Summer is a very busy time for most people including the pastors who participate in the Everlasting Truths ministry. As a result this blog will be silent until sometime after Independence Day. Though this time of year is busy don’t let the activities of life keep you from asking questions of the Word. May you grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)
What’s the real issue?
June 5 Radio Broadcast
Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor George Dwelley
Pastor Tom Schierkolk
Pastor Dave Sexton
Christians around the world are suffering under intense persecution. Christians are being put to death, imprisoned, raped, beaten, driven from home or loosing all their possessions. Why don’t these Christian communities band together and fight against their attackers?
Many Christians facing persecution have no abillity to resist. Even if these believers wanted to fight back their persecutors have prevented them from being able to offer any real resistance. Several Christian groups hold to policies of pacifism. Pacifism is more than refusing to fight in a countries wars. Pacifism is a principle of non-violence against anyone. Those who hold to pacifistic views usually will not fight against anyone who asaults them. Most Christians do not have pacifistic policies but would never view violent self defense as an appropriate response to persecution. This is because of the way the Bible describes the Christian perspective of suffering for Jesus’ sake. Persecution because one is a Christian is different from being the target of a random attack on the street. Many Christian’s would view as acceptable some degree of self-defense against a random assault but would not defend themselves against persecution.
The Bible describes persecution because of righteousness as a source of blessing. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persectured they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) The book of Acts shows the apostles praising God because they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. The first letter of Peter instructs Christians to be ready to endure persecution and to do so like Christ- with patience, faith and quietness. The book of Revelation also promises rewards for those who endure persecution and it gives several examples of Christians in heaven praising God because they were persecuted for their testimony of Christ. The New Testament view of persecution is that suffering for the testimony of Jesus is something to be patiently endured not fought against. Persecution and death because of the gospel follows in Jesus’ footsteps and brings great reward from God.
The Christian does not fight against his persecutors because of the nature of the gospel. Christianity is not spread, strengthened or protected by violent means. The gospel message is one of total transformation that begins in the heart. Spiritual transformation cannot be achieved by violent means. The gospel does not change hearts by coercion. Sin is not forgiven by force. Christianity is spread by influence and persuasion. Conviction of the heart of man is the means by which the gospel conquers, not by threats and violence.
None of this means the Christian will court persecution. The book of Acts shows many examples of Christians being persecuted and how they responded. These examples offer guidance to any believer facing attacks from those who hate Jesus. Christian’s can and will flee persecution. Christian’s can use legitimate legal means to avoid or halt persecution. Above all else the Christian realizes all persecution and suffering in this world is temporary. Because he is living for eternal reward he will willingly suffer at the hands of men that he might receive the praise of God.
The previous post addressed the question of the eternal fate of those who die without hearing of Jesus. The real question at the root of the original question questions the fairness and love of God to punish people that have had no chance to be saved. The question seeks to undermine the justice or the goodness of God. Later articles will address the goodness of God towards those who never hear the gospel. This essay will consider the justice of God towards those who have never heard the gospel.
The question is not really about fairness. Fair is that which treats everyone exactly the same. Nothing in the Bible says God is fair, at least in the way we commonly think of it. Everyone does not get an equal slice of the pie or an equal opportunity. Fairness is not the issue. The issue is justice. Justice is doing that which is right and equitable. A just judge does not go easy on the rich man because he has made substantial campaign contributions. A just judge responds to the circumstances of the crime regardless of the benefit he might or might not gain from the accused. God’s justice is that which responds to sin the same regardless of the person and does not overlook a crime because of the personal advantages of the particular sinner. The justice of God responds righteously and equitably to all sinners. Those who say God should not condemn to hell people who have never heard the gospel are asserting that God is unjust and unkind. Is it unjust for God to send someone to hell who never had the opportunity to be saved? Does God respond disproportionately to the sin of those who have not heard the gospel?
Several answers can be given to this. The first answer is that God is Creator. Man is God’s creation and thus God can justly do anything He wants with man. (Romans 9:14-21) A second answer is that given in the previous article. God is just in condemning men to hell because all have sinned. Justice does not require the possibility of escape from punishment. The justice of God condemns all because all are guilty, just as the Old Testament law reveals. These answers are true but emotionally unsatisfying to many. To understand the justice of God one must fully consider all the Bible says about His dealings with men. The justice of God is most evident in this: He condemns none to hell that have not had opportunity to know Him.
