Monday, September 29, 2014

Jesus Christ Fulfilled the Law. We Don't Have to, Nor Could We.

This is the third post in my series on poor interpretation of the Old Testament and its impact upon the church.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18).

Is Jesus telling his followers that they are supposed to keep the OT law? Is Jesus saying that the law still applies? Is Jesus instructing his disciples to keep just part of the law? What is going on?

What is going on is that Jesus is saying that he has come into the world to fulfill the law. He is going to do what no one else has ever been able to do. He is the only one who could perfectly keep the demands of God's law. He did this because we cannot.

Throughout Jesus' life we see obedience to an infinite degree. He did not sin - ever. The only reason his sacrifice of himself was acceptable to his Father is because he was perfect. This allowed his atonement to be a substitutionary one.

When on the cross Jesus said several things. One of them (likely spoken in Aramaic but written down by John in Greek) was tetelestai. This word is usually translated "It is finished." While it means this, it also carries the idea of "It is accomplished." One of the primary things Jesus did was accomplish the perfect fulfillment of the OT law. He was the first and last person to do this.

As followers of Jesus, we are freed from the demands of the law. Because the law doesn't apply to us, we do not have to follow any of it. It has no impact on how we live church life today. The law ought not affect our church practice, principles, or forms. Instead, Jesus has freed us to live as his New Covenant followers. We've been shown much in the New Testament to instruct us in how church life should look today.

Many of today's traditional church practices stem from faulty interpretation of the OT. This ought not be. We have no need for the Old Covenant. It is a relic, a thing of the past. To follow it in any of our practices is to go backwards. Christ has given us something far better.

Our Lord perfectly fulfilled the OT law for several reasons. One was so that we don't have to. Praise the Lord for this gift!

Friend, if you are trying to fulfill any parts of the OT law, please let me encourage you to stop. You don't need to. God doesn't expect you to. Embrace the freedom of the New Covenant.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Do Not Have to Follow the OT Law

The Old Testament law is beneficial for several reasons. It shows us the holiness of God. It restrains, at least in the case of OT Israel, sin. Also, the OT law makes it abundantly clear to us that we are in desperate need of a savior. Each person in this world needs salvation because nobody perfectly keeps the law. Every individual on earth, whether they know it or not, who has not been saved by Christ is still under the OT law.

But what about those of us who Christ has saved? We are members of the New Covenant. Do we have to follow the OT law?

The answer is a resounding NO.

The OT law, with its connection to the Old Covenant, no longer has any bearing upon us. What matters now is faith. It is faith that saves through our union with Jesus Christ and His perfection. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:16-17, "...yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."

In order to be found not guilty of transgressing the OT law, we must be one with Jesus Christ. This only occurs through faith. Trying to follow the OT law is fruitless and actually shows a lack of faith in what Jesus has already accomplished. The law no longer has any grip upon us; why would we turn back to it?

A significant problem in the church today is that many Christians act as if at least some of the OT law still applies. They point back to the OT to say that we must meet on Sundays (Sabbath regulations), we should have a big building (OT temple), and that we should pay pastors (OT priests). These interpretations break down in many different places, but for our purpose here I just want to focus on the big picture. If these OT forms still apply, it means that the entire law still applies to those in the New Covenant. If it does, then the gospel means nothing!

The gospel has freed us from OT law restrictions. Christ has unshackled us from that law to follow His law: Galatians 6:2 says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." We've been freed to live lives of faith, enjoying Christ fully.

Please do not allow other well-intentioned Christians to convince you that the OT law still applies. Quite simply, it does not. The OT law should not be used as any sort of support for current church forms and practices. When this happens, problems quickly arise. We are members of the New Covenant. We ought to be looking to the New Covenant to show us what church life must look like. Christ has freed us to do so.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems

The Old Testament is wonderful. It is as much a part of the bible as the New Testament is. In fact, it makes up about 2/3 of the scriptures. From its pages we learn much about who God is, who we are, how the world began, what our problems are, how God plans to save us, who the suffering servant is, etc. Above all else, the Old Testament reveals to us who our wonderful, majestic Creator is and what He is like. It is God's revelation of Himself to us. We can learn much from the Old Testament and do well to spend much time in it.

