Star Trek and my rejection of Calvin

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Star Trek and the Prime Directive

I’m an avid Star Trek fan. I have probably seen almost every episode of each series in the franchise, and all the films so far except for maybe two. One of the major themes that occurs in ST is the Prime Directive, the overarching law made by the federation that no ships encountering a more primitive civilisation shall intervene or interfere with their culture in any way. Later on, we were introduced to the timeships, which came from a future federation, covered by a temporal Prime Directive, which forbade them from interfering in a timeline by changing events, which would affect the future. This is a recurring theme in science fiction, since the possibility of travelling back in time always carries consequences for the future. The very appearance of timeships from the future surely poses problems for the temporal Prime Directive, since who knows what that might change, considering all the possible variables present. To be able to predict accurately, one would need to know everything that was going to happen, forever. This is impossible… unless you’re God. Yeah, only God would have the ability to ‘alter a timeline’. Hold that thought…

Calvinism

117629-004-9f92c82fI was introduced to the basic doctrinal argument/ debate of Calvinism v. Arminianism in Bible College: Laying aside the complexities and details, to boil this down, Calvinism is the belief that salvation is entirely down to the work and choice of God (predestination) and has nothing to do with any decision or effort on our part, since we are all incapable of saving ourselves from our inevitable all-encompassing sin, and salvation is set in stone and unalterable, whereas Arminianism is the belief that we can choose to follow Christ and then choose to stop following him. Coming from a pentecostal evangelical fold that is avidly Calvinist, I was already immersed in that theological perspective enough, and perusing over his doctrine I came to admire and respect it as a wonderfully concise and ordered theology that draws perfect little pictures from scripture; it is very easy to argue scripturally, and very hard to refute. I have never read his Institutes – they’re quite extensive – but they have been boiled down and explained so precisely by his followers, there is little need to, except for his most devoted disciples. However… there were bits of it I was never comfortable with, and I sought to marry the two views, while still describing myself as in the Calvinist camp, due to the enormous amount of supporting scripture in the New Testament.

My main objections were twofold, with a third growing on me over time:

1. ‘double predestination’

Once you adopt the belief that God has chosen his ‘elect’ and that this was done ‘before the foundation of the world’ then you have to agree with double predestination i.e. if God has chosen some to be his elected inheritors of his kingdom of heaven, then that means he has also chosen all the others to be eternally lost/ punished/ burning in hell. The moral compass we all have must scream at us that double predestination is unjust! If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision? The standard answer to this was always that we were not to question God’s ways, decisions or ‘wisdom’ but this dismisses that natural inbuilt sense of right and wrong we have all been given, by God! Had I been told this doctrine before my conversion, I would have concluded that the Christians’ God was a total jerk and had obviously not elected me! I would have refused to even wish to follow such a ‘loving creator’.

2. MY choice

The clear recall I had of the process I underwent myself when I chose to follow Jesus was something I just had to raise each time I was presented with the ‘clear’ scriptures of Calvinism. It had to be rewritten in my memory as something that God had done: this was ‘irresistible grace’ (one of the key points of Calvinism), and I could have done nothing to avert that moment in time or stop it happening, when I made the decision God called me. Each time, though, I felt like I was in a science fiction story as a robot that had never been aware that he was not a human!

I even wondered at times why we were singing “I have decided to follow Jesus…”!!

3. Hyper-Calvinism

In time, I came to the realisation that so often, Calvinists fall into the trap of hyper-Calvinism, as if it isn’t possible to be a ‘moderate’ Calvinist, and one will always end up believing that not just our decision the moment of salvation, but every single event that occurs, and every action we take, is predestined to happen too. Me sitting here typing this has been ordained by God to happen! This takes the robot analogy to an extreme, since every part of our lives has been pre-programmed by an inventor and/or code-writer.

If all this is the case, then why do we bother at all with anything? Once this has become ingrained, certain beliefs and behaviours may follow in some cases, such as;

  • Pharisaism and a superior attitude that ‘we are God’s chosen ones’
  • a belief that moral behaviour is not important since salvation is set in stone anyway
  • preachers who believe that no appeal to others to come and follow Jesus is needed, since ‘his elect will be drawn by the Holy Spirit anyway’
  • the church need not be concerned with society’s problems since this is God’s will and has been ordained by God to happen to a world that has fallen from him – when you add in the prevalent belief that we are in the last days, then no desire to change society for the better can be stirred. Why waste energy trying to bail more water out of a sinking ship?

Any objections I raised that cast doubt on the Calvinist position was routinely shot down. It was as if questioning Calvin was equivalent to doubting scripture! “Is it not possible that God’s ‘election’ of us is based on his omniscience and knowing who will choose to follow Jesus?” was refuted with a clear “No, God the Father is the one who makes all the decisions and chooses whom he will save, from before time began!”

This unwavering adherence to reading scripture in such an unquestioning way has led to some tragic situations, like I blogged on before. However, as with many dogmatic positions, it favours certain parts of scripture over others, though adherents would never wish to admit to this. Just a few verses, off the top of my head, that appear to undermine predestination:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Trying to fit this into the perfect picture of God selecting us before we were even born creates a lot of tight hoops to jump through. Or you can just ignore the hoops as insignificant (which is impossible for fundamentalist inerrantists!)

Quantum theology

I have long tried to present theology as similar to our quantum universe. Without going into the intricacies of quantum mechanics/ physics, let’s just say that it is now known that certain things in the micro-particle world defy logic and present clear evidence for two truths/ facts to co-exist in our universe, at the same time. For me, the apparent ‘contradictions’ in scripture are also contained in a concise way in the mind of God, the Creator of this quantum universe (in a way that is totally illogical to mere mortals).

However, it would be better if we could find things that do fit into a logical understanding, yes? If God wishes to be revealed to us, and that we should know him, then a clearer knowledge of him in our minds must be within his will. I realised that my original idea (most likely not original to me in that nobody else ever asked it) held some weight; what if God, at the beginning of time, knowing all things that were to happen, saw me on that day in 1979, seeking him and asking for him, and decided, there and then, that he would jump ahead of me (like a time traveller going backwards to ‘fix’ a timeline) and provide that ‘irresistible grace’ for me to respond to and so give me the means and the power to be able to follow him, since he would know that alone, I could not do so, and would fail at any attempt to be a ‘faithful disciple’?

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)

God looks down from heaven on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Ps. 53:2)

As I said, this was rejected by those who had studied Calvin: “No, God chooses us, we have no part in the process!” However, it has always struck a chord in my heart, since we know that in Eden, God clearly gave freewill to Adam and Eve; it was their choice to eat the fruit that was forbidden, and there was no high fence around the tree!

