Friday, October 31, 2014

The Seeker-Sensitive Church: Its Appeal and Its Problems

My heart sank. As I surveyed my “news feed,” I saw references to “His Holiness, the Dalai Lama” and his many affirming youthful followers. Even the Pope has become a western celebrity. One young woman commented, “He makes me want to become a Catholic.”

These many accolades made me question, “What am I doing wrong? What is our church doing wrong?” When I talk about Jesus, I am either confronted with yawns, frowns, or daggers. Perhaps it’s time for a facelift, a new and winsome image?

Just about all of the church-startups here in NYC are seeker-sensitive. They are all about cosmetic surgery, and their names reflect this – The River, The Journey, The…  They not only want to distance themselves from the traditional church in form but also in substance. One Bible-based church informed their congregation that they will no longer speak against the sin of homosexuality.

For the most part, these seeker-sensitive churches are successful in drawing younger people, as the more traditional ones languish. Many observe these newcomers to learn their secrets. After all, who can argue against success? Can I? I had to re-consult the Scriptures.

The Apostle Paul wrote about “success” and what it looked like in the context of the difficult last days:

  • But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Certainly, such times require a revised approach. If our culture is comprised of “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” Don’t we have to soft-pedal God and affirm pleasure? At least, we shouldn’t preach against their pleasures, right? Paul gives no evidence for such a revised approach:

  • But as for you [Timothy], continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:14-15) 
Did not Paul realize how unresponsive and even antagonistic that this culture would be to the Gospel? He certainly did:

  • For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
If this culture cannot tolerate anything stronger, shouldn’t we disguise “sound doctrine” or at least adulterate it with a little sexual permissiveness? Not according to Paul:

  • In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:1-2)
Wow! It seems that Paul was insensitive and perhaps too doctrinaire? Not at all! Instead, he understood the power of the Spirit working through the Gospel:

  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-19)
“It is the power of God” because the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel to the hearts He has prepared. Therefore, Paul had no problem with dispensing with elegance and seeker-sensitive strategies that the Gospel might do its supernatural work (1 Cor. 2:1-4). Our trust had to be in God alone and not in our devices.

Perhaps, instead, we have become “ashamed of the gospel!” And perhaps I rely too much on logic, evidences, and theistic proofs, all of which I love? Perhaps I too have strayed from trusting in the power of God working through His Gospel.

I have long struggled with this question. Here’s what I’ve concluded. We have to distinguish between the bait and the Bible message. Paul was not adverse to bait. He used it to reel in his Athenian listeners. He cited their own history and poets, but once he had reeled them in, he delivered the substance, the real food – Jesus, His death and resurrection (Acts 17:16-31).

It is therefore prudent to bait the hook with seeker-sensitive material, but we must not confuse the bait from the Bible’s Gospel. The former is comparatively junk food, while the latter is the “power of God.” While I can use my theistic proofs to bait the hook for those valuing rationality, I must not remain with the bait in hand.

Paul too had been willing to clothe himself with Jewishness when talking to a Jew or to enter into the thought-life of a Gentile when he was speaking with a Gentile, but this condescension had a greater purpose – to gain their ear for the Gospel:

  • Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
I had been a member of a successful seeker-sensitive church in NYC. The Gospel wasn’t so much watered-down as it was narrowed, so as not to offend anyone. However, we were assured that, although the narrowed sermon was intended to be strictly evangelistic, the home groups and Sunday-school classes would make up for the doctrine-deficiency that the pulpit had purposely created. They would fill in the gaping blanks. They didn’t! Instead, what had been left unsaid, remained unsaid and even staunchly resisted.

Success speaks loudly. Who wants to oppose a pattern that has proved “successful?” Understandably, this pattern had imposed itself upon all other areas of church life. But has it been truly successful? Well, it depends upon how we judge success. Paul judged success in terms of the teaching all of the doctrines of the Gospel, even the unpopular ones:

  • Therefore, 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) 
For Paul, success wasn’t measured in numbers but in the faithfulness to the “whole will of God.” How else are we to judge success? Can we read the hearts of the others who had been part of the success-story of the church? Do we know what will happen to this “successful” church the next week or year? Perhaps instead, we must commit all of these concerns to the Lord of the Gospel, who will save whom He will and how He will.

