Tag Archives: Christianity

The Faithful Witness

28 Feb
Have you ever been perplexed by the great number of English Bible versions? Have you wondered which one you should choose as your primary study Bible?

In the span of just a few generations more than a hundred English Bible versions have become available. The King James Version (KJV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), Today’s English Version (TEV), New English Bible (NEB), Jerusalem Bible (JB), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New International Version (NIV) are just a few of the most popular ones in use today.

Each version has strong points and weak points. No version is perfect. But this does not mean that our choice of a study Bible is not important. The Bible is God’s chosen medium of communicating with man, and we should use the best version we can find for studying the deep truths of His Word. But which version is most reliable and how can we identify it?

Many scholars evaluate Bible versions following a naturalistic method. We, however, will use a faith-oriented approach that also takes into consideration scholarly evidence. We will compare various versions to the biblical description of the inspired Word of God. The version that best fits this description will be our Bible of choice.

The Word of God is described in several places in the Scriptures. Romans 10:17 provides us with the first notable characteristic: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The inspired Word of God establishes and builds our faith. It is our firm foundation, and as we sincerely study it, our confidence in God and His Word will grow. “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). He is, however, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2); thus a characteristic of His Word is that it builds our faith.

A second characteristic can be found in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” From this, it is clear that the sacred Word gives a pure account of doctrine and instruction for one’s life. It is not adulterated by man’s opinions or teachings.

The last characteristic of the Word of God that we will review is found in 1 Peter 1:23: “The word of God … liveth and abideth for ever.” The Scriptures were given by inspiration of God and have been preserved for use by God’s people in every age. They have not been hidden away from mankind but have been a visible, convicting, living part of the Christian church. Not only have they abided in the hearts of men, but faithful copies of the Scriptures have been passed on from one generation to another. Time and again both Jesus and Paul affirmed the accuracy of the Scriptures by widely quoting from them. Never did they warn that the Word would be corrupted or lost. Instead Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Even during the Dark Ages, the Holy Scriptures were not lost. Revelation 11:3, 4 tell us that during the 1,260 years of papal supremacy, the two witnesses—the Old and New Testaments—still prophesied powerfully.

Psalm 12:6, 7 says, “The words of the Lord are pure words. … Thou shalt keep them, 0 Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” We can clearly see that the Scriptures have been divinely preserved right down to our generation.

In summary, the Bible describes the Word of God as having the following characteristics:

  1. It does not cause confusion or doubt, but builds our faith.
  2. It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
  3. It has been divinely preserved and has had an active role within the church throughout every age.

Having set forth these characteristics from Scripture, let us compare the various Bible versions to them.

 

The Word of God Builds Faith

 

The first characteristic of the inspired Word of God is that it builds our faith. To one extent or another this is true of every Bible version. Through the aid of the Holy Spirit, points essential to salvation are brought home, and many people can relate their conversions to one Bible version or another. But there is still a broader aspect of this subject that should be examined.

What general effect has the proliferation of Bible versions had on people’s faith in the Word of God? Of course this is something that cannot be precisely measured, for there are many factors that influence society. However, we can generally observe the difference between people’s attitude toward the Bible today compared to their attitudes when there was only one accepted version.

When the KJV was the primary Bible used, ministers strongly preached from it and laity eagerly committed its words to memory. As a sacred book, it was highly respected. Faith in God and the authority of His Word were paramount.

Today, however, there is quite a different outlook. Faith in God and the Scriptures is at an all-time low. Many people have lost their respect for the Scriptures. Ministers no longer preach the Word, but instead deliver philosophical sermons on the general “message” of Scriptures. And rarely do laity commit Bible texts to memory. An epidemic of ignorance concerning the most basic Bible content is plaguing even churchgoing youth. 1

Have the modern versions contributed to this lamentable condition? Let’s consider several ways that modern versions may have encouraged such a situation.

First, there has been wide promotion in recent years of versions using “modern speech.” Although these versions are helpful to some people, they lack the dignity that fosters reverence and special regard for the Scriptures. The Bible is an ancient, divine volume, but when it is fashioned like a common book, it gets treated like one. A study of the Good News Bible (TEV) indicated that university students “first devoured it because as they said, it read just like a newspaper. But later they had little interest in going back to it—for the same reason!” 2

Second, modern versions have not lent themselves to memorization. When everyone was using the KJV, frequent repetition of the same wording was heard which helped fix it in the mind. Now, however, verses are read from versions which vary so much that they are scarcely recognized as the same passage. People just cannot seem to decide which version to memorize.

Third, when you start using a modern version, it may not be long before you notice differences between it and the more familiar KJV. In turning to Luke 4:8, you will find that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, His command “Get thee behind me, Satan” is not recorded. There is not even a footnote to mark its omission. Similarly, you may find yourself wondering whatever happened to Jesus’ call of sinners “to repentance” (Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:13) or to the last line of the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:13).

Another look at most modern versions uncovers additional perplexities. In the RSV, MV, and NEB, you will find a footnote to Luke 23:34 indicating that some ancient manuscripts omit Jesus’ saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Immediately it raises the question, “Did Jesus really say that?” It appears that scholars question it, so why shouldn’t you?

A comparison of the modern versions with the KJV reveals over two hundred cases in which a verse’s authenticity is seriously questioned either by complete omission or by footnote. The most pronounced of these are John 7:53-8:11 (John’s account of the woman caught in adultery) and Mark 16:9-20 (Mark’s account of the appearance and ascension of Jesus). Footnotes and marginal readings can be helpful, but is it possible that modern scholarship has overwhelmed the Bible student with a plethora of critical readings varying from version to version?

Later we will look at a major cause of omissions. But for now, it can be postulated that the proliferation of versions has weakened the faith people once had in the authority of the Scriptures.

Soon after the publication of the most popular 19th century Bible version, an article in the Catholic Dublin Review made this startling claim: “The ‘Bible-only’ principle is proved to be false. It is now at length too evident that Scripture is powerless without the [Catholic] Church as the witness to its inspiration, the safeguard of its integrity, and the exponent of its meaning. And it will now be clear to all men which is the true church, the real Mother to whom the Bible of right belongs.” 3

This is a sobering thought. Protestantism itself has no grounds for existence apart from a strong faith in the Word of God. If Protestants stop viewing the Bible as the sure Word of God, in a crisis, what “authority” will they look to?

To summarize our findings, we see that all versions can fit the biblical characteristic of building faith. However, a question arises regarding the effect the proliferation of modern versions has had on people’s confidence in the authority of Scripture.

 

God’s Word is Profitable for Doctrine

 

Our second characteristic of the Word of God is that it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. This important characteristic of the Word of God is conditional upon the reader allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal truth. The Spirit must not be hampered either by one’s own bias or by someone else’s.

Every Bible version contains bias from its translators; the degree depends on the methods used in translating. The freer the translation, the greater the possibility of bias, and the less reliable the version is for study purposes. A paraphrase, like the Living Bible, is not a good study Bible. A paraphrase is largely an interpretation of Scripture—which by definition must be influenced by the author’s personal beliefs.