When we go to the favourite passage of Calvinism, we can analyse it quite easily:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30, emphasis mine)

Note those two words I highlighted: the Greek word for ‘foreknew’ is proginosko, but I don’t even need to go into any depth on that. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, and each time simply means what it translates as – ‘knowing beforehand’. The passage states first that God had foreknowledge of us, and then he predestined us! The choice was ours, but the empowering and the process is all his!

Still not with me? Confusing? This is deep theology, and trying to simplify it is an uphill task – I have gone over this a fair bit to make it easy to read, believe me. Let’s try the trusted tool of explanation for these things that Jesus used; the parable.

The Parable of the Determined Son

A father was asked by his children, what he would like for Christmas. He answered them that there was nothing specific that he’d like, except for one thing that he knew was far too expensive for them to buy him, even if they pooled all their savings, and he told them he knew that. They were to buy some smaller presents and not worry about it. The youngest child later told his older siblings that he was going to save up enough money to buy this present by going to all the neighbours and asking them to pay him for washing their cars or tidying their garden. No amount of explanation from them that he’d never earn enough would deter him.

They realised how determined their youngest was as he started putting money into his piggy bank, so they told their father. The father did not wish to dishearten the youngest by telling him to stop his quest, nor let him be disappointed, so late one night he sneaked into the boy’s room and put the amount of money needed into the piggy bank. When Christmas approached, the youngest came to his siblings and asked them to count his money with him to see if he had enough. When they added it up, they of course could not believe that it was all there!

What does this mean?

The youngest child had been the one to decide to get this present and put his heart into achieving it, but he was never going to be able to. The father saw the love and determination his son had, and provided the means for the son to be able to give his father the present he knew he wanted and that the son wished to give. If we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” as Jesus commanded us (Mark 12:30), then this must require effort on our part, borne from love. Such love produces action from us, or it is not love (John 14:152115:101John 2:33:225:3). Yet this action cannot produce any ‘saving power’ (Eph. 2:8-9) or achieve what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). God foresees all these actions, this determination to seek him, and intervenes to save us before we think that we must do these things to save ourselves.

To go back to Star Trek, what then is God’s Prime Directive? Freewill! The answer to the question of why he doesn’t intervene in the world more than he does, is that we know that he always left us to our own will and he will not make ‘first contact’. The ST version can be ignored once a civilisation develops warp drive and is about to embark on space travel, and so God ignores his own Prime Directive until we are the ones to seek him! For God to enter into our lives uninvited breaks that and makes a mockery of our statement that we are ‘left to our own free will’!

c-s-lewisI’m not rejecting predestination, I’m rejecting Calvin’s narrow and shortsighted interpretation of it.

I don’t accept his version, I accept what I read in my Bible.

I’m not saying that God does not ‘elect’ us to salvation by his own power, I’m saying that he doesn’t select us. Scripture teaches election, Calvin teaches selection. After all, when we elect someone, they have to stand for election in the first place!

In Calvin’s defence, though, he didn’t get to see Star Trek!

Grace be with you.free-will

Great Expectations

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperIt just dawned on me what it was that led to the people who called for Jesus to be crucified only a week after hailing him as the Messiah… their expectations!

We are often told from pulpits that the Pharisees and the religious ‘establishment’ in Jerusalem ‘turned the crowd against Jesus’. That has an element of truth in it, but it wasn’t in just one week that it was achieved. The people had been fed a diet of expectation all their lives. It was the received wisdom, from specific interpretations of their scriptures, that the Messiah was about to come, but he would be a warrior king who would supernaturally eject the Romans from Judaea and ‘restore the kingdom’ i.e. just as it was in King David’s time.

That was why they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ (Matt. 21:9). They were expecting this revolution, this spiritual freeing of their nation from oppression. They had heard many things, and many rumours about this prophet from a far-off part.

Imagine their disappointment when he actually did not challenge the Romans, nor be drawn on any questions about how they should ‘deal’ with the Imperialists. Instead he continued in his teaching he had always maintained… that he wants his followers to be servants, to everyone, and to love all, even enemies! It wasn’t a battle cry, or a call to arms, or anything remotely like that. No, it was the opposite! This man they had been told was coming even arrived on a donkey! The donkey and colt were ready for him to use for his ‘triumphal’ entry, just as Zechariah had prophesied, so these people were not properly informed on scripture after all. The first thing Jesus did on arrival? He went to the Temple and drove out those who had commercialised his religion! His attacks were not on their conquerors, but their own religious leaders. He just could not have been their glorious Messiah! So when the call came for his death, they were only too eager to join in.

What are our expectations of Jesus? Do we decide in advance what we think he will do for us, or who or what he will be to us?

Or do we just accept who he iswhat he is, and most importantly, what he asks us to be, and to do? It’s all there in our gospel records, so why the false expectations?

Grace be with you.

Gift or Reward?

ParentingSupport-1600x600So often I see links across things that seem to others to be totally unrelated. Maybe it’s the sort-of-skewed way my (unofficially autistic) brain works, like an internal synesthesia. The main way this occurs is in lessons I find myself applying from theology to politics, (or sometimes vice versa), or in seeing patterns in scientific phenomena that reflect the mind of God; the problems within quantum mechanics portray the paradoxes in scripture. Stuff like that.

What I do not see so easily is how certain politicians try to apply a verse or two of scripture to justify a political position that is at direct odds with biblical teaching. So many of the things that are held up as ‘Christian values’ are at best only selective to the detriment of ignored ones, or just plain false! Knowing full well the difficulty of trying to apply theological concepts into the complex society we occupy, not least being that the majority around us are not followers of Jesus, let me suspend that skepticism for once and offer what surely must be the most basic and fundamental principle of our Christian gospel: grace!

The gift

Pocket_Money1I was sitting watching a daytime phone-in show with my mother, who has to stay with us for a period to recover from her latest stroke. The question being asked was “should your children work for their pocket money?” The usual reasons given were that children must learn not to expect ‘something for nothing’ and be taught that work brings reward. Fine. Fair point. Then I remarked to my mother; “we didn’t have to work for our pocket money, Mum! You and Dad just gave it to us without a condition, but I remember doing a reasonable share of the chores around the house. I recall Dad throwing me a duster and saying that we should tidy the house for you coming home. I was to dust and he hoovered. I didn’t object.”

So in my childhood, I wasn’t made to work for my pocket money, but that never made me lazy or caused me to grumble about chores (well, I was a child, so I’m sure I grumbled a bit, but I never refused to do work around the house). Why was that? Did my parents not spoil me by giving me unconditional pocket money? Some friends thought I was spoilt, since I got gifts from my parents even right between my birthday and Christmas! However, they did not just give me anything I demanded; they had limits and boundaries. They were great parents, very giving and generous, but not spoiling. I learnt the value of money and of my good parents. I strive to reassure Mum now that looking after her in her old age is just repaying all the faithful years she gave me.