That being said, the Old Testament is not a manual for how to live church life. If we treat it as such, we run the risk of the same poor interpretation that has plagued much of the church for centuries. Poor O.T. interpretation always leads to a multitude of church problems. The reason for this is that most of the O.T. focuses on God's relationship with Israel. The majority of this information deals with the Old Covenant. It no longer applies to those of us who are part of the New Covenant.

The O.T. itself points ahead to the New Covenant as something being far different from what was going on at that time. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us:

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

We see in these verses the New Covenant contrasted with the Old Covenant. It is something far different.

Please let me be clear about one thing: the Old Testament is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. However, much of the information contained in the Old Testament focuses on the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christians today make direct application from O.T. passages to church life, they frequently do so incorrectly.

Frankly, much of what has been going on for hundreds of years is a form of reverse interpretation. This occurs when Christians enjoy a church practice that is, in fact, based more in tradition than anything else. These Christians look in the New Testament to find support for this practice but cannot find any. Therefore, they then turn back to the Old Testament to find something to base their current practices upon. This is when the problem rears its ugly head. These believers use things found in O.T. Israel as a way to support what they are doing today.  This happens again and again despite the fact that they are pointing back to the Old Covenant.

Let me point out one stark example of this: the large, expensive church building. The New Testament provides no support for this idea whatsoever. Therefore, those who want something to base today's buildings upon point back to the O.T. temple for support. This is incredibly bad interpretation. It is using the Old Covenant to support the New Covenant even though Jeremiah has told us that they are two completely different things.

I'm deeply concerned about the church today. Even though it is a wonderful thing, it has many problems. Some of these problems stem directly from exceedingly poor interpretation of the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a blog series I'm writing on O.T. interpretive problems. These are problems that still directly impact the church today.

I believe that if the church will stop pointing back to Old Covenant forms and practices it will become a much healthier church. My hope is not simply to discuss problems but also solutions. In order to be a healthy church, we need to look to the correct place. That place is the New Covenant, which is largely found in the N.T. as opposed to the O.T.

Good interpretation is a necessity for a healthy, thriving church. I have no doubt that this is what God desires.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Salaried Pastors Everywhere, Please Resign!

This is a call to all salaried pastors everywhere on earth: please resign right now!

Christ's church has both much potential and many problems. The church could be so much more if Christ's people en masse lived as the priests they already are. One of the biggest roadblocks to an active, thriving church is salaried pastors. I should know; I used to be one.

The salaried pastorate inadvertently keeps the church shackled. A damaging co-dependent relationship exists between paid pastors and the people in the pews: the pastor(s) gets paid to "do the work of the ministry" while the people largely sit and watch. Despite good intentions, this relationship stifles the good that the church can do and the wondrous thing it can be.

I do not sugarcoat or soften this call in any way. I believe all pastors who receive salaries from churches should resign today. This applies to all places on earth. Do not worry; you are not indispensable to the church. The Holy Spirit can lead things just fine on His own. In your absence, He will raise up elders from within the body who will lead through servanthood.

Rather than leaving the churches where you are employed, I'm simply stating that you should resign from your positions. Consider teaching about why this will help the church. Stay there. Change your role. Lead through service instead of decision making. Become one of the body, equal with everybody else. Encourage others to lead in their various areas of gifting. Stay in the background.

Please, pastor friend and brother in Christ, resign now. God will take care of you. He provides for me and my family each day. It won't be easy, but Christ did not call us to lives of ease. Rather, He called us to live as part of His priesthood and encourage/exhort others to do the same. We are all part of one body, all needed by the whole.

Resign and watch what the Holy Spirit will do. It will be an exciting ride and one that will please the Lord.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"What We're For" to the Publisher!