Dynamic translations like the NEB, TEV, and Phillips are also not recommended as study Bibles. 4 These Bibles are translated by giving what is assumed to be the meaning of what the Bible writers wrote. Although they are very readable, you cannot be certain that you are reading any more than the translator’s own idea of the passage.

The best method of translation for a study Bible is formal translation. 5 The KJV, RSV and NASB are examples. 6 These translations try to convey the meaning of a passage, while at the same time preserving the words of the original. When there is a noun in the original, a formal translation will generally have a corresponding noun in the English, a verb will have a verb, et cetera. While this method may still leave the translation of a few passages obscure or ambiguous, the reader at least has before him a more literal translation of the words of the original. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, he will be able to discern the meaning for himself. The KJV and NASB give us further help by italicizing any words which the translators felt necessary to insert into a passage to make the meaning clear.

Versions translated formally are far less likely to have been influenced by the personal doctrinal bias of the translators and they more closely fit our second characteristic of the inspired Word.

When using various translations to teach doctrine, you will find that some doctrines are more easily taught from one version than another. But all doctrines common to the Christian faith can be found in every version. Generally, however, the KJV presents many doctrines more clearly than other versions. This is especially true of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. It should also be noted that it is much harder to prove the deity of Christ when using modern versions. A short time ago I attended a meeting held by a group of young people who seemed to be avid Bible students. I was amazed to find that they denied the deity of Christ and supported their positions by referring to textual renderings from various modern versions.

Between all the modern versions, you will find that nearly every verse proving the deity of Christ has been altered in one or the other versions. (See 1 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 3:9, and Romans 14:10,12 in the RSV, NEB, NASB, TEV, NIV, and JB; and Acts 20:28 and Romans 9:5 in the RSV, NEB, and TEV.) It is apparent that there has been a fundamental change in translations since the KJV. With that in mind, we now turn to a discussion of our last characteristic of the inspired Word of God.

 

Providential Preservation of Scripture

 

Our final characteristic is the most revealing. It says that the Word of God has been divinely preserved and has had an active role within the church throughout every age. Before we delve into this discussion, it is necessary to gain a little background information.

When looking into the history of the biblical text, we must be aware that the original manuscripts were written in the common languages of their day. Basically, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The first manuscripts of the Bible, written by the inspired authors, are no longer in existence. Only copies of copies remain as witnesses to their original words. When these copies are compared with one another, several hundred thousand differences can be noted. Most of the variants are misspellings or other obvious errors 7, but thousands of other variants must be closely evaluated.

To help evaluate variant readings, scholars have divided the manuscripts into text-types, i.e., groups of manuscripts containing similar readings. Throughout the years, scholars have examined the existing manuscripts, considered their various readings, and have constructed their own Greek or Hebrew text which they believe accurately represents the readings of the original manuscripts.

When a translation is to be produced, scholars either choose existing Greek and Hebrew texts from which to translate, or they formulate their own text.

The text of the Old Testament has been essentially settled 8 since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament text, however, has been the cause of much heated debate. For the past hundred years there has been a rivalry between two Greek texts—the Received Text 9 and the Critical Text. 10

The Received Text was derived primarily from the Byzantine text-type and includes texts published by Erasmus, Stephens, Beza, and Elzevir. The New Testament of the King James Version is a translation of this Greek text.

The Critical Text is derived primarily from the Alexandrian text-type and includes such published texts as the United Bible Society, Nestle-Aland, and Westcott-Hort. The New Testaments of most modern versions such as the RSV, TEV, NEB, and NASB are translated from these critical texts.

A Bible version is considered only as good as the text from which it is translated. 11 Therefore we must determine which Greek text is superior—the Received Text or the Critical Text. This may sound like an impossible task for someone without a background in textual criticism. But by following the biblical teaching of preservation, we will not find it difficult. The preferred Greek text must be one which has played an active role within the church throughout every age.

The Critical Text has received wide acclaim within the past hundred years, as evidenced by the large number of Bible versions translated from it. As stated above, its readings are largely influenced by the Alexandrian line of manuscripts (or text-type). Out of over 5,000 Greek manuscripts in existence, only a small handful (often less than ten) contain this text-type. 12 However, prominent among these few are two manuscripts which many scholars value more highly than most other manuscripts. They are called Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and they date a little over 200 years from the original writings. 13

Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844 by Constantine Tischendorf while visiting St. Catherine, a monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai. He found 43 leaves of it in a basket just before it was to be burned. 14 Several years later he acquired the remainder of the leaves from the monastery, and by 1862 he had published the complete manuscript.

Vaticanus’ history is not as dramatic as Sinaiticus. Pope Nicholas V brought it to the Vatican in 1448. 15 For hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church guarded it so closely that no Protestant scholar of ability was allowed to study it for any length of time. 16 Those who were granted permission to look at the manuscript were searched to assure they didn’t have paper or ink. Then if they were caught looking too closely at any passage, two attendants would snatch the manuscript from them! 17 In 1866, however, the Vatican finally allowed Constantine Tischendorf, under supervision, to copy the manuscript. In 1867 he published it.

Realizing that these old manuscripts contained significantly different readings than those of the Received Text, Tischendorf was jubilant. He believed that his efforts had at last restored the inspired Word of God to mankind after having been lost for 1,500 years.

In Tischendorf’s time, the New Testament had been in existence for approximately 1,700 years. The Alexandrian Text had been out of circulation for 1,500 of these years. If the Alexandrian Text is the pure form of the New Testament text, then it would mean that the church was deprived of its benefits for 88 percent of the time since it was written! Such an idea is strangely out of step with the biblical description of the inspired Word of God. The Scriptures have been alive and abiding in God’s church throughout the ages. They have never been lost, only to be discovered in a wastepaper basket or lying on a forgotten shelf in the Vatican. In addition, the “benefits” of the Alexandrian Text to the church have been dubious indeed.

Not only does this text-type not meet our biblical standard of accurately representing the Word of God, but it has trouble meeting scholarly standards for accuracy of transcription. Minor differences within text-types are normal; however, the number of variants within the Alexandrian Text is enormous. Not including minor errors such as spelling, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other over 3,000 times in the space of the four Gospels alone. 18 This means that one or the other must be wrong 3,000 times. That averages to a disagreement on almost every verse of the Gospels! It is, in fact easier to find two consecutive verses in which these two manuscripts differ the one from the other, than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree. 19

Undoubtedly these manuscripts suffer from scribal carelessness. Vaticanus exhibits numerous places where the scribe has written the same word or phrase twice in succession, 20 a clear indication that the writing was not checked. The scribe of Sinaiticus occasionally skipped lines in copying and made so many obvious errors that during the time Sinaiticus was used, ten different readers noted corrections. 21 However, instead of questioning the reliability of these manuscripts, scholars have accepted many of their peculiar readings. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are the basis for most of the two hundred omissions from the modern New Testament versions mentioned earlier in this booklet.

