“That’s your interpretation. I have mine.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that or something close to it. While it does signify the importance of knowing how to study and interpret the Bible, such a statement puts way too much emphasis on us – and not enough on God.
This emphasis on us, instead of on God, is the biggest reason why there are so many misunderstandings, false teachings, and erroneous interpretations of God’s Word today. If we want to avoid bad interpretations and explanations of the Bible, we need to start with realigning our focus and our mindset.
The premise behind the “I have my interpretation; you have yours” line of reasoning is often based on an erroneous understanding of two classic Christian doctrines – doctrines particularly popular in the Protestant and Baptist traditions, namely soul competency and priesthood of the believer.
The doctrines of soul competency and priesthood of the believer each hold to the individual autonomy and responsibility of the individual. While I’m simplifying considerably, each of these classic evangelical doctrines essentially hold that people need not go through a pastor or some kind of top-down church entity in order to hear from God. At their most basic level, there’s nothing wrong with those doctrines. In fact, at their basic level, I agree with them. It is certainly the case that a person can have an individual, personal relationship with God – one that is not dependent on a pastor or church. What is NOT true, however, is this idea that each Christian is free to come up with his or her own spin on Scripture – and then assert that his or her beliefs are just as valid as anyone else’s.
Common sense should prove my point. Let’s take football as an example. I’m a huge Washington Redskins fan. Those of you who follow football know that the Redskins had a great, turnaround season in 2012, but fell short of making the Super Bowl. Now, if I say that the reason the Redskins didn’t make it to the Super Bowl is because aliens from Mars interfered in the NFL this past year, you would rightly conclude that I’m not only “off my rocker” (as the saying goes), but not even in the same room or building as my rocking chair! The aliens from Mars interpretation is not a valid explanation of the Redskins not making it to the Super Bowl. I may have the legal and political freedom to assert such a theory, but it’s hardly on the same level (credibility-wise) as other, more informed, analyses of the 2012 Washington Redskins season. The same principle holds true for the study and interpretation of the Bible. Truth is not relative, and some interpretations of the Bible are just plain wrong. In fact, some are downright bizarre.
How then do we avoid bad or bizarre interpretations and explanations of the Bible? The answer is that we are to prayerfully and humbly STUDY the Bible — as encouraged by the Bible itself!
The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy, his protege, with an exhortation to study. The famous verse reads as follows: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15, KJV). Paul is also the one who encouraged the church in Thessalonica to “test everything” and “hold onto what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21), echoing what the Bereans did in Acts when they “searched the Scriptures” to validate the claims made by the apostles about Jesus Christ (Acts 17:11).
Studying the Bible correctly isn’t always easy. It requires that one pay attention to language, context, genre, author intent, and more. It sometimes takes hard work, but there’s plenty of help available to the conscientious Bible student. This is among the reasons why Jesus established the church. Christians should unite with a solid, Bible-believing church and participate in its activities and ministries. There are also great tools available online and in your local library or Christian bookstore.
Churches and tools will only take one so far, though, if the heart isn’t right or the focus is off. We must approach the Bible humbly and with a willingness to submit to God’s will. Too often we want to make the Bible mean what we want it to mean. We see it as a tool to validate what we already believe or to advance an agenda that’s important to us. We must be willing to examine, reexamine, and sometimes jettison our opinions, beliefs, and preconceived notions. Let’s face it. Sometimes, we are wrong. And we need to admit that. We need to let the Holy Spirit examine us and, when necessary, correct us. And the Bible is a great tool in the Spirit’s Toolbox to do just that.
The fact of the matter is that God didn’t give us the Scriptures so we could form our own interpretations and develop our own belief systems. The Apostle Peter touches on this when he writes: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (II Peter 1:20, NIV). If the prophets weren’t allowed to freelance when speaking for God, do you think God is pleased that we’ve given ourselves the freedom to understand His revelation as we see fit? Hardly.
God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). He is not pleased that there are so many denominations and conflicts among those who profess the name of His Son today. If we want to avoid the consequences of bad interpretations and explanations of the Bible, we must begin with the right mindset. Do we want to follow God? or do we want God to follow us? Those who answer “yes” to the former question (not the latter) are in a better position to properly study the Bible and avoid the bad interpretations and explanations that have set so many Christians adrift in confusion.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” -I Corinthians 6:9-10, NKJV
Many Christian pastors, activists, websites, and everyday churchgoers proclaim that homosexuals are destined for hell. They say that gays are going to hell, based on passages like I Corinthians 6:9-10, which includes homosexuals in the list of groups that will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Such Christians quote this passage and then, with anger in their tone and judgment in their eyes, proclaim it as a “slam dunk” that gays will burn for all eternity in the fires of God’s judgment.
