Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Thoughts on the Abortion Controversy

Over the last few days, the abortion controversy has raised its head once more.

An article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, studying the question of whether an unborn child feels pain during an abortion. Their conclusion was that before the 29th week of gestation, an unborn child is incapable of feeling pain. Predictably, reactions were loud from both sides of the debate...

And, initially, I couldn't understand why this article touched off a controversy in the first place! The issue of abortion isn't whether it's a painful procedure or not. The issue is whether it's murder or not!

Whether or not the baby (and that's what it is, people!) feels pain during an abortion is absolutely irrelevant to the debate. If, in fact, a fetus is a human being, as Christians believe, then the painfulness of the procedure is irrelevant. If I were to pump carbon monoxide into a sleeping man's bedroom, knowing that carbon monoxide poisoning is painless, I would still be committing murder. The issue is the intrinsic nature and worth of human life.

Now, I've learned that it's an issue in the US, where pro-life legislators wish to make it mandatory for abortion providers to ask the mother whether she wants her baby to receive an anaesthetic prior to the procedure. The pro-life side wants this to be law in hopes of encouraging mothers to realize that they are cruelly killing another human being. In that light, I can understand the controversy...

Interestingly, I read an article on Albert Mohler's site that two of the article's researchers are active in the abortion-rights movement! It seems that one researcher directs an abortion clinic, while another is an attorney for the National Abortion Rights Action League.

The funny thing is, that attorney apparently isn't a very good one. No one involved with the article thought to make note of the conflict of interest. Apparently, they don't think this situation qualifies. In my opinion, I hardly think that they'd hold the same view, if a JAMA article proved that a fetus could feel pain, and if two of the researchers worked for Focus on the Family or another pro-life outfit. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

But, of course, NARAL and the rest of the infanticide movement has a major problem with consistency anyway.

In another related, and sad, note, Mohler ran an article about the abortion rate in Russia. I thought the Canadian rate was awful (it was 22% of all pregnancies in 1995). It appears that in the former Marxist paradise, there's about 1.7 abortions for every live birth there, and that rate's been consistent for decades. Funny how so many university professors and left-wingers still dearly love Marxism - if their parents had lived in that place of "collective freedom," the odds of them actually being born would have been only a little more than one in two...

A final thought: It's horrifying, but Russian kids probably would have had a better chance of survival, had they been born in ancient Canaan to a family of Molech worshipers. They only slaughtered their firstborn.

Pray that the Gospel becomes known in that country, and in our own....

(EDIT, 14 September: I changed CO2 to carbon monoxide, which is what I meant, after my brother Mike pointed out my error. I'm an artsman - what can I say? My face is red, especially since chemistry was one of my best high school classes. Thanks, Mike. I'm really not that bad a scientist.... really.... )

Friday, August 26, 2005

JUSTIFICATION: Part IV - Once and For All

5) In justification, Christ’s righteousness counts as our own, by way of our faith.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Romans 5:18)

And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness... (Romans 4:5)

That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord... (Romans 4:22-24)

Last time, we examined how our sin is laid on Christ. Today, we look at how His righteousness is counted for us. Christ lived the perfect, blameless life that we could not. God demands perfect sacrifices for sin, and Christ was the only man who fit the bill. When we put our faith in Christ, His perfect life, His obedience of the law, is "transferred" to our account. Under His blood, not only is our sin stripped away, but we are counted as obedient and perfect before God, due to Christ’s work.

So, not only does God remove the negative side of our account with Him – our sins – but He even counts Christ’s righteousness on our behalf! To use an analogy, not only does God pay our debts, bringing our balance to zero, but He gives us an undeserved grant that puts our account balance "in the black." This is grace.

6) Justification is a one-time declaration, not a process.

Note that it is a "free gift," from God through Jesus Christ, that brings justification. It’s from God – not from or by us, in any way. Not actions, or good deeds, or righteous living on our part.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... (Romans 3:23-24)

And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. (Romans 5:16)

Justification is once and for all - it only happens once in a person’s lifetime. Paul says in Romans 8:30 that those God "justified he also glorified." Notice here that Paul equates justification and glorification. They aren’t the same, but they are linked - if the one happens, it is always accompanied by the other. "Glorification" is eternal life in heaven, and so we see that justification leads directly to eternal life.

Paul says, clearly, that the same people who are justified are also glorified. Only those who are justified have eternal life, and all of those justified have eternal life. None - not one - of those who are justified will not attain eternal life! And so, from this we understand that justification is a one-time event.

Remember, our sins were "transferred" to Christ’s account, and He was punished on the Cross for them. As we stand before God, our sin does not count against us only because it has already been punished in Christ. God does not punish sin twice – to do so would be unjust! Think about it - if a person were justified, and then was not saved, this would mean that:

a) The sinner is now suffering in hell after being declared righteous by God; and
b) The sinner is now suffering for the same sins and sinfulness that were laid on Christ, meaning that both Christ and the sinner were punished for the same sin. In short, Christ suffered for no purpose, and God's declaration of righteousness proved to be wrong.

So, again, we see that justification can only be a one-time event. Everyone who is justified, whose sins are paid for by Christ, will attain eternal life.

Let me stress, one more time, for clarity: since justification is an act of God, occurring outside of ourselves, taking Christ’s performance into account instead of our own, our behaviour, performance, and obedience of God’s Law has nothing to do, at all, with justification. It’s not by works!!!!

It’s important, then, to understand that justification is an event, not a process. Very often, Christians confuse it with that process by which God conforms us to His likeness, making us more like Christ – that is sanctification, which I’ll cover next time. The two, like justification and glorification, are linked, but they are not the same. Justification occurs outside of a person – being a declaration by God about us. Justification is objective. Sanctification is subjective – it is the work of the Holy Spirit within a justified believer, by which, over time, a believer becomes more and more like Christ. Justification is the legal basis of salvation; sanctification follows – is subsequent to – justification. It has to be - otherwise, salvation would be dependent upon behaviour and personal performance.

