Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Dying Church

John Garner is convinced churches in America are dying. Raised Episcopal, he concedes he hasn’t been inside a church building in quite a while, and neither has anyone he knows from his own generation. Why might that be? Garner observes, “I’m not sure if it’s Covid, a lack of people my age, or just general laziness.” His musings on the subject can be found here, along with useful links to self-reported attendance data from a variety of denominations.

As a reasonably unprejudiced onlooker, my first instinct is to suggest Garner’s problem may be a lack of a living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ (whose name does not appear once in an article about the church of which he is Head).

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove (22)

One of my seven “sniff tests” for heresy is that an author strings together impressive lists of verses unquoted and out of context, but a closer look shows most or all have nothing to do with the points they are alleged to support. Paul Ellis’s The Silent Queen serves as a great example of this technique, and I promised to do a second post examining his “evidence” that the Christians of the New Testament permitted women to participate in church meetings in exactly the same ways men did, and that Paul taught this as normative.

That’s the context here.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Anonymous Asks (225)

“If perfection is impossible in this life, why did Jesus tell people to go and sin no more?”

Jesus actually did this twice, and both accounts were preserved for us by John, one in chapter 5 of his gospel, and the other in chapter 8. In my Bible, the latter narrative comes with a disclaimer to the effect that the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel do not include it, which, frankly, doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I have always loved the story of the woman “taken” in adultery. It portrays the Lord in a way that seems to me wholly consistent with his revealed character. I believe John wrote it and that it is God-breathed just like the rest of his gospel.

Still, opinions vary about that passage. If you discount it, then you only have to answer this question once.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

When Is It Wrong to Pray? (1)

True faith is an expression of submission and obedience.

When a person believes on Jesus Christ, he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s who Jesus is. A believer receives a Lord who saves and a Savior who lords. The person who expresses faith in this way may never understand all that involves. They simply know they are lost, they realize they need salvation, they cry out for mercy and they put their trust in a Lord who saves, with the emphasis (in their minds) on being saved.

However, once they have come to him, they realize they have come to one who not only saves but also rules. He is Lord.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (13)

Why our English Bibles start Micah 5 where they do is one of those little mysteries to which I will likely never find an answer, but in Hebrew, chapter 5 begins with verse 2. That makes more sense, because the prophet has manifestly changed subjects, moving from a future siege of Jerusalem to God’s answer to a nation’s prayers. It’s a better spot for a chapter break.

In chapter 4, Micah spoke of a king-less Israel longing for the restoration of its monarchy. In chapter 5, he gives us more information about this coming king.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Digital Christianity

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

USA Today has a story about Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, a church that is all-but-entirely online.

Download a worship program if you like. Stream a sermon and share your own thoughts about it in real time through live chat. Donate online or swap goods and services with your fellow believers. Sing along with a tablet hymnal, if that’s your cup of tea.

Tom: This is not merely an evangelical thing. Catholics with iPhones can download a “confession app” to speed up their next visit to the local parish priest.

Are we starting to reach the level of self-parody, Immanuel Can? Or do you see some value in a digital church?

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Inbox: Have I Got a Deal for You

Alison writes:

“Something [has] been bothering me for a really long time. Everybody says, ‘Read the book of Job for comfort, blah blah blah’, but look at Job 1:8.

‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ The speaker is God.

OMG did you get that?!?! It was YHVH who pointed Job out to the Adversary in the first place! He might as well have said, ‘Sic him, Satan!’ ”

[Throws hands in the air and wonders what it’s all about anyway]

That’s a big question, Alison. And though your wording may jar some readers, I think that at the end of the day, it’s actually quite a fair one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Sniff Test

A heresy in the popular sense is a belief or theory at odds with established beliefs or customs. This is the way I will use the word throughout this post, and it’s not far off the way the word is employed by the writers of the New Testament.

Heresies vary in magnitude, detectability and potential consequences. Some heresies are obvious, and therefore easily avoided; others come couched in weasel words and obscured by rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Some heresies are outright damnable; others merit commendation or disapproval.

Few heresies pass my sniff test.

The religious world is full of theories. The sniff test is a set of criteria by which I make my own quick-’n’-dirty assessments of whether to buy into the theory behind any sermon, book, video or random expression of theological opinion. Other believers have their own sniff tests. A friend recently emailed me a link to a video with the tag line “Can you smell the brimstone?” Indeed, I could; the video provoked yesterday’s post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Who Wants to Live Forever?

“Who wants to live forever?” sang Freddie Mercury of Queen, somewhat prophetically, in 1986. He died of AIDS five years later, a shell of himself at the end. Freddie didn’t write the song (guitarist Brian May did), but its answer to “Who wants to live forever?” is a rhetorical “Not me.” It ends with the line “Forever is our today.” If anything, the song is a plea to live life to the fullest in the here-and-now, rather than an expression of yearning for infinite time on earth.