As a pastor, I see two very unfortunate extremes when it comes to how Christians and churches handle controversial and sensitive issues like homosexuality. Some, not wanting to offend and not wanting to face social (or legal) persecution, redefine what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality. Others single out homosexuality as some kind of “pet sin” and ignore other issues or sins that the Bible actually spends much more time addressing. What the world needs today is for Christians to speak God’s truth with love, grace, and balance. When it comes to the question of homosexuality and hell, that is especially the case.
Briefly setting aside the question of whether homosexuals are going to hell, the idea that so many professing Christians seem comfortable with people burning in hell (and, later, the Lake of Fire) for all eternity is…well…deeply troubling. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in hell. I believe in God’s judgment. But God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32), so why should we? That people are under God’s eternal judgment is a tragedy. It’s something to mourn, not celebrate. Why? Because God Himself mourns it. God doesn’t desire that anyone perish in hell. He would rather that all repent of their sins and spend eternity with Him (II Peter 3:9). Why is it then that so many Christians today seem downright gleeful that certain people (whether we’re talking about homosexuals or heterosexuals) are going to wind up eternally separated from God and under His judgment? The reality of hell is something that should grieve our hearts and motivate us to spread the Gospel of Christ ever more widely. It is not something in which we should take any kind of satisfaction.
Not only are some Christians off in their perspective on hell and God’s judgment, they are also misguided in their disproportionate focus on sexuality. Once again, don’t get me wrong. I believe everything the Bible says about marriage and sexuality, but I try to be consistent. The Bible doesn’t categorize homosexuality alone as a sin. It condemns all sex outside of marriage. Not only that, but it condemns lust (Matthew 5:28). That calls to mind all forms of lust, including pornography, whether we’re talking about Playboy or, frankly, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. And when it comes to the definition of marriage, same-sex marriage is certainly not affirmed in the Scriptures, but neither is polygamy. Those who multiplied wives (including David and most notoriously, Solomon) were guilty of serious sexual sin. Why do some Christians today condemn homosexuals, but give polygamists like Solomon and David the equivalent of a pass – or, if not a pass, a mild slap on the wrist?
Some will protest that they don’t give Solomon and David a pass, but think about it. Think about all the sermons and lessons heard in churches each and every Sunday where David and Solomon are portrayed in a positive light, without any reference to their very public sins. David is regarded in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Solomon is regarded for his immense wisdom. Christians almost universally regard these two kings as great heroes of the faith. And while Solomon did drift away from God later in his life (though hopefully he returned before his death – a matter of some dispute among scholars), no one argues that David is in heaven today.
While we’re on the subject of David and Solomon, consider their sins. Not only were the father-son team rampant polygamists (especially Solomon), their sinning ways didn’t stop there. Solomon was effectively an idolater for bringing false religion and idols into Israel. And David was an adulterer — and a murderer! Given the cover-up he tried to pull off, he was also a liar. If you look carefully at I Corinthians 6:9-10 and Revelation 22:15 (another passage often cited by Christians who claim homosexuals are going to hell), you’ll note that lying, idolatry, adultery, and murder are all sins that Paul says will send people to hell! Why do we single out homosexuality? The way I see it, the sins of David and Solomon outnumber those of most homosexuals today, and yet, how many sermons or Sunday school lessons teach that David and Solomon are in hell today?
Yes, the Bible does categorize homosexuality as a sin. Yes, the Bible is clear on its definition of marriage. It troubles me deeply when Christians try to rewrite Scripture on marriage and sexuality. It also troubles me that society is increasingly turning against decent men and women of faith who believe what the Bible says about sexuality, including homosexuality. Not all Christians who embrace the Bible’s teachings on sexuality or who support the traditional definition of marriage are guilty of hate. But the church does need to be honest with itself. Some Christians are guilty of hate. Some Christians are putting an undue emphasis on homosexuality to the exclusion of other issues addressed in Scripture.
The Bible categorizes all kinds of behaviors, attitudes, and actions as being sin. We should not single out homosexuals as if they’re somehow especially marked for God’s judgment. What we should do is realize that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:10, 23). And the consequences of our sins is death – both physically and spiritually (Romans 6:23). But because of the grace of God and the matchless love of Jesus Christ, we can escape the consequences of our sin and enjoy eternal life with God. This promise extends to all, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation.
