Friday, February 28, 2014

The Gospels are the Word of God

How can we know that the four canonical Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are the Word of God? They don’t explicitly claim that they are Scripture. When Jesus proclaimed that “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Mat. 5:18), the Gospels hadn’t yet been penned, and so this claim didn’t pertain to them. And when Paul insisted that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), certainly the OT Scriptures
would have come to mind.

However, Paul does quote the Gospel of Luke as “Scripture”:

  • For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deut. 25:4), and “The worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7).”

He regarded his own writings as Scripture:
  • For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

Paul could not have been claiming this honor for only his own writings (Eph.2:19-20; 3:4-5). He also seemed to suggest that there was additional written and authoritative testimony – “the preaching of Jesus Christ” - apart from “my gospel”:
  •  Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began. (Rom. 16:25)

It seems likely that his reference to “the preaching of Jesus Christ” was not in reference to the preaching he had heard but the preaching of the apostles found in the Gospels. Peter also testified that Paul’s writings were Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), and suggests that the Words of the apostles are on par with the canonical words of the “holy prophets”:
  •  [“I write this second epistle”] that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior. (2 Peter 3:2)

Although Peter doesn’t explicitly mention the Gospels, there is no reason to suppose that “the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” wouldn’t also include the apostolic Gospels. Paul testified in a similar manner (Eph. 3:3-5). Besides this testimony, Jesus claimed:
  • “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31)

How has His words been made to “never pass away?” Through the canonical Gospels! Interestingly, these four were held in such high regard that no question had ever been raised by the church regarding their canonicity. They had such extensive historical support that even the agnostic Bible-skeptic, Bart Ehrman, concedes:
  • The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus…are the four Gospels of the NT…This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the NT and in its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity…it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of the hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars. (Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code, p. 102)

Jesus also attests to the future teachings and writings of the apostles in this way:
  • “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
  • “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:12-13)

Jesus not only provided authoritative testimony about prior Scripture, but in these verses, He gave testimony to what would be written. The Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into “all truth.” And this, they would both teach and write.

Jesus did not simply commission the apostles. God also made it plain that their Word – oral or written – was authoritative:
  •  For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:2-4)

With such miraculous attestations, it would be reasonable to accept the apostolic writings – the Gospels included – as Scripture. It was because of miraculous attestation (2 Cor. 12:11-12) that the early church readily and universally received all of Paul’s 13 epistles as Scripture. It is therefore likely that this same attestation accompanied  the Gospels, explaining they too had been universally accepted as the Word of God.

Consequently, the early church devoted “themselves to the apostles' teaching”: 
  • They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43)

There is no reason to suspect that such devotion wouldn’t also include the apostolic writings – the Gospels. How else are we to understand the universal and unequivocal acceptance of the Gospels as Scripture within the contentious early church!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Richard Dawkins: Nothing can Prove the Existence of God

The renowned atheist and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, had once been asked:

·       Bertrand, what would you say to God if you encounter him after you die and he asks, “Bertrand, why didn’t you believe?”

Russell confidently responded, “There just wasn’t enough evidence,” as if to say: 

  •  I am a rational person and rational people require evidence. The fault, therefore, wasn’t with me but with you!
Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous atheist today, has taken it one step further, claiming that no evidence is possible to support belief in God! In an interview with hosted by Peter Boghossian, Dawkins was asked:
  •  What would it take for you to believe in God?

Dawkins dismissed the possibility that any evidence is possible – that even if Christ returned, he would have no way of knowing whether this was an hallucination or not. However, if Dawkins were to use this logic consistently, he also would deprive himself of any evidence of the existence of the universe. It might only be a dream or hallucination.

Besides, Dawkins seems haunted by the idea that his dismissal of all possible evidence doesn’t line up with the logic of science. After all, if a theory can be falsified by the evidence, it should also be amenable to evidential proof. Perhaps he senses that he is playing fast-and-loose with the concept of evidence and of science.

Perhaps he has stacked-this-deck with only the cards that will prove his point – that the natural explanation is the only possible one. But where did the natural come from? Doesn’t this question require a super-natural explanation? And is there any proof that causation is natural? While we all believe in the laws of science, perhaps these laws are best explained transcendentally, emanating from the mind of God?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage: Coerced to Participate in Sin

 Christians have been placed on collision-course with anti-discrimination legislation, requiring them to participant in practices that they regard as sinful. Theologian Albert Mohler has written that in order to protect the constitution right of freedom of religion:

  • Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage… Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.

For example, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was fined and required to rent their boardwalk pavilion to a lesbian couple who had brought a lawsuit against this Christian association for refusing to rent them the pavilion for their marriage. However, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt deny that forcing Christian participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience:

  • “Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.” Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,”

Powers and Merritt want to limit the violation simply to instances where the State coerces Christians to verbally “affirm something in which they don’t believe.”  However, coercion is not simply a matter of being forced to say something. It is also a matter of being forced to do something.

Mohler astutely observed another problem with their reasoning. Whether “violating conscience” has occurred should not be determined by the public. Instead, religious freedom has always been recognized as an issue between us and God:
  • Well, the issue is really not what “society really believes” about baking a wedding cake, but what the baker believes. Reference to what “society really believes” is a way of dismissing religious liberty altogether. If the defining legal or moral principle is what “society really believes,” all liberties are eventually at stake. 

Mohler is correct! Who is to decide whether or not a Christian violates his conscience – whether hiring a practicing gay as the pastor is a violation of conscience; whether being coerced to bake a cake reading, “We are glad you stood up for gay rights” is a violation? If it is the state, then all rights depend on their whim, making our constitutional guarantees irrelevant.

