The Heritage of the Bible Church [part 2]

Over recent years, I have learned that the name of “Bible Church” carries with it a more significant amount of history, and one of far more theological and historical import, than that of which I had previously been aware. The history of the Bible Church Movement is a history of which I am proud to be a beneficiary, and which impels me to treasure and cherish the title of “Bible Church,” which connects us to the rich history of a tradition of independent, conservative teachers and churches who have held up the Word of God as the ultimate and inerrant authority for the past 140 years, and in so doing have, to a very real degree, preserved conservative Christianity in America as we know it today.

The heritage of the modern Bible Church is traced not primarily to the Reformers, but to the dissenting tradition—the radical reformers, as they are sometimes called.[1] This included groups such as the Quakers, Methodists, Congregationalists (Independents), Baptists, and Presbyterians. The dissenters, (later called non-conformists for their stand against the Church of England) believed the Reformers had not separated from the Roman Catholic Church enough, and were persecuted by the Reformers themselves for their disagreements over believer’s baptism, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, regenerate church membership, and separation of church and state. It is within this dissenting tradition that one can consistently find upheld, even when lost in other traditions, the absolute authority of Scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the importance of personal piety and regenerate church membership, as well as certain dispensational distinctives such as the future salvation of Israel and a literal millennial reign of Christ.

In the 19th century, during the twilight of the trans-denominational shift toward theological liberalism, believers from the dissenting tradition, primarily Independents, Baptists, and Presbyterians, began to hold interdenominational Bible conferences across England and the U.S., which provided the laity with deep, sound Bible teaching—a dwindling phenomenon within the mainline denominations. As Hannah puts it, “with liberal theology making inroads at the same time, conference attendees became more and more zealous for the type of teaching only available to them in the summers.” [2]

One solution for this search for more consistent Bible-teaching was in the establishment of Bible institutes and colleges, which served to train lay workers, rather than professional ministers. However, believers came to desire and value a pastoral ministry defined by the deep study of the Word, and some Bible colleges became seminaries, of which Dallas Theological Seminary became one of the most prominent, geared specifically toward the training and equipping of men for vocational ministry. Hannah points out that Dallas Seminary was in a way “the institutionalization of [the Bible conferences’] ideals, methods, and beliefs.”[3] Eventually, Christians began to separate from their denominations and form their own independent churches, led by men trained under the great teachers of the Bible conferences, such as Darby, Scofield, Ironside, Moody, Torrey, and Chafer, committed to the expository teaching of God’s Word. [4]

Naturally, many within the denomination, especially the leadership, did not look on the Bible conferences, colleges, and new churches as a positive move for Christianity. From the viewpoint of the denominations, as Churchhill puts it, the abandonment of the denominations for the Bible churches, with their widespread “dispensationalism, antinomianism, and Arminianism,” was seen as an abandonment of orthodoxy: “The church was not destroyed, but the strength of its theology was diminished.”[5]

Of course, from the viewpoint of those within the Bible Church Movement, full-throated orthodoxy was not lost, but regained. That being said, however, I do at times grieve the reaction of some within the Bible Church Movement against historic Christian heritage. Perhaps because the Bible Church Movement was seen as novel, and a rejection of the denominations (which were seen as traditional), many within the Bible Church tradition have learned to devalue tradition and heritage, which has indeed (though I don’t grieve it quite in the way Churchhill does) resulted in a tragic disconnect from, or rather, an ignorance of, historic orthodoxy.

The fierce independence which characterizes the Bible Church Movement can be viewed as a positive, and indeed, it certainly can be. The autonomy of the local church can be defended both Scripturally and practically. However, it can also be seen as a potentially negative consequence of the Bible Conference Movement, resulting at times in anti-intellectual, anti-denominational, and even anti-authority sentiments within the Bible Church movement. [6]

Although some Bible churches have no outside affiliations whatsoever, there are many who have joined voluntary fellowships and organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, or the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (with which the seminary I attend is affiliated). [7]

The Bible conference movement supported, and in many ways formed, fundamentalism in America (another despised but extremely valuable movement), [8] produced the Bible institute movement, which birthed seminaries to train faithful pastors, and this revived a craving thirst within Christians for the truths of Scripture, and a network of conservative, independent, faithfully Bible-teaching churches was formed—the Bible churches. [9]

As Bible churches consider the possibility of excising the “Bible” from their name, in an effort to remove unwanted affiliations, I pray they do not strip themselves of either the authority of the Bible, or of the valuable traditional affiliations associated with the name of a Bible church.

I believe it is valuable to consciously retain fellowship and connections not only with like-minded churches today, but also with the faithful churches and Bible teachers of yesteryear who have upheld the Biblical distinctives we now so cherish within the Bible Church Movement—a tradition of faithful, Bible-teaching churches vital to the preservation of conservative Christianity in America.


Notes:

1] Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 11.

2] John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 285.

3] Hannah, 286.

4] Paul C. Wilt, “Bible Church Movement.” Pages 137–138 in Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 138.

5] Robert K. Churchhill, Lest We Forget (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 36.

6] Hannah, 285.

7] Wilt, 137.

8] Sidwell, 76.

9] Hannah, 287.


Sources

Churchhill, Robert K. Lest We Forget. Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986.

Hannah, John D. An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Sidwell, Mark. “Come Apart and Rest a While: The Origin of the Bible Conference Movement in America.” DBSJ, no. 15 (2010): 75-98.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.

Wall, Joe L. Bob Thieme’s Teachings on Christian Living. Houston: Church Multiplication, 1982.

Weber, Timothy P. “Bible and Prophetic Conference Movement.” Pages 136–137 in Dictionary of Christianity in America. Edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Wilt, Paul C. “Bible Church Movement.” Pages 137–138 in Dictionary of Christianity in America. Edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

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The Heritage of the Bible Church

The church of which my family is a part is named Fairview Bible Church. I had always thought this was simply because the church wished to emphasize that they valued the study of the Word of God. Indeed, this may have been a primary reason in the minds of many for the designation. As I learned that there are a great many churches so titled, I grew to believe the designation merely referred to the non-denominational status of such churches, since, I learned, Bible Churches are usually, if not always, independent, non-denominational churches.