Make no mistake, though - this is not to be taken as permission for a Christian to do "whatever he wants" after he puts his faith in Christ. Everyone who is justified, will be sanctified. This is why a person who professes faith in Christ, but shows no evidence of Christ in their life or behaviour, may very well not be justified at all. Remember what James said - "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) A Godly, holy, sanctified life is the fruit of, and evidence of, justification.

That sums up my (lengthy) look at justification. The next word, coming soon, will be "sanctification," now that we've already had a brief look at it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

JUSTIFICATION: Part III - Justice and Faith

3) Justification is a judicial declaration – that is, a declaration having to do with God’s justice and God’s law.

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. (Psalm 9:7-8)

Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23)

...since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:16)

God is perfectly holy. He cannot tolerate sin and injustice without violating His own nature. Therefore, His wrath against sin must be satisfied. A guilty sinner He will never accept, unless their sin has been punished.

Justification has to do with how a perfectly Holy God can accept and adopt, as His own, human beings tainted with sin. And so the salvation of man must be consistent with God’s Law – that is, that sin must be punished with death, and that only holiness and perfection can be tolerated in God’s presence.

Justification is God's solution to this dilemma. God's holiness and justice are respected and fulfilled; His wrath is appeased; His mercy and love are expressed.

4) In justification, God does not count our sins against us, but declares our sins punished in Christ.

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2)

...that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." (Romans 4:4-8)

Paul, in Romans 4, points out why justification is all of God, and why it cannot be earned or deserved in any way. He points out that if it were by works, God would owe something to us and that we would have something to boast about (verse 2). But he immediately describes how it actually works - instead of condemning us for our sins, God does not count our sins against us, because they are "covered". Isaiah 53 tels us that they are "covered" by being laid on Christ:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

And notice Paul's comment in verse 5 - our faith counts as righteousness. Not because our faith is righeousness, but because it gives us access to Christ's. Our trust in Jesus Christ is the means, the vehicle, the hand by which we lay hold of Christ's work on our behalf:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Justification comes through faith. Why? Because faith is trust in another, not yourself. Faith is belief that Christ already suffered our punishment. When we put faith in Christ, we are attached to and identified with Christ.

A VITAL thing to remember: we are not justified / saved because of our faith; we are saved because of Christ's work on our behalf. Faith is not a deserving act in itself; it does not earn salvation, or merit justification in any way. An army officer who has faith in his men doesn't win the battle because of that faith; he wins because of the training and performance of the object of that faith - his men. God doesn't save us because we have faith; he saves us through our faith and trust in Christ and God's grace, so that we have no reason to boast. He receives all the glory.

More on this in the next installment!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

JUSTIFICATION: Part II - A Declaration by God

1) Justification is an act of God – not man!

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith...(Romans 3:29-30)

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." (Galatians 3:8)

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)

Justification is an act of God. We do not justify ourselves. God is our judge, and He is the one who will declare us righteous. A criminal does not judge and justify himself, nor can he contribute to the judge's decision in any way - these are the judge's responsibilities.

Remember, the basis of our justification is Christ’s work – His perfect, sinless life and His death on the Cross. This is a free, unearned, unmerited gift to us – that is, a work of God’s grace. And this work is complete – it cannot be added to in any way.

2) Justification is a declaration about a person, not a change of the person’s nature – that is, it happens outside, not within, a person.

If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked (Deuteronomy 25:1, NASB)

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! (Isaiah 5:22-23, NASB)

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15)

These verses show an essential truth of justification: a man "justified" by men can still be guilty, regardless of his justification. This is because when we "justify" something, we do not "make" it right. We only "judge" or "declare" it to be so. A judge in a courtroom, when he pronounces the verdict, does not cause the accused to be innocent or guilty, he only makes a legal declaration, or judgment, that they are guilty or innocent. Because of this, as is evident in the verses above, human beings who "justify" can be wrong, making false judgments that do not reflect the true nature of the person. This is a very important distinction!

In the same way, when God "justifies" us, declaring us guiltless and righteous before Him, He is not causing or making us to be innocent or holy, in and of ourselves. He is recognizing, rather, that Christ is innocent and that Christ is perfectly holy, and because of this God declares us to be in right standing before Him in spite of our sinfulness. We are righteous in His sight because our sins were laid on Christ, but justification itself does not make us inherently more holy or good - that is a different process, a work of the Holy Spirit called "sanctification" (which I'll deal with later).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

JUSTIFICATION: Part I - An Introduction

"Justification." We often use this term in daily life. News stories carry commentary asking whether George W. Bush was "justified" in attacking Iraq, or if the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was "justified." We ask whether a friend’s reaction to an event was "justified," or whether the stern words a teacher used with our children were "justified."

We have a good grasp of "justification," I think, as long as it’s applied to verbs – to us, actions can be judged right or wrong, depending on circumstances. Justification, to the average person, means that a person was right to do what he did, that their action or words were warranted under the circumstances.

However, the Bible speaks of people being justified, not actions:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-25)

What we see here is that justification of people is the same as of actions. When we say an action is "justified," we declare it to be right or proper. Biblically, a person who is "justified," similarly, has been declared right before God.

Here’s an illustration:

Picture a heavenly courtroom, filled with light. God Almighty Himself is seated as the Judge. Trembling, you are walked in to face God’s judgment for a life of sin and rebellion.

You know you are guilty, a sinner, and deserving of death. "What have you to say for yourself?" asks the Judge. You know His judgment will be fair; you recognize how filthy and sinful you are. You know that the Judge is perfectly just and perfectly strict with the Law. You know that you have no hope of arguing the verdict, and you know that the damage has been done, that you can never make up for the sins you have committed.

