September 30, 2012

Justified In the End or The End Justifies the Means?

In deontological ethics, we see an action based ethics system.  Deontological is just a real fancy word for ethics that are bound by duty. For example: As a Christian, we have an obligation to do good because God has commanded it. We're bound by duty (and indwelling of the Holy Spirit) to progressively become more like Christ in a process of sanctification or becoming more holy. It is literally Christian behavior acted out. We manifest the Spirit that is within us.

It is indicative of what one performs or an imperative as Immanuel Kant implied. Teleological ethics are based in their consequences or outcome alone or the "ends justifies the means". Therefore, deontological and teleological ethics ask a person what they should do. One says that what you do should be done by a prescribed behavior (duty, deontological). This approach says that in order for a person to make a correct moral choice, they  need to understand what the moral obligations are in that situation and what correct rules exist which regulate those duties. What we do and how to do it is what’s important in producing the “good” or moral outcome. If we do what we’re supposed to the end result is moral, ethical or proper behavior, if not we are immoral unethical and behaving improperly.

Teleological on the other hand zeroes in on the end results or what we understand to be the consequences (consequentialist) of our actions or the ends justifies the means. To be able to make a moral choice in these situations we need to understand the possible outcomes of our actions and we need to weigh them and take them into account before acting. If we then make decisions that lead to proper outcomes they are considered moral.

This means that teleological requires that the outcome is desirable. This is not always the way of God. Sometimes the desirable outcome for God is that we suffer so that we "learn by the burn" so to speak. I believe this is where utilitarianism comes in because utilitarianism forces one to think about what will be the greatest good for the most people even if it means the sacrifice of one for the many like Joseph and his brothers or Christ for all of humanity that would believe. I believe a huge issue arises from this when viewed it from a human standpoint. We as humans are limited in our ability to see the future unlike God who sees all of time as the eternal present. Unlike God we are limited in knowledge and not omniscient so we are forced to consider all consequences of all alternative actions before doing something and even then we do not have an accurate picture. Unfortunately, we cannot often see the point of our suffering (but God can). To me, understanding the reason for our suffering is just not possible from the human perspective because we are not omniscient. This is why trying to fully understand evil and suffering (theodicy) and grasp its purposes from the human point of view ends up being a fools errant. Only God could possibly know all the variables and potential outcomes to a given situation or series of actions.  It therefore behooves us to obey the will of God as God can and does know the long-view of history. We also know from the Bible that God:

Romans 8:28-30 ~ “…works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

This is a passage taken from a larger context of suffering at the end of Romans 8. This is exactly why I believe that man is so urgently and vehemently warned or exhorted to obey God and follow in His ways as duty. His ways are in accordance with His will…which would also encompass His purposes (v.28) (i.e.: deonotological; obeying our duty to god). It appears it is because He has laid out and preordained these ways based on a concept of teleological ethics or that fact that God knows where we're going in the end. Although some may not benefit in the end or as the Calvinist asserts, some are reserved for judgment and damnation because of their own choices, God ultimately seems sort of utilitarian in His approach because in the end, His plans will create the greatest good for the most people in the proper ratio that He has predetermined. The difference being, God doesn’t need to weigh the consequence of His actions in terms of good or bad since He already knows them in advance and He cannot contradict his righteous good nature.  

Ultimately, through their own choices and freewill, many will condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. The remainder will join God in eternity which is the ultimate good from a Christian and God's point of view because we are in the mind of Christ as Christians. It is God’s desire that all be saved and not perish. To me this is surprisingly utilitarian (the most good for the most people) in its approach even though I am not even remotely trying to pass judgment on God.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 ~ "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

2 Peter 3:9 ~ “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

So what we see paradoxically in the end of God’s plan for humanity is not so much that the end justifies the means but rather, in the end, saved humanity is justified by believing in God’s plans that appear to be ethical and totally moral.

September 20, 2012

Yahweh’s Equation

The first thing I see when I look at the field of ethics is all the branches and sub-fields or divergence of ideas from person to person, culture to culture and age to age. They are all seeking to formulate an acceptable explanation of right and wrong. The very next thing that I see is that, more often than not, they are seeking to define right and wrong…for the wrong reasons from the wrong angles. The thinking is askew; morality/ethics are perverted and pigeon-holed into the inflexible agenda of a miserly depraved troll called man/woman. More specifically, fallen creatures seek to wrap their heads around an explanation of reality and right and wrong that allows their assumptions of their world to remain intact. The atheist is seeking to affirm right and wrong through a lens that precludes God.

The pragmatist is seeking to define right and wrong through a premise that allows for a pragmatic ethic that will also allow for moral correctness to evolve similar to scientific knowledge which supposedly evolves socially over the course of lifetimes according to John Dewey (of Humanist Manifesto fame). This therefore can then be used to socio-political ends which is exactly what Dewey did. He thereby manages to influence the educational and political systems with his unbiblical presuppositions that were firmly and solely in the theorizations of humanity and devoid of God. He can do this while simultaneously passing his decidedly unethical ethics as moral and ethical, just as any “good” godless humanist would.

We then see the hedonist view of right and wrong through the lens of egregiously and frivolously chasing pleasure in the form of self-gratification even if the search and pursuit of that pleasure may bring harm to others. Especially when that pursuit is sexual and it is with a partner that wants a monogamous relation (singular) and the hedonist wants promiscuous ones (plural). Who is wrong?

Without absolute measures beyond humanity, we are stuck with the fickleness and volatility of a fallen inferior creature to dictate ethics. Humanity is a creature clearly incapable of discerning ethics properly.

The question then arises in my mind: “Who oversees the overseers of ethics, the ethicists themselves?” Who is capable of an absolute measure of right and wrong? Humanity itself? Does this not become part of the very conundrum of ethics itself when it turns itself inward to humanity which is innately flawed? What is the ultimate ethical measure of a human, is it another flawed human? Is a person even capable of unbiased neutrality in a game of life that they have a vested interest in (their own)? What I begin to see is that the very reason ethics exists is to be the gauge and measure of humanity itself, yet we allow humanity itself to be the judge of itself. This is like asking someone to act as a Rook or the Bishop and to also be the overlying judge of the strategy on the entire chessboard for both sides when they can only see in two dimensions or in predetermined directions that are laid down by the creator of the game. The game is larger than any participant’s perspective.  We see that ethics is indeed multi-faceted and there is no one human being (or group) that is capable of making a perfectly ethical decision because of this. Why? Because the Bible tells me that all men are fallen in sin and this fact taints any ability they have to make a perfectly ethical or righteous decision.  As the pragmatic brings his pragmatists presuppositions so the hedonist brings his hedonistic presuppositions, so too a sinner brings a sinful lens to bear on ethical issues when trying to make ethical decisions.

