Jesus Probably Doesn’t Love You

•September 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A small evangelistic leaflet came to my attention recently which drove me in despair to write this post today. The inventors of this evangelistic campaign have a website, and have a strong brand which has been reproduced as bumper stickers, posters and many other formats like our leaflet.

4points

A corruption of the gospel

I’d love to get rid of this leaflet. I want to collect all copies and have a huge fire. I want this nonsense to stop. Since I have no power to do either, I’m writing this post in the hope that some people will be persuaded.

On a positive note, I like the bold, simple approach of using symbols, and I might just design a leaflet in a similar vein. I’ve no doubt the authors are genuine, loving, zealous, born-again, Bible-believing Christians. That being so, I love them, and want to share with them something I’ve learned, in the hope that their outreach efforts might be more God honouring.

“GOD LOVES ME!”

Are you an unbeliever? Then you have no right to believe God loves you. The Bible says God hates not just the sin but the sinner himself. The only people he loves are his elect, chosen from before the universe was created. (Those who are not elect are without doubt given good things, but it’s not the same, and we shouldn’t even call it “common grace”, let alone “love”.)

If you don’t belong to Jesus Christ, you face a day of judgement when he will pour out his fury on you. You’re on Death Row, and your horrific execution is on the horizon.

There are many pictures used about the judgement. One pictures Jesus Christ crushing his enemies under his feet while their blood splashes up over his clothes. It may be meant as a picture, but the reality will be even worse.

There’s no Biblical example which would warrant us telling the lost that God loves them. Read the book of Acts and look at every message preached. Not once will you find an apostle saying “God loves you!” Now the same can be said of God’s hatred of sinners. However, if you were going to choose one, you’d be better off telling sinners that God hates them with a vengeance. We take our main examples from the Bible, and so we avoid saying this, but it’s the less unwarranted of the two.

“JESUS DIED FOR ME”

When Jesus volunteered to come to this earth and be killed, he did it to save people. This was not a potential salvation, activated by the prayer of a sinner. He secured salvation for his people. All the individuals who his Father entrusted him with were redeemed, all their sins brutally paid for through the internal agony of Jesus.

Imagine an unbeliever is handed one of these leaflets. He’s assured that Jesus is “crazy” about him and wants more than anything else to be his friend. He’s told that Jesus paid for all his sins—every single one of them. “The thing is”, he’s warmly informed by the badly-taught evangelist, “if you want to secure your place in heaven [sic] and be happy, you should say a prayer to Jesus and let him into your heart. After all, he won’t force himself in.”

The man goes away, tempted by the added benefit of the Christian life, but content that all is well with him and God. Quite reasonably, he reasons that if God loves him so much he couldn’t possibly harm him. Whatever “hell” and all that’s about, God wouldn’t send him there, unless he’s playing some sick joke on mankind. From a logical standpoint, too, he concludes that a perfect God can’t punish Christ AND him for the same set of sins. So this man grows old and ends up on his deathbed, with just minutes separating him from eternity. Yet he believes the evangelist who says that though he never got round to saying “the prayer”, God even now loves him intensely.

The man closes his eyes in death. He opens them in what seems a millisecond, and finds himself at the Great Judgement Seat of Jesus Christ. To his horror, Jesus appears not as the effeminate figure painted for him throughout his life, but in his real form, as a holy, righteous God of wrath, preparing to carry out the sentence. Jesus orders the angels to cast him into the Lake of Fire, and so begins the eternal torment of the man who God loves.

The Biblical case against this “God loves you, Jesus died for you” mantra is powerful, and it is no wonder that believers who have some sense of the true Jesus Christ are saddened and infuriated by this emasculation of the Lord of Glory.

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Repeating sermons

•June 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I prefer “messages” rather than “sermons”, but you all know what I mean.

Messages I put together are aimed at the congregation I’m about to speak to. However, I don’t bin them afterwards, unlike others I know who are against the recycling of messages.

If I preached the same message exactly more than once to the same people, it would be a bit stale. Still, there’s good reason to re-use them with different audiences, albeit with some changes. After all, if you believe the Lord helped you in your preparation, it makes as much sense to discard it as it would for a Christian writer to discard the research they’ve been doing on a book, or a Bible-college student to shred their theological essays after they’ve had them marked.

I was recently in the awkward situation of being told at the outset of a preaching engagement that my message was the same as I delivered the last time I was there. My system of keeping a record had failed, and I had to dig myself out of that hole with profuse apologies. I had no choice but to carry on.

What happened surprised me. It was the same message, yet very different.

Not believing that incidents are random, but are instead planned by God for some reason, I reflected afterwards on the situation. The real awkwardness, I realized, was the thought that the people would feel cheated. But why are we conditioned that way?