Perhaps the most quoted passage of the Bible is Jesus’ admonition: ”Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, KJV). It is also quite possibly the most misapplied passage in the Bible. Invariably, non-Christians and even (embarrassingly) many Christians will toss out this verse every time a professing Christian makes a judgment about another person or group of persons — or about the actions, attitudes, words, etc. of another person or group of persons. And each time they do so, they display their own ignorance of what Jesus was actually teaching when he said these words 2000 years ago on the Mount of Olives.
Let’s first make sure we take into account the entire passage. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to lift out verses or phrases from the Bible, completely divorced from their context, and then build entire theologies or worldviews around those isolated verses or phrases. Let’s not make that mistake ourselves. The portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which deals with making judgments reads as follows:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, KJV)
Arguably, we should read the entire Sermon on the Mount, since the themes of judgment, humility, forgiveness, etc. are woven throughout, but I think the above portion provides us with enough information to make sense of what Jesus was saying. (Though you are of course encouraged to read all the Sermon on the Mount).
When one looks at Matthew 7:1-5, it’s hard to deny that Jesus’ main point in this portion of the sermon is found in verse 5, with verse 1 being part of the build-up to the main point. Jesus is taking to task the tendency of many (such as, in his day, the Pharisees) of making self-righteous judgments devoid of any self-examination. He’s not going after the act of judging so much as he’s going after how most people make judgments.
I’ve run into this tendency of self-righteous, self-oriented judgmentalism time and again. I remember listening to one lady a couple years ago judge another family as being biblically unsound, yet she herself was violating Scripture on several points and, for that matter, had opinions about the church and about how pastors should operate that were completely without any biblical support! I know of another person who tosses around biblical verses and buzzwords, indicts other people for not living up to what she thinks those terms mean, and yet she routinely engages in gossip, slander, and stirring up conflict – things that are explicitly condemned in Scripture. Sadly, it’s not just lay people. I know of pastors who preach against certain sins, while ignoring others (or perhaps surrendering to others). I could go on. The Christian community is full of hypocrisy and, in many cases, Christians are so blind to their own failings that they don’t even know just how hypocritical they are being.
This is what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 7:1-5. He’s not saying we shouldn’t make judgments. If so, then he would be contradicting his own teachings. In the Gospel of John, after all, Jesus is recorded as saying: ”Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24, NKJV). Here, we have an affirmative exhortation from the Son of God to judge. With Jesus, the issue isn’t whether we should make judgments, but rather whether we are making proper judgments.
In Matthew 5, just as in John 7, Jesus is giving instructions on how one is to make proper judgments. In John 7, he’s saying we shouldn’t judge by appearances. And in Matthew 5, he’s saying we shouldn’t judge from a position of hypocrisy. Both lessons are needed today.
It’s time we dispense with this notion that Jesus was against making judgments. At best, the argument that Jesus says we are not to judge is a misconception borne out of poor biblical exegesis. At worst, it’s a deliberate distortion of what the Son of God is actually saying. Either way, this false belief concerning Jesus has no place in the Christian community today.
We are to make judgments. It’s frankly ludicrous to say otherwise. Can we not say that adultery is wrong or stealing is wrong or hurting innocent people is wrong? Can we not say that greed is bad and that bigotry is despicable? Of course, we should make judgments! We just need to make sure our judgments are proper and sound — and that all our judgments (along with all our words and actions) come from a position of love and humility.
How do we know whether someone is truly a Christian? And how do we know whether something is of a genuine, authentic Christian nature? These may seem like strange questions, but strike at the heart of a great deal of confusion and disenchantment in the world as well as the church today. And not only today, but throughout history.
The Crusades claimed to be Christian. The Salem Witch Trials were done in the name of Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan surrounds itself in Christian imagery and many of its members speak in Christian terms. Adolf Hitler referred to himself as a Christian. Westboro Baptist Church claims to be a Christian church. And on it goes. How do we know whether someone is a genuine, authentic Christian?
In today’s world, many people believe that being a “Christian” is a matter of self-identification. If someone says a “sinner’s prayer,” was raised in a “Christian home,” or simply refers to himself or herself as a “Christian,” then (so goes the understanding) that person is a Christian. By contrast, Jesus says you’ll know authentic Christians by their “fruit.” Authentic Christians live with genuine Christian character, and that is why I wrote Authentic: Character Traits of a Genuine Christian. Being a Christian is not simply a matter of profession. It’s a matter of confession and conversion.
Don’t be misled by those who claim to be Christian, while spreading hate, bitterness, immorality, or pain. While no Christian is perfect, true Christians will manifest positive fruit in their lives. Will they sin? Yes. At least occasionally. No one is sinless or perfect, except Jesus Christ himself. But, overall, authentic Christians will reflect genuine Christian character.
If you’d like to read more on this subject, Authentic is available now on Amazon. If you have an Amazon Kindle device or a free Kindle reading application on your personal computer, smart phone, or tablet (iPad, etc.), you may enjoy Authentic. If you would like more information on how you can get a free Kindle app, visit the Amazon Kindle page.
God bless you!
Louie Giglio “Withdraws” from Obama Inauguration: What the Controversy Says About Religious Freedom for Bible-Believing Christians
Bible-believing Christians best keep their mouths shut. Otherwise, they are not welcome in the public square. That’s the lesson we can take from the Louie Giglio inauguration controversy presently in the news.
I thought it was encouraging when President Barack Obama tapped Louie Giglio, the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, to take part in his 2012 inauguration. Pastor Giglio is a well-known and highly respected evangelical leader who has done much to help the poor and needy as well as to combat sex trafficking around the world. And he’s faithfully preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ for many years. The President’s invitation to Giglio represented, in my view, an attempt to let evangelicals know that they at least had a place at the table in the President’s second term. That hope is now gone.
Very soon after Giglio was invited, the liberal blog Think Progress uncovered a sermon preached by the Atlanta-based pastor about 15 years ago, in which he referred negatively to homosexuality. Never mind that the Bible refers negatively to homosexuality. For most liberals today and certainly most gay and lesbian activists, pastors are not allowed to believe in or preach the Bible any longer — at least not when it comes to homosexuality.
Louie Giglio has now withdrawn from giving the inaugural benediction. According to the inaugural organizers, this was his choice. Well….if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Anyone who understands politics knows that’s a partial truth at best. If the President wanted Giglio to remain on the program, Giglio would’ve remained on the program. Clearly, President Barack Obama no longer wants Louie Giglio to be a part of his inauguration. And the message that should be clear from that to the rest of us is this…
If you believe what the Bible says about homosexuality, you are not welcome in the public square (at least not in the public square of Barack Obama’s America).
If you’ve been watching the news, there is a growing trend of Bible-believing Christians facing legal, political, economic, and social consequences due to their views on homosexuality. In a recent blog post, Ed Stetzer, a prominent evangelical leader frames the issue very well: “This Louie Giglio moment, and the Chick-Fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that, raise the question: Where do people of faith with long-standing traditional religious/scriptural convictions go from here?”
Unless the Christian community wakes up, where we go from here will be an increasingly secularized and liberalized America that no longer respects our First Amendment rights of free speech or the free exercise of our religious beliefs. Bible-believing Christians are watching their religious freedom and their freedom of speech slip away, and doing very little about it. What’s even worse, some Bible-believing Christians are voting for the very people who are actively chipping away at those freedoms. Due to apathy, ignorance, and foolishness, we are fast becoming the architects of what will be our own persecution.
Some of you reading this may say that Giglio’s religious freedom remains intact. He still pastors his church. He can still preach. He’s only been apparently disinvited from the inauguration. After all, some of you will say, the First Amendment doesn’t mean Giglio is entitled to pray at the inauguration. That is all true. And, in the short term, Louie Giglio’s freedom is not at risk. All true. But if you are thinking that or saying that, you are missing the whole point of this article. Hence, I invite you to read the next paragraph very carefully…
Once a society determines that certain viewpoints and/or expressions of certain viewpoints are not to be tolerated, freedom begins to die. Read that sentence again if you need to. And again if you still don’t get it!
Increasingly, our American society is embracing the view that homosexuality is completely acceptable and any disagreement with that view constitutes hatred, bigotry, or homophobia. And these things are not to be permitted in our “tolerant” society. And those who embrace these forbidden views should face consequences for doing so. That is where we are headed – and we are going there quickly. Bible-believing Christians who embrace traditional views of sexuality (including homosexuality) are facing legal, social, economic, and political consequences for those views. And these consequences are being dished out in the guise of tolerance and diversity.
