Friday, March 28, 2014

What Lessons Can Be Learned From World Vision's Flip-Flop?

One must wonder – and indeed many have – What were they thinking?

If they really did care about the Bible’s authority, how did they come to their conclusion in the first place? Such a basic understanding of sexuality and life is understood by the most immature of Christians…or so we thought.


First Lesson Learned: Conviction Is Needed Because Conviction Is Steadfast

If any one person does not have an unwavering commitment to the inspired, inerrant and sufficient Word of God, the conviction of almost anything will be subject to decay and evolution, if not entirely sucked out of you over time. This cannot be understated.

When speaking of the one faith in the one true and living God, Isaiah said, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (7:9).

Or in Psalm 119 we read, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (160). The eternality of the Word of God must be so if God Himself is eternal. If we really believe that God is eternal and immutable (unchangeable) then we have to concede that so are His instructions and laws.

A conviction of these truths will not wax and wane with the shifting sands of cultural trends because they are founded and grounded on the solid rock of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel. They are steadfast. The consistency of Scripture shines brighter as the world moves away from biblical morality.

The Apostle Paul told his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child […] wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:17-19).

Paul also wrote to the faithful church in Thessalonica, “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:4-5).

As my pastor once said, “A belief is something you hold; a conviction is something that holds you.”

When you truly have a conviction from the Word of God, you will not so easily be swayed by popular opinion and you will say with the Psalmist, “I shall have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your Word (119:42) and “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love (119:46-47).

Second Lesson Learned: Christian Theology Cannot Be Separated From Christian Operation

In Christianity Today’s article, “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages”, they shared that World Vision decides “to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.”

The President, Richard Stearns, said, “We’re an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church.”

This is one of the most pressing lessons we can get from all of this. This has become the tendency among many evangelicals. It is the hopeful step of neutrality that many Christians seem to think they can take without compromising their faith. In reality, it’s a cop out to making up your mind. There tends to be this idea that since feeding the poor (or other socially helpful ventures) is highly looked upon in the eyes of the world and of God, that both of these parties will then be able to overlook any matters of compromise in other areas like, in this case, biblical sexuality.

Suddenly, altruism becomes the new evangelism, but with an emphasis on the works of the altruistic individual, rather than the salvation of the hungry. It is all well and good to feed the poor, but if you do not share the Gospel with them, then they could still be heading to Hell with a blanket and a bowl of food. The real mission of the Christian Church is to provide temporal and eternal needs. The temporal needs help now, but the eternal need of salvation from sin lasts forever. Lots of people will like us for giving away free things to needy people, but we can’t consider that as an approval of the Gospel, as if we are fulfilling the Great Commission.

This may be an easy temptation to fall into when you are running Christian organizations, but with a personal conviction on biblical theology comes a proper application of biblical theology. Think about it from a personal and individual perspective. Can you merely be an Operational Christian and not a theological one? Of course not.

When you start drawing lines in places like these you end up in a precarious situation, which is exactly what happened with World Vision. In Christianity Today’s first article, they clearly stated where they were drawing their authority from: “This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues.”

As Dr. Al Mohler said in his first response on his blog, “These arguments are pathetically inadequate.”

He goes on to say, “The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.”

A Christian is, by nature, theologically informed. To do anything in the name of Christ while surrendering some type of personal responsibility to sound doctrine is delusional.

Is this harsh? Ask the Apostle Paul who directly linked a biblical view of sexuality with sound doctrine and sexual immorality, including homosexuality, as contrary to it (1 Tim. 1:9-10). Later in chapter six, Paul says that those who do not teach sound doctrine “understand nothing” and are “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (6:3-4).

Finally, Paul stresses to Titus the importance of rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine, holding firm to the trustworthy word (1:9).

