Christianity has been tried and found Wanting?

This is a common phrase, but G. K. Chesterton disagreed and said, “Christianity has been found difficult and therefore untried.”  What the famous Chesterton really meant is that while multitudes profess Christianity, few really practice it.  

 

The Bible teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God.  That foundational truth leads to teaching on how we are to treat all human beings. 

 

Jacob (James) says of the tongue, “With it we bless our ADONAI and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the image of God. . .  these things should not be.” (Jacob 2:9,10)

 

Paul said, “From one He made every nation of men to live on the face of the earth, having set appointed times and the boundaries of their territory.  They were to search for Him, and perhaps grope around for Him and find Him.” (Acts 17:26, 27) 

 

Yeshua said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for the ones who mistreat you.”  (Luke 6:17)  

 

The Biblical teaching provided the unique understanding that led Thomas Jefferson to write, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   

 

Actually, these truths are not self-evident but came from Biblical revelation since these truths are not proclaimed in other cultures.  The Bible alone gives us the ideal of all people being of worth and deserving of dignity, respect, love, and equal justice under the Law.  

 

Without the biblical world view influence in the West (it did have sway in the Middle East for a season before Islam), we would not have made significant progress toward human rights.  Many are sounding the alarm that rejecting the Biblical Jewish and Christian roots of the West will not lead to greater freedom and justice but to a new tribalism and a new barbarism in the way we treat people.  We see Jewish leaders warning about the decline of Christianity in the West. We can name so many.  Rabbi David Lappin, Rabbi S. Boteach, Dennis Prager, David Horowitz.  The culture war against Christianity if successful will end in disaster.   We note as well, the words of an atheist historian who is yet worried about the cultural trends and not acknowledging this.  Here is a little of what a book reviewer wrote.

 

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, which has come as something of a surprise for several reasons. First, Holland is not a Christian. Second, Holland’s book is one of the most ambitious historical defenses of Christianity in a very long time.  While studying the ancient world he realized something. Simply, the ancients were cruel, and their values utterly foreign to him. The Spartans routinely murdered “imperfect” children. The bodies of slaves were treated like outlets for the physical pleasure of those with power. Infanticide was common. The poor and the weak had no rights.

 

How did we get from there to here? It was Christianity, Holland writes. Christianity revolutionized sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape. Christianity confined sexuality within monogamy. (It is ironic, Holland notes, that these are now the very standards for which Christianity is derided.) Christianity elevated women. In short, Christianity utterly transformed the world.

 

In fact, Holland points out that without Christianity, the Western world would not exist. Even the claims of the social justice warriors who despise the faith of their ancestors’ rest on a foundation of Judeo-Christian values. Those who make arguments based on love, tolerance, and compassion are borrowing fundamentally Christian arguments. If the West had not become Christian, Holland writes, “no one would have gotten woke.”

 

Then how do we account for the injustices in the history of the West, the cruelty of religious wars, slavery, colonialism, racism, and so much more?  We account for it by realizing that Christianity has been a battle against the native proclivities of fallen human beings.  Most were really not discipled to live as Messiah and to follow his ways of peace, reconciliation, and love. When such people came to the fore, people of deep godly goodness, they produced great gain. The influence of such people as John Newton, the former slave trader, and writer of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace is amazing.  When he said this grace “saved a wretch like me” he was referencing his cruel work in the slave trade.  His friend William Wilberforce was the key member of Parliament whose Christian faith motivated him to see the elimination of slavery throughout the British Empire.  Champions of civil rights like Jonathan Blanchard, the founder of Wheaton College (1860), and the great revivalist and leader at Oberlin College, Charles Finney played significant roles.  We read of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin without realizing that her Evangelical father and brother were abolitionist pastors.  Her biblical faith motivated her.  

 

Alas, progress always came from a minority, but it came and was based on reading the Bible  Most rationalized their unbiblical views and yet claimed to be Christians.  The history of the Western World is a history of the struggle to really convert the paganism of the heart.   Paganism remains in the heart and syncretism is the rule.  Maybe it was not the syncretism of bowing down to the gods of Canaan, but it was the syncretism of war, cruelty, slavery, and colonial exploitation.  Sometimes the missionaries who wanted to lift the population fought the leaders of the companies and governors who were there to despoil the natives for the enrichment of the home country.  The Bible’s teaching was and is dismissed as impractical, or only for the really few who are called to a more rigid obedience. The rest can call themselves Christians and even attend Church while they engage in the real politic of state craft, or rapacious business dealings, or sexual exploitation.  Truly Chesterton was right. Christianity was found difficult and was not usually really tried. 

 

Today we deal with social protests on the issue of racism.  How much racism still exists in America, how systemic it is in police departments or other sectors of society is a great ongoing debate.  There will be statistics, surveys, and studies after the smoke clears (literally).  Drawing conclusions on this is not the point of this essay.  The turn to Marxism and socialism as providing solutions would be a disastrous turn.  Only the power of the Gospel and a more Biblical influence will take the United States forward in a lasting and positive way.  There needs to be much repentance for the lack of faithfulness to the claims of the Gospel.  Some are leading in this. I should note that racism, enslaving other populations, and genocide are part of the terrible and long history of most world cultures.  It is not a specifically European/American problem.  