All men continually have paraded before them the evidences of the existence and power of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3) Every time the sun rises it shows God’s power. Every time the stars appear in the night sky they show the power of God. Every passing of day to night, season to season, year to year is a declaration that God exists and His glory is great being description. That men refuse this evidence and ascribe God’s glory to lesser beings is not indicative of God’s injustice but of man’s iniquity.
Because the existence of God and sin are self-evident, each person is responsible for how he responds to those apparent truths. It is this author’s opinion that God will send the truth to those who seek to know the truth. The erroneous assumption sometimes found in this and similar questions is those who have no chance to hear the gospel are innocent. Many imagine that people are basically good and would worship God if they had the chance. This is not the case. There are none that are good and there are none that seek after God. (Romans 3) All the world is guilty before God.
The guilty cannot plead their mistaken beliefs as an excuse for acquittal. The thief who believes it unjust for others to have things he does not is still a thief. His mistaken worldview does not eliminate his guilt. A mistaken view of God and salvation does not eliminate guilt. God is not unjust in condemning those who reject the available knowledge of Him and worship a creature instead the Creator.
Many today make the claim that they are spiritual but not religious. The one claiming this usually has a good opinion about God, tries to do good works and be kind people. He may pray or read the Bible but does not attend church and doesn’t care to be around people who think you should go to church. The spiritual but not religious tend to pick and choose from many different religions to craft a personalized spiritual experience. They are not people of no faith, but people with their own custom built faith. They have typically rejected Christian institutions and denominations. They refuse to be defined by the beliefs of a religion or restricted by the rules of any particular religious institution. The title “nones” has been applied to this group because when asked on religious surveys what their religion is they select the option “none of the above”.
Spirituality as defined by the nones is the private practice of faith and the personal experience of something greater. Religiousness is associated with the public expression of faith through religious institutions, strictures, rituals, gatherings and official systems of belief. For some of the spiritual Jesus is a guide or a personal guru but is not God. For some being spiritual is about understanding a person’s role in the cosmic scheme of things. The nones cannot be pinned down to any set of beliefs or core tenets, but they do have some things in common. First, and the defining feature, is the personalized crafting of a system of belief that works for the individual. Closely associated with this personalized belief system is a desire for personal improvement that is sought after by means of the spiritual person’s belief system. Often the spiritual accepts some form of mysticism. Mysticism seeks to evoke deep spiritual feeling through a transcendent experience. Mystical experiences can take place while wathcing a sunset, walking on the beach, praying, singing in church, practicing yogic meditation, painting, dancing or drinking a really good cup of coffee. Despite the desire for a spiritual experience the nones are unlikely to participate in any organized form of religion. They will participate in activities with a strong religious undertone, but will not join themselves to any religious system. The spiritual is very tolerant of other religious beliefs.
The nones are the religious embodiment of today’s post-modernism and critical realism. They have rejected any sense of absolute truth and believe the individual is the sole determiner of what is true for himself. The spiritual sees his spirituality as a means of personal development not reconciliation with the Divine, atonement for sin or a means to reach eternal bliss. Much about the spiritual bears strong similarity to the practices of Buddhism and Confucianism. I would describe the spiritual as a particularly American form of Buddhism. The nones try to be good people, seek a spiritual connection, and reject a strict definition of God and of Biblical doctrine.
The kingdom of God is a very large topic that would require a substantial multi-week study to even begin to properly address. In brief, the kingdom of God is based on the promise of God given to the descendants of Israel. The promises include a king that rules over Israel forever. The kingdom will begin a new golden age for Israel and usher in worldwide peace, justice and righteousness. The promise of God to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 is one of the kingdom promises, “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for every before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” The prophecies of Isaiah 11 are also kingdom prophecies, “With righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth.” “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the younglionand the atling together; and a littlechild shall lead them.” “And in that daythe Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people.” “He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather togethe the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
The many kingdom promises in the Old Testament are of such a nature that an earthly, future kingdom is necessary for them to have a literal fulfillment. The Kingdom promised in the Old Testament requires a physical fulfillment. The promises of the kingdom are still waiting for fulfillment and will be fully completed when Jesus rules the world from Jerusalem.