Third Lesson Learned: Flip-Flopping Reduces Trust

If World Vision had a firm conviction on representing Christ and upholding the authority of Scripture rather than the authority of “churches”, then this matter of the biblical view of sexuality would not have been an issue whatsoever in the first place. They didn’t hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so they contradicted sound doctrine by considering committed sexually immoral people as being right with God:

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues […] We are absolutely resolute about every employee being followers of Jesus Christ. We are not wavering on that” (emphasis mine).

This reveals the fundamental flaw in their real world-view. This is no accidental slip-up of semantics, or Biblical interpretation. They are making a theological statement by saying committed sinners can be Christians. Never mind what the Apostle John said: “No one who lives in God keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen God or known God” (1 Jn. 3:6).

Again, their deprivation of the truth shines forth.

Now, as we have seen, World Vision has recanted of their plan for the new policy change after threats of support withdrawal and backlash from the Christian community as to their capitulation from sound doctrine. Is it legitimate?

I don’t believe a true Christian leader committed to God’s word would ever have made this mistake. These men are old enough and mature enough to know this simple, basic truth.  It would be like changing their policy to say that “not all employees must believe in the resurrection of Christ because whether or not you believe that has no bearing on saving faith” and then two days later saying, “Oops, we didn’t realize that was usurping Biblical authority. We’re so thankful people pointed that out to us.”

Can there be true repentance? Absolutely and I hope so! Unfortunately, the damage has already been done with their reputation. They have already and legitimately cast doubt on their whole view of Scripture and the sudden withdrawal does not necessarily prove any spiritual change of heart has taken place.

This can be proven from Scripture, for there are two types of grief when confronted with sin according to 2 Cor. 7:10: 1) Godly grief that produces repentance, and 2) worldly grief that produces death.

One will feel bad for dishonoring God with sin, the other will feel bad for getting caught.

This is where we must continue to pray, in that this company makes it clear who their captain is, men or Christ? Do I seem skeptical? I admit, I am a little.

The reason is because of some of the bold statements already outlined, but there are a few more. How can such clearly articulated statements be said in the first place?

“Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We've got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity."
“This is also not about compromising the authority of Scripture . . . . People can say, ‘Scripture is very clear on this issue,’ and my answer is, ‘Well ask all the theologians and denominations that disagree with that statement.’”

 

"I hope it's a statement that says when Christ left, he gave us the Great Commission [to make disciples] and the Great Commandment [to love others as ourselves], and we're trying to do just that," said Stearns. "Bridging the differences we have, and coming together in our unity."

 

"I'm hoping this may inspire unity among others as well," he concluded. "To say how can we come together across some differences and still join together as brothers and sisters in Christ in our common mission of building the kingdom."

 

"I think we've got a very persuasive series of reasons for why we're doing this, and it's my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand it, and will agree with our exhortation to unite around what unites us. But we do know this is an emotional issue in the American church. I'm hoping not to lose supporters over the change. We're hoping that they understand that what we've done is focused on church unity and our mission."

 

The agenda is clear and it is theological – as much as they deny it. Gay marriage is merely an “emotional issue” that is “tearing apart the church” and they want to make the statement that people should unite together “in love” as “brothers and sisters in Christ”, gay or straight, based on their desire for unity and on the authority of liberal churches.

In a best case scenario, the leaders of World Vision lack even a moderate understanding of the implications of the Bible. The most frightening aspect is that they would consider people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to still be allowed to commit to a sexually immoral lifestyle.

What this means is that when polygamy is the next hot topic, they will be forced to apply their same logic based on their perception of “unity in the church”. Perhaps, as long as a man and his three wives are all professing believers in Jesus Christ and they are all faithful to each other (yes, all four of them) then they would be granted employment as a Christian – of course without World Vision actually endorsing polygamy.

Stearns: “It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," he said.  "This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support."

Though the caveat in his statement that we may be reading into it too much is included, the very statements that Christians can live homosexual lifestyles and commit themselves in marriage as such reveals such a bankrupt understanding of Christianity that the implications to how wide reaching their world view may be and how that will affect their future decisions is cause for legitimate concern.

