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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My blog has moved to Typepad . . .

The Blog Has Moved!

I'm now blogging at Typepad.

The new Blog is called Emerging Free and the web address is: http://emergingfree.typepad.com/

To go to the blog, just click any of the links above or the image below.

If you followed the old blog, and you want to stay connected, remember and follow the new blog, and/or add it to your blog roll.

Thanks for your interest in the blog.

John
http://emergingfree.typepad.com/

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When 'City Slickers' Try to Do Mission in the Highlands and Islands . . .

Ten years ago, or so, myself and a brother in the Lord were involved in local open-air work. Having spent a number of months giving it laldy on the streets of Paisley, we embarked upon a greater challenge. We decided to head to the Islands for a week of open-air meetings and street evangelism. I'm not sure we ever verbalised it (or were even aware of it), but, looking back, I'm sure that there was an implicit (and sinfully proud) attitude that somehow the lands of revival had gotten dry and dusty and were in need of a fresh injection of spiritual life (of the pentecostal variety). In hindsight, I think we were operating in folly and not faith!

Similarly, many years later, I moved to the Highlands to teach RME having previously taught in an urban deprivation priority area. The school had high crime-rates, therefore teaching anything, never mind RME, proved a challenge. I found a way though, with stories like the Cross and the Switchblade. The combination of gang culture and conversion connected well with young people. Since it worked well, I used the same resources when I moved to the highlands, only this time they did not go down so well. Why? It's a different context. In the Highlands, it's not the Cross and the Switchblade, it's the Croft and the Tractor!

Both of these situations reveal an important principle, quite simply, culture and context are important. In other words, just because it works in the city does not mean it will work in the rural areas. In fact, it probably won't. Why bring this up? Well, having lived here for almost five years, I can see that it is not just me that makes this mistake. Church planters, missionaries, itinerant ministries will come to the highlands and islands, perhaps even gain access to schools, and host interdenominational events yet time and time again they bring a pre-packaged methodology in the hope that people buy into it. And of course, most of the time, people don't.

Incoming ministries often end up frustrated at the lack of interest from local churches and local people. Some come to the hasty conclusion that the local churches are stuck in a rut and lack relevance. Very often the only churches who facilitate the pre-packaged programme, are the newer churches who have come and set up church in the area -- again, very often these newer churches have brought with them pre-packaged assumptions about how to do ministry, consequently many newer churches really struggle to connect locally with the indigenous culture of the Highlands and Islands. Very often, new churches are planted by non-locals, who end up with a church full of non-locals. The only exception to this rule is when a newer approach to church and ministry is pioneered by local people, when this happens, the new approach can be very effective.

Does this mean there is no place for ministries and missionaries to follow a call to the Highlands and Islands? Not at all. There is always a need for workers in the vineyard. However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind if you are considering ministry and the highlands and islands, whether it be on a long-term or short-term capacity.

Humility is important

Many modern approaches to ministry are built on pragmatism. Hence, if something is working elsewhere there is an assumption that this can be exported elsewhere. Consequently incoming ministries tend to land with an implicit arrogance, and an attitude that writes off what is already happening (because it is "out of date") and boasts of being the best thing since sliced bread.

The incoming ministry is often dismayed at the lack of enthusiasm for the new approach. Consequently they think that the disinterest is a result of a deficiency in spirituality, instead of looking at themselves and judging their motives and methods, they judge the people.

A much better way forward would be to take a more humble approach. Ditch the programme and come and get to know the people. Get to know the area. Instead of coming with suggestions, come with questions, do some research before you get here. Speak to those who are already on the ground. Instead of coming and trying sell a box of tricks,  ask local ministers if there is any way that you can serve them. Ask the established ministries what the needs are. This is not to say that you don't have skills to add, but these will flourish more naturally when they are nurtured in the context of relationships and humility.

Context is important

Like it or not, the Highlands and Islands are Presbyterian land. You may disagree with this, but it would be a very short-sighted ministry or missionary who did not respect this. Many ministries see Presbyterianism as an outmoded form of church, they want to come and bring the latest brand of contemporary Christianity-- and assume that the unbelieving locals will flock to their programmes or churches because this is "so exciting" and unlike the "boring churches". Of course it doesn't happen. Why? Well, even the local non-church goer will likely feel more loyalty to their historical local Presbyterian church than they do to some peddler of exotic spirituality.