Heavenly parenting

That is how it is also with my heavenly Father. Mum and Dad did not raise me ‘in a faith’ in God; I discovered Jesus for myself. I knew very quickly, I recognised this ‘Good Good Father’ since he was my good parents times a million! How generous is he? The gift of eternal life, freely given, with no preconditions, for someone undeserving as me. Those of us who have experienced grace must surely grasp it! Our Father is not a pushover, he does not spoil us, he has his limits (it’s called sin!), so I know I cannot just do as I like and not displease him. Just as I felt shame when I displeased my earthly parents, so I also feel shame at sinning. No shame, no relationship, I say. But on top of that, there is the most incredible, all-encompassing, belief-busting, incredible truth of grace that all sins in my life are forgiven, without condition! My salvation is secure. What is insecure is my closeness to God: that is down to me completely since there is only one flawed member of this relationship. He desires nothing else but my fellowship with him and his presence in my life: obedience to his commands is the best way for me to maintain that.

Not by works

The single most repeated phrase within evangelicalism regarding the preaching of the gospel of Christ is that salvation is not by works:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast….

Ephesians 2:8,9…

I realised that my willingness to help out around the house (not gleefully, I’ll admit, and seldom without direction from Mum or Dad) came from a sense of responsibility, not a desire for reward. It was because I belonged to this family, where I was loved and nurtured, and provided for. It was simply borne from gratitude. My works were not to gain something as low as money, nor even my parents’ approval or love. I already had that in bucketloads! They were a response to the love…

… For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

… Ephesians 2:10

The works I do as a Christian must come from a sincere heart that simply wants to please my Father, and not even to ‘repay’ God for the gift of the Son crucified for me, since we know we can never repay that. Just as my mother does not expect any sort of ‘repayment’ for her parenting, so our Father God knows in his infinite wisdom that we mere mortals can never repay Calvary!  That is the Debtor’s Dilemma i.e. why should I think I must repay it? [which John Piper covers very well in his book Future Grace].

‘Remuneration theology’

As I pondered the debate on the TV, I realised that if I had been taught to earn my pocket money, then when Dad threw that duster my way, I would have replied “what are you paying me?” In other words; “what’s in it for me?”, and right away I saw the flaw in this ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ mentality. A society built on the sole principle of reward is not one of love, giving, volunteering, sacrifice, common cause, or altruism, but a collection of individuals all grasping for their share, asking one another “what’s in it for me?”Milton-Friedman

Seeing an old interview of Milton Friedman, one of the chief architects of the recent outing of the old heresy masquerading as ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘pure’ form of capitalism, I clearly heard this attitude in his words, as he vaunted self-interest and the desire for personal gain as the paragon of human endeavour and mocked ‘virtue’ as never having achieved anything! I truly could not think of anything less Christian than that! Not in the light of the gift of grace!

People often talk of sin being disobedience towards God. That is it in a nutshell, so when I realise that I am not forgiving and loving everyone I meet, even my enemies, I am disobeying Jesus’ direct commands. That is sin! Imperfect me fails this test over and over,… but I’m getting there. In all my dealings with those around me, whom I encounter every day in my life (and on t’internet), I have to be a living example of obedience to those amazing and compelling, yet devastatingly difficult, words Jesus spoke on that mountainside in Judaea almost 2000 years ago. If  we are to apply ‘Christian values’ to our nation, our society, to the world around us, is this not the archetype? We are to love unconditionally, as we have been. We are to forgive any wrong done to us, unlike the unforgiving servant, who was cleared of an almighty debt, yet failed the test. Believe me, I don’t want to write these words! Life would be actually easier were I to just follow the herd and agree that there are people I am perfectly entitled to hate, and join in the chorus of disapproval, and reject and dispossess them of what they have to claim for myself. But that is a false gospel; it is a direct contradiction of those awkward commands in favour of an agreed accommodation with the world that we can behave just like those who have never known the grace of God.

We cannot!

quote-there-s-nothing-in-this-world-so-sweet-as-love-and-next-to-love-the-sweetest-thing-is-henry-wadsworth-longfellow-55-68-87

In accepting that Jesus has my best interests at the forefront of his thoughts and intentions as he gives me these commands, then giving up those ingrained cultural principles, and maybe some cherished feelings of animosity towards others means that I can exchange my tiny box for his huge one, and trust it is worth it when he asks me ‘deal or no deal’!

The Christian message is not one of rewarding good behaviour, it is one of creating right behaviour in response to the gift of love.

Grace be with you.

Why I weep for Kim Davis

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Social media is alive with this, since it involves Christians and atheists, gay activists and anti-gay lobbyists, Socialists and Libertarians, and various political party groupings, all approaching from different angles. It is chiefly concerned with US law and government, but the issue also spreads across the Western world. As an evangelical Christian, I am expected to ‘side with’ the poor woman at the centre of the debacle, Kim Davis. However, I actually don’t support her right to refuse to do her job. I certainly do not believe she has a right to make her co-workers behave in the same way as she does; she has her own conscience, but she does not own theirs! In the hurry to condemn this, though, I judged the woman, and I overstepped a mark, for which I repent. I do not know her heart, nor have any idea what life she has lived. I am not God!

She does have a right to not do something against her own conscience, but if that makes her incapable of doing the job she has been employed to do, the ‘right thing’, as far as I’m concerned, is to resign and look for work elsewhere. She may well suffer through this, and find it difficult to get work, but did Jesus not tell us quite clearly that we would have to ‘take up our cross’ (Matt. 16:24), and that his followers would face trial and suffering in this world (e.g. 2Thess. 1:5), that we share in his sufferings (e.g. Rom. 8:17), for the purpose of producing perseverance and fruit in us (e.g. Rom. 5:3), but that also we may be able to share in the comfort when we rely on Jesus (e.g. 2Cor. 1:5)? Yet many are stating how she should ‘stand her ground!’ or ‘defend her faith!’ and intimate that her suffering is seen in her jail sentence.

My first problem with this is that I have always said that my God does not need defending; he’s far bigger than all of us put together! In the lyrics of Bono: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” Taking a ‘stand’ for God and his gospel just reeks to me of pride and arrogance on our part, as if God has been disempowered by the world and needs our help! Everything I have and cherish in my salvation has been done by him, and to even imply that I have to take action to defend him sounds ludicrous to my ears, and begins to actually undermine the gospel of grace! As John the Baptist said in heralding Christ; He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30) I truly believe this focuses the issue on flawed individuals trying to express their beliefs (not very well in my opinion) and take it away from Christ, who is the one we should be showing and sharing with others.

