Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The History of the Bible, five minutes a week.

Having taught my history of the Bible class several times now, I'm looking for ways to share this crucial information with those who have been unable to attend the whole class.  Two weeks ago I started something that I'll likely be continuing for months to come, that is working through the material of my six hour class (it gets longer each time I give it, imagine that) five minutes at a time at the end of the Sunday morning worship service.  During the first one, I talked about how the Bible's original languages were Hebrew and Greek (with a smattering of Aramaic), last week we covered the obstacle that the original autographs (those written by the hand of the authors) have not survived, leaving us with copies of their work.  This coming week we'll begin to look at the evidence we have from the copies that allow us to overcome the hurdle; and so on, and so on.  Eventually we'll get to the end of the story where our modern translated English Bibles emerge.  As a teacher, it isn't easy to open up a topic, talk about it for a few minutes, and then wait until next week because I want to keep going with the story.  It reminds me of reading the Sunday comics as a kid, there were several strips that only appeared in the Sunday edition, and to see what happened next, you have to wait till next week.  If the people are left wanting to hear more of the story each week, that isn't a bad thing.

There are crucial aspects of Church history, such as the history of the Bible, that God's people need to know about, things that are easier to cover in hour long classes, but we always miss some people when we limit this knowledge to those willing/able to come to a class.  Perhaps this is the start of something, at least it is my way of affirming that the Church is only benefited when the laity know its history.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Warning signs of an unbalanced worldview

As I was meandering about on Youtube recently, looking to see if there were any new interesting videos posted in the areas of textual criticism and the KJV Only debate, I happened across a series of videos made by Chick Publications that reminded me of the warnings signs of a Christian organization/church that is dangerously unbalanced.  There could be many ways in which those who claim to follow Jesus become lost in warped thinking, these ones are prevalent among them:

1. The Conspiracy Theory - It doesn't matter who the villain of the theory is, although the most common choices are the Vatican (i.e. the Jesuits and Illuminati), the Jews (the Rothschilds and Zionists) and the United Nations (the New World Order is the code word for various one-world gov't theories).  If a central tenant of the belief system of the individual/organization/church is a grand conspiracy theory, this mindset will warp and twist all manner of other thoughts and attitudes and end up leading to isolation and paranoia, not good qualities upon which to minister for the Gospel.

2. The Eisegetical Scripture Citation Defense - That doesn't really work as an acronym, what it means is that the common defense of such groups is to utilize a Scripture reference as a comeback or rebuttal to any criticism instead of utilizing historically accurate facts and/or logically sound reasoning.  The primary problem with such a method is that the Scripture cited is almost invariably unrelated to the conversation at hand.  An out-of-context eisegetical (which means "reading into" the text) citation is NOT a valid argument.  For example: To cite Psalm 12:6 as a defense of KJV Onlyism is an affront to the words of David who was in no way talking in that Psalm about translations of the Bible, certainly not about English translations, and was also certainly not declaring that the KJV Bible would be a second work of inspiration for his words two thousand years later.  And yet this verse is routinely cited by KJV Only advocates as if the mere citation of Psalm 12:6 proves something for them.

When the primary defense of a position advocated by a Christian individual/group/church is to improperly cite Scripture that does not apply to their situation, it is a sure sign of lazy thinking, poor scholarship, or most likely, a very weak position in the first place.

3.  The We're the Only Ones Going to Heaven conclusion - Another common trait among groups that have lost their way and strayed from the Gospel is the firm conviction that they, and they alone, are in possession of the knowledge that will lead to eternal life, all other so-called "Christians" are at the least deluded, and in all likelihood in league with Satan.  Set aside for a moment the sad state of the Church of Jesus Christ if this were true (how weak would should a Gospel be to be misunderstood and misapplied by so many, and how ineffective would the Holy Spirit be if 99% of those who thought they were Christians were on their way to hell?), and just contemplate the megalomania required to convince yourself that everyone else is wrong, nobody else can see the Truth, only you and those like you have penetrated the lies and schemes of Satan to be saved.  Yikes!  And yet such groups existence, persistently in their bunker mentality, scorning cooperation between churches, calling Ecumenism the work of the Devil (no doubt as part of some vast Vatican conspiracy), and waiting for the sky to fall.  How can this attitude lead to an effective witness for the Gospel or effective help for those in need?

Other warnings signs could be added, these happen to crop up again and again among these individual and groups.  There are many, many churches alive and well within the Church of Jesus Christ today, places where the Gospel is being preached, where truth and facts are elevated, and where the victory that Christ has purchased for us is being realized, there is no need to buy into what they're selling.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Defending the Word of God: A task that never ends.