All of this is coming together to erase our religious freedom as Christians and begin an era of religious persecution in America. The writing is on the wall. It’s time that the Christian community wake up – before it’s too late.
My latest eBook, Authentic: Character Traits of a Genuine Christian, is available as a free download today (January 6) and tomorrow (January 7). In today’s world, many people believe that being a “Christian” is a matter of self-identification. If someone says a “sinner’s prayer,” was raised in a “Christian home,” or simply refers to himself or herself as a “Christian,” then (so goes the understanding) that person is a Christian. Authentic challenges that false idea. Being a Christian is not simply a matter of profession. It’s a matter of confession and conversion.
It’s easy for people to claim they are Christian, but Jesus says you’ll know authentic Christians by their “fruit.” Authentic Christians live with genuine Christian character.
What’s more, many men and women who have genuinely accepted Christ tie their growth in Christ to traditions, practices, and societal assumptions. What Jesus actually calls us to is much more radical and substantive than the Comfort Zone so many of us inhabit. It takes more than simply reading one’s Bible occasionally, praying over meals, and going to church once a week to grow in Christ. Being an authentic Christian who is truly growing in Christ requires that we focus on Christ and obey Him. Jesus is, after all, not looking for fans. He’s looking for followers.
Authentic is available exclusively at Amazon. And for now, it is available only as an eBook. If you have an Amazon Kindle device or a free Kindle reading application on your personal computer, smart phone, or tablet (iPad, etc.), you may enjoy Authentic. If you would like more information on how you can get a free Kindle app, visit the Amazon Kindle page.
Follow the link below to grab your copy of Authentic during this free promotion (January 6-7, 2013). And after you’ve read through it a bit, please leave a review on its Amazon sales page. And…click “like” if you don’t mind.
Authentic: Character Traits of a Genuine Christian
Also…I’m trying to get this Christian eBook into the hands of as many people as possible – hence, this free promotion. Email the link to your friends and family – and encourage them to download it as well.
God bless you!
Time to amend the Bible? In a televised discussion with well-known American pastor Rick Warren, CNN’s Piers Morgan says the Bible, like the Constitution, is “inherently flawed.” Citing the Bible’s references to homosexuality as an example of the Bible being “flawed,” Morgan argued: “My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible. You should compile a new Bible.”
Morgan’s rather audacious comments were made as part of a televised interview with Rick Warren, the pastor of California-based Saddleback Church and the bestselling author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Morgan categorized the Bible with the U.S. Constitution, calling both documents “well-intentioned” but in need of updates.
“I do not believe the Bible is flawed,” Warren countered. “What I believe is flawed is human opinion because it constantly changes.” Warren’s reply illustrates the deep divide in American society over the issue of same-sex marriage, especially the divide among people of faith.
Of those Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and who believe homosexuality to be a sin, the vast majority of them are not motivated by fear, hatred, or the need for control. The fact that churches and pastors seem fixed on the homosexual issue has more to do with the media and the rest of society keeping the issue in focus than it does with the Christian community. (The exception to that statement would, of course, include vile cult groups like Westboro “Baptist” Church). Whether it’s Piers Morgan or Oprah Winfrey, talk show hosts routinely bring up the issue of gay marriage when interviewing Christians in the news. You can hardly watch an interview with someone like Kirk Cameron, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, or any other prominent Christian without the host or one of the interviewers bringing up the issue of same-sex marriage! What’s more, you’ve got Christian schools being sued and individual Christians losing jobs and contracts because of their views on gay marriage. Little wonder that the issue is talked about so much among Christians these days, but it isn’t the Christian community that put the issue on the agenda.
Regardless of who keeps bringing up the issue, the point is that most Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and who regard homosexuality as a sin are not motivated by homophobia or anything like that, nor are they trying to single out any one sin over others. The Bible, in fact, spends a whole lot more time addressing pride, gossip, greed, unity among God’s people, and caring for those less fortunate than it does on the issue of homosexuality. Most Christians, like myself, are well aware of this. When it comes to the current debate over homosexuality, our main concern is that society, including (sadly) many who say they are Christian, seem quite comfortable with ignoring, redefining, or (in the case of Piers Morgan) calling for outright change to the Bible. To steal an expression from World War II, that is a “bridge too far” for any honest, conscientious, Bible-believing Christian.