As Christians, it is here that I again see why we are dependent on Christ for the ability to make ethical / righteous decisions.  Even in humanity’s study and examination of something so important like man’s ethics we see the overt taint of bias and agendas. The sinful taint affects the very angle from which many people approach their study of ethics: Dewey, Nietzsche, etc. Just as British philosopher Thomas Hobbes observed: “Many, if not all, of our actions are prompted by selfish desires”….and this even includes our ethics. Even in our attempts to do the right things, sinful man does them wrong or they are motivated by the wrong reasons.

We can formulate all the ethics categorizations for every little nuance of thought and action that we want in this world…yet they are all tainted and twisted from the very start. Therefore, ultimately they are not truly ethical without the oversight and influence of God in the final outcome or equation. It is here that I again see the total depravity of man in its clearest light. Without the power of the Cross we all fall way short. It literally takes the most ethical decision of the most ethical God-man in history to make the ethics of regular people amount to anything other than a steaming pile of immorality and sinful garbage. It literally requires nothing less than the strategy of God’s plan to make our actions and thoughts worthy of something other than damnation. It is a divine moral equation that is needed to balance the scales and get humanity back to a place where we can even be viewed as righteous, let alone truly ethical. The measure of ethics is God because God is ethics and morality.

September 17, 2012

I Discharge My Duty To God-In All Good Conscience

Lately, I have gotten rather fed up with my brethren that either have a poor grasp of Scripture and the underlying principles behind it or they have completely bought into the seeker-sensitive "feel good" culture that has so pervaded our evangelical churches. I am again here to set the record straight...again. I am quite tired of the same mantra over and over. You need to be nicer about it. Please stop. Many of my brethren need a strong stomach or stronger backbone. They are using emotional response to a misinterpretation of Scripture to try and affect the way I do my evangelism. Just because some people don't like things stated certain ways because of the way it makes them feel doesn't mean it is the wrong method, it just means they are sensitive people. Perhaps too sensitive. These type of statements never go over well because they challenge the status-quo and upset balances of power. Being gentle and being pushover are two different things. If these people are so gentle why are the so adamant about shutting me down and being so confrontational with me? Why are they harsh we me in telling me that I need to be less harsh with others?

Let's clear the waters now.

I am not harsh and I am loving and I'm tired of being hammered and told otherwise. The things I do have been commanded of me in Scripture and I have obeyed. The problem is that when someone is confronted with the truth of Scripture in an authoritative manner it is always construed as harsh and unloving. It always seems as if someone is being harshly maligned or not loved. We have become way too soft. So soft we are worried about telling someone the truth.

Why do I bring this up? Because I again was questioned about how best to be ecumenical with the Roman Catholic Church and I am again forced to re-frame the argument correctly to answer the question correctly. The assumption in the following question assumes that Roman Catholicism is unquestionably Christian. This is a dubious assertion and at best I consider it a dangerous assumption. The question...

One of the hallmarks of the modern Catholic Church was its change in attitude towards Protestants. Catholics no longer considered Protestants as heretics but rather "separated brethren.". How should evangelicals respond? Should Evangelicals be as conciliatory towards Catholics? To what extent should we be concerned with ecumenicalism and Christian unity?

I initially was torn on this one...until I read the Bible. There is a thread that runs through me that wishes to be ecumenical in my approach to Catholics and all people but never at the cost of truth or the Gospel. I have often been told I am too harsh when dealing with my own evangelical brethren and when it comes to Catholics I’m even less inclined to grant leeway because of errant dogma of the Roman Church related to tradition (works), etc. As a theology major this type of mentality tempers my decisions and methods for evangelism and evangelizing is exactly how I view my approach to Catholics (and even marginal evangelicals within my own church). I view them as an evangelistic target group because of a potentially unsaved condition.

There are many people that view Catholics as Christian as a whole or at least misguided Christians, but Christian none-the-less. I am not so sure. If they indeed believe in justification by faith AND additional works, that Mary and/or saints can be intermediaries with God and can be venerated and that the Pope is infallible, they are not biblical. Add these things together and I personally do not see the difference between Roman Catholicism (RC) and other pagan religions. Any God and doctrine that is not of the Bible is not Christian. The RC is therefore a syncretistic form of Christianity and is no different than the religions of the Old Testament that worshipped Yahweh and Baal in a demonic damning blend that we read about in Hosea, Amos and other places (Imbach 1062). In many of our postmodernist leaning churches, this puts me at odds with my brethren and I am told I am not being loving. This is not true. I am often viewed as radical in my approach even by those in my own church. This is not true. To me, an organization like the Catholic church that would dare to change the intent and meaning of Scripture and supplant the Scripture with man-made "truths", traditions (rituals) and doctrines of demons is "radical". Who would dare do this? The Roman Catholic Church, that's who. So am I being radical telling the truth or is the RCC being radical making itself a God in God's place by supplanting truths with traditions of men? 

I have also been told I am causing the division between myself and the Roman Catholics due to my behavior? Really? Who is not following the commands and ideas in Scripture? These same exact people that tell me this are often worried that I will project and image to the outside world that we are an infighting squabbling lot, never once trying to explain to people that it can't be considered infighting if some of the participants are not "in" the faith. Why should I stand here, usually pretending to be unperturbed by clearly unbiblical behavior making people think everything is hunky-dory creating a false image of the faith to the outside world? The truth is we are often divided since anything that is not of Christ is of the Devil. If its of the will be divided. Let's face it people, even in perfect situations set up by God, people are sinful and are of their father the Devil and they are of this fallen world system. These people do not need my help projecting an image of division. This is exactly why we only need Christ to be saved, not a man-made institution and man-made rules that are flawed...i.e.: The Roman Catholic Church. We cause more damage by trying to fake our unity that really isn't there. We then win a convert only to have them come into the faith and see how many "Christians" really are and draw the conclusion that we are indeed divisive malicious backbiters. The fears that we are hypocrites are affirmed and they are driven away...and rightfully so. Who wants to join an organization of disingenuous people hiding the truth of a situation?  