Instead of trying to defend yourself, you look to the One standing beside you – your Advocate, the Mediator between God, the Eternal Judge, and yourself. Jesus looks at you, and says, "Believe in me." You trust Him, that He has already taken care of the matter, that you are safe with Him. You have faith – that Jesus has already paid the price. And Jesus, standing next to you, steps forward.

He says, "Father, this is one whom You gave to me. Although she is a sinner, and deserves death, the debt has already been paid. I died on her behalf. And further, my perfect record I give to her, to count as her own. This woman is righteous only because of Your gift of mercy, in sending me to take her place. She is mine, and I have set her free."

And the Judge says to you, "Therefore, I declare you to be righteous in my sight. Righteous, not because of anything you have done, but because My Son has purchased you with His precious blood. You are His, for I have given you to Him. Your sins are forgiven. I adopt you as my child… Welcome to my kingdom."

This is a metaphor of justification – a courtroom scene, where we are pardoned of our sin on account of Christ’s work.

So justification is central to salvation. It is the point at which we become acceptable to God, at which we become good in His sight. The one who is justified, is saved. Period.

If you remember nothing else, here is a definition:

Justification is an act of God, by which He declares a sinner to be in right standing before Him, where through the sinner’s faith Christ’s righteousness is counted on behalf of the sinner, and the sinner’s punishment is laid on Christ, once and for all.

I’m going to look at justification in depth over the next couple of days, covering the following points:

1) Justification is an act of God – not man!
2) Justification is a declaration about a person, not a change of the person’s nature – that is, it happens outside, not within, a person.
3) Justification is a judicial declaration – that is, a declaration having to do with God’s justice and God’s law.
4) In justification, God does not count our sins against us, but declares our sins punished in Christ.
5) In justification, Christ’s righteousness counts as our own, by way of our faith.
6) Justification is a one-time event, not a process.

More to follow...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Big Words Made Easy: An Introduction…

I’m a guy who reads a lot, and I have an unfortunate habit of picking up nifty multi-syllable words along the way. I come from an Army background, and the military practically has its own language; and I love reading theology. Sadly enough, this often means that words like “logistical,” “supralapsarian,” “geo-political,” and “imputation” creep into normal conversation.

Among others, this annoys my wife, Erin, greatly, because she often misses what I’m talking to her about. The sad thing is, I really should know better... See, my lovely wife, being a nurse, often falls prey to the same thing, using words that I don’t understand. The medical profession has its own lingo, and lots of big, intimidating words.

Even worse, asking Erin (or any other nurse!) to explain their lingo carries its own risks! If you don’t know what I mean, and run into some medical professional using such delicate and meaningful words like “disimpacting,” “suppository,” or “colostomy”, I humbly suggest you refrain from asking! I’ll never forget one friend of mine, a nursing student, who, in an obvious state of excitement, told her husband and I over supper (with considerable glee!) all she had learned about “pinworms” that day. A pleasant meal, to be sure…

So a challenge for anyone involved in the theological field, as I hope to be shortly, is to communicate big Biblical words and terms in a manner understandable to the average person. And all of you unfortunates who actually read my blog will suffer through my attempts to learn this delicate art….

Today, I’m kicking off a series on theological terms. Words like “justification,” “sanctification,” “imputation,” “original sin,” and others carry a lot of meaning and are very important to a solid understanding of the Christian faith. Many non-denominational, evangelical Christians, however, don’t have a good grasp on what these words mean. I didn’t for years… So, this is my humble attempt to help.

I will start with the word “justification,” in my next post.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Oldest Scriptures in Existence

I really find archaeology to be fascinating. Not so much that I'd like to do it, personally, but it's amazing and humbling how discoveries made in archaeology confirm the Biblical record. I've posted previously about the discovery of the Pool of Siloam and about the confirmation of Edom's existence in David and Solomon's time, and since people seem to find these interesting, I thought I'd present another discovery that I noticed earlier this year.

In 1979, tiny silver scrolls were found in Jerusalem during an archaeological dig. At the time, the technology to fully analyze these artifacts didn't exist yet. Well, it does now, and last October Israeli and American researchers used a new photographic technique to reveal Hebrew inscriptions on the scrolls. The complete story can be found at the Discovery Channel website, at VOA News, and some really nice pictures can be seen here.

One of the scrolls records the Priestly Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." The other scroll's inscription reads "May he/she be blessed by Yahweh, the warrior/helper, and the rebuker of Evil."

This find caused a great deal of excitement in the Biblical studies community. Why?

A quick history lesson (bear with me)...

The books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew (and some Aramaic), over a period between 1700 BC and 400 BC. However, prior to this find, the earliest complete Hebrew copy of the Old Testament dated from around AD 930. The earliest complete Old Testament in existence for the longest time was a Greek translation done shortly before Christ's birth. Earlier manuscripts include the Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls which, although incomplete, date from between 300 to 200 BC.

See the problem? If the first five books of the OT were written around 1700 BC, there is a gap of at least 1400 years between that time and the earliest Hebrew manuscripts. Now, normally this wouldn't pose a problem for historians; the earliest surviving copies of Aristotle, for instance, were written 1400 years after his death, and no one doubts that they're legitimate. But the implications, if the Bible is accurate, are far more uncomfortable for many, of course.

And so secular historians have been very skeptical of the traditional Biblical dates. Some German critics in the last century even suggested that the Old Testament was written after the period of the Captivity in Babylon, and so around or after 500 BC - thus denying that Moses, or David, or Joshua actually wrote the books attributed to them and implying that the OT is a collection of fiction and folklore. This theory became very popular.

Well, these scrolls date from 600 BC, the time of King Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah - during the First Temple period, and before the Babylonian captivity. These scrolls are older than Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and most of the 12 minor prophets! While not proving that the Penteteuch - first five books of the Bible - was written in 1700, it strongly suggests that they were already complete and widely known in the pre-Babylonian era.

Bottom line: These scrolls are the oldest copies of Scripture in existence.

