The West Is Drifting Away

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude, v.3)

Contending for the faith has never been popular, and this may be more true today than in many centuries. Not only the world but also some who profess Christ are drifting farther from the truth. Western society no longer ignores but now actively resists the Word of God, both as its anchor, and its compass. The Drifting West therefore also resists faithful Christians, not content simply to view them as quaint relics but, increasingly, as literally dangerous people who “threaten people’s rights” and wish to “turn back the clock.” No matter: we have an apostolic command to contend for the faith. It is an essential part of our Gospel witness, of our calling as Christians.

Jude asserts that the faith is something God delivered to us. This implies that the Gospel is not of human origin, that it has contours we can know. Nor can we alter it, much less devise a new faith in its place. Yet, in spite of apostolic warnings, professing Christians’ approach to the Word is tearing down the faith of many. It has also resulted in a gross ignorance of the Scriptures in Western society as a whole, although the Bible was the wellspring of our culture, its themes and personages known by literally all educated people. The rejection of God’s Word has pushed us into a new phase of history in which faithful believers are swimming upstream against Christians’ cavalier approach to the Bible and unbelievers’ near complete ignorance of it.

This week one of those clever infographics hit my desk, a flow chart telling me not to trust the Bible on gay marriage because, after all, I’m disobeying the Bible if I eat bacon or get a tattoo. After all, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of Scripture you’re going to follow – amirite? This is presented in the most wry fashion, as if it were a brand-new “gotcha” argument that no one had ever thrown at Christians before. But such arguments could never have been used to cudgel us prior to this generation, for both believers and unbelievers knew better.

Now, this infographic is several years old, but it came to me this week because it had been “applauded” online by Ev Williams. Who is Ev Williams? He’s one of the most influential people in America: a past CEO of Twitter, and the founder of such websites as Blogger and Medium. In fact, it’s commonly believed that he actually invented the term “blogger.”

So what? Well, it’s important to note that Ev Williams has been one of the world’s most important figures in technology over the past 20 years. But he seems to have no understanding of (and perhaps no great desire to understand) Christian theology. This enables Mr. Williams and many others to “bacon-bash” Christians and think that they are using our own Book against us, often with much merriment.

Unfortunately, this approach throws many Christians for a loop, even though believers in Jesus have never been obligated to keep the dietary and ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses. it simply does not apply to us and is not part of our faith. This has not been seriously in question since 45 A.D., which anyone still owning a Bible can verify. One might hope that Christians understood enough Gospel truth to respond to clever and colorful infographics. But such is our climate that not only unbelievers but Christians, too, are incapable of articulating this – if they even know it at all.

Probably of more concern this week, Pope Francis has declared the death penalty to be “inadmissible,’ even going so far as to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church altered. No longer content to merely have reservations about how the death penalty may be applied, the Catholic Church will now teach that the death penalty is always and everywhere wrong.

This is a radical departure, and dangerous because it takes the concept of “development of doctrine” to the extreme of overriding Scripture itself. Not only does Francis purport to erase the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:4), although that’s troubling enough, he surgically removes the words of God Himself, spoken when He made His covenant with Noah and the entire human race as we exited the Ark. (Genesis 9:1-6)

As others have pointed out quite ably, Francis is in effect saying that the Catholic Church, all the Popes that went before him, and the Bible itself were all wrong until this week.

What else might Francis or a future Pope decide to promulgate that contradicts what Jude called the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints? The Pope’s embrace of the deceptive logic and language of “compassion” and “new understandings” means we can probably expect more revisions not only of Christian tradition, but the Bible itself.

It’s unclear whether rank-and-file Catholics (as opposed to bloggers) have thought this through, but this puts the Pope on the same level as the Mormon prophets who tell their flock when and how God has supposedly changed His mind about things.

Are there answers for people adrift? Yes, but only when we return to honoring the Word, and the principle of sola Scriptura will we have found again our anchor, our compass, and a confident voice to speak to the Church and the world alike.

Prophecy And Criticism

In a very real sense, religious judgments and criticism are the opposite of prophecy. We know that the true anointing of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 19:10) That means prophetic utterances will honor Christ, and proclaim who He is. They will announce to people what Jesus is capable of doing for those who come to him. This points us of course to the basic function of personal prophecy, which is to speak to people in three different ways: edification, and exhortation, and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3) These three things are the three ways in which Jesus always wishes to speak to His Church.

Strikingly, criticism does the very same things, but in reverse. It doesn’t edify; it tears down. It doesn’t exhort me to go on with God; it dissuades me from following God; it discourages me. And criticism doesn’t comfort people; it leaves them in their sad condition, or perhaps even makes them feel worse. Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted, but criticism breaks my heart more deeply without offering me a redemptive road forward.