There are certain things in which we cannot participate, even if this participation looks benign to the State. The Apostle Paul had warned that our participation in various rituals can powerfully impact upon our relationship with our Lord:
  • Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? …Do not those [Hebrews] who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.  Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? (1 Cor. 10:16-21)

Likewise, we cannot be participants in the Lord and sin at the same time. Paul reasoned that even though the sacrifices are nothing in themselves, our participation in them is not morally neutral. Instead, it carries weighty relational implications. Consequently, we are not free to participate in activities that are offensive to our Lord. They arouse His protective and loving jealousy over our well-being. Although we can and should assist sinners, we cannot assist them in their sinful activity or promote their cause.

Paul warned that even when we simply ordain people, we are morally responsible and participate in fruits of their ministry:
  • Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (1 Tim. 5:22)

This certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t love people who don’t believe as we do. However, we cannot do anything that will directly endorse sin. I would suspect that Ocean Grove understood that hosting a lesbian marriage represented an endorsement, at least in the eyes of God. Elsewhere, Paul warned:
  •  Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:7-11)

However, the secular State is now demanding that we participate in the “deeds of darkness.” Powers and Merritt insist that our reasoning “defies logic” and that participation in a gay marriage does not violate conscience. However, this kind of participation violates the Word of God.

The Apostle John warned a certain unnamed woman that by merely extending hospitality to false teachers she would be participating “in their evil work” (2 John 11).

Is this reasoning really so illogical? Would Powers and Merritt have sold petrol to fuel Hitler’s tanks or provisions to build his death camps? Wouldn’t they have been complicit in his deeds? Aren’t we also complicit in gay marriage if we agree to support it by baking for it or by photographing it?

They might argue, “What harm does this form of involvement bring?” On a pragmatic level, this participation promotes a lifestyle that not only violates Scripture but also destroys people. Just look at the stats!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Rejecting Uncomfortable Truths

Quoting from Deuteronomy 8, Jesus informed the Devil:

  •   “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:4)

This means that Jesus’ faithful follower has been deprived of the luxury of picking-and-choosing what truth to believe. Instead, we are to live by all of God’s words. If we leave any out, we might find ourselves trying to navigate a plane with only one wing.

It’s like doing math. If you leave one term out of an equation, your answer might be radically different. For example, let’s look at this equation:

1000 + 5000 x 0 = 0

If we leave “x 0” out of the equation, our answer is “6000” – very different from “0!” It is also possible to do the same thing with our theological calculations and derive a very different worldview by simply omitting one teaching.

This is just what is often done in many “seeker sensitive” churches. Certain doctrines are omitted because they are offensive, for instance the “depravity of man”:

  • The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
  • “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands;   there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

On top of this degrading picture of humanity, Scripture makes modern humanity even more uncomfortable by its radical distinction between the saved and unsaved:

  • The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14-16; Rom. 8:5-8; John 3:3)

Such truths present both an obstacle to what we see and how we wish to live our lives in our professional settings. We look at the outer man and not the inner man. Consequently, the unsaved look virtually the same as the saved.

However, even more problematic is the “us vs. them” (saved and unsaved) distinction, separating us from the world we so esteem. Brian McLaren, a key writer of the Emergent Church movement, charges that:

  • Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03).

In support of his indictment, McLaren cites two like-minded students:

  • “People don't want to have to side with the church and against their friends who are Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or agnostic." 

  • “We can't find a church that doesn't load a bunch of extra baggage on us. We tried, but they all had this long list of people we had to be against. It's just not worth it.”

McLaren is right that this teaching tends to set us apart, creating discomfort and interfering with social and professional engagement. But perhaps this cleavage is biblically warranted! Since McLaren argues his case in terms of the costs of this biblical doctrine, it is justified to also weigh the benefits. This doctrine of the radical distinction – believers vs. unbelievers - serves as a lens enabling us to see reality clearly and to navigate its waters. Consequently:

1.     We will not become disillusioned when the world rejects our best efforts (John 15:18-20).

2.     Understanding the depths of human depravity, we will be less inclined to be influenced by na├»ve, costly utopian schemes to change the world.

3.     We will be on guard against the world’s hatred of the light (John 3:19-21; John 16:1-4). 4.     We will be on guard against the sinful influences of the world and how it affects our thinking (Mat. 7:15; Mark 8:15). Paul warns against the possibility of being cheated out of our reward (Col. 2:8). 

4.   We will be more apt to protect the teaching ministry of the church (Titus 1:7-11; 2 Tim. 2:24-26) and to correct those we need to correct (James 5:19-20).
6.     We will be less inclined to compromise our faith and our relationship with our Lord (John 15:7-14) and to be joined with those who will undermine our faith (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

7.     We will not reject the Bible-believing church as an ignorant obstacle to unreservedly joining hands with the world. For many the church has become an embarrassment, like a deranged sibling who we keep locked-up at home.

8.     The rest of our understanding of Scripture will be subverted by the addition of a doctrine that doesn’t fit (Gal. 5:9). For one thing, it will undermine the warranted praise that the Lord should receive for rescuing us out of our contemptible depravity, producing in us gratitude.

We cannot leave any of God’s teachings out of the equation without great cost. The Apostle Paul affirmed this principle during his final visit with the elders of the church at Ephesus:
  •  I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

More than anything else, we need to know that our lives are pleasing to our Savior. Paul affirmed that we could not have such assurance if we have systematically left out portions of His teachings.