My second problem is the more important one: what would Jesus do? This is an often-asked question offered to Christians facing a dilemma, and it is very apt here. More specifically: what is Jesus telling us to do? In his Sermon on the Mount, he launches into a very peculiar section that I am sure shocked his listeners as much then (if not more) than it does now, where he goes through a series of you have heard that it was said… but I tell you… statements, each taking us beyond what is ‘acceptable’ righteous behaviour and ‘lawkeeping’ to a place where such ‘standards’ are just not good enough for him; he wants a deeper commitment to righteousness that springs from the regenerated heart. The relevant one for this is:

‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:38-42)

Do I like this command? Heavens no!! I’m human, I don’t want to give anything to an enemy of mine, I don’t want to ‘lose’ what I have and see the person who was trying to take from me walk away with even more!! This is a very hard command for anyone to follow, but it does not mean that we ignore it or excuse it away. If we are called to follow Jesus, that means we are called to obey him! Yet in all the calls I hear to be obedient to God, this is one of the most overlooked commands! It’s perfectly understandable, of course, since none of us like it, but hey, I never thought for one second when I answered the call to my spirit to follow this Son of God that it would be easy!!!

So it was that I saw a blog posted on Facebook by a friend, stating that Kim Davis was doing exactly the right thing. This fellow wordpress blogger would like a debate on this, I thought, and I posted a reply to him, calling him brother, but saying I was disagreeing with him. In my reply, I posited a question I have said to other believers; in the ‘gay cake’ rows (which we have had here in NI as well as in the US), what if, for the sake of argument, the baker who received the request from the ‘gay militant’ for a cake, simply decided to bypass their personal conscience, and say “yes, Lord, you want me to give to my enemy. You want me to go even further than their request. I may not understand this, but I rest in your will.” – the customer returns, and the baker gives him the cake as requested and charges him a fair price as agreed. What happens then? The ‘militant’ leaves with a cake and an attitude; of either: “****’S SAKE! WHAT HAPPENED THERE? THEY WERE MEANT TO REFUSE ME! I can’t make a court case out of this now!”

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you. (Prov. 25:21-22)

Or…. he might leave thinking that he received good service from them and think that they are nice sincere Christians and aren’t actually going out of their way to frustrate homosexuals, like he had always believed. He might be won over to listen the next time he hears a Christian share their faith with him! While I believe that forcing a baker, or any other private individual to do something against their conscience is wrong, my question is that were we to follow a simple command, to the letter, would this not be better?

His response to me? He deleted my comment within minutes!! Later on, someone else posted a comment saying that Davis should resign (though from a different angle than mine) – deleted too! If you find a social media post or page, or a blog, where all the comments are supportive, with no (coherent) dissenting voice, ask yourself: across the whole of the internet, why are there not any other opinions? I’ve had comments deleted many times, and been blocked, and even dirtier tricks played on me by Christian sites (blogged on before). Being one who loves debate, and often finding myself dissenting on (mainly minor) points, I have been blocked on a number of Christian sites, but the vast majority of them have been evangelical/ conservative. In fact, I can only recall one progressive/ liberal site doing it to me! Those who control the conservative agenda have a plan in mind to make it look like we all sing from the same hymn sheet (pun intended!). Anyone who does raise a hand and say ‘excuse me!’ is quickly silenced, and an implication is made (sometimes bluntly) that such a person is ‘doubting their faith’/ ‘a troublemaker’/ ‘not a real Christian!’ And this is all for political gain!

Just look at the tactics of the religious right; were you to agree with their theology but not their politics, they’ll delete and/or block you, but those who do not share their theology but agree on their politics are welcomed into the fold! I see it again and again. This is why Billy Graham went to see the Pope, to answer a question a friend asked me a while ago. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century, until he got involved with political stuff – the world tainted him. I went back to look at that blogger who deleted me, and then noticed he was more than ‘just’ a lowly blogger like me! No, he is a Christian preacher who has pictures of huge crowds listening to him! In the tags on his blog (which are designed to draw traffic) I saw ‘Benghazi coverup’!!! WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE? In my explanation to him that the religious right are political, I didn’t realise he was one of them! This is someone who is incapable of responding to the words of our Lord that I posited towards him, yet many, many people will listen to him… as he spouts more politics than theology, but makes it sound ‘spiritual’!

To add to this, all the cries of “persecution is coming!… No, it’s here right now!” are just ridiculous: some are even trying to say that Davis “will be held in jail until she denies Jesus”! COME ON, GET REAL! Stop twisting truths – it’s deception!!!!… and while there are other believers facing torture and execution for their faith in the world, this sounds so utterly pathetic. Those people suffering under ISIS or fleeing across the ocean to escape would cut off their right arm for the warm cell and hot meals of a Western prison! And many of them are not even Christians!!! Thank God we don’t face that!

And so we now look at this poor woman, standing on her convictions, but while she languishes in jail, many of those leaders who encouraged her to ‘do the right thing’ return to their mansions to sleep soundly in their beds. Some suited men behind closed doors right now are plotting how they can milk this situation for their political ends, and if you don’t believe that, you are the one being deceived.

She is nought but a pawn on the chessboard of their bigger games, and that is why I weep and pray for her. I hope she can see through this sooner rather than later, for many of those ‘supporters’ will drop her as soon as she leaves the headlines, of that I am sure.

Grace be with you.

End Times prophecies 5: Out of the dark, and into the light.

I-found-my-therapist-to-be-condescending-and-way-tThe second Christian Rock band of my youth was called ‘Into the Light’ (in between ‘Heart & Soul’ and ‘Sword of Gideon’). We played the local club scene (the local church youth club scene!), as well as a few bigger venues, including a capacity Ulster Hall. We heard later on of another local band called ‘Out of the Dark’ and we considered doing a tour with them under the title as above. I’ve waited all these years to be able to use that phrase! It has been a long journey, and I feel like I’m emerging out of a long funk of negativity that has come from various sources. One of these has definitely been the effects of dispensationalism. Yes, I often get the ‘dis-pen-what!?’ response. This is the fifth (ETP5) of a mini-series of blogs, as well as a couple of others that touched on the topic, and it marks a moment of clarity for me that I’ve realised as certain facts, but not a full-blown epiphany.

This week my wife asked me “Could you not blog about something nice?” OK, love! Here’s a lovely picture of some kittens:

curious_kittens

I love cats! Now, back to the grumbling…

A good old friend came to see me, and using the experience of his psychology degree, told me that I had ‘anger issues’! I said categorically that I had not, flew into a rage, and told him to never darken my door again!

