Presaging The 5th Seal

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held… (Rev. 6:9)

A bombing at a Pakistan church kills at least 78. An attack on a shopping mall in Kenya kills 68 or more. Massacres in Nigeria a few days earlier in the week claimed at least 142.

It’s been a bad week to be a Christian who is minding one’s own business.

We pray for those wounded and bereaved. And while we do, we watch the curious spectacle of the Western world completely paralyzed by a mass Stockholm Syndrome. Simultaneously, money helps those who support anti-Christian and anti-Semitic violence to get increasing acceptance and influence in Western countries. And so these countries say almost nothing. The political Left and the Islamists obviously are making common cause to the peril of us all.

For most Americans, events like those of the past week are still only faint and distant whispers from faraway lands: the random acts of a few crazies. After all, there can’t possibly be people, mush less entire movements of people, who would do such things as a matter of religious principle. So it must be that we have offended them, or that they have legitimate grievances against the Jews or the Bible-thumping Evangelicals. Yes, that has to be it.



Cut Off At The Knees

Pope Francis has cut off pro-family Catholics at the knees. Granted, his newsworthy comments on abortion and gays made up just a small portion of a long interview, but it’s hard to imagine anything more unhelpful to what traditionally-minded Catholics are trying to achieve and defend in the US.

His words can only serve to marginalize even further pro-family voices in American society. Catholics who work against abortion or the militant gay agenda can now be painted by their foes as not even being in step with their own church. This is an astonishing and sudden turn after the combined 35 years of John Paul and Benedict.

The broad family of Evangelicals probably has no interest in the in-house Catholic discussion but can lament the loss of a clear voice for the family.

As a matter of evangelical concern (with a small “e”) these twists and turns point out the need for society’s morals to be informed by the unchanging standard of the Scriptures, and not by the shifting winds of men’s personalities. In Galatians 1, Paul definitively placed himself under the authority of the Word of God, and he even invited that church to measure his teachings by reference to an unalterable Gospel.

That Gospel, well understood, guides the Church and assigns the Church her mission. It is in fact the power of God to deliver, and it does not let us omit people from the scope of our seed-sowing on the grounds that we cannot judge, as Francis is now famous for saying. It compels us to warn the world that, whether I judge you or no, judgment is surely coming – and the fire of the latter day is against those who do not obey the Gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

Yes, as Francis says, there are always many pastoral priorities, but the Gospel isn’t served by altering the terms of the deal, and “repent” is still the first word of the Gospel. Say it with tears in your eyes, say it knowing it will put you in irons or worse, but it must be said. In the Western world’s current environment of relativism and rejection of all standards, Francis’s words are not a cold compress to a fevered brow – they are gasoline on a fire.

Reasons Why People Don’t Study Prophecy, Part 1

I’ve started teaching a course in our church called “Things To Come,” concerning Bible prophecy. From time to time I hope to put up some excerpts from the class and related thoughts. One of the things we explored in our opening night was why people don’t study prophecy. Certainly one question I think we’ve all heard is this:

Why should I worry about prophecy? After all, isn’t it all going to just pan out?

Sometimes people say they’re not really worried about what’s going to happen in the end times because it’s all going to pan out. In other words, God will take care of it – and there’s nothing we can do about it – so let’s not worry.

Perhaps this viewpoint makes a little sense. After all, we do want to confidently place our futures in the hands of God. I can certainly sound as if I’m full of faith when I say, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to pan out!,” but if we examine this little catchphrase, we’ll see it lose its veneer of wisdom. 

First, We are always counseled to be students of the Word. The Bible teaches us that people who look into the Word, study it, and pray about its meaning, are honorable and wise – no matter what the subject. We have no license not to know, so to speak. Paul considered it a pastoral duty to give the flock the whole counsel of God.

Second, we must take stock of the fact that the return of Jesus and the end of the age is a major theme of Scripture. In my opinion, it is not an understandable oversight but rather a true dishonoring of the Word of God to say that there are whole passages, even entire books of the Bible that we can just ignore and not worry about. As much as 20% of the Bible deals with the Second Coming and the future. So how can you even say you know the Bible if you’re ignorant about these matters?

Third, the Bible does not teach fatalism. Fatalism says that whatever is going to happen is going to happen. That is not a biblical way of looking at the world. The Bible everywhere shows us a God who is very much interested in our lives and very much active in history. It’s important that we know what the prophetic Scriptures say.

