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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Christian Carnival 30 August

Please stop in to the Christian Carnival, posted this week over at Brain Cramps for God, and check out the writings of others who are interested in matters beyond human limitation!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Borg Exposed

“For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for dishonest gain’s sake. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Titus 1: 10-11 & 13a-16)

Recently we criticized a book by Marcus Borg which was recommended to someone looking into Christianity. After reviewing the publishers’ reviews on, we called Marcus Borg a non-Christian and his book heresy. After doing so, we were told not to judge a book by its cover- so instead we will now judge it by its complete contents. It is important to note that heresy isn’t merely disagreeing with current church doctrine, but is a denial of the core truths of Christianity: divine creation, inspiration of Scripture, both the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, salvation through Christ alone, and the future second coming of Christ. Borg denies all of these, making him a heretic in every sense of the word.

It was hard to narrow down which quotes from Marcus Borg’s two books to use, since each book was entirely drenched with heresy, but here are some examples to summarize his “fantastic” works. I was not able to obtain a copy of ‘The Heart of Christianity’, since neither the Southern Baptist nor the Presbyterian seminary carried them, but I did check out “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time”, and “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time”, which says it all about Borg’s version of the “Heart of Christianity”.

(all quotes are from “Meeting Jesus again for the First Time”, unless otherwise noted.)

Borg does not believe that Jesus is God:

“The image of Jesus sketched in this chapter (Borg’s chapter) suggests that Jesus was not God.” (pg. 37)

“the sketch of Jesus as a spirit person suggests that Jesus was not simply a person who believed strongly in God, but one who knew God.” (pg. 37)

“We have no way of knowing whether Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God in some special sense.” (pg. 29)

Borg does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God:

“it is not the case that Jesus is literally “the Son of God,” though he can also be spoken of metaphorically…” (in feminist terms) (pg. 109)

Borg does not believe the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God:

“I learned that the gospels are neither divine documents nor straightforward historical records. They are not divine products inspired directly by God, whose contents therefore are to be believed. (pg. 9)

and from Borg’s book, ‘Reading the Bible again for the first time’:

“[The Bible] is an all human product, though generated in response to God.” (pg. 27)

“The Ten Commandments are also a human product. Divine genius is not required to come up with rules like these.” (pg. 27)

It is also clear, especially in “Reading the Bible,” that Borg doesn’t believe that any supernatural miracle in the Bible actually occurred- they are only symbolic and metaphoric to teach a moral lesson.

Borg does not believe the Genesis account of creation:

“It is Israel’s story of creation, not God’s story of creation.” (page 68)

“It is important to realize that the Genesis stories of creation are myths.”(pg. 71)

Borg denies the Virgin Birth:

“The stories of his birth and childhood are not historical.” (pg. 23)

“To hear the birth stories again in a state of postcritical naivete [which Borg defines as a state in which one can hear these stories as “true stories,” even while knowing that they are not literally true- where have I heard that nonsense before?…] is to be able to hear their rich symbolic affirmations without needing to believe them as historical records.”

Borg denies the Second Coming of Christ:

“I do not think that it makes sense to expect a visible future second coming of Christ.” (pg. 279- ‘Reading the Bible’)

Borg’s warped view of the character of God:

“Compassion, not holiness, is the dominant quality of God, and is therefore to be the ethos of the community that mirrors God.” (page 54)

He claims to be a Christian, yet says:

“The popular Christian bumper sticker that reads: “Christians aren’t perfect- they’re just forgiven” implies that other people aren’t forgiven, and that Christians have done something (become Christian? Believed?) that merits forgiveness.”

“Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him.” (page 137)

“Jesus is unique, which most commonly is linked to the notion that Christianity is exclusively true and that Jesus is “the only way.” (pg. 37)

Borg denies the true gospel message:

“The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. Taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message.

Borg and his followers reduce the “Heart of Christianity’s” message to this:

“’Be compassionate as God is compassionate’ is the defining mark of the follower of Jesus. Compassion is the fruit of life in the Spirit and the ethos of the community of Jesus.”

While compassion is a trait that Christians should possess, this characteristic does not distinguish Christianity from any other religion or moral person. It is a Christians’ godliness, holiness, and righteousness that can only come through Jesus Christ that is so repulsive to the world that sets Christianity apart from any other religion. We worship a risen Lord, which no other religion can boast of. The heart of Christianity is truly this: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We can be made right with God only through forsaking our sins and trusting in Jesus for salvation.