No, I didn’t. My friend qualified what he said to me by pointing out that we all have things that anger us; certain things that push our buttons, and we all do well to have something that is termed ‘catharsis’ i.e. a way of overcoming such anger or venting it safely, and he knew that my catharsis is writing, or specifically, blogging. I know that I did have genuine anger issues when I was a young man, which went back to a traumatic incident when I was accused of a crime I did not commit; a good therapist found that out for me and helped me simply realise it and let it go. Now in my life, there is actually only one thing (or one person) who can get my blood boiling and invoke images of destruction in my fallen mind, but my catharsis for that is to laugh at him.

victormeldrew0410_228x328To placate my wife, I checked: of the 116 blogs I have written so far, only 90 could be said to be negative rants. So there! I’m not always a grumpy old git!

Then last night I watched a film I had recorded: ‘Yes Man’ starring Jim Carrey. It’s an average gentle romcom, neither Carey’s finest nor funniest performance, but the premise was about a man stuck in a negative frame of mind who never said ‘yes’ to anything who went to see a modern guru who convinced him he needed to say ‘yes’ to everything… you can guess the comedic consequences. The premise was good, and it reminded me of some wonderful passages of scripture e.g.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 42:5)

Thoughts ran around my head all night until, unable to sleep, I just had to write this! Now I am not a disciple of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ of Norman Vincent Peale (though some of his thoughts are worthy), or any modern equivalent guru, nor do I give any credence to the ‘name it and claim it’ nonsense of the likes of Womack or Copeland; let me put that aside right away! However, there are plenty of scriptures that exhort us to remember the benefits of our Lord, to focus on what good we have in our lives, and this is why I enjoy being in the worship ministry, since it ministers back to God, and I can help others to do this, to be positive and thankful. As I already blogged about two years ago, worship is the only thing we give to God that was not a gift from him in the first place – it is completely ours to give!

Where this fits into positivity (or ‘saying yes to everything’) in our lives, for me, is in the links between:

A man reaps what he sows. (Gal. 6:7)

and:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

It dawned on me that were I to be a more positive person in sowing such fruit as liberally and as often as I could, would I not reap more back? This is not anything like karma as found in Eastern religions like Buddhism, since while it contains a spiritual principle (and it possibly can), it is basically ‘godless’: I am called by God to display the fruit of the Spirit of God who resides within me and directs me. I’d like to think that in the presence of others, I do share things like joy and peace (in between my bouts of grumpiness!), and display kindness and faithfulness, but the key here is motive. Karma does allow for that, though how it works without an arbitrating divinity escapes me. This comes across as similar to the appeal of NV Peale, who does include God, but actually higher than the prosperity preaching we hear in some megachurches and on our televisions so much, since the motive there is to get something back! Though it’s not just a sham, it’s also a scam!! No, my original question was never about ‘getting something back’ but a dawning that a life lived bearing such fruit will simply please God, and as a Jesus follower, this is exactly where my heart needs to be, and should be basically all that I pursue. The reward is not in receiving ‘blessings’ but in finding fulfilment. No? Compare someone who preaches from their bible without displaying any of this fruit, with someone who lives out what they have read from their Bible – which is more effective?

Here is how this fits in with me perfectly at this time in my life: my emergence from the darkness of dispensationalism, and how my own ‘worldview’ has changed! To save going over old ground again, let me just say that dispensationalism is just the prevalent interpretation of end times prophecies that can be found in a large number of evangelical churches in the world today. I have already spoken against making predictions about the Second Coming (ETP1), how I discovered for myself that ‘the Fig Tree’ is not Israel and then that I was not alone (ETP2), then a particularly angry blog where I ripped Hagee’s ‘Blood Moons’ garbage to shreds! (ETP3), how it was incorrect predictions that caused the Jews to miss the first appearance of the Messiah, then a brief warning (from Jesus’ own command) to stop saying ‘The time is near‘, and confirmation from an unexpected source that things are not really ‘getting worse’ (ETP4). If you’re up for a lot more reading, just look up dispensationalism on wikipedia and click away on all the links there for a day or five! If you want a quick dismissal of one of the favourite things of dispensationalism, the ‘secret rapture’, which has spawned films (the most recent starring Nicolas Cage!!), just read Luke’s account of where those who are ‘taken’ will be found (17:34-37).

While I was never a devotee of dispensationalism, nor a student of end times stuff (until recently), I was certainly caught up in the prevalent worldview, which was that it’s all just about to fall apart, any day now, and the more ‘bad news’ that we hear, the closer that great day is to us, and we should practically be rejoicing in our anticipation, while we shore ourselves up in our church buildings like arks in the troubled sea of the world, but implore drowning people to get on board and join us in our mutual hugging that we’re now saved from the devil’s domain, and cower in the belief that we cannot swim, and the fear of getting wet again. Yet while there are people dying in the world without knowing Jesus, there are also good things happening in the midst of the ever-present sin and evil, and there is so much more good that we can do towards our fellow humans. While we continually think about tomorrow, which could be the day Jesus does come back (and I believe it, just that it will certainly not be silent!), we forget about today, and thus we lose sight of how we can live, and what we can achieve today!

I want to get wet!!!! Jesus himself admonished us:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:34)

As I sat down to start this blog on an insomniac early morning, just before sunrise, I played some favourite tunes on my headphones to save disturbing my family. This is one of the songs that came up; one I have been forcing myself to sing along with when I get down….

Cool-Dark-Clouds-HD-Wallpaper-7-For-Desktop-Background“If rain clouds come
Or the cold winds blow
You’re the one who goes before me
And in my heart I know

That this good day, it is a gift from You
The world is turning in its place
Because You made it to
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise
On this good day”

Read more:  Fernando Ortega – This Good Day Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Grace be with you.

P.S. While I personally wish this to be my last ETP blog, I somehow doubt it!

Child beheaded for striking parents!

isis-flagA few weeks ago, I did something I truly wish I had not! I warn you now not to do the same. I was merrily googling about something political, for information; in my search bar I had included the word ‘atrocities’ and then, for some reason, within the search results, I clicked on ‘images’! Despite not typing in anything to do with ISIS, the first images that appeared were ISIS atrocities! I looked, for too long, far too long, I was mesmerised. It was almost certainly less than a minute, but that was all it took to burn those pictures into my brain. I have some failing memory in my advancing years; how I wish it would fail me now – the pictures will haunt my nightmares until I leave this Earth.

