The Faith of Abraham

.... The gospel is the power of God to salvation for those who believe, and that there is no back door, short cut, or exception by which anyone else can be saved (Romans 1:16). So then, how would this effect the multitudes who died before Jesus was even born? For themselves, this matter is already resolved and they now understand it perfectly, but for the rest of us the answer is steeped in mystery. Yet the Apostle Peter would provide some clues:

.... "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water."

(1 Peter 3:18-20)

.... "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."

(1 Peter 4:6)

.... As discussed in our previous posting, in the three days after Jesus had died, He was among the dead in the heart of the earth. Peter is telling us that during this same time, He was preaching the gospel to them. So they did have their chance to hear the gospel and believe – even those who were rebellious, when mankind was at it’s worst in the days of Noah.

.... For some additional insight, let's return to the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham told the rich man that the living should look, not to the dead, but to the law of Moses and the testimony of the prophets (Isaiah 8:19-20; Luke 16:29). But let's remember that when Abraham himself lived and died, neither Moses nor the prophets had yet been born! So how could it be that Abraham, in this passage, was aware of them, knew their testimony, and was familiar with the things they wrote?

.... It can only mean that when the prophets themselves died, they brought their testimony with them into the next world (Revelation 22:9). In the same passage, as the rich man spoke to Abraham, we saw communication between the two realms, making it possible for an exchange of information to occur, pertaining to the world they'd left behind. And for centuries, the meaning of passages such as this one would have interested them greatly:

.... "Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness."

(Micah 7:8-9)

.... For a fuller understanding on what occurred with the coming of Jesus into the realm of the dead, click here. For a fuller understanding of the sort of prophecies in which the dead placed their hopes, click here. But this still leaves us with the question of the prima facie judgment in the day before the cross, which would have decided whether their destination was to Hades or to Paradise.

.... The key to this understanding seems to be found in the person of Abraham, and what he represents. Indeed, it is for this purpose that Jesus portrayed him in such a prominent role. Why not choose Moses, Noah, or Adam for this role, instead? Because Abraham was the prime example of a man of faith, and so he was called the ‘father’ of all who believe (Romans 11:4-5).

.... In his lifetime, Abraham settled it in his heart that he would fully trust God, even though He did not yet have the specifics of the gospel -- and in this sense his heart was fully prepared for the gospel when it came (Galatians 3:8; 1 Peter 4:6). This faith offered a prima facie reason for showing that he would believe the gospel when it was fully revealed to him, and so he was chosen for Paradise. For "the Lord knows those who are His" and He becomes a stronghold for them in their day of trouble (Nahum 1:7).

.... Conversely, it was said of those who died and were sent to Hades:

.... "Because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help."

(Psalms 107:11-12)

.... During their lifetime, faith was lacking on their part -- but they certainly had enough time and incentive to re-think this! When Jesus was born, Abraham saw His day and rejoiced in it (John 8:56); thus anticipation of His coming to the next world to deliver them must have grown by leaps and bounds as well. So when Jesus did come and preach to them, and they believed, their faith in the gospel was complete. We will continue this discussion in the next posting.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 3

The Prima Facie Case

.... In our previous posting we quoted the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31. This story is an actual, true account and not simply a parable, so it shows a literal picture of the realm of the dead prior to the resurrection of Christ, which would later change things.

.... "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented’."

(Luke 16:25)

.... To the thoughtful mind, a basic question must present itself at this point. In this story, the Day of Judgment had not yet come, nor would it come for many centuries – yet already the eternal destiny of each person had been decided. So how could this be? Let’s use the New Testament to explain the criteria for a prima facie case, and then, in our next posting, we'll work backward to the time before Jesus came, in order to answer the same question from an Old Testament perspective.

.... "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again."

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

.... Through His death on the cross, Jesus has already paid the full price for all of our sins – for everyone’s sins – even for those who will never believe in Him nor repent. Thus, the primary form of each person's debt before God has changed, making our sins a secondary issue that has been entirely swallowed up into that much broader and more fundamental issue:

.... According to 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (quoted above), we are now indebted to God, not for our sins, but for the life of God's Son. We are indebted to Him life for life, and now He is calling on us to commit our lives to Him. This may only be done through believing in the gospel of Christ and abiding in Him; and this committment, in and of itself, becomes the basis for our prima facie judgment. It is the all-inclusive question that will always decide our eternal destiny correctly, and the question of our individual conduct is secondary, to be further considered at a later, appointed time:

.... "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

(John 3:18)

.... But what about the people who died before Jesus came, like the rich man and Lazarus? In the same story Jesus quoted Abraham as saying, ‘Let them listen to Moses and the prophets’ but some of them had died long before God spoke to those men, or even to Abraham himself!