It is also worth noting that it is not compassionate to affirm sinners and tell them that God will accept them just as they are, and that they won’t have to turn from their sinful ways. That is selfishness- loving the praise of men more than the praise of God. But true Christian compassion grieves for the souls of lost sinners, begging them to repent and come to Christ, wanting to see them saved more than wanting them to like you.

Borg’s heresy began here:

“There are parts of the Bible that we will decide need not or should not be honored, either because we discern that they were relevant to ancient times but not to our own, or because we discern that they were never the will of God.” (‘Reading the Bible…page 29)

Borg and his followers have created a god in their mind, an idol of their own making, which does not reflect the God of the Bible.

This is what the Biblical inerrancy series is all about!

[speaking of the epistles in the NT] "In which some things are hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. Since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the widked; but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:16-17

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy I: What Inerrancy Is Not

Within this awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries;
Happiest he of human race
To whom God has given grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray.
To lift the latch, and learn the way;
And better had he ne’er been born
Who reads to doubt, or reads to scorn.
- Sir Walter Scott

(Intro and Ground Rules are here)

Before I define inerrancy, I will first set out to reduce the confusion that exists over the term by defining what it is not. There are essentially two types of misunderstandings about inerrancy: the first, which will comprise this post, are confusions with other spiritual terms often applied to Scripture, and the second, which will comprise the next post, are intentional “straw man” mischaracterizations used for ease in attacking inerrancy. While the first type can also be intentional, they are the ones most likely to be unwittingly confused, and thus we address them first - inspiration, authority, interpretation and importance.

1) Inerrancy is not inspiration.

“All scripture is breathed out by God…”(2 Timothy 3:16a)

The inspiration of the scriptures is an issue that has many academic angles – how were they inspired? What role was played by the Holy Spirit, and what role by the human authors? When we discuss the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are speaking of the source of the Scriptures. As with the rest of these misunderstandings of inerrancy, there is a relationship between the terms. Divine inspiration is a requirement for the Bible to be inerrant, yet it is not entirely true that “if it is inspired, it is inerrant”. The understanding of the meaning of “God-breathed” scriptures is a key component to inerrancy – but inerrancy is not inspiration.

2) Inerrancy is not authority

“…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16b-17)

The authority of Scripture is also a separate issue from inerrancy. Specifically, authority is drawn from a view that includes the sources of revelation, both general and specific, the relevancy of different types of revelation, and the relationship between human experience, the church, history and Scripture. Authority and inerrancy are related in nearly the opposite manner that inspiration and inerrancy are – one’s view of inerrancy determines a large portion of their view of Biblical authority. Authority is the level of rule that we give the Scriptures over our theology and worldview, and is largely based upon the presence or absence of inerrancy – but inerrancy is not authority.

3) Inerrancy is not interpretation

“no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:17)

“That’s just your interpretation” we often hear. Of all the possible ideas confused with inerrancy, this is the most common – that inerrancy is merely just a description of one’s interpretation. However, like authority, interpretation will be driven in large part by inerrancy, and indeed, by authority. Someone who rejects inerrancy will interpret the Scriptures in any way to make their current thoughts and behaviors seem justified. On the other hand, someone who believes in an inerrant Bible is forced to confront a greater breadth of challenges from an uncompromising word of God. Inerrancy is a limiter to interpretation, because an inerrant word of God cannot be interpreted in any way we want, but only within the reasonable bounds of the words chosen in their literary and cultural context. On the contrary, a lack of inerrancy opens interpretation to the full bounds of human imagination. Clearly, inerrancy is not interpretation.

4) Inerrancy is not importance.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28-31)

To those who already believe in Biblical inerrancy, it may sound sacrilegious to say that “All Scripture is not equally important”. However, it is clear that Jesus himself recognized what should be easily seen – after all, his questioner saw it. Some Scriptures are more important than others, despite being equally inerrant. Confusion with importance can be a stumbling block to those considering the question of inerrancy, because they can’t see how the genealogies of Chronicles are equally as important as the resurrection. Simply put, they aren’t! Furthermore, all Scripture is not equally applicable. Try teaching a group of 1st graders about the Levitical code for priests! Instead, teaching them the Biblical precepts that God made them, loves them, and that Jesus wants to be their friend forever will be far more applicable to them. It is important that we recognize that not all of Scripture is equally important or equally applicable – but inerrancy is not importance.

