Tuesday, September 27, 2022

What Should We Think About Death?

The British Humanist Association would like to tell us what we should think about death.

The plummy tones of comedian Stephen Fry introduce the concept, but you really can’t enjoy it in its full glory without the cartoon visuals. This link should maximize your viewing experience:

“One thing we can be sure of is that we will die. Everybody will.”

Tell us something we don’t know, Stephen.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Anonymous Asks (216)

“Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying?”

The first eleven verses of Acts 5 tell the story of Ananias and Sapphira, two married professing Christians in the early days of the first church in Jerusalem. As we find out at the end of the previous chapter, these early Christians were in the habit of sharing “all things in common” in the sense that they sold excess possessions and properties and gave the proceeds to God by laying them at the feet of the apostles, who ensured they were distributed to believers in need.

The Part and the Whole

Ananias and Sapphira conspired to enhance their good name among the believers by pretending to do the same. They sold a piece of property, kept back part of the proceeds of sale, and brought the rest to the apostles, representing it as the whole amount. All of this may be inferred from Peter’s rebuke of Ananias: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Challenged independently of one another, Ananias and Sapphira stuck to their lie and were stricken in some miraculous way. The text says they fell down and breathed their last.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Room for the Remnant

Make room for an Israelite remnant.

I would urge you to do this as you read and think through the scriptures, whether for your own benefit or in planning to teach others.

Allowing for the possibility of a remnant will provide a key to the understanding of prophecy, which occupies such a large part of the Bible. Without doing it, you may fall for Replacement Theology, which teaches no future role for Israel in God’s plans, transferring to the church all references to a bright future for that nation, and leaving all Jews to experience only those parts of scripture that speak of divine displeasure with Israel’s past and her present condition of unbelief.

Precious promises to a believing remnant within that nation are thus understood as finding their fulfilment in the church.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (4)

YHWH instituted the year of Jubilee in Israel for several reasons. One was to ensure that ownership of Israelite land outside the cities never changed hands, because the land belonged to God. If the rich were allowed to coerce the poor into permanently selling their inheritance to pay off debt, ancient Israel would quickly have descended into the abyss of present-day global economics, where the most affluent 10% of the population own 76% of the world’s wealth.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Bury or Burn?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance have a piece up on the subject of cremation vs. burial in which they list all the verses from scripture they can find which they think may be on point, though many of these are merely historical observations and not terribly relevant to the argument either way.

Understandably, they come to no clear conclusion.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Burning Down the House

No, I’m not going to break into the Talking Heads’ 1983 pop hit.

I’m tempted, but I’m not going to. You really don’t want to hear me do that.

But nothing raises the temperature in a local congregation faster than any suggestion we change the music. Countless battles have been fought, and whole congregations have divided over that sort of thing.

That’s really a pity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Harmonizing the Five Thousand

Yesterday we looked at the only miracle found in all four gospels: the feeding of the 5,000. We noted that the synoptic gospel accounts have many common elements, though each writer has tailored his version of the story to fit his overall purposes in writing about the life of the Lord Jesus.

For example, Matthew emphasizes the relationship between the Lord and John the Baptist, only just executed by Herod: “When Jesus heard this [that John had been executed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place.” Mark and Luke emphasize the Lord’s care for his disciples, who had just had their first taste of successful solo ministry: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while,” he invites them.

We often make choices with multiple purposes in view. The Lord Jesus was no exception.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Comparing the Synoptics

It is established beyond any reasonable doubt that the synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — show evidence of agreement that cannot be completely explained by the fact that they are all thought to have been written within a few years of each other by men who were members of the same religious community and had shared experiences to relate. I am neither a Greek nor a Hebrew scholar, but I can certainly read what the experts have written on the subject and note their positions on the likelihood of a common source document (or documents) for the three synoptics.

My full-time secular job has made me reasonably competent at doing document comparisons in Microsoft Word, so I thought it might be fun to take one of the few accounts common to all the gospels, and compare each gospel to each of the others to see how much of the writing shows indications of common source material.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Anonymous Asks (215)

“Can I stop tithing temporarily while paying off a debt?”