For several years the Alexandrian Text was blindly considered to be a pure or “neutral” representation of the original text of the Bible writers. But recent scholarship has confirmed that what has been restored should not be considered the original text, but simply the text that had the highest authority in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century. 22 Alexandria, Egypt, an area to which none of the original manuscripts were addressed, 23 has little claim upon our confidence as possessing a pure text. A look into the history of Alexandria, especially during the time these manuscripts are believed to have been produced, is quite revealing.

Alexandria, a great center of commerce and Helenistic culture, was renowned for its schools of philosophy. Philosophical teachings permeated the community—including the Christian church. Christian “thinkers” regarded Greek philosophy as a tool for understanding and applying Scripture, and like the pagans around them, they started a school which became the main focus and stimulus of their intellectual and spiritual life. The leaders of the school were usually experts in Greek philosophy, and they greatly influenced the theology of the Christians in Alexandria.

One of the most notable leaders of this school was Origen. Origen studied deeply into Platonism and Stoicism, seeking to harmonize their philosophic principles with the Scriptures. To do so, he allegorized the Scriptures—a process that allowed him to interpret them any way he wished. Further, he questioned the authenticity of certain portions of Scripture that did not conform to his own idiosyncratic beliefs. His teachings not only promoted a critical attitude toward the Scriptures, but they helped breed numerous heresies in Alexandria, including the doctrine of Arianism. 24

The Arian controversy centered around the nature of Christ. The Arians taught that Christ was a created being, while the conservatives of the day taught that Christ was eternal, wholly uncreated, and equal with the Father. For over sixty years the controversy raged. Just when it looked as if one side had won, the other side would rise to dominance.

Constantine, the great mixer of paganism and Christianity, was emperor when the controversy began in A.D. 320. More interested in politics than pure religion, Constantine favored whichever side seemed to his advantage. At first, Constantine exiled the Arian leaders, but three years later (A.D. 328), he not only welcomed their return but made one of them his personal advisor. 25

It was during this upsurge of Arianism that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are believed to have been produced. 26 Several scholars believe that they may be identified with two of fifty Bibles that Constantine ordered to be prepared in A.D. 331. 27 Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were both written on parchments of vellum by talented calligraphers, a very expensive specification included in Constantine’s order. 28

Constantine called upon Eusebius of Caesarea to be in charge of the preparation of the Bibles. Eusebius is well known as an enthusiastic admirer of Origen, and was inclined to favor the Arians. If such a one was in charge of preparing these manuscripts, it is no wonder the Critical Text—and consequently nearly every modern version—lacks fervent support for the deity of Christ. If Eusebius used any of the critical skills of his mentor, he was likely to dissect the Scriptures, thinking he was correcting them. This may explain some of the omissions characteristic of the Alexandrian Text and likewise of most modern versions.

Other obviously careless omissions in these manuscripts may have been because Constantine’s order required extreme haste in accomplishing the work. Repeatedly, Constantine urged Eusebius to press the project with all speed. Corrections would not only be costly but time-consuming, and few were likely made. 29

Of course, without further documentation, no one can be certain of the exact history of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. But it seems likely that they were affected by the philosophical schools of Alexandria. Whether through Eusebius, other misguided critics, or one of the countless heretics that Alexandria bred, 30 it is apparent that the Alexandrians’ attempt to “correct” the Scriptures failed. Within 200 years this text-type fell into discredit and disuse. 31

It is interesting to realize that several of the omissions and peculiar readings of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were once found only in Roman Catholic Bibles. Dr. Benjamin G. Wilkinson, history professor and late president of Washington Missionary College, has proposed that Jerome, a great admirer of both Origen and Eusebius, transmitted many Eusebio-Origen errors into the Latin Vulgate. 32 The Latin Vulgate has been the recognized Bible of Catholics for centuries. The English Rheims-Douay version is translated from it. History is replete with episodes of violence wrought by the Catholic Church against all who did not receive the Latin Vulgate. To deny their Scriptures was to deny the Church’s self-appointed authority. When the modern versions began to appear with several readings previously propagated only in Catholic Bibles, Thomas S. Preston of St. Ann’s Church of New York was recorded in Dr. Warfields’ Collection of Opinions and Reviews as saying, “It is to us a gratification to find that in very many instances they have adopted the reading of the Catholic Version, and have thus by their scholarship confirmed the correctness of our [Catholic] Bible.” 33

In summary, we find that the Critical Text hardly fits the biblical description of the Sacred Text. It is based on a text-type that lay idle for 1,500 years except for some renderings retained within the Catholic Church. In addition, the text reflects the Arian views prominent in the fourth century in Alexandria, and it contains numerous omissions likely due to misguided editing and careless copying.

An examination of the Received Text, on the other hand, yields quite a different story. Unlike the small number of manuscripts supporting the Alexandrian Text, the Received Text is derived from the Byzantine text-type which is represented in 80 to 90 percent of all Greek manuscripts. 34 That amounts to approximately 4,000 witnesses! Dotted over hundreds of years, these witnesses come from many different places—Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Alexandria, other parts of Africa, not to mention Sicily, southern Italy, Gaul, England, and Ireland. 35 This is quite a contrast to the limited locality and time-range of the Alexandrian Text.

Although none of the Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type date before A.D. 400, most scholars agree that in order for this text-type to be so widespread and predominant among the Greek manuscripts, it had to have a much earlier existence. 36 Indeed, distinctive Byzantine readings are found in all of the oldest versions, 37 in the papyri, 38 and in the Scriptural quotations of the early church fathers. 39 In numerous places the Byzantine text-type can be shown to be as early or earlier than any text-type. 40 It was the authoritative Scriptures of the Syrian church, the Waldensian church of northern Italy, and the Greek Orthodox Church. Wilkinson’s study also suggests the Byzantine text-type was the Scriptures of such early churches as the Celtic church in Scotland and Ireland, and the Gallic church in southern France. 41

During the Dark Ages, apostasy seemed almost to swallow up Christendom, but God still had a people with whom His Word would live and abide forever. As the true church fled into the wilderness (Revelation 12:6, 14), it resisted error and clung to the Scriptures. Prominent among these faithful believers were the Waldensians, who used a Latin translation of Byzantine manuscripts dating back to A.D.157. 42 Traveling about as merchants and peddlers, they quietly passed on their precious hand-copied portions of Scripture.

When Greek language and literature once again began to be studied, Europe awoke as from the dead after 1,000 years of darkness. A revival of learning ensued and God raised up a man to lay the foundation of the mightiest reformatory movement in history. Erasmus was endowed with such a giant intellect that he could do ten hours of work in one. He amazed Europe with his prodigious scholarship. Ten columns in the catalogue of the library of the British Museum are taken up with the works he translated, edited or annotated. 43 In addition, he was a prolific writer. A reformer at heart, Erasmus wrote several books that rocked Europe by exposing the ignorance of the monks, the superstitions of the priesthood, and the bigoted, coarse religion of the day. 44 Of all his publications, however, his crowning work was the New Testament in Greek. This was the first scholarly attention paid to the Greek text of the New Testament in over a thousand years. A later revision of this Greek text became known as the Textus Receptus or Received Text.