.... For those of us who were born after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, this can be a very academic question. But for those who lived before the cross, it was the question of the ages! We will continue this discussion in our next posting.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 2

The Original State of the Dead

.... Understanding the state of the dead is more complex than it may seem, because the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed things, His second coming will change them again, and the Day of Judgment will change them yet again. The best way to offer an adequate background is to follow the question chronologically, keeping Jesus Himself in view as the key to a proper understanding at each point. With that in mind, let’s start with the original state of the dead, as expressed by Jesus Himself:

.... "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores
.... "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
.... "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'
.... "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'
.... "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
.... "Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
.... "And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
.... "But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"

(Luke 16:19-31)

.... We should begin by noting that this story is not a parable, but an actual account. As such, it provides an actual glimpse of the world beyond, in the days before Jesus’ death and resurrection. This, then, is the original state of the dead.
.... The overall realm of the dead was called Sheol, and it was located in the heart of the earth. During the three days that Jesus was dead, He Himself was in this realm:

.... "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

(Matthew 12:40)

.... "Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'"

(John 20:17)

.... As we saw in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Sheol was divided into two compartments. One of them, called Hades, was and remains a place of torment and flames. It is also known as the waterless pit (Zechariah 9:11; Luke 16:23-24). Those who are interred there were called ‘prisoners’ in the Old Testament.

.... The other realm is called ‘Abraham’s bosom’, and it is almost certainly the same thing as ‘Paradise’ (Luke 23:43). Paradise, in contrast to Hades, was a place of great comfort and rest. And between the two realms a great gulf was fixed so that no one could pass from one realm to the other.

.... During His three days of death, Jesus would spend time in both realms (Acts 2:27; Luke 23:43). We will continue this discussion in future postings, to show how His death and resurrection changed this basic situation.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 1

The Resurrection and the Life

.... In order to begin a proper discussion on the resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment, it is helpful to begin with a discussion on life itself, then on death, and of what transpires for the Christian in each case. Let us begin with a discussion on life, especially in relation to Jesus' own life:

.... Before we heard the gospel and believed, we were alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that was in us, because of the hardness of our hearts (Ephesians 4:18). But when we heard of Jesus and believed on Him, all of that changed, for He told us, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6).

.... Jesus did not say that He would ‘give’ us the life, but rather that He is the life-- and He said this again in John 11:25. As such, there is an actual exchange of life between ourselves and the Lord:

.... "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

(Galatians 2:20)

.... In this quotation, it has been plainly stated that in Christ we no longer live; and therefore it is has been said of our own lives:

.... "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

(Colossians 3:3-4)

.... And thus Jesus said to us again:

.... "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live."

(John 11:25)

.... The life of Jesus, who overcame death itself, is the life that animates us even now, through abiding in Him and He is us. So even when our earthly body dies, the part of our life that is bound in Christ remains alive, just as He Himself is alive forever more. We have passed from death into life, for He is our life. And in like manner, when He appears again, we will appear with Him in glory. For He said not, "I will resurrect everybody," but rather, "I am the resurrection."

.... Abiding in Christ, by the exchange of life between us during our pilgrimage on the earth, is the very heart of our understanding of the resurrection. Our lives continue in His service until the day, should Jesus tarry, when we are gathered into His presence through the mortality of our bodies, or sooner if He comes back to this world to gather us to Himself. But even if we die before He comes, we will not really died in the sense that matters:

.... "Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."

(John 8:51)

and again,

.... "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."

(John 5:24 KJV)

.... By the grace of God, Jesus has already tasted death for each one of us (Hebrews 2:9). Through His death He has destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and He has released all believers from the fear of death that had daunted us throughout our lifetimes (vs 13-15).