One aspect that creates confusion is the relationship of New Testament Christians to the kingdom. Christians today are part of the kingdom. They are citizens of the kingdom that is coming. The citizenship of Christians in the kingdom does not mean the church is the kingdom, or that the kingdom promises will be spiritually accomplished in the church. The church will part of the kingdom when Jesus establishes it on the earth. The kingdom will not exist until Israel has been restored to true worship of God and all the promises made to Abraham and David are fulfilled. The kingdom will be set up exactly as has been promised through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. We look forward to the return of Jesus and the inauguration of His earthly kingdom of righteousness and peace.
The individual Christian’s response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to nationally legalize homosexual marriage is not identical with that of the local church. The local church has a unique function and has been Divinely limited in its operations. Individual Christian’s have the opportunit ot band together in organizations to combat this decision. This is not an option for the church. (For the sake of clarity, I am defining the church as an organized assembly that regularly meets together and is comprised of Christians in a committed fellowship with one another. In other words, the visible local churches, not the invisible body of Christ comprised of all the saved.) Individual Christians may band together in political action committees, pro-marriage organizations and other lobbyist groups to use all legal means to overturn the supreme Court’s decision. Christians have the liberty, Biblically and nationally, to use all legal means at their disposal to correct the court’s egregious error. However, churches do not have that same liberty.
The Bible gives a very narrow definition of the functions of the church. The church does not have liberty to seek to operate outside those Biblically described boundaries. The church must continue to preach and teach the Word as has been done since the very beginning of the church age. The ministry of the church is far to important to be sidetracked into pressing political matters. To the local churches a large part of the response to the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is to carry on as normal- or at least carry on with what the Bible defines as normal for the church. The church’s task is to prepare Christians to minister to one another and to the unsaved. This task has not changed. While the church may need to provide some specific instruction on how deal with difficult questions unsaved friends might bring up, the ministry of the church has not been altered by the recent ruling.
The message of the church must remain solidly grounded in Biblical truth. The gospel is the only hope this nation has. Stopping homosexual marriage is not the answer for America’s moral malaise. The answer is the transformative work of the gospel. The church must clearly preach the Word of God every single Sunday. The culture is not going to be changed by politically driven ministries. The culture is going to be changed by the Word of God. Churches must be preaching the Word and equipping their members to go into the community proclaiming the Word.
Churches also need to be prepared for the challenges that are coming. Seeing the warning signs of religious persecution in this most recent decision and making wise preparation is not alarmism but realism. The deliberations and dissenting opinions before the Supreme Court gave strong hints of future troubles. Churches will face loss of tax exempt status, lawsuits and fines. The church needs to prepare itself to stand with grace and conviction in the legal fights to come. Churches need to prepare themselves to support those members who lose jobs and assets because they have refused to support the mandate of this new America.
Prayer for the nation and individual leaders must echo through the halls and from the sanctuaries of churches all across our nation. Prayer for the salvation of the lost and for righteous leaders. Prayer must not be joined with fear. Students of the Bible and church history are not at all surprised to find America turning against Christianity. America has been against Biblical Christianity for many, many decades. The church has for the most part been a group without power in this world, outside the favor of governments. The history of the church in America is not typical of church experiences across the globe or throughout history. Normal for the church is marginalization and opposition. Persecution and suffering are common. Churches must steel themselves to remain joyful in their faithfulness, no matter how intense the coming persecution becomes.
Though the temptation to bow to immoral dictates will be very strong, churches must remain steadfast. The temptation to live in fear and sorrow is great, but churches and Christians must remain joyful. “Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearing and faint in your minds.”
Ash Wednesday is the day which begins the season of Lent (more on that in a later answer) and is observed by those who follow the liturgical church calendar. Typically the church calendar is followed by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Episcopalians, though in recent years more and more Protestant groups have also begun to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent.
Ash Wednesday is described as a day of penitence set aside in remembrance of one’s own sin and mortality. Ash Wednesday begins the observer’s preparation for the Holy Week and Easter. On Ash Wednesday the observer usually attends a special church service during which the minister marks each person’s forehead with ashes while quoting Genesis 3:19, “For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” The imposition of ashes is a reminder of the individual’s guilt before God and the consequences of that guilt, death. Many also keep Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting. Ash Wednesday begins Lent with the reminder of sin and leads the observer to an extended time of penitence and contrition.