When Erasmus prepared his Greek New Testament, there were hundreds of manuscripts for him to examine, and his wide travels certainly permitted him to do so. But after much study, he chose to use but a few representative manuscripts. These manuscripts, like the vast bulk of all New Testament Greek manuscripts, were of the Byzantine text-type—the same text-type that had been preserved and used by the church in the wilderness. This was no coincidence. Through the publication of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, God’s providence was preparing the way for the many subsequent translations that would guide His true Church as two-thirds of Europe broke away from the Catholic Church in the Great Protestant Reformation.

As the torch of truth was passed on to the Reformation, we find version after version translated from the Received Text. Luther, that great giant of the Reformation, used a Waldensian Bible and Erasmus Greek text (the Received Text) in producing his German translation of the New Testament. Similarly based were Olivetan’s French translation, Diodati’s Italian translation, and Tyndale’s English translation. 45

When the time was right, God’s providence directed for an English translation to be produced that would sum up the best of all ages. With Erasmus’ Greek text, several Waldensian-influenced Bibles, and the literary excellence of Tyndale, 46 forty-seven scholars produced the King James Version of 1611.

The translators of the KJV were men of spiritual integrity as well as outstanding scholars. The general chairman of the project was Lancelot Andrews, one of the greatest linguists of his day. Known to spend five hours a day in prayer, his personal piety was unquestioned. Even the usually arrogant King James had great respect for him. Although these men did not all agree doctrinally, they all had reverent regard for the divine inspiration of Scripture. In addition, the translating was engineered so that no one man would have undue influence upon any portion of Scripture. Every part of the work was reviewed critically at least fourteen times.

With the Old Testament based on the Masoretic text-type and the New Testament based on the Byzantine text-type, the work was accomplished just in time for it to be carried by our pilgrim fathers to America where for three hundred years it became the “authorized” Scriptures for millions of English-speaking people in the New World. In addition, it has been the Bible of every English-speaking country on the face the globe. It has been the guide of conduct to men and women in every class of life and of every rank in learning and education. So deeply has its language entered into our common tongue, that one probably could not take up a newspaper or read a single book in which some phrase was not borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, from the KJV. The wide and positive influence of the Authorized Version cannot be exaggerated. 47

The New Testament Scriptures of the early church, the wilderness church, the Reformation church, and the Scriptures of our founding fathers were all in essence the Received Text. The blood of martyrs has been shed over it, nations have been founded upon it, and divine providence has protected it. The Received Text is the Greek text that has played an active role in the church through-out the ages, and as such it best fits our third characteristic of the inspired Word of God.

 

A Dramatic change in Scholarship

 

The contrast between the Received Text and the Critical Text is overwhelming, yet the Critical Text has held an honored position in the scholarly world in recent years. The preface to the Revised Standard Version will tell you that since “we now possess many more ancient manuscripts” (i.e., primarily Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), we “are far better equipped to seek to recover the original wording of the Greek text.” It will also tell you that the Greek text of the King James Version “was marred by mistakes.” You may wonder how scholars came to such conclusions about the highly respected authorized version. To understand, we must go back in history about 100 years.

The last half of the 19th century brought many changes to the world. While great truths such as the Sabbath and the three angels’ messages were being proclaimed, grievous errors such as spiritualism, evolution, and Marxism were on the rise. Just as these false movements sought to dethrone God as the creator of the universe, critical scholars were trying to discredit the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Disregarding the providential care of the biblical text, men began to analyze it as they would any ancient piece of literature. Foremost among such men were Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort.

Westcott and Hort were both Cambridge professors well known in the field of textual criticism. These men shared several points of interest, including a fascination with the theory of evolution. But the one conviction that most closely united the two men was a prejudiced animosity for the Received Text. Dr. Hort was only twenty-three years old and had not yet even studied textual criticism when he described the Received Text as “villainous” and “vile.” 48 In spite of the unorthodoxy of these men, their scholarship has exerted a molding influence upon the distinctive readings of the modern versions.

In 1890 a major revision of the KJV was being considered. By this time, spelling and grammar had changed and many of the Old English words used in the KJV were considered obscure in meaning. Some critics believed that increased scholarship and the recent availability of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus necessitated a revision. Although there was much fear and distrust of revision in the public mind, it was sanctioned under the condition that no changes be made in the KJV except as were absolutely necessary. 49 Fifty-four men, including Westcott and Hort, were asked to be on the Revision Committee, and they began what should have been a short work.

A grueling ten years later, the committee introduced to an astonished public what amounted to a totally new translation based upon a Greek text different than the Received Text. The Revised Version of 1881 made 36,000 changes in the English of the KJV, and nearly 6,000 in the Greek text. 50 Shortly before the Bible was released to the public, Westcott and Hort published their own critical text of the New Testament. This Greek New Testament was drawn from Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and in essence was the Greek text that had been used by the Revision Committee for translating the Greek into English. 51 It then became evident that Westcott and Hort had exercised disproportionate influence over the Revision Committee.

Most people were unaware that Westcott and Hort had, under pledge of secrecy, circulated among the Revision Committee copies of their own edition of the Greek New Testament. 52 Eloquently expounding upon the methods they had used to compile their text, they overwhelmed the other members of the committee. Their methods gave preferential status to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, 53 and have since shaped the thinking of all who approach textual criticism. 54

One of the most misleading of their rules declares that the oldest manuscripts contain the preferred reading. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are about 100 years older than any of the existing Greek manuscripts supporting the Received Text. However, age does not guarantee purity. In fact, some of the earliest manuscripts were very corrupt. History records that during the century following the completion of the New Testament, manuscripts suffered the greatest abuse. 55 It was during this time that a number of heretics are known to have made corrupted copies of the Scriptures. Even while Paul was alive, someone was passing around false manuscripts (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). The age of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is no criterion for considering their readings to be pure. In fact, it can be the basis of questioning their reliability. These manuscripts could have only survived because they were little used. The dry climate of Egypt and the sturdiness of vellum are not sufficient to explain their survival. Reliable manuscripts of the Scriptures ultimately disintegrated from continual use while these manuscripts were preserved by disuse. One must question why they were not used when copies of the Scriptures were so precious and few. 56

Like the theory of evolution, Westcott and Hort’s theory contained a missing link. They had to explain why the majority of manuscripts support the Byzantine readings of the Received Text and not the Alexandrian readings of the Critical Text. Realizing that it was absurd to insist that a variety of scribes, separated by time and space and working independently, would all “alter” their manuscripts so as to produce the uniform readings of the Byzantine text-type, Westcott and Hort devised a theory. They theorized that in the fourth century an official ecclesiastical command had been given to adopt a standardized form of the Greek text. They reasoned that the Greek text, thus propagated, contained many errors. This theory became known as the Syrian Recension.

