Friday, May 28, 2010

Praying in the Spirit

In Ephesians 6:18, what does Paul mean when he says “pray in the Spirit”? Is he referring to speaking in tongues or something else?

I was once of the opinion that when Paul spoke of “praying in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18) he meant the same thing as when he spoke in First Corinthians about “praying in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:14), that is, praying in a language which the Holy Spirit has supernaturally enabled a person to speak. However, I have since come to think that this interpretation is much too narrow an understanding of the phrase “praying in the Spirit.”

The Bible frequently mentions people doing things (or exhorts people to do things) “in the Spirit.” For example, Jesus says that David was “in the Spirit” when he called one of his descendants “Lord” (Matt. 24:43). Jesus himself is said to have “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 10:21). In Luke 2:27 we are told that Simeon, a righteous and devout man who waited for the consolation of Israel, “came in the Spirit into the temple” at just the moment Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus according to the custom of the Law. In Acts 19:21 Paul “resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem.” In Romans 8:9 he says that if the Spirit of God dwells in us we are “not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” In First Corinthians 12:3 he says that no one “speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” In Colossians 1:8 he says that Epaphras “has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” In a similar way he also exhorts us to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) even as we “live by the Spirit” (5:25).

To do things “in (or by) the Spirit” is to do them under the Spirit’s influence. The Holy Spirit enables us to live for God, which would not otherwise be possible because of the pervasive and corrupting power of original sin in our fallen human nature. We grow into greater Christ-likeness when the Holy Spirit is allowed a greater place in our lives. This is why Paul warned us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30), and why he told the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).

The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in the lives of believers to help us to grow us in grace and to lead us into greater and greater Christ-likeness.

The smallest inclinations to read the Bible or to pray should not be ignored. The least desire, the weakest aspiration for godliness should be encouraged and acted upon. It is the Holy Spirit who stirs up these desires in us. If we ignore them or suppress them, then we quench the Spirit. But as we cultivate them, we grow in grace and so live, walk, love, and even pray in the Spirit.

What would Washington do?

You have probably heard that the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday approved (by a 16-12 vote) a provision to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The measure will go before the full Senate and must also pass the House. If passed, the bill be signed into law by the president, allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military. Ever wonder what our first commander and chief thought about "gays" in the military?

At a General Court Marshall, on March 10, 1778, a Lieutenant Enslin was "tried for attempting to commit sodomy with John Monhort." He was also tried for "Perjury in swearing to false Accounts." Enslin was "found guilty of the charges exhibited against him, being breaches of 5th. Article 18th. Section of the Articles of War." He was dismissed from the service "with infamy. His excellency the Commander in Chief [George Washington] approve[d] the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such infamous Crimes order[ed] Lieutt. Enslin to be drummed out of the Camp...by all the Drummers and Fifers in the Army never to return. (From Gary DeMar, America's Christian History: The Untold Story, p. 170)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The "Age of Accountability"

What is the age of accountability?

The idea of an age of accountability is the notion that there is an age before which young children are not responsible for sin, and therefore are not counted as guilty before God, so that if they die prior to this age they automatically go to heaven. And the question which is often asked is: What is this age? How old must a child be before he is charged with guilt?

Now, most people who accept the notion of an age of accountability are reluctant to specify a particular age. Instead, they see it as a relative matter that depends upon the growth of an individual’s moral consciousness—his ability to know right from wrong; to understand the consequences of moral behavior; and to reason from general moral principles to specific situations; etc.

Some suggest that this normally takes place around the age of 12 or 13. And sometimes they will point to the Jewish practice of Bar Mitzvah for support of their position. Others suggest that the age is younger, around 7 or 8.

The Scriptures, however, teach that human beings are guilty even from the moment of conception. David says,
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5)
This agrees with what Paul says in Ephesians, that we are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). By nature.

Someone might ask: But how is this possible? How can we be sinners by nature? How can we be guilty of sin, even from the moment of conception? Paul tells us in Romans 5 that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The context shows that God regards all men to have sinned in Adam’s transgression. In the following verses he says,
One trespass led to condemnation for all men (v. 18)
By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners (v. 19)
When Adam sinned he lost his original right standing with God and he suffered the corruption of his whole nature. And this fallen condition is passed down to all of his descendants. We ourselves were born into the world in a lost and fallen state because of Adam’s transgression. To borrow David’s expression, we were brought forth in iniquity.
A similar idea is expressed in Psalm 58:3.
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
So what happens to infants when they die? Can they be saved before they are old enough to understand and believe the gospel? Well of course they can! God can do whatever he pleases, including working in a saving way in the lives of infants. Remember that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Lk. 1:15). As theologian Wayne Grudem says, he was “ ‘born again’ before he was born!”