When a spouse cheats in their marriage, we would be suspect to an apology that included statements like: “I failed to seek enough counsel before I decided to cheat”, or, “I am broken hearted over the pain I have caused my spouse who saw this as a reversal of my strong commitment to my marriage.”

Again, World Vision believes many things that may be true, however with no conviction the future is depressingly unreliable.

Fourth and Final Lesson Learned: This Is Not About Ranking Sin

What tends to happen in a situation like this is that the sin in question gets so much attention that people will often banter about how other sins aren’t highlighted as much, so why bother with homosexuality? Are we ranking sin?

This is not about ranking sin. It is about Biblical fidelity. If someone is a professing believer in Christ, or an organization is a professing Christ-centered organization, then they have just accepted the standard that God has laid out in His Word. If the sociopolitical topic of the day was drunkenness, or disrespecting parents, then there would be much more time spent in Biblical exposition around that, but that’s not the buzz-word of our day. The world is pushing an agenda to normalize homosexuality, so the Scriptures will shine brighter on these areas that are being challenged.

It is not as if the Church started a revolution to prove a point on sexuality that was already largely accepted as morally agreeable in the world. No, as the demand for accepting homosexuality as “good”, rather than sinful, was increasing, so did the witness of Scripture on the subject. It is what it is. What would anyone expect?

When Paul wrote what he did in his letters to various churches on the topic, homosexuality was more rampant then, than it has ever been in America until today. This blows the cultural argument out of the water for anyone who says that the Bible is outdated. Only people who don’t know the real contextual and historical scenarios in the Bible would say that, so it is largely due to ignorance, but this is why a faithful representation of Scripture is so important. What was written then is still just as binding for us today.

My prayer for World Vision is that this rocks them so much that their personal convictions are awakened by the Holy Spirit to flow through the organizational convictions. I pray that they aren’t subjecting themselves to churches that have no conviction. I pray that the Bible is taken more seriously and personally, so that they will not consider it as separate from their business.

They will no doubt receive much negativity from the world for almost supporting them and then not, so this will not be an easy ride for them and may be what the Lord uses to shine the light brighter on purity in our country.

My prayer is that the leaders of World Vision don’t just feel a grief that is temporary and leads to death, but is a Godly grief that produces real repentance to salvation if it wasn’t there. How can we tell the difference?

“See what earnestness this Godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.” -2 Cor. 7:11-13

Why did Paul write his former corrective letter (1st Corinthians)?

Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief […]” (vvs. 8-9).

May it be so with World Vision.

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Monday, March 24, 2014

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Cannot Create a "Worship Atmosphere"

The title to this post deserves some explanation. Better yet, clarification.

Undoubtedly, we have all heard the term “worship atmosphere” or “worship environment” used when making decisions as to how the lights should be set or what style of music should be played and then how loud. All of these decisions must be made, but it is important to consider them separate from that of what worship actually is. This is my main thrust in all of these worship leading posts – remembering the real meaning of worship and who worshipers are when throwing the word around for so many other things.

While it is practically necessary to consider the options for lighting and what the music will sound like, I think it would do the Church some good to stop speaking about those decisions as if they will actually create some sort of tangible worship experience. To be more blunt, I think the thrust behind most music in churches today is to create an experience, rather than drive the minds and hearts and voices of men and women of God, to God. If the stress and mission of churches were to do the latter, then they would be talking much more about the lyrics in the songs, than the lighting in the sanctuary.

When we are making decisions on lighting (a very first-world issue) then we should be thinking practically about the greater good. Can all people see where they are going? Don’t forget that grandma and grandpa sometimes need all the help they can get to stay vertical. Don’t make it difficult for them for the sake of some preconceived notion that you are enhancing the quality or quantity of true worship(ers) with every decrease of wattage. We ought to be willing to give up our rights and freedoms for the sake of others. We would not suffer from it and we would only be benefiting others by it.

To think that we can actually make an environment more “worshipful” is a fallacy that our Lord made very clear when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. You see, when Jesus said that the time came for when God the Father was seeking true worshipers to worship in spirit and truth, He was saying this to directly and clearly correct the woman’s false view of worship, which was based on a notion that worship happened only at a physical place.