Another misconception that is often held at Fairview Bible Church is that the title of “Bible Church” necessarily connects the church to the tradition and teachings of the late Colonel R. B. Thieme Jr., a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, former pastor of Berachah Church in Houston, and a significant influence on thousands of pastors and conservative churches across the world, including our own.[1] For a time, Pastor Thieme, or, “the Colonel,” as his congregants and listeners called him, was a force for conservative evangelicalism, holding staunchly to the fundamentals of the faith, at a time when many churches began compromising right doctrine in favor of broader acceptance and perceived relevance. Thieme cared deeply that believers have a thorough understanding of Scripture, and was held up by Dallas Seminary as a shining example of success. The loosely-connected network of believers and local churches influenced by Thieme came to be known (primarily by those within the network of influence itself) as the “Doctrinal Movement”—churches and believers who espoused “Thiemeite” doctrine being referred to as “doctrinal” churches/believers.

However, as is the danger for so many pastors, that which was particular to Thieme began to be what was most important to Thieme, and his peculiarities both in doctrine and practice turned into hills to die on for both him and his “Thiemeites.” Thieme had several peculiar views, a few of which were perhaps even dangerous. By the late 1970’s, Dallas Seminary had begun to distance itself from any public association with Thieme, and several DTS professors, including Ryrie and Walvoord, had written critiques of Thieme’s teachings and leadership methodology.[2] Since the 70’s, solid, Bible-teaching pastors and churches (several of which I am personally familiar with) have, now and then, sought to distance themselves from any official connection to Thieme, acknowledging that which was valuable in his unwavering teaching of the Word of God, yet also laying aside the errors of “Thiemeite” doctrine.

For many within the Doctrinal Movement, the designation of “Bible Church” has been viewed as inextricably associated with the Thieme-inspired, Thieme-defined, and Thieme-regulated Doctrinal Movement. This is despite the fact that Thieme’s own church—Berachah Church—had no “Bible” in its name. Nevertheless, many, if not the majority, of churches within the so-called Doctrinal Movement have taken the title of “Bible Church,” thus causing many of us who were within the Doctrinal Movement, but who had little exposure to conservative evangelical/fundamental churches outside that movement, or to American church history, to gain the misperception that the title of “Bible Church” refers universally or historically to the Doctrinal Movement. Therefore, in an effort to distance, or perhaps extract, themselves from this tradition, as well as perhaps because of some seeming perception the broader unbelieving community has of any church so named, some well-meaning members of Bible churches have recently advocated stripping the moniker of “Bible Church” from their church’s name.

Over recent years, however, I have learned that the name of “Bible Church” carries with it a more significant amount of history, and one of far more theological and historical import, than that of which I had previously been aware. The history of the Bible Church Movement—which has little to no direct connection with the comparatively small and less significant Doctrinal Movement—is a history of which I am proud to be a beneficiary, and which impels me to treasure and cherish the title of “Bible Church,” which connects us, not necessarily to the teachings of R. B. Thieme, but directly to the rich history of a tradition of independent, conservative teachers and churches who have held up the Word of God as the ultimate and inerrant authority for the past 140 years, and in so doing have, to a very real degree, preserved conservative Christianity in America as we know it today. I’ll look at that spiritual heritage of the Bible churches in our next post.


Notes

1] Joe L. Wall, Bob Thieme’s Teachings on Christian Living, (Houston: Church Multiplication, 1982), 1.

2] Ibid, 5.

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The Future of Israel [Hermeneutical Principles]

Last time, we introduced the discussion of Israel’s future as explained in Romans 9–11. Before we get into the text itself, we need to talk about two primary hermeneutical principles that must be employed. “Hermeneutics” refers to the process of seeking to accurately interpret what the author of a text originally meant to communicate to his readers. As such, hermeneutics is essential in the study of God’s Word because, as Duvall and Hays explain in their book, Grasping God’s Word, the reader’s goal should always be to accurately understand the original author’s intended message—and this is all the more important when the author is God [1]. However, because of the great distance between the historical, linguistic, and cultural contexts of the ancient writer and the modern reader [2], it becomes necessary when reading Scripture to intentionally employ what is often called grammatical-historical exegesis.

Kaiser and Silva, in their book, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, explain that grammatical-historical exegesis simply means that one’s interpretation of the text “must pay attention both to the language in which the original text was written and to the specific cultural context that gave rise to the text” [3]. Bernard Ramm emphasizes that not only is there a linguistic context and a historical context, but also a literary context [4]. Without an understanding of the literary context (the surrounding verses, book, author’s writings, etc.), the meaning of a text will be difficult or impossible to determine. As Duvall and Hays put it, “the most important principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning” [5]. Grammatical-historical exegesis then seeks to accurately interpret the meaning of the text, as intended by the author, by examining the historical setting of the writing, the original language of the text, and the literary context of the particular passage.

Two key hermeneutical principles of grammatical-historical exegesis will be of especial significance for this particular study. First, a lexical analysis of Paul’s use of the term “Israel” will illustrate that Paul never intends to define Israel as anything other than “the ‘national’ covenant people of the OT” [6]. Second, a contextual analysis will argue that, first, the immediate context leading up to Romans 9–11 makes sense of Paul’s discussion in these chapters, giving warrant to the view that “Israel” simply refers to ethnic Israel, and secondly, that the broader context of the teachings of Scripture suggests that a normal reading of the text should be consistently followed, which supports the view that “Israel” means just what it has always meant—national Israel—and that national Israel still has a future as a nation in the promised land.


Notes:

1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 194.

2] Ibid, 40.

3] Walter C. Kaiser and Moisés Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

4] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 19.

5] Duvall and Hays, 149. Italics original.

6] Robert L. Saucy, “Israel and the Church,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments: Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. ed John S. Feinberg, (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1988). 245.