I therefore need not be jealous of the Dalai Lama and discouraged by his successes. Our Lord reigns! What a relief!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Consequence of Ideas: Materialism

We live and die according to our ideas and beliefs. Materialism – the belief that man is no more than a sophisticated bio-chemical machine – imposes costs. Historian Robert Royal, along with many others, has written about these costs:

  • The materialist view of the person – combined with the notion that humans, as material beings, can be reshaped into the New Man of the Communist dream merely by a change of their social conditions, a view still widespread today – is a falsehood that inevitably leads to awful consequences… By most credible estimates, Communist countries killed about a hundred million people in the twentieth century. (The God that did not Fail, 247)
Although atheist-Communist apologists want to ascribe these horrors to the alleged insanity of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, the evidence shows that they were merely being faithful to their materialistic vision of humanity. If we are no more than animals or machines, we can be used and manipulated as such in order to achieve their “utopian” dream.

Materialism places a sword in the hands of the oppressor. This worldview mitigates the horrors of genocide and all forms of coercion. After all, machines that fail to perform their prescribed roles are thrown on the junk-heap.

Evolution has also bequeathed this materialistic sword to society. If man is just another animal, he can be treated as such. Even the evolutionist, Karl Giberson, admits to the power of this idea to shape human society:

  • “[Evolutionist] Ernst Haeckel nudged the racism of the Third Reich along its malignant road by suggesting that …”You must draw [a line] between the most highly developed civilized people on the one hand and the crudest primitive people on the other and unite the latter with animals.”(Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution,76)
  • “How shocking it is today to acknowledge that virtually every educated person in the Western culture at the time …shared Haeckel’s ideas. Countless atrocities around the globe were rationalized by the belief that superior races were improving the planet by exterminating defective elements…there can be little doubt that such viewpoints muted voices that would otherwise have been raised in protest.”
  • “The Holocaust would have happened with or without Charles Darwin. There can be no doubt however, that the Nazi campaign against the Jews was assisted via rhetoric and rationalization with arguments from social Darwinism. (79)”
The idea that we a just another member of the animal kingdom can lead to some troubling suggestions:

  • Back in 2006, award winning Univ. of Texas evolutionary ecologist, Dr Eric R. Pianka, publicly stated that the use of an airborne Ebola was necessary to kill off 90 percent of the world’s population, that war and famine wasn’t sufficient to get the job done. 
Sadly, Planka is not alone in this assessment of the relative value of human beings. Perhaps even more troubling, if we are just another animal, there is no good reason not to exercise population control. Then, who will live and who will die? Well, it depends on who you know and how valuable you are to society! You better strive to be well-liked!

Enjoying the Blessings of Christ while Denying His Being: An Evangelistic Strategy

Zenaida is charming, gifted, creative, and accomplished. However, she had a tumor that had threatened all of this, even her life. However, through this horrible ordeal, she found faith “within herself,” showering upon her peace and love.

I asked her where it came from. A judo expert had claimed that the secret of his craft was to make use of the energy and directionality of the opponent. This is what I was trying to do. When Zenaida mentioned “peace and love,” I saw an opening that I could possibly exploit evangelistically.

  • Tell me more about your new found faith!
She readily complied:

  • It was something that exposed the ego and all of its strivings. It also revealed my self-serving ideals and the shallowness of all the things that had been important to me. It showed me that there was something greater.
Before probing deeper, I tried to affirm those areas of agreement:

  • We are so addicted to promoting our ego that we deny all of those things about ourselves that don’t promote us… But what do you think is the source of this love and peace that you encountered in the hospital?
We agreed about the need to suffer in order to hear the things of the Spirit. Although she agreed that the Spirit is intelligent and not of this world, Zenaida still insisted that it is part of who we are. It also was obvious that she wanted to limit its influence by denying this Spirit personhood and intention. Therefore, she claimed:

  • I don’t have to define it. That would be to put it into a box. There are certain areas in our lives where we shouldn’t impose our categories.
It seemed that she was enjoying the light while denying its possible influence. The Light represents a threat to our autonomy. We intuitively know that if there is a God, He can make claims upon our lives.