She said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (4:20).

In this passage, from verse 20 through 24, the word for worship is always proskuneo. In total, it is used about eight times. This word is where we get the word prostrate from. It means to bow, or kneel. It is a sign of reverence and showing someone honor and worth.

The woman said that their Samaritan fathers went to Mount Gerizim to physically bow down to God but that the Jews did the same thing in Jerusalem at their Temple.

It was at this point that Jesus said that the true worshipers (proskunetes) would proskuneo the Father in spirit and in truth. They could not just physically bow the knee and consider their act as sufficient in itself just because they showed up at the prescribed place. The true worshipers will show this reverence, honor and worth of God in their hearts, so that they will not be numbered with those who Isaiah said had mouths that drew near and lips that fronted honor, but their hearts were far from Him (Is. 29:13).

Where are the lights in this conversation? Was the time of day specified? The place? The frequency?

When something fills your heart and your mind and your soul and your strength, then it is indicative to what you worship. True worship means there is true reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28) and value ascribed to the true God defined in the Scriptures. To look again at John 4, Jesus also made clear that the Jews worshiped what they knew, at least, but the Samaritans worshiped what they did not know. That is unacceptable worship. This is why Jesus said that the true worshipers will worship in truth.

Your love and adoration of God can only be informed by God’s Word. The more you eat this eternal food, the more your heart will be full of it and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak, yes even sing (Lk. 6:45)!

This is why the lyrics in our music must also be based on truth. The lyrics are paramount! It unnerves me how little thought the lyrics are sometimes given when music is written and then selected. How many times do we hear a song and love it for the music more than for the theology? Admittedly, right theology put to really good music is one of the best compilations of all time. Bad theology put to good music is deceptive and heretical. Good theology put to bad music is a disservice to God and mockery of the theology. But accurate biblical theology put to good music – music that is easy to sing to and has a connotation of joy, is one of the sweetest gifts that God has given us to give back to Him over and over again. Our music must be based on truth – the truth of God’s written Word.

It is important to remember the fundamental definition of true worship so that we don’t con ourselves into thinking we can create an environment that can somehow stimulate it. The only thing that can stimulate true worship is the Word of God. It convicts us of sin and drives us to worship (1 Cor. 14:24). It humbles us and drives us to worship (Matt. 14:32). It gives us hope and drives us to ascribe praise and to worship (Ps. 119:7).

Only the people that come into our church building each week who have been feasting on the Word of God, the Bread of Life, will be the ones able to offer up true worship in song – even if the lights are turned all the way up! Perhaps there will be ones who walk in and though they couldn’t care less about the first couple of songs, they are convicted of sin through the means of the preaching of the Word of God and the next song sung is one that has never been sweeter in the mouth of that believer, or the ears of his God because it is finally out of a contrite and repentant heart.

There is nothing wrong with dimming lights, per se, but it can become wrong when we think we are producing more worshipers that way. Practically, people feel more comfortable singing in the dark. I can empathize with that. I’ve been there, but let me gently prod…  While it is indeed easier, is that a good thing to encourage? Shall we keep our light under a basket (Matt. 5:15) in our very own worship center?

In all corners of the globe, people are suffering real persecution and death for their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and only hope for salvation from sin and death. These people will whisper hymns with each other in a tight circle, hoping they are not caught and killed for it. These people will have bombs thrown through their windows of their meeting places and will lose their loved ones, but will continue living and serving the living and deserving God. These people worship God in spirit – the right heart – and truth – the Word of God.

May we do the same each and every week and not get caught up in the way our church looks, but in the way our church worships – in spirit and in truth.

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: What a Worshiper Actually Is


As a worship leader of five years now, I am constantly addressing and studying what the Bible says that worship is. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about it. Worship has such an overwhelming presence in the Scriptures that we would be remiss to never study it. From the first pages of Genesis to the last ones in Revelation, the topic of our worship of God is demanded to be heeded.