Although scholars accepted the theory for a short time, its error was soon exposed and refuted. There is absolutely no historical evidence of such an official revision of the Greek text. Even if such a theory were true, it assumed that men who were only 200 years from the originals were so ignorant they couldn’t recognize the correct manuscripts to use as authority. Strangely enough, today, nearly 1,900 years from the originals, scholars feel better able to judge than they could. Sir Frederick Kenyon, a pioneer in the field of papyrology and for many years director of the British Museum, summed it up when he wrote, “Is not the whole theory artificial and illusory, the vain imagining of an ingenious mind, like so many of the products of modern criticism, which spins endless webs out of its own interior, to be swept away tomorrow by the ruthless broom of common sense?” 57

When the theory of the Syrian Recension crumbled, Westcott and Hort’s scholarly treatise was left without a foundation. Yet scholars still refused to recognize the providential hand of God in the spreading of the Received Text. With no suitable explanation of why the Byzantine text-type is found abundantly in Greek manuscripts from all over the world, 58 most scholars still cling to the framework of textual criticism set up by Westcott and Hort. Thus, the most popular editions of the Greek text today—Nestle-Aland and UBS—vary little from the Westcott-Hort text.

However, uncertainty prevails as more and more scholars recognize the weaknesses of the Alexandrian Text and of Westcott and Hort’s scholarship 59 that has so molded the science of textual criticism. In Westcott and Hort’s day, it was believed that the original text of the New Testament had been virtually reconstructed. But today many scholars have come to consider this a well nigh impossible task. 60

While others despair, we can have assurance that the same text the church used through the ages still most accurately reflects the original writings of the New Testament. And that text is today known as the Received Text.

 

Which Version?

 

Having faith that God has preserved His Word in the church throughout the ages leads to the acceptance of the Received Text as the most reliable Greek New Testament. But for those who cannot read Greek, a translation is necessary.

Looking over the English Bible versions available, you will find that the only versions using the Received Text as the basis for the New Testament are those of the King James tradition. 61 Foremost in this tradition is the KJV itself. As we have seen, for over 300 years the KJV has built the faith of its readers, it is a formal translation profitable for studying doctrine, and both its Old and New Testaments are based on text-types that have been providentially preserved through the ages by the priesthood of believers. Truly, it best fits our biblical description of the Word of God.

This does not mean, however, that the KJV is a perfect translation. One weakness is its readability. 62 Although this difficulty has often been exaggerated by detractors of the KJV, it is true that its English has not been updated since 1769. Thus it contains archaisms. This is not a problem for those who have grown up reading the KJV, but its language may discourage others. For those who struggle with the English of the KJV, the New King James Version 63 is to be recommended.

Compared to the deficiencies of the Greek text 64 followed by most modern versions, the weaknesses of the KJV 65 are very minor. The New Testament of most modern versions is based on an Egyptian text rejected by Christendom 1,500 years ago. 66 While we can acknowledge the good points of modern versions and appreciate their usefulness for reference and commentary, 67 there is no more reliable English study Bible than the KJV. The KJV translators not only provided an accurate English translation 68 of the best manuscript tradition, but they masterfully rendered the English in a literary style befitting the dignity of Sacred Writ. 69 Although publishers have hoped to multiply their profits by producing a version which would replace the KJV, it still remains the most trusted Bible for the majority of English-speaking Christians.

As we stand in these last days of earth’s history, our faith in the Word of God must be strong. We must confidently turn to the Scriptures for guidance and be able to present its saving truths to others clearly. While other versions often make the most relevant truths ambiguous, the King James Version resoundingly affirms them. No other version speaks so convincingly of last day issues. Certainly there was a divine purpose at work in the production and preservation of such an authoritative transcript of Holy Writ. As we study the Holy Scriptures, may each of us individually be assured that “the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). And may we accept its wondrous truths not only intellectually, but make them a dynamic, meaningful part of our everyday lives.

 

NOTES

 

1. “Bible Illiteracy Plagues Youth,” Group, (November/ December, 1984), P. 27 as quoted in Ted Letis, “An Open Letter to the International Bible Society and the Zondervan Corporation,” (April 29, 1985).

2. The New Testament Student and Bible Translation (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1978), p. 155 as quoted in Letis, “An Open Letter.”

3. “The Revision of the New Testament,” Dublin Review, VI (July-October, 1881), p. 144.

4. Don F. Neufeld, “Supernatural or Human Beings?” Review and Herald (February 10, 1977), p. 14.

5. Gerhard F. Hasel, Understanding the Living Word of God (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assoc., 1980), p. 104.

6. JB and NIV are also considered formal translations but are admittedly freer, less literal. (See Hasel, pp. 104-105.)

7. Wilber N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1980), p. 16. 8. The Masoretic Text has been recognized as the most carefully preserved and transmitted Hebrew text-type. (See Hasel, pp. 92-93.)

9. Also known as the Textus Receptus, Traditional Text, Greek Vulgate, Ecclesiastical Text, Syrian Text, Koine (Common) Text and often used synonymously with Majority Text.

10. I am using the term Critical Text to refer to the majority of Greek texts produced in recent years. These texts as a whole differ from the readings of the Received Text.

11. Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht, Which Version Today? (Washington, D.C.), p. 8.

12. Pickering, p. 16.

13. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 47.

14. Metzger, pp. 42-43.

15. Ira Maurice Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, 12th ed. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1940), p. 150.

16. Ibid. 17. Frederick Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 202.

18. Herman C. Hoskier, Codex B and Its Allies (2 vols.; London: Bernard Quaritch, 1914), II, p. vi.

19. John Burgon, The Revision Revised (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 12.

20. F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th ed. (2 vols.; London: George Bell and Sons), II, p. 120. Also Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951), p. 308, states that Vaticanus is “disfigured by many blunders in transcription.”

21. F.C. Cook, The Revised Version of the First Three Gospels (London: John Murray, 1881), p. 172. Also Burgon, p. 13.

22. George Salmon, Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: John Murray, 1897), pp. 52, 155. Also Ernest C. Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Vol. IX (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969), p. 54 says “The Beta text-type (Hort’s ‘Neutral’) is a ‘made’ text, probably Alexandrian in origin, produced in part by the selection of relatively ‘good old mss.’ but more importantly by the philological editorial know-how of Alexandrians.”

23. Pickering, p. 111.

24. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 147-152.

25. Ibid., pp. 152-158.

26. Cook, p. 244.

27. T. C. Skeat of the British Museum has suggested that Vaticanus was a “reject” among the fifty copies. (See Metzger, pp. 47-48.)