I am thrilled to announce that I've sent my final edited copy of What We're For to Redeeming Press for publishing. This is both a joy and a relief. Editing twenty-five chapters is indeed a challenge. While the process was enjoyable, it was also taxing. Sometimes I felt as if I couldn't see straight.

The best part of editing this book was simply getting to read the chapters. It is fascinating to see what different Christ-followers believe about the church. While all of the contributors agreed on some basic principles (simplicity being one of them), the specifics varied widely. This book is a type of anthology; it is by no means monolithic.

Thank you so much for praying for me. I am very much looking forward to the final product.

Now the book is in Jeremy Myers' hands. His goal is to have it published sometime this fall.

I will give updates as What We're For nears completion.

Jeremy's and my hope is that God will use this book to bring about understanding, conversation, and increased unity within His body.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is This a Joke?

While I know that this is not a joke, it sure seems like one.

The add basically invites you to spend hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars on a comfortable cruise around the Caribbean while listening to theological lectures. Could Christianity be made to seem any cushier?

The scriptures tell us that life with Christ will often be difficult. We may have to suffer due to our affiliation with Jesus. Many Christians around the world today have great struggle in their lives on a regular basis. Meanwhile, those of us with money are expected to share it with those who have little.

In light of these things, how can a comfy theology cruise be justified? While the truths taught during the theology lectures will probably be solid, the very existence of this cruise conveys something else. It says that living for Jesus is easy and fun. Frankly, this cruise appears dangerously similar to what the prosperity gospel teaches.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Is the Gathering for the Going?

Why does the church get together?

This is a very significant question. It is also a question that I believe does not get asked enough today. My guess is that if you asked most Christians why the church meets, they would answer something like "to worship God." While that sounds good, the bible tells us that all of life is worship (see Romans 12:1-2).

If the answer is not "to worship God," then why does the church gather? The bible tells us that the purpose is mutual edification (I Cor. 14:26). When the body meets, the point to it all is the mutual growth of that body toward both Christ and Christlikeness.

Some believers suggest that the gathering is for the going. Specifically, they believe that the purpose of the edification is to equip the body to fulfill the Great Commission. But is this accurate? Does the building up happen primarily so that the body will then go out and tell others about Christ?

My answer: body edification happens primarily for four reasons, not primarily for one. In other words, the building up is for equipping the saints for the Great Commission task, but not primarily for that. Edification has four primary prongs, not just one.

When I look in scripture, I see mutually edifying gatherings doing four things. In no particular order these are:

1. Encouraging believers to live holy lives
2. Encouraging believers to sacrificially serve one another
3. Encouraging believers to care for the poor, sick, and needy both inside and outside the body
4. Encouraging believers to take the gospel to the ends of the earth

As we read through the pages of the book of Acts, we see all four of the above in action. Later, when we read the epistles to the churches, we see exhortations to all of the above. None of the four appears to be demonstrably more important than the others. All are key aspects of the Christian life. We do well as believers to edify one another toward all these things. We also ought to take stock of our own lives to see if we are ignoring any.

So, is the gathering for the going? In part yes, but it is so much more than that. Let's edify each other to holy living, to sacrificially serve others, and to take the gospel where it isn't. Christ both empowers these and expects these from His followers. What great privileges we have in Him!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Moving Beyond House Church to Simple Church

For the past few years I've been a big proponent of house church life. I still believe that gathering in homes is a wonderful way to get together. Despite this, I recently realized that I've moved past this being a significant issue for me. I don't really care so much where people meet. I'm much more concerned about why they meet.

According to scripture, Christ's church gathers for the purpose of mutual edification. This can occur just about anywhere. Homes are great places for it. However, so are coffee shops, parks, restaurants, store fronts, lakes, cars, etc. In fact, almost any place that is conducive to conversation is also conducive to edification.