Hopefully we have clarified some of the possible confusion surrounding inerrancy by showing that it is more restricted in definition than some think it to be – although it may be less restricted in impact on our faith and our lives. The next post will discuss the false depictions of inerrancy given by those who will not accept it called "Straw Men", followed by “Inerrancy Defined.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I was sent this thought-provoking article and asked for my opinion- I’m sure no one will be surprised in the least as I pick it apart: (I’m unsure of the author)

"Jesus is asked 183 questions directly in the four Gospels. He only answered three of them forthrightly. The others he either ignored, kept silent about, asked a question in return, changed the subject, told a story or gave an audio/visual aid to make his point, told them it was the wrong question, revealed their insincerity or hypocrisy, made the exactly opposite point, or redirected the question elsewhere!

Check it out for yourself. He himself asks 307 questions, which would seem to set a pattern for imitation. Considering this, it is really rather amazing that the church became an official answering machine and a very self-assured program for 'sin management'.

Many, if not most, of Jesus' teaching would never pass contemporary orthodoxy tests in either the Roman Office or the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of his statements are so open to misinterpretation that should he teach today, he would probably be called a 'relativist' in almost all areas except one: his insistence upon the goodness and reliability of
God. That was his only consistent absolute."

We underestimate the importance of questions co-existing with faithfulness; so often we want, or think, that what is most healthy for us is certainty – living without questions. The spaciousness that uncertainty and doubt opens up is unsettling. Having to sit with questions and listen to our inner responses can be scary.

But the reality is that good questions (and our responding to them as they are asked of them) are one significant way by which our lives, our faith, our relationships, our being, our church, is actually deepened. Questions, rather than certainty, help us grow, help us remain open to the activity of the Spirit, help us remain open to new possibilities, to new directions, to new ways of responding to following Jesus – a Jesus who questions and invites us to become more than we currently are; to do more than we currently do!

Questions are stepping stones; they invite us on a journey.

This author does not have clear spiritual understanding of Scripture, and has a misguided sense of how Jesus answered the many questions asked of Him. The underlined parts of the article do address how Jesus responded to His questioners, but for different reasons than the author suggests. Jesus was not promoting an example to follow of valuing questions more than absolutes, nor did He ask them because He didn’t know the answer. Instead, His indirect method of answering questions allowed his hearers and skeptics to expose their own errors by getting them to examine themselves. I would argue that Jesus didn’t ignore, keep silent about, change subjects, give an audio/visual aid, or tell someone it was the wrong question. The author makes these blanket statements without giving any examples, and it shows his/her lack of understanding for Jesus’ teaching methods. And on a side note, if this is supposed to be motivating, the author should at least explain what he/she means: “a Jesus who questions and invites us to become more than we currently are; to do more than we currently do!” This is exactly my point- “a Jesus”- this author’s version of Jesus does not exist, for the Jesus of the Bible would never be considered a moral relativist today, and the only people who would claim that Jesus’ statements were “wide open to misinterpretation” are unbelievers who don’t wish to accept absolutes and that Jesus really is who He claimed to be. There are no “new ways” of responding to Jesus that are valid for salvation. There is only one way- denying yourself and taking up your cross to accept Jesus’ complete lordship over your life. (Matthew 16:24)

The author is correct in saying that Jesus often told stories in answer to questions. The stories He told were called parables- analogies and earthly comparisons to drive home a point. However, not everyone will understand these parables, as the author models, seeming to think that Jesus used stories and questions in an attempt to ignore or change the subject. Much of the Bible and its mysteries do not make sense to unbelivers who do not have the Holy Spirit to lead them into understanding of the truth. Jesus explains in Matthew 13 why He told these stories, or parables:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…This is why I speak in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: [Isaiah 6:9-10] You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.

God has chosen to reveal Himself through Jesus to those who will believe by faith in His Son, and to those will He unlock the mysteries of His word and Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus already knew the motives and intentions of the hearts of those questioning Him, because He is God, and when answering a question with a question, He often forced them to recognize and expose their insincerity and hypocrisy, as the author was correct in identifying. Jesus’ very effective teaching method allowed the answerer to condemn himself by his response to Jesus’ question. It was the way He brought about conviction in the hearts of sinners. Here is an example from Luke chapter 20: 1-8

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven’, He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him then?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Jesus brought a sense of conviction to the priests and scribes through the way He responded. His teaching was interrupted by those seeking to challenge and discredit Him, similar to what this author is doing in the above article.