Tithing is a command first codified in the Law of Moses, though the concept of giving a tenth of everything you receive existed prior to the giving of the law. But Christians are not under law. At best, giving a tenth to God may be viewed as a guideline. What the Lord expected from Israel in times past serves as a useful starting point for Christian giving, though giving a tenth certainly does not exhaust the believer’s opportunity to serve the Lord by way of financial generosity.

It’s probably better not to think of it as “tithing” at all, but rather as an expression of our love for God.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Right Kind of Fear

In the scriptures the word “fear” may be used to describe the reaction a person might be expected to have in response to at least three different situations.

If surrounded by enemies fear would be equal to terror. David said, “Fear is on every side ... they scheme to take away my life.” On the other hand Moses commanded respect to be shown to parents by saying, “Every one of you shall fear* his mother and his father”, and Jeremiah was advocating reverence as being rightfully due to the Lord when he exclaimed, “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? There is none like you, O Lord.”

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (3)

A pun is a figure of speech in which similar words or different senses of the same word are associated. In English the intent is usually humorous, though effects vary. My father would drop the occasional pun in his thirties and forties, but abandoned that sort of humor as he aged, recognizing that it didn’t play as well in Canada as in his native England. (We also had a friend who punned so frequently it became excruciating; you never wanted to give him an excuse to get started.)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The “No Harm” Argument

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

You’re all familiar with this one. It’s a defense for something traditionally considered immoral that usually begins with a variant of “if two consenting adults want to …”

We could call it a “no harm” argument. It’s the idea that if nobody’s demonstrably hurt, nothing wrong happened. But even the New York Times recently poked holes in it.

Tom: Immanuel Can, is it possible to have a sin without a resulting injury?

Immanuel Can: The short answer? No, I don’t think it is.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

(Re)Making Music

I’ve heard it said that the quickest way to split a congregation is to change the hymnbook or repaint the walls.

Well, I have no feel for interior decorating, so that second one’s not going to be a problem for me. But like most people, I have more definite tastes when it comes to music. Some of the songs that my local church sings, I love; others, I confess, make me cringe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (25)

The White House recently announced a debt relief program for lower income students who are having difficulty repaying government loans taken to obtain their college degrees. Qualifying debtors may be forgiven up to $20,000 in unpaid student loans, and undergraduates may have their monthly loan repayments cut in half. Higher income college graduates will not qualify for debt relief.

I was surprised to find many Christians opposed to this move.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Change Agents and Sincere Seekers

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.”

I have several wickedly witty friends. Given a chance to hold court in front of a large group — especially when that group includes people unfamiliar with their schtick — they mesmerize their audience with preposterous tales made up of 4/5 pure baloney and 1/5 exaggeration. Their friends all know and expect this, but some people can always be relied upon to miss the obvious. Invariably, with a completely straight face, some poor, naïve soul not in on the game will inquire, “Did that really happen?” For the snark artist, mission accomplished. He has hooked his sucker.

It took me over a decade to figure out that most self-appointed “change agents” in our churches operate the same way.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Anonymous Asks (214)

“How can Christians repair broken relationships caused by differences of opinion about COVID policies?”

I think it’s fair to say debates about vaccination, masking, distancing and lockdowns probably caused more dissension between believers than any single issue in my lifetime. In most cases interpretation of scripture had little or nothing to do with it; if the Bible was quoted at all, it was usually a verse or familiar Bible phrase tacked on as a gloss, like the “Vaccination is loving your neighbor” rhetoric.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Sincerity and Salvation

Proverbs 11:30 reads “Whoever captures souls is wise.” Does that mean a person is prudent to spend time in witnessing? Or does it teach us that when we succeed in winning souls we show ourselves to be wise or skillful in that activity? We will let you decide.

Sincerity is a virtue found in both sinners and saints. You cannot be saved if you are not sincere, but no one is ever saved simply by being sincere. Sincerity is a good quality to cultivate, but it will not make you righteous before God. Sincerity means you act without any pretense or hypocrisy according to the standards you have been taught and have accepted. Those standards may be right, partly right or altogether wrong.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (2)

Regular readers of scripture will eventually notice that predictive prophecies often have multiple “trajectories”, which is to say that they are true at more than one time and place, and sometimes even in more than one sense.