And another secular theory sustains a mortal wound...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

American Lutherans Replace "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"

The madness continues... The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) approved a new hymnal last Wednesday that "offers alternatives" to the "male-dominated Trinitarian image" of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So now, to avoid offending people, ELCA churches have the option of using the replacement terms "Holy Eternal Majesty, Holy Incarnate Word, Holy Abiding Spirit." Not only hymns and songs are affected; the ELCA is modifying the version of the Apostle's Creed used in their churches to read "God's Only Son, our Lord" rather than "His Only Son, our Lord."

Click on the post title for the complete story.

I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise. Even here in Canada, the United Church uses a hymnal called "Voices United," in which (on page 916) an "alternate version of the Prayer of Jesus" begins, "Our Father-Mother, who is in the heavens..." On the same page, the "paraphrase" of the prayer refers to the "Eternal Spirit" as "Father and Mother of us all."

I suppose God just made a mistake referring to Himself thousands of times using male pronouns. Or maybe He was just so sloppy that He overlooked how those misogynist prophets and apostles continually used those terms over 1800 years of writing Scripture. How could He have used such unenlightened, barbarian oppressors of women as His messengers!

Let's overlook those parts of Scripture, because they're obviously "less inspired." Nobody thinks that way anymore, do they? While we're at it, what about all those so-called miracles? Science has proved them to be impossible, hasn't it? Jesus couldn't have been resurrected...

Here's my point. Either:

a) you believe that God is both capable and interested enough in us and in our lives to have taken the time and effort to perfectly record His Word for us; or

b) you believe He really didn't care how we perceive Him and understand Him, and was willing to allow big errors to creep into the process, obscuring our picture of Him, or that He was impotent and incapable of communicating Himself clearly.

Now, which God sounds more logical? Which God seems more loving? Which God is mroe "relevant" to our lives? And which God is worth devoting our lives to?

And liberal "Christian" denominations wonder why they're losing members at the astronomical rate they are...

Monday, August 15, 2005

More Evidence of Biblical Accuracy

The recent post I made about the Pool of Siloam discovery, and the picture I found of the site, reminded me of another similar discovery made back in March 2005.

Archaeologists from the University of California at San Diego found Edomite ruins dating from the 10th century B.C. - the period of King Solomon and King David. Who would have thought? The complete story can be found here.

Some highlights:

New archeological research from modern-day Jordan indicates the existence of the biblical nation of Edom at least as early as the 10th Century B.C., the era of kings David and Solomon, and adds to the controversy over the historical accuracy of the Old Testament... The new study, under the direction of University of California, San Diego, Professor of Archeology Thomas Levy, contradicts much contemporary scholarship which had argued that, because there had been no physical evidence, no Edomite state had existed before the 8th Century B.C. Until the current discovery many scholars had said the Bible’s numerous references to ancient Israel’s interactions with Edom could not be valid...

These results push back the beginnings of Edom 300 years earlier than the current scholarly consensus and show the presence of complex societies, perhaps a kingdom, much earlier than previously assumed. Previous investigations in Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highland zone and had put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries B.C. But the new work presents strong evidence for the involvement of Edom with neighboring ancient Israel as described in the Bible.

It amazes me that embarrassing discoveries keep happening, confirming the Biblical account, and yet secular historians and scientists persist in denying the Bible the benefit of the doubt in its assertions. Again, though, as Christians we can be confident that the Bible is truth.

Here's a nice picture of the site, by the way, and another of artifacts found there...

"Just The Way I Am?"

Recently, we had a big concert in Fredericton. It was an outdoor affair involving seven bands, including Zoegirl and Big Daddy Weave. Between 2000 - 3000 people came out for the occasion. The weather was perfect - sunny and bright - and everyone seemed to have a blast.

My wife and I came late to the event (she's a nurse and works 12-hour shifts), and we caught the last two bands. We were present for the whole set by Big Daddy Weave. Now, these guys are great musicians, have a very engaging and charismatic stage presence, and know how to get the crowd into the act.

One of the songs, however, made me think. It was titled, "Just The Way I Am."

Here are the lyrics (courtesy www.lyricsmania.com)

Unbelievable, I’m blown away it’s true
By the matchless love that I’ve found in You
Undeniable, the change in me
I’ve never felt so free

It makes me want to dance
You make me want to dance
When I think about how

(chorus) You love me, You love me
You love me just the way I am
You love me, You love me
You love me just the way,
Just the way I am

Ever patiently accepting me
You love in spite of everything I do
But oh so faithfully
You’re committed to the process that makes me like You
And I feel like I can dance
Oh You make me want to dance
When I think about how

Not when I’m good enough
Not when I clean my act up
Not when I cross that line the thousandth time
And become a better man
Your grace is more than enough
To cover all my sins You washed them away
So right here today
You love me just the way I am

Now, the song is about God's love for us, and how His love is unaffected by how filthy we are in our sins. They make this clear in the line, "in spite of everything I do..." and speak of God's process of SANCTIFICATION (big theological word!!) in the line, "But oh so faithfully/You’re committed to the process that makes me like You..."

It got me thinking, though, how much I hear in different Christian circles, or read in different Christian publications, the phrase, "God loves you just the way you are." And I wonder: is this perhaps the best thing to be saying to an unbeliever?

Now, there is no doubt that God loves everyone. And there can be no doubt that His love for us as human beings, as His image-bearers, is unaffected by our sinfulness.

But think about this for a moment...

Let's say you tell someone - say a girlfriend, or husband, or child, "I love you - just the way you are!"

What are you actually saying?

Isn't it more often along the lines of, "I love everything about you?" or, "I wouldn't change anything about you?"

I could be wrong, but this seems to me to be the usual meaning of "loving someone just the way they are." That's the way the average English-speaking unbeliever will probably understand that phrase. And that, I believe, is the wrong thing to say to an unbeliever.