To win people to the faith we need to show people the spine that we have inside by the way we show things on the surface and tell the truth about a situation...even when the situation is horrible. It shows we too are human. People would rather see a genuine failure than a fake success. Just ask any of the recent athletes that have been disqualified for disingenuous and cheating behavior. Then match this up to a person that may have failed at an endeavour but gave the blood, sweat and tears to compete and come up just short of the winners circle. We may honor winning in this world but good people honor the ability just to run the race with determination.

Because I do love the Catholics as I do all my neighbors I tell them the truth so they are not condemned or damned. I blame the errant doctrine of the RC on the Roman Catholic Church itself and God will hold them to a higher standard (James 3:1) but it also tells us to rebuke them when they are in error, not follow them or encourage damning philosophies through apathetic silence (1 Tim 5:17-20). It is for God to deal with the Church proper but as an evangelist it is my job to deal with and try to win the Roman Catholics themselves back to the true beliefs of the Bible. Because I do love Catholics it affects how I approach them and whether or not I am conciliatory towards them. So I have begun treating strict adherents to RC dogma that practice works, the sacraments and veneration of Mary and the saints (which I view as worship) just as I would unbelievers and/or members of a syncretistic cult. Herein lies how I think all should deal with the Roman Catholics as mentioned above.

Because of aforementioned reasons I approach the Catholics the way I do in a firm but loving manner. Legalistic and demeaning? No. I am being obedient with the intent to save some that quite possibly might not be saved (but believe they are) and these are often the hardest to get through to. It is a case of the proverbial: “Trying to save the saved”. I will do this regardless of what the Roman Catholics have done after the Vatican Council because, quite frankly, the Roman Catholic church is already in error and I really shouldn’t be gauging my behavior off of a benchmark of known syncretistic Christianity perpetuated by the Catholic Church. I (as a Protestant) should be solely following the commands of the Bible and delivering the message of the Gospel and the truth of Scripture in love regardless of what council has been held or Papal Bull passed. These actions show my true heart and concern for the state of the Catholic’s eternal souls.

First, we need to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We should be concerned with the unity of Protestants and Catholics only to the point of Biblical bounds. This is also the very thing I tell people that tell me I am too harsh and unloving in dealing with errant dogma of the Catholic Church. I will love them and all others but I will not do so at the cost of abandoning Scriptural truth. This is where I cut the line on ecumenicalism. Usually, when it comes to ecumenicalism it is always the evangelical Protestant that ends up compromising the truth of Scripture to meet on middle ground and be inclusive to others who are in error. We cannot do this, we have a highly exclusivist faith. By faith through grace we are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the way and there is no other.

This means if we do love the Catholics we should be adamantly evangelizing them with the Truth of the Bible as a precautionary measure because of many of the unbiblical syncretistic teachings of the Catholic Church itself. This means we better have a firm grasp on the Bible ourselves. Contrary to the postmodern style of pluralism and feel-good theology, we should also be making inroads and attempts to correct the Catholic Church itself with the truth of Scripture regardless of what has happened over the centuries. We are to stop spreading the true Gospel when we stop breathing whenever in doubt of someone’s salvation. Until my dying breath this is the charge that was given to me ages ago by the Lord.

Hooft, Willem Adolph. No Other Name: The Choice Between Syncretism and Christian Universalism.. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963. Print.

Imbach, S.R. "Syncretism." Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub Group, 1990. 1062-1063. Print.

September 12, 2012

A Violent 800lb Gorilla: U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens Killed

TRIPOLI, Libya - The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. He was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.
[Read Rest Article Here]

The mainstream media has been quick to point out that this was a real small group of extremists and possibly members of Al Qaeda. What they are conveniently avoiding saying is that all involved are Muslim. Although they will eventually go on to say Muslim or Islam in their articles, they are very deliberate to use modifying words like small, extremist or fundamental. It took me a while until I could find a news article that had the word Islam in the first paragraph. One need only ask themselves a few questions to realize we are dealing with an inherently destructive and violent religion when we deal with Islam (whether extreme or not). The preponderance of evidence points to a misogynistic male dominated society that is driven by religious ideology that is based in force and intimidation. This is regardless of what we have been told by the media. The evidences for this continue to mount but through errant politically correct and relativistic philosophy we are told to ignore the violent 800 pound gorilla in the room with us that will brain us the minute we turn our backs or when the lights go out. Meanwhile more and more people die. The case-in-point today is the US Ambassador to Libya - Chris Stevens (and at last count 3 others). There may be recent geopolitical wranglings that have triggered recent actions but the long aggressive past of Islam is self-evident and to deny or ignore the obvious is to do so to our own safety and detriment. The so-called peaceful version of Islam that we see in the West is a watered-down version of the true intentions of Islam to convert the world to their belief even at the point of a sword. So to paint a sorry and tragic picture through a sarcastic post I will ask the following questions....

The Islam Pop Quiz

1. 1968 Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by?: 
a. Superman
b. Jay Leno
d. A Muslim male between the ages of 17 and 40

2. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, Israeli athletes were kidnapped and murdered by?: 
a. Mr Magoo
b. Sitting Bull
c. Arnold Schwarzenegger
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

3. In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by: 
a. Norwegians
b. Elvis
c. A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
d . Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

4. During the 1980's a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by?: 
a. John Dillinger
b. The King of Sweden
c. The Boy Scouts
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

5. In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by?: 
a. The pizza delivery boy
b. Pee Wee Herman
c. Geraldo Rivera
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

6. In 1985 the Achille Lauro was hijacked & a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard in a wheelchair by?: 
a. The Smurfs
b. Davey Jones
c. Christians
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

7. In 1985 hijacked TWA Flight 847 a US Navy diver trying to rescue passengers was murdered by?: 
a. Captain Kidd
b. Karl Marx
c. Mother Teresa
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

8. In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by?: 
a. Scooby Doo
b. The Tooth Fairy
c. The Sundance Kid
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

9. In 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by?: 
a. Richard Simmons
b. Moses
c. Michael Jordan
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

10. In 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by:
a. Mr. Rogers
b. Christians
c. The WWF World Wrestling Federation
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

11. On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked; two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Centers and of the remaining two, one crashed into the US Pentagon and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers in Western Pennsylvania. Thousands of people were killed by?:
a. Elmer Fudd
b. The Supreme Court

c. Mr. Bean
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

12. In 2002-2012 the United States has fought a war in Afghanistan against: 
a. Phineas and Ferb
b. The Lutheran Church
c. The NFL
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

13. In 2002 reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by: 
a. Bonnie and Clyde
b. Captain Kangaroo
c. Billy Graham
d. Muslim males mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

Nope, no discernible pattern here to justify profiling or at least raising the specter of possible danger by not using facts to determine a threat. None at all. Just another group of fun-loving people with a love for their neighbors.