Criticism says, “I see this in you. You have this problem, you have this sin, you’re under this curse, and this is what the enemy is doing in your life.” But the prophetic grace of Christ says, “I see what God is doing in your life. You may be struggling with this thing, but God is with you and He will bring you the victory.”

Criticism is harsh; Christ is kind. Criticism causes your head to drop in shame; but Christ is the lifter of your head.

How do we avoid a critical, fault-finding spirit? In order to defeat this work of the enemy within our hearts, we need to receive from God the true discernment. False discernment lets me hear the enemy’s voice and see his works in people. Sadly, anybody can develop that kind of discernment to a high degree – and many in fact do. But true discernment lets me see God’s work. It lets me hear God’s heart for someone and shows me how God wants to untangle the works of the Devil in that person’s life.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Beautiful In His Time

“Margarita” by Quino Al on Unsplash

He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecc. 3:11)

David had a marvelous promise, but David could not bring his own promise to pass. Only the One who had made the promise could bring about the promise and, at the same time, make the man ready to step into its fullness.

God was gradually teaching him how to be a captain of men, showing him that he must inquire of the Lord, and even using the wisdom of others to keep him from tainting his prophesied kingly office. David also realized that even if he had opportunity, he must not force things in order to foreshorten his wait. His throne must be established in righteousness, not by blood.

For all his frailties, David succeeded marvelously in this, so detaching his prophecy from his personal conflict with Saul that he was able in all sincerity to write a touching song of lament at the slain king’s death.

He learned the great lesson of entrusting himself to God for the outworking of his calling, expressed cleverly by Abigail as she referenced David’s most famous God-given victory:

Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. (1 Sam. 25:29)

Through many trials David would take the throne, but in God’s own way and timing. By his own hand, David could not have achieved this – he could only have marred it.

Days of Noah, Days of Lot

As Christians, we are called to “rightly divide” the Word of truth. This is hard to do if we won’t even rightly read it.

Stravinsky had the Rite of Spring, but American Christians have the Rite Of Fall. Every year, when the Jewish High Holy Days come around, with them comes inevitable end-times speculation. This September’s “sign in the heavens” is getting an awful lot of play, even in secular media. Despite our Lord’s teaching on the matter, Christians just can’t help themselves. Apocalyptic predictions, sometimes complete with actual date-setting, keep popping up with disturbing frequency.

Many of these embarrassing failures, which have been bringing discredit on the Church for decades, could have been avoided if people had simply read the Scripture passage in question in context and with honesty.

Believe me: I, too, am excited for the return of Christ. Who would not want to see Him? Who would not want to experience the fullness of Resurrection life, or see this old world, where we only see righteousness occasionally, become a world in which righteousness dwells? The return of Christ is our blessed hope. But it’s precisely for that reason, precisely because it is a hope to cherish, that we must not falsify it or pervert it by resorting to sensationalism, sloppiness, or scams. We need to have a love for the truth. Sometimes a dash of humility would serve us well, too.

In the midst of the recent natural disasters here in the US and Canada, one well-known preacher (don’t ask me who) noted how Jesus said the End of Days would be like the days of Noah and Lot — and, he added, Noah’s day was a flood of water and Lot’s day was fire… and we’re seeing floods and fires everywhere right now! He was suggesting to his audience that these hurricanes indicate we’re living in the Days of Noah.

Others say these “new days of Noah” means there will be Nephilim giants walking the Earth once again. Well, who knows? There could be. But will Jesus’ words about the days of Noah really support such a teaching?

What does Jesus actually say about the days of Noah and the days of Lot? You may be surprised to find out. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said,

But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:37-39, NKJV, emphasis added.)

And in Luke’s Gospel, the Lord said,

And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30, NKJV, emphasis added.)

(By the way, where are all the other passages in the Bible about the famous “Days of Noah and Days of Lot?” Actually… there aren’t any!)

Here’s why you can’t take the Days of Noah and Lot passages and use them to assert whatever you like. As you can see from Christ’s own words, the point of these passages is not to make a general commentary on how wicked it will be at the end of the age. He didn’t even say that people will be committing the same sins at the end of the age as they were in Noah’s and Lot’s times.

In fact, Jesus explains exactly what He means in Matthew 24 when He uses the word FOR. What follows after the word “for” is His explanation of how the coming of the Son of Man will be similar to the Days of Noah. It is simply this: when the Day of the Lord comes, people will be living just as carelessly as they were when judgment came in Noah’s day.

The reference to Lot has the same purpose. Jesus joins these two references in order to show us God’s pattern of judgment: first, the removal of the righteous; then, God’s wrath outpoured on the same day. Jesus is only telling us what happens when He comes, not what happens before He comes. He was merely saying that people would be worldly and unconcerned when He came.

That being the case, if we are responsible teachers, we will not use the concept of “the Days of Noah and Lot” to create detailed doctrines about the last days, nor use it to paint every current event as some sort of vague fulfillment of prophecy. Such an approach can cause people to see end-times prophecy as something vague instead of something specific, as it is in many cases, and something which is all about how I see it, rather than how He said it.