In no shape or form will I ever join in the politically-motivated rhetoric of branding all Muslims as barbaric or savage, but those people in ISIS must be the most debased and disgusting humans on this planet right now. I cannot think of anyone worse. In the past we’ve had the Nazis (white Europeans) and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Asian atheists), amongst other savages, so ISIS are not wholly unique, but they are making the effort to top the list with fervour. The most recent report that I read was how they executed 19 young women who refused to take part in ‘sexual jihad’ – I’ll spare you the details.

However, my headline ‘shocker’ has nothing to do with ISIS or Muslims whatsoever. It would have been a tabloid headline in 16th century Geneva (had they been reading tabloids then)! Church history scholars will realise that this is referring to post-reformation Geneva, a city state founded on and run by the principles of Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ and his interpretation of the Bible. One reliable source records that it was a teenage boy, called Phillipe DeVille and that he was tied to a stake and then beheaded. Another source claims it was a girl, but there is no argument against the fact that it did happen, as punishment for lashing out at both parents. Many other unruly children were subjected to harsh punishments, and many adults were beheaded or burnt at the stake for disagreeing with Calvin, or the council who made his ‘Institutes’ as authoritative as the holy scriptures. You can read of the executions of Servetus and Gruet elsewhere, if you can stomach it, and the various debates over how much Calvin himself was involved. His followers tend to try their best to defend him and downplay that he really wanted these men killed, or wished for a swift execution, etc., and that is understandable if you’ve based a whole load of your theology on his writings. The evidence against him, however, is pretty damning. We can say things like “it was a different time he lived in” and I’m glad if we can agree that in the 21st century Western world, we have moved on from ‘that time’.

Calvinism is not the debate I’m entering into, though. I can label myself a Calvinist for the side I drop onto from the fence on the ever-present debate on election and the visibility of the church, but I’m not an ardent disciple of his theology at all. No, the real problem for me is that this utterly heinous act comes directly from our Bible, from the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament:

Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. (Ex. 21:15)

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. (Deut. 21: 18-21)

Had it been a Calvinistic interpretation of some obscure verse, I could dismiss it, but it’s not. It’s as clear as it reads in my own Bible that I cherish. And here lies the problem with those who wish to ‘return to the Law’: The real problem.

The ‘divisions’ of the Lawmosaiclaw

Many who call for a return to observance of the Mosaic Law understand that there are many things in it that seem petty and unnecessary for us e.g. men should not shave the sides of their head, and clothing should not be made with mixed fabrics. Some are outdated; a man who left the Amish community after his personal conversion from their heavily-ritualised living had an infestation of woodworm in his barn. He read the appropriate law and burned the barn down! They didn’t have effective pesticides in those days but we do now.

So in order to be able to dismiss some laws and not others, some try to distinguish them into categories, like ‘moral’, ‘ritual/ ceremonial’, ‘dietary’, ‘clean and unclean things’, etc., but the problem here is that such a division was never in the original. There’s no ‘book of ceremonial law’ or ‘chapter x: the moral code’ there. They’re written in a continuous though quite diverse manner. All the laws as written were to be adhered to uniformly and consistently. As with all legal codes, moral dilemmas ensued with interpretations of just how they could be applied, like just how far could one walk on the Sabbath, for instance, and so interpretations were added. I have often heard things like “when Jesus criticised the Pharisees, he wasn’t attacking the law, but all the ‘ordinances’ that were added on to the law, ‘by man'”

However, even if we were to remove all such additional commentary, and then divide up the Mosaic Law and assign them all into various categories, and then say that we should only keep the ‘moral’ ones, we are still left with the ones quoted above; they’re clearly to do with morals – they even tie into the fifth commandment, ‘honour your father and your mother’ (though that was addressed to adults who were not to forget their elderly parents). Note that it even extends beyond physical violence – Ex. 21:17 states: Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. [emphasis added]

If you truly advocate a return to law-keeping, then note that Paul made it clear that we cannot keep just part – we must adhere to it all, and to not do so would invoke a curse! He even talks of the law as slavery!!

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.’ (Gal.3:10)

And so we find ourselves faced with a command, a moral one, that must be adhered to. Are we to take our unruly and rebellious teenage children to the legal authorities for execution? As I recall the images I saw on my google page, some of them of children… I must ask: would there be much difference between that and what we must set up were we to go back to the days those laws were written for? If you can comprehend what this means, you have begun to be mindful of the difficulty we face. There are some theologians who believe the Mosaic Law to have been written by man – it is truly a very difficult thing for fundamentalists to argue against!

Paul & the Galatians

You see, there’s a lot of talk about the gospel offending people these days, and it’s worn as a badge of honour by many: “I don’t care if my faith or my Bible offends people, I’m saying it anyway!” – and they refer to Paul talking about the offence and the ‘scandal’ of the gospel. Today it’s usually to do with a ‘laxness’ in morals in modern society, as well as in some churches, or a disregard for ‘the law’, or not calling sin, sin. However, this was not what Paul meant by ‘the offence of the cross’!

It’s true! The gospel of Jesus is offensive! Paul states that clearly: Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. (Gal.5:11). But… Paul is not describing an offence against a ‘lawless faith’ that disregards sin and its consequences and punishments. No! He’s preaching to the Galatians against ‘the law’! And he is talking about the Law as written in the scriptures, not any ‘man-made additional ordinances’. Why is this man, who was a fervent Pharisee, zealous for the Hebrew scriptures and a persecutor of the traitorous Christians, now saying that he’s not for going back to the Law!? He is addressing the church in Galatia, which has been infiltrated by legalists who are trying to get them to be circumcised, and Paul, a circumcised Jew himself, screams “NO!” at them.

Let me explain: Some had entered the Galatian church after Paul, and taught that believers need to be circumcised according to the law, and then told the Galatians that Paul preached the same message. Paul denied this, and in his letter he reels on these usurpers in one of his most venomous writings. What Paul is talking about to the Galatians in the passage quoted above is the offence that the gospel causes to these people; the ones who wish to take the Galatian church back to following the Mosaic law. The case where ‘the offence of the cross [would have] been abolished’ in chapter 5 is made if what the Galatians have been told (that Paul preaches circumcision too) were true. Were Paul to be preaching this, then there would be no offence caused to these pious, religious, law-keeping perverters of the gospel. Hold on! He’s calling law-keepers ‘perverters’ of the gospel? Yes! He addresses this at the outset of the letter: Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (1:7)

Christ and Our Cross

Christ and Our Cross

The offence of the cross is what so many find hard to grasp; which is that grace is extended to whomever would believe and follow Christ, and is not dependent on works at allI exhort you to read the whole epistle, maybe even in The Message paraphrase, since it captures Paul’s anger that many other translations seem to dilute. Be aware, as you read it, that it most certainly is not a “hello, chums! Hope you’re all feeling well today!” sort of letter; far from it!