Are we that blind and such spineless bleating sheep that we cannot see the wolves lurking just outside our door with murder in their eyes (or at least ill intent)?

The Religion of Peace. Hmmm, the reason westernized Muslims (and dubious media) can claim that Islam is a religion of peace while radical Islamic fundamentalists can justify violent behavior and still be reading the exact same Qur’an is because the Qur’an says both depending of what part of the Qur’an you read. The Qur'an contradicts itself in the very same contexts (the Bible does not even though it is routinely accused of the same). People need to study Comparative Religion, hermeneutics and at least learn the tenants and presuppositions of the Islamic faith before mindlessly spewing the same indoctrination over and over that Islam at its very core is peaceful. Even a precursory reading of the Qur'an would reveal this assumption to be errant and frankly, quite dangerous. It is an assumption propagated by advocates of the Islamic faith that have an interest in pushing their faith forward even if it means doing so through deception or al-Taqiyya . By claiming it to be peaceful even when history and its own text have shown it to be consistently just the opposite. Simple interpretive skills and hermeneutics would reveal things differently. Just as the fruit of the Qur'an's text consistently produce violent adherents when interpreted literally (which many non-westernized Muslims do). 

The fact that the Qur'an can advocate both peace and violence is because it was supposedly written by Muhammad over a period of time, approximately 23 years beginning in 610 AD, starting when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 AD. The Quran is composed of verses (Ayah) that make up 114 chapters (sura(h)s) of unequal length which are classified either as Meccan or Medinan depending upon the place and time of their claimed revelation. This is where history becomes real important. The interesting thing about Muhammad is that during the time that these portions of the Qur'an were written, they appear to change in tone from somewhat benevolent (early writings) to outright hostile, murderous and violent (later writings). Sorry Oprah, it is not the sister religion of Christianity. It seems that in Muhammad’s travel (The Hijra, fleeing) through the desert from Mecca to Medina something changed him drastically. I suggest that he may very well have had supernatural encounters but they clearly do not appear to be righteous or holy encounters, if anything just the opposite. His actions and words become quite demonic and violent during this time as the tone of the Qur’an during this time changes concurrently with this migration between Mecca and Medina.

Having been harshly rejected by his own town and tribe, Muhammad being quite human (and possibly possessed) changed quite dramatically and for the worse. It is at Medina that Muhammad's message becomes more sinister and ruthless. This was especially true the more he gained power as it corrupted him immensely. At first he started as a dopey merchant but near the end he became a first-class homicidal loon. The Qur’an reflects perfectly this change in its malcontent and malevolent source. It's almost like the Qur'an is a demonic diary. Originally the Qur'an of Mecca threatened eternal damnation for not believing in Muhammad and left the punishment to god or Allah, but by the time of Medina, the Qur'an of Medina promised that a violent and earthly defeat for unbelievers at the hands of Muslims was the modus operandi. Muhammad was no longer content to wait for his god Allah to inflict eternal punishment, it would now be up to him and his misled followers to do it in murderous rampages.

I've read the Qur'an and I've read the Bible applying the same hermeneutical principles. Islam is inherently/intrinsically violent and antagonistic. After reading it thoroughly it is clear non-Muslims are enemies (not potential converts) that are to convert or be killed. It cannot be construed any other way. So please people, stop telling me that we shouldn't stereotype an entire religion especially if you have not read both the Qur'an and the Bible and have an intellectual and fact centered basis for your opinion. In my experiences four things can be observed: (1) Most Christians have not read the Qur'an. (2) Most Muslims have not read the Bible (3) Most secular people have read neither (4) Most all seem to have dogmatic opinions about the other groups that are not their group and some are willing to follow through with violence. Most often those resolt to overt hostility are Muslim. Having read both the Holy Bible and the Qur'an. I also agree we shouldn't stereotype an entire religion...because that is exactly what the secular word does with Christians. 

What we should do is take known repetitive criminal variables that obviously resurface time and time again and target those who perpetrate them as a "pattern" which is exactly what they are- a immoral criminal pattern. Frankly, this can be done regardless of religion (Orissa ring any bells?). In this way it is not criminalizing a religion, it is making immoral behavior criminal. Because of the pattern of anomalous (morally bankrupt) behavior we know for certain certain socio-cultural demographics are working under a pattern of thought that is either amoral or immoral. If people believe this is profiling, then so be it, their behavior earned them this distinction. Smart people know that when bullets start flying the intelligent thing to do is to duck. To ignore the fact that you are walking through a mine field and run carelessly through it is lunacy. Do we literally need to be violently bludgeoned over the head by those in demonic religions whose sole intent is to convert all in the world to the will of a god who is not the God of the Bible through all means necessary (including killing and willful deception)? I pray this man's family knows peace. I also pray that we will continue to know peace as disinformation continues to cloud people's minds to actual threats to them in the real world.

September 10, 2012

Judging the Book By Its Cover, Part II: James 2:8-13

The Second Half: A Comparison to Law and therefore Christ (v.8-13)

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:8-13

The Royal law is simple: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We see this all over Scriptures…and its source in the Law of Leviticus 19:18

What’s ironic, this comes right after Leviticus 19:15 “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

If we go back to Leviticus 19:2 we read: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

So, if taken in sequence the Law tells us that we are to be holy because God is holy by not showing partially to the poor and favoritism to the great. Love your neighbor as yourself. Let me be clear, James is not saying we need to continue to obey the Law per se or in reality…But!...We are obliged to uphold moral principles of the Law exactly because we’re in Christ!

I’m guess I should explain the Law here. How many have been asked something similar to this?: “If Jesus fulfilled the Law, why’s it still good to obey the 10 Commandments?” Are we still required to obey the Law? Why’s it still good to obey the Ten Commandments, or why should we? Why’s it still bad to murder people but it’s okay to eat unclean foods? Answer lies in the purpose of the laws. There were (3) types of laws: Ceremonial, Civil and Moral. Ceremonial are sacrifices, offerings, etc. They are things done to atonement for sin before Christ fulfilled the Law. Civil law only applied only to Israel in the Old Covenant. Jesus has now come ---they no longer apply either. These first two types of laws have been fulfilled in Christ or abrogated. The Moral law…the , moral law is different. Moral law has to do with God’s very character which is holy, unchanging and moral. Moral laws are summarized in things like the 10 commandments. Moral laws when obeyed will still make a person more holy (sanctify)

So, when James commands us to, “speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty." He is telling us that we're indeed free of Law per se and have liberty but [this is huge but]…because we are in Christ we are morally compelled to uphold the principles behind the moral laws. We're not in danger of losing our salvation or experiencing God's wrath per se but we'll suffer a loss of blessing if we practice sin of favoritism. Don’t cheat, don’t be partial to the poor, DON'T SIN! These types of things still apply. So what's the opposite of this sin?? "To love your neighbor as self". Anything else is an abuse of grace and an abuse of Christ’s work on the Cross. It trivializes and demeans what Jesus did on the Cross…and that’s shameful.