This topic is so vast and so worthy of the most intense scrutiny and deep exposition, but it is my goal to put forth some condensed truths about what the Bible says about worship that should force us to slow down when we use the word.

I am primarily speaking to those out there who are called “Worship Leaders” in your local Church. Those who pick up the guitar each Sunday and lead the band; Those who don the bench and address the keys and lead the choir; Those who stand solo with a song book, singing a capella; Those who would take the responsibility to handle the music in God’s Church for God’s people.

In this post, I hope to address this: As worship leaders, we need to step back and remember what a worshiper actually is.

This is important since we are claiming to be one and we intend to lead other worshipers in song, specifically, when songs do not sum up worship.

When God calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), He calls us from a state of sinful, disobedient worship to that of right worship – the worship of Himself. The Apostle Peter makes clear, as do all of the Apostles, that we have been sovereignly chosen by God to worship Him and to be obedient to Him as Lord. He says that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that “you were sanctified,” which means to be set apart from profane things and dedicated to God. He is speaking of God’s sovereign election and the act of regeneration by the Holy Spirit that cleanses us from all unrighteousness by the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: “You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

To be more succinct, we are either a child of God, or a child of the Devil.

The Apostle John does not mince words when he says, “make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:7-8). He’s not talking about a small cult; he’s talking about whoever doesn't live for God. As an aside, this perspective should spur our passion for evangelism.

God, speaking to the Israelites, says, “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them” (Deut. 11:16).

The correlation here is something that should be very clear: we are either saved by the grace of God, or we are not; we are either obedient to God, or we are not; we are either practicing righteousness, or we are practicing sin (as a lifestyle); we are either worshipers of God, or we are worshipers of the Devil – all that is wrong and false.

We either live to serve (Hebrew: abad) and worship (Hebrew: shachah – prostrate, bow down) God, or we are living to serve and worship another god, or even ourselves.

As Jesus said himself, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship (Greek: proskuneo – prostrate, bow down) the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve (Greek: latreuo). Latreuo is often translated as “worship” in the New Testament.

God makes clear in Deut. 30:20a what it means to flesh out the service and worship of Him: “By loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.”

The English word worship comes from the Anglo-Saxon word worth-ship, predating 900AD. It is a word that denotes the condition or character of worthiness. For someone to worship something or someone else is for them to ascribe a high degree of worth, or value. The word worship is most often understood in the context of religious adoration, veneration, reverence, or regard.

For us to worship the God of Heaven and Earth means we are condescending ourselves to hold God in the highest regard, in true humility, considering Him as being the pinnacle of all worth in our life and in existence itself. It is also a word that connotes submission to a lord. It is homage, which means deference, fidelity to, loyalty to, or obeisance – a French word, meaning to obey.

Understanding all of this makes it is easier to see that a Christian, one who is sovereignly called by God, is defined as a worshiper of God.

The Apostle Paul said to the Roman church, “Let not sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (6:12-13).

He goes on to explain this in verse 16: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Then, making the distinction even more clear, he says: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (17-18).

The language of worship is in here. One who is an obedient, reverent servant, or slave, of someone else is a worshipper of that person. “Worship” is not a holy term in itself. It just describes the relationship of the humble with their lord. For the Christian, we recognize our depravity, then experience God’s sovereign grace, and submit ourselves in reverence and awe to the Lord of lords who saved us.

A Christian is a regenerated soul.

A regenerated soul is a God-worshiping soul.

A Christian is a worshiper of God.

When we step onto the platform to lead worshipers in music, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not creating worship. We’re not leading the only worship they will see or hear that week. They bring their acts of worship with them, having already been converted to worshipers when their faith in Christ was established by the grace of God.

As “Worship Leaders” we must step back and remember what a worshiper is. This will decrease the temptation for us to try and create a vibe or mood with lights and synth sounds that we think will somehow help people worship. It doesn’t work that way.