Ash Wednesday is a tradition taken from the practices of some churches beginning in the 400’s AD. Ash Wednesday nor it’s equivalent is found anywhere in the pages of the Bible. Biblical examples of people tearing their clothes and covering themselves with ashes can be found, but these were not part of a ritual observance. The ashes found in the Bible are ashes of deep sorrow, often at times of extreme loss. While observing Ash Wednesday is not forbidden in the Bible, it does carry with it some troubling theological assumptions.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are closely associated with penitence for sin. Penitence is usually something greater than sorrow for sin and is different from repentance. Penitence is closelu associated with penance and typically communicates some activity being done by the sinner to show his sorrow or to make amends for the wrong done. The performance of some religious act as an expression of sorrow is not in line with the Biblical gospel nor is it the response to sin called for by the gospel. The Bible commands repentance for sin, turning to God for salvation, without any effort or works on the part of the sinner. Instead, the Bible teaches that a gospel which requires some personal act of obedience for salvation is in fact a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9).
Is it a sin to participate in Ash Wednesday? Just as the Bible does not prescribe its observance, so the Bible does not forbid its observance. If one feels compelled to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent, he needs to carefully examine his own mind and practice to ensure the observation does not include theological assumptions and practices contrary to the simple message of the gospel. Jesus is God the Son who died on the cross to pay the punishment for sin in place of men. Jesus has been restored to life and is now reigning in heaven, just as the Bible foretold, and completely pardons those those who will believe Him. Those who trust Him and none else for salvation, will be saved. Liturgical observances may be helpful reminders of Biblical truth, but they do not replace or supplement the work of Jesus on the cross.
This week the visit to heaven genre of books has gained a lot of attention. Alex Malarkey, the central figure in the story of The Boy who Came Back from Heaven, wrote an open letter to publishers, retailers, marketers and buyers in which he recanted the tale of his journey to heaven and apologized for his part in propagating the book. On the other end of the spectrum is the recent announcement that Don Piper’s book 90 Minutes in Heaven is going to be made into a movie.
Near death experiences are nothing new, nor is it novel to write a book about one’s experience with the afterlife. These kinds of things have been popular in America for decades, and cycles of such experiences and popularization of subsequent tales can be traced back much farther. What is a person supposed to think about these stories? How should one respond to a pastor’s claims to have visited heaven? How should a child’s claims of seeing heaven be evaluated?
The question of whether or not the person experienced something is neither here nor there. A person’s experience, especially experience in the middle of a traumatic situation, does not define truth. The person may have seen something and experienced something. His perceptions do not define reality. Truth is defined and evaluated by the Bible. (For a powerful illustration of this, consider Peter’s comparison of his experience and the reliability of the Bible in 2 Peter 1:16-21.)
The Bible tells of nine people, other than Jesus, who died and were restored to life. Not one of these individuals gives a single detail about what they saw. Not one single word is recorded about what these people experienced after their death. That should tells us a lot about the validity of the modern stories of heavenly visits.
The most significant example of one who went to heaven and returned is the Apostle Paul. Paul is a very informative example because he was the apostle who penned the largest portion of the New Testament. More than any other man, Paul was responsible for the growth of the Christian church. He taught the church things that had not been understood before. By the power of the Holy Spirit Paul led the church into new and uncharted territory. If anyone was to have an experience of heaven and tell the church about it, Paul would be the one we would expect to give a powerful and authoritative account of his experiences. The entirety of what Paul said about his heavenly experience can be read in a few seconds, “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:4) Out of thirteen books written by Paul, he mentions his visit to heaven only one time. Paul only mentions the event because circumstances forced him to do so. He did not return from heaven and write a book all about it. He did not go on tour proclaiming the glories of what he saw. Paul returned from heaven and the only thing he ever said about it was that he could not say anything about it. The consistent response of those in the Bible who went to heaven looks nothing like the modern day practice.
These visits should be viewed with deep suspicion. The people involved do not respond as those in the Bible did. The details given in the books disagree widely from author to author and disagree significantly with what the Bible tells about heaven. These kinds of books elevate the experiences of individuals to an importance equal, or nearly so, to the truths of the Bible. Instead of relying only on the Word of God for instruction on heavenly things, many people are being turned aside to follow fanciful tales. We would all love to know more about what is and what will be, but speculation and imaginations offer nothing profitable. The Bible is enough and can be trusted to teach everything necessary for reaching heaven and living a life pleasing to God.