See, God loves the person, but He definitely does NOT love "the way they are." All people are sinners; unbelievers, especially, are corrupted and enslaved with a sinful nature that is abhorrent to God. This nature renders them dead to the things of God, in total rebellion against Him. And a holy God cannot love a person "just the way they are," if that's they way they are!

No, God loves His people much He's willing to change the way they are! He loves people in SPITE of the way they are, NOT "just the way you are." Big Daddy Weave's song, in the second verse, recognizes this fact, but many Christians aren't that careful in the way they describe God's love.

And the consequences are serious. The Gospel isn't a self-help program that aims to help a person accept himself - it confronts the sinner with their sinfulness! It convicts! The Gospel should bring repentance, and loathing of one's sinful nature! And as evangelists, the LAST thing we want to communicate to a lost sinner is that God's happy with them "as they are," in the condition they are in. Such "assurance," I fear, downplays the utter necessity and urgency of repentance. One cannot come to Christ unless they recognize their own sinfulness, and that they are UNACCEPTABLE "the way they are!."

The true love of Christ is this: that He loved His sheep so much that He died to FREE them from being "just the way they are."

Just a thought. But remember that the next time you share the Gospel.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Photo of Siloam Pool

More information is out about the Pool of Siloam. If you want to see a picture of this site, check it out by clicking the title of this post.

As Dr. James White said at aomin.org, it's strange - it's right where John said it it was....

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Final Thoughts on Prayer

It's my opinion that we in the evangelical church have little sense of history anymore. A great deal of this, I think, is because we've become a "fast food" culture with short attention spans and little patience. We don't want long or complex answers to our questions - we want things made simple. As for actually studying past answers to our questions?

"Well, that takes work... and my opinion's as good as anyone else's..."

And so we lose our history. Few evangelicals ever read a catechism or confession of faith - most, I suspect, haven't even read the statements of faith of their own churches, having just walked in the door and stayed. I know I didn't bother for two years after I joined my present church!

It's too bad, because the great Protestant confessions, written in the century following the Reformation, are a treasure trove of knowledge. And it was to one of these I went to find perspectives on prayer: the Westminster Longer Catechism.

(One of the nice things about the old confessions and catechisms is that the writers included a vast number of supporting Scriptures for their points. They make excellent Bible study aids, as well as containing great wisdom themselves).

Here's question 178:

Q: What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Scripture Proofs:
Psalm 62:8, John 16:23, Romans 8:26, Psalm 32:5-6, Daniel 9:4, Philippians 4:6.

This is REAL prayer - an offering! Not a legal claim; not a spiritual lawsuit; not a demand for blessing. We offer our desires to God, acknowledging before Him our wrongdoing - thus admitting to Him our unworthiness and lack of entitlement - and thanking Him for everything He gives us!

Question 184 should be required reading and memorization in Word-Faith churches:

Q: For what things are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God, the welfare of the church, our own or others, good; but not for anything that is unlawful.

Scripture Proofs:
Matthew 6:9, Psalm 51:18, Psalm 122:6, Matthew 7:11, Psalm 125:4, 1 John 5:14.

All things tending to the glory of God! How is God glorified by Rolls-Royces like some Word-Faith teachers drive? Multi-million dollar estates when people don't have houses on North American streets (let alone the rest of the world?)

1 John 5:14, one of the verses referenced by the Catechism in question 184, gives good instruction:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

According to his will. It's God's kingdom that's being built. Our own kingdoms aren't, and won't outlive this world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Purpose of Prayer

What is prayer for?

Many Christians seem to regard prayer as a religious formula for getting what they want. The Word-Faith movement, in particular, views prayer as a formula to "make real" personal desires for health, wealth, and happiness. To a Word-Faith believer, prayer is essentially a spiritual "order form" where you "speak into existence" those things you want or need - provided, of course, that you have strong enough faith and that you don't "cancel" the process by making a "negative confession."

This is a very self-centred way to look at prayer. Assuredly, that is not how God looks at prayer.

Even many orthodox Christians don't have a disciplined prayer life. I have to confess that I personally have a lot to work on in this area, as well. Many of us find ourselves swept away by the cares and concerns of worldly life, and remember to pray only when things go wrong or we begin to worry. Consequently, we often treat prayer as a "Batphone" to call for help. Sadly, I've noticed that in my own prayer life, I often fall into this trap.

So what is a Biblical view of prayer and its purpose?

Consider the Lord’s prayer. How does it start? "Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'" (Matthew 6:9-10)

Look also how Christ starts His great prayer in John 17:1-5: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."

The first thing Jesus does in these prayers is to praise and glorify God: "hallowed be your name," "that the Son may glorify you." Now, consider the words of Paul: "To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

The first purpose of prayer is the same as our first purpose in life: to glorify God! Any request in prayer that does not have God and His glory as its object cannot be described as a prayer of faith. Look at Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19 – in verse 19, he prays: "So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone." God answered Hezekiah’s prayer, and the result – the destruction of the Assyrian forces – glorified God, not Hezekiah.

There are other purposes for prayer: to grow closer with God, to express our feelings to Him, to intercede for others, etc. Ultimately, all these things, properly done, glorify God. And so, if we are to ask God to listen favourably to our prayers, we must first ensure that they have God’s glorification as their object. Ask yourself: "Will what I’m asking God for glorify and increase God and His Kingdom, or is it primarily for my own benefit?"

I don't mean "ask for things that glorify God - because it'll make Him more inclined to say yes." Trying to "glorify" God as a means to our own ends is still selfishness - and that doesn't glorify God in anyway. No, God's glory is an end in itself. God doesn't have to give to be glorified - our honour for Him is NEVER bought, it is demanded by His holiness. We should humbly pray, asking that God be glorified, and know that even if He doesn't give what we request, He is still glorified in our humility before and dependence upon Him.

So what about God’s reasons for rejecting our requests? Is it only because of our own failings that He says no?

Previously, we looked at lack of faith and sin in people's lives in relation to prayer. We saw that even prayers of people of great faith are sometimes turned down, and calamities befall people who didn't do anything to directly deserve it.