We are only providing the music and the melody for the worshipers to give to God what they already have – a heart changed by Him.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ken Ham & Bill Nye: What We Need to Remember Going into the Debate


A rigorous, robust debate can be a good and even helpful thing. Two opposing sides purposely positioned to give a respectable appeal to their position and to allow the other side to respectfully counter the arguments with hopefully substantial and thought-provoking data.

However, the debate that many of us will watch tonight between Ken Ham, President of Answers In Genesis, and Bill Nye, known as “The Science Guy”, and a reputable science educator and television host, is one that can easily overstimulate both sides of the so-called Creationism/Evolution debate if we’re not careful.

Here’s how…

Christians know the truth about creation because we believe that what God has revealed in His Word is true, like everything else in Scripture. It is at this point where we differ vastly from an unGodly world. We also don’t expect the world to come to grips with this as our society as a whole has become very good at pushing God out of the public discourse altogether, though we constantly strive to convince the world that it needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ from sin and its eternal consequences.

That being said – that we believe what God said in Scripture is true – we must remember one thing: Creation, quite simply, was a miracle. Creation can’t be proven empirically because none of us were there. Creation can’t be proven by science at all because the Creation of everything as we know it was an unrepeatable event.

Science is the diligent study that uses systematic observation and experiment. Clearly, science can’t touch the Creation event.

Can science reveal the wonders and complexities of the world and universe and how they function? Absolutely. But this is merely man articulating in finite ways, the infinite splendor of God’s creation. Science is only here because God gave us something to work with. It will always give us even more ways to be in awe of God.

Ken Ham may be able to give stunning evidence as to how impossible it is to believe evolution and how we can only be enraptured with the glorious God of Heaven and Earth, but he will not be able to prove Creation. Additionally, let’s say that Ham has an off day…a Bronco’s kind of day…and can’t execute one sentence without fumbling something. This may win Bill Nye a rhetoric award, but it has no bearing on the facts of science, or the firm, fixed facts of Scripture.

We must not get caught up in the emotion of rhetoric and eloquence. We must discern the truth.

Additionally, believing God is an act of faith that is granted to us (2 Pet. 1:3).
 
“Faith comes from hearing,” the Apostle Paul says, “and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). And as the author of Hebrews states, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (11:1).

Not only did Moses pen the account of Creation by the inspiration of God, but the Psalms recognize it as well:

“The world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them” (89:11-12).

“He commanded and [the moon, shining stars, highest heavens, waters above the heavens] were created” (148:5).

Even still, listen to God’s blistering remarks to Job, proving again that only God knows the history of the Earth:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements […] Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone” (38:4-6)?

About 70 creation-specific, humbling verses later, Job replies, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4).

It doesn’t matter how well Bill Nye or Ken Ham articulate evidence. Creation or evolution won’t be proven tonight, but I do know that Ken Ham is seeking to show that one must not sacrifice their intellect in order to believe God’s account in Genesis. This is something that is worth talking about because too often, people think you have to ignore science to believe in God, but that can’t be further from the truth.

Real science will never be at odds with Scripture, but it will also never be able to comprehend supernatural miracles. Science has always had a limit. Though we can see smaller microbes now and further galaxies than ever before, there has never been a wall we have reached where the beginning of all things is understood. We will never get there. It goes forever. Scientists will always have a job.

Science is helpful for us in very practical ways, but our infinite God created science. Science does not create Him.

Let us remember that this debate will not satisfy the age-old debate of who God is. It will not put an end to the momentum of either side, but hopefully God will be glorified tonight by the faithfulness of Ken Ham to point us to Scripture and to show us that what we can observe and experiment will only confirm our faith in our glorious creator God even more.

Pray for Ken Ham tonight.
For the live stream of the event, follow this link: http://debatelive.org/

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sovereignty, 2b: Immutable Attributes - Does God "Change" If He Is Merciful One Moment and Just the Next?


