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.

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Prayer

•January 18, 2012 • 1 Comment

The idea for this meeting was, as ever, to get down to brass tacks in the subject at hand, which on this occasion was ‘prayer’. Although the discussion was informal, there was a structure to it, in the form of questions, which went roughly as follows.

What is it?

‘Speaking to God’ was the simplest definition we came up with. Considering the variety of things we say to God, an acronym was suggested which might help people who ask for our help in knowing what or how to pray. ‘ACTS’ reminds us of A for Adoration; we start by addressing God’s greatness. We could then go on to C for Confession, whereby we acknowledge our sins, and confess our trust in the pardon Jesus secured for us at Calvary. T for Thanksgiving prompts us to think through some of the helps we’ve received since we last spoke to God. The final reminder can be used concurrently with the third: S for Supplication comes last, as our needs should rightly be seen as of lesser importance than the rest. Having said that, the Lord will listen to the saints’ prayers, even if they take a different form. Sometimes, of course, we are so burdened with our concerns that we rush in to God’s throne room without much thought about honouring him. Nevertheless, as long as this isn’t the norm for our prayers, we shouldn’t feel too bad.

Who can do it?

Everyone can start talking to God and, in terms of his omniscience, he hears everything. However, in another sense he doesn’t hear (i.e. ignores) the prayers of the wicked. One example was given where an unbeliever was being given the material things he prayed for, even though he didn’t really believe in God! This shows how many of the principles we see in the Bible are true only generally, and God often does something different in his own wisdom. Maybe the one in the example was elect. Another possibility mentioned was that God will give the unbeliever what he wants in order to add to his condemnation at the judgement. Another brother gave the example of the Hebrews in the wilderness. Although they were in rebellion against God, they were given the meat they moaned for, but God sent leanness into their souls.

However, there is clear reference in the Bible that God delights to hear the prayers of his own beloved people, and this should be an encouragement to us. There are occasions when there are conditions before coming to God in prayer, though, such as the need for reconciliation with your brother.

Some believers in the Bible, and in the history of the church, have complained that God is far from them, and that he’s ignoring their prayers. Unless these people are in wilful rebellion against God, we can be fairly sure that God is listening. However, he sometimes makes a person wait before making his presence known, and he does this for different reasons, which we can only begin to fathom.

How should it be done?

The Bible gives a number of examples where God was, if you like, pestered into answering requests! Jacob wrestling with the Son of God was one, and the same saviour’s own example of the man who knocked at his mate’s door late one night, harassing him to borrow some food for a visitor. ‘Importunity’, the Bible calls it, and there’s no doubt that we’re encouraged to keep asking God until he answers.

The boldness we’re to approach God with should be tempered with a constant awareness of who we’re talking to. Not only is he a father who loves us more than any person ever could, but he is still the holy God of heaven, and our attitude should reflect both.

This led us to think about whether we should seek God’s face in a spirit of joy for our salvation or mourning because of sin. Again, it was agreed we should be looking to foster a holy mixture of both.

What about people who pray to Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, rather than the Father? The guidance given by Jesus is clearly to pray to the Father, in Christ’s name, by the intercessory power of the Holy Ghost. Are there any examples of believers addressing the ascended Jesus? Two were mentioned: Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, and Paul on the Damascus Road. However, these were unusual circumstances, where Jesus was either appearing in a vision or speaking in an audible voice, so it wouldn’t be reasonable to use these as excuses to make praying to Jesus our usual method. Most of the men were of the opinion that it’s okay to sometimes pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, though at least one believed we never should.

Where should we pray?

The challenge of Jesus to pray in secret was aimed at a particular habit. Pharisees were showing off in their prayers, so they were told to pray in private. Doing so would deny them the glory they desired, so it was a great challenge. However, it shouldn’t apply to us! For that reason it’s okay to go to prayer meetings.

We should remember, though, the value of private prayer. In this, we can draw closer to God in a way which we usually can’t in prayer meetings. Most people feel they can really pour their heart out more in secret prayer than when with others.

Examples of locations for prayer in the Bible include bedrooms, gardens, rooftops and up mountains.

What position should we adopt?

While it was acknowledged that the Bible contains all manner of positions taken during prayer, there was some concern that a local church should not display them all, as it might constitute being disorderly. Others felt people should do whatever they are moved to do.

In scripture, we see people standing with their arms raised in the air, kneeling, and lying on the ground. Assuming these were all acceptable to God, none should be forbidden in the assembly of the saints; nevertheless, a couple of brothers still contended that a sense of uniformity should be evident.

It was generally agreed that we get into common habits in corporate prayer because of the culture we belong to, with the typical British man tending to be more reserved than, say, his brothers in African churches.

How often should we pray?

The fundamental question is this: do we have a right to censure people for not praying often enough? That brings us to look in the Bible, and there is no clear command to spend time on our knees for a certain number of times each year. So can we pray once a year and make it regular? Is that good enough?

If we were to counsel someone who asks for guidance for their prayer life, we could answer with the over-riding ‘without ceasing’ argument; but if they ask for a definite frequency of private prayer, we do have some guidance in the Bible we can pass on to them. Firstly, the model prayer given to us by Jesus includes the line, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Another example is the daily provision of manna to the Hebrews in the wilderness. Both examples encourage day by day reliance on God, and this should move us to pray on a daily basis.