So, what of God’s sovereignty?

God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Romans 9:15 - see Exodus 33:19) Paul also notes that "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills." (Romans 9:18) In his rebuke of Job (Job 38-41) God speaks of His sovereign power, proclaiming that He alone rules the earth and that Job, a mere man, has no place to question Him. Job’s response is very instructive: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." (Job 42:2-3)

The overwhelming testimony of Scripture speaks of a Sovereign, Almighty God who answers to no one, who rules the earth, heavens and everything within them unquestionably and absolutely, who causes to happen whatever He wills, who cannot be thwarted, and to whom we owe everything. Our prayers to Him are worship.

And if prayer is worship, as indeed our whole lives are called to be worship, then there can be no entitlement - save only God's entitlement to our prayers and worship. Prayer is never, ever a demand or claim. Demands and claims assume that the one who demands or claims somehow has a "right" to what he seeks. A demand presumes one's entitlement to what is demanded. And what are we entitled to? What do we have, that God did not give us? What could we possibly deserve from God? In what way is He indebted to us?

Again, God owes us one thing, and one thing only: judgment and eternal punishment for our sinfulness. The only reason he spares some from their deserved fate is because of His love and mercy, through Christ's sacrifice at the Cross.

God owns us, and is entitled to do what he wills with us (Romans 9:19-21), and we have no place to question God’s purposes.

Therefore, God reserves the right to say "no" without explaining why. We may never know why He does not answer prayers that seem perfectly reasonable and God-honouring to us. But that is His sovereign prerogative. To deny that – to state that God must give us what we ask for, as long as we ask it properly – is to deny His Lordship over us. That is rebellion, and that is blasphemous.

Our hope and assurance is rooted in God’s perfection, and in the perfection of His will. God’s plan is perfect, and so we can trust Him that no matter what, God "works all things according to the counsel of his will." (Ephesians 1:11)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pool of Siloam Found in Jerusalem

Again, archaeologists have confirmed details of the Biblical record! A sewer line repair team in Jerusalem found the Pool of Siloam last fall and called in archaeologists to take a look. You can read more here:


The Gospel of John records an incident that took place here:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)

In typical fashion, secular scholarship had belittled John's story as merely a moral lesson with no basis in fact, saying there was no proof that the place even existed.

I'll also take the chance to tie this story into my running assault on the Word-Faith movement. Their doctrine of "positive confession" holds that if one says or believes negative things about one's own circumstances, this gives Satan the opportunity to move into one's life and cause evil (disease, financial difficulty, etc.) to happen. In short, the Word-Faith movement believes that Christians have a "right" to physical health, and that therefore no one should be sick. Illness is evidence of a lack of faith. Some even deny sickness exists, dismissing illness as merely a "spiritual symptom" sent by Satan to trick the believer into making a negative confession and thus open the door to a spiritual attack.

It's easy to see where this doctrine leads. Real, physical ailments are dismissed as a lack of faith, and often a trip to the doctor is seen by members of this movement as a "negative confession." The consequences of the Word-Faith movement's heretical theology has been deadly at times, as several people have died in the last twenty years by refusing treatment for sickness. If you doubt me, find and read the heartbreaking book "We Let Our Son Die," by Larry Parker (Harvest House, 1980, ISBN 0890812195). It's out of print, unfortunately, but it's a chilling account by a father who withheld insulin from his diabetic son thinking that such an act would be a lack of faith and prevent true healing.

See, the story at the Pool of Siloam utterly refutes the Word-Faith notion that human sickness and suffering is a direct result of one's own lack of faith. Jesus answers his disciples' questions by declaring that the blind man could not see because it was the Father's will that he be blind. God used the blind man as a means of demonstrating His glory and ownership over all creation, as well as Jesus' authority over even injury and disease. Now, we must recognize, of course, that all sickness and pain in the world is ultimately the result of the curse of the Fall, and thus of human sinfulness, but the Bible is abundantly clear that individual calamities are not always punishment. (Needless to say, Word-Faith teachers have a lot of trouble with the book of Job, and not many positive things to say about him).

John, in His Gospel, paints a clear and unavoidable picture of God's absolute sovereignty over all things. The Pool of Siloam was one of the stages for this glorious story. Praise be to God that this stage has been uncovered once more, and that those who oppose His Word have been humbled yet again.

Prayer and the State of One's Heart

How does the state of our hearts affect prayer? What factors in our lives are spoken of in the Bible as having an effect on prayer, besides faith? Though not exhaustive, here are a few thoughts to ponder.

One thing to consider when approaching Almighty God in prayer is our motive:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)

If there is one way to waste our time in prayer, it is by asking for things we have no need for. God did not create us for our own pleasure, or to glorify ourselves; He created us to glorify Him, in fellowship with and service to Him. No matter what the Word-Faith teachers claim, God is not glorified when we ask for Rolls-Royces for ourselves when a Chevy will do; He is not glorified when we build expansive houses for ourselves when others shiver in the streets. As James said, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27)

The Word-Faith idea that God will give us anything we want, because He is glorified in our earthly prosperity, is one that has become far more popular in the evangelical church over the past couple of decades. According to this view, God wants us to be materially successful, because we are the "King's Kids," and we are entitled to such benefits by virtue of our faith. As such, earthly blessings beyond measure are available to us - if we only claim what is rightfully ours! And so Word-Faith teachers and churches focus overwhelmingly on "positive confession" - that is, declaring with confidence that one will receive what he wants, and avoiding any negative thoughts or words about the matter. And many of the leading lights of this movement are incredibly wealthy (due primarily to the so-called "seed" offerings of their followers) and flaunt their wealth in their lifestyles and sermons.