 

One story will have to suffice and will show us the depth of the problem in the human heart.  In 1906 the Holy Spirit was poured out in meetings on Azuza Street in Los Angeles.  The meetings were led by a black preacher, William Seymore.  These meetings launched what we now know as Pentecostalism.  Today Pentecostalism and its offshoots in the new charismatic movements and networks are by far the largest and most effective movements of growth in Protestant Christianity.  There is amazing growth in China, Asia in general, India, Africa, and South America.

 

That the leader, in the beginning, was a black preacher should have said something to all who followed after.  It was that God was after an inclusive movement that broke down all barriers of race and ethnicity.   In the beginning, it was so. Then something happened.  The whites decided that it was unseemly for them to be in a movement with blacks and they split from the blacks and started white Pentecostal denominations.  Hence the largest Pentecostal denomination in America, the Church of God in Christ, is a black denomination.  There has been verbal repentance from the leaders and spoken reconciliation, but so much more needs to happen in joining together to see the Gospel go forth with power and to focus on solving the issues of the underclass black communities.  We could give so many more examples. What did this happen?  It was rationalization.  It was part of the long history of Christianity.  As a Messianic Jew, I can point to the worst of it all, the long history of Anti-Semitism in the West.  Yes, “Christianity was found to be difficult and untried.”  But thank God for those who tried it. Much of the real progress in the west is due to them and Holland saw it. 

 

V. Raymond Edman, May 9, 1900- Sept. 22, 1967

Recently I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to read a book by V. Raymond Edman, They Found the Secret. Why I never got to reading this book until now is a bit of a mystery to me.  I have always carried a special reverence for Dr. Edman.  Here is a little history.  

 

In August 1967, I was a junior transfer student at Wheaton College, in Illinois.  I was in a time of great anxiety and agnosticism.  I hoped that the studies in philosophy, religion, psychology, and religion would provide someplace to stand.  In a time of great anxiety, a classmate suggested that I go visit Chaplain Evan Welsh, the pastor for the students.  I poured out my heart to him.  He became a spiritual father to me and the most important human male mentor in my life.  My father died before my 9th birthday.   Dr. Welsh spoke with a great and deep respect for “Prexy Edman.”   He was President from 1940-1965.  He is credited with leading the college to its academic ascendency in Evangelical higher education, Wheaton being called the Harvard of the Evangelical world.  I can testify that Wheaton was academically rigorous.  It was generally known that he prayed through the whole list of students every week.  Dr. Welsh also noted to me that Dr. Edman had some amazing experiences in the Spirit.  I thought he said there was an angelic visitation when he was sick as a missionary in Ecuador.  Dr. Edman retired from his role as President and now was Chancellor.  He had been seeking to overcome heart problems and was recovering from a heart attack.  We would see him walking in the main areas of the campus from time to time. 

 

On Sept. 22nd he was the speaker in the chapel.  It was his first time to speak after recovering.  The beautiful chapel was named after him.  It was designed with acoustics and size so that the finest symphony orchestras could play at Wheaton and they did.  Dr. Edman got up to speak and exhorted the students to enter chapel with reverence, for we were coming into the presence of the great king.  He told of his friendship with Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and what it is like to enter the presence of the King, then exhorting us to see ourselves to be ready to enter into the presence of the King.  Then at that moment, he slumped and fell to the floor.  Wheaton’s President, Dr. Hudson Taylor Armerding (named after the famed missionary to China) came to the microphone and called out, “is there a doctor in the house?”  Then he dismissed the students to their classes as he went to his knees to attend Dr. Edman.  I then went to my next class, Sociology of Religion with Dr. Lamberta Voget.  Then we heard the bells of old main, Blanchard Hall, ring 67 times.  Dr. Edman was gone at 67 years old.  Dr. Edman died in Edman chapel and it was immediately re-named Edman Memorial Chapel. This greatly affected me.  I was a witness to this in my agnosticism.  Was God in this?  How?

 

Within a few days, a public memorial service was held.  Billy Graham preached the message and the Wheaton Choirs sang.  I think Dr. Billy Graham preached his greatest sermon, at least by my evaluation, that he ever gave.  Dr. Edman was his mentor from his days at Wheaton and then onward until Dr. Edman died.  Graham spoke on “A time for all things, to be born and a time to die.”  He not only gave a great message but told about the great life of Dr. Edman.  The favorite hymns Dr. Edman were sung, “Stayed Upon Jehovah,” and “It is Well with My Soul.”  Somehow these events left me with a lifetime sense of connection to this man.

During my two years at Wheaton, I heard some of Dr. Edman’s favorite aphorisms.  “Not somehow but triumphantly,” and “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.”  They stuck with me, especially the last one. But I did not read his books.  Now I read this one. It included his testimony.  