I would suggest that it is important to understand Scottish presbyterian church history. Not only is it important to understand the history, it is important to understand the doctrines and approaches to ministry.  Even if you fully intend to set up a completely different style of church (e.g. Baptist, or contemporary), if you do so with an appreciative understanding and respect for the local presbyterian context, you will have a more effective ministry. Otherwise you are just sowing faction and division.

So, in conclusion, the highlands and islands need labourers but they need labourers who are humble, willing to learn about the culture and context and who are willing to lay aside the pre-packaged programme in order to build relationships with the local community of believers and unbelievers.















Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is our worship of God actually an expression of self-love and self-adoration?

So, after delving into the narcissistic world of Joyce Meyer and Modern Evangelicalism, I thought I would highlight some reading material which is a corrective to the crass creeds of contemporary Christianity. The beauty and power of the corrective lies not in the author, the correction flows from its Christ-centeredness.  It’s not a case of Apollos versus Paul and Piper versus Meyer, it is a question of pseudo-Christianity versus biblical Christianity – it is humanism versus the gospel.  

The following quotations are taken from the introduction to God is the Gospel by John Piper.

I should issue a warning, if you feed your soul on a steady diet of popular Christian Authors and preachers such as Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer or many of the other God TV Christianised Self-Help Gurus – this will shake your world. It certainly shook mine the first time I read it.

 Quotes from God is the Gospel

The acid test of biblical God-centeredness—and faithfulness to the gospel— is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?
 
This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle. It creeps into our most religious acts. We claim to be praising God because of his love for us. But if his love for us is at bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised?
 
If the enjoyment of God himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is not the greatest treasure, his self-giving is not the highest mercy, the gospel is not the good news that sinners may enjoy their Maker, Christ did not suffer to bring us to God, and our souls must look beyond him for satisfaction.
 
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No?
 
It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel..

The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ.

In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of.

We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worth. Who then is our pride and joy?

When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.

Have we shifted with the world from God’s love as the gift of himself to God’s love as the gift of a mirror in which we like what we see? Have we presented the gospel in such a way that the gift of the glory of God in the face of Christ is marginal rather than central and ultimate?

The world needs nothing more than to see the worth of Christ in the work and words of his God-besotted people. This will come to pass when the church awakens to the truth that the saving love of God is the gift of himself, and that God himself is the gospel.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What is wrong with Joyce Meyer's Teaching?

 
A few days ago, I posted an extract from a piece of writing I am working on which explores false teaching. Here is what I wrote:
 
"Whichever brand of false teaching was being peddled, the results were the same – they left those who fell for it worse off. Those who fall for the empty promises of false teaching always end up short-changed. Instead of deeper spirituality they end up with less spirituality; instead of freedom they find bondage and instead of greater spiritual experience, they find themselves robbed of genuine spiritual experience. False teaching will always draw people away from Christ; consequently those who embrace it will find themselves devoid of many of the blessings of Christ."
 
Now, the extract above, simply summarises what the New Testament shows us about false teaching. I never named anyone, I never directed it at anyone, and I never even applied it to charismatic teachings. Hence, I was somewhat bemused when I received the following response from a loyal follower of all things extreme charismatic:   
 
"You risk bringing the wrath of Almighty God upon you"
 
There were several other responses, none of them very coherent. However, the exchange emphasised an important truth for me, it seems the only unforgivable 'sin' in the modern charismatic world is for a believer to exercise discernment and question false teaching!  
 
A few days later, David Robertson released an article which explored the moral failing of God TV's Rory Alec. Robertson's reflections mirrored that of many others who have concerns about God TV, he said "The Real Problem with God TV is not Rory’s Adultery", so what is the real problem? Robertson went on to say:
 
"The problem with God TV is not the moral failure of Rory’s adultery. It is the moral failure of associating the Good News of Jesus to the poor with the prosperity gospel and health and wealth blasphemy of Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer."
 
Now, most biblically-minded Christians that I know, would have no problem with that statement, they recognise that it is true. However, many good Christians will struggle with one of the names on that list: Joyce Meyer. Joyce Meyer, over the years has gained incredible influence in charismatic and evangelical circles. Hence, it is no surprise that that some people will struggle to accept that there is a fundamental problem with her ministry.
 