This is what also lies behind David’s statement in Psalm 22, when he says, “From my mother’s womb you have been my God.” And let’s remember that in the Gospels Jesus blessed even the infants that were brought to him. So that even little babies are capable of receiving spiritual blessings from Christ, in spite of their lack of intellectual development.

God, in fact, makes many promises to believing parents to the effect that he will save their children. If a Christian parent has a child who dies in infancy, there is every reason to believe that the child will be in heaven with Christ. This why David said, concerning his deceased infant son, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). He expected to see him again, to be reunited with him in heaven.

As little ones grow, their moral consciousness develops, and their accountability increases. Jesus said,
The servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Lk. 12:47-48).
Notice that even the one who does not know is held accountable. I think we may conclude that there is a progressive accountability as a child’s moral consciousness develops, but there is never no accountability. So if you are looking for an age of accountability, look for it at conception.

Friday, May 7, 2010

On self-defense and turning the other cheek

When Jesus says that we are to turn the other cheek, does that mean we are never to act in self-defense?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all.

Let’s look closely at what Jesus says, and try to set it in the context of the Bible as a whole. In the Matthew 5:38-41 Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ ”

They had heard this because this was a legal principle that God gave Moses for the purpose of guiding judges in the administration of justice (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21). The principle is this: punishment should fit the crime. It should neither be too light so as to make a mockery of the law (because no one is going to have any respect for the law if punishments are a joke), nor too severe as to commit an injustice against the criminal. For instance, a thief shouldn’t be executed for stealing a hundred dollars, otherwise he’s being punished more severely than he deserves.

The principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was given to ensure that there is an equivalency between crime and punishment—that the punishment fits the crime. It happened, though, that the principle came to be applied outside the courtroom, in interpersonal relations. It became the pretext upon which people felt justified in taking personal vengeance. This is what Jesus seeks to correct.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ ” 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.

Now is this an absolute statement that admits of no qualification—“Do not resist the one who is evil”? Are we to reject all resistance to all forms of evil? No, not at all. Listen to the examples that Jesus gives.

But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Notice, this is a minor offense. Someone slaps you on the cheek. What are you to do, slap him back, tit for tat? After all, the law says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Is this a justification to strike back? No. Jesus says turn the other cheek. He means absorb the offense. Refuse to retaliate, in hopes that it will avoid an escalation of the conflict.

Look at the other offenses that are mentioned.

40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

These are all relatively minor offenses. They are things that may be inconvenient, perhaps exasperating, but offenses that do not result in permanent bodily injury or death. Will anyone seriously say that if someone kills one of my children I should offer him another? Or that if someone rapes my wife I should give him my daughter, too? Is this what Jesus means when he says, "do not resist the one who is evil, but turn the other cheek"? Of course not. He’s talking about a slap on the cheek. He’s talking about insults and minor offenses.

But what about more serious crimes? The Bible teaches that we are justified in using force to protect ourselves, our families, and our homes. In Exodus it says,

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him (Ex. 22:2).

This means that if you catch someone breaking into your home, you are justified in using deadly force if necessary to stop him. Perhaps someone will say, “That’s the Old Testament.” But there is no conflict between what God says in the Old Testament and what he says in the New Testament. He’s not schizophrenic. He doesn’t change his mind. His ethics don’t evolve. He’s perfect. Always has been and always will be.

The difference between what God tells Moses in Exodus 22 and what Jesus says in Matthew 5 is the nature of the offense. In Matthew 5 Jesus is talking about minor offenses. In Exodus 22 we have breaking and entering at night when the intruder’s intentions may be murder and mayhem. God does not expect us to be passive when we are attacked by wicked men who seek to kill or injure us, or do so to our families. To be passive in such circumstances - to fail to offer resistance - is not virtue, but vice. It’s an act of moral cowardice.

On Killing Abortionists

I was wanting to know what the Bible says - and how you felt - about the murder of Dr. Tiller by Scott Roeder.

Scott Roeder was clearly in the wrong for killing George Tiller. And the reason is not because George Tiller wasn’t deserving of death. He most certainly was. He had taken the lives of countless preborn babies, many of them by some of the most gruesome methods imaginable. And the vast majority of these abortions were performed, not because the pregnancies posed any real danger to the life of the mother; but merely because they were inconvenient, which is to say, the babies were inconvenient. It’s not as if a tragic decision had to be made between saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the child. No. The babies were sacrificed on the altar of convenience.

In a just society, men who wished to make money the way George Tiller made it would be driven underground. The law would be against them. The law would protect the life of the innocent by threatening the life of the abortionist, which is to say, the death penalty would be applied to anyone convicted of performing an abortion. God’s law is very clear on the matter of murder. And that’s what abortion is – murder. It is an unjustified taking of the life of the innocent. God doesn’t merely permit, he requires, that a murderer be executed by the state (Ex. 21:12-14; Num. 35:30-31).