Like the “Days of Noah and Lot” concept, which people seem to use however they like, the “sign” of September 23rd, supposedly found in Revelation 12, is lifted out of context in a most alarming way. I wonder if the people pushing this teaching even know that Revelation 12 deals with the War in Heaven and the persecution of believers by the Antichrist following the Abomination of Desolation? (In case you’ve been absorbed with politics this year and haven’t been keeping track, we aren’t quite there yet.)

These prophetic train wrecks are an ongoing problem, so how can we talk about prophecy in a way that honors God’s Word and keeps people from stumbling? I can suggest three things:

(1) First, let’s recover a love for the truth. If you insist that a certain heavenly sign has never happened before, but someone else proves that your “sign” actually happens every 12 years, will you yield or will you continue on? It is a sign of a collapsing society (Romans 1:31) as well as a sign of the end times (2 Timothy 3:3) that people would be implacable, i.e., unable to agree or come to peace about something.

(2) Second, let’s resist sensationalism. Our manner of presenting sober truths could really stand to be, well, a little more sober. We need to break away from breathlessly excited prophecy teaching that comes complete with terrifying bumper music. If this seems unfair, then forgive me, but some of us are old enough to remember more prophecy crazes than we care to. I can remember people speculating that Sadat might rise from death after his assassination to become the Antichrist. More than 35 years later, half of you are reading this and saying, “Who was Sadat?” — and that’s precisely my point!

(3) Finally, let’s take to heart again James’s warning that not many should be teachers. (James 3:1) This truth needs to give us pause. There is no ministry, with the possible exception of prophecy, that has more potential for destruction when misused than the ministry of teaching. However, the Internet now insures that anyone who wants a platform can have one. This is a blessing, but it creates incredible spiritual risks for the Body of Christ. Another danger is the sheer amount of Bible teaching material available online. Using modern computer searching and other functionalities, people can find and save colossal amounts of information without getting at the same time a real, holistic knowledge of Scripture, the wisdom to use it, or the skill to convey it to others. I contrast this with the example of the Apostle Paul, who had a clear conscience because over the span of three years, he had declared to the elders of the Church at Ephesus what he called “the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-28)

May the Lord help us to be faithful in handling His Word.

The Eclipse of Wisdom

Solar Eclipse

As far as we can tell, Christians predicting the end of the world have gotten it wrong every time so far, and this trend shows no signs of ending. Wait… signs? Did I say signs? Sorry… what was I thinking!

We could help the cause of the Gospel (which includes our public image) by no longer claiming that everything is a sign of the end. Whether it’s a President we don’t like (I’m looking at both parties here), the return of ugly fashions, or strange patterns on tortillas, we just can’t seem to help ourselves. Everything seems to portend the Antichrist just ahead, waiting at the next truck stop. And a solar eclipse obviously ratchets this sort of thing up to the next level.

One pastor is quoted as saying that today’s “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” could possibly fulfill the prophecy of Joel that the sun will be turned to darkness before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. While I do believe in that prophecy, which I think has already happened once (Acts 2) and will happen again (Matthew 24, Revelation 6), has anyone done a quick Google search to see that there are about two total solar eclipses every three years? Which of these 65 or so eclipses in a century, over 1000 since the time of Christ, is the right one to herald His return?

 

Just wait till next year: 2018 will be a doozy!

Other folks are fired up about a supposed sign in the stars that’s coming next month. And just wait until next year! In 2018, people will be speculating hard again about the End, because 2018 marks 70 years since Israel’s rebirth as a nation-state. (Trust me, I’ve already heard this one, and you’re definitely going to hear it also.) After all, these people say, it’s been 70 years, and that makes one biblical generation. And don’t forget, Jesus said this generation won’t pass away until all these things come to pass.

Two problems with this thinking leap out at me, and they should leap out at you, too:

  • What generation was Jesus talking about? Ask five scholars and you’ll get six answers.
  • And how long is a generation anyway? Why pick a 70-year generation? Why not a 120-year generation like it was with Noah, or maybe the evil generation of 40 years under Moses? Of course, we also read in the Psalms that our days are 70 years – however, our lifespan is apparently 80 years if we’re strong! Confused yet? You will be.

 

Time out! (Please?)

Let’s call “time out” on this kind of speculation. We’ve already had too many of these self-inflicted wounds. You probably remember the Harold Camping debacle of a few years ago. I grant you that date-setting was only one of Mr. Camping’s theological quirks, but modern media and the sheer stubbornness and implacability of today’s Christians guarantee that anything strange we say will be widely disseminated.

It’s worth noting that the eclipse story I quoted above came from the “weird news” section of the newspaper. That’s never where we want to be, if we can help it. Let’s stop terrifying ourselves and stop amusing unbelievers unnecessarily.