If it is daily, when should we pray?

There are some examples for us in the Bible where people prayed in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, or even spent the whole night in prayer.

The recommendation to ‘pray without ceasing’ has given rise to a number of explanations from Bible students and commentators. Some say it means we should pray as long as we can throughout the day, though everyone admits that audible prayer throughout the day is not usually possible. Still, apart from private supplication to God, and in the gathering of the Lord’s people, we can still speak to God in our own hearts during the rest of the day. Remembering to do it, of course, is another matter.

How long should we spend in prayer?

Again, we cannot say to someone that their five minutes a day isn’t enough, any more than we should expect a certain length of time in Bible-reading from them. We are usually impressed by those who spend the most time in prayer, believing it tells us how ‘spiritual’ they are, which is unwise.

Martin Luther said he couldn’t get through the day unless he spent two to three hours in prayer in the morning! We think in human terms, whereby more time in prayer means less time remaining for other things. While this is true from man’s perspective, God inhabits eternity, and his daily provision is not limited by time. For example, he can see that you accomplish a task in a fraction of the time it would normally take, if he so desires. Some people have testified that the more time they spend in prayer, the more they get done in the rest of the day. Others may have never experienced this.

A frequent complaint is that prayer meetings sometimes contain individuals who pray too long. One brother pointed out that this might not be about others’ lack of enthusiasm for prayer. There are people, yes, who want to just get home as soon as possible every week. Others, though, might like to extend the prayer meeting for several hours. Their complaint is that, when individuals pray for too long (for fifteen minutes, say), it’s hard for others to maintain concentration. Sitting with your eyes closed for ten or fifteen minutes, while a monotone voice delivers a mini sermon, can have the same effect as taking sleeping pills.

Occasionally, there are those whose prayers are easier to listen to, but good practice should be that each person prays for a minute or two, and speaks again a while later if there’s anything else they want to pray for. This should make for a more enjoyable and lively meeting.

What should we ask for?

A quick word search for ‘pray’, ‘prayer’ and ‘praying’ doesn’t give every example of people addressing God; but it does furnish us with a pile of examples of things people asked for throughout Bible history. Some of these are listed here, but this doesn’t mean we should emulate them. Especially with Old Testament scriptures, care should be taken to view them in the light of the Bible’s later, clearer revelation. Prayers were made:

  • To heal people of physical disease and infirmity
  • On behalf of God’s people, including confession on their behalf
  • For God’s help, when persecution came
  • That God’s enemies would be confused in their scheming
  • For the supplicant’s death, so that their countrymen would be spared
  • To bring dead people back to life
  • Asking for God to destroy his enemies, that he might be glorified
  • Seeking the good of enemies
  • For God to raise up gospel preachers
  • For those in prison for Christ’s sake

We remembered Cromwell’s adage, ‘Put your trust in God, and keep your powder dry.’ Regardless of our opinion on the man, the saying is very much Biblical. The principle is that, when we have prayed, we should not neglect the use of means. The Jews rebuilding the temple in the time of Nehemiah prayed for God’s protection, then posted guards to keep watch night and day. Rather than being a lack of faith in God, it was a proper use of the common sense God gave them. The Lord himself told Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the children by Herod.

On many occasions, especially in the Psalms, the prayer was begun with a request that God be willing to hear the petitions to follow. Interestingly, we also see again and again the saints reminding God about his promises or past dealings with them. This is another approach which might seem strange. God knows all, so doesn’t strictly need reminding of anything; but we know it’s a valid way to draw near to him. We could say, ‘Lord, you promised in your word to give the Holy Spirit to those that ask you, so I’m asking you now to do it.’ This use of God’s promises shouldn’t be thought of as holding God to ransom, but rather showing him you trust his faithfulness to do what he has said. You could also say, ‘Father, remember how you delivered Daniel out of the mouth of the lions? We ask you to deliver us now from this tribulation.’

These two examples brought us to think about a brother’s question: what if you’re not sure if you’re asking amiss? Should you pray for someone’s salvation, not knowing if they’re elect or not? This is a difficult question. All we can do is pray in this way according to the burden we have for them. Paul the apostle expressed his desire that the whole country was saved, even if it meant him suffering a lost eternity. (Such love!)

There is a clause we can use as much as we want when praying without knowledge of God’s will. Jesus gave the example when he prayed to our Father, ‘Let this cup pass from me…nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.’ We make our request, then confess that we want his will to be done, not ours, as his is always right.


APPENDIX: Top Ten Tips for good prayer meetings

There are a few things people should avoid in their corporate prayer, some of which were discussed during the men’s meeting.