.... So if we have passed from death into life, then what does it mean when mortality takes us away from this world? What happens to us now, and where do we go? And how will the resurrection and eternal judgment effect us? These questions are more complex than our traditional understandings have allowed, and may only be resolved through looking to Christ Himself as our pattern. These are the questions we will answer as this module continues.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3

Agreement vs. Submission

.... Throughout the latter part of this module, we’ve discussed the role of authority in church leadership. A leaders' true authority pertains to the practical tasks that accompany his calling (Mark 13:34), yet they do not have an authority over other Christians. For that type of interpersonal authority has been reserved for Jesus Christ alone:

.... "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand."

(2 Corinthians 1:24)

.... Nevertheless, in carrying out their tasks, Christian leaders will constantly run into interpersonal considerations. They are servants to other Christians and must constantly interact with them (Mark 10:42-43). Since they do not have an actual authority over them in doing so, God places an emphasis on our own submission instead. This was discussed at length in an earlier posting.

.... . . . But what happens when we basically disagree with our Christian leaders? That’s the rub, isn’t it? So let’s fairly consider the leader’s perspective as well:

.... "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."

(Hebrews 13:17)

.... Let’s say that you disagree with something your leader wants to do. Ask yourself, 'What is the actual nature of this disagreement?' Do you think he’s making an unbiblical decision? That’s one thing. If he really is making it a choice between submitting to him and submitting to the Lord, of course you must take your stand for God; and if that is the case, and you’re mature enough in the Lord to make such a stand, you must also be mature enough to hope the best for this leader, trust that at least his intentions are good, and pray, pray, pray for him!

.... "Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably."

(Hebrews 13:18)

.... But on the other hand, what if your disagreement is only a matter of preferences? That is something else entirely. Let's say that the leader wants to buy blue carpet for the sanctuary but you prefer red. There is no issue of right or wrong between blue and red; no truth is at stake, for it is merely a matter of subjective preference. So for love’s sake you should be willing to yield to your leader and be supportive of his wishes. And this is what the Lord Himself would tell you:

.... "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

(James 3:17-18)

.... Or what if your disagreement is based on an organizational matter? Let’s say you’re part of an evangelism team and the leader wants to reach out to an apartment complex. But you want to go and reach out to a nursing home. Both, of course, are good things to do, but you disagree on the final choice. This is where submission plays an important role:

.... Submission is not the same thing as agreement. You can disagree, and still submit. Basically, submission means to get 'under' (sub) someone else’s mission; and remember that the leader has an actual calling from God to lead in the way that he does. Do you have the same calling in this particular decision? If you think that you do, then you should go to the nursing home on your own. But if not, you should be submissive and let the leader lead in the role where God has placed him. Remember that leaders have to give an account to God to a degree that followers don’t, and for this same reason God is far more likely to direct the group through the leaders than through any of its other members.

.... Finally, remember the underlying theme of leadership in this module. God promotes on the basis of proven faithfulness. One day, you may be the one who is leading -- but this will not occur unless you first prove yourself in following. So be submissive in such ways, even if you disagree on the particulars, and treat these leaders as you would want others to treat you if you were the leader. Because one day, for good or for ill, you shall reap what you have sown in this regard.

You have now completed the Ministry Module. To proceed to the next module, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2

The Rock of the Church

.... The ministry of Jesus was well underway, and people were beginning to speculate about who He was. The Scriptures foretold that Elijah would return, and might this be him? They had also been promised that another prophet like Moses would arise (Malachi 4:5; Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Or could this be Jeremiah, or one of the other old prophets? Or maybe it was John the Baptist, if he had risen from the dead?
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....
The truth could only be fully known to men through the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:3), and the first to receive this spiritual revelation of truth, and to voice it, was Simon Peter:

.... ‘When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

(Matthew 16:13-19)

.... But when Jesus said that He would build His church ‘on this rock’, what exactly did He mean? As some of you may know, the name ‘Peter’ literally means ‘rock’, so could that be what He meant? After all we’ve discussed in our previous postings, has Jesus just delegated the leadership of the church to Peter?
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.... To answer this question, let’s return to the original Greek wording for an important distinction. When Jesus speaks of the ‘rock’ on which the church is built, the underlying Greek word is ‘Petra’, which means a huge cliff or a bedrock, like the Rock of Gibraltar. But the Greek word that is translated ‘Peter’ is a different word, ‘Petros’, which means a little rock or a throwing stone, like a piece from the big rock. So Jesus is telling us that Peter is associated with the big rock in some smaller way, but they are not one and the same.
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.... So then, if Peter is only a little rock, who or what is the big rock, on which the church is built?