While Jesus may be setting a pattern for imitation for how to respond to questions to cause conviction in the hearer and self examination, He is in no way advocating idle questioning, doubting His authority or that of Scripture, or using questioning as a way to “remain open” to progressive ideas contrary to Biblical doctrine. While there is nothing wrong with and it is natural to have sincere questions regarding faith issues, it is our motive behind our questioning that makes it either helpful or hurtful to our search for truth. If we are seeking to understand and believe, questioning is helpful, but the heart and faith must overcome the intellect at some point. If questioning only in an attempt to discredit the authority of Jesus or the Bible, we will only be led further down the path to destruction. Think on these verses regarding the value of questioning that the author promotes:

1 Timothy 6:3-5 [in part] If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions…and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

2 Timothy 2:23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid…

Titus 3: 9-11 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

1 Timothy 1: 4, 6-7 Nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

As for the last sentence the author declares: “Questions are stepping stones; they invite us on a journey.”

Stepping stones they are, but steps that can lead down the wrong path. Questions do take us on a journey- but it’s the destination of the journey that’s most important. So, is certainty (or absolutes) a strength or a weakness? If questioning only lead’s you away from the truth because you refused to listen to the answers, then I would have to say that questioning is a weakness.

Certainty can be a weakness because you can be certain and be absolutely wrong, and thus stubbornly refuse to hear the truth!

When Jesus returns as King of King and Lord of Lords to judge a sinful and unbelieving world, He will save only those who are absolutely certain of His promises and confident of their belief and trust in Him. He will leave behind the skeptics and those who are still questioning and wavering about who He is and doubting His word. Not choosing is still a choice- it is a choice, by default, to reject the Truth. There is no middle ground, for Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12: 30) Today is the day to make up your mind about Jesus- there is no grey area about it: Jesus gave these absolutes and it is certain that:

In Luke 13:3 Unless you repent, you will perish!

And in John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.

Got Jesus??

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy

Last year I put together a short series titled “Biblical Inerrancy” – but, as UK John identified early in the first post, it was not about inerrancy at all. It addressed biblical reliability and biblical uniqueness, but inerrancy itself (though I would say that both of those things are necessary for inerrancy) was not addressed.

Over the time since then, I have observed how inerrancy is spoken of, particularly by UK John and Sven, as well as comments interjected by RightThinker and Mary Beth demonstrating clear differences not only on the definition of inerrancy, but whether it is true at all.

What is clear is that, for reasons I find difficult to explain, some people have different definitions of inerrancy. Furthermore, some deny inerrancy, and some question it. I will set out to do three primary things:

1) Define inerrancy

2) Describe the need for inerrancy

3) Defend inerrancy

I expect this series to be long, because I desire a level of clarity often absent in discussions of this issue. For example, before I actually define inerrancy, I will do a post about what inerrancy is not, and a post describing the straw man attacks most often seen. Before I describe the need for inerrancy, I will discuss revelation in general and the various uses and manifestations of the word of God. I will also describe the views of Scripture held by Christian and pseudo-Christian groups in opposition to inerrancy. I will even spend time describing how an unbalanced view of inerrancy will be as dangerous as an outright denial of the importance of Scripture.

I cordially invite those who disagree with my positions to comment and challenge whatever and however they may desire. I have a small number of regular readers, and so I plan to post the series on as many carnivals as it fits. What I really want to hear is the liberal view, which neither John nor Sven have, even though they certainly do not share the evangelical view of Scripture. I believe that Mary Beth holds that view, and hope she and those who agree with her will defend it here.

Here are the “ground rules”, which I recognize that only I am bound to and can guarantee, but hope others will as well:

1) No ad hominem attacks. One can say, “I don’t think this is a Christian point of view you have, Hammer”, but not, “Hammer is a moron”.