  1. Don’t bore people with long prayers. If you have ten minutes’ worth of things to say, pray for a couple of minutes in three separate chunks, rather than one long prayer. We promise you: your prayer isn’t as interesting as you think, and we’re probably asleep anyway.
  2. Don’t use annoying repetitions. If the preacher does it, you complain. You expect him to make the effort to use different words—you know, mix things up a bit. The evangelical Christian’s all time favourite repetition in prayer is ‘Lord’. ‘This, Lord, that, Lord…’ You could use ‘God’, or ‘Father’ instead, or just stop addressing him every two seconds. He knows you’re talking to him, so doesn’t need constant reminders.
  3. Don’t use extra words for nothing. Padding things out is for Pharisees and lawyers. Avoid the famous, ‘Your own and personal saviour’, if you simply mean ‘Your saviour’. And using two words which mean the same thing is also just lazy padding-out. For example, ‘many and numerous’ mean the same thing, as do, ‘in any way, shape or form’, and so on. Just pick one.
  4. Don’t use words no-one understands. If you’re a whizz at English language, or you’re quoting things out of the Bible, you might be tempted to use language that no-one gets. One young English graduate prayed that we might enjoy ‘rhapsodic moments with God’. There’s no need for it. Use ordinary language that a well-versed ten year old could get. Overly flowery language was the art of the Victorian pulpiteer, and has no place in our meetings.
  5. Don’t praise people in the prayer meeting. This is mainly worded as thanks to God for helping Mrs. X do a fantastic job, etc. For a start, you’re embarrassing everyone—not least, the one you’re talking about. You’re also only telling half the story. You wouldn’t use the time to talk about all the sins they’ve committed, would you? Yet there’s probably a lot more material there!
  6. Don’t get into the habit of not praying. Your public prayers are an encouragement to the other believers, and are welcomed by God. Even if you think you’re no good at praying, it doesn’t matter; and don’t be worried too much by ‘Top Ten’ Lists for praying!  😉  The real believers won’t care if your prayer sounds like a struggle, as they were the same when they were new to it. Your prayers will ‘flow’ more with experience.
  7. Don’t eat a big meal before the prayer meeting. With a full belly, you’re far more likely to end up in the land of Nod, and we don’t mean the one in the Bible.
  8. Don’t talk loudly while someone else is praying. Sometimes, people will finish off scripture quotes, or thank God in response to something said, or occasionally say, ‘amen’ or ‘hallelujah’. This is great, as long as it’s not so loud that it puts off the one praying. This is mainly a problem in Pentecostal meetings, of course, and these sometimes have the entire congregation praying out loud at the same time!
  9. Don’t treat the brethren as a captive audience. We all know that some people’s prayers gradually change into a report about what they’ve been up to, who they’ve met, what the doctor said, and so on. They’ve stopped addressing God at this point. Sadly it’s often older, lonelier, people who do this. It’s a difficult one to tackle, without doubt.
  10. Don’t turn up to the meeting unprepared. The best prayer meetings are the ones where the people have prayed beforehand. Okay, we forget; but we need to ask God to be ready to hear us, prepare our hearts to pray aright, get us there safely, and so on. Preparing in advance can revolutionise the meetings.

Why I use Facebook

•February 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

A Christian friend recently forwarded an e-mail she’d received from a Christian friend of hers, arguing against Christians using Facebook. Having written a reply, I thought it might be of interest to others, and possibly a prompt for further discussion. So I’ve reproduced what I wrote here, without names, of course. Let’s begin with the message from the friend of the friend.

Facebook is a secular and money-making scheme, but it has a much darker side, as this posting proves.

I believe Christians who join Facebook and use it are wrong. They are displaying information that should not be there, and are part of a pathetic movement that brings all kinds of sinners together. Indeed, Facebook is a regularly-trawled website by paedophiles and fraudsters. It has also been used for violence, as someone I know has experienced.

If you are a Christian, play safe! Don’t join these pathetic social communication sites.

If you need to contact someone or let them know how you are – use the telephone or ordinary email.

By being in Facebook you are part of a worldwide monitoring system, as the censorship proves.

As a believer, I’ve spent some time considering the usefulness of Facebook (FB), and whether it’s suitable for Christians.

Firstly, it’s a method of communication. It provides another channel for contact with others. Meeting face-to-face, phoning, e-mailing, writing letters, blogging, Tweeting and FB are all different methods, and each has its own benefit. If I want to discuss a university project with my team, we’ll send messages through FB. If I want to ask someone a question, but don’t have the time to spend on a phone conversation, I might text them. For those who are not on FB, I’ll e-mail information. FB allows me to do a live chat, send a message, or post something on my wall for everyone or a select few. Overall, it’s the most useful way of contact.

Secondly, there’s the social side, whereby we share photos, links and news with friends and family. We decide who sees them. If there’s something we don’t want anyone to know, we don’t put it on FB. If you post sensitive information to the world, it’s your fault if you get scammed. If anyone’s unsure about using FB, they can get advice from someone who does know.

Here’s the thing. There’s a group of people who’ve held back from joining FB, but who now feel left out. They attack FB and everyone who uses it, yet have never tried it. It’s just not good enough to point to a FB addict to put us off, any more than we could point to a glutton as evidence that food should be avoided. Do you know that the last two people (Christians) I spoke to about FB were very hostile about it, to the point of being irrational, and said they’d never join it, as it was ‘pathetic’, the exact word used by your Christian contact. Notice how your friend uses the word twice. Yet there’s no reasons given that stand up to examination. Let’s have a think about them:

1. ‘a secular and money-making scheme’

It’s free to use, for a start. Yes, it’s owned by unbelievers, just like our phone and e-mail providers who, the last time I checked, don’t give me these services for free.

2. ‘displaying information that should not be there’

The user puts whatever information up he or she wants. And it’s their business what they share with others.

3. ‘a pathetic movement’

It’s not a movement, it’s a mode of communication. Using the word ‘pathetic’ is pointless, as there’s no explanation to back it up.

