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Posts Tagged ‘Colossians’

Last fall I read George MacDonald’s The Highlander’s Last Song: a beautiful book if you read it for the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and life, and for the romance. When I read it, I was trying to enjoy some easy fiction instead of deep theology, but my discernment alarms started to go off when he wrote about the Cross.

A burdening selection: “Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is satisfaction to him or his justice… He knows man is sure to sin; he will not condemn us because we sin… [mother speaks] Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner’s endless punishment? [son] I do not… Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken… The whole idea of the atonement in that light is the merest figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. The sacrifices of the innocent in the Old Testament were the most shadowy type of the true meaning of Christ’s death. He is indeed the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But not through an old-covenant sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty. No, the true atonement of Christ is on an altogether higher and deeper plane. And that is the mystery of the gospel…” (The Highlander’s Last Song, originally “What’s Mine’s Mine” by George MacDonald, this edition edited by Michael R. Phillips and copyright 1986, published by Bethany House)


Tonight, opening Tag Surfer on WordPress, I came across this post (and sermon link – advertised as only 14 minutes) titled, The Cross. The author begins, “The Father was not punishing Jesus in our place on the cross.” In the fourteen minute sermon, though he uses several Bible verses, all of them are taken out of context, contexts which usually include a reference to the blood of Christ taking away our sins, redeeming us, etc. I felt at one point like there was a blow to my heart, when he reported that at the Crucifixion, Jesus and God cheered and celebrated. So much for man of sorrows, and sweating blood in Gethsemane. And the whole way through this horrible, deceptive sermon, this man is associating the biblical view of the Cross and atonement with darkness, with a shackled and blind and guilty perspective of our own that we project onto the Cross, creating a mythology. That is not true! The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus had to suffer and die on a cross so we would not have to die. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice, the lamb, the substitutionary atonement, the righteous fulfillment of God’s wrath against our sin. By His stripes we are healed.

The wonderful young men over at Elect Exiles have been doing a wonderful job reminding their readers what the Cross was. Come on, readers; click the links!!

Why Did Christ Die?
Christ’s Righteousness, Not Our Own
Saving Reconciliation
The Need for Reconciliation

I started looking up the verses about why Jesus died. There are a lot. There couldn’t have been a better reminder of what my God did for me, this Good Friday. (all verses are from the KJV)

Isaiah 53:5-10, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Romans 5:8-11, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”

1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

Colossians 2:14, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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There is a popular marriage book called Love and Respect.  All my dear married friends talk about the subject.  Women need love.  Men need respect.  Respect is more than words.  A wife wants to hear her husband say “I love you,” (and men don’t mind hearing their wives say it, I suspect).  She also needs his love to be demonstrated.  Likewise respect must be lived out. 

Respect is an attitude.  It’s how a woman talks about a man, or her attitude when he’s talking to her.  Things she refrains from saying or doing can be as important to demonstrating respect as what she says.  Even when he isn’t there, a wife can respect her husband by the things she tells about him and the way she tells them to her girlfriends or children.  Respect is important to a man, just like being cherished is important to a woman. 

For example, a counselor (author of the book?) once heard a wife tell him that she loved her husband, but couldn’t respect him.  He reversed the question and asked how she would feel if her husband confessed that he respects her, but just doesn’t love her.  Obviously she would be devastated.  The implication is that a man is equally devastated to hear that his wife doesn’t respect him. 

Yet our society considers love a prerequisite for marriage, and so judges a man who doesn’t love his wife.  Respect is often something a wife never considered.  She didn’t know she was failing.  She thought she was respectful, taking literally the phrase, “all due respect.”  If her husband was communicative, he may have mentioned his desire for respect, at which point she got defensive, and considered him most unfair.  If he wanted respect, maybe he married the wrong woman.  After all, he is the same man who (insert ridiculous quirk or character flaw here). 