.... "Whoever comes to Me . . . is like a man . . . who . . . laid the foundation on the rock (Petra) ."

(Luke 6:47-48)

.... In other words, Jesus Himself is the Christ and He is the true rock of the church (Petra); and because Peter had just just confessed Jesus and believed in Him, we might say he had just gotten ‘a piece of the rock’ (Petros) -- to use the old ad line.
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....
Or perhaps we could explain this easier by paraphrasing Augustine. Just as Jesus is called the ‘Christ’ (which means the ‘anointed one’) and we are called ‘Christians’ (which means ‘little anointed ones’) and thus we are named for Him, our faith in Jesus is called the ‘Petra’, the bedrock of the church, and those who believe in Him become the ‘Petros’, the little pieces of the rock (see 1 Peter 2:4-5). By confessing His belief in Jesus, Peter had become a part of the church. So the church was not built on Peter, but Peter was built on the church, in the same sense that believing in Jesus is the bedrock of our own acceptance into the church.
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....
Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus completed the whole, crucial thought by sharing the gospel with the apostles, and the role that His blood would play in our salvation:

.... "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."

(Matthew 16:21; see 1 Corinthians 15:1-5)

.... Therefore we might say that Peter, both hearing the gospel and giving the word of his testimony about Christ, would overcome the evil one, as shall everyone who follows the example first shown in him:

.... "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death."

(Revelation 12:11)

.... For a further discussion on this issue, and how it compares with the claims of the Catholic church, please continue reading in the 'comments' section.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1

The Moses Model

.... When we hear modern teachings on the ‘authority’ of Christian leaders, we are almost sure to hear the story of Moses presented as a proof text, for he was never to be challenged in his leadership and those who spoke against him incurred God’s wrath. In point of fact, they usually thought he was taking too much on himself, and they wanted to take some of his authority away from him, by taking it to themselves:

Aaron and Miriam:
.. "So they said, "Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?" And the LORD heard it."
(Numbers 12:2)
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Korah, Dathan and Abiram:
.. "They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?"
(Numbers 16:3)
.... In response to their murmuring, God’s judgment fell: Aaron and Miriam were rebuked, and Miriam was struck with leprosy; Korah and the Levites were consumed with fire, and the earth opened up to swallow Dathan, Abiram and their faction – imagery that clearly suggests they were sent to hell (Numbers 12:10; 16:28-35). Thus we, too, must submit to church leaders wholly and without question, or we will bring similar judgments on ourselves.
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....
But if modern church leaders reflect the same authority, to whom do they, themselves, answer, and how? Actually, the answer is in the very same passages though not as they've intended.
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.... The problem with their analogy is that Moses is being viewed as an archetype for church leadership, which greatly understates the true perspective. For in God’s own mind, Moses was intended to foreshadow something far greater than this:

.... 'I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’

(Deuteronomy 18:18-19)

.... This prophet, who would be like Moses, would be Jesus Himself (Acts 3:20-23). So the true analogy of Moses is that he represented the absolute leadership of Jesus Christ in the church. The other people in the analogy represent the church, and – can it possibly escape our notice? Those who were resisting ‘Christ’, and who wanted to take his authority for themselves, were the other ‘church leaders' of their day!
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.... Aaron was the high priest and Miriam was a leading minister among the women; Korah was the head of one of the families of the Levites, which was the priestly tribe; Dathan and Abiram were heads over the Reubenites, the oldest tribe, who thought the priesthood should have been shared with them.
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....
Therefore, the true analogy is these passages is that of church leaders who have become self-willed and rebellious against the absolute authority of Jesus Himself in the church, and who covet His place because they seek a bigger role for themselves. And because of this, they will incur a stricter judgment:

.... "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever."

(Jude 11-13)

.... Furthermore, on the day after Korah’s rebellion, the people who had followed his leadership example and ‘submitted’ to him, rather than clinging to Moses himself (to Christ); brought a similar judgment on themselves. So blind submission to the ‘church leaders’ was not enough to offer them a 'safety net' and to justify their actions!