In any area of teaching, rehearsing the material is essential. Students of every discipline revisit numerous times what they’ve been taught . Even students in theological colleges do it. Yet in the area of preaching, we leave the messages behind us, to dissolve into the past. They’re replaced in the hearers’ minds by new sermons, as if it would be a crime to dwell on them.

We have to concede the point that sermons are not lectures. They feed the heart as well as the mind. That being so, exact comparisons with secular learning are not fair. Yet these sermons do contain facts and principles which would be good for people to have solidified in their memories. We may like the idea that preachers should “keep it fresh”, as the Lord lays new messages on their hearts for those people at that time. Yet this is exactly what happened when I repeated a message: it was different the second time around. The “facts”, if you like, were still there, but the exhortations were new and relevant for that time.

I’m having to rethink this matter. It could be that God’s purpose in this was to show me that it isn’t necessarily lazy or inconsiderate to repeat a message to the same people. Don’t think I’m starting a campaign to adopt this as normal practice, but it should make preachers and hearers think a little about their attitude. There could be a case for deliberately repeating yourself in the name of learning, and preachers have the duty then to deliver it in a way which shows they’re genuinely preaching anew and not lazily reading an old message for their own convenience.

Banning the Collection Plate

•April 5, 2016 • 1 Comment

By “collection plates”, I mean to include any practice where people in a Christian worship meeting have a plate, bag or box held in front of them so they can give offerings of money to the work of the church. So it doesn’t include boxes which people can put money into at any time convenient.

What’s the big problem? To answer that, I thought I’d make one of those “101 Reasons” lists, but I don’t know if I have that many, so I’m going to do a Q & A until I run out of ideas.

Why do we collect money?

In the Bible, the Lord’s people collected money for the Lord’s work. In the Old Testament, we see collections for buildings and the support of the religious leaders. In the New Testament, it’s all for people, including widows, orphans and those in full-time preaching ministry.

We don’t have genuinely poor people in our society, do we?

In the West, the state has structures in place for the support of the poor, and they do it with an efficiency the church could never match. Today, almost all the money collected from Christians is spent on church buildings and salaries.

So that means we need to collect money forever, doesn’t it?

Because there are regular outgoings for heating, insurance, etc. there will always be a need for collections. Some congregations pay for a full-time pastor, too. But when it comes to fundraising matters, if the need has been met, or if the church’s bank balance is large, the fundraising should stop until it’s needed again. An example would be helping a neighbouring congregation with paying for a roof repair, or helping out a poor pastor abroad.

Let’s get that collection plate going around then!

Steady on…there are some problems in doing it this way. Those who are not giving for whatever reason could feel embarrassed, seeing that the whole procedure is very public. Even the collector can find it awkward to have to read body language to judge whether anything will be handed over. If he gets it wrong, he could find himself holding the plate for a few awful seconds under the nose of someone who it turns out has nothing. Both people embarrassed, and for no good reason. And do we need to mention the impression it gives unbelievers who visit?

But if everyone’s supposed to give, there shouldn’t be as much of an issue, should there?

It’s not up to you or me to judge how others spend their money, and even the idea that “The main thing is that you give something” just isn’t Biblical. Like every other Christian act or belief, giving money publicly can result in a proud heart which looks down on those who haven’t given, or haven’t given as much. Remember that these critics haven’t given everything they have. They’ve kept money to spend on TV, mobile phones, holidays, and many other luxuries, so they have no right to make judgements about others. The irony is even bigger than that. These people’s thinking should rather be, “I’ve noticed she hasn’t put anything on the plate again. Maybe she’s struggling, and the church could help her out with a gift of money. I’ll tactfully ask her.”

I was told it’s part of our worship. Is that wrong?

Giving money is an act of worship just as everything we do should be. But you won’t find it included as part of corporate worship in the practice of the NT church. The creation of money-giving as a religious ceremony is an invention of men. The early church, according to the likes of Justin and Tertullian, collected money after the public worship was over. Interestingly, the treasurer’s job is usually done by deacons, implying it was considered a necessary function not tied to public worship, like organizing church-renovation.

But isn’t giving individually going against the spirit of corporate activity?

It may sound pleasant to give “as a body”, but a nice thought is all it is. Many activities are carried out individually, such as when someone in church makes the tea and coffee, paints the vestry, cleans the toilet, banks the collection money, builds the church website, and we could go on and on. There is nothing in these activities which undermines the idea of the unity of the body, and neither is there any principle that we should treat money-collection differently and artificially make it a public exercise.