Brian May is no idiot. We live in a fallen world. “What is this thing that builds our dreams yet slips away from us?” he writes. “Who wants to live forever when love must die?” Better to expend whatever one has left in a good cause, no?

Monday, November 21, 2022

Anonymous Asks (224)

“Is it wrong to marry someone who is much older/younger?”

The Bible teaches Christians to marry heterosexually and in Christ. These are the issues with which every believer seeking a life partner should be most concerned. Further, sprinkled throughout scripture are clear indications of character qualities that make for happy marriages. A believer is wise to look for such attributes in a prospective spouse.

Beyond that? There are few moral limitations I can think of with respect to a partner, but that doesn’t mean there are no practical considerations.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

Samuel Rutherford once wrote to his friend, “I find it most true that the greatest temptation out of hell is to live without temptations ... Faith is the better for the free air and the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withers without adversity. The devil is but God’s master-fencer, to teach us how to handle our weapons.” The Lord has used that last sentence more than once to lift discouragement and despair from my shoulders. I believe it expresses the truth.

So tell me, what kind of faith do you have?

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (12)

The last five verses of Micah 4 and the first verse of chapter 5 contain two very different sets of instructions, both directed to the “daughter of Zion”, which we have established is a collective designation for the men and women descended, however distantly, from those Jews whose national identity was epitomized by the city of Jerusalem. Other than a single reference to the “daughter of Zion” by David in Psalm 9, all uses of this phrase in scripture come from a 230-year snippet out of Israel’s extended history.

This being the case, it would not be the least bit unreasonable to conclude Psalm 9 is prophetic, and speaks of the same subject matter with which all these later prophets are concerned. Even a brief scan of the psalm demonstrates this to be true.

We will come back to that.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: A Cautionary Tale

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

A recent article in Global Orthodox reveals Russian society and government are increasingly rejecting Western liberal ideology. One example: the Lower Chamber of Russian Parliament unanimously passed a bill banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations or preferences among Russian citizens of all ages on its first reading.

Tom: Thinking of moving to Russia anytime soon, IC?

Immanuel Can: Can I bring my snowblower?

Thursday, November 17, 2022

What About the Witches?

The most extraordinary thought occurred to me today.

I’ve been debating with atheists online again …

Yeah, don’t ask.

Anyway, one of the funny things they do is to call up the alleged records of theist “atrocities”, which of course they then want to attribute to all Christians. Apparently, we’re responsible for everything from the Crusades and Inquisitions to the Holocaust and (according to atheist popularizer Bill Maher) “all the wars”.

If this lack of any historical or theological awareness were not funny enough, a favorite canard of theirs actually involves the Salem Witch Trials.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

An Impossibly Fine Line

Briercrest College and Seminary is an evangelical Bible college in Caronport, Saskatchewan where, since 2013, you could get a university degree without going to university. It also continued to run sports programs over the last three years when many other post-secondary institutions had shut theirs down. These two features have made Briercrest attractive to a broader range of students than previously.

Naturally, there is a cost to that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (21)

Ray Greenley expects to be judged before the great white throne described for us in Revelation 20. He writes:

“All roads ultimately lead to the great white throne judgment, where each of us must stand before Jesus in all of His power and splendor and give account for all of our deeds.”

Greenley is not an outlier in this respect. GotQuestions notes that other Christians believe “the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 will be the time that believers and unbelievers alike are judged”.

Personally, I don’t think all roads ultimately lead to the great white throne. It is a common assumption, and it certainly simplifies the judgment question, but it is impossible to make a good case for this from anywhere in scripture, least of all Revelation 20.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Anonymous Asks (223)

“Does the Bible promote arranged marriages?”

If you are getting your moral direction from Hollywood, you might think the only legitimate basis for marriage is romantic love. If not romance, at very least a pragmatic consideration of one’s own interests is surely in order. For example, a woman in her late thirties who desperately wants children might be willing to settle for marriage to a man for whom she doesn’t have strong feelings, provided they are compatible in their thinking about the importance of family.

But does the Bible teach that something other than our emotions, intellects and will ought to be involved in the process, specifically the direction of others?

Sunday, November 13, 2022

He Who Now Restrains

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”

That day, Paul says, shall not come unless there be a falling away first. A “falling away” is a departure from what has always been held, from what has traditionally been known and believed. And this falling away, as we shall see, is on the part of those who profess to be obedient to the teaching of the gospel.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (11)

From John Gill’s introduction to Micah 4:

“This chapter contains some gracious promises concerning the glory and happiness of the church of Christ in the last days; as of its stability, exaltation, and increase, and of the spread of the Gospel from it, Mic 4:1, 2; and of the peace and security of it, and constant profession and exercise of religion in it, Mic 4:3-5; and of the deliverance of it from affliction and distress, and the ample and everlasting kingdom of Christ in it, Mic 4:6-8; and then follow some prophecies more particularly respecting the Jews; as that, though they should be in distress, and be carried captive into Babylon, they should be delivered from thence, Mic 4:9, 10; and, though many people should be gathered against them, yet should not be able to prevail over them, but their attempts would issue in their own destruction, Mic 4:11-13.”