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The Future of Israel in Romans 9–11

In Romans 9–11, Paul expounds on the covenant-keeping righteousness of God in light of God’s setting aside of the nation of Israel. Considering God’s many blessings and promises given to the nation of Israel as a nation (Rom 9:4–5), the question arises: how can a righteous, covenant-keeping God reject his chosen people? (Romans 11:1 sums up the discussion of chapters 9-11 with the question: “Has God rejected His people?”). Paul begins his defense of God’s righteous actions in verse six by stating that “it is not as though the Word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Romans 9–11 has led to countless disagreements and debates on a number of theological issues [1]. However, for the sake of this series, a slightly more focused discussion will be attempted. In answer to the question “has God rejected His people,” Paul answers “absolutely not!” However, does Paul mean to say that God will fulfill His promise literally to restore national Israel to live in peace in the land God gave them? Or does Paul mean to redefine the term “Israel” to refer to the Church as the “spiritual Israel?” [2]

Over the next several weeks, we are going to see that there is a sure future for national Israel as a restored, prominent people in the land promised them by God. Paul defends God’s righteousness by arguing that God has not, in fact, rejected His people Israel entirely, but is preserving a remnant of believing Jews who will receive the covenant blessings in the future. I believe a faithful, consistently plain-sense interpretation of the text will lead the honest student of the Bible to this conclusion.

Supersessionism [3] understands Romans 9 as teaching that the identification of “Israel” is no longer meant to be ethnic Jews. When Paul says that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” Paul is teaching that the Church (those saved through faith since the Cross [4]), has replaced national Israel in the plans and purposes of God, or at least that Paul specifically expands the reference of “Israel” to include Gentiles [5]. Thus, supersessionism holds that ethnic Israel has no future role in the Kingdom as a nation [6].

A Dispensational understanding of Romans 9 holds that Paul is speaking of ethnic Jews. Paul argues that although national Israel has been currently set aside in their having a primary role in the plan of God, He has not rejected Israel wholesale, in the sense that the promises will not be literally fulfilled to ethnic Jews. Rather, Israel will be restored to their former prominence and established in the Land by Christ upon His return, thus enjoying the blessings and the fulfillment of the promises [7] of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants [8].

Next time, we’ll look at the hermeneutical principles that must undergird our study of the Word of God, and then launch into an examination of Romans 9–11.

virtus et honos


Notes:

1] For example, Romans 9, specifically, is also a key proof text for the Calvinist view of Unconditional Election (e.g. John Piper, The Justification of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. 89).

2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 123.

3] A term for the view commonly held most notably within Covenant theology that the Church has replaced Israel. The terms supersessionism and Covenant theology may be used interchangeably in the course of this series. When this is done, Covenant theology is not meant to refer to all that is included under that title, but rather simply refers to that system of theology which holds to the supersessionist view.

4] When the capitalized term, “Church,” is used in this series, it speaks collectively of all born-again believers in Christ of this dispensation—the New Covenant community; the “universal church,” as opposed to a local church.

5] Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010).

6] Representatively: C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1932); Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

7] Though different scholars have different specific lists, the physical blessings irrevocably promised in the covenants which God gave to Israel, and which dispensationalists believe will be fulfilled literally to physical, ethnic Israel in the future, include: that Israel will be established as a nation forever (Gen 12:2; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:8; Jer 31:35-37); that the Jews as a people will never be annihilated (Gen 15:5; 2 Sam 7:12, 16; Jer 31:27, 36); that national Israel will be established permanently in the land of Palestine (Gen 15:18; Ex 20:12; 2 Sam 7:10; Jer 31:38, 40); that Israel will have a triumphant kingdom forever, the Messiah establishing peace and justice on all the earth (Gen 22:17; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:16; Ps. 2:8–10; Ps. 72:4; Isa. 2:2–4; Isa. 9:7; Isa. 65:21–22; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 4:3–4; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

8] Representatively: Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002); Harold W. Hoehner, “Israel in Romans 9-11,” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998); H. Wayne. House, “The Future of National Israel,” BSac, 166:664; Steve Lewis, “’Some’ vs. ‘All’ — The Doctrine of the Remnant and the Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” CTJ 09:26; Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014); Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010); John F. Walvoord, “Millennial Series: Part 14: The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism.” BSac. 1609:434.

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Reflections on Transcendent Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

I believe that truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendent realities rooted in the nature and character of God. Belief in these absolute, transcendent standards is rooted in a recognition that God is the source, sustainer, and end of all things (Romans 11:36).

All truth is grounded in the reality that God is True. All virtue is grounded in the reality that God is Good. All beauty is grounded in the reality that God is Beautiful.¹

Therefore, as image-bearers of God, I believe Christians must commit themselves to thinking God’s thoughts after him, to behaving in ways that conform to God’s moral character and will, and to loving those things that God calls lovely.¹

Belief in objective, transcendent standards of truth, goodness, and beauty is a uniquely conservative distinctive. Most Christians readily affirm that the Bible should shape our beliefs and morals. Many, however, have not even given thought to how the Bible ought to shape our affections as well. That is, we must work to align our values and affections with those of God. This is what Paul refers to in Philippians 4:8 when he says to dwell on whatever is “true,” “right,” and “lovely.” The word for lovely is defined as “worthy of taking delight in,” or, “worth the effort to have and embrace.” In other words, there is an objective standard for what is worthy of our delight and affection. It is, therefore, wrong to love what God hates, or take delight in what God is disgusted with, or to call beautiful what God calls ugly.