It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about a syndicated article in the paper in which a Mormon and a Unitarian both challenged the Orthodox understanding of the Bible that the Church has held throughout its history.  For the Mormon, the challenge came in the form of believing in an Open Canon, i.e. that new revelation beyond that of the Apostles was possible.  For the Unitarian, the challenge came via disbelief in the accuracy of the Bible that we have today and ultimately doubt as to the divine origin of the original anyway.
In a recent letter to the editor, a local resident made an accusation about why he believes America is in moral decay, a position all too readily assumed by many Christians, regardless of the actual evidence, a reflection of a deep seated pessimism about the future.  The comment in question was the worst sort of guilt-by-association and causation fallacy (that because A precedes B, A must be the cause of B).  The writer was listing the signs of the "downfall" of America and claimed that this trend began in earnest in the 1970's with the legalization of abortion and the publication of the NIV Bible.  It should go without saying that one of those two things is a moral evil and truly a sign of trouble in society (although certainly not a harbinger of the end, the society into which the Gospel began its mission of transformation was well known for its infanticide, not to mention rampant slavery).  To equate the two, as if there is some sort of connection between them (other than happening in the same decade) is of course nonsense, but in this case it is part and parcel with the type of "argumentation" often put forth by those who see the world through a KJV Only set of glasses.
If I believed, for a second, that the only true Christians were those attending independent, fundamentalist, KJV Only churches in America, I'd be a pessimist about the future too.  If the Gospel were failing in our world that badly, if only .001% of the world's population were being saved by the power of the cross and the empty grave, where would hope come from?
Thankfully, the truth is far different.  The work of the Gospel, through the universal Church of Jesus Christ, is being carried out all over the world, in hundreds of languages (thanks to the tireless efforts of Bible translation teams from organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators).  His Church is making tremendous progress throughout Africa, and is growing rapidly in Southeast Asia.  Nobody knows what the future holds for any nation, America included, but the Church of Jesus Christ is not whimpering in a corner, huddling with a few link-minded individuals, it is out there in the world today, reclaiming lost souls for the kingdom, and doing it using a variety of the many wonderful translations of the Bible that we have today.
The task of defending the Word of God never ends.

Sermon Video: Be Patient, until the Lord's Coming - James 5:7-9

In light of the corruption and vice caused by the pursuit of, and attainment of, wealth outlined by James in verses 1-6, he now calls for patience on the part of the people of God.  These injustices will of course be ended when Christ returns, for his disciples the task then is to persevere in faithfulness until that day.  How long must we wait?  The answer is unknowable, Abraham's promise that all nations would be blessed through him was about 2,000 years in its fulfillment through Jesus, the return of Christ could be tomorrow or it could be 10,000 years from now.  When he will return is not our concern, we know that he will.  We also know that it is the mercy and love of God which delays this promised return, allowing more time for the ranks of those redeemed by the blood of the lamb to swell ever more full.
In the end, we must simply stand firm, fulfill our mission as a Church, working together for the sake of the Gospel.  He will one day return, for now, we need to be about his business, patiently.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sermon Video: Let the rich weep and wail - James 5:1-6

There are few topics as well represented, and at the same time, as unwelcome (to even God's people) in the Bible as that of wealth and poverty.  The Bible is replete with warnings about the dangers of wealth and its misuses, and also has ample demands upon the people of God to treat the poor with dignity and justice.  The words of James about wealth thus echo the prophets of old and the words of Jesus in the Gospels.  James points out four abuses of wealth that constituted guilt on the part of the rich: (1) hoarding wealth and leaving it unproductive or underutilized, (2) treating those working for them unjustly, (3) wasting resources in displays of vain luxury, (4) and utilizing the power that goes hand in glove with wealth to rig the system in their favor and deny justice to others.  All four of these abuses were rampant in the 1st Century Roman world, and they remain equally prevalent in our world today.  Wealth remains a grave temptation for abuse for those who have it, and the desire for and seeking after wealth by those who don't have it remains a major source of the sins of greed, envy, and pride, not to mention neglected and forgotten family responsibilities.
The Church has failed, in this area more than most, to live up to Jesus' expectation that worldly treasures would not be its focus, that worldly power and fame would not ensnare his people.  We need look no further than the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel to see the dangerous temptation of these things upon the Church.
It is long since past-due that Christ's followers reject wealth (fame and power as well) as a criteria for leadership, in our own affairs and in the politics we participate in.  That someone is wealthy is a horrible reason to entrust him/her with leadership, and yet such things continue with disastrous results.  We need to start taking the teachings of Jesus Christ on this issue seriously; it is not the rich who will inherit the earth, but the meek.

To watch the video, click on the link below: