Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is Jesus God?

Is Jesus God? And if so, to whom is Jesus praying when the Bible speaks of him praying? Is he praying to himself?

To the first question, “Is Jesus God,” I answer, “Yes, he is.” But having said this, I must be careful to explain exactly what I mean.

When we say that Jesus is God, we are talking about his nature, not his identity. In other words, we are not saying Jesus is the Father. Rather, we are saying that with respect to his nature, Jesus is what the Father is.

Sometimes when we use the word God we specifically mean God the Father. When we speak about praying to God, for instance, we are identifying the one to whom we are praying.

But sometimes we use the word God in a different way. For instance, when we say Jesus is God, we are saying he is God as opposed to human or angelic. We’re talking about his nature. We are talking about what he is.

The Scriptures are very plain on this point. John makes it quite clear when he says at the very beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this verse, “the Word” is a reference to Jesus in his pre-incarnate state, that is, before he came to earth as a human being. And John says very clearly, “the Word was God.” But notice how he also makes it clear that he does not mean that Jesus was the Father. He says, “The Word was with God [the Father], and the Word was God [that is, with respect to his nature—meaning that he was what the Father was].”

This is not the only place where the Scriptures speak of the deity of Christ. In his letter to the Romans Paul says that “Christ…is God over all” (Rom. 9:5). In Philippians he speaks of Jesus being in the form of God and being equal with God (Phil. 2:6-7). In Colossians he says that the “fullness of deity dwells bodily” in him (Col. 2:9).

In addition to these explicit statements regarding the nature of Christ, we find that divine works are attributed to him. Chief among these is his work of creation.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Jn. 1:3)

The world was made by him, yet the world did not know him. (Jn. 1:10)

There is…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:6)

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16)

Who can create except God alone? And yet several times over Jesus is said to have been the Creator of all things.

Clearly, Jesus is God. He is not God the Father, but with respect to his nature, he is what the Father is.

And since Jesus is distinct from the Father in terms of his person, we can see how the Bible can speak of him as both being God (in his nature) and praying to God (the Father).

Is the Devil real?

I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t really exist and that whenever the Bible mentions the devil it is simply a personification of evil. What do you think?

Many people have questioned whether or not it’s possible in this day and age to believe in a personal devil. Many otherwise sincere Christians, who have been affected far more than they should by the Enlightenment, have suggested that “Satan” or “the devil” is simply a personification of evil; that there is no real personal being, no real malevolent spirit, known as Satan. They think this is just the Bible’s way of speaking about evil to a pre-scientific and superstitious people. “Now, of course,” they say, “we know better. Now we’re scientific. We’re rational. We now know that this is just a figure of speech.”

We know nothing of the sort. In fact, just the opposite is true. The devil is mentioned often in such a way and in such contexts that lead us to exactly the opposite conclusion. He is a very real being, spiritual in nature, malevolent in character.

It is one of his tricks in our day and in the West to make people think he doesn’t exist. He then has an easier time of deceiving them, because they are not standing guard against him.

Let me ask you, who is easier to assault, someone who has no idea he has an enemy, or someone armed to the teeth and ready for battle because he not only knows he has an enemy but also knows the enemy is on the move, seeking to destroy him?

This is how the Bible speaks to us about the devil. The apostle Peter warns us:  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)

The names which are used in Scripture to speak of him are very instructive. The word “Satan” means opponent or adversary or enemy. And indeed he is the enemy of both God and men. He aims at nothing less than the complete overthrow of God’s kingdom and the damnation of human souls.

The chief means by which he opposes us and seeks to overthrow the kingdom of God is by tempting us to do evil. In fact, twice in the NT he is referred to simply as “the tempter.” The first is in Matthew chapter 4. Our Lord Jesus Christ had just spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matt. 4:4)

The devil sought to devour Jesus; sought to undo him; sought to entice him to sin, not only here but at other times as well. On this occasion there were three temptations the devil used against him. But of course Jesus stood firm and never yielded to temptation.

The apostle Paul also refers to Satan as the “tempter.”

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thes. 3:5)

So “Satan” means opponent, adversary, enemy. And the chief ploy he uses to undo us is to tempt us to do evil.

But he also uses slander and accusation. In fact, the word “devil,” diabolos in Greek, means accuser or slanderer.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. (Zech. 3:1)

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev. 12:9-10)

He slandered and accused Job before God by suggesting that Job only served God for the personal benefits he received from him.

There is another means he uses to tempt us to depart from God which is particularly effective, and that is to stir up persecution against us. In his message to the church at Smyrna in the 2nd chapter of Revelation, Jesus says,

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)

When the Bible mentions the devil, it is not merely a literary device for the purpose of personifying evil. It means a very real malevolent spiritual being, against whom we are to guard ourselves.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph 6:11)

On Jesus' Genealogy

In Matthew it says that Jesus’ father was Joseph, and in Luke it says that his father was Eli. How can this be?

The genealogy of Christ is given by both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38). There are some important differences between them. In Matthew, the genealogy runs from Abraham forward to Jesus, while in Luke it runs from Jesus backward to Adam.

From Abraham to David, the two genealogies agree. But from David, Matthew traces Jesus’ descent from Solomon, while Luke traces it from Nathan. So here is our first question:  How can Jesus be descended from two different sons of David? But more importantly, how can Joseph be the son of Jacob as Matthew asserts, and also the son of Eli as recorded by Luke? Several theories have been advanced to reconcile this apparent discrepancy, but the two most probable ones are as follows:

Some have suggested that Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy, while Luke gives Mary’s. In this case, Eli (Joseph’s father according to Luke), was really Mary’s father. Why then is he said to be Joseph’s father? It may have been the case that Eli had no male heir. According to the law, his inheritance would then pass to his daughter Mary (Num. 27:8), and in turn would be transferred to her husband, Joseph (Num. 36:1-9). Joseph, then, would be the actual, biological son of Jacob (as per Matthew), but a reputed son and legal heir of Eli (as per Luke).

A second possibility is that both Matthew and Luke give Joseph’s genealogy, but that he is said to have two different fathers because of a levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10).

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel (Deut. 25:5-6)

In a case such as this, the son who is born is the actual biological son of one man (the living man) but is regarded as the legal son and heir of another (the dead man). The son, then, in a sense, has two fathers. This may be the best way to account for the difference in the two genealogies of Christ. This solution was first proposed by a church father named Africanus (c. 200).[1]

It is not uncommon to hear skeptics of the Bible point to the genealogies of Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke as a discrepancy, or a contradiction which disproves the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. However, as we have seen, the genealogies are capable of being reconciled with each other.

Whatever the true relationship of the genealogies and the people involved, one thing is clear: the early Jewish opponents of Christianity who had access to the official genealogical records, as well as the Gospel accounts, never raised an objection concerning the Gospel record at this point, which in itself is sufficient evidence that they do not contradict each other.


[1] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 1:7

Why was Jesus Baptized?

Why was Jesus baptized? The Bible says that John preached a baptism of repentance, but Jesus wasn’t a sinner who needed to repent. So why was he baptized?

It’s interesting that John wondered about this himself. So we’re in good company if we wonder why it should be that Jesus came to him for baptism. Scripture tells us that when Jesus came to be baptized, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matt. 3:14). John was aware that he himself was a sinner and needed cleansing. He was also aware that Jesus was not a sinner in need of repentance.

But Jesus didn’t come to John and receive baptism for the purpose of confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness. His baptism served a different purpose. He hinted at this when he said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This fulfilling all righteousness has to do with Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17).
All that Jesus did, he did for us and for our salvation—not only in the death he died but also in the life he lived. This is important for us to understand. We normally think of his work on the cross as being the whole of his saving work. But it was necessary before his death to lead a perfect life, to perfectly obey the Law, to fulfill all its requirements. He not only died for us, he lived a perfect life for us. This was necessary in order to qualify him to be our Savior. Our savior had to be a righteous savior, an obedient savior, a covenantally faithful savior.

Israel had been unfaithful. Israel had broken God’s commandments, had dishonored God and his Law. But Jesus came and kept the Law…entirely.

Every obligation that God imposed upon Israel was necessary for Jesus to fulfill. God required Israel to receive John’s baptism; and thus it became a requirement of Israel’s substitute as well. This is what Jesus means when he says, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It was one of his duties as our substitute.

On the day of his baptism, which was also the day when he was anointed with the Holy Spirit and became the Messiah, that very day was the day on which he officially began taking our place. That’s when he began his ministry of substitution. At waters of the Jordan he began to take the place of sinners. He was not a sinner, of course. But he came to take the place of sinners and to identify with sinners.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From our dear friend, Rev. Steve Schlissel

Ministering in Corinth, NY
An intro to the texture of ministry in NYC
by Steve Schlissel

The report on the radio said a husband in Coney Island became enraged when he found his wife with another man. He stabbed his wife, his two daughters, seven and three years of age, then stabbed himself and set his apartment on fire, further injuring himself. No one died, all were hospitalized in stable condition. I wondered if I would meet any of them on my rounds as a volunteer Protestant chaplain at the local municipal hospital. Later that week, I did.

As I left off speaking with a patient in a ward I turned toward the Chaplain whom I assist and found him speaking in Spanish with a Black female patient who appeared to be in her early thirties. The woman’s head was bandaged. Her sister, a portly and pretty woman, was visiting her. The sister did most of the talking. My grammar school Spanish helped me to keep up with much of the conversation. She said the children were on the ninth floor of the hospital, the husband on the sixth. Yes, this was the wife I had heard about. Somehow, the sister detected that I was aware of the circumstances of the case. “You read about this?” she asked me in English.

“I heard it on the radio,” I replied

She warned me, “Don’t believe all that you heard,” obviously concerned about her sister’s reputation, “Thank you for telling me,” I said.

The Chaplain asked me to pray for the victim and I did. There was cordial conversation and good wishes exchanged. When we got into the hall I asked if we could go see the husband. The Chaplain consented. At the wing entrance was a police officer whom we informed of our plan to visit the prisoner-patient. We found him handcuffed to his bed in a regular population ward of six men. Face burns could be seen through an oxygen mask. There were also severe burns on his hands and body. He told us of his stab wound, the most serious injury. The Chaplain, a dear Black man of 67 and an all-to-eager Arminian, proceeded to tell this man of Jesus’ “love” for him almost immediately following our greeting. After a moment of antinomian “comforting,” he said, “The pastor [me] will speak to you now and pray for you.”

I always feel awkward when I am thrust, as it were, into prayer or counseling, but this time I was both more and less so. More, because ministering to a man who had just stabbed his wife and children is not something I do daily. Less, because I was eager to remove any false hoped of God’s indulgence that my Arminian friend may have inculcated.

While he was not openly enthusiastic about our visit (he was too weak to show it if he was), he certainly was not resistant to our presence. What should I do? What would Christ do? I try to bear in mind the background of some in the Corinthian church; former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, as well as “regular” sinners (I Cor. 6:9-11). Sounds a lot like Messiah’s Congregation.

“Listen carefully to me,” I began. “After you did what you did to your wife and children, you stabbed yourself, you tried to destroy yourself. Isn’t that right?” He nodded, but seemed fearful.

“I am not the police, so you may speak to me freely, I am a pastor, a minister. The police are not your biggest problem. You must face God. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“When you tried to destroy yourself you began to carry out the punishment that you know you deserve for what you did. If you do not repent, what awaits you is far worse than anything the police or courts may do. Do you understand?”

He nodded. While I’m certain my companion would have wanted me to lead this man in “the sinner’s prayer,” I tried only to impress upon him the justice of God and His mercy. “What you tried to do to yourself, God did to His Son. He destroyed Him on the cross because of our sins. He is your only hope. You must repent.” Then I took his hand and prayed that God would impress upon him the seriousness of his sin, the enormity of his guilt, and cause him to flee to Christ for refuge. We prayed for his wife and children. We prayed for mercy. Then we went and did the same for the two beautiful children on the ninth floor. The stab wound on the chest of the three-year-old was visible when we approached her bed. How is one supposed to feel at such a sight? Compassion for the baby? Rage at the father (and possibly the mother)? Sadness? Illness? The sisters, fearful at first, seemed put at ease when they learned that, in the marvelous Providence of God, the Chaplain was a fellow Panamanian. They accepted prayer and managed a smile. I touched the cheek of the little one. She is such a beautiful child. What will her future be like?

There is no “dramatic ending” to this episode. The episode was itself the drama. It is a drama that is repeated in different forms, in different ways and in different circumstances on a daily basis in this field of service: Corinth, NY. Every day the sensitive soul can rightly cry out, “Who is sufficient for such a task?” How does one minister Christ? There is no one answer, except if it be, “Faithfully.” But learning from the Word and Spirit exactly what “faithful” means in any given circumstance, well, it is arduous enough to make one confess, “Our sufficiency is from God!” And after we have confessed this, we still feel inadequate and needy. Earthen vessels, indeed. Pray that God would grant us wisdom as we walk through the doors He opens.

Diverse doors. Examples: A Jewish police officer who was injured pursuing an escapee was open to conversation about things serious. A woman with AIDS (from shooting drugs), and whose brother had recently died from the same plague, politely listened to the gospel and the hope in Christ on several occasions before she, too died. A Cambodian woman visiting her ailing mom, expressed interest in coming to church. The daughter of a Chinese woman forced $5 into my hand as thanks for the prayer offered for her mother, who did not understand a word of it. God did. A twenty-six-year-old paralyzed Black man who was just released from prison talked with me about his other convictions- concerning God. He is interested in understanding life. I pray that Christ reveals Himself to “True” (how’s that for a hopeful street name?). A twenty-year-old Puerto Rican girl had a miscarriage. And speaking of names, hers if Providencia! As I ministered to her, sharing my wife Jeannie’s experiences with miscarriages and a stillbirth, I discovered that this darling child did not know what her beautiful name meant. I excitedly explained Providence to her and when I left, I think we were friends. I really could go on and on. It is wonderful and burdensome to minster in Christ’s name. He is what everyone needs.

Corinth, NY, is swollen with need. Jews and Gentiles, young and old, rich and poor. (And whoever said that the poor, in virtue of their poverty, are humble, has never ministered to the poor!) They are sinners all, like me. Through our actively-reaching-out membership, and through referrals, we are called upon to minster to more people than we can competently handle. A young Jewish businessman who stands to make it big in the Big Apple- if folly and cocaine don’t kill him first. A mother of two whose husband walks out on her. A woman in her thirties who was sexually abused by her father. A young man climbing out of the pit of using drugs, getting drunk and patronizing prostitutes. A middle-aged homosexual man who calls us to talk, but refuses to listen.

Experience shows that the vast majority of those to whom we reach out will also “refuse to listen”; they will not enter the fold. People who push for numbers can only be regarded as foolish or blind. Ministry is not a numbers game. At least, not here it isn’t. Yet we must do all things for the sake of the elect, whether they be many or few.

As the fruits of our human sin and national apostasy begin to appear, they appear in Corinth, NY, first. Sow a great wind, reap a greater whirlwind. The winds are blowing so hard, it frequently seems overwhelming. But the words that Jesus spoke to Paul in Corinth were never more applicable than they are now, than they are here: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and not one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” We must care about His many, to be sure, but they must be cared for as people. People who need our time, our love, and sometimes our money. Living in this city, ministering to these people, one finds that Paul’s words must be repeated with urgency: “Brethren, pray for us.”

******
Now go to Messiah's website and donate as generously as you can to this faithful ministry. Or, if you prefer, you can send a check to:  Messiah's Ministries, 2662 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11235

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A solution to Tiger's golfing woes

The LPGA just voted to allow "transgender women" to play on the tour.

As I read the story, it occurred to me that this may be the solution to Tiger Wood's golfing woes. Since returning from his short, self-imposed exile from the PGA, he's been having difficulty regaining his pre-scandal form. Perhaps he can undergo "gender reassignment" surgery and compete as a woman. I'm sure in the interests of egalitarianism no one would complain that he...uh, she (it?) would have an unfair advantage.

It's just this sort of thing that demonstrates the absurdity of rebellion against God. When we fail to acknowledge him, we lose touch with reality and seek to create an alternate reality--an enterprise which is inevitably doomed to failure.

How ironic is it that the man/woman/thing's name  is Lana Lawless? "Sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn. 3:4).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pilgrims' cautionary tale

Kate Zernike, writing for the New York Times, finds fault with Tea Partiers for their "interpretation" of the Pilgrims' early ecomonic experiment in socialism. The Pilgrims were required by the terms of their agreement with the London Company, which financed the colony, to hold all things in common. As you can imagine this created all kinds of disincentives to work.

Eventually, William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, decided to parcel out the land for each family to farm, with each family benefitting according to the labor they put into it. The result was a stunning increase in production. (Should we be surprised?)

This little experiment in collectivist policy has served as a cautionary tale for years among conservative and libertarian thinkers. Ms. Zernike, however, objects. She refers to it as "one common telling" of the story of the Pilgrims. Perhaps it's a common telling of the story because this is the story that no less an authority than William Bradford tells in his fascinating first hand account entitled On Plymouth Plantation.

Here's Bradford in his own words:
All this while no supplies were heard of, nor did they know when they might expect any. So they began to consider how to raise more corn, and obtain a better crop than they had done, so that they might not continue to endure the misery of want. At length after much debate, the Governor with the advice of the chief among them, allowed each man to plant other corn for his own household, and to trust to themselves for that; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. So every family was assigned a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number with that in view, - for present purposes only, and making no division for inheritance, - all boys and children being included under some family. This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and give far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been though great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, - that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to bring forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, with any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labour, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them. As for men’s wives who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it. This feature of it would have been worse still, if they had been men of an inferior class. If (it was an thought) all were to share alike, and all were to do alike, then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another, and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them. Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to the communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another plan of life was fitter for them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My kingdom is not of this world

Why are so many Christians today so concerned about politics and trying to reform government when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).

Why are so many Christians concerned about politics? Because it matters to God, and it should matter to us as well, whether the righteous or the wicked are in power. And it will matter to us if we have any regard for the glory of God and any love for our fellow man.

Solomon says in Proverbs 29:2, When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

The people groan under the rule of the wicked because it is a burden to be governed by them. The bad example of their private lives and the folly and injustice of their rule are hard to bear.

We should be concerned about politics—about government—because government has to do with the ethics of a nation. The ethics of a nation are reflected in its laws and in the faithful administration of the laws. In the same way that the Lord blesses or curses a man according to whether he is righteous or wicked, so the Lord will bless or curse a nation according to whether its leaders are good or bad men.

In addition to this, the Bible teaches that we are to do good whenever it’s in our power to do so. Good government is something that good men will naturally desire to promote. Promoting it is one of the ways in which we serve our neighbor.

As for the saying of Jesus that his kingdom is not of this world, this should not be taken to mean that his kingdom does not exist in this world or that his kingdom is not concerned with the things of this world. As Abraham Kuyper has said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ”

Indeed, Jesus himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Did you notice that he said, “In heaven and on earth”? All authority on earth belongs to Jesus Christ. It was given to him by our Father in heaven. Those who hold positions of authority have that authority on loan from Christ our King. They have a delegated authority. And they are to exercise the authority that has been given to them in a manner consistent with his will. If they do not, they are in rebellion against their rightful sovereign, and they will have to answer to him for it.

When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he is talking about its point of origin. He says it is not of this world, meaning that it does not originate here. Jesus did not receive his authority from men or from any human institution—as Pilate did (the man to whom Jesus was speaking when he made this statement). Jesus’ kingdom originates in heaven with God. But having said this, we must be quick to add that this does not mean that his kingdom does not exist here in this world. It most certainly does. And it is the duty of every Christian, as faithful citizens and ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, to bring kingdom principles to bear upon their participation in civic affairs. At a minimum this means (under our form of government) that we vote, and that we vote for the candidate that most consistently reflects biblical principles in his personal life and in his public policies. Beyond this, as God enables, we should also give financial support and otherwise campaign for good candidates. Political action is not the whole of kingdom work, but it certainly is part of it, and I would argue that under our form of government where we are given the right to choose our leaders, it’s a very important part.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What About Baptism for the Dead?

Please explain the baptism for the dead that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:29.

Paul speaks of baptism “for the dead” in a context in which he is defending the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead at the last day. Some of the Corinthians apparently had denied that there would be such a resurrection, as we see from verse 12.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12)
This skepticism concerning the resurrection also appeared while Paul was preaching in Athens in Acts 17. Scripture says that some of his hearers mocked him when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32).

This skepticism apparently infected some in the church at Corinth as well. And then he proceeds to defend the resurrection against those who for whatever reason denied it.

One of the points that he brings up in defense of the resurrection is the practice of baptism on behalf of the dead.
What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Cor. 15:9)
The Greek phrase which is translated “on behalf of the dead” may also be translated “with reference to the dead” or “on account of the dead.”

Many scholars have assumed that Paul was talking about some early heretical practice that was rooted in a pagan ritual—a practice that he doesn’t necessarily agree with or approve, but one that he finds helpful to his argument nonetheless.

It seems to me rather that Paul has in mind an Old Testament ritual washing that was commanded for those who had contact with a dead body. We read about this in the book of Numbers. The Lord says,
Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown [sprinkled] on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him (Num. 19:11-13)
This passage is referred to in the 9th chapter of Hebrews. Guess what the washing with water is called. Baptism! In speaking about the nature of things under the Old Testament law of purification, and after referring to Numbers 19, Paul says,
Gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings [baptismos] (Heb. 9:10)
This is not the only place in the New Testament where the ritual washings of the Old Testament are referred to as baptisms. We have another instance in Mark 7.
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash [nipto] their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash [baptizo]. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing [baptismos] of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) (Mk. 7:1-4)
We see, then, that the ritual washings of the OT are called baptisms. Moreover, there was a specific ritual washing—a specific baptism—which God commanded for those who had had contact with a dead body. This is what Paul is referring to, when he speaks of baptism on account of the dead. The Christian community in Corinth, being composed of Jews and of God-fearing Gentiles attached to the synagogue, would have been familiar with this practice.

And Paul is suggesting that this ritual washing on account of contact with a dead body presupposes the continued existence and future resurrection of the one who had died.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On the Power and Glory of Christ

The following is from the pen of St. Athanasius (ca. 293-373), the great champion and defender of the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. It's from his work entitled De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation of the Word of God). In the following passage, he speaks of the power of Christ over all the forces of evil.
When did people begin to abandon the worship of idols, unless it were since the very Word of God came among men? When have oracles ceased and become void of meaning, among the Greeks and everywhere, except since the Saviour has revealed Himself on earth? When did those whom the poets call gods and heroes begin to adjudged as mere morals, except when the Lord took the spoils of death and preserved incorruptible the body He had taken, raising it from among the dead? Or when did the deceitfulness and madness of daemons fall under contempt, save when the Word, the Power of God, the Master of all these as well, condescended on account of the weakness of mankind and appeared on earth? When did the practice and theory of magic begin to be spurned under foot, if not at the manifestation of the Divine Word to men? In a word, when did the wisdom of the Greeks become foolish, save when the true Wisdom of God revealed Himself on earth? In old times the whole world and every place in it was led astray by the worship of idols, and men thought idols were the only gods that were. But now all over the world men are forsaking the fear of idols and taking refuge with Christ; and by worshipping Him as God they come through Him to know the Father also.

Anyone, too, may put what we have said to the proof of experience in another way. In the very presence of the fraud of daemons and the imposture of the oracles and the wonders of magic, let him use the sign of the cross which they all mock at, and but speak the Name of Christ, and he shall see how through Him daemons are routed, oracles cease, ad all magic and witchcraft is confounded.

Who, then is this Christ and how great is He, Who by His Name and presence overshadows and confounds all things on every side. Who alone is strong against all and has filled the whole world with His teaching. Let the Greeks tell us, who mock at Him without stint or shame. If He is a man, how is it that one man has proved stronger than all those whom they themselves regard as gods, and by His own power has shown them to be nothing? If they call Him a magician, how is it that by a magician all magic is destroyed, instead of being rendered strong? Had He conquered certain magicians or proved Himself superior to one of them only, the might reasonably think that He excelled the rest only by His greater skill. But the fact is that His cross has vanquished all magic entirely and has conquered the very name of it. Obviously, therefore the Saviour is no magician, for the very daemons whom the magicians invoke flee from Him as from their Master. Who is He, then? Let the Greeks tell us, whose only serious pursuit is mockery! Perhaps they will say that He, too, is a daemon, and that is why He prevailed. But even so the laugh is still on our side, for we can confute them by the same proofs as before. How could He be a daemon, Who drives daemons out? If it were only certain ones that He drove out, then they might reasonably think that He prevailed against them through the power of their Chief, as the Jews, wishing to insult Him, actually said. But since the fact is here again, that at the mere naming of His Name all madness of the daemons is rooted out and put to flight, obviously the Greeks are wrong here, too, and our Lord and Saviour Christ is not, as they maintain, some daemonic power.

If then, the Saviour is neither a mere man nor a magician, nor one of the daemons, but has by His Godhead confounded and overshadowed the opinions of the poets and the delusion of the daemons and the wisdom of the Greeks, it must be manifest and will be owned by all that He is in truth Son of God, Existent Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father. This is the reason why His works are not mere human works, but, both intrinsically and by comparison with those of men, are recognized as being superhuman and truly the works of God.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Can we really know that we have been born again?

Can we really know that we have been born again? And if so, how do we know?

The answer is yes, we can know that we have been born again, or born from above, (as the passage might be better translated).

In his first letter, the apostle John gives us several marks or effects of the new birth by which it can be known. Let’s look at what he has to say.

The first mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 2:29, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of God.”

John points this out because there are many who, as Paul says, “profess to know God, but by their deeds deny him” (Tit. 1:16). They say that they are Christians, but they practice unrighteousness. John says, “No, those who have been born of God practice righteousness.” That is, their lives may be characterized by this. They live in obedience to God’s commands.