We must not only learn propositional truth about God and live in accord with His moral imperatives, but we must allow Scripture to shape and cultivate within us rightly-ordered affections as well. Nevertheless, right beliefs, morals, and affections are not always transparent, and thus require careful judgment to discern biblically.¹

Part of the image of God in humanity is the capacity to love, for God loves and He is love. The Scriptures clearly teach that the most important human duty is to love God and love others. Love is a function of the will, and not merely of the understanding. A right relationship to God involves more than an abstract or theoretical understanding of the truth of His Word. Rather, it includes grasping the truths of God’s perfections and mighty deeds and relishing these truths as beautiful and lovely.²

Furthermore, as an intellectually conservative Christian, I seek to not disparage or shun tradition simply because it is tradition, nor praise and value innovation simply because it is new and progressive. On the contrary, conservatism seeks to cherish and nourish tradition as valuable and worth conserving—not simply because it is tradition, not as though tradition is authoritative, and not as though it is necessary to preserve all available elements of church history, nor to remain in a bygone century—but rather out of a genuine respect for the permanent things, that by carefully evaluating the values, forms, and functions of traditions, we may preserve and hand down to future generations that which is true and good and beautiful within the Christian tradition.

Conservative Christians seek to take what is timeless, true, and permanent, and apply it to our changing world. We desire to be faithful Christians in the present, while honouring and building upon what we have been handed.³

Conservative Christianity wishes to conserve and pass on the truth, goodness, and beauty of essential Christianity.³

(Exodus 28:2; Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Psalm 15:4; Matthew 22:37–39; Mark 12:29–30; John 17:17; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 14:40; Philippians 3:17; 4:8, 9; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:28–29; James 1:17; 1 John 4:16–21)

virtus et honos

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On Citizenship, Voting, and Starbucks

Disclaimer: This post is about Trump and Hillary…

There… that probably weeded out quite a few readers. Who wants to read another post about the political and ethical mayhem and turmoil that is the 2016 election? Probably no one. But I thought I would add my 1.1 cents to the mix in the form of an honest appeal to the two or three people left in America who are open to changing their minds about some aspect of the election and our role in it. I also originally was going to post this in a series of three or four posts, but again, no one wants to read any more posts about the election, so I understand I have only one shot.

Many others have written on the subject of how the Christian ought to act in this election season, and have done a fine job to which I can add little (if you read nothing else, read Dr. Grudem’s latest post). My goal is simply to collate the relevant arguments and to add an observation or two of my own regarding the logical and theological weaknesses present in many well-meaning Christians’ ethical conundrums.

Live as Good Citizens

First: what, at the highest level, is our responsibility as Christians in the earthly kingdom to which we belong (for the purposes of the current discussion—America)? To be faithful ambassadors of the coming kingdom, and of the King who will establish His rule over all nations and one day demand their allegiance to Him (2 Sam 7:16; Isa 9:7; Lk 1:32–33; Rom 14:11; 2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20; Rev 15:4; 21:24). With reference specifically to our interaction with the nation to which we belong during our earthly sojourn, the fundamental responsibility of the Christian is to conduct himself with honor as a good citizen of that nation (Jer 29:7; Rom 12:18; 1 Tim 2:1–2; 1 Pet 2:11–17).

Christians are commanded by Scripture to live as exemplary citizens in whatever nation they find themselves, while waiting ultimately for the kingdom that will bring perfect justice and peace to the whole earth. Americans live under a unique constitution in which the American people have the position of electors of their leaders. Did you catch that? Voting is not simply a right we can exercise if we feel like it—a privilege we may take advantage of whenever it’s beneficial or convenient to do so. Our position—our role—in the governmental structure of the United States is that we have the responsibility of electing our leaders. In other words, participating in the process of electing our leaders is a way of fulfilling our duty to our nation and our fellow man, taking responsibility for the care of our land, and obeying the imperative of Scripture that we act to the fullness of our capacity as good and honorable citizens.

I am not advocating a jingoistic sort of blind nationalism—not in the least. But that is a topic for another post, and I hope my point isn’t taken the wrong way. I simply don’t believe that abstaining from the election process is a legitimate option for the faithful Christian—especially in a country that is not actually legally restricted to the two mainstream parties, and allows, within the freedom of third party options, for a true diversity of opinion and values to exist. I believe the responsible Christian must take part in the election process. [1]

The Third Option

Now that I have brought up the third party issue, let me address that recourse. Many Christians (and Americans in general) who feel (rightly) that they should participate in the election process, and yet do not feel that they can in good conscience vote for Mr. Trump, are turning to third party candidates for salvation from their dilemma. And by third party candidates, I mean they are usually turning to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate.

The problem with this is that the Libertarian party is not, and has never really been, conservative, in the sense Christians should and usually do care about. Libertarians are fiscal conservatives and political non-interventionists—in the very narrow sense of wanting a limited government and zero government regulation, though with little understanding of the principle of subsidiarity. Modern libertarians have little in common with their intellectual ancestors—the classical liberals—and rarely have much  understanding of the philosophical foundation of the libertarian position as well. Apart from these two areas, there really is no consistent libertarian position, and the majority of libertarians lean away from social and cultural conservatism, of which Christians have historically been staunch supporters.

Furthermore, Gary Johnson’s stances on the various issues make it abundantly clear to me that for the Christian who is uncomfortable voting for Trump, turning to Gary Johnson cannot be a legitimate recourse. Gary Johnson supports Planned Parenthood and has always been pro-choice (because of his ideology of government non-regulation). He is, surprisingly, not as non-interventionist as most libertarians, believing we should stay in the U.N. (ie. continue giving up U.S. sovereignty); but he is still mostly non-interventionist, including his stance on Israel, which I have a hard time justifying biblically. He is not strong on border security. He is pro-gay marriage and will not protect Christians who refuse to celebrate gay unions. He is pro-legalization of marijuana (again, all because of the non-regulation ideology). In short, he’s a fiscal conservative, and a philosophical semi-anarchist, not a reflective, or classical, conservative. I don’t understand how a Christian can say their conscience won’t allow them to vote for Mr. Trump because he is a crude or immoral man (with conservative policies), but their conscience will allow them to vote for Mr. Johnson even though he has explicitly unbiblical, and non-conservative, positions on various policies.