To edify is to build up. To do this mutually requires two-way communication. Thus, free-flowing conversation is a key. While houses allow for this, so do many other locations. Any place where multiple Christians can meet simply is a good place to gather.

One type of location that is not generally effective in bringing about mutual edification is big buildings. These, combined with ceremonies, actually stifle the building up of the body.

In order for the body to grow in Christ, we all must take part in helping one another mature. Since we are all priests to God, we all have the great privilege and responsibility of helping our brothers and sisters move closer to both Christ and Christlikeness. This happens when we all take responsibility for each other. While Christianity is individual in salvation, it is very much communal when it comes to spiritual growth. We grow best together.

This growth happens most effectively in simple gatherings almost any place and any time. My encouragement to you is to be creative when it comes to where you gather with other believers. You have much freedom in this. Meet in homes, but get together in various other locales as well.

The purpose, not the place, is what is important.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Homosexuality is Today's Dividing Line

The dividing line for the church today, at least in this country, is homosexuality.

As our culture sprints more and more toward complete acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, Christ's church is confronted with what to do. The answer is fairly simple: we must continue to love all people - including all homosexuals - but never fail to call homosexuality what it is: sin.

Many within the church want to give in. Many have already done so. Increasing numbers of denominations and local bodies now act as if homosexuality is a fine, even good, alternative to heterosexuality. This is nothing more than bowing to the winds of political correctness.

It is important for us to remember that the entire church considered homosexuality to be sinful for almost 2000 years. There was no debate. Everyone agreed. Therefore, for any Christian to now say that homosexuality is acceptable, he must also say that the entire church everywhere was incorrect for nearly 2000 years. This requires an enormous amount of hubris.

Even more importantly, the bible is clear about what God says of homosexuality. Three New Testament passages stand out:

Romans 1:26-27, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

I Cor. 6:9-10, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

I Timothy 1:8-11, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."

Those who want to believe homosexuality is good try to reinterpret the above verses to only apply to homosexuals who have multiple partners. They say the verses do not apply to monogamous homosexuals. Not only is this twisted interpretation, it also ignores what the church has uniformly believed for 2000 years. Quite simply, these verses condemn all forms of homosexuality.

The reason for this is that God has one plan for human sexuality. He laid this out in Genesis chapter two and it hasn't changed. Genesis 2:24 says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

The bible not only calls homosexuality sinful, but it also never says anything positive about it. The scriptures are as clear about homosexuality as they are about the gospel itself.

As society pressures the church to accept homosexuality, we must realize that this is today's dividing line. It is the separator between those who will stand for the truth of scripture and those who will not.

We should not be surprised that many are caving in to homosexual pressures. It's the easy thing to do. However, it is not the right thing to do. Each of us has to ask ourselves whether or not we believe the bible is truth. If it is, then we must remain steadfast. This one topic is the biggest divider in the church today. We cannot give in. No matter how difficult, the church must remain steadfast.

(To read my full series on homosexuality, click here).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Local Historical Reminder of the Importance of Religious Freedom

Yesterday my son Bobby and I spent a few hours walking around Savannah's historic district. I enjoy doing this every few months in part because I see something new every time. Yesterday was no exception.

Even though the above monument has been in place for about twenty years, yesterday was the first time we saw it (I'm not sure why). Regardless, it is significant because of its reminder of the importance of religious freedom. The monument is dedicated to Protestant Christians who left their homes in the Salzburg area of what is now Austria. They settled a little ways up the Savannah River, just a few years after the founding of the city of Savannah in 1733.

Let's not take our religious freedom for granted. It is one of the best aspects of living in this country.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"7 Men Who Rule the World from the Grave"

A few weeks ago my good friend Norm gave me a copy of 7 Men Who Rule the World from the Grave. Since I knew I was soon flying to India, I also knew that I would have some travel time to read. During my time in the air and on the ground I completed and greatly enjoyed this book. I highly recommend it.