It’s a disgrace that our state allows the practice of abortion. It’s an even greater disgrace that if our state legislature should successfully pass a law outlawing abortion, the legal precedent of the Supreme Court virtually ensures that the law would be struck down. Again, in a just society, one in which the rulers follow God’s law, murderers (including hired assassins, like abortionists) would be duly convicted and then executed.

And this is where Scott Roeder was wrong. He took the law into his own hands. Who appointed him judge, jury, and executioner? It was nothing but pride and presumption on his part to do what he did. God has his appointed rulers to enforce justice. If they fail to do so, they will have to answer to God for it. Our state legislature, our governor, and the powers that be at the federal level, as well as those who had a hand in putting them all into office will have to answer to God.

Those who are actually in office are the ones who are authorized by God to convict and execute. For a private individual to take it upon himself to execute an evildoer is murder. Even more, it is an act of revolution. And Christians are to have nothing to do with a revolutionary spirit. We should use all the peaceful and legal means that are available to us to seek to change the abortion law.

And another thing. We should pray to God for mercy, lest he strike us for all the innocent blood that has been shed in our land since Roe v. Wade. The body count now is above 50 million and growing. Someone has said, “The wheels of God’s justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” So let us pray not only that our laws will be changed, but that God’s patience will not run out, but instead that he will be merciful to us for having allowed the scandal of abortion for so long.

Clerical Celibacy

We have heard a lot in the last few weeks about the scandal of pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Do you think the fact that the church insists on the celibacy of the priesthood has contributed to the problem?

Without question.

In requiring celibacy of her priests the church is requiring something which is quite unnatural. Marriage should be looked upon as the norm, not only for men in general, but also for ministers of the gospel in particular.

The creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 give us a paradigm for properly understanding God’s intention for the relationship between men and women.

In Genesis 2, the Lord is represented as saying, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). This suggests that marriage should be considered the norm. It should be considered the ideal. Further, it suggests that marriage should be considered a holy relationship, if for no other reason because it was instituted before the Fall. It was not a concession to man’s fallen state, but was given to him prior to the Fall as a gift and blessing in Paradise. This is where we should begin our thinking on the subject.

Now, has God revealed anywhere else in Scripture a different norm, a different standard for clergy—a special requirement or command that they be celibate? No, he hasn’t. Is there any indication that celibacy is holier than marriage? No.

In fact, what we find is that the holiest men of the Old Testament, those who were set apart by God as priests, were married men. Even the high priest, who alone could enter the Most Holy Place, was married. Those who voluntarily separated themselves to God by a Nazarite vow were likewise married (Num. 6:1-21). Scripture doesn’t mention the marriage status of all the prophets, but of those whose status is mentioned, we find that Isaiah was married. So too were Ezekiel and Hosea. In light of the impending Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah not to take a wife and to have children (Jer. 16:1-2). We don’t know the marriage status of the other prophets. But the undeniable fact that several of those serving as prophets were married is a clear proof that marriage is not a bar to serving God in ministry.

And what do we find when we come to the New Testament? Are things different for the apostles? Not at all. It is true that Paul was single. But we find that Peter, whom Rome claims as the first Pope, was married (Matt. 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5), as were the other apostles and the brothers of our Lord who had ministries similar to that of the apostles (1 Cor. 9:5). None of the apostles in their writings require ministers of the gospel to be celibate. In fact, the presumption is that they will be married. In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives instructions concerning the selection of church officers and he specifically says that they should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; see also v. 11 and Tit. 1:6).

Now Jesus does mention the matter of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 19, after explaining the very limited reasons for which a man might justly divorce his wife, his disciples said, “Well, if a man cannot divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever, perhaps it’s better that he not marry at all. And Jesus said,
Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it (Matt. 19:11-12).
In other words, this is not for everyone. It’s not even for everyone who is called to the ministry of the gospel. God does not require it of his ministers. Some may be called to it, as Paul was. Others—we have reason to believe the majority—are called to be married and have children, as were Peter and the rest of the apostles.

In requiring celibacy of her priests the church is presuming to require what God himself does not require. And doing so, whether in the matter of clerical celibacy or in other matters, is always a dangerous proposition. We run into trouble when we seek to be holier than God. Paul even mentions in 1 Timothy 4 that the Holy Spirit had shown him that some would deviate from the faith and teach false doctrines including forbidding marriage (1 Tim. 4:3).

God has made us to be sexual beings. There is no sin or shame in finding enjoyment in a sexual relationship, provided it is found within the boundaries God which has appointed, which is in marriage between a husband and wife. Normal people have a natural, God-given desire for sexual pleasure, just like they have a normal, God-given hunger for food and thirst for water. A vow of celibacy doesn’t change that.