2) Be prepared to defend your point of view with two things – Scripture and historical support prior to the mid-eighteenth century. Opponents of the evangelical definition of inerrancy claim it never existed prior to the past 100 years. Thus, while I intend to back up my position with historical Christianity, detractors should do the same. Christianity is a fact-based and historical faith, and a position arrived at in the past 200 years is highly unlikely to be closer to “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” than that of the apostolic and early church fathers. While Catholic commenters may not regard Luther, Wesley and Calvin as authorities, nor some Protestants Aquinas or Chrysostom, it is not the men that make them authoritative, but the connection of the communion of saints through the ages in doctrine that does.

3) Be clear, concise, and courteous. Clarity, because we don’t want to waste time commenting about something that is misunderstood; courteous, because it begets courtesy and frank speaking, and brevity (yes, that means you, RT) because long comments lead to longer retorts, and others get tired of reading it and drop out.

If someone can think of other important ground rules before I begin, let me know and I’ll include it in this post.

Finally, I should say what I have held since the first day I wrote a post on spiritual matters – I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind with any of this, at least, not someone who is dedicated to their view of Scripture. My goal is to present the various viewpoints in a fashion that eliminates the cloud surrounding the different views for two reasons – to sharpen my own understanding and to allow those who have yet to determine their permanent view of Scripture to choose from the real choices.

Friday, August 18, 2006

You Are What You Read

I recently read a blog meme that asked about books. Here are some of the answers:

A book you’ve read more than once? The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg.

Let’s cut to the chase – Borg denies the divinity of Christ, and says that Jesus is not the Son of God. He defines the heart of Christianity as some “love what God loves” nonsense, yet denies that God saved men through the Incarnation. Marcus Borg is not a Christian, nor is anyone who thinks this book is worth reading. Not surprisingly, in the top five list of books that those who bought this heresy buy is a book by Bishop Spong, a God hater who denies pretty much everything Biblical.

A book that changed your life? The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Barbara Brown Taylor gives Marcus Borg’s book great reviews. That says it all. If it didn’t, her denial of the authority of Scripture or the saving grace of Christ, that instead to “Simply perform mercy or justice to whomever you encounter and this will bring you eternal life” is denial of the necessity of the Incarnation, the Cross and the Empty tomb.

A book you have been meaning to read? A History of God by Karen Armstrong

First sentence of this book: IN THE BEGINNING, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and earth. Armstrong is a liberal broadcast commentator in Europe and a former nun who denies the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. She believes (as put forth in this book) that the “idea of a personal God has helped Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers mature as full human beings”, and that all religions are outgrowth of sociopolitical ideas and that the “believers” in all faiths should group together toward a notion, not of the God of the Bible, but a “notion of God that works for the empirical age”.

The person who finds these books and authors worthwhile is not a Christian. Their works may be good, their conversation kind, but anyone who is willing to read and reread these kind of heretical books is not someone who has denied themselves, taken up their cross, and followed the Son of God, who is eternally generated from the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, who is begotten, not made, one being with the Father, through whom all things were made, without whom nothing has been made; who, though he was equal with the Father, stooped to humility and humbled himself by becoming a man, and was obedient in ultimate humility unto death, even the shameful death of the cross, who rose again from the dead, conquering sin and death for all who would believe. This is not a small god whom these authors and this person follow – this is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, who hates sin, loves people, and at the last day will raise up those that are His unto glory – and those that have worshipped a god of their own making, a God who is not revealed in the final and authoritative source of revelation, the holy Scriptures, which speak of the Son of God and his salvific work of grace for us, will instead see:

For behold, the Lord will come in fire,

and his chariots like the whirlwind,

to render his anger in fury,

and his rebuke with flames of fire.

For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,

and by his sword, with all flesh;

and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

(Isaiah 66:15-16)

And the actions He will take:

I trod them in my anger

and trampled them in my wrath;

their lifeblood spattered on my garments,

and stained all my apparel.

For the day of vengeance was in my heart,

and my year of redemption had come

(Isaiah 63:3-4)

And what will the results be?

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

(Isaiah 66:24)


These have chosen their own ways,

and their soul delights in their abominations;

I also will choose harsh treatment for them

and bring their fears upon them,

because when I called, no one answered,

when I spoke they did not listen;

but they did what was evil in my eyes

and chose that in which I did not delight.

(Is 66:3-4)

Never forget:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

all those who practice it have a good understanding.

His praise endures forever!”

(Psalm 111:10)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage IV: What About Pastors?

The final consideration in the question of divorce and remarriage regards pastors.