 

Dr. Edman was connected to the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination and made Wheaton Graduate school a place where CMA leaders could be trained.  Now I found that his roots were in that 19th to early 20-century movement that believed in a second work of grace, a work of being explicitly filled with the Spirit enabling both power for witnessing and for a victorious holy life.  This is according to the famous Keswick conferences first in England and then at Keswick, New Jersey.  Some called this second work of grace, the Baptism in the Spirit.  It was accepted by Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, his right arm and successor R. A. Torrey and many other famous people from many denominations, including the famous Bishop Hadley Moule in England.  Edman presents 20 mini-biographies, most of the figures who were well known in their day and others still well known in my early days of ministry.  All of them gave testimony of this definite second work of grace, a theology that was rooted in Methodism. They were amazingly effective or fruitful and lived joyful lives.  They professed a great level of victory over sin.  They also professed an ability to know the voice of God in his leading in their lives and to lead them into greater and more specifically applied truths in the Bible.  Edman professed the same thing. After reading this book, I became convinced again that we do not adequately disciple people to walk in the fullness of the Spirit.  This is the key to avoiding burn out, to fruitfulness, joy, and victory. 

 

I recount one more little story. After my days at Wheaton, I spent another 9 months in agnosticism, but then came back to strong faith.  At Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I had wonderful professors. I was, however, not in touch with the clear way God had been speaking in to me in those years and professed an Evangelical rationalism. This was in 1969-71.  Before I came back to a charismatic orientation, talking about the Spirit speaking to us was not credible to me.  Then one day one of my professors was talking about V. Raymond Edman during the days he was on the faculty at Wheaton and Edman was the President.  The faculty was given delegated authority by the board for some decisions.  They would sometimes get into debates and not be able to come to an agreement. On one of these occasions and probably others too, as described by the professor, Edman asked them to suspend the discussion so he could go and pray.  After prayer, he returned to the meeting and said, “God spoke to me and told me what we should do.”  My professor did not think this was a good way to lead.  I agreed back then, but now I agree with Edman.  He was a great and spiritual man and led Wheaton by seeking to know the voice of the Spirit for 25 years!   I only discovered Messianic Judaism after this time and became a leader in the movement.  But when I came back to the things of the Spirit, I found an orientation like V. Ramond Edman.  There is a commonality, a significant and legitimate overlap between the best of Evangelicalism and Messianic Judaism.  After reading Edman’s book, that common ground is most apparent.  We need the kind of spiritual orientation that was characteristic of this great and godly man. 

Revolution and Biblical Worldview

I have been greatly saddened to see the extent to which younger Christians and Messianic Jews are saluting revolutionary social movements that are opposed to the Biblical World View.  Perhaps they do not realize this incompatibility.  

 

As I reflect on history, it seems that every social revolution that was not directly motivated by the biblical worldview or indirectly influenced by this world view, has led to destruction.  The Roman Catholic Catechism amazingly warns against utopian movements that are not based on biblical norms, and as you know I am not a Roman Catholic, but this statement is amazing.   

 

“The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment.   The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come . . .”

 

Let’s just recount a few of these revolutions, biblical and anti-biblical. 

 

The Biblical normed movements include the following:  the anti-slavery movement in England led by the famous Evangelical William Wilberforce who was friends with former slave trader John Newton who wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace.  Then came the anti-slavery movement in the United States backed by Jonathan Blanchard, the founder of Wheaton College, the famous revivalist Charles Finney, and the  Stowe family, the most famous of which is Harriet Beecher Stowe.   Her father and brother were anti-slavery ministers.  Then in recent years the biblical-based civil rights movement under Rev.  Martin Luther King.   The biblical movements all hearken back to the idea of all humans having equal worth and created in the image of God. (U. S. Declaration of Independence).  In Acts 17:26 we read, “From one He made every nation of men to live on the face of the earth, having set appointed times and the boundaries of their territory.”  

 

However, the anti-biblical movements led to death and destruction.  The French revolution and its guillotine, the Russian Marxist revolution, and other terrible Marxist examples: China, Cambodia, and today in Venezuela.   As Satan masquerades as an angel of light, we should note that the movements of our day may indeed come from an antichrist spirit.   The Devil, we read in John 10:10 comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  Tens of millions have been slaughtered.  Marxist phrases like “To each according to his need and from each according to his ability,” sound so attractive but can be so deceptive as they call for a leveling equality tyranny. 

 

Today, we find ourselves in a situation of tragedy in the loss of a black man by the name of George Floyd and the police abuse of other blacks. We also see the carnage of black on black crime, 7500 killed and we are not supposed to mention this.  Why?  Because the revolutionaries do not want us to see the whole picture but to focus on the anti-police anti-American ideas they put forth.  A biblical conscience should be deeply outraged by all this pain.  There should be movements of believers to clean up police and to lift the lives of our minority friends who are equally valued. 