Now, Matt Slick, over at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), has written a very good piece on some of the more heretical and lesser known side of Joyce Meyer. Matt has had a bit of time to research this in-depth, and I fully recommend his article. However, Matt's article is really exposing the heresies which most Word of Faith preachers promote. These teachings are not always explicit in the popular books which hit the Christian book shops. In addition to these issues, there are further problems with Joyce Meyer's brand of Christianity.
 
Last night I downloaded two samples of Joyce Meyer's books. Within the first pages of each book there were problems. Problems that are not just issues with Joyce Meyer, but problems that are characteristic of the modern evangelical brand of Christianity. The reason that Joyce Meyer is so widely accepted, is simply due to the fact that she is repackaging the message of the world, a message that is already embraced by a large proportion of western evangelicals. What is that message? The message is simple: Christianity is an individualistic, spiritualistic worldview that provides people with the opportunity for greater health, wealth and happiness.
 
Let me illustrate this with an excerpt from Joyce Meyer's book: How to Hear from God.
 
Before we look at what she says, let me say from the outset that the title of the book in itself is a clue that there is something wrong here. If you are having trouble hearing (directly) from God, the answer is simple: He is not speaking! When God speaks, you will know about it!
 
"The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (Psalm 29:3 -- 5)
 
Yet despite the fact that God needs no help whatsoever to make His voice heard, countless Christians have been deceived into thinking they need to read books, go to seminars, and hear teaching about how to hear from God. At best this is delusional at worst it's a scam.
 
 With that being said, let's hear from Joyce . . .
 
 

There are so many problems with this opening page from Meyer's book, it is impossible to know where to start.

Meyer states that: "Learning to hear from God . . .is very exciting" No it's not. It's terrifying. In the desert, when God spoke in the presence of His people, they could not bear it, it was described as:

"a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them." (Heb 12:19)

Of course, the new mystics will respond: "Ah, but that was Old Testament, the New Testament has tamed the voice of God" Really? When God speaks in the presence of a crowd in the New Testament, the gospel writer states:

"The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered" (John 12:29)

We could go on to show more examples which clearly prove that hearing God is anything but exciting. However, Meyer's mention of excitement is actually quite revealing. I have a suspicion that those who pursue the mysticism of Meyer and others, do so because that is exactly what they are looking for -- excitement! Their Christianity is dull and lifeless. This is actually not speculation, Meyer tells us as much, later on, in her opening chapter.


Firstly it needs to be stated that Joyce's religion, prior to discovering a way to "hearing God directly" does not sound like genuine saving faith in Christ. She claims she loved Jesus on the one hand, but on the other hand she says her religion was all about rules, church attendance and holidays. Either she had not heard about being saved by grace through faith, and had never really trusted in Christ alone, or she had, but she was caught up in the hamster wheel of religion. Either way, the solution for both possibilities is the same, she needed to rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. She needed to be satisfied by seeing Christ as He is revealed in scripture. However, she also needed to understand that if she had genuinely glimpsed the all satisfying saviour, there is a sense in which we will always have an unfulfilled longing. We will never be fully satisfied this side of glory. As Paul tells us in Romans we "groan inwardly" longing for the day when Christ's glory is revealed in its fullness. However, the important point is, Joyce should have found her answer in Christ, not mystical voices.

This blog post has already exceeded an appropriate length. I haven't even begun to tackle most of the issues in the opening page of her book. I'll include a list of the concerns bellow, and a brief response to each of them.



Problems

1) Joyce confuses providence, "General Revelation" and guidance with "God's Voice." The Lord reveals his invisible attributes through creation, but the knowledge of God received through creation is limited. Likewise, while God uses circumstances to lead us and guide us, this is not where we find the "voice of God", for the voice of God, we must look to the scriptures. (See Westminster Confession chapter one for more information).

2) The whole thing is narcissistic. God's voice linked to God's plan for ME. It's all about me. God speaks to her about His plan for her, she wants God to speak to her about her future. This is no different to those who seek comfort from horoscopes, fortune tellers and Tarot Card readers.  And it's not even spiritual. It's carnal. As fallen people we want security about the future, we want to know that our finances, health and success will all be safe-guarded. On the other hand, God does speak about our future, but not in the way we want. He speaks of future hope and glory. He gives us an assurance that we are eternally secure, if we build our lives on Him and not the things of this world.