4. ‘brings all kinds of sinners together’

It does. All kinds of sinners like Paul and his Christian friends. Oh, we also use it to contact unbelievers who we know too, like workmates and family, who we can witness to if we like. Being ‘with’ them on FB is only as good or bad as being with them in person, like in the workplace.

5. ‘trawled…by paedophiles and fraudsters’

The whole internet is. If you’re so concerned, don’t use the internet at all. Even e-mail has the potential to be used by criminals and perverts.

6. ‘used for violence’

You can’t use FB for violence, which is an act against the person’s body. This doesn’t make any sense. If it means something was done as a result of a FB post, that’s not the site’s fault.

7. ‘play safe…don’t join’

Again, why would you use e-mail then, which can be hacked? Play safe if you’re on FB, yes, by not posting sensitive information.

8. ‘use the telephone or ordinary email’

This is the same argument used by people who were reluctant to embrace e-mail (‘Why can’t everyone just use the phone?’)

9. ‘part of a worldwide monitoring system’

If the CIA wants to see the pictures of our Scotland holiday last year, let them. Remember, though, they can just tap your phone or intercept your e-mails anyway if they want any other information.

Contact

Facebook is simply a way of keeping in contact with people you want to. Apart from collaborating on uni projects, I create Christian events and invite people, write scriptures on the wall, get into good discussions with unbelievers, promote evangelistic events, share photos with friends who are too far away to visit, keep up to date both with people’s problems and their good news, and campaign for good causes. (Others use it to play games occasionally, and that’s okay too, as long as it doesn’t take up a lot of their time.) We can even find like-minded believers on the other side of the world, and offer fellowship to the ones who feel isolated.

This believer here seems to have not much idea about FB, and their use of polemical words like ‘pathetic’ shows their opposition is mostly irrational, fed by certain websites. Everyone I know who’s decided to start using FB has not regretted it. If someone plays games on it, like Solitaire, and gets addicted, they need help from God, and might even need to get off FB. But that’s a lot different from saying everyone who is able to use it responsibly, and to great benefit, is stupid.

This world is corrupt. The people who run big social networking sites are part of that world system. So are the phone and e-mail providers. So are the people that you buy your petrol and newspapers from. So are the people who’s food you eat. And one day, FB might get so intrusive that Christians leave. Whatever happens, FB won’t be around forever. A better site will spring up, and within a few months everyone will be on that. Eventually, FB will die. Meanwhile, Christians will continue to use whatever means are available to them for doing their work, both for God and their livelihood, and for the general well-being that comes from interacting with people.

Facebook is a temporary phenomenon. MySpace used to rule the roost, now it’s FB. Someone else will take over before long. I can say this, though: the social network has been one of the most useful tools I’ve ever come across, and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Outreach

•February 12, 2011 • 1 Comment

The latest fight amongst the Back to Basics men’s group concerned outreach, or evangelism.

The plan was to base the discussion around a few simple questions: whether evangelism is something we should do today; what it is; how it should be done; and whose responsibility it is.

Is it for today?

This had to be the first question. If it could be argued that evangelism was for the apostles and New Testament church only, then we could sit in our armchairs and watch telly until Sunday came around. It was obvious that initially none of the lads believed this. So was it a pointless question? Consider that all(?) of us think that the miraculous sign gifts were meant to be temporary. So we look at verses like where Paul says, “I wish you’d all speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5), and we understand them to be directed at those people at that time, and not for us.

There are a number of reasons that we think genuine tongues are not the normal experience of the modern church. However, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think evangelism has ceased. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that men believe: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”  (1Co 1:21). Now assuming God will continue drawing in his elect people until the end comes, witnessing about Christ will be needed. The incarnate word said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”  (Mat 24:14)

What is it?

That’s a fair follow-on question. If someone is to go and do this thing, we need to be clear about what it is.

The most obvious place to start is the word “evangelist”. In the original Greek, it’s εὐαγγελιστής (pronounced “eu-agg-el-is-TEES”), and means a herald of good news. Now we all know that this “good news” is the gospel, which means just that.

This brought the talking around to a difficult subject, and it concerns what should be preached to believers, and what to unbelievers. This led to a long, friendly argument. We tried to agree on what “preaching the gospel” was. You’d think, with an average age of about forty, and around eighty years of Christian experience amongst us, that we’d know by now! But hold it there. Many people think preaching repentance is the gospel, even though it was preached in Acts that the people should repent and believe the gospel. That’s two things.

There was, eventually, general agreement that the gospel was the good news that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1Co 15:3), so we could move on from there. But one brother felt it was important to make the point that it was not good news to everyone. The analogy he gave was this.

Imagine there was a banquet in your church hall. There’s a hundred people in there, and they’ve had a huge feed. They can’t eat another thing. But there’s also a couple of homeless fellas there. They came in at the last minute, and the buffet food was all gone. Suddenly, someone comes out of the kitchen with loads more food! They say, “We’ve got good news, people: FOOD!” Now all those bloated people look as if they’re going to throw up. It’s definitely not good news to them. But the homeless guys are starving hungry. To them alone is the offer of food “good news”.