Yes, we have Christian liberty but as Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:12, “I have the right to do anything, you say—but not everything is beneficial.” This means that we’re to speak and act as those unified in Christ with love. Are we all going to do this well? No, none of us will and that is the point or these verses and the point of all the tests in James. It is only by aligning ourselves to Christ & the Gospel that we can. It is Christ who fulfilled the law by living a perfect life in obedience to the Law and then dying according to Scripture on the Cross. This fact is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

James knows we will sin and he wants us vigilant by keeping an eye on not only ourselves but on our brothers and sisters. If we say we are free of sin, we deceive ourselves. We’re not able to walk the Christian walk on our own. It’s why we're to test ourselves to assure we’re in Christ. That's a vertical relationship - Us and Jesus. We’re dependent on Jesus for our salvation! To a lesser extent we’re dependent on one another and that's horizontal relationship ...that's the Body of Christ. These relationships when they are in Christ are impartial and when we are impartial in the body it’s an outworking of our salvation

So what do we do with all this information?

First, we need to match our behavior to Jesus Christ’s. If we wish to see just how impartial God or Jesus is we need only look at God's genealogy for Jesus or Jesus' Apostles. Depending on which genealogy we look at there’s Adam thru which all humanity fell in sin. Jacob who swindles his brother Esau's birthright who was a thief. There is David who was a murderer and an adulterer. There was an incestuous relationship between Judah and Tamar. We have Rahab who was a prostitute. Of course we have Jesus…born to a low-class carpenters family.

When we see the Disciples, they are not much better. Thomas was a doubter...Paul was a persecutor of the Brethren and we have Matthew a lowly tax-collector. Within these examples we see God is indeed impartial and no respecter of people's outward status. He picks prostitutes, murders & tax collectors to fulfill His plans. Not because of what they are outside but what they can become inside. The only extraordinary thing about them is that they are ordinary. They are all dirty clay jars just as we are. What great encouragement is this for us? We’re all sinners and we all fall short of God’s righteousness. But righteousness apart from law has now come in Jesus.

Jesus is indeed a friend of sinners! He died for us!

Do we want to know we’re living out a Christian life? Do we bear Christian fruits in our actions? James tests of help us here. Do we persevere through trial and temptations? Do we treat others impartially or not? We need to see how we’re treating people, especially other Christians! We need to assure we’re not playing favorites in church (or outside of it).

Do we allow others into our circle of friends like the people from church, on Facebook. on Twitter or LinkedIn? Do we actually interact with them once we’ve friended them on Facebook or did we just friend them because they go to our church or our school? Do we gravitate towards certain people and alienate others by refusing to talk to others because of the way they dress or the way they act?

We can’t be partial & still be have the Spirit of Christ dwell in us fully! How can we be partial, lacking love & still have the Spirit of God in us?!?!? How can we expect mercy, grace from God if we’re not willing to extend love,  mercy and grace “the least of these”?

…and this is exactly what James says in the end of our passage in verse 13: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

If we're aligned to Jesus we must be aligned to all believers rich or poor. The bulk of Jesus’ ministry was to poor! The bulk of our ministry should then be to whom? The bulk of our ministry should to be to the poor, the downtrodden, the orphans and the widows of society. To the world they appear as losers, has-beens and burnouts but to God & to Christians they are human torches shining as beacons in a dark world.

If we are impartial in the body we can know that the Spirit of God dwells in us, therefore Salvation dwells in us. If we don’t do these things we know the Spirit of God is not fully in us. If He isn’t…then what is? Living a life with favoritism and without mercy brings judgment. Trying to live a Christian life with favoritism is like trying to light a torch with a fire-extinguisher, it just doesn’t work. We Christians are to be vessels of the mercy & grace to all people, especially the poor because this is the heart of God.

If we don’t do this…who will?

September 9, 2012

Judging the Book By Its Cover, Part I: James 2:1-7

In the February 1979 issue of Our Daily Bread, H.G. Bosch founder & editor of the magazine wrote the following:

"Mahatma Gandhi, once said that during his student days, he considered becoming a Christian. Deeply touched by the reading of the Gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert. It seemed to him that Christianity offered a solution to the caste system that plagued the people of India."

[I should note:  Caste system are social divisions based on wealth & status... it treats the poor horribly]

Bosch continues…

"One Sunday, Gandhi went to a local church. He had decided to see the pastor and ask for instruction on the way of salvation and other Christian doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat. They told him, "Go and worship among your own people!" He left and never went back. Gandhi later said “If Christians have caste system also...I might as well remain a Hindu”

So he did. He stayed a nation of 1 billion people. We can only imagine what would've happen to India had Gandhi turned Christian. But he didn't! Why do I read this? Our passage is about the very same type of treatment but it's Christian-to-Christian not Christian-to-Hindu. This post will show favoritism & special treatment based on wealth or status. From Gandhi's story we see how damaging this behavior can be. We see  that preferential treatment is a sin of prejudice & injustice...and we'll see just how unChrist-like & unChristian this behavior really is.

James 2:1-13 "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 

So what've we learned by reading James 1? So far in James we've been through a series of tests. They're to see where believers stand in relation to God. They're to see where believers stand in relation to one another. The 1st test  is how we react to trials in James 1:1-12. The 2nd test is how we react to temptations James 1:13-18. The 3rd test is how we react to the Scripture (doers of the word) in James 1:19-27. This is the 4th test: To see if we’re impartial to others-especially in the Church. By seeing how we stand in relation to believers we see where we stand in relation to Jesus Christ both relationally and in salvation.

Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”

As we'll move into James 2 we'll begin to see that God is impartial. We’ll see there’s no injustice in God.When God deals with man there is no playing favorites. There are either those being saved or those that are dying in their sins. Those being saved in Christ are all viewed as equal in Christ

Galatians 2:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The first half of James 2:1-13 is verse 1-7 and it shows the disunity caused by ungodly behavior and will be the remainder of this post. The second half is verse 8-13 and shows how a Christian’s behavior matches up with the Law of the Old Testament will be the conclusion in my next post. It is a law that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, therefore, it shows how a believers behavior matches up to Jesus

Distinctions Based on Wealth or on Outward Appearances (v. 1-7)

This example concerns two men—one appears rich, the other poor. Both attend an assembly or a "synagogue". One man wears gold rings and fine clothing, one is dressed shabby. In the Greek it says χρυσοδακτύλιος /chrusodaktulios or  "goldfinger". The man was wearing a gold ring or rings. Most likely signet rings which conveyed an air of prestige or authority since signet rings were used to seal legal or official documents. Please note James says "brothers" and talks to the entire assembly.The Greek “ἀδελφοί / adelphoi” in this context ...means brothers and sisters. So by saying Brothers/sisters he makes himself equal to them all, not above.

This passage also seems to imply the rich man was treated preferentially and no one rebukes this behavior so silence or apathy advocates sinful behavior.  In so doing they all treated the poor man with contempt and disrespect. The actions in this synagogue are based solely on appearances. They’ve judged people from a distance w/o even knowing them. Isn’t this just like man to do this? To judge by the outward appearance?

Quite simply: It is called Favoritism. Do we do our church? In public? When we watch TV? Do we give special honor to those that drive nice cars? Speak eloquently? Dress nice? Look nice? Smell nice? Do we come in on a Sunday…when we see certain people and think, "don't make eye contact!"

If the point of James is to see where we stand in relation to God or to see if we indeed have The Holy Spirit in us, therefore Salvation. So...if we prefer certain people well and others with distain we’ve violate basic biblical principle such as treating your neighbor as yourself . Treating a neighbor preferentially creates disunity in the body. Anything that is not of unity is not of the Spirit. If it’s not of the Spirit it can’t possibly be of Christ, can it? Therefore the behavior can hardly be considered Christian.

Favoritism is just the opposite of what God does.
Favoritism is just the opposite of what Scripture tells us to do.

James even states this in verse 5. “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”

We see this same concept in 1 Samuel 16 when the Lord Picks David to be his anointed:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. [referring to Saul] The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 states:

 “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are…

The question is why?

1 Corinthians 1:29 “…so that no one may boast before him [God]. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

It’s here we see the first key to unraveling James 2.

It is solely through Jesus Christ and our trust in His work on the Cross that we gain credence in the eyes of God. Quite simply, God is no respecter of men (He’s not partial) for all men are sinful (Romans 3). It is only through Jesus Christ that we are even reconciled to God. We’ll solely be judged on the condition of souls as matched against Scripture…and the perfectness of Jesus Christ. The value of a person from God’s view is therefore based on the value of their heart or soul. God views believers through the blood-stained vision.

So let’s look at our two men again. One is well-dressed and another in unkempt and poor. The attitude of favoritism towards the nicely dressed man and it is based on outward, superficial appearances. What's our salvation based on? Salvation is based on...all people who will what will what according to John 3:16…“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes…”

Why would outward appearances play into our lives? They shouldn’t! We are to be like Jesus! Jesus who is a member a three person Trinity. A Trinity, 3 different persons, 1 Being. One God, One Being, Equal! Therefore…impartial to one another! Just as believers should be: Impartial to one another. So when we are impartial as a unified body what are we imitating? Not only Jesus but also the Godhead.

Be holy for I am holy!

We were created in God’s image (Imago Dei). We are to be like Jesus. By being impartial we form fellowship! Fellowship of what? A Body! Who’s body?  Jesus Christ’s!

So if we treat a believer with partiality or distain what've we done? Matthew 25:45 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.

We’ve treated them the same way we treated Christ when he was crucified. How do I know that? Isaiah 53 foretold of it...

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

What made this sin even more obnoxious in verses 6 & 7…

Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court, are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

These believers were literally showing favoritism towards well-to-do’s who had dragged them into the courts because of their faith. By doing this these gaudy people literally blasphemed the honorable name by which they were called…these people were Christians… Jesus' holy name: Christ. Christians were elevating people that were persecuting them and defaming Jesus Christ! Do we see this today? Should we? Honoring people due to their status, who tread on Christ's holy name? Do we elevate politicians or athletes, actors or celebrities?

Let me ask this: If God views all men in relation to Jesus, shouldn't we also? Why would we judge others based on outward appearance? Why put emphasis on something so temporary? James 4:14 even tells us that, “You are but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. Why honor that which is the perishing and passing away by the minute? Why not give honor to something God does value - a human soul and the person themselves.

I also need to ask this: If we’ve caused disunity in the body due to favoritism, can this truly be of the Holy Spirit? A Spirit is of unity and order. 1 Corinthians 14:33~For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.

This therefore tells us that partiality is a siren that screams of untransformed life. When we judge other's outward appearances we’ve simultaneously judged ourselves as inwardly for all to see. Partiality shows either an absence of the Holy Spirit or willful suppression of Him because of sin

Luke 6:45 says: The good man brings good things, out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things, out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart ...his mouth speaks.

By someone saying “sit here" or "sit there" they will bring judgment on themselves. Do we mentally tell people: "Sit here" or "sit there"? Do we pass judgment on people like this?

I do this sometimes! For this I’m ashamed. I don’t mean to
…but that is my sinful fallen nature. I loathe it and ask forgiveness for it too

So did we pass this new test from James? Only you and Christ can know this for sure.

[Part II coming soon...]

September 5, 2012

Revealing Christ In the Old Testament XIV: The Song Remains The Same


The Psalms. Phew! Where do I start with this book to show how it foreshadows the Anointed One Christ. I guess I should start with His royalty.


He is King. Psalms 2, 20, 21, 24, 45, 72 and 110 to name but a few that mention God's anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. It is in Psalm 2 that we see Jesus' title of Anointed. The title King of Zion rings out like a clarion's call in 2:6. The King of Heaven or vice-regent on the throne that sits upon Zion. We then get a explanation of ownership in verse 6 and 7. The Lord possesses the earth. Obedience to this King is the only acceptable way to be reconciled to the Most High God. We see the Sovereign above all King in Psalm 2 not the despised suffering servant of Isaiah 53. We see His towering glory as He stands above all creation.

Psalm 45 reveals of the marriage of the King. It is the underlying passion of the Songs of Solomon, and it prophesies of a Supper, nay, the marriage Supper. We see Christ as the Bridegroom and we hear mention of His bride. This Psalm clearly seems to be speaking of Solomon but as we know from other passages, there is double meaning here. There is the immediate historical application and the more distant historical application. So to the imagery of the Kingdom it can be describing and earthly kingdom and obviously a heavenly one.