3) Nowhere in scripture are we instructed to seek to hear a "still small voice." This has become an evangelical mantra but it is nonsense. We  are no more instructed to seek a still small voice in order to hear God than we are to seek a burning bush, an Angelic visitor or a talking donkey! It's absurd. The "gentle whisper/still small voice" is taken from Elijah's encounter with God. It is one example of how God dealt with a prophet. It is descriptive, not prescriptive. It is a description of an event, not a command to follow! It also very, very dumb. How do you know which "still small voice" amidst the myriad of conflicting thoughts and desires within your heart is actually God's? You don't. This is why there is so much false prophecy within the charismatic movement.

4) The "inner witness", in scripture, is speaking about the assurance of salvation-- not the way in which God's voice is discerned. Again, there is no instruction in scripture to be led by a mysterious "inner witness". This has more in common with paganism than Christianity.

5) Joyce warns us that "we are in danger of missing it". Missing what? Missing God's plan for our lives. How can we miss it? By not actively seeking out his mysterious voice. This is the worst teaching ever! God's will for our life is not dependent upon us hearing, interpreting and following the directions of some mysterious subjective guidance. This is legalism of the worst kind. This has led many sincere believers into spiritual ship wreck. God is sovereign, and believers are only called to walk in prayerful obedience to God's revealed will. To be out of God's will is to sin against His revealed commands. However, even then, we are still in the hands of a sovereign God who has not lost control for one second.

6) Joyce Meyer is teaching a form of mysticism combined with the American Dream. The 'Awesome Plan for MY life' combined with the need to follow mysterious guidance is simply the American Dream (my great future of happiness, wealth and health) combined with mysticism (the need for spiritual experience). It is not Christianity.

7) The centrality and sufficiency of the scriptures is completely ignored by Joyce Meyer. "The Word" (but she doesn't even say that this is the bible) is mentioned as one source amongst a multitude of other sources. This is the foundational issue. A book which supposedly helps us hear from God yet it so conveniently ignores the essential, central and fundamental way in which God has spoken: the Written Word of God! I think someone needs to give Joyce Meyer a copy of the Westminster Confession!

"Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased" (Westminster Confession Chapter One)

In conclusion, Joyce Meyer's teaching leads to false Christianity. A Christianity that is wrapped up in selfish ambition, narcissism, mysticism and borders on the occult. As someone once said, "If you want to hear from God, read your bible." In the same vein, if you want to grow in your Christian faith, ditch the Joyce Meyer books and read the scriptures instead. If you struggle to understand the scriptures, speak to your pastor, but make sure you attend a church that actually has a pastor who teaches the bible faithfully.





Thursday, October 9, 2014

Should Some Theological Students Leave College & Return to Sunday School?

"When young fellows say that they have not made up their minds upon theology, they ought to go back to the Sunday-school until they have." (Spurgeon)


A contemporary trend amongst students of theological establishments is the state of theological "openness" whilst undertaking their studies. In other words, they begin their studies, supposedly, with a blank canvas, a canvas that is yet to be painted with theological commitments. The three or four years at theological college is akin to theological window shopping, a passing by the competing shop windows of theological truth claims. The student is a consumer who is free to stop, perouse, walk on by or enter and purchase as he or she chooses.

There is a lot that could be said about this. It is of course a symptom of the times. We live in an age of relativism, therefore truth claims are considered too restrictive. We live in an age of consumerism, consequently we approach church life and theological convictions in much the same way as shoppers visit multi-stores. Of course, those who approach theological education in these terms, would object to being compared with spiritual consumers or victims of post-modernism, however, their objections do not reduce the reality of the problem.

What are the problems? There are several of them. The consumerist approach places the consumer at the centre of theological training instead of Christ and His word at the centre of the process. There is a problem of individualism. Instead of the creeds of the church being at the helm, the individual sits on the throne of theological truth. The modern explorer claims liberty from the creeeds of men, but they substitute ecclesiatical authority for individualistic anarchy. Hence we have an evangelicalism that breeds churches which are a law unto themselves, led by leaders who are a law unto themselves, who in turn preach to people who are a law unto themselves.