Morgan doesn’t elaborate on how the Bible should be amended. He simply says to Warren: “You should compile a new Bible.” Assuming that his use of the word “you” is meant not just for Warren, but for all evangelical Christians, Morgan’s statement illustrates what many people believe (deep down) about Christianity. Many believe that Christianity is an invented religion, which we can change to adapt to our evolving beliefs and tastes. I grant that many professing Christians have attempted to do this, as have quite a few denominations. And those who have attempted to do so have been wrong.
In some cases, people try to change, redefine, ignore, or mock and criticize the Bible because they don’t like what it says. In some cases, they’ve been turned off by other people of faith who misuse, abuse, or misrepresent the Bible. In other cases, they simply fail to appreciate the nature of the Bible. Many of those saying the Bible is anachronistic or obsolete fall into that latter category. They read passages in the Old Testament about temple practices, animal sacrifices or the stoning of witches or passages in the New Testament about women wearing head coverings and they chalk these things up to examples of the Bible being out of date. In reality, most of these concerns and objections regarding such passages stem from our inability to appreciate context, genre, or the unfolding nature of God’s revelation.
No one should approach the Bible without paying close attention to the genre of the particular book or passage within the Bible and the overall context of that passage. Understanding that context starts with understanding the overall context of the Bible itself. When we read and study the Bible, we must approach it for what it is, namely a collection of books and letters that reflect God’s revelation over a period of roughly 1,500 years. Put together, the Bible’s sixty-six books tell the story of the human race from beginning to its prophesied end (at least on this earth), with Jesus Christ at the center of it all. In other words, the Bible encompasses all of human history, telling the story of God’s interaction with the human race. With this in mind, we see that the Old Testament Law was written for the people of Israel as a means to set them apart in a special and unique way as well as to teach them about sin, show them the consequences of their sin, and demonstrate their need for a Savior. To put it bluntly, the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. We no longer need to sacrifice animals, because we have Jesus. Likewise, most of the penalties associated with the Mosaic Law and most of the temple rituals in the Mosaic Law are no only applicable today (and they were never applicable outside of the Hebrew nation anyway), because Jesus fulfilled the Law. We are now under the grace of God.
This doesn’t mean that we ignore the Old Testament, and it certainly doesn’t mean we dismiss passages of the Bible (Old or New Testament) that we don’t understand or think are no longer applicable in all the specifics. The principles of God’s Word (from cover to cover) are still relevant today and still reflect God’s will today. For example, in the Mosaic Law, out-of-control, rebellious teenagers were to be stoned by the community. We don’t do that today, but rebellion against one’s parents is still a sin and out-of-control teenagers are still a threat to society. We no longer stone witches, but witchcraft is still wrong. The principles are still in force. The entire Bible, after all, is given to us, Paul writes, “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
When it comes to the doctrines and principles of God’s Word, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Old or New Testaments, the Bible is still the Bible. God’s Word is still God’s Word. It doesn’t matter what society says or what public opinion says. What matters is what God says. It’s not for the Bible to change to accommodate us. It’s for us to accommodate God’s Word. We didn’t invent God. God created us. If anyone has to change, it isn’t God. We are the ones who must change. That’s the case whether the issue is marriage or sex or the sanctity of life or helping those less fortunate or gossip or pride or whether Jesus is the only Way. Doesn’t matter what the specific issue is. If God speaks to an issue (as He does through His Word), then the issue is settled! Attempts to “amend” the Bible will only lead to more flawed and heretical translations of the Bible. Such attempts won’t change God Himself or His revelation.
To disagree with God’s revelation is to disagree with God, and those who disagree with God don’t win in the end.
Yesterday, I signed a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to label the notorious Westboro Baptist Church a “hate group.” It is my hope that the government of the United States will indeed label Westboro a hate group and categorize it with other dreadfully noxious organizations like the Ku Kux Klan. Westboro Baptist should also be stripped of its tax exempt status.
I’m a huge believer in the First Amendment, and I don’t want to live in a country whose government labels any church with which it disagrees a “hate group” and can then hit it with political, legal, or economic consequences. I cherish our religious freedom, and I don’t want to see that eroded in America. Nevertheless, I believe the time has come to take the risk. If we, as a society, cannot recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a true “hate group,” then the word “hate” has no meaning.
