bride, it is Gods holy city and a spiritual house made up of living stones.

The church is like Jesus

The church is the body of Christ so it follows that it should look like him. When I look at Jesus; I see someone who associated with the poor, the lowly, the dirty and the sinners. Yet at the same time, I also see a man who sometimes spoke privately with his disciples and shared things with them only. At other times he withdrew completely from everybody to be alone with God. It makes sense to me that the church should reflect that. There will be times for us to gather with the poor, the lowly, the dirty and those who are lost. But there are also times when the church needs to gather as the church. For prayer or for making kingdom related decisions. It is not simply a one or the other thing.

The church has different kinds of meetings

When you start reading through the New Testament it quickly becomes evident that not all gatherings were for the same purpose. The church met publicly at the temple and attended the synagogues. Some gatherings were specifically for proclaiming the Kingdom of God and would have been specifically directed to unbelievers. At other times they met specifically to pray. On other occasions they met simply to break bread around the dinner table. Sometimes the church gathered for teaching and instruction. In today’s world, Sunday services are perhaps a good place for believers, for broken branches (Romans 11:16-24) and unbelievers to hear Christ preached together. Whereas homes may be more suitable for discipleship, prayer and fellowship for the church; although exceptions would certainly be acceptable.

Church may not be for everyone but the church is

The church is not for everyone, she is betrothed to Christ. Yet because she is Christ’s she is deeply committed to everyone; just as God desires that none should perish, so the church must have a heart for those who are dying. She cares about her own and seeks to make herself ready for the bridegroom. Yet she also cares about his kingdom and his creation and will do her utmost to bring healing where she can. Her love is not conditional to who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ because it is the love of Christ that pours out from her. Church may not be for everyone, but the church is committed to all people because the the bridegrooms invitation is extended to all.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Why Church is for everyone

Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation was birthed out of it. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different kinds of questions to try and gain a third perspective that takes all views into account and then tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.

This is post number 2 which will explore the arguments on why church should be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church should be for all.

Jesus, friend of sinners.

It is well documented in scripture that Jesus hung out with the wrong kind of people; the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and even a Roman centurion. This did not sit well with the Pharisees and scribes but Jesus’ explanation was simply that it is not those who are well who are in need of a Doctor but those who are sick. Luke chapter 15 contains one of my favorite portions of scripture in what is commonly known as the Parable of the Lost Son. In it we see the heart of a father who loves both of his sons unconditionally. There is a reckless, unrestrained love revealed in the story for a son who has done nothing more than come back home. Yet not only is he welcomed inside but a huge party is thrown in his honor. Both sons were welcomed because both sons were loved.

Among the religious (and sometimes the broken as well because we have told them so) there is this idea that one needs to clean themselves up before coming to God or going to church. The idea is silly. One can sometimes have a degree of success using will power to overcome bad habits and create good ones but when it comes down to it; it is only God who can transform the inner man. When one recognizes his fallen state; God is the only place you can run too or should feel safe. As my friend Robert said in the comments on the FB status that inspired this series of posts, “Church was never the exclusive enclave of the purely was the messy place where people gathered together to learn what this Kingdom thing was. Where they could grow and learn, make mistakes, get refined, and work it out together in community”.

Arguments from scripture

Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all. – 1 Corinthians 14:23-24

What I want to highlight here is simply that scripture does acknowledge the possibility of unbelievers being present in church gatherings. It probably was not the norm except for in instances when the church intentionally met in public places to preach and reason with unbelievers but it surely would have happened in those house meetings around the table as well on occasion.

Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his (Diotrephes) deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. – 3 John 10

This verse specifically speaks against those who do not receive the brethren who wish to remain in fellowship. How many of us have been forbidden from fellowship with a certain group because a Diotrephes type of character forbade it for fear that he would lose control or be questioned doctrinally if his rule were to be questioned? Recent events at Mars Hill come to mind, pray for them.

Where is the line?

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. – Galatians 6:1-3

Here is where it gets tricky. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. Living epistles. Yet at the same time we are all still in this process of sanctification. When we start declaring who is in and out we have to draw a line somewhere. And usually, that line has us on the good side and other people who sin differently than us on the other side. The gays are on that side but the straight person who has remarried without just cause and committed adultery (as defined by Jesus in Matthew 5:32) is okay. The guy with the tattoos (not necessarily a sin) and piercings is on that side but the white washed tombs are fine. When we try and draw a line in the sand we will end up with as many marks as there are people with sticks poking in the gravel.