.... "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple."

(Romans 16:17-18)

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5

Abuse and Recourse

.... In some parts of the church today, unscriptural teachings on ‘authority’ have produced a Christian caste system with an ‘elite’ class of Christian leaders at the top. They are elite in the sense that (according to themselves,) the rest of us are not allowed to question their actions nor defend ourselves from unnecessary abuse from them. We are simply to be submissive anyway.
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....
For example, based on the example of Hannah and Eli (1 Samuel 1:12-17), one author considers it ‘brazen’ to disagree with a pastor who may falsely insult us! (Yes, we’re the brazen ones for disagreeing, not the pastor for speaking slanderously!) Yet he neglects the fact that Hannah, in a respectful way, did exactly that and disagreed with him, and that we are commanded to do the same:

.... "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will."

(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

.... The same author claims, in regard to lawless ministers (Matthew 7:22-23), that we may still "access God through them." How revealing this statement is! For setting aside all necessity of serving God in truth, an outright mediation is envisioned, even in submittion to lawlessness!
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....
Jesus would say to us all that those very same ministers never knew Him (Matthew 7:23). Far from offering us a 'safety net' through our submission, these ministers are blind leaders of the blind so that both will fall into the ditch (Luke 6:39). Forgive the pun, but that’s what comes from blind submission, especially in abusive situations.
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.... The same author went on to claim: "God did not limit our submission to authorities to the times when we see their wisdom, agree with them, or like what they tell us. He just said ‘Obey!’" (no Scripture cited). This, too, carries the very dangerous seeds of mediation, blind submission and even usurpation. The entire argument is fraught with complications.
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.... Contrary to the author’s claim, Christians are required to hear God for themselves and to be accountable to His leading (1 Kings 13:14-22; John 10:27,5). Nor does God purposely keep us in the dark for the sake of bolstering leadership’s authority, as the author has claimed (see James 1:5). That is simply gnostic. And it illustrates the sort of blind submission that Paul would decry:

.... "For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that!"

(2 Corinthians 11:19-21)

.... Some Corinthian Christians believed that it was godly to suffer abuse willingly, and that only weak Christians would attempt to defend themselves in such situations. But in this passage Paul is chiding them, and deriding them as the true weaklings because they would tolerate such things.
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....
Abuse is sometimes inescapable in life, and God does honor us when we face it patiently. But He also gives us a mouth and wisdom which none of our adversaries can gainsay nor resist, which means that His heart is with us in speaking the truth in each matter. In meekness He allows us to instruct those who are in opposition, if perhaps He may grant them repentance to the truth – and this includes abusive Christian leaders. The key to this is in our trust in God and our respectful attitude, not necessarily in our silence.
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....
The same author claims (very brazenly) that objecting to abuse from Christian leaders is simply ‘avenging ourselves’. But by any objective standard, there is a difference between avenging and defending, as long as we do so Scripturally (Acts 28:19).

.... "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

(Matthew 18:15-17)

.... Christian leaders, like all other Christians, are subject to a process of discipline when it is necessary, as described above. In relation to erring leaders, Paul picks up the same process at mid-point by instructing Timothy: "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses." (1 Timothy 5:19). Basically, he is telling Timothy to insure that the previous steps were accomplished before taking things to the next step, which is to bring the matter before the whole church:

.... "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality."

(1 Timothy 5:20-21)

.... In other words Paul is charging Timothy not to treat leaders as an elite class in any way. They are to be shown neither partiality nor prejudice in church discipline, but they are subject to the same standard as anyone else – give me no arguments, no excuses – you had better observe this truly, do it rightly, and do it no matter what! We will continue this discussion in our next posting.

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Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4

Abusive Authority

.... Jesus told us that all authority is given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and because this is true we must always act in His name, for we have no authority of our own (Colossians 3:17). Like the Holy Spirit Himself, Christian leaders are simply to ‘come along side’ of other Christians with the intention of pointing them directly to Jesus (John 15:26; 16:13; 1 Timothy 2:5). Through this the Lord’s authority is represented but it is never delegated.