What does a wife do if she cannot respect the man because he is not respectable?  There are many testimonies to the change wrought in a man, even after years of marriage, when a woman chooses to respect him.  Picking the things that are admirable in his character, she praised that to him and to others.  She prioritized her life around the things that were important to him.  In Wives and Daughters, the soon to be Mrs. Gibson asks Molly to tell her all her father’s little likes and dislikes, so that she can be a pleasing wife.  The first thing Molly tells her, however, is something that Mrs. Gibson sets out to “cure.”  Her behavior did not show respect.  The villain in Wives and Daughters, a very human and almost pitiable Mr. Preston, is by no means a respectable man, but Molly appeals to him as though he were, and goads him on to more honorable behavior. 

I think this dilemma of being married to a man you don’t respect is a symptom of our dating culture.  Our paths to marriage have been all about falling in love.  How many girls fall in love with someone and feel like the dad on Stepmom, that marriage is the next step?  The hurting son in the movie asks his dad if, since a husband and wife can ‘fall out of love,’ can a parent can fall out of love with his kids?  Love is a choice.  I believe that, and think the dad was wrong to divorce his wife. 

What if he had “fallen” in respect with his wife?  Think of a man sitting in a field plucking petals: she respects me, she respects me not…  However, respect is more obviously a choice. 

Our modernized fairy tales are full of falling in love.  I’m a romantic, and I appreciate Disney’s animated fairy tales.  But don’t they have more resemblance to Sir Walter Scott than to Grimm’s?  Think about the original versions of fairy tales you know. 

Take Sleeping Beauty.  A man risks everything for her, and she without even really knowing him delights to be his bride.  Why? 

Cinderella knows the prince’s character, and they share a romantic enchantment for a few hours one night before he scours the kingdom to claim her.  Aside from the obvious appeal of a maid marrying a prince, why would she do that?  If she were a romantic, would an evening’s dance be sufficient? 

Beauty – is she won over by the love of the Beast in the original tale?  What about Snow White – seemingly romantic, singing someday my prince will come – ultimately married to a man whose fascination with her beauty jolts her into life again – literally. 

Snow White and Rose Red is perhaps the most romantic fairy tale, its hero repeating the plea, “Snow White, Rose Red! Will you beat your lover dead?”  Even in that story the chosen bride is not apparent, and the second sister is married to the hero’s previously unmentioned brother. 

Yet the hype of every movie and story popular today is falling in love or the misery in marriage if you don’t. 

In fact respect before marriage is a concept often trampled by the rush to feed and give in to love.  Instead, respect marriage and respect the other person.  Value them more than the relationship, more than the attraction.  Purity, modesty, submission, counsel, and a long-term focus are ways to express respect for each other before marriage.  They are also characteristic of the courtship movement.  (Allow me to interject that as I thought about this topic, I followed it to this place; this is not designed as a defense of courtship.) 

Whereas the dating culture is all about flowers, butterflies, and the kiss that tells you he’s the one; courtship has a focus on boundaries, on matching emotion and expression to the level of commitment.  And I suppose that’s all I really want out of calling a relationship a courtship: not a strict set of rules and prohibitive encounters, but intentionality in building respect even as you grow in love.  The idea is not only to more accurately find a spouse with less regrets (at giving away your heart or more), but to prepare for married life. 

“Intentional” could speak to the willful direction of a relationship.  Historically, a suitor came to the father (and thereby to the lady) to make his intentions known.  That factor alone could make a world of difference in dating relationships.  If each would regularly express their intentions for the relationship, or at least begin by honestly telling each other what the goal is, dating would be less complicated and harmful. 

Being intentional in either aspect, and preparing for marriage, could explain the tendencies to short courtships.  Practicing love, respect, submission, confidence, and preference is hard to do without wanting to move right into the real deal.  Or courtships could be short because they’re begun only after at least one party is willing to consider marriage.  Part of the important observation and decision-making is done before the first date. 

Coincidentally, I think that “respect” is the less hated buzz-word translating the Greek hupotasso, usually translated in the Bible as “submit” or “be obedient.”  In Ephesians 5, women were not told to make sure they didn’t usurp their husbands any more than the men were forbidden from hating their wives.  Love is a positive thing.  Women should embrace submission.  All along the Bible has had the instructions for successful marriages. 

Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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This afternoon I spent several hours studying dispensationalism.  I feel sort of guilty for not having studied it before, because I have heard of it, and realized that I did not know exactly what it was.  After my research, I conclude that I had some right ideas of what it was, and that some who ascribe to “dispensationalism” would say that there was nothing more to the theological system than what I already knew.  They would be wrong. 
 
I’ve decided not to call myself a dispensationalist because of the “extra” doctrines I did not know, but for which, I suspect, the theologians I respect have not respected the system.  Some of the more basic tenets make sense to me, and have been part of my theology for ten years (which is saying something).  For example, I believe that God’s plan for Israel is not yet finished, and that some Old Testament promises to Israel remain to be fulfilled.  My interpretation of eschatology is literal and contains a pretribulational rapture and literal posttribulational millennium.  Finally and least surely held is a fancy that God is glorifying Himself through history by proving through as many different dispensations imaginable that man cannot achieve righteousness or even a pleasant world on his own. 
 
For some reason I have encountered many self-professed “Christians” who have very obscure theology.  Fortunately God has given me a sure foundation, a logical brain, and a willingness to search things out.  As a freshman, I researched free will and secular humanistic transcendentalism.  (In other words, the popular beliefs described in That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis, and now promoted by atheists and left-wing activists who want to turn the world into machinery – remind you of the apocalyptic time represented in The Matrix?)  Soon I was refuting Sabbath-legalism; defending the Trinity, working out a comprehensive eschatology, studying the applicability of Jewish dietary and feast laws, grasping security of salvation; refuting the Search for the Historical Jesus Peter Jennings special, head coverings, seeker-sensitive movements; investigating house churches, and understanding predestination/Calvinism.  Most of these are responses to strangers.  Honestly, a woman once began a conversation about the impending judgment of God at a thrift store!  I have a file in my room of literature people have given me explaining their newly-discovered, minority-accepted doctrines.  As a result, I am so grateful, I have a faith and theology that doesn’t get shaken much.  God’s grace is in all of this.  Without being forced into study by these confrontations, I wouldn’t have any of this knowledge. 
 
I want to quote George MacDonald here because I was reading The Highlander’s Last Song late last night and just wanted to share the experience: “Ian was one of those blessed few who doubt many things by virtue of a larger faith – causing consternation among those of smaller faith who wrongly see such doubts as signs of unbelief.”  I think my friends and family worry sometimes.  Apparently the doctrines I consider are adopted into my theology about half of the time (if you include defending doctrines like the Trinity and eschatology).  Let that reassure you if you will. 
 
Originally I was going to ask my blog readers (may I hail those from Korea, Ghana, Australia, Canada, the United States, and any other countries I missed!) for their understanding on dispensationalism, but Google had a wealth of information that seemed clear and reliable, though varied.  So now I’m going to share what I learned.  In some cases I am dealing point by point with the arguments presented to me this morning. 
 
What is dispensationalism?  Here I have compiled the best explanations Google provided, and their links, so you can look up more information. 
“Now, there are those who see seven dispensations. They see the dispensation of innocence, when God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and God relating to man there in the garden in man’s innocence. Then they see the second dispensation, (I forget what they call it), but it is from the time of Adam’s sin unto the time of Noah, in which they see the third dispensation of the government of God which lasted until the time of the law, which they see the fourth dispensation of the law. And the fifth dispensation of Jesus here; the sixth dispensation, the dispensation of grace; the seventh dispensation, the millennial reign.” – Chuck Smith

“The method of salvation, justification by faith alone, never changes through the dispensations. The responsibilities God gives to man does change however.” – End Times.org
‘Though it may not be spelled out so explicitly, the [Scofield] footnote to Matthew 5:2 in effect says that sinners during the millennium will be saved, not by the blood, merits, and grace of Christ, but by their obedience to the beatitudes, which are “pure law.” But this contradicts the universal proposition of Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The Scripture, quite the reverse of Dispensationalism, asserts that there is just one way of salvation. True enough, the divine plan in all its completeness, as Paul said in Ephesians 3:5, “was not made known unto the sons of men in other ages as it is now revealed to his apostles and prophets by the Spirit”; but Paul’s fuller doctrinal explanation is precisely the same covenant that was less fully revealed in Genesis 3:15— “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” ‘ – Arthur Pink