But this greedy and materialistic worldview reduces God to the level of a cosmic vending machine, spitting out the tokens we want if we put in the appropriate number of "faith-filled words." In this view, God serves us, not the other way around. Many Christians do seek material wealth out of an honest desire to do good with it, but in far too many cases it turns out to be a subtle trap of the devil. Because of our sinful nature, it is far too easy to make that pursuit of success our god, instead of focusing on glorifying God Himself.

Another motive that offends God in prayer is pride:

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6)


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

In these two examples, Jesus heavily criticized those who pray for appearances. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious leaders of His day made a habit of flaunting their piety. Jesus challenged His followers to be different. Praying in public can be edifying to others (1 Corinthians 14:13-17) but if done as a "show" to others, then our focus is no longer on God but on ourselves. And that is idolatry.

The second example also points to a self-righteousness in prayer. None of us deserves to call himself righteous before God; we are all sinners. God seeks humility in His children (Luke 7:7-10). Righteousness is our duty - that is, something expected of us; we deserve no special recognition or reward for doing what is simply our duty. And because, as sinners, we cannot even be righteous of our own ability, we should be all the more humble before Him who credits His own righteousness to us!

Besides our attitudes towards God, material things, and ourselves, our relationships with others have an impact on the state of our hearts – and thus on our prayer lives. Jesus told His disciples: "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25) We are to forgive others their sins – as the passage in the Lord’s Prayer affirms: "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) Our relationship with God centres around his forgiveness of our sins, and God expects us to forgive others in the same way. If we do not, on what basis can we expect God to listen to our requests favourably?

One other thought relating to prayer may be found in 1 Peter 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." Paul alludes to two important concepts here. Sober-mindedness has to do with the fact that we are called to edify our mind as well as our spirit through prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15). Our mind is a gift from God; our capacity to reason and think is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals, and is part of the "image of God" that we reflect. Our spirits and minds are to be of one accord in worshiping God.

The other concept Paul speaks of in 1 Peter 4:7 is that of self-control, an idea that he, again, spoke of elsewhere in his writings. Paul speaks of self-control being a "fruit of the Spirit":

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

Here Paul speaks of "walking by the Spirit," an idea that closely parallels the concept of "praying in the Spirit" spoken of in Ephesians 6:18: "...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." Praying in the Spirit is also spoken of in Romans 8:26, 1 Corinthians 14:15, and Jude 20, and essentially means that a Christian who is right with God will be filled with the Holy Spirit, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life. That Christian will naturally seek, in prayer, those things God the Holy Spirit wishes him or her to ask of God the Father.

All of these factors and considerations may be summed up by one short verse, Psalm 34:15: "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry." This verse is quoted in 1 Peter 3:12. We are called to righteousness in every aspect of our lives, including in prayer. God listens to the righteous.

And this is why prayer calls for humility: our righteousness, the very reason God listens to us and is inclined toward us, is not our own.

It is His.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Relationship of Prayer and Faith

I'm still grumpy about what I witnessed last night, and so I intend to devote a couple of posts to the subject of prayer, and why we don't always receive what we ask for. My aim here is to debunk the Word-Faith movement's doctrine of faith and prayer, in favour of the Biblical model.

In the world we live in, we are often faced with daunting circumstances. Our friends and family get sick. Problems arise at home and at work. Stress, injury, and fatigue take their toll on us. And in the face of these problems, the Bible calls us to prayer:

...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

So why do so many prayers seemingly go unanswered? We pray for sick people, and they still die – many good Christians among them. We pray for success in our endeavours, and they fail miserably. We pray for the salvation of our friends and family, and yet they continue in sin. Doesn’t God hear?

Many say that the reason prayers "fail" is because of a lack of faith on the part of either the person praying, or the person prayed for. Proponents of this view call on Biblical teachings about prayer for support:

"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:23-24)

And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." (Matthew 21:21-22)

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)

So, the first question we must ask is: Do prayers fail for lack of faith?

Yes – they can, and they do. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, James and others talked of the importance of faith in prayer. James had this to say:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

Jesus did not perform many miracles in his hometown because of a lack of faith:

...and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?... And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54, 57-58)

Mark 6:5, in fact, says Jesus could not do miracles there because of the lack of faith.

(Now, it’s important to point out here that Jesus was not unable to perform miracles, as if the faith of others somehow grants Him power. That is a blasphemous notion - one of the many reasons why the Word-Faith philosophy is heretical. God is NOT dependent on us in any way, unlike what the Word-Faith preachers claim - look at Acts 17:25 for proof. No, Jesus could not reward a lack of faith with a miracle in this case, because it did not suit His purpose.)

The Old Testament also speaks of the importance of faith and trust in God to answer prayer. In 1 Chronicles 5:20, God answers the prayers of the Israelites because of their trust in him.

So does this mean that, like the Word-Faith teachers believe, we can have anything we want, if we have enough faith? Is it true that faith is all that’s required?

Word of Faith adherents, as well as metaphysical cults such as Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Mind Sciences would all say yes. But is this a biblical view?

What about Paul? He grappled with a "thorn in the side" for years, begging God in prayer no less than three times to take this affliction away (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God refused to heal him – because His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. That is to say, not only did it force Paul to rely more heavily on God, but it glorified God by showing His strength in supporting Paul through his trials.

Paul’s companions were by no means exempt from sickness. Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment that, presumably, had been prayed for but not yet healed; Paul prescribed wine for this condition! (1 Timothy 5:23) If faith were all that is required for healing (or any other answer of prayer) then why had the prayers of Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist of the early church, or Timothy, clearly a man of great faith, been denied? Paul also mentions that he left Trophimus behind sick (2 Timothy 4:20) and mentions the sickness of Epaphroditus, who almost died! (Philippians 2:25-30) Surely a prayer with sufficient faith would have prevented the disease from reaching that point, would it not?

