The four voices

Everyone listens to someone.  Including you!    I would suggest there are four voices in our world that are vying for our allegiance, even among us who call our Christians.

1. The voice of reason

My reason becomes the great end and be all.  The Bible may say that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord, but I think that’s unreasonable in the modern age of women’s empowerment.  The Bible says Jesus rose from being dead, but its not reasonable to think that dead corpses come back to life.   The Bible says that people are eternally lost without Christ, but no reasonably person would interpret the Bible so literally.   Even as a Christian I read that the Bible says dating non-Christians is a bad idea and sin, but I rebel because my reason tells me that this prohibition is old-fashioned and unloving.

 

Liberal Christianity falls into this broad category.  Liberal scholars reject the supernatural and therefore the miracles in the Bible.  Their reason prevents them from reading and understanding the Bible in its most natural sense. 

 Don’t get me wrong: we must use reason.  God has given us a brain and common sense, but my reason is not my ultimate authority.  Of course, other people’s reason – or opinion – should not be your ultimate authority either.

 

2. The voice of tradition

If you ask this person why they do something, they say: “Well, we’ve always done it this way!”  Traditionalists love doing things the same way that they did 20 yrs ago.

Conservative Christianity falls into this broad category.  They sing the same hymns to the same music because that’s what we’ve always done.

You may be the same.  You raise your children as you do because that’s how you were raised, regardless of what the Bible may say about parenthood.  You shout at your wife because your father shouted at his wife.

 Of course some traditions are good, like the tradition of mowing the lawn, or the tradition of having family Bible times, but tradition should not be our ultimate authority.

 

3. Voice of experience

Most of the songs on the Billboard top 100 are about listening to the voice of my experience: It feels so good so do it.

It feels so good to watch porn, it’s so enthralling to be intimate with my girlfriend, it’s so exciting to read those tantalizing emails from my co-worker, and it’s so sweet to get revenge.

Even some Christians think like this while sinning.  It feels so good, and God gave me feelings, then it must be God saying it’s ok.

 Charismatic Christianity sometimes falls into this trap by making their experience the ultimate authority for and decider of truth.  Just because it happened does not make it right or good or from God!

 

Experience is a good voice to learn from, ask any parent, but it shouldn’t be our ultimate authority.

 

4. The voice of Jesus in the Bible

My reason, my traditions, and my experiences may be important and necessary, but ultimately Jesus gets to decide how I live, who I date, what I believe and how I treat others.  My ultimate authority is the voice of Jesus in the Bible.

 Mark chapter 9 has the account of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain before three disciples.  For a brief moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry the veil of his humanity was drawn back to reveal his deity.  For a fleeting moment the curtain hiding his divinity is lifted and we see Jesus for who he truly is: God the Son.

 A voice from heaven then says something very important.  The voice of God the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Here is the lesson: If we want to hear the voice of God, we must listen to the voice of Jesus in the Bible.

 

Everyone listen to someone.  There is no end to blogs, opinions, tweets, updates, press releases and best sellers.  Who are you listening to?  What is your ultimate authority?  God forbid you are your ultimate authority.

Categories
Sacraments

“Do this in remembrance of me”

As Christians we have the privilege of celebrating the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion, as it is known in some churches).   The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament given to the church by Jesus himself as a sign of the gospel for the strengthening of our faith.  As we take part in the Lord’s Supper…

 

Categories
Gospel

Intolerance can be a virtue

The Bible is in some ways a very intolerant book. 

The Apostle Paul didn’t pull any punches when it came to the truth about Jesus and the uniqueness of the gospel.  In the light of our very pluralistic society and the new, trendy “I am spiritual” attitude, we might consider his words in Galatians 1:7-9 exceptionally intolerant:

 

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

 

Yet by being intolerant of other “gospels”, Paul here is being decidedly loving. Sometimes you have to be intolerant to be loving.