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice , lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

(1 Ti 3:2-7)

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men , sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as  he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

(Titus 1:6-9)

The operative term in the Scriptures for a bishop’s (pastor’s, overseer’s, elder’s) marital status is this – he must be the husband of one wife. What is certainly inarguable is that he cannot be polygamous. What seems to also be at least more likely than not (and seldom mentioned) is that he should be married! The question at hand is whether “husband of one wife” means “not remarried”.

Whatever one’s answer to this must be, it has to mirror their view on the possibility of a marriage being broken by something other than death. That is, if divorce and remarriage are permissible, than the remarried person remains the husband of one wife. If there is no possibility of the marriage bond being truly broken, then a remarried person is polygamous and disqualified.

Oftentimes, however, people’s views on divorce and remarriage do not extend to their view of who can and cannot be a pastor. Many believe that divorce and remarriage are permissible, yet do not believe that a pastor can be remarried. Why is this? Do we honestly believe that they must be more godly than we?

That may be a shocking statement, but what an assertion implies is that some of us are less sinners than others. The other implication would be that while my pastor has a laundry list of things he must be, I am somehow exempt from the list – that I do not have to also be the rest of it - “above reproach, not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination, not arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined”.

These pastoral qualities are qualities all Christians are to possess, and to dissociate them from us is to deceive ourselves. Thus, our interpretation of Scriptural warrant (or lack) for divorce and remarriage must mirror our interpretation of this verse.

That being said, recognizing that we are sinners does not mean we should not expect a pursuit of godliness in our pastors. This is scriptural prescription, and a man who does not meet these requirements should never be selected for the office. If a man is divorced and remarried because he committed adultery against his first wife and divorced her, the pastorate is not his call, no matter what he may think.

My position mirrors my position on divorce and remarriage, which I developed in the comments section of the last post in the series. A man who suffers divorce for his wife’s adultery, physical danger to the family (this must be a truly rare case!), or abandonment and remarries is permitted to be a pastor.

Addendum: A pastor who experiences the divorce should at least temporarily step down. The lack of order in his own house during such a period Scripturally prohibits him from serving, not to mention the massive emotional turmoil he would be in. How can a man going through a divorce counsel others on marriage? I don’t know how long such a sabbatical from ministry would last, nor am I even sure if he could return as the pastor of his church. However, the importance of a pastor’s role in the life of a church is such that a man who is under fire at home and certainly unfocused for many months and even years is not a proper vessel during that period.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blessed are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God"
- Mt 5:9

But what do you do when you cannot make peace?

Some of you who have read me for a while may think I am about to rant about Hezbollah and Israel. That might be appropriate, but it is not what is on my heart today. What is on my heart is the state of my church.

Over the past several months there have been those who intentionally spread dissention within the church. Why? Simply read Jude 11.

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion

From Barnes' Notes on the New Testament:

Woe unto them! See Mat 11:21.

For they have gone in the way of Cain. Ge 4:5-12. That is, they have evinced disobedience and rebellion as he did; they have shown that they are proud, corrupt, and wicked. The apostle does not specify the points in which they had imitated the example of Cain, but it was probably in such things as these--pride, haughtiness, the hatred of religion, restlessness under the restraints of virtue, envy that others were more favoured, and a spirit of hatred of the brethren (comp. 1Jn 3:15) which would lead to murder.

And ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward. The word rendered ran greedily--execuyhsan, from ekcew--means to pour out; and then, when spoken of persons, that they are poured out, or that they rush tumultuously on an object, that is, that they give themselves up to anything. The idea here is, that all restraint was relaxed, and that they rushed on tumultuously to any course of life that promised gain. See Barnes "2Pe 2:15".

And perished. They perish, or they will perish. The result is so certain that the apostle, speaks of it as if it were already done. The thought seems to have lain in his mind in this manner: he thinks of them as having the same character as Korah, and then at once thinks of them as destroyed in the same manner, or as if it were already done. They are identified with him in their character and doom. The word rendered perish (apollumi) is often used to denote future punishment, Mat 10:28,39 18:14 Mr 1:24 Lu 13:3,5 Joh 3:15,16 John 10:28 2Th 2:10 2Pe 3:9.

In the gainsaying of Core. Of Korah, Nu 16:1-30. The word gainsaying here means properly contradiction, or speaking against; then controversy, question, strife; then contumely, reproach, or rebellion. The idea here seems to be, that they were guilty of insubordination; of possessing a restless and dissatisfied spirit; of a desire to rule, etc.