This is not a completely new phenomenom, Spurgeon encountered a similar issue in his day:



We have occasionally had applications at which, perhaps, you would be amazed, from men who are evidently fluent enough, and who answer all our questions very well, except those upon their doctrinal views, to which repeatedly we have had this answer: “Mr. So-and-so is prepared to receive the doctrines of the College whatever they may be!” In all such cases we never deliberate a moment, the instantaneous negative is given. I mention it, because it illustrates our conviction that men are not called to the ministry who have no knowledge and no definite belief. When young fellows say that they have not made up their minds upon theology, they ought to go back to the Sunday-school until they have. For a man to come shuffling into a College, pretending that he holds his mind open to any form of truth, and that he is eminently receptive, but has not settled in his mind such things as whether God has an election of grace, or whether he loves his people to the end, seems to me to be a perfect monstrosity. “Not a novice,” says the apostle; yet a man who has not made up his mind on such points as these, is confessedly and egregiously a novice, and ought to be relegated to the catechism-class till he has learned the first truths of the gospel. (Spurgeon)

Does it matter what Gospel we accept?

One Commentary on Galatians has referred to the New Testament as a “bad-tempered book." This is especially true of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians has been referred to by one minister as ‘A Gospel for a wounded conscience’. How do we reconcile these two perspectives? Both are true: Galatians is both polemical and pastoral. In other words the aim of Galatians is to:

1.    Defend the true gospel

2.    Contend against false gospels

3.    Strengthen the church through the proclamation of the true gospel

This exposition of Galatians chapter one will explore three main areas:

        The Crisis

        The Consequence

        The Cure

 

1.    The Crisis

Gal 1:6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you [c]by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

The Galatians are ‘deserting God.’  How?  By, ‘turning to a different gospel’ (there are no other gospels: they are really turning to a false gospel.) Paul equates turning from the gospel as turning from God. Why is the nature of the gospel so important? The reason is straight forward: the gospel alone is the ‘power of God for salvation’; the gospel alone reconciles people to God; and the true state of our soul is determined by the gospel we choose to embrace!

How do we discern true the true gospel from false gospels?

Bank tellers recognise counterfeits, not by studying the counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. If we get to know the marks of the true gospel, we will recognise the false. Deception is Satan’s key strategy (he is an angel of light and his servants appear as servants of light). The truth is our key protection against the enemy: ‘If you are my disciples, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ The problem with counterfeits is that they look like the real thing! The Galatians had not abandoned faith in Jesus but they had embraced a distorted Jesus.

Context

The Galatians were gentile converts who had been saved under Paul’s ministry. Jewish believers had joined the church and began to teach, ‘It’s great you have faith in Jesus, but you need to be circumcised’ (Circumcision was the Old Testament mark of the covenant). According to the Judaisers, the Galatian Christians needed the sign of circumcision for their righteousness to be complete (in other words, faith plus the law). Righteousness (how can I be rightly related to God) is the key issue at stake.

 

What was wrong with Judaisers’ teaching?

The teaching was serious error because it undermined the sufficiency of the work of Christ and it introduced a shift from faith to works. The Reformers taught that, ‘Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.’ In other words, salvation is by grace because Salvation is God initiated; it is by Faith alone because it is not by works of the law that we are saved;  and it is in Christ alone because Christ is the one who saves us, therefore God alone receives all the glory

The Galatian church was in a real crisis: the Galatians had lost their grip on the true gospel and had embraced a false gospel. The modern church finds itself in a similar situation. Steve Lawson demonstrates this:

In this present hour, preaching that is devoid of the person and work of Christ is all too often commonplace. Such lifeless words are a snare into which many pulpits have fallen, the deadly trap in which the Lord Jesus is minimized, if not altogether absent. Rather than giving Him the central place of pre-eminence, Jesus is demoted to the periphery. Instead of being in the spotlight, Christ is left standing in the shadows.

In the New Testament times there were many false gospels, this is also true today. The apostles had to deal with various false teachings. One popular false teaching was Antinomianism which could be summed up as ‘hyper grace’, in other words a grace which does not lead to repentance and holiness of life.  We see examples of antinomianism in the epistles of 1st and 2nd Corinthians 1 Peter and Jude. Antinomianism is with us today, it finds its expression in the theological and moral relativism which pervades many evangelical and mainstream churches. 

Another false gospel which the apostles had to deal with was Mysticism. Mystics taught the churches that that deeper spirituality was to be found in some secret knowledge or experience outside of Christ. Paul tackles the mystics in his letter to the Colossians. The dangers of mysticism are seen most clearly today in the extreme fringes of the charismatic movement.