Or consider the following examples from Matthew 26:

And going a little farther [Jesus] fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will..." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done..." So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (39, 42, 44)

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:35-36)

Here our Lord is praying to the Father to spare Him the suffering He was to undergo, if it were possible. Of all examples, our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God and God incarnate, Jesus Christ, surely would have been granted His wish – IF faith was all that was required. Who could have perfect faith, if not God Himself? Jesus could have had no less than complete faith in His Father. But God clearly said "no"; Jesus went to the Cross in accordance with His Father’s will.

So, it has been clearly demonstrated that Biblically speaking, "having enough faith" is by no means a guarantee for receiving what we ask for in prayer. God can and will say "no." He is sovereign - meaning, He owns all of Creation and may do what He pleases with it. And this is the very heart of the matter.

The Word-Faith movement would deny God His sovereign right to say no. Just read some of their literature - it's full of "claims" and "demands," declarations that they are entitled to things. But the only thing God owes to any human being, save His own Incarnated Son, is wrath and punishment.

Remember that. When you pray, ask God for things in all humility and thankfulness for the blessings you have already received. NEVER claim or demand, in the blasphemous manner of the Word-Faith movement. Yes, we can approach His throne with confidence - but that is no warrant for such impertinence. Biblical faith, in prayer, is a trust in God to answer according to His will, belief that Jesus' sacrifice has entitled us believers to approach God directly in prayer, and confidence in His power to grant our request - should He so choose.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

What a disgusting message...

I just arrived home from an event hosted by a local church (not my own), and I'm grouchy. The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Turns out this event was hosted by one of the two "Word-Faith" churches in the Fredericton area. I didn't know that when I came, but found out upon arrival. As it was free, I decided to stick it out and see how things went.

First, during the worship music time, one of the musicians made a statement to the effect that the "old hymns" aren't great for today's worship. Now, that's intelligent - a hundred years from now, someone might disparage the music you're playing as passe.

I have no objection to writing and singing comtemporary worship music. Even Isaac Watts' great hymns were contemporary in his time, right? But this woman's comments betrayed a lamentable lack of historical awareness. The old hymns and anthems of the church represent a priceless trove of Biblical teaching and commentary. They are a treasure! We don't sing them enough these days - and the results are sad, as much of the music we play in church today is more shallow and simplistic than the Sunday School songs I grew up with. We could use more of the old hymns, I think - maybe the distressing lack of basic Christian theology evident in the church today might be alleviated somewhat.

That was just the beginning, though. The attendees were handed some papers when they came in - a flyer describing the sponsoring church, which included a "Prayer for Salvation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit," another flyer advertising an upcoming event, an offering envelope, and some other documents.

The period of singing ended, and the period of offering began. I say "period," because it took at least half an hour. The male head pastor of the church got up and held up one of the offering envelopes, asking us to turn to the packages we had been given. He declared firmly that the envelope was the most important thing in that package!

Now, anyone familiar with the Word-Faith movement knows its unhealthy obsession with money and "seed" offerings. It isn't called the "Prosperity Gospel" for nothing. But this is the most blatant and sickening statement of the like I have seen or heard. In that same package was a flyer with a "prayer for salvation" (I don't think it was a good prayer, but I'll get to that in a minute, and it's beside the point here) - a prayer that is designed to introduce an unbeliever to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and yet that pastor dared state that the offering envelope was the most important document?

Absolutely shameful. If you're reading this, and you're not familiar with Word-Faith teachings, this is a great example. This "church" exists to spread the "gospel" of positive confession and worldly wealth, not the Gospel of salvation from sins. At least that's the message I get when the pastor places an offering envelope higher in importance than a salvation message.

The male pastor then handed over to his wife, his "co-pastor," who spoke at length about God's desire to bless us financially and materially, as well as spiritually and physically, and who promised that God WILL return our "seed" offering in blessings to us. Again, a patently unbiblical message. We give not in hopes of being rewarded - this would reduce God to a metaphysical investment package, or worse, a cosmic vending machine! - but in gratitude and humble recognition that everything we have is from Him. We give as a sacrifice - not to earn favour or buy God's affection, or to "plant seed," but as a lesson to ourselves that God deserves the firstfruits of EVERYTHING we do. We give as a regular reminder that God is the source of all blessing.

The last thing that really irked me was reading through the "salvation prayer," and hearing the pastor's call at the end for unbelievers present to be saved. The written prayer simply noted Acts 2:21 and asked Jesus to come into the heart of the one praying and be Lord of their life, followed by the reading of Romans 10:9 and a confession for the reader to state that Jesus was raised from the dead and that He is Lord. It then transitioned into a declaration for the reader that they are now Christians!

What's wrong with this? It misses the entire point of salvation - that is, being saved. What is the reader being saved from? The prayer doesn't say. There is not one mention of sin, or of iniquity, or wickedness, or wrongdoing - certainly no mention of hell and judgment! Not even a mention that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin! The prayer is simply a declaration that Jesus is Lord and then assures its reader that he is "born again."

One cannot put true faith in Christ unless he realizes that he is helpless and lost in sin; that he cannot save himself (again, this helplessness isn't mentioned at all); that Christ died in the place of sinners; and that His righteousness is reckoned to us by way of our faith. The prayer mentions that the reader is now "righteous," but it doesn't say how or why, much less why this is somehow a change from the reader's initial condition!!

You cannot, CANNOT, EVER preach the Gospel without stressing sin and the need for repentance. This "salvation prayer" falls far short of the mark. And sadly, this is not a problem confined to Word-Faith circles - it is endemic to the evangelical church today.

I'm tempted to take back what I wrote above - that offering envelope was probably far more useful than this prayer. Such a "prayer of salvation" runs a serious risk of giving assurance of salvation to a person who never has geniune faith or understanding of Christ.

I left shaking my head and lamenting the condition of the modern church. If this focus on the physical earth and its material blessings and prosperity is to become the norm in the church, and especially if the lack of a coherent Gospel message that induces awareness of personal sinfulness remains our evangelical focus, then we are to be ashamed. No doubt our Lord will hold us to account.

Kyrie eleison...