28. Cook, p. 164.

29. Cook, pp. 161-162, 170.

30. Edward Hills, The King James Version Defended, 4th ed. (Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1984), p. 134 writes, “Egypt during the early Christian centuries was a land in which heresies were rampant. So much so that, as Bauer (1934) and Van Unnik (1958) have pointed out, later Egyptian Christians seem to have been ashamed of the heretical past of their country and to have drawn a veil of silence across it. This seems to be why so little is known of the history of the early Egyptian Christianity.” Hills also suggests that Gnostic and docetist influences explain many of the peculiar readings of the Alexandrian Text. (See pp. 136-138, 143.)

31. Hoskier, p. 9.

32. Benjamin G. Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated (Washington, D.C., 1930), pp. 19-22.

33. Dr. Warfields Collection of Opinions and Reviews, Vol. II, p. 21 as quoted in Wilkinson, p. 229.

34. Pickering, p. 116.

35. Pickering, p. 142.

36. Pickering, p. 119.

37. Hills, pp. 172-175, 186-188. (Predominating in the Syriac Peshitta and Gothic.)

38. Colwell, pp. 48-49. Also Gunther Zuntz, “The Byzantine Text in New Testament Criticism,” The Journal of Theological Studies, XLII (1942), p. 55.

39. John Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established, completed by Edward Miller (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896), pp. ix-x cites Miller’s investigation regarding the witness of the patristic quotations. (Also see Pickering, pp. 65-76 for discussion concerning this.)

40. H. Sturz, The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1984), pp. 53-131.

41. Wilkinson, pp. 24-40.

42. The Italic Version. (See Wilkinson, p. 35.)

43. Hills, p. 196.

44. Wilkinson, p. 53.

45. Wilkinson, p. 40.

46. Ibid.

47. Kenyon, Our Bible, p. 307.

48. “Hort organized his entire argument to depose the Textus Receptus. While still a student at Cambridge, twenty-three years old, Hort clearly indicated in a letter the identity of the villain: ‘I had no idea till the last few weeks of the importance of texts, having read so little Greek Testament, and dragged on with the villainous Textus Receptus. … Think of that vile Textus Receptus leaning on late Mss.; it is a blessing there are such early ones. …’ (December 29 and 30, 1851)” Colwell, p. 158 quotes Hort’s letter published in Arthur Fenton Hort, Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony Hort, I (London and New York, 1896), p. 211.

49. H.F.D. Sparks, On Translations of the Bible (London: the Athlone press, 1973), p.7.

50. Edmund Beckett, Should the Revised New Testament be Authorised? (London: John Murray, 1881), p. 37.

51. Metzger, p. 135.

52. Luther Weigle, The English New Testament (New York & Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1949), p. 96. Also Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 24.

53. Kenyon, Our Bible, p. 204.

54. Colwell, p. 106.

55. Metzger, p. 201.

56. Pickering, p. 129, Kirsopp Lake, R. P. Blake and Silva New, “The Caesarean Text of the Gospel of Mark,” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 21(1928), pp. 347-349 suggests that scribes “usually destroyed their exemplars when they had copied the sacred books.”

57. Kenyon, Our Bible, p. 173. Colwell on p. 106 records, “Kirsopp Lake described Hort’s work as a failure, though a glorious one.”

58. Pickering, p. 97.

59. Pickering, pp. 31-97.

60. Including such scholars as Rendel Harris, Conybeare, Kirsopp Lake, G. Zuntz, H. Greeven, R. M. Grant, K. W. Clark, Frederick Kenyon, and K. Aland as quoted in Hills, pp. 66-67.

61. Includes KJV, NKJV, and KJVII. The latter, however, is no longer readily available.

62. This is not to suggest that translations should be written in colloquial language. Contrary to a commonly held view, the New Testament was not written in the uncultivated dialect of the market-place. (See Nigel Turner, Christian Words , p. xiii.) Neither was the original KJV written in the contemporary English of its day. (See Hills, pp. 218-219.)

63. The NKJV is an excellent compliment to the KJV.

64. The Greek text is of primary importance in choosing a Bible version. See Kubo and Specht, Which Version Today?, p. 8. Also Alex Roberts writes “It is of the utmost vital importance to be assured of the trustworthiness of the text…. Without this everything else must be comparatively worthless.” Alex Roberts, Companion to the Revised Version of the English New Testament (London and New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., 1881), p. 34.

65. Of lesser significance than readability are a few places where the KJV could have been more literal in a consistent translation of verb tenses and articles.

66. Pickering, p. 136. Also Hoskier, p. 9.

67. There are places where modern versions more clearly and in a few cases, more accurately translate the same Greek found in the Received Text. (The NASB is particularly helpful due to its consistently literal renderings. See Kubo and Specht, So Many Versions? , p. 338.)

68. “Making the King James Version Even Better,” Adventist Review, July 5, 1979, p. 13 says of Dr. Arthur Farstad, New Testament editor of the NKJV, “He admitted that he had been biased by his studies at various seminaries in the direction of accepting the view that the KJV contained numerous inaccuracies in translation. He now has reversed this conviction, concluding instead that the initial KJV translators worked with extreme accuracy, selecting valid options in the Greek text.” [Emphasis supplied.] Also John Skilton wrote “[The A.V.] is a conscientiously close translation. While not a literal, word-for-word rendering which is insensitive to English idiom and style, it is faithful to its text and is remarkably successful in conveying the sense of that text into good English.” John H. Skilton, “The King James Version Today,” in John H. Skilton, ed., The Law and the Prophets (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974) p. 104 as quoted in Letis, “Hugh Broughton Redivivus,” The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate.

There have not been significant advances in the understanding of biblical Greek since the KJV was translated. The discovery of secular papyri has not been as beneficial in Christian word study as once hoped. (See Turner, pp. xii-xiii.) Also Cadbury commented, “It would be a mistake to exaggerate the extent to which such revised judgments of the language can be actually recorded in translation. … Improved knowledge of the original is often mainly a matter of slight nuances … than such as to necessitate one English rendering instead of another.” Henry J. Cadbury, “The Vocabulary and Grammar of New Testament Greek,” in An introduction to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (The International Council of Religious Education, 1967), p. 105 as quoted in Letis, The Majority Text.

69. Skilton, p. 107 as quoted in Letis, The Majority Text says “The Authorized Version had a remarkable sense of appropriateness, felicity, and effectiveness of expression. It had the instinct and feeling of genius for music and rhythm. It could discover the ‘inevitable’ word or phrase for a given context. Its style admirably reflected the dignity, majesty, and sublimity of the original.”

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Teach Us to Pray

27 Feb
An Amazing Fact
During the Battle of Valley Forge, revolutionary troops were entrenched on the battlefield, freezing and starving. One day, a farmer who lived nearby brought much-needed provisions to the troops, and on his way back through the woods, he heard someone speaking. He tracked the voice until he came to a clearing, where he saw a man on his knees, praying in the snow. The farmer rushed home and excitedly told his wife, “The Americans will secure their independence!” His wife asked, “What makes you say that?” The farmer replied, “I heard George Washington pray out in the woods today, and the Lord will surely hear his prayer. He will! Thee may rest assured, He will.” The rest, of course, is history.
ON THE HEELS OF PRAYER
America was built on prayer—a strong foundation if there ever was one. Revisionists would have you believe that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were all pantheists, deists, or agnostics who didn’t have a lot of time for God. If that’s true, then agnostics back then sure prayed a lot more than Christians do today. For instance, both morning and evening, our first President knelt before an open Bible to pray for God’s leading. Perhaps one reason this nation is faltering morally is because God’s people don’t spend much time praying for her.