Another false gospel is legalism; this is the problem which Paul was dealing with in the churches of the Galatians. Legalism teaches that Faith in God’s grace is not enough for God’s favour and that Christians need to obey certain rules if they are to know the full favour of God. Legalism is relying on anything other than Christ alone for right standing with God (Righteousness)

Christians are caught in legalism when the trust in works for right standing with God: sacraments; church attendance and our own goodness are faulty foundations, yet multitudes of church goers think that this is what being a Christian is all about.  Legalism is no secondary matter, legalism has drastic consequences.

 

2. The Consequences

N.T ground is very different from the culture in which we live. Secular culture says: ‘each to their own’; ‘whatever works for you’ and ‘truth is relative.’ The biblical position on these matters is much more narrow and exclusive:

Prov: 14:12 ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.’

Jesus: ‘I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to father except by me’

From the perspective of culture, the concept of consequence is a foreign language when it comes to realm of beliefs. From the Biblical Perspective, a departure from the gospel has clear consequences for congregations and preachers.

Consequences for preachers and teachers who preach a false gospel

Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

The word ‘Accursed’ means  Anathema: which is translates by the NIV as ‘ Eternally condemned’ In other words, without hope of mercy.  For the preacher of a false gospel the consequence for leading God’s people astray is eternal condemnation. This is why the apostle James said, ‘few should presume to be teachers because teachers undergo a stricter judgement.’Therefore Preachers need to be assured that their message is authentic. How can we tell the difference between true preachers and false preachers? True messengers are preachers of the cross.

A false gospel has consequences for the church (remember we are dealing with legalism.)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. Gal 4:4

Paul warns us that legalism leads to believers being alienated from Christ, in other words, legalism brings separation between us and God. It disturbs our fellowship and communion with God. Legalism leads us from relationship centred Christianity to rules centred Christianity.

Paul tells the Galatians that they have ‘fallen from Grace’ (no longer under God’s favour). If we are striving for favour by means of our religion, we are no longer enjoying God’s favour as a free gift. This also leads to the loss the joy (blessing) of our salvation. Paul asks the believers: ‘Where then is that sense of blessing you had?’ (Gal 4:15) Make no mistake about it, legalism brings misery and kills the blessing.

Legalism will also lead to a loss of Christlikeness, Paul says: My children, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you (Gal 4: 19). God’s purpose for us as Christians is fruitfulness (Christlikeness) but Christlikeness is the fruit of justification (which is by faith alone). Fruitfulness is a result of abiding in Christ and we abide in Christ by abiding in the gospel. What we believe influences how we behave, how we behave is a by-product of what we believe.

Again, this is counter-cultural. A recent status update which was doing the rounds among Christians said:

Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behaviour does.

Of course this is the thinking of the world, but it is the exact opposite of the gospel. The gospel on the other hand teaches us:

1 John 2:24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

A further consequence of legalism, highlighted by Paul is the fact that Legalism kills fruitful fellowship.

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Gal 5:14

Legalism leads to: Fault-finding, Self-righteousness, and in-fighting. Many churches are devoured by division and bitterness because they have lost sight of the grace that saves. Paul seeks to restore the Galatians to grace based living. He does not leave them without hope. He identifies the cure.

1.    The Cure

Paul refocuses the church’s attention towards Christ:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Gal 3:1

However, before they can value Christ, they must see their need for Christ. In order to see their need for Christ, they need to see the futility of the law. To see the futility of the law, they need to see the impotency of their own righteousness.  The Galatians had a problem; they no longer saw the relevance of grace.

Many Christians can find themselves in this place (especially those who have been on the road a long time).When we no longer see the relevance of grace, it is because we no longer see ourselves in need of God’s grace. This is a dangerous place to be: this is the realm of the Pharisee (self-righteousness)

The root of the Galatian problem was a misapplication of the law (they thought they could be justified through the law) Paul does not just tell them that the law is weak, but he applies it correctly:

Gal 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

In other words, ‘don’t think circumcision (one command) is going to help you get God’s favour. If you want to keep the law, you must keep all of it!’ Paul is informing them that the standard of the law is perfection. Paul then informs them of the true purpose of the law:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Gal 3:24

The law reveals our need of Christ. How? By revealing our sinfulness and God’s holiness.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Rom 3:20

All the great preachers and bible teachers knew this: 

A.W. Tozer: "No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God."