 If this position is the correct one then I do not think that the heart behind it is to be liberal in terms of morality but rather to be liberal in terms of grace to the broken. It is not to condone sin but to bring it to the cross where it can be dealt with. Of course some people are not interested in picking up their own crosses and crucifying the flesh which creates another question behind the question. As someone I once knew used to say, “We are just beggars showing other beggars where to find the bread”.

*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.

Why Church is not for everyone

Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation started up. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different types of questions to try and gain a third perspective that took everything into account and tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.

So onto post number one we go. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church is not for everyone.

The name itself 

Let us start with the word for ‘church’ itself. The Greek word that gets translated as church in most English translations is ekklesia and it literally means ‘called out ones’. In bible times, it was not used in reference to religious meetings but rather to refer to a special assembly of people who met together for a common purpose. Colin Brown, the author of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology further defined it this way.

It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions were taken.

Notice how the word ekklesia is used in Acts 19:21-41 where a man named Demetrius, who made idols for a living, called an ekklesia meeting to discuss the problem they were having of people abandoning their idols because of the preaching of Paul which was bad for business.

All this is to say that Christ’s ekklesia (Matthew 16:18) is for Christ’s body. It is an assembly of called out ones that gather together to make decisions related to the Kingdom of God. Of course a typical Sunday morning service is more of a one man preach than an ekklesia meeting as described above so this point may just boil down to us needing to properly define what we mean when we debate if the church should be welcoming of everyone or not. If we are defining church as Colin Brown does above, I would want men whom are of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

Supporting scriptures 

While there are no scriptures (that I am aware of) that directly forbid unbelievers from church gatherings. There are scriptures which speak of people who should be “put out” from the assembly. The most obvious portion would be found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 where the church has in its assembly a man who is sleeping with his own fathers’ wife. Paul’s words are firm, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved…”, “purge out the old leaven” and “put away from yourselves the evil person”. It should be noted in these instances that the purpose of putting one should not be likened to throwing one out like the trash but rather it is done so with the hope of the person coming to repentance and a future reconciliation. love is still the motivation behind the action.

Jude 3-4 is another portion of scripture worth considering. It says:-

“…I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, unglodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Over here we see that certain men have crept in unawares, so the question we need to ask here is, was the church being chastised for welcoming these men into fellowship or was it because they lacked discernment about the leaven spreading within through those men they and failed to deal with it?

The last text I will share is Revelation 2:20:21

Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not repent.

In a similar fashion to Jude 3-4 some may argue here that this verse is more about allowing Jezebel to teach than it is about allowing her in the pew. I think that the ‘little leaven leavens the whole lump’ thing applies here though. Jesus’ servants were getting seduced into sexual immorality then and it still happens today.

Letters of commendation

Whether it was because of persecution or to protect the body from false teachers or from falling into immorality or for some other reason; the early church had a practice of writing letters of recommendation when someone visited another church or moved to a new area. There are several examples within the bible itself of this practice.

And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him. - Acts 18:27

Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? – 2 Corinthians 3:1

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints...- Romans 16:1-2

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).” – Colossians 4:10

Further examples of this can be found in Acts 15:22-29 and Ephesians 6:21-22. The word ‘commend’ in these verses carries with it the idea of approval of the person in question. Once again the question must be raised as to how the church would have dealt with the Jezebels, Hymenaeus’s, Philetus’s and Diotrephes’s of the world? These were not brothers or even seekers in the gatherings but rather were sowers of evil, discord, false teachings and divisions. What if we were to apply Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:8-9 to the body of Christ rather than only to one’s own physical body? If the hand, foot or eye causes you to sin cut it off and cast it from you. Harsh I know but then again wasn't Jesus’ original message as well?

*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why you should not give up with the bible.

The bible has come under a lot of fire of late. It seems that since the day that it was first put together there has been no shortage of people out to discredit and destroy it. Yet the latest attack on it is unique in that it has not been instigated by those who have sought to control people through religion (think of all the copies that were burned in the middle ages because they were not in Latin) or by those who scoff at the existence of a creator. Rather; what makes the situation today unique is that it is from within the church that some people are growing disillusioned with it.