It was envy that others were more favored, pride in not having more say in the direction of things not under their stewardship, desire for gain, a rebellious spirit, and a seditious character. Not all had all of these traits, but the leaders did. Charles Spurgeon writes about what the inevitable result of this type of dissention leads to:

If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution."
--Exodus 22:6

But what restitution can he make who casts abroad the fire-brands of error, or the coals of lasciviousness, and sets men's souls on a blaze with the fire of hell? The guilt is beyond estimate, and the result is irretrievable. If such an offender be forgiven, what grief it will cause him in the retrospect, since he cannot undo the mischief which he has done! An ill example may kindle a flame which years of amended character cannot quench. To burn the food of man is bad enough, but how much worse to destroy the soul! It may be useful to us to reflect how far we may have been guilty in the past, and to enquire whether, even in the present, there may not be evil in us which has a tendency to bring damage to the souls of our relatives, friends, or neighbours.

The fire of strife is a terrible evil when it breaks out in a Christian church. Where converts were multiplied, and God was glorified, jealousy and envy do the devil's work most effectually. Where the golden grain was being housed, to reward the toil of the great Boaz, the fire of enmity comes in and leaves little else but smoke and a heap of blackness. Woe unto those by whom offences come. May they never come through us, for although we cannot make restitution, we shall certainly be the chief sufferers if we are the chief offenders. Those who feed the fire deserve just censure, but he who first kindles it is most to blame. Discord usually takes first hold upon the thorns; it is nurtured among the hypocrites and base professors in the church, and away it goes among the righteous, blown by the winds of hell, and no one knows where it may end. O Thou Lord and giver of peace, make us peacemakers, and never let us aid and abet the men of strife, or even unintentionally cause the least division among Thy people.

I sat in a place where, although I had pressed to be a peacemaker with several up until today, I was forced to choose one side or the other. I was pressed to tears as I agonized over choosing to support the dismissal of a man I count as a friend and a brother, who has prayed for me and I for him. However, since he had at one time allied himself with the seditious group, and was being propped up by them as their leader, he had to go for the benefit of the body. I could not be sure of exactly what he had done, but I knew for sure that not only was he sympathetic to the seditious, he never attempted to stop the sedition, even though he has the charisma, skills and following to do so.

If I am ever asked why he resigned, I will state what I believe to be the truth - he sought to do what was best for the church, and did not want to be tarred with the paint of a leader of mutineers.

Sometimes, you have to choose sides. Really, you always do, if it is a matter of any import. Not choosing simply puts you passively on one side. The choice to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ is the same. If you don't choose, you choose instead to deny Him. Are you ready to make that wager? For you make it whether you wish to or not.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage III: When Can a Christian Remarry?

The positions held by the church are similar to the views on divorce – some say there is no remarriage, some say that remarriage is permissible, and some say that it is permissible only in restricted cases.

I) No Remarriage.

Obviously, those who believe that divorce is not possible do not support remarriage! However, there are those who support limited cases of divorce, but do not support remarriage. In fact, this is the testimony of the majority of the early church fathers who address the issue.

In this view, only the death of the spouse dissolves the marriage bond. Jesus’exception allows couples to separate in cases of porneia (normally understood as adultery). However, since porneia does not break the marriage bond, neither spouse can remarry. Hopefully, while remaining apart, the erring mate would be driven to repent and return to his or her spouse. Moreover, the so-called Pauline Privilege (1 Cor 7:15) does not allow deserted believers to remarry. Thus, this view allows separation when there is porneia but never allows remarriage.

Those who hold to this view emphasize that the marriage bond is indissoluble and appeal to the Deuteronomy 24 and kinship argument in support. Likewise, Mark 10 and Luke 16 allow no one to divorce, and Jesus’comments (Matthew 19) on creation ordinances and leaving intact what God has joined leave no room for divorce. In Matt 19:9 Jesus says: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another, commits adultery.” Who commits adultery, according to Jesus? The person who both divorces and remarries. Separation alone without remarriage is not adultery.