The second mark is closely related to this. It is found in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

He is not suggesting that a true Christian lives in sinless perfection, but that the life of a true Christian cannot be characterized as a life of disregard for God and his commandments. A true Christian, one who has been born of God (or born from above) does not make a practice of sinning. And the reason he doesn’t make a practice of sinning is because he has something of the divine nature imparted to him: “God’s seed abides in him.” A man’s son bears the characteristics of his father. You often detect a strong physical resemblance between father and son. Their mannerisms, too, are often similar. The way they speak is similar. So is the way they react to things. Why the similarity? Because the son is the son of his father. In the same way, those who are born of God share in the holiness of God. If you find someone who professes to know God but they seem to have no concern to grow in holiness, you have found someone who is deceived.

The third mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

This thought is repeated a little later when he says, “everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1a). So do you love the saints? Do you love God’s people? Do you prefer the company of Christians to the company of unbelievers? If so, you have one of the marks being born of God.

The fourth mark is found in 1 John 5:1b, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” In other words, if you acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth to be the promised Messiah, which is the same thing that Paul says in Romans: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9) — and this is a sincere confession from the heart—then you have a mark of having been born of God (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3).

The fifth mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 5:4, “For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.” This means that no one who is born of God is continually ensnared by the world. Earlier in the letter he had said,
“Love not the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).
If we are continually overcome by the desires of the flesh (see Gal. 5:16ff), or find that the fundamental motivating force in our thinking is the acquisition of wealth, and the things that wealth can buy, then we love the world and the love of the Father is not in us. But if we find that in fact we are overcoming the world; if we find that these things do not have a powerful hold over us; that we are motivated instead by a love for God and a love for our neighbor; then we have another mark of having been born of God.

Near the end of his letter John says,
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 Jn. 5:13).
And if these things are so, we may, as Paul says in Romans, “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Off by 38 years

What a difference a couple of years make. After the 2008 election cycle the incredibly annoying James it's-a-wonder-anyone-ever-listens-to-him Carville predicted the democrats would rule for the next forty years.
Every four years Americans hold a presidential election. Somebody wins and somebody loses. That's life. But 2008 was an anomaly. The election of President Barack Obama is about something far bigger than four or even eight years in the White House. Since 2004, Americans have been witnessing and participating in the emergence of a Democratic majority that will last not four but forty years.
He was off by 38 years.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marching Orders

Princeton theologian A. A. Hodge (1823-1886), in his Evangelical Theology writes,
The kingdom of God on earth is not confined to the mere ecclesiastical sphere, but aims at absolute universality, and extends its supreme reign over every department of human life.
It follows that it is the duty of every loyal subject to endeavour to bring all human society, social and political, as well as ecclesiastical, into obedience to its law of righteousness...
It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute-book of the kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, "He that is not with me is against me." If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.

It's OK to Leave the Plantation

Check out this two part interview with Mason Weaver about his new book It's OK to Leave the Plantation. Good stuff. Part 1. Part 2.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Extremists are Coming!

This Klavan on the Culture is classic.

What does it mean to be born again?

What does Jesus mean when he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born again”? What exactly is the new birth?

To begin let me say that instead of “born again,” the original Greek might have been better translated “born from above.” “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There is another very common Greek word that means “again” but it’s not the word used here. The word used here has the primary meaning of “from above,” or similarly “from the top,” and this is how it is translated in its every other occurrence in the Gospel of John (3:31; 19:11, 23).

Not only in the Gospel of John, but in every other occurrence in the New Testament, the word most naturally means from above, or from the top. This seems to be how it should be understood in the passage, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).

The coming down of Jesus from heaven is a prominent theme throughout the Gospel of John.
No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man (Jn. 3:13).
He who comes from above is above all (Jn. 3:31).
He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (Jn. 8:23).
This contrast is important and a frequently occurring theme in John’s Gospel. Jesus is from above. He is from heaven. We are from below, from the earth. And Jesus tells us that if we wish to see the kingdom of heaven, we must be born from above.

Nicodemus doesn’t understand Jesus’ meaning. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn. 3:4) He is thinking in human terms. And Jesus rebukes him for not understanding. “Are you a teacher in Israel,” he says, “and you do not understand these things?” (v. 10).

Jesus is talking about a work of the Holy Spirit which is accomplished in the soul of man. It is the implanting of new spiritual life. It is a change which is wrought by the Holy Spirit in a man’s nature. It is a reversal of the moral and spiritual effects of the Fall.

When man fell into sin, there was a fundamental change that took place in his nature. He became a slave to sin and averse to all true spiritual good. Whereas, before the Fall righteousness came naturally to him and he had a taste for divine things, afterward sin was natural, and righteousness unnatural. Man lost his taste for things divine. He lost his taste for true spiritual good. Man in his fallen state is described in Job as drinking iniquity like water (Job 15:16). In other words, he has a thirst for sin. For some it is a thirst for very crass and obvious forms of sin. For others, it is a thirst for more refined and sophisticated forms. As Paul says, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Tim. 5:24). But everyone born since Adam has been affected by the Fall such that apart from divine grace he is wholly disinclined to what is spiritually good. He is averse to the things of God. Not that every man is equally wicked, or that every man is as evil as he could possibly be, but that every man—apart from divine grace—is naturally disinclined to love and obey God.

This is the condition of everyone who has been born since Adam. He is devoid of grace, devoid of the Spirit. He is earthly and natural, and nothing but flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born to a fallen man is a fallen man.

But with the birth that comes from above, accomplished by the Spirit, all this changes. He is no longer merely an earthly man. Now there is a heavenly aspect to his being. He’s no longer limited by the flesh, but has the Spirit of God residing in him. He is no longer merely a natural man, but has a supernatural element to him. He’s been given a taste for divine things. He is enabled to believe and to turn away from sin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Resolving Conflict

As Christians, how should we go about resolving conflict with a neighbor?

The first thing you should do when someone does something to offend you is to go tell a bunch of other people about it. Or if it’s a really serious offense, you should punch him in the nose, right on the spot.

Of course I’m teasing. This is what we might want to do; but not what we should do. What we should do is follow the Bible’s instructions. The Bible is a very practical book and gives us instructions about how to deal with offenses in a godly manner.
The first option, of course, is simply to overlook the offense.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
     and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11)
Jesus speaks of this also, when he says,
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:38-39).
In other words, absorb the shock. Suffer the wrong without retaliation. Peter says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Pet. 3:9). More than this, we are taught to respond with kindness and gentleness when we are wronged. “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:28). And in Proverbs, we are told,
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
     and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
     and the Lord will reward you (Prov. 25:21-22)
“Burning coals heaped upon the head” is a reference to the sense of shame and remorse that anyone with a conscience will feel when he has wronged his neighbor, but his neighbor, instead of retaliating, treats him kindly in return.

When we do this—when we don’t seek to retaliate, but respond with kindness and gentleness—the conflict is often diffused and comes to an end. Not always, but often this is the case.