One classic example is the Lord’s selection from the book of Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. After his reading of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy of good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, he announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I think we can safely say he did not mean “exhaustively fulfilled”.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Church Is Too Easy

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Our friend Skye Jethani is at it again, causing trouble and making us think.

If I may sum it up, Mr. Jethani’s concern this time out is that church has become so easy that we approach it on autopilot. Comfortable seats, convenient schedule, digestible three-point sermons with pre-organized PowerPoint handouts. He wonders if maybe we might be better Christians if we had to actually try at little. If we had to be a little more like the Lord Jesus himself in the way we communicate truth.

Tom: Does that sound like a fair representation, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Don’t Forget What You Never Knew

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Ummm …

What do you mean, “remind”?

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Drip, Drip, Drip

Jackson v. Ventavia is the abbreviated title of proceedings in a lawsuit currently being heard in a US District Court in Texas. Under an old law nicknamed the “False Claims” Act, anyone with specific knowledge of corruption or fraud in relation to any government contract may file suit on behalf of the government against an alleged offender.

Court documentation being in the public domain, we can now see some pretty interesting allegations and an even more interesting response.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (20)

Does the Bible allow for divorce in the case of adultery? John Piper doesn’t think so, and he makes his case here. Naturally, it hinges on his interpretation of the Lord’s two comments on the subject in Matthew, which we find in 5:32 and 19:9. Here’s the longer version from chapter 5:

“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Most Christians consider that the words in bold italic constitute an exception (the word “except” is our first clue). To Mr. Piper they do not.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Anonymous Asks (213)

“Should adultery be confessed to one’s spouse?”

The pseudo-justifications that present themselves for keeping past adultery secret once an affair has ended are numerous. They all sound practical, spiritual or lofty; are mostly specious; and usually conceal motives that are less about love than about protecting the sinner from the rightful consequences of his or her actions.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Ambition and Acclaim

“Learn to grapple with souls. Aim at the conscience. Exalt Christ. Use a sharp knife with yourself. Say little, serve all, pass on.

This is true greatness, to serve unnoticed and work unseen.

Oh, the joy of having nothing and being nothing, seeing but a living Christ in glory, and being careful for nothing but His interests down here.”

— J.N. Darby

As a young believer, I was being asked to go here or there, preach or give counsel to others, and seemed to be on the rise and gaining some sense of purpose from it all. I was encouraged to put a high value on doing “the Lord’s work”. I had yet to learn that, for most believers, this will mean in a kitchen, in a barn, on the factory floor, or behind the desk in a conglomerate. All my activity made me to think I should pursue a path that would make any gift I had received from God of benefit to more people.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (1)

There’s an interesting story in the book of Jeremiah, probably recorded by the prophet’s scribe Baruch. Jeremiah has been pronouncing judgment on the house of Judah and the city of Jerusalem, and the priests and prophets want him to receive the death sentence. At that moment, several elders address the assembly to make a case for Jeremiah’s defense.

Their argument is this: over a century before, around the time of the Assyrian invasion of Israel and the siege of Jerusalem, a prophet named Micah had also pronounced judgment on Judah in nearly the same language as Jeremiah.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Off the Rails or On Track?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A convert to Catholicism asks the question “When did the Church go off the rails?” His answer, rather unsurprisingly, is that it didn’t.

Tom: But he brings up an interesting point, Immanuel Can, and that is that if we look at the writings of the church fathers prior to the point at which the canon of scripture was finally fixed in the late fourth century, we find that the seeds of what Protestants consider major error were already planted in the church; things like papal authority, apostolic succession, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, holy tradition, faith and works, the intercession of saints and the doctrine of purgatory.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

True Revolutionaries

Welcome back to our two-part treatment of the (post-)modern attitude to truth.

Last week, we were observing that the concept of an actual objective truth has gone out of fashion these days. More and more, the average person of today tends to disbelieve that anything can be, in any final and universally binding sense, “true”. Truth has been banished because there are so many voices shouting so many messages that most of us don’t know where to find it if it did exist. We’re overwhelmed by multiculturalism, media overload, the speed of modern life and the decline of the formerly-solid touchpoints of religion and tradition, even if we know nothing about the theory behind it, or about the new skeptical “hermeneutics” being taught in the contemporary academy. We’re all just pretty confused about truth.