We saw in our last post that God’s very essence cannot and will not ever change. He cannot be greater than He already is and He will never depreciate in any way, even from within Himself in what could be thought of as a neutral or lateral change. It is as simple as the fact that we do change. Just as simple as that is, we ought to be able to understand that God simply doesn’t change, nor is he susceptible or vulnerable to change by any external force – neither death, life, angels, powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to change God. That is why none of these things will be able to separate us from his love – His adoring attribute, as detailed in Romans 8:31-39.

How can we know for sure that the attributes of God don’t change? Is that to mean He feels all emotions at the same time like someone who never knows what to feel at the right time? Not exactly. Is it that he does change in one regard if he shifts from a judgmental disposition to a merciful one? Or a condemning one to a commending one? Wouldn’t these attributes be manifested differently depending on the prayers of the saints, or the circumstances with which men find themselves in?

These questions are based on flawed assumptions. If God was not omniscient or omnipotent, then perhaps He would have to re-­act to circumstances, rather than having been pro-active in determining the circumstances in the first place. Further, if God had a will that could be imposed on by ours, then perhaps prayers would actually change His mind rather than Him causing men to pray within the eternal will of His immutable Self. That men have actually reversed the original intention of God through prayer has never happened, nor will it. For a helpful look at the point of prayer, in light of God’s eternality, omniscience and immutability, see my post: “If God’s Will Doesn’t Change, Is Prayer Pointless?”

The study of God’s sovereignty is no small chore and if we could sum up everything about God and His sovereignty in a series of blog posts, then He clearly wouldn’t be an infinite and eternal God. However, we know He is! And so, we take what has once for all been delivered down to us to see what the Holy Spirit has revealed in the pages of Scripture, which is sufficient to equip thoroughly and to build up the body of Christ, so that we may know God and have life in His Name.

A diligent study of God’s nature and character will only elevate our thoughts about God, which is what the Church desperately needs. The higher the mountain of our thoughts and belief of God, the more impossible it will be for the Devil-pricked philosophies and mentalities to scale it. Our thoughts of God could never be too high. As A. W. Tozer rightly said, “The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” This moves us to study Scripture, so that our opinions of God are accurate, being Biblically based. Tozer believed that there were answers in Scripture that were both full and satisfying saying, “While the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These we call His attributes.”

So the question of the day is: Can God’s attributes change?

In order to approach this properly, we need to remember God’s eternality. He was here before all creation and time as He was the Creator that made it happen. Speaking of the oneness of God the Father with the Son, the Apostle Paul said that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Paul’s conclusion? “That in everything He might be preeminent” (Col. 1:15-18). That is to say, first in, or before, all things, be it succession, rank, time, etc.

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “From the power of God we are naturally led to consider his eternity, since that from which all other things derive their origin must necessarily be self-existent and eternal” (Book 1, Chap. 5, Sec. 6).

God has also made it known to us that He has a predetermined plan in the world (Eph. 1:4; Acts 17:26). This will continue to come up through our studies, as it should, for God would certainly not be able to have a predetermined plan if He were subject to change in any way. By the very nature of God – His omniscience, omnipotence and immutability – we are forced into the corner of recognition that God would have to have a predetermined plan for everything with that kind of sovereignty. Being all-knowing alone demands it. He either knows everything that is going to happen, or He doesn’t know everything. The only way for any being to have knowledge of all future events, is to orchestrate them itself. Such it is with God.

All at once, God is all. He is all of His attributes all at once, which is why we sing of Him being our All in All! The Latin word for “all” is “Omni”, hence the way in which we describe His attributes. This is about as good as a finite mind could express our God of infiniteness. And being that God is eternal, having always been in existence without having been created by anything, we can count on the fact that God will remain eternal and immutably so – without any variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).

All of this must be established in order to have a chance at understanding and believing that the more specific attributes of God are also immutable, such as His mercy & justice, love & wrath, etc. How can God be unchangeable if He, Himself, being these things (i.e. God is love), is also someone who exercises justice and sends unrepentant sinners to Hell? Does He shift a few degrees to the left or right depending on the situation? Isn’t that considered a type of change?