Now, I should point out that there are certainly times when it is appropriate to confront the person who has wronged you and to insist that he make things right. In Leviticus 19:11 we read,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:17-18).
He says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” when he has wronged you. In other words, confront him with his wrongdoing; point out how he has sinned against you. He doesn’t say, “Go tell everyone else what he has done to you.” Rather, go to the one who has offended you.

This is what Jesus says, also. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15), which is what you would want done to you. If you were the guilty party—if you had done wrong to your neighbor—you would rather your neighbor come directly to you and speak to you about it than go and tell everyone else.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
     but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Pr. 17:9)
“Reason frankly with your neighbor,” “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” And I would add this also: do this humbly and charitably, realizing that you may have misunderstood his words or his actions that have offended you. Offense is often taken where none is intended. Often conflicts arise through simple misunderstandings. So make sure you understand the situation as thoroughly as possible before you start casting blame.

What if there is no satisfactory resolution? Well then, Jesus says, “Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16). In other words, initiate the process of seeking a formal resolution to the conflict by involving Christian brothers who can serve as witnesses to the confrontation according to what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17.

Finally, as Paul said, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18).

The gist of the argument

More than half of Thomas E. Woods' book, Nullification:  Resisting Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, consists of historical documents explaining and defending the right of states to nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government. One of these documents is "An Exposition of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798" written in 1833 by Judge Abel P. Upshur. He sums up the argument in five points:

1.  The Constitution of the United States is a Compact between the States, as such.

2.  The Government established by that Compact, possesses no power whatever, except what "the plain sense and intention" of that Compact gives to it.

3.  Every act done by that Governement, not plainly within the limits of its powers, is void.

4.  Each State has a right to say whether an act done by that Government is plainly within the limits of its powers or not.

5.  The States are not bound to submit to, but may resist, any act of that Government which it shall so decide to be beyond the limits of its powers. (p. 225)
The notion of states' rights is foreign to most Americans today. Most Americans think of the states as nothing more than administrative districts of the federal government. In reality, it was the states who created the federal government to act as their agent to carry out certain limited functions. The federal government is to be the servant of the states, not their master. When the federal government oversteps its delegated powers, it is the states as states who must resist by nullifying its unconstitutional acts. This means we must elect state representatives and state senators and a governor who understand how the state can and should act as a wall of defense to protect its citizens against the unauthorized use of power by the federal government. It is the health care bill that gotten people to think again about the role of the states; but the right of the states to nullify federal laws ought to be used with respect to a host of other issues as well.

I think Woods is spot on in his treatment of this whole subject and I hope that his book becomes a runaway best seller.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A reflection on heroes

Some good words from my son, James.
Heroes are not made in a moment, but often heroes are defined by a moment. Often a moment where all others abandon hope. Heroes are not born into greatness but often greatness follows them. Heroism is never thrust on someone, though often trying events are thrust on a hero. It is never events that create a hero, though it is often events that allow someone to be heroic. Heroes are always looking out for the good of others even when others are not looking out for them. Heroes are not arrogant or proud, though many will be proud of a hero. Not everyone is a hero, but everyone could be a hero. It's not every day you see or meet a hero, but many heroes are everyday heroes.
A wise son makes a glad father (Prov. 15:20).

A dangerous compromise

In August the general presbytery of the Assemblies of God backed away from a commitment to uphold the Scriptural teaching of a recent six-day creation by issuing a wavering statement that reveals the denomination has made a dangerous compromise with the spirit of the age.
The advance of scientific research, particularly in the last few centuries, has raised many questions about the interpretation of the Genesis accounts of creation. In attempting to reconcile the Bible and the theories and conclusions of contemporary scientists, it should be remembered that the creation accounts do not give precise details as to how God went about His creative activity.
The "lack of precise details" is no reason to reject what is clearly revealed. We should not be dogmatically more precise than the creation accounts themselves (Gen. 1-2), but we most certainly shouldn't be less precise either. This is true of other portions of Scripture as well.

Shall we say that because Scripture does not give us precise details as to how Jesus healed the paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8), we are therefore free to suppose it did not happen immediately (as a plain reading of the text implies), but over a period of weeks or months or even years?

Just so, if Scripture says that God created all things in six days, then--in the absence of clues within the text itself which suggest the passage is to be taken otherwise than literally--we ought to heartily affirm the same.
Nor do these accounts provide us with complete chronologies that enable us to date with precision the time of the various stages of creation.
How do we know they are not complete? And what is meant by "the various stages of creation"? Are they assuming progressive creation over millions of years? The creation accounts are written in the style of historical narrative. They are clearly intended to be taken as descriptive of actual history, not as allegory, myth, or legend. The only sense in which it is appropriate to speak of "stages of creation" is with reference to the six days, which are not symbolic of long ages, but were literal 24 hour days, which is evident by the repetition of the phrase "and there was evening and there was morning, the first (second, third, etc.) day."

[E]qually devout Christian believers have formed very different opinions about the age of the earth, the age of humankind, and the ways in which God went about the creative processes.
True, devout Christians have formed very different opinions about these (and many other) things. But a Christian may be devout, and yet not think clearly, or handle the Scriptures accurately. This is no excuse not to uphold what Scripture clearly teaches.
Given the limited information available in Scripture, it does not seem wise to be overly dogmatic about any particular creation theory.
But if God has revealed the fact that he created all things "in the space of six days", is it really only a theory? And is it being "overly dogmatic" to insist upon it?
Whatever creation theory we individually may prefer, we must affirm that the entire creation has been brought into being by the design and activity of the Triune God. Moreover, we also affirm that the New Testament treats the creation and fall of Adam and Eve as historical events in which the Creator is especially involved. We urge all sincere and conscientious believers to adhere to what the Bible plainly teaches and to avoid divisiveness over debatable theories of creation.
This is just the point, isn't it? The Bible plainly teaches a recent six-day creation. It is not those who insist on it who are being divisive, it is those who are offering substitutes for it. Jude tells us to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). To do this is not divisiveness but faithfulness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Benefits of reading the classics

There are a number of benefits to reading the classic works of antiquity. One is simply our natural delight in things beautiful--and there is something truly beautiful about a well-written work. Another is the fact that what passes for a classic work usually achieves that status not only on the merits of the writer as a writer, but on the merits of the writer as a thinker. Classic works deal with grand themes and timeless truths about human nature. As a result of this, for good or ill the works have served as a formative influence on the development of western thought. One simply doesn't understand the modern world as well as he should if he doesn't know how we got here.

For the Christian, perhaps the greatest benefit of reading the ancient classics is the ability to "inhabit" the world of the Bible. Reading the classics helps us to experience the historical and cultural context in which God revealed himself to the prophets and apostles.