On Voting Your Conscience

Speaking of the conscience… Please, brothers, don’t use your conscience as an excuse to avoid a difficult decision, or as a cop out for not voting for someone that rubs you the wrong way, or for not voting at all. The slogan of “voting your conscience” is catchy, but it often is used to mean “do what you’re comfortable with,” or “go with your gut.” But the conscience is not an external guide that tells you what you should do. The conscience is the moral faculty of man that passes judgment on one’s actions, condemning those actions one believes to be wrong, and approving those actions one believes to be right. What that means is that your conscience can be calibrated incorrectly. This is what Paul refers to as the weak conscience (Rom 14). We can think some things are wrong, even though Scripture does not condemn them, and we can think some things are permissible, though Scripture condemns them. Our duty then is to constantly feed our souls on the truths of Scripture so that our conscience is calibrated to the standards of Scripture.

The Responsibility of the Christian in Voting

If you believe your conscience would accuse you if you voted for Mr. Trump (which is different than simply being uncomfortable voting for him as a person), it is not necessarily because voting for him would be wrong. It is most likely because of what you view your responsibility in the election to be. You probably believe your responsibility is to only cast your vote for a good Christian, or at least a morally exemplary man.

But that is not the only legitimate position to hold. In fact, I would argue that the responsibility of the Christian in the election is not to vote for the most moral, agreeable, or Christiany candidate, but rather to vote for the candidate who will most effectively protect innocent life and punish evil (Rom 13), promote peace and tranquility (1 Tim 2:1–2), and preserve the welfare of the nation (Jer. 29:7). As Mark Snoeberger puts it:

[When it comes to politicians], I apparently can’t endorse a candidate unless I can also endorse him/her as a person—he/she is good, or even better, a particularly warm and gracious Christiany kind of good. Now this would be important if the candidate was running for pastor-in-chief. But that’s not the office under consideration. What I need to know is which is most likely to uphold the rule of law, punishing lawbreakers and praising law-keepers (Rom 13:4; 1 Pet 2:14), and which is more likely to be the kind of “king” who facilitates “peaceful and quiet lives” where “godliness,” “holiness,” and a robust gospel witness can flourish (1 Tim 2:2ff). That’s it.

At the end of the day, the decision (especially this year) is still not an easy one. That’s the paradox. No one is good. Still, objectively speaking, one of the credible options will rule God’s civil sphere better than the other(s). And so we vote for that person as well as our feeble analysis of the pertinent facts allows, irrespective of who is the better human.

But still, how can I possibly, as a faithful, conservative Christian, vote for such a crude, immoral man?

Well, it really does simply come down to your view of the Christian’s responsibility in voting. Those who say their conscience won’t allow them to vote for Mr. Trump believe so because they view their responsibility in the election process as only giving their vote to someone who agrees with them on spiritual and moral issues, or at least who loves God, or is at the very least a moral and ethical candidate. They are appalled at the notion that any good Christian could vote for such a man as Mr. Trump without their conscience eating them up. But what they need to understand is that not everyone views it as their responsibility to only vote for a good Christian.

I believe the Christian’s responsibility in our sojourn here in America is to seek the welfare of the nation (Jer 29:7). Many will respond, “don’t you think a good Christian man in office would be much better (assuming his competence) for the nation than a brash, crude, unmoored unbeliever?” Certainly. But is that good, competent Christian (e.g. Darrell Castle, currently) a legitimately available candidate (in the sense that it would be actually possible for him to gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election)? I don’t know, but I strongly don’t think so (and regrettably so).

Unfortunately, America has become inextricably entrenched in the two party system, which does not allow for the variety of positions that exist within the basic realms of “conservative” and “liberal” and “progressive.” I wish this were not the case, but it is for now. And while it could be legitimately possible for enough “democrats” and “liberals” in the classical sense of those words, to leave the Democratic Party and join the Libertarian or another third party, and for enough “republicans” and “conservatives,” in the classical sense of those words, to leave the Republican Party for the Constitution or another third party, the numbers, both of the general population and of the state electors, dictate that, at least for this election cycle, it would be so close to impossible as to be statistically insignificant for a third party to actually win the 270 electors needed to become president.

In other words, I do believe that the only two realistically available candidates are Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton. For this reason, my conscience would accuse me if I voted for a third party candidate simply because Mr. Trump disgusts me as a person or something, as I would be effectively taking a vote away from Mr. Trump, and tipping the scales slightly in Secretary Clinton’s favor (remember, though, that not voting is not an allowable solution in my view). To read more about other ways people’s consciences are affected by this election, read this, and this.

So, the question remains: between the two candidates that everyone knows are the only two who have a chance in this election cycle, which one will be better for the welfare of the nation? Or, put another way, which candidate will more faithfully execute the duties of government—protecting innocent life; punishing evil. Or, put yet another way, which vote will be a more faithful expression of my love for my neighbor?

Which is Better?

On that note: when considering who, between Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, would be better for the welfare of the nation—who would more effectively slow the nation’s descent into economic, social, and moral chaos—there is simply no question. Any outcry at this point is rooted, I believe, in a dismay at the prospect of voting for a distasteful person, not in any real disagreement that a President Trump would be better for the nation than a President Clinton.

The matter of the Supreme Court alone is enough to admit that a Trump presidency will be better for the nation than a Clinton presidency. But there is so much more at stake than simply the Supreme Court. There are thousands of other appointments at stake when the new president takes office. There are the matters of religious liberty, abortion, border security, the national debt crisis, education, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 10th amendments, and more.

Electing a President and Buying Coffee at Starbucks

Finally, I must make an observation regarding a widespread inconsistency among well-meaning Christian voters. If your conscience won’t allow you to vote for Mr. Trump, I think that means you can no longer drink Starbucks coffee or shop at Target.