So it is with the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel. It’s preached to the crowds, but most of them are full up—with their own righteousness. But there’s the possibility that there’s someone amongst that crowd who are hungry for the righteousness which is from heaven. What you’re saying is good news, but only to some. And here’s a big problem. If you hold the doctrine that Christ died for all, then you are forced to believe that the gospel is good news for all. And if it’s good news for all, then it has to be phrased so that it becomes acceptable to all. That’s exectly where the preaching of “God loves you”, and “God wants to save you, but he can’t do anything unless you let him”, comes from. Faulty theology ⇒ faulty gospel.

How should it be done? And where?

The first question in this regard was whether any method of communicating the gospel was valid. This doesn’t mean considering mime or cryptic poetry, where the message is unclear. Rather, the question was about the use of tracts, open-air preaching, text messages, posters, emails, or witnessing through Facebook and the like.

There was at least one of the gang who suggested that the preaching of the gospel was only ever to be done in the way the apostles did it: speaking face-to-face with one or more people. There is a verse which says that God saves by the  foolishness of preaching, but this is surely describing the foolishness of the message, rather than the method. After all, the Greeks, who thought Christians were idiots, used open-air speaking themselves.

It’s difficult to know for certain what the apostles would have done if they had use of a printing press. It’s pretty obvious that the NT church could only use the means available to them at the time. It was put to the group that, had it been available to them, they would have been tracting, blogging and everything else used by the church today.

The apostles didn’t have the facility to produce thousands of tracts, but they had paper and ink. Christ was preached to the believers through the epistles in the Bible, but was this medium used for evangelism? These letters were written to the church, so we shouldn’t expect much evidence of their use in evangelism. However, Paul’s adage of, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”  (1Co 9:22) would suggest that faithful communication of the gospel message could be spoken, written, emailed or sprayed on a wall! (Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for others’ failure to get permission from the property owner before spraying the gospel on their wall.) When you think about those TBS scripture posters, for example, that does seem to be a valid method.

Regarding location, it was noted that many churches—if they do any outreach at all—limit it to the area around their own church building. Is this an attempt to get their own places filled? Have a look at what the outreach consists of. If they just present the gospel, I’ll eat my hat (the big furry one, in fact). No, they want to get them in. Fair enough, if you’re having an evangelistic event, invite them along, but not to a service of worship.

Most people see the chief end of their outreach as bums on seats. Some pastors sit counting heads and banging on about how many people they have in regular attendance, as if it were a contest, or an indication of how spiritual they are. Further evidence, m’lud, can be seen in the extent of the outreach. If you’ve pestered the locals for twenty years, how about taking your message somewhere else, where entire generations have never heard the gospel because all you self-proclaimed ministers are trying to get the locals in so that you look good at the pastors conferences. Okay, if you do your outreach somewhere else, converts might go to another place of worship. Nothing wrong with that.

Arguing, as one pastor did, that the apostles started in Jerusalem, is poor. They did indeed conduct outreach there. Unfortunately, the verse is a bit longer than that. It says they preached in Jerusalem, then ‘in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’  (Acts 1:8) Uh, oh…

The Open Air question

Easy question: is evangelism meant mostly for the open air, or should we limit it to our church buildings? This proved one of the most involved part of our discussion.

A list had been compiled by a brother of all the occasions of preaching Christ in the historical book of Acts. Surely, here would be some guidelines which could help us today. So what were the characteristics of this early church preaching?

  • It was bold and Christ-centred
  • Scripture was quoted freely
  • The prophets were appealed to
  • The Jews, not everyone, were held accountable for Jesus’ death
  • People were commanded to repent
  • The preaching continued even when outlawed
  • It was counted a joy to suffer for Christ
  • Paul used his rights in law to defend himself
  • The apostles entered into disputes
  • Paul remained in some places for months
  • All the evangelism was the “open-air” type

(While we’re here, let’s take the opportunity to have another dig at the free-will preachers. Nowhere in these accounts do we hear of sinners being told, “God loves you”, or “Jesus died for you”.)

This business of preaching in the open air is interesting. It’s not that there’s anything special about being outdoors, of course. As one brother pointed out, you could lift the church building off into the air, and we’d then be in the open air! No, it simply means going out with the gospel, rather than hiding away. I remember one pastor say, “We’re meant to be doing out-reach, not in-drag!” Quite correct.

You can preach to unbelievers at your place of worship. Invite them in, speak briefly, then chat over a cuppa. One of the lads said that our meeting places can be a good place for, say, older people to mix with a similar group, and witnessing can be a part of this friendship. The danger, of course, with including people in this way is that you can “Christianize” them. They become so acquainted with the whole Sunday thing, that they can fake it very well. What the churches are doing, however, is giving a long-standing invitation to unbelievers to come into our buildings, and join in our act of worship. We expect them to stand up and sit down at the right times, sing hymns to a God they don’t know, and pretend to be part of the company which addresses him in prayer.

“Friendship evangelism” was considered. No-one was arguing against being friendly to outsiders, and then taking the opportunity to show them their greatest need is Christ. But the whole modern approach is different. It recommends you make friends over a long period, maybe by joining a cricket club. Then after you’ve “earned the right to share the gospel” with them, you do it; by which time you might be too scared of ruining your friendship by telling it as it is. Again, working with people over a long time is not being argued against. It’s deciding from the outset that sharing the gospel clearly won’t work in our day, so we must invent new ways to avoid causing offence. What causes this aversion to plain speaking? Why won’t ministers of the gospel speak out?