 

However, we now find the leaders of movements of deception were ready, poised to take advantage of the situation, spreading violence, utopian anarchist messages, Marxist ideology, and more.  When they occupy part of a city, they steal the property rights of the citizens. When they demonize police, they demonize many who give their lives to protect the people.  They violate Romans 13 that exhorts us to respect the civil authority and the power of the sword in authority.  

 

The views and tactics of these radicals are anti-biblical.  They single out white people and include Jews in that category!  Yet in the Bible, we speak of many ethnic groups.  They are white, black, yellow, and every shade and style of bodily form.  All are created equal.  White-skinned people have many different backgrounds from many ethnicities, some nations with colonial history but some having no such history.  From the European nations have come the very ideas of civil rights and human rights that we seek to extend and advance (especially England).  The atheist historian Tom Holland in a recent book notes that all we value in rights, tolerance, and mercy come from the influence of the biblical world view.  Amazing!  However, when Martin Luther King spoke biblically, he rightly said that human beings should be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin.  When whites are being made to repent for white privilege and especially white group guilt, this is the spirit of communist re-education camps not real biblical repentance for sin.   Of course whites in America today are by percentages more privileged.   But in the Bible, this would not be cause for repentance for a special original sin type guilt.  It would be a source of gratitude for all that has been received in God’s providence and then would require a responsibility to lift those who are not so privileged.  White guilt in America could have value as a concept if those who are privileged of all races do not seek to lift those who are less successful. But repenting for whiteness as inherently evil is anti-biblical.  I do think the American Church has reason for repentance in not focusing its primary efforts to the poor, for the Gospel is the greatest liberator. 

 

In a biblical world view, we must not identify with movements that single out people of any color for special guilt or praise on account of skin color and ethnicity.  All ethnicities have good things to be praised and bad things from which to be redeemed.  We all are sinners.  As such we can look at the sad history of the world.  It is not merely Europeans that have oppressed people.  All of world history shows one ethnic group oppressing and subjecting other ethnic groups.   It is the nature of sin to favor those who are “like me” and to disfavor and distrust those who are not.  The Bible speaks to this in the numerous texts on how to treat the stranger, demanding that the Gospel first be given to the poor to lift them and finally in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?” and the parable answers the questions and extols the hated and marginalized Samaritan.  However, the Marxist influence in the Black Lives Matter movement, (and Black Lives Really do Matter), and the anarchist anti-police and anti-government thrust will lead to terrible destruction especially for the poor and marginalized.  Believers must not enable or support these aspects of what is going on.   When people are asked to repent for being white this is more a communist shaming and re-education tactic than the Biblical call repentance before a holy God who says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  All are called to deep repentance before him, to search our hearts for any prejudice and by the Spirit to root it out of our hearts.  We will never be perfect on the issue of preferring ourselves to others, but must always work against this selfish tendency.  However, Christians and Messianic Jews must not cow-tow to Marxist and anarchist phrases and demands.  We must call all to repentance. 

 

In our universities, leftist ideologies have reigned.  We have for 60 years sowed to the wind in our universities and in the United States are now reaping the whirlwind.  The corruption of the movement for civil rights and lifting black communities is being corrupted with Marxist and anarchist ideas and will lead to more destruction.  The only hope I see is in the Gospel and a massive revival beyond anything we have ever seen. Such is the deep darkness right now, but my hope is that the Lord will rise upon us.  (Is. 60)

 

 

A Modest Proposal for Theological Integrity

Many today pray for and believe for the fulfillment of the prayer of Yeshua for the unity of the people of God (John 17:21).  We hear of calls for humility, love, repentance form competition, prayer, cooperation, and more.  One thing we do not hear is a call for theological integrity.  What do I mean by theological integrity?  I am not speaking about judging theological integrity by any particular stream of theological commitments.  There is a tendency in some streams to dismiss others on the basis of their theological stream and claim that only their stream has integrity.  This we must not do if we are to gain John 17 unity.  The theological streams include Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, new charismatic streams, Methodist, Lutheran, Holiness, Anglican and so many more.  These streams all have attained credibility and longevity, and it is time to allow for differences of interpretation within broad orthodoxy.  This broad orthodoxy is defined by the historic and more recent confessions of faith that have gained near-universal acceptance as rightly representing a summary of the most important Biblical truths.  Theological integrity is first based on the embrace of this broad orthodoxy.  This includes the broad orthopraxy of Biblical morals and ethics. 

 

However, some who claim to embrace broad orthodoxy still say very bizarre things.  When they say such things, others react and dismiss these people as false teachers and vilify them. Some go on a public crusade against these ministers.  I am very accepting of those who do not think like I do.  I also came to what was for me a very hard conclusion, that God’s anointing and power are not correlated to accurate precision in theology.  As a theologically trained person, I would that it be that anointing and power were correlated to accurate theology.  I am sure after years of examination that it is not so.  Anointing and power come from the heart of faith and love more than theological precision.  God’s work is often through weak theological vessels.  If we vilify these people and their work, we could be rejecting the work of the Spirit and in danger. However, accurate theology is still important and can prevent some sad results. Can we hope for a way through this problem?  But let me first note just a few of the kings of bizarre things that have been taught and are taught today but some who have large platforms and influence. 