.... "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

(Matthew 23:8-12)

.... In this passage, Jesus is speaking about religious titles such as Rabbi, Father or Teacher. But the real point is that those who were claiming such titles were making themselves mediators between God and men. In effect, they were claiming that He had delegated His authority to them and that we must now ‘access God’ through them (see 2 Corinthians 1:24).
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In fact, certain Christian leaders of today are quick to add even more: "We cannot separate our submission to God’s inherent authority from our submission to His delegated authority." In other words they are claiming that obeying God means obeying them, without recourse, for the two are inseparable. And they claim this even remains true when they have really twisted it! "Just because it has been twisted by man does not mean it was not authored by God."
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Such a statement is arrogant, self-serving, reckless and irresponsible to the point of being dangerous. Should we really accept man’s ‘twisting’ of the Scriptures while telling ourselves that God has ordained it this way, and that He would actually be displeased to have it otherwise? Unfortunately, a lazy, religious part of man would love to have it exactly so, to which Jesus would answer:

.... "Full well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition."

(Mark 7:9)

.... Let’s build a scenario to address the underlying conflict more pointedly, then relate it to Jesus Himself. A Christian leader tells a young lad to do something that is unscriptural. The lad points out his error by quoting the Scripture itself, but the leaders insists. How is this conflict resolved? Is authority found in the Word of God, or in the person of the Christian leader? Let’s see how the answer is modeled in Jesus Himself:

.... "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak."

(John 12:49)

.... In this example Jesus, the speaker, claims no authority of His own, but points beyond Himself to the Word of His Holy Father. And after His resurrection, when all authority really was given to Him (Matthew 28:18), the Holy Spirit did the same by quoting the words of Christ in order to point us back to Him (John 14:26; 16:13-14).
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Therefore we must do the same, resorting to His word in pointing back to Him, if His authority is to be properly represented among men. As such we entirely disagree with the foolish notion that Christians are "on a collision course with the very one they call ‘Lord’" by holding Christian leaders accountable to the Scriptures, and acting accordingly! On the contrary, Jesus would say:

.... ‘Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and do not do the things I say?"

(Luke 6:46)

.... Or as the apostles would say,

.... "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge."

(Acts 4:19)

.... The main point of our disagreement is that under a situation of abuse, Christians would be stripped of legitimate recourse. Hopefully, that would be an extreme possibility and not the norm, but blind power of this nature will, in itself, always lend itself to such abuse. As Lord John Acton would say, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" and historically speaking, the church has always lapsed into great abuse when the power of leadership was magnified -- and especially when it had gone unchallenged. And as we have noted above, there is a religious part of Christians that loves to tolerate this, and would seldom seek to free themselves from it:

.... "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?"

(Jeremiah 5:31; see also 2 Corinthians 11:22-21)

.... We will continue this discussion in our next posting.

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Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3

Authority Teachings

.... In our previous posting we discussed the subtle, self-serving ambition that rose in the hearts of some Jewish leaders pertaining to their leadership roles, and how the same ambition would later take form in the hearts of some Christian leaders. The ‘ministry machine’ was an enticing organization and they wanted to control it for themselves, even if they had to push Jesus out of the picture in order to do so (Matthew 21:38).
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Even while Jesus walked with the apostles, the same issue had surfaced secretly and repeatedly in their hearts. They knew that Jesus would be gone one day, so they constantly argued about which of them would be the greatness (Luke 9:46; Mark 10:37; Luke 22:24). But Jesus overheard them and answered their ambitions by saying:

.... "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you . . ."

(Matthew 20:25-26)

.... Jesus would grant authority of that nature to no one, for He alone is the head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22). Yet many Christian leaders today, even in Protestant churches, believe they have received an actual authority over other believers. Their arguments are rather heavy-handed to say the least. In fact, they are often prefaced with subtle accusations of rebellion for anyone who would dare to disagree with them (comparing them to Cain, for example); and if anyone would even keep an open mind on the subject, they are belittled in advance as ‘deceived’, acting ‘contemptuously’, being motivated by ‘self will’, perhaps even ‘betraying a complete loss of the fear of God’.
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.... If these statements mean we must be under authority to God Himself, then they are true. But that is not the application those ministers intend. Their constant context is an authority which they believe has been ‘delegated’ to Christians leaders -- most particularly, to themselves.
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.... In a recent book on this subject, the author misapplied 1 Samuel 10:25 by recalling that "Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty and wrote it in a book." He then stated that his goal in writing his own book was similar, meaning that he intended to explain the scope of authority that God had delegated to Christian ministers. But in that passage, Samuel was actually warning the people about royalty because it was a form of rejecting God’s own authority:

.... "And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them . . . however, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them."