Hmm. Notice anything weird here?

Friday, November 11, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The Big Story

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

Tom: Oh no, here we go: Immanuel Can has been getting email again.

Moody Publishers and Justin Buzzard have this to share:

“Everybody in your city has a story. Preaching is your opportunity to share the Bible in a way that engages each one. But how do you do this with both Christians and non-Christians at your service?

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Bedsheets, Breeches and Bema

“The unexamined life,” said Socrates, “is not worth living.”

Well, he didn’t actually use those precise words, but that’s how it’s been quoted since — in books, on coffee mugs and t-shirts, and in the common memory. The essence of his words has remained, even if the particulars are a bit sketchy.

How seriously ought we to take that? True, he’s called the Father of Philosophy, and he was notoriously smart. But the guy wore bedsheets, and died a long while ago. How seriously can you take a guy dressed in bedsheets?

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Sword

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The Lord Jesus came to create division, and when he returned to his Father, he left us with the division his visit, his person and his claims created. Those who have believed in him enjoy a unity and a commonality previously unimagined, which we sometimes call fellowship. But the difference between his children and those who are not his own is the difference between light and darkness, between righteousness and lawlessness, and between Christ and Belial.

That is not always apparent. It is especially not apparent to those in darkness.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

The Speed of Science

Do you know where this new term “speed of science” comes from? It showed up in memes a few weeks ago and I had no idea. I had never heard it used. Well, I found out today. If you already know, take a bow.

It comes from the answer to a question posed in a European Parliamentary hearing. Dutch MEP Rob Roos asked Pfizer’s Director of International Developed Markets whether Pfizer tested or studied transmissibility before releasing their version of the COVID vaccine to market.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Anonymous Asks (222)

“Is premarital sex okay if you know you are going to be married?”

I have written a fair bit here about the barnacles that encrust the institution of marriage today: how matrimony as God originally designed it required the approval of neither church nor state; how rings, dresses and ceremonies are extra-biblical window dressing; how even vows are a bit extraneous.

From a heavenly perspective, little of what we do today in preparation for binding two lives together is actually essential. Frankly, even romantic love is optional.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Persistent Prayer and Tribulation

“There was a widow in that city who kept coming to him …”

Don’t measure God’s care for you by what you’ve got and haven’t got; by your problems or your prosperity. Don’t measure those things. They have nothing to do with the character of God.

The character of God is to be measured at the cross — “God so loved the world”, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” — that’s where the measure of God’s love is. That never changes.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (10)

Last week we invested a couple thousand words in discussing the three verses Micah and Isaiah have in common. The differences between the two passages in the original Hebrew are so miniscule as to not be worthy of lengthy discussion. It is obvious these two prophetic contemporaries were right on the same page in their messages to the nation of Judah at a time when, if not for the reforms of King Hezekiah, it might well have joined its sister kingdom in Assyrian exile.

However, from this point on the preachers part ways. This week I’d like to consider the differences between the two sermons that follow.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Outspoken Faith or Poor Judgment?

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

You may not have heard of him, but Kelvin Cochran was Fire Chief in Atlanta up until last week when he was terminated by the mayor. He was also a Christian. You can read about it here if you’re interested.

There is some disagreement as to precisely why he was fired, but the bottom line is that if he had not published a book entitled Who Told You That You Were Naked?, in which he expressed his understanding of the biblical view of homosexuality, he would still be employed.

Tom: Immanuel Can, former Fire Chief Cochran is not the first and won’t be the last Christian to lose his job as a consequence — whether it’s a remote or a direct consequence — of taking the Bible seriously and saying so publicly. We are both Christians with opinions who still work for a living. What’s your take on this developing trend?

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Media and the Gospel

“The medium is the message”, said the great philosopher of mass media, Marshall McLuhan.

It’s his most oft-quoted line, since it’s so often true. When you have a message to send, you’ve got to be very careful about the form (i.e. the “method” or “medium”) in which you’re sending it, or the message itself can become horribly distorted.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

What Makes a Church a Church?

Asked in an online forum last week: Is our social media community a church?

Interesting question, and one that almost nobody would have posed with any degree of seriousness prior to COVID. But if you think lurking in a Zoom meeting is “gathering” in anything remotely approximating the biblical sense (and apparently many Christians do), then it’s not unreasonable to ask how far you might take the concept of virtual church.

Naturally, a spate of comments followed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

The Jumping-Off Point

Many years ago, long before they were woke, crazy and depraved, I was a big superhero comic book fan. I owned shelves full of them. In my early twenties while still in college, I wrote and drew a few published comic books to see if I could make a career out of it. (I probably could have been passable if I had persisted with it, but I would never have been a top-drawer industry professional.)

Superhero comic books are like soap operas in that they tell multiple small stories within larger story arcs that overlap and never really end. The idea is to get the reader invested in the characters and coming back month after month to see what happens next.