What I find especially fascinating, however, is that Jesus also needed prayer. Naturally, we assume that His faith was inherently strong, but the Bible tells us Jesus would arise early in the morning and go off by Himself to pray. Sometimes He would pray all night, like He did before choosing His apostles.

After reading that story, I realized that I don’t pray enough and I don’t pray very well. Yet prayer is so important. Indeed, every revival comes on the heels of prayer. For instance, God poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after His new church was on its knees together for 10 days. And later, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:31 NKJV). We need to pray more as a church and in our own lives.

THE PRINCIPAL BUSINESS
Charles Spurgeon said, “All the Christian virtues are locked up in the word prayer.”

One of the main tasks of the Christian is prayer, to have direct communion with God.

William Kerry was a missionary to Burma, India, and the West Indies, but he was also a shoe cobbler. People sometimes criticized him for “neglecting” his trade because he spent so much time in prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. Kerry answered, “Cobbling shoes is a sideline; it helps me pay expenses. Prayer is my real business.” And God used him mightily to convert many. On this topic, Martin Luther commented, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”

But how do we pray? I am asked this question a lot, but the truth is, even I have to ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.” The disciples asked Christ this question when they saw Him coming from a session of prayer. His face was beaming with the light of heaven and energized by the Holy Spirit. No wonder they pleaded, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Still, these men had been going to church—the temple—all of their lives. They had recited hundreds of prayers and had heard the priests pray out loud. Yet when they saw Christ, they knew they were missing something. Somehow they, like most of us, failed in their principal business. Sadly, not very many know what it means to pray, and thus it is probably the most neglected opportunity and privilege we have. Yet every Christian needs the gift of prayer because it’s the breath of the soul. Jesus said, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2 NKJV). He wasn’t saying we never pray, but that we ask poorly. So how do we ask?

I think the best way to find out is to first look at the pattern our Lord gave us, which is commonly called the “Lord’s Prayer.” Of course, that’s really a misnomer, because it wasn’t actually Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye” (Matthew 6:9). It’s a pattern for us to pray, so technically it’s really a disciple’s prayer. Let’s look at this blueprint for prayer to learn how God wants us to come to Him.

THE MAKEUP OF PRAYER
The Lord’s Prayer is comprised of seven petitions, which are divided up very much like the Ten Commandments. The first three petitions are God-ward—vertical—and the last four petitions deal with the horizontal relationships we have with others. Likewise, the first great commandment is to love the Lord, and the second great commandment is to love your neighbor. God should come first in our prayers; His counsel and will should be the great priority in our lives. But we must also not neglect our relationships on earth, which is why Jesus’ model includes those around us.

Right now, we’ll concentrate on those first three petitions, and later, we’ll look at our prayers concerning our friends, family, and neighbors. Then we will find some biblical and practical answers to common questions about prayer.

First, let’s consider that these first three petitions to God have a unique relationship to the Godhead. The first petition deals with the Father, “Our Father … Hallowed be thy name.” The second petition deals with the “kingdom;” that’s the Son. Jesus spoke many parables about the Son going to receive a kingdom, and coming back as the King of kings. Without Him, we couldn’t even come to the Father. And concerning “your will,” who is it that leads us into the will of God? The Spirit, the one who impresses on us the will of God and the love for Christ. It is the Spirit who gives the power to do the will of God. And so you have the Father, the Son, and the Spirit represented in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

ADDRESSING OUR GOD AS A FAMILY
God as a father is a theme that runs through the entire Bible. He is the creator of all life, and the protector of His children. In the Old Testament, His list of names includes: “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6). He is powerful and omnipotent, yet He is also the all-sufficient provider. Taken together, He surely is the God of the universe ruling from heaven, but we can still approach Him personally as our Father.

Even better, “Our Father” tells us that we are received as children of God. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). God is willing to adopt us into His family. What a beautiful truth! “Our Father” says we can share in the inheritance He gave through Christ—that we are a part of the heavenly family. The Bible says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father … give good things to them that ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)? We can go to our Father knowing that He has the very best gifts in store for us. The very phrase “Our Father” is clothed with love. He’s someone who we can safely approach with love, even when He disciplines us. Proverbs 3:12 records, “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights” (NKJV). Psalm 103:13 adds, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (NASV). This also means that we are a family of brothers and sisters, praying to “our Father.” He’s not just my Father; He’s your Father too.

This brings to mind another reason why this prayer is such a great pattern for us. Notice the word “I” doesn’t appear in the entire prayer! We all typically pray frequently using “I” or “me,” but in this prayer, it’s a collective. In our culture, we get the equation upside down; it’s you, then your friends, and then God. In the Bible, the priority is reversed. Love the Lord, then your neighbor, and then you. (If you need an easy way to remember, just think of J-O-Y. That’s Jesus, Others, and You!)

“WHICH ART IN HEAVEN”
Our pattern of prayer also tells us how near and how far our Lord really is from us. “Our Father” is a very intimate, up-close idea, but “in heaven” gives us a sense of His distance from us. We are separated from God, and we’re acknowledging that by saying, “There’s a problem: We’re here; You’re there.” What’s caused this separation? Isaiah says, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (59:2 NKJV).

In the garden, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” In our prayer, we’re confessing to God that we’re far away from Him—much in the same way that Adam ran from God. We’ve been separated from paradise. But we have hope. Did you know that the first three chapters in the Bible tell how sin came in through the serpent and that we’ve been separated from heaven and paradise; however, the last three chapters of the Bible tell how the serpent is destroyed, paradise is restored, and we’re once again together with God?

Another reason the Bible says, “which art in heaven,” is because we need to make a distinction between our earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. Our earthly fathers are frail, carnal, and sinners by nature of being human. The God in heaven is perfect. All of us have a natural, subconscious tendency to superimpose on God our relationship with our earthly father. For instance, those who have earthly fathers that are overly indulgent end up thinking that God the heavenly Father is also permissive. Those who have earthly fathers that are stern generally have a picture of the heavenly Father as an exacting judge.

That ought to make us think. We need to spend a lot of time in prayer asking God to overrule the mistakes we have made with our children. Yet when the Bible says, “Our Father which art in heaven,” it’s telling us we need to look past our flawed earthly relationships and know that He is our perfect model and that we can approach Him directly. You don’t have to see God through the broken glasses of your family experience.

“HALLOWED BE THY NAME”
So we have approached God because He’s our Father in heaven. And our first petition to our God is “Hallowed be thy name.” Now the name of God is a central issue in the great controversy between good and evil. The whole purpose of the plan of salvation is to defend the glory of God.