 

Shark attack

Imagine a friend from a land-locked European country and comes to visit you for the summer holidays.  This friend considers himself quite progressive and liberal.  One of the things he doesn’t believe in is sharks.  For him, who has never seen a shark, sharks are the product of an over-worked imagination and legend.  Sharks should not be taken literally, is his motto.  (He even argues that “Sharks” were isimply nvented by the early scuba-divers to exercise control over potential divers and make money from safety videos.)  Its extremely hot so you both decide to go swimming at Fish Hoek beach.  While swimming the shark siren rings.  Would it be unloving and intolerant for you to say, “You are wrong!  I’m right!” and then drag your friend to the sand?  Yes, it would be very intolerant of his views, but at the same time very loving.

 

The biblical authors knew the gospel of Jesus to be true and therefore, out of love, pointed out the error of other “gospels” and “spiritualities”.  Knowing truth  and pointing out error is enormously loving.

Categories
Praying for the dead

Praying for the dead

Should we be praying for our loved ones that have died?  Do our prayers somehow help or comfort them?

 The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we should pray for the “faithfully departed” in purgatory.   According to Catholicism, our prayers help them during their time in purgatory, so that they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven.   Why would they be in purgatory? The Catholic Church makes a distinction between two types of sin:

 Two types of sin

Mortal sin is a “grave violation of God’s law” that “turns the person away from God”, and if it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell. E.g. Murder, adultery, theft

 In contrast, venial sins (“forgivable” sin) are sins that are not so serious – they are still wrong, but not so serious – and these sins that won’t exclude us from heaven, E.g. loosing your temper or telling white lie.  Pardon and purifications can be made for venial sins in this life through the sacraments e.g. baptism, mass and penance.  However, if this purification is not achieved in life, venial sins can still be purified after death, which is called “purgatory”.

 

Unfortunate death

However, you might die before you could do your penance, or say confession, or attend mass, and therefore you wouldn’t go immediately to heaven, but to purgatory – where you will me made holy enough for heaven.

 

The Catholic Church gets this teaching from three places:

(1) The book of 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha.   Here Judas Maccabeus prays for dead soldiers. 

(The Apocrypha is a collection of books written in time between the Old and New Testament.  These works were not considered scripture by Jesus or the biblical authors and contain teaching inconsistent with the Bible.)

(2) Church tradition, the official teachings of the church over the years.

(3) The Church’s (mis)understanding of certain New Testament passages (E.g. 1 Corinthians 3)

 

Jesus’ death for sin

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin, all our sin.  Through faith in Jesus we are justified and receive the righteousness of Christ.  Its 100% forgiveness and 100% right standing before God.  Jesus paid the just price for all sin in the Christian’s life: past, present and future.  Christians, as the writer of the book of Hebrews says, can “confidently enter the Most Holy place (God’s presence) by the blood (death) of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)  As Christians we are assured of our immediate entrance into God’s presence when we die. 

This is why Jesus could say to the repentant criminal crucified next to him: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

This is why the apostle Paul could say: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  (2 Corinthians 5:8) 

 In the story Jesus told about a rich man and Lazarus, both men carried on living after the death, either immediately in the presence of God or in hell.  There was no in-between state or place, no purgatory, and no crossing over. (Luke 16)

 

The statement of faith of the Church of England in South Africa, the 39 Articles of Religion, puts it this way:

 Article 31: The one offering of Christ finished in the cross

Christ’s offering of himself on the cross, once for all, is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all sins…, both original and actual, and there is no other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Therefore the sacrifices of masses, in which it is commonly said that the Priest offers Christ for the living and the dead, to obtain the remission of their punishment or guilt, are blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.

 Article 22: Purgatory

The Romish teaching about purgatory, pardons, the worship and adoration of images and relics, and also the practice of praying to saints, is a futile deception, which, far from being grounded in Scripture, is repugnant to the Word of God.

 This is not to say that we don’t sin as Christians.  But, when we do sin, the Bible commends us to confess our sins, turn away from those sins, and thank God for the forgiveness we have in Christ.

Should we pray for the dead? No. 

We should remember them and treasure our memories.  We can look forward to seeing those that have died again on the renewed earth if they and we are Christians.  But our prayers can in no way help, guide or comfort them. 

 

Categories
Christmas

The fable of the stable

Did you know that nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus was born in a stable?  In fact, a stable-birth seems highly improbable when taking into account what the text actually says and  Middle Eastern hospitality.