And in our church we do it twice on a Sunday…

Which means that some people split their money in half so they have something to put on the plate morning and evening and thereby take part fully in the Ceremony of the Money.

Didn’t the Apostle Paul talk about collections on the first day of the week?

Read the passage (1 Cor. 16). He tells them to do their fundraising before he came, so that there wouldn’t be a collection when he was there. If it was meant to be a ritual, Paul would have asked them to make sure they brought cash so they could perform it when he came! Some commentators believe the money was saved up at home, then brought in at an appointed time, which would do away with the whole idea of weekly public collections.

So what do you think we should do?

When we understand that this is about fundraising and not religious rituals we might decide to put a box on the wall in our church building so people can give whenever it’s convenient. But remember that employees and people on benefits are almost all paid electronically, so a bank-transfer or Paypal transaction would be most convenient. Think about this bizarre scenario. A man get’s paid. He goes to a cash machine to get bank notes out. He then takes them on a Sunday and hands them over. The treasurer processes it all and travels to the bank to re-deposit the notes. Hardly a great use of our time. What’s sadder is that, if the worker gets paid monthly, they repeat the whole process four or five times a month!


It’s time to get rid of the collection plate. If we have to raise money for a particular purpose, let’s allow people to give in such a way that their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing. Stop the withdrawing and re-depositing cycle which wastes believer’s time. Put the giving so much in the background that the world can’t see us as money-centred. When we have enough, let’s tell people so, like the Hebrew temple builders did. And let’s be more compassionate to those who feel they are struggling to pay anything at all. After all, the Lord desires your mercy more than any sacrifices.

The Apostle’s Desire of Resurrection

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In the third chapter of Phillipians, the Apostle Paul talks about knowing Christ. It is on this basis that he expresses his hope, as seen in verse eleven:

“If by any means I might attain unto heaven”

Oh, hang on, I got that wrong. My mistake. What he really says is,

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection“.

In a theological world where “heaven” and “the resurrection” are treated as almost synonyms, most believers would read over the verse without much thought, even substituting their preconceptions about heaven into the verse. It’s both an astounding and awful habit, whereby we read the word but “see” another. It’s all down to indoctrination of the wrong type, and I’ve suffered with it as much as anyone. Even after paying closer attention to the words in the verse, many would wish it said heaven. After all, there’s precious little evidence to back up their beautifully alliterative but erroneous phrase, “heaven or hell”.

Paul deliberately chooses to say that his hope is the resurrection, whereas most believers wouldn’t. They’d invariably say their hope is heaven, in an [unwitting?] departure from the overall teaching of the Bible; and if we look at the whole New Testament, especially the best record of Apostolic preaching – in the Book of Acts – you won’t find a single statement that if we trust in Jesus we’ll go to heaven. So many have fallen for a heathen Greek philosophy of human-shaped immaterial souls. It proves just how we’re more influenced by the teachings of men than the Bible itself.

What “Hell” Means

•December 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The subject of hell is a difficult one, partly because my own views differ from most other people’s. So I thought I’d state a few facts about hell so you can do your own research.

What will make your own study difficult is to do with translation. You may know that the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The good thing for us is that people hundreds of years ago took the time to translate these scriptures into English. Great. But it’s not that straightforward! There are difficulties finding equivalent English words to translate into. Now several words in the Bible, including ‘Sheol’ [shee-ole], ‘Had-ace’ or ‘Hades’, ‘Tartaros’ and ‘Gehenna’, have all been translated as ‘hell’.

This means that, when you hear the word ‘hell’ used in the Bible, you don’t know straight away what is meant. In Acts, it says that Christ descended into hell. And we know he didn’t go into fiery torments, so the word doesn’t always mean that. Professional theologians have used their great intellects to invent all kinds of new ideas. One is that, although hell always refers to a fiery place, there’s a safe zone somewhere in it for Christ and others. The ‘compartmentalized hell’ has been a popular idea, but people will naturally wonder, when we tell them they face ‘hell’, whether they might just get into the ‘good bit’! Dear, oh dear.

No, ‘hell’ in this case means ‘the grave’. In the old days, farmers would ‘hell’ their potatoes—that is, plant them in the ground. (The word is of Germanic origin, meaning “to cover over”.) So sometimes, being ‘in hell’ just means ‘being dead’.

There are other uses that mean something a bit more what we’re used to. When ‘Gehenna’ is translated as ‘hell’, it means a place of “eternal fire”. The Greek word was pinched from the name of a big rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, which was continually on fire. It contained not only rubbish but, before Christianity’s influence ended the practice, unwanted babies were thrown in there too. Truly, a terrible picture of a terrible place.