As a Christian living in the United States, it isn’t simply my responsibility to guard religious freedom. It’s also my responsibility to point out when the name of Christ is being blasphemed and the message of Christ is being distorted. For the record, the Bible’s teachings regarding homosexuality are clear, and my staunch opposition to Westboro Baptist Church in no way shows that I’m trying to redefine or deny what the Bible says about sexuality and marriage. But, we as a Christians are to speak the truth in love (see Ephesians 4). Westboro Baptist isn’t speaking anything in love, and we as Christians should do all we can to make clear they don’t speak for us.
There was widespread sin and corruption in the Roman Empire, but can you imagine Christians in the first century celebrating the volcanic destruction of Pompeii because there was sin in the Empire? Were Peter and Paul encouraging Christians to picket the funerals of Roman soldiers with signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”? If children had been slaughtered at a Roman school, can you picture Mary or James or John hailing such a tragedy as God’s judgment? Yes, there are times in the Old Testament when prophets, appointed by God, warned kings of God’s wrath and told them of specific punishments that were coming (or had already came). But Fred Phelps and the folks at Westboro are not prophets. They are hate-filled charlatans.
Yes, Christians should stand against sin, and yes, Christians should warn people of God’s justice. But Christians should also show God’s love and should stop making themselves look foolish, insensitive, and hateful by pretending to know that certain acts or tragedies in the news are God’s judgment for certain deeds. God did not orchestrate the Sandy Hook school massacre because there’s homosexuality in America. It’s absolutely unbelievable that I would even have to type those words. Who in the world do we think we are to say things like that?
Christians today need to distance themselves from the likes of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. And one way to do that is for God’s people to support efforts (like this petition) that would label them for what they are: a hate group. They are a hate-filled cult completely unworthy to carry the name “Baptist” or “church,” let alone to evoke the Name of Jesus Christ.
If you would like to sign the petition, here is a link to it…
White House Petition to Label Westboro Baptist Church a Hate Group
The Christmas season affords us the opportunity to look at one of the most inspiring episodes of the Christmas story, namely the wise men journeying from the East to worship the “King of the Jews.” More important than the story itself are the lessons we can draw from it.
Who Were These Wise Men?
We don’t know a lot about the wise men. In fact, we don’t even know how many there were. They brought three gifts, so we’ve assumed there were three. Their exact number is unknown. What’s more, there are many questions and some debate over their homeland. It’s likely, though, from the Greek word behind the English translation “wise men” that these Magi were VIPs from the Persian Empire. They were among the cultural, intellectual, and political elite from the Persia, though they were likely not “kings,” no matter how much we like to sing: “We three kings of Orient are…”
What we do know is that their attention and imagination were captured by a bright star. Being the scholars they were, their investigation of the star led them to conclude it was a sign of the prophesied King of the Jews. The records they investigated were likely informed by the Hebrew prophet Daniel.
Three Lessons From the Wise Men
From the story of the Wise Men, we can surmise three lessons:
- The wise men saw the star, which speaks to their awareness and willingness to follow the evidence where it led. How many people today see only the darkness of doubt, discouragement, sin, and defeat and never the light of God’s revelation?
- The wise men followed the star. They left their comforts and traveled a great distance to see the King of the Jews. Today, many people aren’t motivated to even get up and go to church (let alone travel thousands of miles on a camel!). When people (including people who SAY they believe in God) aren’t motivated to consistently read the Bible, pray, and go to church, I think we are in need of learning from the Wise Men.
- The wise men came to WORSHIP. How many folks today would rather make their own “truth” and/or their own “god”? They want a god that conforms to THEIR personal opinions, beliefs, lifestyles, and pre-conceived notions, rather than submitting themselves to the One True God. We must approach God on God’s terms, not demand that God come to us on our terms. Humility and submission are the cornerstones of true worship.
This Christmas season, let us learn from the Wise Men of the Bible, because wise men and women still seek Jesus and worship Him.
When John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech in the shadow of the at-the-time recently constructed Berlin Wall, he challenged all the people of the free world to see themselves as citizens of Berlin. Today, we should all see ourselves as citizens of Newtown, Connecticut. With our busy lives and with a never-ending parade of bad news every day, it’s too easy sometimes to passively react to tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. But this isn’t something we should stare at from a distance. This is the kind of tragedy that touches every human heart…and it should.
The Bible says we are to “weep with those who weep,” and on this day (and for many, many days to come) the people of Newtown are weeping. On this day, we should all stand in solidarity – a solidarity of broken hearts – with the people of Newtown, Connecticut.
May we place them before the Lord in prayer and, as we are given the opportunity, may we show God’s love to them as much as we can and in any way that we can to help them through this terrible time.