This only seems impossible to answer if our assumption is that mercy and justice are always at odds with each other and cannot coexist fully at the same time. God is always a God of mercy and of justice and, as A. W. Pink once said, His sovereignty determines how it is exercised, for He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Ex. 33:19 & Rom. 9:15-18). Where we must stop in our attempt at explaining God is in demanding an answer to “why?” from God. As Paul says about this very temptation, “Who are you, oh man, to answer back to God” (Rom. 9:20)?

This difficult reconciliation of justice and mercy can be better explained in this way: If God were only a God of justice and not a God of mercy, we would all be sent to Hell. Our sin has easily earned us a spot there. If God were only a God of mercy and not of justice, then sin would never be punished and all of human-kind would suffer immensely since the only way to know what justice looks like is to have it existent in the ultimate Judge. The problem of sin would never be rectified since it could never be dealt with…only winked at by God – an absurd possibility! God must be just and merciful all at the same time according to His will. Having mercy on a few does not mean He is not all-merciful based on the fact that all of human kind did not receive mercy; rather He is all-merciful to the few He chose.
 
Let’s not stop there. Even in God’s selection of whom He has mercy unto eternal life, it would not be right to say that not one person has every experienced the mercy of God, for when the punishment for sin is death, it is obvious in our wicked world that many reprobate minds are experiencing a temporal mercy of God in the time they have to repent of sin. Paul warns us, though, in Romans, not to presume on this gracious gift:

“Do you suppose, O man […] that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:3-5).

You see? Even the wicked experience the grace and mercy of God – every day they aren’t rightly killed by Him. God is indeed all-merciful and just, all at the same time.

Calvin also commented on this temporal mercy of God: “When any one crime calls forth visible manifestations of His anger, it must be because He hates all crimes; and, on the other hand, his leaving many crimes unpunished, only proves that there is a judgment in reserve, when the punishment now delayed shall be inflicted. In like manner, how richly does He supply with the means of contemplating his mercy, when, as frequently happens, he continues to visit miserable sinners with unwearied kindness, until He subdues their depravity, and woos them back with more than a parent’s fondness?”

Jonathan Edwards once said: “This world is all the Hell that a true Christian is to ever endure, and it is all the Heaven that unbelievers shall ever enjoy.” How true it is when we are extended life when it is not deserved. It should be the conviction of every true Christian to tell people about the temporary mercy of God they are already getting, but the coming Judgment that will once and for all come down on anyone who doesn’t yield to God’s kindness leading us to repentance. Christ was the substitutionary death for us!

Tozer talked about the archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, and his findings when studying the justice and mercy of God. According to Tozer, “Anselm’s findings may be paraphrased this way: God’s being is unitary; it is not composed of a number of parts working harmoniously, but simply one. There is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy. To think of God as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law, sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner wholly unworthy of the true God. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God is in conflict with another.”

I will end this segment with another human example. There is a story of then Governor George W. Bush who had a difficult decision on his hands as a professing Christian in public office. A middle aged female criminal was tried and found guilty of serious crimes warranting the death penalty. While on death row, in prison, she allegedly placed in her faith in Christ, repenting of her sin and obvious immorality. Some of the public desired to see her released as she seemed to have been genuinely saved by God. Even Bush’s own family urged him to let her go. In Bush’s conviction of justice and mercy, He did not lift the penalty. He stated it was his responsibility to exercise justice as the Governor in power, but that if she was a Christian she would only experience the eternal mercy of God sooner than she ever thought.

Everyone experiences some level of mercy and grace of God, but it is to allow us time to repent of sin and start living obedient lives to God in anticipation of the glory of Heaven where God’s mercy is shown in the presence of His people and His justice is satisfied and shown in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who graciously paid the penalty of sin for us. This drives the saints to their knees in thankfulness and worship. It is surely in the marvelous truth of God's immutability that we can find peace that surpasses understanding!

To be continued…