Other semi-dispensationalists (like me) are John MacArthur and Dr. Henry Morris. 
In Ephesians 3:2, what is “dispensation”? Does it mean ‘house rules,’ like in Poker, so that Monday is deuces wild, Tuesday is threes are wild; and if you come with a three on Monday, you’ll be excluded from winning?  (Application to spiritual things is that some Dispensationalists say that Israelites were saved by keeping the law before Christ, and that in the tribulation or millennium, that will be the standard again.  I was told that if a post-rapture believer then sins, breaks the ten commandments, he is doomed forever.)  The Greek here for “dispensation” is oikonomia – “management of a household, administration, stewardship.”  This stewardship was given to Paul.  Ephesians 3:2 couples it with the prepositional phrase, “of grace,” and it was given to Paul to the Ephesians.  (That’s as literal as I can make the Greek.) 
 
What is the ‘mystery’ in verse 4 of Ephesians 3?  Keep reading until you get to verse 6.  Also read Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:18-29.  These verses explain that the mystery was God’s inclusion of Gentiles into the one body of the redeemed.  In English we think of “mystery” as a puzzle not yet put together, the secret of a magician’s trick, or the unsolved riddle of a mystery novel.  In the Greek it meant something that used to be hidden but is now revealed.  A pastor once explained that the word was originally used to describe the tactic of only revealing a military strategy/orders at the last minute, to keep it a secret as long as possible.  Hebrews addresses perhaps a reason for the mystery: Hebrews 11:39-40, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:  God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
 
Ephesians 3:5 says the mystery is now revealed to “apostles and prophets.” Who are they?  There is no indication the text means anything but what it says.  “Apostles” generally referred to those left of the Twelve, but also included Paul and some other early believers.  Apostleship and prophecy are both listed as spiritual gifts.  Though the dispensationalist who spoke to me this morning said that “apostles and prophets” referred to the young pastors and missionaries (like Timothy) whom Paul was teaching via this letter, note that verse 5 says not that Paul was revealing the mystery to them, but that they mystery was revealed to “his” (God’s) holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit
 
The parable of the 10 virgins speaks to accepting salvation before Jesus returns unexpectedly.  It is a parable, and does not address either losing salvation or ecclesiology.  Nor is it particularly talking about the church.  Get caught up in the story; find the moral of the story; and apply it to Christianity.  Parables are not allegories
 
Jesus was said to have taught on the conduct expected of Jews in the millennial kingdom (thus the emphasis on the “kingdom gospel,” as supposedly separate from “Paul’s” gospel of grace).  Since Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and they should have known better from the prophecies, dispensationalists would say the church (and grace with it) has been parenthetically inserted until God resumes His everlasting covenant and law with Israel.  However, Colossians 1, Romans 9-11, and Ephesians (the passages submitted as evidence) rather speak of the Church as the one body in which the Jews and Gentiles are unified in reconciliation to God until in the last days God continues his plan specifically for Israel (see Revelation 7). 
 
Ephesians 2:11-20, “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.  Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;”
 
Ephesians 4:4-7, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
 
1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
 
Law was not the means of salvation even in the Mosaic “dispensation.”  Being under the Law did not disqualify David from salvation when he committed adultery.  He repented again, and was forgiven.  Psalms 51:1-2, 17 –  “<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.> Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
 
Is grace taught by Jesus? Luke 7:42-43 records Jesus’ use of a derivative of the common word (charis) for grace.  He also talked about grace without using the word: “And I give them eternal life…” or “He who hears my words and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life.”  John focuses on this.  Eternal life was a gift.  Jesus often pointed out that the “good works” and law-keeping that had become Judaism were insufficient for salvation.  No man was perfectly good, but he tried to stack up his ideas of goodness against the perfect law of God, who also sees and judges the heart.  Still living in the Law system so that He could fulfill it, Jesus consistently pointed out the inadequacy of the Law or of man to keep it. 
 