 Law v. Grace

It was this ‘offence’ of the gospel of grace that caused Mohammad to rebel against it since he could not accept the very idea of vicarious atonement. Vicarious what? It means that someone took the place of punishment for the sins of another; they paid the cost, and took the consequences. This is the very lynchpin of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He paid it all, for the sins of anyone who would accept that vicarious atonement and not rebel against it; it is the will of God that we should partake of it, since God knows our weakness and how we cannot achieve such atonement for ourselves. Paul labours on this throughout Galatians, and touches on it in other epistles, notably Romans.

Now a perfectly natural reaction to this news is to take an attitude of “so all my sins are forgiven!? That means it doesn’t matter if I sin or not!” Some even went to the extreme of saying that we should sin all the more, since this glorifies God by displaying the majesty of his grace that forgives those sins that we commit. As ‘The Teacher’ wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9), and this attitude which we see in some modern churches that ‘sin is no longer an issue’ is as old as the gospel itself. It pervaded Gnostic thought and philosophy, and Paul dismissed it directly to the Roman believers:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Rom. 6:1,2)

[The ‘Last Days’ began with Jesus’ ascension to heaven!]

Paul’s theology outlines beautifully how we have died with Christ on the cross, to sin, and arose again to salvation and new life, and anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:6-8). Unfortunately, though, many who have been appalled at those who grant others a ‘license to sin’ (I call them ‘licensers’ in my book) then react in a human way and begin to reject the doctrine of grace, preferring a more ‘righteous’ way of living, and they gravitate back to a code that they can refer to for precise guidance. My problem right away is that we are called to be righteous, not self-righteous, and in this I see a problem arise, which leads to conceitedness, with fellow brothers and sisters thinking that they are ‘better’ than other believers, when in fact, the beginning of the following after Jesus is humility; we are to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24). Jesus lays out just how much sin resides in us in his Sermon on the Mount, and Paul declares that he himself is the chief of sinners. (1Tim. 1:15) – he recognised that once he was aware of his own fallen heart, there could be nobody else he could judge as beneath him.

I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God. – Oswald Chambers

I have come to believe that this was the very intention of Jesus in pointing to our hearts and saying “there lies sin!” Why else would he convict us so badly, rebuke us so sharply? Only to teach us that each of us has been forgiven, completely, totally, so we cannot wish to judge others or belittle them. We will then react to grace in a positive way, like the single leper from the ten healed, who returned to Jesus to give thanks.

How then do we deal with the licensers? Why can they not feel what that one leper felt and desire to serve Christ in a totally non-selfish way? (And why is it that so many who preach about personal wealth and health by faith then fall into this trap?). More importantly, why do we have this struggle between law and grace?

Cheap grace

dbonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a modern martyr for the gospel, executed by Hitler’s regime for maintaining his stance against the evil he saw around him. His most famous work was ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ and his death was a testimony to what he wrote. He saw much of this ‘license to sin’ in his day too (just as it was in the first century, and still is in the 21st century), and he coined the term ‘cheap grace’ to describe what he perceived these people were doing with the gospel of true grace (or ‘costly grace’). For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace was a perversion of the gospel where grace was used as an excuse for sin, since it was easier to view it that way and live a life without discipleship, without ‘following after’ Christ, which would cost much to any disciple, maybe even to the point of their own life; we are to take up our cross, and we would do well to grasp just what that phrase means. Bonhoeffer certainly did!

To get a better understanding of this, let us first go back to Martin Luther, since his reformation has been blamed for offering Christians licence by taking them away from the long-standing doctrines and sacraments of the established church. On the contrary, what was probably the spark that lit his fire of passion to call for a serious debate within the church was an event one Saturday evening; on his way home, he found a parishioner lying drunk in the gutter. Luther picked him up and brushed him down, and rebuked him for his drunkenness, telling him that he must go home and sober up for the morning to be able to get to the confessional for his sin. The man dismissed his priest, drawing out of his pocket a bill signed by the Pope which he had paid a good sum for, saying “see! The Pope himself has absolved all my sins! I can do as I like!” Licensing existed in the Roman Catholic church too! Luther was appalled at such an attitude: he was a true disciple – he was not intending to enter the priesthood, but did so after promising God he would if hemartin_luther survived a severe lightning storm in the Alps. His word was his bond. As he read his Bible more, and sought the Lord, his grasp of the doctrine of grace did not diminish his desire for ongoing costly discipleship. No, it was a comfort to him, that his place in heaven was assured, that he need not strive any more, but in the heart of a true disciple, it offered strength to the resolve to follow, not the excuse to carry on with life just as before and forget about following. Jesus always laid out difficult conditions for following him. Some of these are too difficult for some!

Bonhoeffer built on this foundation, and wrote some excellent stuff on the differences between cheap grace and costly grace. I prefer to call costly grace ‘true grace’ since this is what flowed from Jesus’ blood on the cross in the first place, and was what Paul and all the apostles, and good church founders throughout Christian history have known. But Bonhoeffer explains why he calls it ‘costly grace’:

It is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

It is costly because it condemns the sinner, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.

The answer and the antidote to cheap grace is not to return to the law. Paul lays out just how twisted a logic that is, since we are leaving our means of salvation, by grace, through faith, and going back to that which never could save. Abraham was justified by faith, not law, long before the law came! No, the answer to cheap grace is not a return to the Law, but to preach, and live by, true costly grace.

I cringe when I see the likes of Joel Osteen look at the camera and say to viewers to recite his own version of the ‘sinner’s prayer’ (which is not in the Bible, by the way) and then say “congratulations, you are now in the family of God!”. Yes, my own salvation started at a moment with a prayer like that, but with little to no teaching on those TV screens about commitment and discipleship, is that single prayer not simply sewn on stony ground? When I first decided to follow Jesus, I knew from the outset that following him as a disciple was not just praying the prayer, or even believing the belief: it was living the life!

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. 

– Morpheus

The Law fulfilled

And now comes the objection which I am bound to hear. It is the clever objection that is always proposed, and it is taken from the very words of our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount, right before he talks about how much sin is within our hearts:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil 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 and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-20)

Putting this up against what we have discussed about grace just sounds like a contradiction, but it is due to misunderstanding on three points:

1. Fulfilment

No, the Law has not been abolished, say the legalists. Correct. However, Christ had not come to abolish them but to fulfil them! They miss that tiny little word but and then the word fulfil gets overlooked. I don’t even need to get into the nitty-gritty of the original words since the English suffices (save to point out that the Greek for fulfil, plero-o, is the root of our word completion). Once Jesus finished his work on Calvary, it was done, all the requirements of the Law were completed and fulfilled in a most perfect way that all of mankind striving, for all of eternity, could never accomplish. For me, any return to what went before, dishonours and insults my Lord’s finished work – it says that it wasn’t enough, and tries to circumvent that which is offensive about the gospel. It’s legalists who cannot shoulder that offence, and they may as well convert to Islam, since it’s much the same as what they advocate, in my humble opinion!