It’s vital that we listen to the warnings that the Bible gives about the end times. This is a matter of gravest importance for our spiritual health. Many Christians believe (and will tell anyone with a set of ears) that we are living in the last days. But let me ask you this: if you really believe that we are living in the last days, don’t you think you should know what the Bible has to say to that group of people who find themselves alive in the last days?

Think of how foolish it would sound if we actually verbalized a willfully ignorant attitude about last days living:

“Well, I know that I live in a very special time of history, and I know that the Bible has a lot to say about that time period, but I’m not really interested in the specific warnings and teachings God gave to the people who find themselves alive during those days.”

The fact that the Bible has many specific warnings for people who live in the last days is not meant to frighten us… rather, it’s a sign of God’s love and care for us. It’s a sign of Christ’s care for his church, and we do well to heed those warnings. We should be thanking God for taking care of His people and giving us the warnings and the spiritual nourishment that we will need to live during the last days.

Let’s acknowledge that when we say “It’ll all just pan out!” we’ve disclosed an attitude of the heart unworthy of a Christian people.

Remember Every One Today

Remember every one today…

…those killed by box cutters or on first impact;

…those who thought they were going to get down those stairs and almost did;

…those who picked up a phone to say goodbye when they saw the flames come finally under their door;

…those who leaped into a bright, blue sky and won themselves back a few seconds of pure, clean air;

…heroes who ran — in, and not away.

Remember these, too:

…friends posting signs on walls after it made any sense;

…families who buried sacred containers, containers empty but quite filled with hopes;

…children, teens already, who all their lives will have to say they never really knew them;

…workers who had to breathe the Pile to clear it;

…battalions formed and sent to deliver the only kind of justice this world allows, many hundreds not returning.

Remember every one today.

Mine doesn’t say that!

Preparing to teach a class this week, I had a thought that is less trivial than it may at first sound, and it’s this:

Regardless of what you do in your Scripture study, I believe it’s extremely important to learn the Word of God well in a single version. If your heart is to be a well that’s filled with the Scripture, if you want to give the Holy Spirit “something to work with,” your heart cannot be muddled. Use a sound translation and stick with it, especially in your devotional life.

A couple of other things flow out of this:

1. Loss of a common version is an intellectual and spiritual danger. I am not a KJV-onlyist. But I do believe the English-speaking Church and the Anglosphere in general lost something important in the loss of a common version. I’m not speaking about biblical illiteracy so much as I am about the ability to communicate effectively, rapidly, and cogently.

Confusion abounds. I see quotations in Christian books – ostensibly from the Bible – which are totally unrecognizable as being Scripture. This goes far beyond the use of “thee” and “thou” or gender-inclusive mangling. With literally dozens of versions to choose from, situated at various points along the spectrum of formal/dynamic equivalence, how can anyone (especially a new believer) communicate about his faith with other Christians? There is no common reference point and Scripture can no longer give our culture any imagery, bywords or proverbs. This is a spiritual deficit to our culture of the first order, and I believe it is also a subtle attack of the enemy of our souls.

Anyone who has ever taught a Bible class or led a small group has heard those wonderful words, “Mine doesn’t say that!” The result of all this is that in a little over 100 years we have effectively ensured that there is no common religious vocabulary in the English language. This weakens Christian education severely.

2. Doctrine is also imperiled in the current environment. A related problem is that we must now educate people out of the version they are reading (!) because it is literally impossible to teach doctrine out of some versions which are touted as easy to read. All Protestant Christians once knew what “justification” was, and if they didn’t they at least knew it was something important, because it was in the Bible.

Compare the climax of Romans 8 in any of the four popular English Bible translations (NIV, KJV, NKJV, NLT) to the way it reads in The Message:

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. [From The Message (MSG) Copyright © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson]

Notice how the teaching of Christ’s intercession is obscured, to say nothing of the idea that not even the worst of sins listed in Scripture can keep us from Christ. (That may cause some people to be shocked down the road when they see Him.)

This is nothing less than making an idol out of making it easy for people to read the Bible. We don’t wish to put obstacles before people who are approaching the Word, but modern versions which literally change the Word of God are not even capable of ministering God’s life to people in the first place. So why bother with them? They may even be serving to inoculate people against the Truth.

Peter said that some of what Paul wrote is had to understand. And I agree. But it is still the Word of God, and respect for its Author demands that we face the Word on its own terms.

If God’s Word is really sweeter than the honey and honeycomb, should we not love God with all our mind and make the effort to learn what it really says?

In conclusion, I don’t think I will live to see it, but I pray for the day when the English-speaking world might regain some of its spiritual vigor by enjoying together once again a Bible translation that is faithful, beautiful, and not under copyright.