The good thing about this being my blog is that I can just chuck my opinions in here whenever I feel like. So I’ll stick my neck out and say that the main reason the church leaders aren’t doing proper outreach is because of cowardice. There. I’ve said it. And I said “the main reason”, which gives me a way out if a preacher shows me he’s not a coward. You see, this traditional method of getting unbelievers in—and let’s face it, even those invitations don’t happen much—is a win-win situation. The unbeliever comes onto your ground. They are controlled, by having to do the right things or face disapproving stares. Being controlled, the sinner is put in his place, and your numbers go up. Spiritual growth, wimp style.

With proper outreach, God’s servant is on their turf. He just shares the gospel. And he will get stick for it. He will suffer. And that’s it, isn’t it? How much persecution does the average preacher experience, as he dutifully speaks each week? Yet every one who goes to where the people are seems to suffer harassment. No one wants persecution. But if you do your job, you get it. The fact is, there are thousands of people just in our city who might never hear the gospel, because Christians don’t care enough to leave the safety of their church castles.

An excellent point was made: that the pastor’s chief duty is the cure, the nurture, of the flock. That’s not his only job, though. Timothy, the young overseer, was told to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). At the very least, the ministers should be at the forefront of evangelism in their areas, even if the bulk of the work is done by others.

Who should be doing this outreach?

We mentioned pastors, and those who are burdened for evangelism will go out without persuasion. But is it everyone’s duty? Here’s a few excuses, with answers:

  1. “I’m not called to share the gospel”.
    You were called to share it when God saved you.
  2. “I don’t know enough about the Bible”
    You know why you’re saved—just repeat that. That’s what witnessing is.
  3. “I’m a bit shy”
    So was I. Get over it. You’re to be bold, like a lion.
  4. “People will laugh at me”
    They sure will. Be joyful that you’re suffering with Christ.
  5. “I’ve done my bit, years ago. Time to let the young ones have a go.”
    The labourers are few. You’re needed. And since when did Christians retire from their work?

Hardly anyone would say that women shouldn’t witness to others. It’s all over the Bible. But should they be preaching in open air services? This is one I’ve been thinking of for a while, and my good friend John has written to me giving his understanding. As for our meeting, it was generally felt that men should be doing the preaching, while women would be best giving out literature and speaking to people individually, so as not to undermine the principle of male leadership.

“Evangelist” seems more like a role than an office. In other words, they might go out witnessing, and even plant churches, and the full time pastors might take on those churches; but a pastor should also be involved in evangelism, and others with no “office” to speak of might be the chief evangelists.

As ever, this brief discussion only skimmed the surface. But our presuppositions were challenged, and we once again made sure that what we believed had its basis in the scriptures. May God be praised for his kindness in allowing us an insight into his wonderful  nature and the things he has ordained for us to do for his kingdom’s sake.

Booze and Ciggies

•February 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A recent discussion amongst some Christian friends was about eating, drinking, smoking and drug use. The meeting was split into two parts: the first session was about alcohol, the second about other drugs, and we also touched on gluttony.

We were able to agree that the Bible was clear that drunkenness was sinful. (Luke 21:34) “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” There are dozens of similar verses throughout the Bible.

However, it wasn’t as easy to define drunkenness. People react differently to alcohol, so trying to define drunkenness as having more than ‘X’ pints or bottles is useless. Interestingly, though, even the world says that we are not allowed to use machinery if we’re slightly ‘under the influence’. An example was given of a professional racing driver whose performance was measured before and after just one glass of wine, and his ability was found to have been significantly impaired.

If we could determine whether Jesus drank wine, or condoned it, that would at least tell us that his followers should not be rebuked for doing the same, with the same moderation. So did Jesus drink wine? It’s very possible. He is compared to John, who didn’t eat fine food or drink wine (according to his Nazirite vows). The ‘vicars’ of the day called John a loon because of this. Now Jesus did—it’s implied anyway—the things John didn’t, and they called him a glutton and drunkard! (Matthew 11:19).

A similar comparison is found in the book of Daniel. There, the brave lad decided that he wouldn’t eat the king’s food, or drink his wine, for three weeks. (This suggests he did afterwards.) What was he refraining from? It was the consumption of plenty of good quality food and drink. Like Jesus’ culture, eating nice food and drinking wine was normal practice. Abstaining from this habit was symbolic, and is a kind of fasting.

The wedding at Cana is important to look at, since it says that Jesus turned water into wine. It was suggested to the group that this was not an alcoholic drink, but just grape juice. However, the Greek word used here—‘oinos’—is elsewhere used when excessive drinking is warned against. For example, the wine Timothy was encouraged to use for medicinal purposes was ‘oinos’, as was the wine mentioned in Ephesians 5:18: ‘And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit’. If you can get drunk with ‘oinos’, then it must have contained alcohol. Anyone know of exceptions to this?

Of course, Old Testament priests were forbidden from drinking wine or strong drink. One thing noticed from this is that wine wasn’t regarded as a particularly strong drink. The wine used today is probably more like the OT strong drink. Reconstructions of Bible methods of wine-making have produced wine which has only a fraction of the amount of alcohol that we see today.

So are church pastors the equivalent of OT priests, making them subject to similar restrictions? It’s difficult to prove this. Firstly, the entire church is now called a kingdom of ‘priests’, and an ‘holy priesthood’, and we’re not subject to OT priesthood laws; but if wine does affect people, even if only a little, is it wise for a pastor or an evangelist to be found under that influence? Drink dulls the senses and suppresses the conscience. Surely, it’s better that the one called of God in this way be always sober, ready to do his work.