2. The Law AND the Prophets1375452838_prophet

In many of Jesus’ references to the Law, it is termed ‘the Law and the Prophets’ – this is one division that did exist in the Hebrew scriptures, though again done so by men; they had the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the last one usually consists of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, but the categorisation has changed at times). However, Jesus, when talking about what he has come to fulfil, includes the prophets. To analyse the messages of the prophets in a soundbite, it is that they were always standing on the fringe of society calling the people back to God. It usually consisted of “you keep God’s laws as precisely as if you were ‘straining out a gnat‘ yet your hearts are far from him!” Jesus sought to put these together; yes, there is the law, but don’t forsake what my prophets told you, that a heart turned towards me is more important. Through Isaiah, God said how he had tired of all the sacrifices of rams and bulls and lambs. He wanted them to just love and desire him, and Jesus’ call to his disciples hinged on their hearts. Without the prophets’ message, without heart change, law-keeping means nothing to God.

3. Surpassing the Pharisees

Right after this passage, Jesus launched into one of his most difficult passages about how we should live and follow him, how every little thing we do in our innermost thoughts can be sinful against God, and while we may hide it from others, we cannot hide it from the Father; he knows our hearts, every waking thought, and every sleep-filled dream. I analysed it in minute detail in my book; it’s very tricky to heed and live by, but it lays out what Jesus meant: the Pharisees keep the laws, perfectly, precisely, like clockwork, but that is just all show for others to see their righteousness. “I want you to be different,” says our Lord,”so that you can have an inner righteousness that is greater than theirs, and then shines forth from a heart that has changed.”

A final point to make is that the anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven phrase is actually not saying that we must keep it all, every last bit. It means you cannot set aside one of them – just as Paul warned, if you wish to live by the Law, you cannot set even one aside; you must be enslaved again to keep them all (which includes the child-killing). When reading Galatians, I don’t see Paul saying “don’t keep this law” or “you can ignore that one.” No, he simply warns that they come as a package, and that package is fulfilled, and covered by grace, by Jesus’ blood, buried with his baptismal dip into the Jordan river. Trying to keep them is putting the chains back on that were removed when grace was preached to you.

Still not convinced? Still think that you can choose which laws you like and which you don’t? Which means that you’re ‘cherry-picking’ scripture – heaven forbid! Or that maybe stoning children to death for being rebels is a good idea after all!? I’ll let Paul have the final word – read them carefully:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:1-4)

Alienated from Christ!? Fallen… from grace!? Harsh words indeed!

Grace truly be with you.

[now that I realise this is my longest blog yet, I’m wondering were I not better to make a video where I just read out some ‘zany’ or ‘shocking’ bits of the Law, smile and point at the camera (maybe with an American accent) and say “you sure you wanna go back to the Law? ‘Cos that’s the laaawwww!”] Not me, though. 😦

All truth is God’s truth!

1280582410I came across a little video shared on Facebook by a couple of friends. It was about ‘supporting Israel’. I watched it, and behind the nice bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teenage ‘Merican youth presenters enthusiastically saying twee soundbites like “Gaad always keeps his promises!” [wondering now if that is how one pronounces ‘G-d’! (see last post)], I found little substance of biblical note: smiling white teeth doth not a doctrinal argument make, methinks.

So, being the thought-challenger/ mythbuster/ dissenting voice/ argumentative git [delete according to your worldview] that I am, I posted a comment, which was not lengthy (not by my usual standards!) outlining a biblical argument against their point of view and dual-covenant theology, quoting Paul from Romans and pointing out what Jesus said in John 8. I mentioned to a friend who had, like me, posted something on the same site but had no response, leaving us thinking that they had deleted our comments. This has been a common practice on some Christian sites, sorry to say. He then read my comment, ‘liked’ it and replied ‘Good points!’

48 hours later, I had received nothing else in response. I looked up the post, and right there at the top, was my comment. The post had over 600,000 views, more than 5000 ‘likes’ and over 400 comments, yet absolutely nobody else had reacted to mine! I was even expecting a flame like “you must just hate the Jews!” (typical reaction to a ‘dissenter’) but I was nonplussed – this was social media, and there were no reactions at all? I asked a friend who works in IT if it was possible that it was only me who could see what I wrote, and the reply was that it would certainly be possible for them to alter a comment’s status. I looked again via a friend’s page – it was there! Cogs whirred in my brain… then I created a false identity on a new Facebook account, looked again; it was nowhere to be seen! The site had changed my comment so that only my ‘friends’ could see it!

I thought it was bad enough when we had Christian sites deleting comments and blocking commenters (had that done to me!) since they were blatantly silencing someone with a differing theological view, but at least that was clear. This tactic is worse as far as I’m concerned, since one would be unaware that they had in effect been ‘silenced’ since all of their own friends would verify that their comment was active. It’s indicative of ‘thought control’ and an inability to deal with a simple theological debate; if you set yourself up to post articles and videos on social media promoting any religious point of view, you are making yourself a ‘teacher’ to the wider church, and if you will not take criticism head-on and be able to reply with a decent counter-argument, you are unworthy of that ministry. In my book of definitions, you’re a deceiver!

That I had to resort to underhand ‘lurking’ with a false name to uncover this is, quite frankly, ridiculous! And the fact that this particular issue is an important political one, betrays more about what motives may be behind such artful gagging practices!

My fellow believers need to be aware of such tactics. Keep listening to the same old stuff and you will never be aware that what you are being taught may be only one flawed interpretation, or that what is presented to you as ‘what all true Christians believe and accept’ is actually only held by a small number, and is based more on a cultural or traditional stance than on actual biblical study!

How on earth can we who state that we believe in the One, who is ‘the Truth’ (John 14:6) ever hope to convince anyone to follow Jesus, if what we say and do is lies, or tainted by deception, or by attempts to silence any dissent to our view without an ability to explain ourselves? A very good statement by a famous pastor that I was very glad to read recently has now been undermined by a revelation that he may be covering his tracks and has not been honest about what he knew or when he knew it! Any ‘good work’ you do can be undone by a moment’s false witness in any shape or form, so why do it?

And if someone, or some church, or come Christian organisation or website, continues to do this, wilfully and deliberately, what does that say about them?

Grace be with you.