See the connection? No? Well, if you think that your conscience would bother you to indirectly vote for a distasteful or immoral man for public office (indirect, because you’re sending your vote to your state letting your state know which electors to select, who are the ones who actually elect the president—and if you don’t like that, or don’t understand the electoral college, stop right now and watch this, watch this, and read this), please understand the inconsistency of your clear conscience as you walk into stores and give direct, monetary support to businesses that enable, practice, endorse, and celebrate immorality. If you cannot convince yourself to voice to your state your support for Mr. Trump’s policies, as Wayne Grudem puts it, how is it that you can, with a clear conscience, walk into Starbucks, Target, McDonalds, Apple, CVS, Walgreens, or a host of other businesses and hand them money and show your support?

Seek the Welfare of the Nation

The fact remains that we are not biblically prohibited from electing unbelieving men to public office, or from buying food or goods from unbelieving merchants (1 Cor 10:25–26). So, if your conscience is truly bothering you about Mr. Trump, it may be that your conscience is incorrectly calibrated (i.e. not in line with the precepts of Scripture). In the hazy past, America cared about wisdom and virtue, and Americans voted for presidents based on their competence, wisdom, and virtue, because that’s what they valued, and it’s with great sorrow that I acknowledge this is no longer the case. Today, we don’t value wisdom and virtue all that much, and few can articulate anymore what competence in the political realm would even look like. But the unfortunate reality this year is that we are left with only two candidates who have a legitimate chance at winning the electoral votes, and of the two, we must, both as faithful Christians and good citizens, vote for the candidate whose policies will most effectively preserve the welfare of the nation, protect innocent life, punish evil, and provide for a tranquil and quiet life for us and our neighbor.

If you get nothing else from this post, I urge you to click on all the hyperlinks, and approach this difficult election, as well as those who disagree with you, with humility, dignity, and conviction, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).


Footnotes:

[1] Now, the necessary implication of that claim is that Christians must be informed about social and political issues. A responsible citizen who wishes to participate in the election process to the best of his ability and for the good of his family, neighbor, and nation will take the initiative to be informed and competent so as to vote responsibly and from a position of wisdom and understanding. I’m not really advocating that every single citizen of the U.S. has the responsibility to go out and vote on election day whether they know anything about politics, economics, ethics, and morality or not. If you don’t know a single thing about politics, economics, ethics and morality, it’s hard for me to tell you that you need to vote. That being said, my solution is still not to say “ok, then just don’t vote.” The solution is to take responsibility and become informed. I’m not saying you need to understand everything there is to know about the differences between socialism, communism, feudalism, distributism, agrarianism, the market system, capitalism, and crony capitalism, or have a thorough grasp of the philosophical foundations of progressivism, liberalism, and conservatism. You don’t necessarily need to understand that the federal government is a creation of the states and not the other way around, or be careful to refer to the U.S. as a constitutional republic rather than a democracy. But you ought to know something of the basic structure of our republican government, why the founders thought it was important, why the market system of economics is valuable for the well-being of everyone involved, what the difference is between a classical and neo-conservative, etc. In other words, if you want to be a responsible citizen, you will want to be somewhat aware of the basics of politics and economics, stay relatively up to date on current events, and be able to evaluate these things through the lens of biblical truth.

virtus et honos

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Dispensations & Covenants [a critique of the progressive dispensational framework]

Traditional dispensationalists typically view biblical history through the grid of seven administrative divisions, or dispensations. Some progressive dispensationalists have narrowed down the dispensations to four, namely: Patriarchal, Mosaic, Ecclesial, and Zionic. The Patriarchal age is from Creation to the giving of the Law at Sinai. The Mosaic dispensation is from Sinai to the ascension of Christ. The Ecclesial era is from Christ’s ascension to His return. And the Zionic age is from Christ’s return into eternity. I understand the desire for simplifying the structure, and I believe that is one goal of progressive dispensationalism’s scheme. I also disagree with the traditional 7-dispensation scheme. However, I have a few things to note about progressive dispensationalism’s outline.

First, some of the dispensational divisions seem strange. For example, why is the first dispensation all the way until Sinai? It seems that there is certainly a significant, indeed central, administrative shift from God’s universal dealings with man to His election of Abraham and his family, so why not a dispensational division at the calling of Abraham? The change to the ecclesial dispensation at the ascension of Christ also seems a strange choice. Instead of Pentecost (which most dispensationalists would designate as the start of the church, but we’ll talk about that another time), progressive dispensationalism views the ascension of Christ as the primary dispensational division. This seems to be because of progressive dispensationalism’s tendency to view the ascension of Christ as the beginning (inauguration) of His Davidic reign. The Zionic age, with the Millennium and the eternal state conflated into one dispensation, also seems strange as there are clear distinctions and differences between the millennial kingdom and the eternal state (though they do subdivide it I noticed).

My primary concern with this outline, however, is that the Scriptures do not speak primarily in terms of dispensational differences and distinctions, but rather in terms of the biblical covenants. Of course, I believe in dispensations — but so does R.C. Sproul! What makes dispensationalism distinct is in how it interprets the biblical covenants. Dispensationalism interprets the covenants the way that God enforces His covenants — literally. In holding fast to a consistently literal hermeneutic, and observing how God reiterates and enforces the Abrahamic, Sinaitic, and Davidic covenants especially, the student of Scripture arrives at a theology which views the promises of the Abrahamic covenant as irrevocable (Rom 11:29), the messianic promises of the Davidic covenant as literal and physical, and, necessarily, the church as an entity which cannot displace or replace national Israel in the plan of God. Thus, the dispensational distinctive revolves around how the interpreter of Scripture handles the covenants.

In light of that conviction, how might one speak of distinctions in both God’s dealings with man, and man’s responsibility? There would certainly be a division at the calling and covenant of Abraham. There is clearly an administrative shift with the giving of the Law at Sinai. The progress of revelation concerning the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant is narrowed and further defined with the Davidic covenant. There also is a clear and monumental step both administratively and in the progress of revelation with the coming of Christ — a large transitional period including His ratification of the New Covenant through His blood, as well as the start of a new ministry of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the future, Christ will return as king and establish His everlasting kingdom in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, at which time the promises of the Abrahamic, Davidic, Priestly and New covenants will be fully experienced by national Israel; but there is certainly another significant change at the end of this world with the New Earth and the start of the eternal state. It seems to me that it is not only possible, but far more consistent with the biblical framework laid out by Scripture, to view and speak of history by tracking the progress of revelation, not as it progresses through somewhat arbitrary dispensational distinctions (how many versions of the dispensational scheme are out there?), but rather as the Bible itself traces it — primarily as it is conveyed and related through the biblical covenants and their outworkings in history and the future.