 

In recent times we have heard those with influence teach the following.  1.  That there is no judgment during this age, but that this is an age of grace and love without judgment or wrath.  Judgment and wrath are Old Testament realities, not New Testament.  2.  That the New Testament teaches that we are only to love God and that we are not to think that the fear of God is relevant or proper motivation.  3.  That the Old Testament is irrelevant to believers in the New Covenant.  Yes, it is the Word of God but is now mostly irrelevant. It is as a past word of God now that we are in the New Covenant.  4.  That God expects us to exercise faith in such a way that we can all become very rich.  I could go on and note other aberrations  You may have your own list.  I sometimes wonder if these people carefully read the Bible, and even just the New Testament!  Do they really fully accept even the authority of the New Testament, though of course, I argue always for the authority of the whole Bible.  Accepting the New requires accepting the authority of the Old since the New Testament directly teaches the continuing authority of the Old which it calls Scripture and does not use the phrase Old Testament. .    

 

It would be very helpful if those who have a large platform of exposure due to their anointing, media, or a large Church would have a theological partner to vet writings and media presentations before launching off into the never-never land of bizarre theology and bizarre proclamations.  The theological partner would be one sympathetic to their general orientation.  My friend Dr. Craig Keener of Asbury Seminary, who wrote the brilliant book Spirit Hermeneutics, is a top Biblical theologian. His book is a corrective for Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars and applies to all Bible teachers.  Professor Keener is a very strong supporter of movements that show the power of the Spirit.  A person such as Dr. Keener could be a great aid to the large platform ministers whose presence in media: in television, videos, and writing gains a great following.  With such a platform of influence comes greater responsibility.  

 

God desires humility.  If the critics would be slower to condemn, this would help unity as well.  Let their writings of correction come with humility and pleading on a biblical basis.  May those with large platforms and who have power ministries have the humility to have advisors who are well trained and solid in theology.   This would be helpful to the quest for greater unity.     

 

 

The Problem of Evil in the Contemporary Age

The issue of pain and suffering is an age-old problem for those who defend the truth of the Biblical faith.  In my apologetic text, The Biblical World View, an Apologetic, I seek to deal with this comprehensively.  The problem is summarized in Archibald McLeish’s JB, a modern take on Job who argues, “If God is God (omnipotent) he is not good.  If God is good he is not God (omnipotent).  From Augustine, we have the classic free will defense.  This is embraced by C. S. Lewis in his classic The Problem of Pain.  Basically, the idea is that the choice of our ancestors brought about a fallen world with terrible suffering, but God in his goodness and wisdom beyond our full comprehension uses this for the discipline of the human race and as the context by which he can bring forth a redeemed community for which it will all be worth it in the end.  Actually, the intellectual case is quite good.   

However, one important matter is beyond the intellectual case.   This is a psychological issue.  The real issue with the problem of evil is that people are not able or willing to believe in a good and loving God (though He is also a God of judgment for the wicked) if there is so much pain and suffering in the world.  Sometimes this response is awakened by a teenager coming into his or her first crushing disappointment.  Though Augustine in the 5th century gave us our most accepted defense of the Biblical view, most of history does not show Christians and Jews wrestling with pain and suffering.  Generally, they saw themselves in a fallen world and saw their own sins as so glaring that they did not expect to not see pain and suffering.  Somehow living with pain and suffering seemed fitting to them.  They did not see themselves as having a right to a good life without suffering. What is amazing about this history is that until the mid 19th century this problem was not much of a focus and not a great question of faith struggle.  People might struggle with universalism (all will be saved) or Unitarianism (difficulty with the logic of the Trinity) but not the problem of evil.  I think it is connected to the theory of evolution and the delusion that there is a credible explanation for creation in atheistic evolutionary naturalism.  A great book on the issue of moderns and the problem of pain and suffering was written by Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.   Keller is brilliant in presenting us with the psychological issues and showing that especially in the more pampered and spoiled West, we respond to pain and suffering with outrage rather than with faith and resignation.  C. S. Lewis makes a similar point by noting that surgery was done without anesthesia before chloroform was discovered and people of that time were in an age of faith!  Previously it was thought that we did not have the right to avoid pain and suffering.  Most people lost the majority of their children as children, and the life expectancy in the West was 45.  Those who deal with struggling people dealing with this issue need to deal both with theology and psychology.  This was so in my case where I had great mentors who were able to address both and help me through it. 