I have had the opportunity over the course of the last several years to teach classic literature at the high school level. I am especially fond of the first two years in the four year program. In the first year we read ancient Mesopotamian and Greek works. In the second year we read works from the Roman era. It's a reading course I wish I had had when I was in school. But, alas, with very few exceptions, the emphasis that used to be placed on a classical education has been all but lost.

Here is a list of books I have my students read in the first two years:

Year One:  Ancient Mesopotamia and Greece
Epic of Gilgamesh (David Ferry)
Code of Hammurabi
Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (Richmond Lattimore)
Herodotus Histories
Plato's Republic
Sophocles' Theban Trilogy

Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, 1 & 2 Samuel, Job

Year Two:  Ancient Rome, New Testament, & the Early Church
Livy's Early History of Rome
Virgil's Aeneid
Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars
Early Christian Writings
Athanasius' One the Incarnation of the Word of God
Augustine's Confessions

Historical fiction:  Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a novel about life in Nero's court and the trials of living faithfully as a Christian during his reign

Bible:  Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Revelation

Friday, October 8, 2010

Go figure

Here is another example of the tortuous twisting of the Constitution:  Federal Judge George Caram Steeh ruled yesterday that Obama Care's requirement that everyone purchase health insurance passes Constitutional muster. Under what provision of the Constitution is this requirement justified? Why the "Commerce Clause," of course--one of three clauses, as Thomas Woods points out in his recent book, Nullification, which have been used by the federal government to justify all manner of unconstitutional tomfoolery. (The other two are the "General Welfare" clause and the "Necessary and Proper" clause).

The Commerce Clause of the Constitution is found in Article I, Section 8:  "The Congress shall have Power To...regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." It is the part about regulating commerce "among the several States" that has been used to cause so much mischief. Woods explains the meaning of clause:
"Commerce" meant only trade or exchange--not, as its more ambitious interpreters have tried to claim, all gainful activity...  "Among the states" meant exactly that:  commerce between one state and another, not commerce that might happen to have an effect on another state. For that matter, "regulate" in the eighteenth century meant to "make regular"--that is, to cause to function in a regular and orderly manner--as opposed to the word's modern meaning that suggests micromanagement and control... Thus, the purpose of the commerce clause was to establish a free-trade zone through-out the United States (thereby making commerce regular), and prevent states from disrupting the free movement of commerce.
Clearly in its original intention the clause had a very limited purpose; but it has been used as a pretext to justify just about everything the federal government wishes to do, regardless of the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Again, Woods:
By the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court was already pretending the commerce clause extended federal authority over commerce that merely affected other states... By the twentieth century this had become a "substantial effects" rule, but in practice it still allowed the federal government to control whatever it wanted. Thus the federal government claimed the power to regulate the wages of a janitor in a building whose occupants happened to be engaged in interstate commerce. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Court ruled that the federal government could regulate the amount of wheat grown on an individual's farm even though the wheat never left the state, and the farmer and his livestock consumed it themselves. Had they not grown and consumed that wheat, the argument went, they might have purchased it from another state, and hence their abstention from this purchase indirectly affected interstate commerce.
Unbelievable! But this is the kind of twisted logic which is regularly applied to the commerce clause. In his decision yesterday, Judge Steeh stated,
The crux of plaintiffs’ argument is that the federal government has never attempted to regulate inactivity [in this instance, not purchasing insurance--DJE], or a person’s mere existence within our Nation’s boundaries, under the auspices of the Commerce Clause. It is plaintiffs’ position that if the Act is found constitutional, the Commerce Clause would provide Congress with the authority to regulate every aspect of our lives, including our choice to refrain from acting.
Precisely! And what is Steeh's response to the argument?
The Supreme Court has expanded the reach of the Commerce Clause to reach purely local, non-commercial activity, simply because it is an integral part of a broader statutory scheme that permissibly regulates interstate commerce.
Got that? The Commerce Clause, meant to regulate commerce "among the several states," can be used to regulate "purely local, non-commercial activity." Go figure!

Steeh continues by noting that in previous cases, including Wickard:
The Supreme Court sustained Congress’s power to impose obligations on individuals who claimed not to participate in interstate commerce, because those obligations were components of broad schemes regulating interstate commerce.
In other words, no matter how remotely a person's activity (or non-activity) might be related to interstate commerce, the federal government has a right to regulate it under the Commerce Clause. This way of handling the Constitution effectively nullifies its most basic purpose, which is to define and limit the activities of the federal government.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Obama's Ideology

Dinesh D'Souza gives the best explanation I've ever heard of President Obama's ideology.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Let's hear it for the states!

You may have noticed that I have added a feature (below left) entitled “Now reading…” If you check it out you will see that I am currently reading Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. He’s an author for whom I have a growing appreciation. Last year I read his, Who Killed the Constitution, and the year before that his, Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Good stuff all.

The current book, published earlier this year, has the potential—if enough state officials read it (and have the courage to take their responsibilities seriously)—to make a huge difference in the way the federal government and the states relate to each other by reducing the federal government’s power to its Constitutional limits.
“Nullification begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the Constitution is no law at all. It is void and of no effect. Nullification simply pushes this uncontroversial point a step further: if a law is unconstitutional and therefore void and of no effect, it is up to the states, the parties to the federal compact, to declare it so and thus refuse to enforce it.” (p. 3)
Woods points out that, contrary to popular opinion, it is not just the federal courts that have the right to sit in judgment upon the constitutionality of federal legislation. State governments do, too, and he gives many examples to show that the right of nullification was frequently invoked early in our nation’s history.

It seems to me that Woods has properly identified our best hope of successfully resisting an over-sized, out-of-control, out-of-touch federal government. Private individuals, even large grass-roots movements (like the Tea Party) will not be able to effectively limit the federal government’s power by themselves. The only effective resistance over the long term will have to come from state legislatures that properly understand their role in keeping the federal government in check.

I wish I had the power to get a copy of this book into the hands of every member of the Kansas state legislature.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Founding of Israel and Bible Prophecy

Do you think the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy?

Yes and no.

I really don’t mean to be evasive or waffling; it’s just that I’m not sure the question is capable of being answered without a number of important qualifications.

Let me explain.

On the one hand, I don’t believe the formation of the modern state of Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy in the sense that there is a particular passage or group of passages that specifically point to the events of 1948.

Some prophecy teachers point to Jeremiah 16:14-15 as a passage that prophesies the formation of the state of Israel.
The days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers (Jer 16:14-15)
And there are a number of other passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel in which God promises a re-gathering of Israel. However, we have to remember the historical context. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were both prophesying on the eve of the Babylonian invasion which resulted in the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews. This exile was to last for seventy years, as Jeremiah indicated, and then God would bring them back to the land.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place (Jer. 29:10).
All this happened just as God said it would. When Babylon was overthrown, Cyrus, the king of Persia, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. And this is what we read about in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

And so the passages which are so often applied by prophecy teachers to the events of 1948 really were fulfilled many centuries earlier.