The author, Dave Breese, looks at the lives, influences, and writings of seven men whose ideas still rule much of today's thinking around the world, especially in the West. The seven men are Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Julius Wellhausen, John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, John Keynes, and Soren Kierkegaard. Each of these men has, in his own way, deeply impacted the culture in which we live; this despite the fact that all seven have been dead for decades.

This book reminds us that ideas have consequences. For example, Marx's flawed view of human nature, government, and economics directly led to the murder of many millions of people in the Soviet Union and communist China. Freud's thinking on human sexuality directed the path to the "sexual revolution" of the 1960's. Wellhausen, one of the first German biblical critics, destroyed high education's view of the truth of scripture. Dewey is in large part responsible for the travesty that has become the public school system today. Many of President Obama's decisions today descend directly from Keynes, who was one of the first proponents of bigger government.

As for Charles Darwin, his thinking reigns supreme at all education levels in our society today. To even mention biblical creationism is to be laughed at and scorned.

I would wager that most Americans know little to nothing about most of these seven men. However, most Americans' worldviews and thought patterns are directly affected by what these men thought and taught. Why is our society like it is? Read these men and you will know.

The only negative about this book is that the author speaks positively about Christian fundamentalism. However, this does not impact his views of what these seven men have written. Therefore, it is not a significant issue.

I highly recommend this book. It is well-written, well-researched, and interesting. Most importantly, it helps us understand the culture in which we live. The title of the book could not be more accurate. These seven men still rule.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Burqas and Cell Phones

The country of India's culture is difficult to sum up in just a few words. This is because the culture is so diverse. I've heard it said that traveling from northern India to southern India is like traveling from Norway down through Europe to Italy. It is that different from top to bottom.

Despite these differences, I'm going to attempt to summarize what I've seen. One way to do it is "East Meets West." Another is "Old Meets New."

One interesting example that I saw was women dressed in burqas talking on cell phones. When I think of burqas I think of conservative Islam. Islam tends to look backward toward its golden years of Muhammad. It is a religion that cherishes its past. Cell phones, meanwhile, are a primary example of modern technology. These phones, especially smart ones, have fundamentally changed communication within just the last fifteen years. They point to the future, making us wonder what new form of technology is coming next.

As we think about world missions, we must remember that what we see will not always "fit" what we expect. Our preconceived notions about new and old, rich and poor, black and white, intelligent and not so much, east and west, etc. frequently do not match with what we experience in other cultures. We must be flexible, becoming all things to all people, in order to effectively convey the love of Christ through the gospel.

Forrest Gump, sitting on a park bench in my home city of Savannah famously said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Missions work is something like that. You really never know what you're going to run into, whether it be near home or overseas. You may even see a woman in a burqa talking on a cell phone.

Monday, September 1, 2014


As I was checking out from my hotel in India on Saturday, one of the employees handed me a small box. The two of us had become acquainted throughout my two week stay there. He wanted to give me a gift upon my departure. I opened the box and found the above ornamental sun. At first I thought it was pretty cool.

However, after a few seconds the employee said to me, "This is a sun god to protect your home. You can hang it up in your house to protect you and bring you blessings." My reaction was something along the lines of, "Wait..what?" I didn't actually say that, but it is what I was thinking.

I should have known. Much of Indian life and culture carries Hindu overtones. It is often difficult to know where culture ends and Hinduism begins. In this respect it is far different from the secularized culture here in the USA. Almost any type of statue, sculpture, pin, broach, or anything depicting any sort of likeness in India is directly related to Hinduism.

Well, I like the sun ornament gift I was given. Unfortunately, it's going in the trash. The reason is that I was told that it is a god. Of course we Christians know that it is not in reality a god of any kind. It is simply metal artwork. However, since I was told that it is a god I do not want to mess around with it. I refuse to play the postmodern game of thinking, "It means different things to us, so it's O.K."

My primary concern is that I do not want anything around my home that might confuse other people. Nothing idol-like is going to take up space in my place of residence.

I will always appreciate the employee who gave me this gift. I'm just not going to have it in my abode.