Should the Christian be found in pubs? Matthew 24 contains a parable in which the main character sinfully fails to watch for his master’s coming, and eats and drinks with the drunken. Does this mean just being in the presence of someone under the influence of booze is always wrong? Well the real point can be seen by comparing the parallel passage in Luke, where it says he was getting drunk himself. So ‘eating and drinking with the drunken’ means he was joining in!

There can be no doubt that Jesus took part in celebrations where drinking was taking place; but we know his heart wouldn’t have been with them in indulgence. So the Christian should take the same care, and be careful about where he is found, always remembering he is a stranger among the people of this world.

One of the brothers suggested that there was a world of difference between a Christian having a small drink at the end of the day in his own home, and a Christian who goes to town ‘clubbing it’; and this was generally agreed on. It was regarded with sadness that some young believers are seen on Facebook in nightclubs, holding beer, looking drunk and even making vulgar gestures. What can we say about their standing? We might not know how far the Lord will let his people fall into those things they desire, but we can at least warn these people that the Bible is clear: drunkards shall not enter the kingdom of God.

A fairly conclusive verse is found in Deuteronomy (ch. 14, verse 26): ‘And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household’.

So the general consensus about drinking was that, it be done in moderation, if at all, and preferably not in public. We shouldn’t judge others for this careful use of drink, though drinking in the company of clearly drunken people is to be avoided if possible. And pastors and officers should take special care to remain sober, as the Bible tells them.

Gluttony and drug taking

The discussion about gluttony was a lot briefer. It was agreed that very few sermons or messages are heard warning against gluttony. Could this be because many of the pastors are guilty of it themselves? The other side of the coin shows a similar picture, with pastors never encouraging the people to fast, usually because they don’t!

Maybe it’s because we haven’t heard much about gluttony that we can’t take it as seriously. We think pastors who say, ‘It’s my wife’s fault I’m this big!’ are funny, and we laugh as much as they do; but how can it be funny, when the Bible calls it sinful? One of the reasons rebellious young people were threatened with being stoned to death in the OT was because of gluttony. And Proverbs 23:21 says, ‘For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty…’

Maybe we don’t take it seriously because eating greedily doesn’t have the effect that drugs like alcohol have. Some believers can get away with being gluttons because they don’t get fat, so it’s a secret sin, but it’s still wrong. One brother suggested eating as little as we can get away with. Not bad advice at all, but not easy to do either.

The issue of smoking was interesting, as the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid it. Of course, we can argue indirectly against it, by saying we should look after ourselves. But surely we should give these things the same emphasis as the Bible does. An example was given where a Christian was ostracised by some members of his church because he was a smoker. Now in their dreadful lack of love, they have committed the real sin, one which is mentioned in the Bible. So we need to be careful not to turn our traditions into scriptural principles.

One brother confessed to using tobacco, but very little of it. It was said that it’s unwise to have a habit that’s known to cause cancer; but that could be said about Christians who eat too much red meat, or don’t exercise enough. So, again, double standards are the rule in our churches.

One argument used for not smoking, etc. is that we’re the temple of God. We are indeed, but what enters in doesn’t defile us, so using this verse is poor exegesis.

Regarding drugs, we discussed whether Christians would use drugs like cannabis and heroin if they were legal. A couple of the brethren, who have experience of using different drugs, said that it was difficult to use them in moderation—and it would be pointless, since the reason for taking drugs was to alter your consciousness. We agreed, then, that these things were completely unsuitable for anyone, especially the believer. Of course, caffeine is a drug. To take too much of that is also unwise.

Are drugs mentioned in the Bible? Galatians 5:20 uses the word ‘witchcraft’ which, in the Greek, is pharmakeia, where we get our word ‘pharmacy’ from. Thayer, in his Greek lexicon, says this word means ‘the use or administration of drugs’, to alter a person’s consciousness.

Who says the Bible’s out of date?!!

Burning the Koran

•January 26, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Recently, in an example of PC posturing, the British authorities refused entry to a US pastor. If you were thinking that it must be serious, seeing as Muslim extremists (i.e. the proper ones) are not always barred; if you were thinking that this man must be guilty of a crime more heinous than advocating genocide, you’d be right. This man threatened to burn a book. You heard me right. He was seriously going to take one of his own books (a copy of the Koran, if that matters) and burn it. What do you mean, “What’s the big deal?” It’s obvious…it’s erm, because, erm…well, it must be because he should have recycled it. You know the clout this environmental lobby has.

Serious mode now. I’m on the fence again. The first side of this fence: burning the Koran, for no good reason, could be very damaging. Christians around the world, who have spent decades reaching Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ, could find the relationships they’ve built destroyed. They could find themselves being expelled from the countries they work in. Then there are the protests all over the world, which often end in rioting, and sometimes people are killed. (The scale of the violence after the Danish cartoons of Mohammed—not particularly funny ones, I should add—should at least do away with the argument that these incidents are carried out by “extremists”; it’s too large a section of Islam to be written off as a fundamentalist fringe movement.)