(1 Samuel 8:7-9)

.... And the concen that the Lord had expressed to Samuel is similar to our own concern:

.... "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men."

(1 Corinthians 7:23)

.... So then, what is the ‘Scriptural basis’ that is used for teaching their model of church leadership? Among those who advocate such teachings, Romans 13:1-2 will usually be quoted for the purpose: "There is no authority except from God."
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.... But in reality, this argument merely assumes what it really need to prove. In other words, it must first be shown that such an authority was given to those ministers, and only then could that verse could be rightly applied to them. On the contrary, that passage speaks of secular authorities such as governments, employers, teachers and even parents, and we have already established that Jesus made a vital distinction in that regard. He plainly stated that church leadership was not to operate in such ways, but rather, that they should become servants, just as He Himself had come as a servant to God and to men (see Matthew 20:25-26, quoted above).

.... "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

(Matthew 3:10)

.... By going to the premise of this argument in this way, we are laying the ax to the root of the trees and their argument is entirely defeated, for it is impossible to draw a true conclusion from a faulty premise. Nevertheless, for purposes of our own information, in our next postings we’ll examine their beliefs further in order to show that their position, even if it did have a premise, would still be abusive.

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Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2

The Laborers in the Vineyard

.... In the days of Jesus, every great household had servants who worked for the family. They were appointed over the daily tasks of the family holdings. With this in mind, Jesus likened the religious leaders to servants in His Father's household, though He Himself was the Son and heir of His Father’s house (Luke 20:9,19; John 3:35; Hebrews 3:5-6).
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Throughout history and the scriptures many of those servants, such as Moses, served with absolute devotion and faithfulness in the Lord’s house (Hebrews 3:5). But over time, a subtle corruption occured in the hearts of others, and would begin to fester. "The master has been gone for a long time" they began to think, and they turned covetous eyes upon the master's property to claim it for their own. And, as often as they did happen to hear from the master, they began to rebuff Him:

.... "Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.'

(Matthew 21:33-38)

.... It was evident to everyone who heard this parable that Jesus was talking about the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 21:45; Luke 20:19). They had labored in the Lord's vineyard for so long that they felt they had come to own it by now, and that it was all about them; it was about the 'ministry machine', and they wanted to be the ones who controlled it. So of course, Jesus was someone they would want to resist, push out of the picture and eventually kill.
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After the ascension of Jesus, this cycle would begin again within the church itself. Most of those who followed Him in the beginning were entirely sincere, and labored in His vineyard faithfully. But over time, the same covetous desire would fester in the hearts of some other Christian leaders. Their attitude changed as they sought to establish themselves through the church; it was all about them and the new ministry machine. And in each generation that has followed, within this segment of the church, new leaders would arise who would learn their ways and become even worse than the ones who were before them:

.... "They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness . . ."

(2 Peter 2:14-15)

.... "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."

(2 Timothy 3:13)

....Especially, many churches would develop their own traditions on ‘authority’ at the expense of the true authority of Jesus Himself (Mark 7:13). When presenting themselves in this way, these Christian leaders impose themselves as mediators between ourselves and the Lord, which intrudes into the very Lordship of Christ. And thus they may cause a separation between us and Him:

.... "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus."

(1 Timothy 2:5)

.... Any person familiar with the Catholic leadership model will recognize the application of these remarks, yet the Catholics are by no means alone in this. In many segments of the Protestant church itself, another tradition on authority has evolved and is gaining acceptance – and it is very close to the historic Catholic model. For it envisions the authority of Christian leaders over individual Christians and requires their unquestioned obedience . . . even to the point of issuing thinly veiled threats to achieve this end.
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.... This new ‘orthodoxy’ has found such ready acceptance in some modern churches that it can now be difficult to even address the subject fairly. Any person voicing an honest disagreement will instantly be labeled a rebel, though that may not be their intention at all. I must therefore ask for patient consideration, which I hope will also will bring some liberating truths as this discussion continues in the following postings.

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Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1