This view sees Matt 19:9 as an answer to the Pharisees’ question in 19:3 ( “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?”). Jesus responds that only porneia is just cause, but even then, one may not remarry without committing adultery. This view can be summarized into four points, which I find completely reasonable according to scripture:

1) divorce for any cause plus remarriage is adultery;

2) divorce because of porneia is acceptable, but no remarriage is allowed;

3) whoever divorces a woman forces her into adultery (i.e., once she remarries), unless the divorce resulted because of her porneia (adultery)—in that case she was already an adulteress before the divorce; and

4) whoever marries a divorcée commits adultery himself.

II) Remarriage is always acceptable.

Honestly, this view isn’t really supported Scripturally. Proponents of this position use several arguments that seem to be (and some are) honestly loving, considerate and thoughtful. However, the merits of the emotions in the argument do not translate to merits of the argument itself! They include some scriptural support, but do not address the breadth of Scriptural prescription. Here are some:

“God made and women for each other, so he wouldn’t want you to be alone.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:18)

“God wants you to be happy”

“God doesn’t want your children to grow up without a daddy in the home” (Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” (Malachi 2:5)

“Divorce is not the unforgivable sin” (but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—), Mark 3:29

These statements affirm the beauty of marriage, the need to maintain marriages for the sake of children, and the grace of God in Christ. All of these statements (well, not “God wants you to be happy”, since happiness is not a virtue nor possible to produce beyond moments) are true in themselves. God did make men and women for each other, for the purpose of making each other better. God does want children to have a mother and a father, and divorce is not the unforgivable sin. However, none of these represent Biblical justification for ignoring Biblical prescription. Furthermore, the accelerated rate of divorces of those previously divorces demonstrates that this line of reasoning cannot be the right one. Thus, I must dismiss the notion that anyone can remarry for any reason.

III) Remarriage is acceptable only in specific cases.

There are several divorce and remarriage views, most of which are variations of what many call the Erasmian view (named after Erasmus of Rotterdam). Those who hold some form of the Erasmian view consider the exception clauses in Matthew to allow a morally acceptable ground for divorce. Moreover, if divorce is permissible, then remarriage is as well.

Some variations in the Erasmian view stem from one’s understanding of porneia. Many interpret it narrowly to refer only to adultery. On this view, Jesus is saying that if a wife commits adultery, her husband may divorce her and remarry without committing any sin himself. Others object that Matthew’s usual word for adultery is moicheia and that in Matthew 15 he distinguishes between porneia and moicheia. Thus, porneia in Matt 5:32 and 19:9 should be understood in a more general way to refer to any kind of sexual impurity, including adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest.

A further variation of the Erasmian view arises from interpreting Paul as allowing a second ground for divorce (1 Corinthians 7). Paul instructs converts to Christianity not to leave their unbelieving spouses just because they are non-believers. However, if the non-believer leaves the believer and seeks a divorce, the believer is told to let him depart (v. 15); the believer is not bound in such a case. Many understand this to mean that willful desertion of a believer by a non-believer is permissible grounds for divorce. The believer may not initiate divorce proceedings, but if the non-believing spouse does, the divorce is not a sin. Typically, those who think Paul allows divorce for willful desertion argue that if the divorce is morally permissible, so is remarriage.

This view is the view held by many Protestant denominations since the 17th century, which, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, would be almost their entire time of existence! It is interesting to note, that while the Anglican Church was primarily instituted by the King of England to allow his divorce, the Church of England did not allow divorced people to marry in church until 2002!

There are other reasons that some would add to a limited list of reasons to allow remarriage, and they typically mirror the specific reasons for divorce: physical abuse, danger to the family through substance abuse, financial failure, etc. In fact, while few would say one can divorce for any reason, fewer still would stand against remarriage for any reason. How often have you heard, “Jill and Jim are a great couple, but since Jill left her husband who never cheated on her and was a good man, she shouldn’t be allowed to remarry”? Well, pretty much never. Many will claim to be in the limited divorce/limited remarriage camp, but few are, as evidenced by their actions and words when in a situation that demands an opinion be given.

Obviously, I find the no remarriage and limited remarriage cases most compelling. What I have found difficult is this – while I can find never-divorced leaders who will speak of allowing remarriage, never-divorced leaders who will speak of not allowing remarriage, and divorced leaders who will speak of allowing remarriage, I have not found a divorced leader of character who was divorced for a reason included in Jesus or Paul’s words (or even in Deut 24 – abuse), yet stands against remarriage. Can we interpret this without our experience forcing our hand? Let me know what you all think of the presented ideas.