Now that you understand that dispensationalists believe the Law will apply again during the Millennium or tribulation, let me try to explain their take on Hebrews.  They (or the man to whom I spoke this morning) would say that Hebrews was written as a manual for life after the reinstatement of the Israel dispensation.  It was written to the Jews, and so accordingly is separate from any instructions to the Church.  From this they argue that Hebrews 6 does not teach that Christians today can lose their salvation (which would be inconsistent with the rest of the epistles), but that the Jews can. 
 
I love Hebrews 6.  My favorite part is where it exhorts Christians to move beyond the basics.  To me this refutes the seeker-sensitive “conversion”-driven style of church.  I need fed the meat of the word, not just milk.  Several years ago my pastor taught on the second part of the chapter, the controversial part, which at first glance seems to have nothing to do with verses 1-3.  But verse 4 begins, “For,” so obviously the author felt he supplying the reasoning behind those first verses as he continued.  I remember that my pastor was arguing that here in Hebrews 6 there is evidence that the author makes an aside, discussing non-Christians who have been among the Church and witnessed God’s saving power, but never actually accepted the gospel for themselves.  His Bible interpretation for this passage seemed forced into the mold of his preconceived theology; he was proof-texting much like he did when justifying female leadership in the church.  So even though I believe no one once saved can lose their salvation (you did not earn your way in; you cannot earn your way out), I went searching for a more solid exposition of Hebrews 6. 
 
What I found was a lot of controversy and stretched interpretations, and one explanation that made perfect sense to me.  It was provided by Charles Spurgeon (a genius preacher, and eloquent!).  PLEASE read the whole thing.  I’m including the following two quotations just to summarize.  Truly.  His sermon transcript ties the entire passage together.  
“In order to make them persevere, if possible, he shows them that if they do not, they must, most certainly be lost; for there is no other salvation but that which God has already bestowed on them, and if that does not keep them, carry them forward, and present them spotless before God, there cannot be any other. For it is impossible, he says, if ye be once enlightened, and then fall away, that ye should ever be renewed again unto repentance…
 
“Well, there never has been a case of it yet, and therefore I cannot describe it from observation; but I will tell you what I suppose it is. To fall away, would be for the Holy Spirit entirely to go out of a man—for his grace entirely to cease; not to lie dormant, but to cease to be—for God, who has begun a good work, to leave off doing it entirely—to take his hand completely and entirely away, and say, “There, man! I have half saved thee; now I will damn thee.” That is what falling away is.” – CH Spurgeon
 
Compare to the logic-based argument Paul used in 1 Corinthians 15, where he was not saying that Jesus did not rise, but for the sake of argument posed a “what if”:  “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:  And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.  Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.  For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.  Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
 
My conclusion is that God always works for His glory.  God does have a special plan to use Israel in the world just as He has a special plan to use you and me, except that He published His plan for Israel in His eternal Word.  Man is never able to save himself.  God has always saved men only by His unfaltering grace!  His grace cannot let a man fall from His hand, so there is no loss of salvation. 
 
To God be all glory.  

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In case you haven’t determined from my other posts, especially those about “Changing Church,” I have some serious concerns about the evangelical Christian Church in America. A year ago I led a Bible study. And it is a symptom of the problems with evangelicalism that I must clarify: that means we took passages of the Bible and studied them. We figured out what the words meant, how the passages were connected with other parts of Scripture, and how to apply them. The topic was spiritual gifts. One of the primary passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible is 1 Corinthians. Typically a theologian would point you to select verses in chapter 12. However, spiritual gifts are the topic throughout 12, 13, and 14. This information fits because, in context, we saw that spiritual gifts are (this is so obvious) part of Church structure and purpose. Our group ended up discussing and discovering a lot about how the Church was intended to “run.”

from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:16

Ephesians 4, also a defining passage for the Church, is another chapter describing spiritual gifts. There are also passages in Romans and 1 Peter. In none of these do we see church buildings. The four-point sermon is not described, nor the “invitation.” Come to think of it, a weekly offering wasn’t part of the instructions. There is no gift for “treasury,” though there is one for “giving.”