Psalm 72 celebrates the coronation of the King. " The monarch grows greater than the Sons of Me. In these verses we seem to see allusion to the glory of the Transfiguration or one"who alone does marvelous deeds". A true Prince that brings prosperity to the poor and punishment to the wicked as a just and righteous judge.

A dual line of prophecy runs through Psalms. One speaks of the coming of the Messiah as an earthly King, the other of the coming King, Israel's true King for redemption and her glory. Although they run on in parallel lines like railroad tracks--they never meet, at least not until the New Testament and the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

One Sacrifice

In Hebrews we see the need for the perpetuity of the Jewish sacrifice but with Christ we read in chapter 9:

Hebrews 9:10-15 ~ They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings —external regulations applying until the time of the new order. But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance —now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

In Psalm 40:6-8 we again see Christ as High Priest. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire - but my ears you have opened-burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come -  it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

Hebrews again parallels this as it actually quotes Psalms 40:

Hebrews 10:5-10 ~ "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, my God.’” First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”- though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

All the sacrifices had been part of the Law which was a shadow of good things to arrive in Christ but the very fact of their repetition proved their inability to actually forgive sin once and for all. This stands in stark contrast to Jesus' once-and-for-all sacrifice on the Cross. It is in Christ's perfect obedience and His will being perfectly aligned to the Father's that Jesus fulfills the Psalm writer's words, " I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

Psalms 23 is often peoples favorite for overcoming fear and trepidation and rightfully so but it really should be seen in its proper context to fully appreciate its impact. The fact that it sits between Psalm 22 and 24 is important. When we see them together we under why. Psalm 23 is not a loner but in a threefold setting.

Psalm 22 speaks of the Good Shepherd in death (John 10:11) and Jesus is seen here as the Savior. We see the cross, something completed in the past that has eternal consequences for all being saved and therefore grace. We then see Psalm 23 and the Great Shepherd in His Resurrection (Hebrews 13:20) and he is our Shepherd with a crook. We see a present guidance to help us through our trials and tribulation. Psalm 24 shows us the Chief Shepherd in glory (1 Peter 5:4). We see our King with His crown standing in future glory!

In some shape or form all the above Psalms 22-24 bring us to the foot of the Cross. If Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22-24 focuses in on the Crucifixion. If we look closer though we see that Isaiah dwells heavily on the atoning aspect of Jesus' death. Psalm 22 on the other hand dwells on His suffering, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"...but it also ends with a beginning, " It is finished!" In the Hebrew of Psalm 22 we do no see complete sentences, we see a series of brief punctuated vocalizations, like those of a convulsing or spastic man whose breath is being wrenched from him in dying gasps while His strength falters. He speaks short halting words. If we look real close we see the Crucifixion of Christ relived...or should I say--pre-lived?

Broken-Hearted Savior

The final point that must be taken from Psalm is the one most people totally miss and sadly, it should be the one they most take to heart.

Psalm 69-19-21 ~ "You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

Here we are told the immediate cause of our Saviour's death (outside of sin, or perhaps not). He died of a broken heart. In Psalm 69 the word "חֶרְפָּ֤ה or scorn/reproach " occurs six times. It is a shame or scorn carried or borne for others on the behalf of others. So in reality, Christ really is dying for sin or at least the shame or scorn of it. He bore it to the extent that even the Father in Heaven turned from Him. We should be not only aware of this fact but also quite ashamed of it. As I said, this is the one that people totally miss. Nor necessarily because they don't know but rather---because people chose to. No one wants to willingly hear about their depraved sinful fallen condition. Yet Christ bore this shame! We should be ashamed not only for the sins we commit that put Him on the Cross but even more so for trying to run and shirk the fact that we try to avoid it!

So to wrap up we revisit the Good Shepherd of Psalm 22/John 10

John 10:14-18 ~ “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Evil sinful men crucified Him but it was by the establish counsel and foreknowledge of God He was delivered to death. Through His own will he willingly gave up His life. On the surface they look somewhat juxtaposed but in reality, in all these statements we see the truth of why and how Christ died for sin. Scorn being the direct embodiment of sin, as the sin and shame is what Jesus took on the Cross. Jesus came in a human body that He might have it to offer per Hebrews 10. He therefore possessed a human heart that it would be possible to break. In these ideas...the death of Christ on the Cross and the Gospel should humble us immensely. A crucified Lord must have crucified followers. By this I mean that we must kill off the old self daily. Only where we end can Christ begin. It is when we've divested ourselves of ourselves that we can truly and clearly see the Cross properly. In so doing we should then see sin its proper context...and it should break our hearts also.

September 2, 2012

Constantine-True Conversion or Political Opportunist: Part II

Constantine Depicting Sol Invictus or Apollo

When we look specifically at Constantine, we see things that appear the antithesis of Christian behavior. At times Constantine seems a walking contradiction. The first is the story of the “sign of the cross” mentioned by early Christian author Lactantius. This cross used by Constantine and his troops appears to have been a hybrid adaption of an existing Roman cavalry standard that was more associated to Zeus, not Jesus or the God of the Bible. It is also mentioned that the vision he saw was not the Cross but that of the Sun god Sol. Therefore his supposed miraculous conversion to Christianity and generosity towards Christians did not prevent him from supporting other aspects of pagan religions. Constantine also retained his title Pontifex Maximus which was pagan. He did virtually nothing to stop the imperial cult. We saw the execution of men that made power grabs or claims to his throne which is clearly not a fruit of the Spirit. Coins minted during the early portions of his reign kept images of the Sol Invitcus or unconquered sun along with images/symbols of other pagan beliefs (Cairns 120, Davidson-Birth of the Church 345, Davidson-Public Faith 19). 