A Modest Proposal for Theological Integrity

Many today pray for and believe for the fulfillment of the prayer of Yeshua for the unity of the people of God (John 17:21).  We hear of calls for humility, love, repentance form competition, prayer, cooperation, and more.  One thing we do not hear is a call for theological integrity.  What do I mean by theological integrity?  I am not speaking about judging theological integrity by any particular stream of theological commitments.  There is a tendency in some streams to dismiss others on the basis of their theological stream and claim that only their stream has integrity.  This we must not do if we are to gain John 17 unity.  The theological streams include Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, new charismatic streams, Methodist, Lutheran, Holiness, Anglican and so many more.  These streams all have attained credibility and longevity, and it is time to allow for differences of interpretation within broad orthodoxy.  This broad orthodoxy is defined by the historic and more recent confessions of faith that have gained near-universal acceptance as rightly representing a summary of the most important Biblical truths.  Theological integrity is first based on the embrace of this broad orthodoxy.  This includes the broad orthopraxy of Biblical morals and ethics. 

However, some who claim to embrace broad orthodoxy still say very bizarre things.  When they say such things, others react and dismiss these people as false teachers and vilify them. Some go on a public crusade against these ministers.  I am very accepting of those who do not think like I do.  I also came to what was for me a very hard conclusion, that God’s anointing and power are not correlated to accurate precision in theology.  As a theologically trained person, I would that it be that anointing and power were correlated to accurate theology.  I am sure after years of examination that it is not so.  Anointing and power come from the heart of faith and love more than theological precision.  God’s work is often through weak theological vessels.  If we vilify these people and their work, we could be rejecting the work of the Spirit and in danger. However, accurate theology is still important and can prevent some sad results. Can we hope for a way through this problem?  But let me first note just a few of the kings of bizarre things that have been taught and are taught today but some who have large platforms and influence. 

In recent times we have heard those with influence teach the following. 

1.  That there is no judgment during this age, but that this is an age of grace and love without judgment or wrath.  Judgment and wrath are Old Testament realities not New Testament. 

2.  That the New Testament teaches that we are only to love God and that we are not to think that the fear of God is relevant or proper motivation. 

3.  That the Old Testament is irrelevant to believers in the New Covenant.  Yes, it is the Word of God but is now mostly irrelevant. It is as a past word of God now that we are in the New Covenant. 

4.  That God expects us to exercise faith in such a way that we can all become very rich. 

I could go on and note other aberrations  You may have your own list.  I sometimes wonder if these people carefully read the Bible, and even just the New Testament!  Do they really fully accept even the authority of the New Testament, though of course I argue always for the authority of the whole Bible.  Accepting the New requires accepting the authority of the Old since the New Testament directly teaches the continuing authority of the Old which it calls Scripture and does not use the phrase Old Testament.     

It would be very helpful if those who have a large platform of exposure due to their anointing, media, or a large Church would have a theological partner to vet writings and media presentations before launching off into the never-never land of bizarre theology and bizarre proclamations.  The theological partner would be one sympathetic to their general orientation.  My friend Dr. Craig Keener of Asbury Seminary, who wrote the brilliant book Spirit Hermeneutics, is a top Biblical theologian. His book is a corrective for Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars and applies to all Bible teachers.  Professor Keener is a very strong supporter of movements that show the power of the Spirit.  A person such as Dr. Keener could be a great aid to the large platform ministers whose presence in media: in television, videos, and writing gains a great following.  With such a platform of influence comes greater responsibility.  

God desires humility.  If the critics would be slower to condemn, this would help unity as well.  Let their writings of correction come with humility and pleading on a biblical basis.  May those with large platforms and who have power ministries have the humility to have advisors who are well trained and solid in theology.   This would be helpful to the quest for greater unity.     

Trump and the Prophetic Consensus

I have given rational reasons as to why Christians and Messianic Jews can justly support Donald Trump in spite of this past behavior and in spite of behavior today that is concerning.  My arguments have been based on policy.  My readers know my views on policy. 

 

However, I have not before noted that there is a very strong consensus from credible prophets that Christians and Messianic Jews are called to support President Trump.  When I have slightly indicated such recently, there has been great push back on the fact that many so-called prophets are not trustworthy and that they don’t trust the glitzy T. V. prophets either. 

 

However, I have walked with prophetic people for decades.  The ones I walk with are not the glitzy T. V. prophets who make wrong international proclamations and do nothing when they turn out to be false.  I have walked closely with some who are not famous, not media personalities but have deep humility and have a very strong track record of accuracy.  I think there is a strong consensus among them.  Here is what they have said.

 

  1. Trump’s election was by the hand of God.
  2. His election was predicated since 2012 before anyone thought of him as even a candidate. 
  3. He would be a great disrupter, coarse, and unorthodox.  It was for the sake of completely shaking up an evil and compromised establishment. 
  4. He would restore religious liberty.
  5. He would support Israel and be a Cyrus.  He is the 45th President and is connected to Isaiah 45.  He would be a Cyrus to Israel.  Note that he moved the embassy of the U. S. to Jerusalem.  This was prophesied before he was elected.  After the embassy move, Israel minted a coin with King Cyrus of Persia on one side and Donald Trump on the other side.  
  6. Others have noted that Trump would also be like a Jehu and would go after Jezebel.  He would be a wild man like Jehu. 
  7. He would roll back some of the evil directions re: abortion and other negative trends against Evangelicals. 