For further study in this covenantal dispensation framework, spend some time with the writings of Dr. Paul Henebury here.

virtus et honos

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Dispensationalism in Church History

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about the history of Dispensationalism as a system. His point was basically this:

Darby (sometimes referred to as the father of Dispensationalism) was, in fact, Covenantal in his theology at first. Covenantal folks claim that because he feared Christians could take the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Works too far in either direction, Darby created Dispensationalism. At the same time however, modern dispensationalists claim that Dispensationalism was not created by Darby, but in fact that dispensational ideas and interpretations of Scripture had been around long before Darby systematized the various doctrines into what we now call Dispensationalism. What do you say to all this?

Here’s my extended response:

It’s a rather interesting question of interpreting someone’s motives. The question is: was it because Darby just totally made up an erroneous theology in order to safeguard against a possible error of taking correct theology too far? Or was it because he simply began to adjust his views to fit with what he thought he was seeing in Scripture?

Also, whether you want to call it dispensationalISM or not, if you go to primary sources, there have clearly been what we would now identify as “dispensational” perspectives in regard to certain areas of theology since the ante-nicene era. For example, church fathers and apologists such as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all clearly held firmly to a premillennial kingdom hope.

In fact, here’s a list of church fathers from about 100–270 who were premillennialists: Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Pothinus, Justin Martyr, Melito, Heisippus, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Commodian, Coracion, Victorinus, and Lactantius.

Here are a few sample statements:

Papias (d. 155):  According to Eusebius’ “Fragments of Papias,” in ANF, I, 154:  “Amongst these he [Papias] says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.”

Justin Martyr (d. 162):  “But I and whoever are on all points right-minded Christians know that there will be resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare” (“Dialogue with Trypho,” in ANF, I, 239).

Irenaeus:  “But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire, but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the inheritance, in which kingdom the lord declared, that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . .  The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionable to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead.”

Tertullian:  “But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after their resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem” (Against Marcion,” in ANF, 3, 343).

No father was an amillennialist until the third century, as far as we know (and there are no postmillennialists until Joachim of Floris, a twelfth century Roman Catholic, though sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism; Daniel Whitby [1638-1726] was the modern day founder of postmillennialism). The earliest example of an amillennialist is a presbyter in Rome in the third century, named Gaius, who also denied the canonicity of the book of Revelation. After that, the Alexandrian school gave rise to several amillennialists in the mid-third century, with its emphasis on allegorical and spiritual hermeneutics.

Covenant theology didn’t start to be systematized until the 4th or 5th century, when allegory became the primary hermeneutic, so I could easily say that Covenant Theology started “late” as well… Alright, not as a late as the systematizing of dispensationalism as we know it, but my point is simply that Covenant Theology is not the pure and eternal orthodoxy handed down to the first generation from the apostles themselves, as we sometimes can be led to believe.

The system of dispensationalism was dependent upon the reassertion of literal hermeneutics, premillennialism, futurism in the book of Revelation, and some difference between God’s program for Israel and God’s program for the church, so it took time to form as a systematized theology. Dispensationalism as a system was “refounded” around 1830 when a group of Bible students (under the leadership of J.N. Darby) came to believe in a literal hermeneutic, which lead to taking the biblical covenants at face value, which lead to a distinction between programs for Israel and for the church, a pretribulational rapture, a literal future kingdom, etc.

Now, the fact is that just because dispensationalism wasn’t really systematized until Darby (and even then, primarily without the moniker of “dispensationalism”) does not mean there wasn’t anything in the theology of the early church that would line up with what we now refer to as dispensationalism. “Dispensational” understandings of different issues have been around all along, and all the way through history — including the Reformation, with the Dissenters preserving views that the Reformers rejected in their own systematizing of their theology.

Here are some thoughts from other writers on the subject:

“The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.  It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, II, 614).

“The early church was distinctly premillennialist in her cherished expectations of Christ’s second advent.  His coming and Kingdom were her constant hope.  The Apostolic Fathers anticipated a future Kingdom in connection with the Redeemer’s Advent” (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, I, 207).

“What must we conclude?  (1) That the common faith of the Church was Chiliastic, and (2) that such a generality and unity of belief could only have been introduced by the founders of the Christian Church and the Elders appointed by them” (G. N. H. Peters, Theocratic Kingdom I, 496).

What happened then? What gave rise to the amillennial predominance? Here are several explanatory factors Dr. Larry Pettegrew offers in response:

The increasing influence of the allegorical method of interpretation.

  1. The influence of Gnosticism’s doctrine that matter was ultimately evil.
  2. The antagonism between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
  3. The union of church and state under Constantine
    1. The supremacy of Christianity in the Roman empire was seen as a fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
    2. Magnificent church buildings began to be built throughout the empire, “fulfilling” Isaiah 35.
    3. Constantine rebuilt Jerusalem and called it the New Jerusalem.
    4. Feast for Bishops, foreshadowed the kingdom, specifically the marriage supper of the lamb.
  4. The influence of Augustine (the father of dualism in hermeneutics)
    1. The stone of Daniel which rolls down the hill has already become a mountain and is presently filling the earth.
    2. “I cannot overemphasize Augustine’s impact; and after him, the church in the main was amillennial through the middle ages.”

On Gaining Wisdom from the Past

Quite frankly, while it’s certainly helpful to be able to look to and to lean on the tradition of the church, even Covenant theologians can’t point to all of church history and say, “our theology, as it stands today, has been the reigning theological system throughout church history — therefore you should accept it.” The truth is that aspects from both dispensational and covenantal systems have always been held to, often intermixing and being held by the same person — in a way that would make it hard for us to put each person in a “camp” today.