Now, having said this, I must quickly add that I do not believe what happened in 1948 is without significance. The Lord has promised a glorious future for the Jewish people, a future that includes them recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 11:
I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with themwhen I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:25-26)
Could the re-establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 be one of the precursors to this great ingathering of Jews into the fold of Christ? It may very well be. But it’s difficult to say. For all we know there may come another dispersion and another re-gathering a thousand years from now. I hope not. I hope that we are on the cusp of seeing at least the beginning of what Paul envisioned in Romans 11. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

Let me summarize: there are no prophetic passages so far as I can tell that speak specifically about the formation of the modern state of Israel. But there are a number of passages (chiefly, Romans 11) that speak in general terms about the Jews as a people turning in true faith to their Messiah before he comes again. The restoration of the Jews to the land in 1948 may be one of the means God will use to accomplish it. Their re-gathering to the land of Israel is certainly consistent with what is promised to them with regard to their spiritual restoration, though it is not necessarily tied to it.

In any event, one of the first and most fervent prayers of Christian people ought to be for the conversion of the Jews.

About as simple as it gets

Liberals like to talk about how complicated our economic woes are and often charge conservatives with offering simplistic solutions that are just unworkable. The fact of the matter is that most of economics has to do with understanding human nature and the motives for behavior. John Stossel makes it about as simple as it gets when it comes to taxes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Anguish of the Jews

I have just finished reading a book that was very painful to read, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, by Edward H. Flannery.

The book was painful to read, not only because it is a tale of terrible suffering endured on an unprecedented scale for so long a time, but also (and especially) because so much of that suffering was inflicted by the hands of Christians. Flannery, although a Roman Catholic priest whose own church figures prominently in the story, doesn’t shy away from exposing the instances in which the church was either complicit in the persecution of the Jews or the actual perpetrators of said persecution.

While Flannery cites many examples of Christian leaders’ affection for, and defense of, the Jews, the sad fact of the matter is that the church as a whole has a terrible track record. And this in spite of what Paul says so clearly in his letter to the Romans. We are not to be arrogant toward the Jews, much less persecute them. Instead, we are to humbly acknowledge our indebtedness to them (Rom. 11:13-24). As Jesus said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). Paul’s concern for them caused him great sorrow and unceasing anguish; so much so that he said he could wish himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers according to the flesh (Rom. 9:2-3). Strong language indeed! And shall we Gentile Christians be indifferent, or worse, hostile toward them?

How can Gentile Christians not feel a great affinity for the Jews? Isn’t our Lord Jesus Christ himself a Jew? Didn’t it please God to give us the books of the Bible (save two) through the hands of the Jews?

Of all people, Christians should love and respect the descendants of Abraham. Paul said that it should be our aim to live in such a way as to make Israel jealous so that they would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom. 11:12). Not likely to happen, though, when his representatives commit their Talmud to the flames, their bodies to the ghetto, and their souls to humiliation.

May God hasten the day when ungodliness will be banished from Jacob and "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26-27). Then, truly, blessings will abound for Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 11:11-15).

End of life issues

What things should we consider when making decisions about end of life issues for ourselves and for our loved ones?

This is an important question, and one that affects us all very deeply, seeing as how we are all going to die. More than this, we are all likely going to be called upon at some point in our lives to help make such decisions for others whom we love, whether an aging parent or a terminally ill spouse.

It’s an issue which is greatly complicated by the advance of medical science. A hundred years ago the question was much simpler because there were not the artificial means that are available today to keep people alive. Now we have respirators and IV’s and feeding tubes and pacemakers and a plethora of other mechanisms that can cause organs to continue to function when in previous generations they would have ceased to do so on their own. This has had the effect of blurring the line between life and death, so that there is some question among medical and ethical experts as to how to even define death.

A discussion of these issues could fill many volumes. To deal with them adequately we’d have to talk about the patient’s age, his overall health, whether or not he has dependents, the likelihood (or not) of effective treatment, whether the negative side-effects of the treatment are worth the potential benefits to be received, etc. There are a great many things to discuss and a great many specific scenarios we could imagine, but we can do more today than to give some general guidelines.

First of all we should say that in general there should be a presumption in favor of life. In other words, under normal circumstances, whenever it is possible to preserve life, life should be preserved. This should be our instinctive response. I say “under normal circumstances” because sometimes there are other considerations that have to be taken into account.

The second thing to keep in mind is that, ever since the fall, death has been inevitable. We know by painful experience that “there is a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc. 3:2). Life is a gift from God, and death is his judgment upon sin, a judgment that will be visited on everyone. As we read in Hebrews, “it is appointed for man to die” (Heb. 9:27). Medical means are limited by this unalterable fact.

Thirdly, when considering end of life issues a distinction has to be made between killing and letting die. Under certain circumstances it’s permissible to omit the use of extraordinary means to save life; but it is never permissible to administer treatment that is specifically designed to hasten death.

Suppose, for example, that a terminally ill cancer patient goes into cardiac arrest (his heart stops beating). It is permissible to forego treatment that would resume normal heart function. Why is this permissible? Because if the patient is terminal, one is not so much sustaining life as he is prolonging the process of dying, and thereby prolonging his suffering.

The decision to forego this treatment, however, should have been made by the patient beforehand. If this has not been done, it ought to be presumed that the patient wishes life-saving treatment, unless someone entrusted with durable power of attorney decides otherwise.

But what if the patient is not terminal? That is, what if he is not near death? Say a cancer patient who prefers to let nature take its course rather than suffer the negative side-affects of chemo. Is it morally permissible to refuse treatment? Or instead of cancer, perhaps it’s a heart condition, that requires bypass surgery. Is it permissible for a patient to refuse treatment?

It depends on a number of factors. If the patient is relatively young, and there is a good chance of the treatment being successful, and he has dependents, then no, it is not morally permissible to refuse treatment. He should seek to prolong his life in order to continue his service to God and his family in this world.

If, however, the patient is elderly, and has no dependents, and deems the side-effects of treatment to be worse than the symptoms of the disease, then yes it is permissible for such a patient to refuse treatment. It is permissible to refuse treatment that simply prolongs suffering when there is no reasonable hope of recovery.

This is quite a different thing than taking active measures to end life or giving treatment designed to hasten death. This is not permitted. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are clearly contrary to God’s law. If someone is suffering from an incurable disease, rather than taking active measures to hasten death, we should make every effort to provide palliative care. Wonders can be done today with pain management.