 

There is a lot more but I think having more than a merely human perspective helps us, though we do need to confirm prophetic words and not just follow.  Some words seem quite amazing and predictive.  

The Theology of the Siddur, Church Liturgy, and the Hymnbook

Rachmiel Frydland was one of the most beloved figures of the early days of the Messianic Jewish movement in America.  Rachmiel was a rabbinic student in Poland, and as a young man fled the Nazis in the Polish forests.  He survived the Holocaust.  He knew the Rabbinic traditions well.  Then he very powerfully came to know Yeshua.  He was a teacher to many of us.  In sharing about Judaism, Rachmiel often noted that he perceived a significant distinction between the dry legalistic arguments of the Talmud and the spirit of the Siddur, the Jewish liturgical worship/prayer book for Daily and Shabbat usage.  His evaluation of the former was quite critical but his evaluation of the latter was very positive.   

 

I have come to agree with Rachmiel. In my view, after study and usage, I find that the Siddur provides us with a very accurate theology of the Hebrew Bible.  Praise and prayer is based on quite a comprehensive understanding.  This shows us a tradition of some people that was very attuned to the Bible, people with a strong poetic and spiritual sensitivity.  Of the sensitive poet who is a worshipper will perceive the theology of the Bible with greater accuracy than the mere intellectual scholar.  The worship of the Siddur reveals a majestic Creator, wonderful in love and mercy, but who also is a judge to be feared.  It is a God of compassion and a God of wrath.  The Siddur also reveals that salvation is only possible through the grace and mercy of God and that our good works are not able to save.  This is in contrast to the conclusion one might draw from some other Rabbinic writings. 

 

Someone once remarked that when Methodists sang the Methodist hymns over a significant period of time, they were discipled in a very comprehensive understanding of Methodist theology.  The basic liturgy of the Christian Churches plus the hymns of a good historic hymnal do indeed provide quite a comprehensive and solid theology.  The hymn writers usually write from a deep life of devotion and thus perceive Scriptural truth in a very deep way.  A good hymnbook teaches well on the nature of this love and mercy but also teaches us about his justice and wrath.   It reveals the greatness of salvation in Yeshua.  It also calls us to total consecration.  The hymn writers knew the majesty of God, expressed amazement at his Creation, and the danger of his running afoul of his justice and thus incurring his wrath.  We were saved by Yeshua from the wrath of God.  The hymn writers also knew the power of the Spirit that it overwhelms us, the gifts of the Spirit, and the great hope of the return of Yeshua.  Concentrations on different aspects of the life of Yeshua provide a marvelous devotional content. 

 

Of late, not a few have pointed out the shallowness of popular theologies today.  Some teach a love of God where there is no fear of God and a mercy of God where there is no wrath or judgment.  There is an indulgent God who looks the other way when his Law is violated.  Some teach a salvation that does not require repentance, God’s transforming work in the heart, and consecration.  I have not done a comprehensive study of contemporary worship songs.  There are some very excellent ones.  However, I wonder if one of the problems is that today’s worship content may not be discipling us in the full counsel of God in a way that Siddur, liturgy, and hymnal did in the past.  Somehow the historic worship reflected more of a comprehensive grasp of the Bible by very spiritual people.  One of the keys to good theology is taking into account all that the Bible says on a subject.  The tradition of worship is amazing on this.  I try to do that my book series and to show this approach.   In the books, Heaven, Hell and the After Live, Spiritual Warfare, and Prosperity I try to give a trustworthy survey on the Bible’s teaching as opposed to shallow and partial approaches.  I have been amazed at how much historic worship is trustworthy.  

 

The Need for the Prophetic and the Last Days 

In my book Passover, Key to the Book of Revelation I argue that prophetic ministry will be greatly increased before the coming return of Yeshua.  I noted in a recent post that on this present virus situation we have had some accurate prophetic voices and several as well that simply did not measure up.  One I have known for 30 years has a solid prophetic word and described what would happen back in early January before the scientific or political community was predicting the pandemic.  However, so many voices were not correct that they drown out the quality words.  

 

The plagues of the last days in the book of Revelation will require strong prophetic voices in various regions of the world to give both interpretation of what is happening and direction of what to do.  This will require not only accurate and strong prophetic voices, but also a much greater sharpening of God’s people in knowing the Spirit.  This is because, in the New Covenant, we all have the Spirit and are to be prophetic.  Our inner man will need to give confirmation of what is spoken.  Without a sensitive ability for accurate confirmation, we will be subject to false prophecy.  It will be both the track record of accountable prophets and the discernment of God’s people that will be key. 

 

In the last days’ spiritual battles, the level of disinformation and media control will be so great that merely trying to figure out the truth by intellectual pursuit will not be sufficient.  Even today in this virus situation there is much suppression of factual information so that people will only follow the received wisdom of the establishment and the media and social networking companies.  God’s people must have a supernatural source of information and other means of communication to break though the disinformation even when those who spread this disinformation mean well.  I think we will find out more about this virus and its treatment that will show how much false information became a consensus.  This may prepare us to seek a better way. 