And I am not just referring to people debating whether things like the first 11 chapters of Genesis should be taken literally or not or whether we need to rethink how we approach certain portions of scripture (particularly the violent parts). What I am referring to is the idea that we no longer need it because Christ is in us or the idea that too much of the bible simply does not look like Jesus. Granted, for most of the last 2000 years the majority of the church never had their own copies of the bible in their own languages or would have possessed the ability to read it for themselves; but somehow they still managed to grow spiritually. Even today the church seems healthiest in areas like China where there is a shortage of bibles in many areas. It is clear that the only thing the Church needs to live and grow is Jesus. Yet scripture is still extremely precious.

Why are the scriptures valuable to the church? They are valuable because they point us to him, Jesus himself said they testify of him (John 5:39). From the very first to the very last verse Christ is revealed. Consider Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Didn't Jesus tell us that he was the beginning (Revelation 21:6, 22:13)? You could read Genesis 1:1 as “In Jesus, God created the heavens and the earth” and you would not be theologically wrong. John makes a similar statement at the start of his gospel.  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

The last verse in the bible requires no explanation.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Yes there are parts between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 where Jesus and the message he shared may not be so obvious. If some parts of it do not make sense, hold on to what you know to be true about God as revealed through Jesus. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. We are not to deify the book as some have but if we learn to read it correctly; it is still profitable for reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.  

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Finding Jesus in new places

A good few years ago I read a book called “Jim and Casper go to church”. Forgive me if I get any of the details wrong, it has been a while, but it is basically about a guy named Jim who pays his atheist friend to go to different churches with him and review them, sharing his experiences and revealing what he liked and didn't like about the different types of meetings people can attend. The one part of the book that stood out most for me was where Casper says that they went to a service where the assembly sang the song “Take the world but give me Jesus”. Casper found it to be quite perplexing as the church was of the larger variety in a well off neighborhood where the parking lot was mostly full of expensive SUV’s.  While the irony may have been lost on everyone apart from Casper; the truth is that pretty much the entire Western church to some degree suffers from the same problem. How did Jesus, the penniless prophet, in the 21st century become a multibillion dollar industry? Feeling down? Why not subscribe on your cell phone to an inspirational verse of the day. Feeling edgy? Put a praise and worship CD on. Feeling guilty about not evangelizing the lost? Say your bit with a new Christian T-shirt. Need victory over something in your life? There is a book at the local store which can help you. For the right price there is a quick fix for everything…

This is not meant to be a post about what I think is wrong with modern Christian culture though. Rather, it is about my personal struggles in connecting with God within this society.  Michael Gungor posted an article which has caused quite the uproar among some conservatives. Something he said in his article challenged me though. He said “There are lots of people that have all sorts of wonderful ‘beliefs’ that live really awful lives. If I’m on the side of the road bleeding, I don’t care if the priest or the Levite have beautiful ‘beliefs’ about the poor and the hurting. Give me the samaritan”.

If I am honest with you and myself; I do not feel like the Samaritan in the story most represents who I am. Recently I have been thinking about all those verses in scripture that no one seems to consider realistic.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind… - Luke 14:13

You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me. – Mark 10:21

I need to remind myself that there is a cost to following Christ. Sometimes it involves the bigger things in life like being prepared to make decisions that may cost you friends or it could be changing your job or the town where you live. Usually though it manifests in the smaller everyday things like buying someone a pair of shoes even though your own may be full of holes. As much as we try, we cannot have the world and Jesus. There are a number of spiritual disciplines like studying scripture, prayer and fasting that are all also extremely important. Prayer, church and meditating on scripture can all help us connect with God. But I have this itchy feeling that there may be just as much to be gained in terms of connecting with Christ in the sharing of a cup of coffee with a homeless person as there is in those things that we traditionally resort too.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’. – Matthew 25:40

This post is part an August synchroblog on the theme 'connection'. Be sure and check out the other contributions below:

Jerry Wirtley – Connection
Sara Quezada – Can You Really Know Someone In A Different Language?
Ford – Interindependence
Michael Donahoe – Connection
Minnow – Our Dis-Connect
Justin Steckbauer – Connection in Love, it’s what Life is all about!
Carol Kuniholm – Disengagement and Connection
Doreen A Mannion – A bunny, a fawn and some geese walk into a bar …
Leah Sophia – Touch of Life
Karen “Charity” Aldrich – Wuv True Wuv
Abbie Watters – Connection – Addicted to the Buzz
Liz Dyer – Human Connection and the Power of Empathy