Then there’s the mention in the Book of the Revelation of a ‘lake of fire’, where the unsaved masses will suffer for all eternity. It tells us that, at the end of time, both death and hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. So the main point to be made here is that hell and the lake of fire are not the same thing.

If all this talk of Greek words has caused any confusion, just take this away with you: if you’re not a believer in Christ when judgement comes, you will spend ages and ages in a state of intense discomfort and despair, and the worse thing is that these ages of suffering will never end.

The Resurrection of Man

•December 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

To kick off some discussion about the issue I alluded to in my previous post, I’m now going to be pointing at the elephant in the reading room of the Bible college saying, “Shouldn’t we be dealing with this?” and watching the brethren bury their heads more deeply into their books to avoid eye-contact with me.

Okay, that sounds a bit arrogant. Bible scholars are people who have been exceptionally gifted by God. (Well, the good ones anyway.) But my initial attempts at getting them to discuss this issue have been met with very uncharacteristic vagueness and lack of interest.

Let’s see if I can sum up what my beef is. My posts are too long, so I’m going to be as ruthless as possible with my words.

To me, the Bible says that when we die, that’s it, until the resurrection. The raising up of the body is the big deal. It’s what those guys in the Bible spoke about so often. Our resurrection is not the icing on the cake: it is the cake. That is, getting a new body isn’t adding finishing touches to God’s final plan for us, the bulk of the glorious work being a wispy existence as a disembodied soul where God lives. No, our receiving a new body is when we go from being dead to being alive. There is no halfway house, where we have everything already, our resurrection being a sort of bonus on top of the glory we already have.

So we die, and in one sense we cease to exist. However, we still exist in the mind of God where, it could be argued, we are more “real” than when our existence is materialized. In due time, God will recreate us. Hard to believe? Well just a minute, didn’t he know us before we existed? Didn’t he form each one of us from the technical drawings in his mind when we came into this world? Then don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re less real while God is crafting a new “us”.

As Luther said, you’ll fall asleep in death, and you will rot or burn. At some later point, when the end comes, God will raise the new you. Even if a thousand years have elapsed, all you will experience is a closing of the eyes and an immediate re-opening of the eyes at the glorious resurrection. No darkness to fear. No ages of silence. Just a split second from your perspective.

This is idea isn’t new, but it is unpopular. It’s my aim to have this brought into the arena of Christian discussion. Hopefully, it can eventually be talked about openly and calmly, without threats of disfellowship or denunciations of heresy. If I can contribute to that, even in the smallest way, I’ll have accomplished something really useful.

Being Unorthodox

•December 14, 2014 • 2 Comments

Since I became a child of God, about twenty years ago, I’ve been uncomfortable with the orthodox teaching about what happens after death. This is one of those awkward positions where you read the Bible, and get an idea about what the truth of a matter is, only to find this opinion is unorthodox or even “heretical” by the standards of the majority. So what do you do?

The situation is made difficult because orthodoxy is subjective, and depends on what sort of believers you mix with. People who have only spent time with dodgy Charismatics, for example, are often unaware of this whole other Christian world of belief, literature and history. You can talk about a fundamental doctrine, and find them taken aback by the suggestion that everyone they know personally or whose books they’ve read could all be wrong on the matter.

So let’s say you have an unpopular understanding of something in the Bible. The first step is to chat to others about it – people you trust. They may identify a flaw in your thinking. Then you could search out online articles about the subject. Always aim to be as neutral as possible. In other words, tell yourself you’re sitting on the fence until you know for certain something’s true. That way, you won’t start defending a position just to save face. After all, if you identify yourself with a certain doctrine, it can be embarrassing to do a climb-down later.

There’s also a sinful desire to be special. For some, it’s not enough to be an heir of God. They crave to be unique, like the world does (not realising they’re already unique). For some, they imagine a special connection to God through direct revelations, which we see with Pentecostals and Charismatics; but for others, they want to believe they’ve come to an understanding about a doctrine, which only they have. This is why being unorthodox can be an attractive label.

Think on this: if almost all believers throughout history have held a certain doctrine which is contrary to what you believe, it’s more likely that you’re wrong. If all our best preachers and Bible scholars say you’re mistaken, you probably are. However, although this should make you extremely cautious, you should not be frightened into giving up your conclusions. In other words, if you’re going to go against the grain, make extra sure you’re looking at the Bible carefully. How thankful we are that Luther went against the power of the church in his day!

My own search for truth about the matter of the afterlife continues. I like to think I’d drop these strange doctrines right away if someone persuaded me I was wrong. So far, the arguments I’ve heard are weak. This only encourages me to solidify what I believe, or find someone who can give me a good enough reason to abandon my path of thought.