 

The Spirit will be poured out in the last of the last days. There will be a great harvest and there will be supernatural means to know how to oppose the Kingdom of Darkness and how to overcome false information.  It will be essential.  Do obtain my book to encourage you in the battles we will face.  

 

How Legalism Blinds to Foundational Moral Issues

I embraced the Good News and committed my life to Yeshua in the Spring of 1960.  Some of you know my testimony.  I soon became part of a Reformed Church that was very much in the Evangelical movement. My father was Jewish and my Mother a Norwegian Christian but not involved in the Church when we were growing up.  I was not raised religiously because of the Jewish/Christian marriage.  As I entered into teen years, I became part of fundamentalist ministries, camps, and Bible clubs.  In that fundamentalism, there was much legalism.  Legalism raises extra-biblical morals to a significant importance.  There was a whole list of things that Christians were not to do:  not going to movies, dancing, drinking wine or beer, listening to contemporary music, playing billiards, mixed swimming, and on and on.  When I attended Wheaton Collage during the last of the 1960s, most of the students were reacting strongly against this legalism and fundamentalism itself (though most still wanted to be Evangelicals).  Though we were young and overreacting, we never the less did believe we saw some patterns of great concern.  The biggest concern was that we knew Christians who kept the legalistic additions not in the Bible but violated the explicit Biblical standards.  We noted such things as gossip, lack of forgiveness, not seeking to reach the poor, weakness in devotional life, questionable financial dealings.  One of the biggest was gossip and causing division in the Body.  

 

When I entered into Jewish ministry, I realized that my knowledge of Judaism was shallow.  One of the members gave me an English translation of the most important post-Biblical Jewish book on applying the Torah.  This is the Talmud which was first in oral form and then the first part put in writing at the end of the second century by Rabbi Judah the Prince.  This first part is the Mishnah.  The commentary was next developed over the next centuries and was compiled. This second part was known as the Gemara.   Together they make up the Talmud.  As a young leader in my 20s, I decided to read through the Talmud, but not with intense concentration.  I was amazed at the level of legalism.  The Mishnah expresses a level of concern for minutiae, laws upon laws upon laws that have less and less connection to Biblical intent.  Sometimes the applications of the Torah or Law is wise.  There is also much of value in the broad thrust of Jewish traditions; the prayer traditions, the stories of godliness, and love that are really wonderful. The celebrations of the Sabbath and Feasts and their meanings are greatly enriching.   However, this legalism is an amazing phenomenon.   Recently, I decided to read through the Mishnah and again am once again amazed.  I would invite my readers to borrow a copy of the Mishnah and just go through at least part of it.  Then you will understand what I am saying here.  

 

Here is my point.  Though there are stellar examples of love and godliness in Jewish history, I do not think the legalism is a contribution to this attainment.  Living near Jerusalem provides so many examples of Yeshua’s words, “Straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”  His words against the legalism of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is the most devastating critique of legalism in history.  Living next to the ultra-Orthodox provides us with example after example of such legalism.  They are well known to Israelis and they are not attracted to this Orthodoxy.  Here is one example.  In the Jerusalem Post, the Rabbi of a sect of Orthodoxy ruled that the Sabbath elevator did not solve the problem of traveling on an elevator in Shabbat.  The Sabbath elevator stops runs up and down all day and stops on every floor. This constant stopping frustrates some.  However, it prevents the legalistic standard against Sabbath violation by pushing the buttons and thereby turning on lights and running a machine.  One couple with their children, one infant and one toddler, now had to carry them and their carriage down and up 7 flights of stairs.  The Sabbath elevator is frustrating because it stops on every floor automatically.  The Rabbi ruled against even that Sabbath elevator.  Living in high rise buildings was now impossible.  The couple complained.  “What kind of Sabbath is this for us to have to climb seven flights of stairs with our children, the carriage, and our equipment?”  One can see this legalism in the criticism of Yeshua for healing on the Sabbath.  Yeshua’s critique of legalism was not just applicable to Jewish legalism.  Indeed, the issue is that legalism tends to lead people to concern themselves with minor matters and to neglect the weightier matters of the Law.  

 

One of the saddest examples of this loss of moral perspective in ultra-Orthodoxy is the recent health minister in Israel, Yaakov Litzman.  Rabbi Litzman is accused with good evidence of protecting a pedophile.  An Israeli Orthodox woman was the leader of a Jewish girls school in Australia.  She is credibly accused of molesting many girls.  The government of Australia seeks to have her extradited to stand trial.  Yet, the Rabbi protects her as one his own.  “Blood is thicker than water.“  Her ability, with support from her community leaders, to avoid extradition, has been very amazing. Yet, Rabbi Litzman is one who fights in the coalition government to enforce legalistic norms for the whole society and threatened to bring down the government over his demands.     

 

Messianic Jews are loyal to our people.  We seek to present the Gospel so that they may be delivered and enter into the fullness of Yeshua and God’s Biblical New Covenant Judaism.  This includes secular Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and traditional but not Orthodox Jews.