If there is truth to be believed when it comes to Constantine’s conversion it must be tempered with the thought that the Sun god was his personal protective pagan deity and this may have influenced his thought processes. It is not a far stretch to connect Malachi 4:2’s “the sun of righteousness” and the pagan Sun god in a new converts mind (ESV Minister's Bible 735). In defense of Constantine, it should be noted that the idea of “a sign spreading out in the heavens” also has Christian origins too, it is found in the Didache more commonly known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Nicholson 313). Even more fascinating is we see that these ideas contained in the Didache find corroboration in documents like the Apocalypse of Elijah and the Apocalypse of Elijah. This thereby possibly requires that we observe Constantine’s vision and subsequent behavior though an apocalyptic lens because it would entail ideas of an ushering in of the Kingdom in an eschatological manner as is the case in Christian eschatological thought (Nicholson 313). Did Constantine view the need of this victory at the Milvian Bridge in an eschatological manner? As a believer, did he believe that he was helping usher in the Kingdom of God? In light of this, more questions arise: Did God orchestrate this in a divine manner to perpetuate the actual expanding of the Kingdom through true Christendom? Is this the manipulative work of a leader that wished to capitalize on apocalyptic fervor or God actually sovereignly intervening - or is it both/neither? Having had some exposure to the Christian faith previous to the Milvian Bridge it is quite possible Constantine saw this episode in an apocalyptic light.

One last issue that should be mentioned is that Constantine didn’t receive a Baptism until his dying days. This though is not surprising or that far out of step with practices of the time which was to postpone baptism until one was sure another was in the faith with was evidenced in the catechumen. Since Christian dogma does not seem to have solidified on this matter by the time of his death it is not surprising to see Constantine portrayed as a catechumen in Eusebius’ narrative of him (Davidson, Public Faith 42). Constantine after his late baptism refused to wear the imperial purple and for the remainder of his life dressed in his white baptismal robes (Shelly 95).

Due to some of these extenuating factors it is easy to see why some believe Constantine’s conversion was dubious at best or a product of political expediency (Cairns 119). Although these shortcomings show Constantine in a poor light, it is clear Constantine was not a political novice or incompetent ruler. He seemed intelligent and has past history to draw off of to help gauge his decisions. He would’ve been able to see the foolishness of enforcing unpopular and impactful mandates. History had shown that unreasonable or impetuous Roman emperors usually ended up dead or assassinated. Constantine having a track record of prudent decision making appears to have eased the Christian faith into the empire through a series of carefully arranged declarations. He didn’t so much command as much as he convinced people through subtle involvement that incorporated Christianity and the secular via councils, creeds and canon. Is this not the call of a true Christian leader? Teaching patiently with a gentleness of spirit? Constantine may have been hostile with usurpers but within the context of the Church he was gentle if not benevolent. This demanded of him a consistency of character though time towards the Church. This perhaps is another evidence of a lasting change favorable to Christian conversion. In light of this profound impact, by the time of Theodosius I in 380 (50 years after Constantine’s death) we see Christianity instituted as the state religion (Cairns 120; Shelly 96).

The truth is, it’s impossible for a man to judge another man’s heart. We can only rely on their actions and words to gauge whether or not a person truly has the Spirit of Christ in them as this is the only gauge for us to match people up against Scripture. Herein lie the premise for my conclusion.

In the end, Constantine’s inner faith, just like everyone else’s remains unknowable except to God. It is clear that regardless of his motives, Christianity benefited thereafter enormously. Although it is not fully evident what happened at the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber River, what is clear is that something took place that literally changed the course of history. A leader clearly outnumbered succeeds in defeating a superior foe and Christianity benefited because of it.

At least momentarily there was a conviction great enough for Constantine to believe that he could defy odds and gain a victory through or because of something directly related to Christ or Christianity. It is a remarkable fact that the underling impetus for a massive swing of history stemmed from cuneiform or Christian-like origins, regardless of whether Constantine premeditated it or not (Nicholson 323). This brought at least some glory to God through the mostly unmolested spread of the Christian faith directly afterwards (at least for a while). To me this is a striking parallel to the story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel. Whether by volitional action of the participant or involuntary action we see history move forward to the ends that God determines. I believe this is one of the keys to seeing the truth of Constantine’s conversion. I suppose what we see in Constantine is probably a true Christian man with a great deal of power and wealth…and also a large amount of human foibles and entrenched sin like Solomon. I believe Constantine may very well have accepted the Lord but did not allow the Holy Spirit to transform his walk the way it could have. To me the question isn’t so much: Did he convert? The question I believe is more properly framed: How much or to what degree? The scope of this paper can only superficially skim the surface of many of the complex issues presented to us about the conversion of Constantine. We see that he did certain things that could potentially be construed as fruits of the Spirit and signs of an inward conversion. There are also things that show a lack of faith and do not reflect the Spirit of Christ very well, if at all. This I believe is the dividing line between whether a genuine conversion did or did not take place. Having said this it leaves us as humans to decide from what we can observe empirically whether or not Constantine had a true conversion or pretended to have one for political ends.

Having researched and observed the evidences available, I need to conclude Constantine’s conversion was legitimate. It is likely that Constantine had the power of a Sovereign God in his life directing his paths and assisting him but like Biblical kings we see evidences of his sinful nature coming out and causing him to stumble at different point in his life. This is the inevitable nature of man that does not walk closely with God after conversion. Sanctification is a joint process between God and man. If man drifts away from God, this sanctification process can stall or even regress. I believe this is some of what we see with Constantine’s poor or glaring unchristian behavior(s). Regardless of motive, it is clear Constantine helped move the Christian faith into prominence in the following centuries. The linchpin of all these events is Constantine’s conversion. Whether this took place at the Milvian Bridge or before it is irrelevant. It is God working through people that is the issue here. We know as Christians that a sovereign God will make all things the way He wants them anyway. In the long-view, Constantine’s conversion and subsequent edicts and mandates affected history so profoundly that we still feel their effects today. Some effects were negative but many were quite positive. It is my hope that Constantine did convert and find glorification in Christ. This is the same wish I have for all humanity. To me every soul matters, even those of antiquity as they all bring glory to the timeless Sovereign God that I believe in now. Besides, I look forward to the chance to speak with him (among many others) when I reach glory myself.

Cairns, Earle Edwin. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., 1996. 150-155. Print.

Davidson, Ivor J. A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, A.D. 312-600. Ed. John D. Woodbridge & David F. Wright. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2005. Print.

Davidson, Ivor J. The Birth of The Church: From Jesus to Constantine A.D. 30-312. Ed. John D. Woodbridge & David F. Wright. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2005. Print.

Hurlbut, Jesse Lyman. The Story of the Christian Church. Latest rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1970. Print.

Leithart, Peter J.. Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010. Print.

Nicholson, Oliver. "Constantine's Vision of the Cross." Vigiliae Christianae 54.3 (2000): 309-323. JSTOR. Web. 9 June 2012.

Malachi. ESV Minister's Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009. Print.
Shelley, Bruce L.. Church History in Plain Language. Updated 3rd ed. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print.

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