This reminded me of my cousin’s story. Years before, she had locked her keys in her car with the engine running. Desperately, she ran in circles around the parking lot until she saw a key lying on the ground. Against all evidence, she knew that this key would unlock her car, and it did! At that moment, she knew that God loved her, but then, inexplicably, she was overcome by fear.

After many years, she still couldn’t understand this fear. I gave her my theory:

  • You now knew that you are obligated to follow God, and this scared you to death.
She agreed! I thought that Zenaida was experiencing something similar. She wanted the blessings of God without the obligations. She protected herself against these moral obligations by refusing to probe more deeply into this strange Intelligence. So I asked her an invasive question:

  • If you were receiving a check for $10,000 each month from a secret benefactor, would you not feel any obligation to try to discover his identity, at least in order to express your gratefulness?
Zenaida protested against my analogy, once again insisting that there are areas where we shouldn’t use our mind. It had become clear that the idea of Jesus was distasteful to her.

I felt we had reached an impasse, and so graciously excused myself. The seed had been planted. God would have to provide the growth.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Mosaic Law: Its Life and its Death

Does the Mosaic Law (ML) kill or does it give life? Is it “against us” (Col. 2:14) or is it for us? Dr. Daniel Botkin argues that the law is good and, therefore, there is no need for its repeal:

·       According to this misinterpretation, God’s Law was “against us,” and “contrary to us” because it was a heavy yoke of bondage. It was an impediment, a hindrance to man’s attempt to be reconciled to God. Therefore, God had to “take it out of the way” and get rid of it. He did this by nailing it to the Cross… This view is flawed for a few different reasons. First, it contradicts the biblical truth that God’s Law, properly understood, is neither “against us” nor “contrary to us.” According to the Bible, God’s unadulterated Law is a blessing, not a burden. (See, e.g., Deut. 4:5-9; Psalm 19, Psalm 119, Romans 7:22, 1 Tim. 1:8, and many other passages.) (Gates of Eden)

Botkin is correct to point out that the ML is good. Paul says as much:

·       So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (Rom. 7:12)

However, right before this, Paul declares that the ML also produces sin, deception, and death:

·       What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:7-11)

How then is it possible that the “law is holy… righteous and good,” and yet its effects are so damning? Paul explained that the ML made Israel aware of its sin (death) and, consequently, their need for the mercy and forgiveness of God (life):

·       Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

The ML humbles and silences our arrogance. It shows us what we are really all about, and it’s not pretty. Instead of directly imparting life, the law shows us our damning sin (Rom. 6:23) and our need for God’s mercy, where we find life.

The Temple symbolized Israel’s need for mercy. Every day, sacrifices were made for the sins of Israel. This communicated that their level of obedience would never be good enough. Instead, any one sin would place them under a course:

·       “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut. 27:26)

However damning this truth is, it is also life-giving:

·       For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” (Galatians 3:10-13)

The curse of the law can bring us to Christ. Paul argued that the ultimate goodness of the ML was found in its ability to lead us to the mercy of God through the Messiah:

·       So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the law]. (Gal. 3:24-25)

However, Botkin seems to deny that the ML kills in order to lead us to grace:

·       God’s unadulterated Law does not put people in bondage; it liberates. “So shall I keep Thy Law continually forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty” (Psalm 119:44f). God wants us to keep His commandments.

In a limited sense, Botkin is correct. The law does “liberate,” but it only gave Israel a taste of the coming liberation to which the law pointed – Christ! While there was a type of “forgiveness” under the law, it never was able to open the door to the Presence of God. The Holy Place remained guarded, the blood offerings were a daily reminder that Israel was still in their sins, and their conscience remained uncleansed. Fullness could only come with the Cross:

·       How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:14-15)

A true forgiveness and cleansing could only come from the Messiah. Nevertheless, Israel had experienced a foretaste of the promised grace through the Temple. However, they could not come boldly before God with a pure conscience. Consequently, Boykin overstates the “liberty” experienced under the law.

Botkin would agree with much of this. However, he would still maintain that even though we are saved through the mercy of God at the Cross, we are still under the ML. Boykin therefore denies that Jesus had fulfilled the ML on the Cross:

·       Jesus said we are not to even think that He came to abolish the Law. (See Matthew 5:17-19.)