But the fact of the matter is, I really don’t have to be able to point to church history and say, “my understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this issue has been the traditional view upheld by all the famous church fathers (who are often famous, not because they were leaders in overall orthodoxy, but rather simply because they made a big impact, or we have their writings still) and that gives undeniable credence to my position.” The fact is, there are many things we (Dispensationalists, Covenantalists, Arminians, Calvinists, etc) would disagree with the church fathers on — as well as things to which they held that we would agree with… That doesn’t really make our position untenable or totally unworthy of being heard. If it can be shown you that something really does seem to be what Scripture is teaching on a subject, then that doesn’t really change depending on whether I can or cannot find some influential people in history that agree with me.

That being said, I do think it’s true that on these important issues, the biblical view will have been found and held by someone in the past. My point is simply that that argument can’t really be used against dispensationalists, because the truth is that whether it can be called dispensationalism, or whether it was systematized before Darby or not, the views that are held by what we now call dispensationalists have been held by Christians throughout all of church history.

It is also really important to remember that dispensationalism is a theological system, and that system, or we could say certain aspects of that system, will inevitably result from a particular hermeneutic. So the issue looking at history really is, were they using a grammatical-historical interpretation, or were they (as many clearly were) using a more allegorical and spiritualizing hermeneutic. Depending on which view of Scripture and interpretation you use, you will naturally arrive at various positions on certain issues. The location of discussion then should not really be at the symptom alone (the theological view on an issue), but on the root of the theological outworkings — the hermeneutical foundation (see here for further discussion of the import of hermeneutics on this theological issue).

For further study into the history of dispensational though, I would encourage you to start here…

Calvinism, Prophecy, and Premillennialism — MacArthur

The Early Witness to Premillennialism — Vlach

Jesus and the Millenium — MacArthur

The History of Dispensational Theology — Ice

…and then look over this big list of resources if you’re really serious about it. Good studying!

virtus et honos

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Temptation and Idolatry

The other day, I talked about the three excuses people give for giving in to temptation, and the one verse that refutes all three — 1 Corinthians 10:13. I then pointed out that verse 14 tells us that the fundamental issue is idolatry. So the solution to temptation is to “flee idolatry” and worship the one true God. Let’s talk a little more about how idolatry and temptation are related.

An idol is something that we submit to, above God, because we think it can be an avenue to our satisfaction and the solution to our problems. It’s something we end up bowing down to in a form of worship, in hopes that it will bring us something that we crave and value above loving God and loving others. For example, bowing down to people, rather than God, in order to receive approval or acceptance (which we crave and value to a sinful degree — lust), in place of loving God and loving others, is an example of idolatry. Bowing down to money, rather than God, in order to receive comfort or status (which we lust after), in place of loving God and loving others, is another example of idolatry.

Temptation happens when an opportunity is presented that entices you to sin against God in order to obtain an object of lust. James 1:14 says that “each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires.” If I see some roadkill in the middle of the road, I am not tempted to go eat it, because I have absolutely no desire to eat roadkill! I’m only tempted by things that I desire. And if I desire something so much that I value it more than I value loving and obeying Christ, then I’ve turned that desire into lust, and that thing I desire is now something I am willing to sin in order to get. So how do you avoid temptation? “Flee idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). Ask God to place the right desires in your heart (Ps. 37:4), so that you value and treasure God and His ways more than your own desires and preferences. The less idols you have, the less you are willing to sin to get what you want, the less you will be tempted.

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On Pride and Humility

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 10:4–5

Anything that puts you and your opinions above God and the truths of His Word is pride, or “high-­mindedness,” as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 10:5. High-­mindedness can come in many forms, but it all boils down to being self-­focused, rather than God-­focused. Anything that you make an idol in your life, and even self-centered thoughts such as fear, guilt, worry, resentment, or insecurity — all of these things are a result of “high­-minded,” or prideful, opinions. What is pride? Pride means raising your own standards or preferences for thinking, behaving, or living, above God’s standards and precepts (Jer. 2:13; Ps. 10:1–11). It means having an inaccurate assessment of yourself, and resisting God’s standards and precepts (Isa. 14:12–15). At the core, the essence, of pride, is a self-­focused mindset — a mind constantly set on yourself (Rom. 8:5–7). Pride is so serious that the Bible actually says that God hates and opposes pride (Prov. 6:16–17; James 4:6; Prov. 15:25a; 16:5).

So what is the answer? What is the opposite of pride? It’s not thinking horrible things about yourself and focusing on how bad of a person you are — that’s still actually a form of pride, because you’re still consumed with yourself, and maintaining an inaccurate view of yourself rather than finding out and believing what God says about you. No, the opposite of pride is humility. Humility means aligning your thinking/behavior/lifestyle with the standards and precepts of God as we find in the Bible (John 14:21); it means a sober assessment of yourself in light of what God says about you. Having a mind set on Christ and others is the essence of humility (Rom. 8:6; Phil. 2:5).

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, “taking every thought captive” actually refers to the truth of Scripture taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. In other words, our responsibility is to humbly submit our thoughts and minds and attitudes to the teaching of the Bible — to allow the teachings of the Word of God to shape and define our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions. It takes humility to do that; but as we submit our thoughts and lives to the teaching of the Bible, we will also gain more and more humility as we learn to view ourselves, God, and others, as God Himself does.

Every decision you make in life is ultimately either God-centered or self-centered. Which will you choose?

Thought Questions:

  • A humble person is a teachable person. When you are receiving instruction, whether at school, at church, or at work, do you find yourself constantly resisting that instruction, or feeling as though you don’t need to be taught this, it’s not important, or you already have it figured out?
  • Pride means putting yourself first — your opinions, your desires, and your preferences. How often do you do or say things simply because they will make you more comfortable, or make you look good, without thinking about how it might affect other people, your friendships, or your witness for Christ?
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