To some extent, I am still trying to figure out what the Bible teaches about the design for the Church. What did Paul tell Timothy the Church should look like? How should the assemblies go? Who should assemble; when; where; how often? Is it like a network of small groups that interact and overlap? How do elders fit in? What does an elder do? How many elders did God plan for churches? Do they need to be formally ordained? Does a teacher have to be an elder? Does an elder have to teach? If they do, is it every week?

*Deep breath* I have a lot of questions. And I have some ideas I’m exploring. Some might ask how relevant my search is to real life. Occasionally God reminds me He is more important than a completely worked-out theology. He’ll teach me what I need to know. Mostly I need to know I should trust Him.

So I read up on these things. And I try to have an application-oriented study. But I’m not pragmatic. Truth is more important to me than success. I won’t take a group that “does it right” without believing the right thing. I’d rather not be part of a church that is high on creeds and low on follow-through. For one thing, that is my tendency, and I need influences to counter my laziness.

I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with the Church. A lot of people my age leave, and I can’t entirely blame them. For one thing, my friends and I want challenged. We want examples. We need interaction across generations that is generally unavailable to us at traditional churches. Some who leave their childhood churches gather with others craving spiritual experiences though they were raised outside of church. An overall term for these gatherings is the “emergent church.”

This church and its leaders tend to have embraced a unique philosophy/theology. It is unitarian, communal, experiential: meaning respectively that there could be many roads to salvation and a relationship with God, evangelism and the Christian life should be more about serving the poor and building real there-for-you relationships, and worship must be a multi-sensory encounter.

One of the most frequent things I hear is an emphasis, almost a demand, for “alternative worship.” There is also contemplative prayer. The idea that conversion is a process can be found. In a book I am currently reading, a missionary is encouraging Muslim converts to keep the Koran, keep the the mosques, and be “Messianic Muslims.”

Here’s the thing. Most of these emergent believers and former evangelicals (and some others: family-integrated church members, some house churches, other conservative “fundamentalist” movements) are identifying real problems in the Church. The difference is the source of their solution.

I am searching for a back-to-the-Bible approach such as advocated by the New Testament Reformation Fellowship. The other options would be slight reform (as explained in the Purpose Driven Church and other such books) or theological abdication for what works. These alternatives are man-centered, offering either that which appeals and entertains men, or that which men think will work, borrowing “truth” from “wherever it can be found,” including pagan religions, popular psychology, New Age spirituality, Hollywood, and ancient mysticism.

Back to the topic of spiritual gifts, one oft-overlooked and even supressed gift is that of discernment. “Discerning of spirits,” can mean telling whether a spirit (message or soul) is from God or not. John MacArthur has compiled an entire book on the subject for contemporary issues, entitled Fool’s Gold. There are websites like Let Us Reason, Apprising Ministries, and the Christian Research Net. I believe this is one of my gifts as well as a topic I believe to be vital to the Church.

So I feel obligated to warn you about reliance on The Message paraphrase of the Bible, Brennan Manning’s writings, Rick Warren’s writings, anything Emergent Church or “Christian mysticism.” The argument that one must have read a book to denounce it, or have met a person to know that they are false teachers is invalid. The spiritual gift of discernment comes from God, and is primarily a testing of spirits against the pure, absolutely true Word of God. For specifics of why these people, books, movements, and ideas are unbiblical, please consult the links above. I have personally had exposure to each of these, but not immersion. However, the links provided do go into detail, with quotes and point-by-point refutations.

To summarize: the Church has problems. The solution to these problems can be found in the Bible, and the cause in how we have sold out to our culture and human philosophies rather than believing the instructions God gave. Some people who recognize these same problems and are very insightful in how they are related to each other and to statistics coming out about the Church have resorted to unbiblical “solutions,” which will cause more harm than good. Christians must be on their guard against these philosophies and practices. This is done by being solidly grounded in the Bible, and testing every movement against it.

Colossians 2:6-8, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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