The other side of the fence: once again, the world has shown its willingness to pull out all the stops to appease international Islam. This pile of old books, all the property of the Pastor, was to be burned. Well, it is just paper. It didn’t magically become holy when it rolled off the printing press. And for the Christian, he should view the Muslims’ idolatry of paper and ink in the same way as he views the Church of Rome’s use of statues of Mary, i.e. with absolute contempt. And because of this idolatry, millions of Muslims around the world are prepared to foment civil unrest, commit violence, and even murder innocent people, all because someone decided to destroy a book which was theirs to do with as they wanted! When my reference copy of the Koran is tatty, it will go to the same resting place as my old Bibles: in the recycling bin or on the bonfire.

So another side of me thinks we should all burn copies of the Koran, and draw silly cartoons of Mohammed. Silly? Yes. Unnecessary? Well, maybe not. Maybe Muslims need to be offended, on a huge scale. Let them get so tired of protesting every day that they get used to being offended. After all, the rest of the human race has to to put up with being offended without threatening everyone. Then, when they’ve calmed down, they can integrate more fully with the rest of the world, as people who have every right to protest peacefully when they’re offended, if they want.

Bibles get burned, without the entire Western world renting their garments in grief. Here are a few examples of news reports:

  • 2005: ‘Saudi Arabia Desecrates Hundreds of Bibles Annually’
  • 2006: ‘Muslim Students Urinate, Spit On, Then Burn Bible’
  • 2007: ‘Christians in Gaza Fear for Their Lives as Muslims Burn Bibles and Destroy Crosses’
  • 2008: ‘Muslims burn Bible in Pakistan’

Christ’s name is slandered, and his people are persecuted, every day. How do Christians respond? Does our society fear a violent uprising by Christians? Do Christians call for the beheading of atheists? Honestly, comparing them with Muslims all over the world, can you say Islam is as peaceful?

The international outcry is extremely worrying. Did Hillary Clinton speak out so vociferously when three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded? Did the FBI interview Muslims who openly showed support for terrorism on marches through the USA? Did Interpol ever speak out against Islamic death threats in Europe? And did the President of the United States himself intervene when Christians were burned alive in Iraq? If you’re thinking that the outcry was way over the top, you’re bang on. These world leaders and international institutions don’t even blink when tens of thousands of innocent civilians are slaughtered, but they wail in despair on the world stage when someone wants to burn a pile of paper. Sickening and hypocritical, the lot of them.

Christians, don’t be like me. Don’t forget, frequently, that God is sovereign. Don’t forget that the end of Islam is coming, and a great destruction it will be. All the trappings of their false religion, gone. All its followers who never abandon it and turn to Christ, gone.

We don’t have to burn the Koran—God’s going to do that for us.

 

The Book Deception

•January 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

If someone publishes a book on some contentious topic, that wealth of evidence means there must be truth behind it, right?

Consider the books about evolution. Not those boring ones people have to study at university. I mean ones written for the man in the street—interesting stuff, and without the complex data. After all, they’re the only ones most people, including me, can understand. What I’m about to say also refers to those books which are thick and boring, but we’ll leave them for the biology students.

Richard Dawkins, the darling of atheism, wrote a book a while back called The Greatest Show on Earth. Although professing to be about evolution, he attempts to show that belief in a creator god is proof of being uneducated or mentally ill. The weak Christian might look at a book like this and think that it’s a lot of information against their belief system; and I know some will be scared at the thought of being unable to counter the latest attacks.

Like everyone else, I’ve grown up being bombarded with the notion of biological evolution. It was in the school textbooks. It was on the telly. It was in magazines and newspapers. How can anyone dare believe that so many people could be wrong?

Not wanting to be one of this world’s sheep, I often rebel against conventional ideas. Looking into arguments for creation, I became aware that this evolutionary edifice was not as real as it pretended to be. It’s like standing in front of a mighty-looking castle, only to discover it’s a façade made of wood, with lengths of 2-by-2 propping it up from the inside.

This realisation meant coming to a startling conclusion: that the majority of the best minds in this world are wrong. Many people who have argued with me against creation have cited the huge number of evolutionary scientists as evidence that their hypothesis must be true. It doesn’t matter that there are thousands of scientists alive today who believe in creation, or that many of the biggest names in the history of science were too. ‘We’ve got more than you, so there’ is about the depth of their reasoning.

The Christian knows that there is a God, and that he created the world through his son, Jesus Christ. There is faith (which many people often refer to disparagingly as ‘blind faith’) and reason behind our position. The facts we see around us makes sense when viewed from a position of faith in God.

The lesson we should learn is not to be intimidated by big books which claim to prove our faith is stupid. Never underestimate the ability of men to produce substantial amounts of arguments against what you believe. Whatever anyone holds to, whether atheist or Christian, Nazi or Communist, hunter or bunny-hugger; there will always be someone out there who could write a book against your beliefs. It may be a thick book too. But don’t let the apparent weight of evidence fool you. There’s also someone else out there ready to refute it!

Most people in this world are against God (the real God, that is). They’ll mostly reject out of hand anything which might persuade them there’s a God, because to admit this allows for a possible divine judgement against them. But for those who are brave enough to leave their comfy zone, there’s a book out which refutes Dawkins’s latest rant against God. It’s called The Greatest Hoax on Earth, and the author is Jonathan Sarfati. It can be bought at the website of Creation Ministries International (CMI).

The Greatest Hoax on Earth

The Greatest Hoax on Earth