However, Boykin leaves much out of his equation. Jesus had taught:

·       “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands [before they are fulfilled] and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Admittedly, this teaching is cryptic. Jesus didn’t explicitly teach, “I am bringing in a New Covenant that will replace the Mosaic.” Why not? Israel wasn’t ready to hear this. In their minds, such teaching was a capital offense, which would have brought immediate stoning.

In fact, Jesus never explicitly taught against the ML. However, He hadn’t been explicit about many other things – His Deity, His Messiah-ship, the New Covenant, or His Atonement. It was only at the end that He taught more explicitly about His mission. About His being the Messiah, Quoting two Messianic passages, He only revealed Himself to the leadership at the end in order to help them put Him to death:

·       “Tell us if you are the Christ…” Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63-64)

Although He had been cryptic, Jesus was nevertheless preparing His followers for the coming New Covenant, which would replace the Old. He radically proclaimed that He was greater than the Temple and the Sabbath (Mat. 12:6-8). Loving God was no longer a matter of keeping the ML but His commandments (John 14:15; 21-24). The way to the Father was no longer though Moses but through Him (John 14:6). Israel’s faith would now have to be placed in Jesus (John 8:24) as the only way to the Father. They were no longer to be cleansed by the offering of animals but through His Word (John 15:3).

He set the stage for the passing of the ML in other ways. Under, the ML, Israel was defiled by coming in contact with external pollutants. However, Jesus cryptically contradicted this:

·       "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean’...Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean") (Mark 7:14-19; NIV).    

It was Mark who brought out the fact that Jesus, in effect, had “declared all foods ‘clean.’" Only in the end did Jesus make mention of the New Covenant, which His blood would bring (Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24).

Although He didn’t explicitly mention that this New Covenant would replace the Mosaic, this was clearly His meaning. When He sent out His disciples (the Great Commission), He didn’t mention a word about their spreading the teachings of Moses. Instead:

·       “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mat. 28:19-20).

Jesus left it to His Apostles to teach about the complete fulfillment and replacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New, which they did with all clarity:

·       Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter [of the law]. (Romans 7:4-6)

There is no suggestion in any of these replacement verses that Christ had only fulfilled part of the Old Covenant. Instead, when we died to the Law, we died to it entirely. According to Paul, only complete freedom from the Old would enable us to be exclusively under Christ.

While I am quite certain that Boykin would not have us reconstruct the Temple in order to return to the animal sacrificial system, he nevertheless claims that we are under the law of Moses. Would he claim that we are only under part of this covenant because Christ only fulfilled part and not all? If so, such a distinction is not scripturally supportable. If Christ fulfilled the covenant of the law, He fulfilled it entirely or not at all. This is the message of Scripture.

Jeremiah tells us that the New Covenant would be distinct from the failed Old Covenant:

·       "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Old Covenant is no longer in sight (Jer. 3:14-16), consistent with Apostolic revelation:

·       By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)

·       First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:8-9)

Scripture gives no hint that Christ only fulfilled part of the ML and covenant. However, does this mean that the ML is no longer instructive or valid for Christian living? Not at all! Instead, Paul declared that we have to uphold the requirements of the law (Romans 3:31)!

Murder is still murder; adultery is still a sin. The moral essence of the law is affirmed by the New Testament and therefore mandatory. However, much of the law is not a matter of substance but of the shadows cast by the Messiah. Therefore, now we embrace the Messiah and not the shadows He had cast:

·       Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

Although we are no longer under the law, the law still conveys the vital truths of God. However, how do we distinguish substance from shadow? By understanding the Bible Christo-centrically!

Botkin is unclear whether he thinks that the Old Covenant applies only to Jewish believers in Christ. The Jerusalem Council had decided conclusively that the Gentile believer did not have to become circumcised to become a Jew and to follow the ML (Acts 15). Sadly, some Jewish believers erroneously believe that the Jews are still under the law.

This creates the kind of division within the Body of Christ that Paul had taught against. He openly criticized Peter for drawing back from fellowship with Gentile believers when the Jewish believers arrived. Why? Because Peter had betrayed “the truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:14)! Instead, the Gospel requires unity of all believers:

·       Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-5)

Without unity, we will not be able to impact this world as Jesus had prayed:

·       “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Let us therefore pray for unity as Jesus had!