Charles Spurgeon: "I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law." And “"They must be slain by the law before they can be made alive by the gospel.

J. I. Packer: "Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all."

John R. Stott: "We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses, to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ."

How do we see ourselves? Most people see themselves as reasonably good people. Measuring ourselves against others, who we think are getting it wrong, will cause us to think we are doing okay but measuring ourselves against the Law of God will completely shatter this illusion.

What does the Law say? Jesus Summarised it this way:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

 If these are the greatest commandments, all of us are the greatest sinners!

For as many as are of the works of [o]the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Gal 3:10

Do we love God and neighbour perfectly? If not we are lawless and under wrath

Only in recognising the root of our problem can we identify the cure. The greatest need for the Galatian church was a renewed vision of Christ, but before they could appreciate Christ, they needed to understand how much they were in need of Christ.

The same is true for the modern church. The church needs the gospel but before the church will embrace the gospel, it must understand afresh, its need of the gospel. Paul gets to the heart of the gospel in his opening words:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us. Gal 1:3

‘Grace and peace’ in this context can become fuzzy terms but they simply mean the Blessings of the gospel and the means of receiving those blessings. It is only by Grace we can know the benefits of the gospel. When we rely on grace we will experience the Peace which is a benefit of the gospel (our lack of peace is a symptom of a deeper problem.)

There are two ways to understand peace:

1.         Peace with God

Rom 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

        Before we are justified by faith, we are God’s enemies, consequently, we are under God’s judgement however in justification we are ‘made right’. In other words we become at peace with God.

2.         Peace of God

Peace with God leads to the peace of God:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7

This is a peace which enables us to endure the toughest seasons of our lives:

‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.’

       Conclusion:             

The church is called to be faithful to the gospel. False gospels impart false assurance and lead the deceived to hell. The doctrine of Justification by faith alone is central to the gospel. It is this gospel alone which saves. When churches lose the centrality of this gospel their fruitfulness will be hindered. Only by emphasising salvation by Christ alone can the church be restored and revived.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Does the New Testament Teach that Jesus is God?

A week or so ago, I had the classic knock at the door from a well known non-Christian sect which denies the deity of Christ. With the pressures of work, ministry and family life, I usually respond with a warm but firm: "no thank you". However, on this occasion I decided to stop and explain why I could never embrace their teaching: they deny the deity of Christ and therefore exclude themselves from God's offer of salvation. It really is that serious.

It just so happens that I have been spending some time in the gospels. As I read the gospels afresh, the revelation of Jesus as the incarnate Son of the Living God is something I cannot help but see as being the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. It is the central thesis. The author of the book is the main character of the story.

Mark opens his gospel (good news) with the words:

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark 1:1

Of course, Jehovah's Witnesses will agree that Jesus is the Son of God, but they also redefine what this means. To them it simply means that Jesus is an arc angel, the highest and most special of all God's creation. Of course, the scriptures allow us no such view. In Exodus, God's people are instructed to worship no one but God:

"Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Ex. 34:14

Yet the New Testament clearly reveals a Jesus who not only has power over nature, but a Jesus who is worshipped.

In Mathew's gospel (Ch14), we find the disciples in a boat in the midst of a storm. Jesus comes walking on the water, He allows Peter to walk on water in order to confirm that it is Him, he saves him as he bottles it and almost drowns, then finally steps into the boat and the storm resides. The outcome?

And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This meets with no rebuke from the Lord. In fact, Mathew, like the other narrators are keen to progressively show us the unfolding of the revelation of Jesus. The gospel writers are unashamed to show the dullness of the disciples. The gospels are a journey, a journey where the disciples grow in faith and understanding that Jesus is the Christ. Of course, by the end of the gospels and book of Acts we have an ascended glorified Christ who pours out His Spirit upon those who believe.

If Jesus is not God, the disciples where idolaters, Jesus and the gospel writers were false teachers and the New Testament is not the Word of God, for they clearly teach that Jesus is God the Son. It is unmistakable. The New Testament reveals the saviour of the world, God incarnate who dies in our place, rises from the dead and is seated in Glory. As CS Lewis said, Jesus is either a Liar, a Lunatic or He is in fact Lord. What we cannot claim him to be is a superior teacher, for He Himself is active in revealing his divine nature. Let us follow in the footsteps of the disciples and worship Him.