The devil has slandered God’s name. Do you know someone who has said, “If God is love, then why do innocent children die?” Insurance companies call earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters “Acts of God.” What kind of reputation does that give God? The devil is a master at smearing the character of our Father. He has God, the good, wonderful, loving, longsuffering, merciful One, portrayed as a cruel, indifferent tyrant arbitrarily punishing His creatures. God’s name has been defiled by the devil.

Thus the purpose of the Christian, by God’s grace, is to defend the name of God as much as we can, to reveal who He really is. Unfortunately, we need to pray “hallowed be thy name” because we’re not very good at it. Even in the Bible, we see God’s own people do more to dishonor His name than the full-fledged pagans. And times really haven’t changed much since antiquity.

Remember, we said the Lord’s Prayer somewhat mirrors the Ten Commandments. The third one commands, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Using God’s name in profanity is only one small part of breaking this commandment. But taking God’s name is like a wife taking her husband’s last name. When you’re a baptized Christian, you take the name of Christ, but if you live like the devil after you’ve taken Christ’s name, you’re taking His name in vain. Who does more harm to the Christian cause the pagans or professed Christians who live like the world?

Christians should be advertising for the goodness of God, but in many cases Christians do more harm. Instead, all around the world, we see professed Christians attacking and killing others, such as in Ireland, Africa, and Croatia. What does that do to God’s name? Jesus says, “Love your enemies … overcome evil with good” (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:21). Christ is slandered because of the bad behavior of those who take His name in vain. So “Hallowed be thy name” is asking God to help us, in word and deed, honor His precious name

“THY KINGDOM COME”
We are in the middle of a battle between two kingdoms. An enemy kidnapped the world when Adam and Eve surrendered the dominion that God had given them over the earth. Ever since, the priority of God’s children has been to “seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

Of course, we must make two distinctions when we speak of God’s kingdom—the spiritual and the physical. We know that the spiritual kingdom of God is very much alive in the world today, because Luke 17:21 says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” When Jesus began preaching after His baptism, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This aspect of the kingdom is available now. If you have accepted Christ into your heart, then He reigns from His throne in your heart. Paul says, “Let not sin … reign in your mortal body,” but rather let Jesus be your King and rule over all that you do (Romans 6:12). That’s the first kingdom we should seek after: God’s spiritual kingdom within our hearts.

But someday the meek will inherit the earth and God’s literal kingdom is going to rule over this world with a very real and physical kingdom. Do you think we would need to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” if God’s kingdom was already established? When Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, as recorded in Acts 1, the disciples asked, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom?” Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons” (Acts 1:6, 7 NKJV).

The central message in the book of Daniel is that the kingdoms and idols of the world, whether they are made of gold, silver, bronze, or clay will all disintegrate before the Rock of Ages—the kingdom of God. “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44 NKJV).

For the time being, we are ambassadors of another empire, advertising for a kingdom that will someday fill the earth. Christ said, “I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon me” (Luke 22:29 NKJV). When the thief on the cross turned to Christ and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” he accepted Christ as his King (Luke 23:42 NKJV). That’s why he’ll be in the kingdom, because he had the spiritual kingdom that begins in your heart.

The phrase “the kingdom of God” is found 70 times in the New Testament. Why? Because there are two kings at war, Jesus and the devil, who says he’s the prince of this world. That’s why we still need to pray that His kingdom will come: first within us, then someday around us.

“THY WILL BE DONE IN EARTH, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”
Contrary to popular belief, God’s will in this world is not always being done. I respectfully disagree with the notion that everything that happens is in accordance with the Creator’s will. When something bad happens, like a tornado, you inevitably hear someone say, “Well, it must have been the will of God.” I don’t believe that’s what the Bible teaches, and if that’s really true, why would God have us pray that His will be done?

Conversely, not everything that appears to be good is from God’s storehouse either. Sometimes the devil may even cast prosperity in someone’s path to stall or derail their longing for God. You and I have no idea what’s going on behind the spiritual veil, which is why we have to pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

You and I naturally have our wills twisted and confused by our carnal desires. We need to pray that God’s grace and His Spirit will guide our wills into conformity with His. We also need to learn what His will is for us, and we find the best expression of that in the Word. For beginners, the simplest form of God’s will is called the Ten Commandments. “I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8 NKJV). So when we pray “Thy will be done,” we’re really praying that His will be done in us through submission and obedience.

Of course, Jesus is the perfect example of doing God’s will here on the earth. In John 6:38, He proclaims, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (NKJV). In the garden of Gethsemane, facing separation from the father, Christ petitioned God three times with, “Not My will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 NKJV). Is it always easy to do God’s will? No. If it was a tremendous struggle for Jesus, we will also need to pray, “Thy will be done”.

A GREATER WILL
When God created most things, He merely spoke them into existence. But when He made Adam, he took dust from the ground, formed it with His hands, and breathed life into it. He made humanity from the earth. So when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” we’re also admitting we’re really just clay. “In earth” also means in us. We’re humbling ourselves before God, recognizing that in our rebellion, our wills are perverted. When we pray “Thy will be done,” we’re giving Him permission to use us according to His purpose.

The Lord will never force His will on you because of the precious gift of freedom. He’s not going to force you to pray, “Thy will be done.” You have to choose to do it, to surrender your will, to be His servant, and give Him permission to activate His power and plan in your life. When you understand that secret, you’ll unlock the storehouses of heaven’s power.

But be advised, it works the other way too. Many of us are harassed by the devil because we give the devil our will. You may choose who your master is. And when we, through constant surrender, comply with the temptations that the devil puts in our path, we start giving him increased power to activate his desires in our lives. And ironically, when we exercise our freedom to submit to the devil, we, inch by inch, lose our freedom! The devil possesses our natures, and we become his slaves.

Yet it is possible to be filled by God’s Spirit. Would you like that experience? Most of us are struggling somewhere between the willing spirit and weak flesh, but when you understand that by choosing and saying, “Lord, I want you to be my God. I want you to take control. I surrender my will. I’m giving myself to you. I am powerless on my own,” you are then giving Him the power to release His will in your life. He’s waiting, but He can’t force it on us. So remember that when you pray, don’t forget to ask, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

THE LORD’S PRAYER AND US
In World War II, a British soldier was seen creeping back in from the front lines. He was captured by his own army and accused of conspiring with the enemy, as he had not been given permission to leave. He said, “I have been out in the woods praying.” His fellow soldiers mocked him and immediately ordered him to offer up some evidence. He simply told them he was by himself and that he just needed to pray. His captors threatened to charge him as a traitor, saying, “You’re going to be executed unless you pray right now and convince us that you were really praying.”

The private then fell on his knees and began to offer an eloquent, heartfelt prayer as one who was about to meet his maker. But by the end of the prayer, the commander in charge said he was free to go. “I believe your story,” he said. “If you had not spent so much time at drill, you would not have performed so well during review.” He then added, “I can tell from the way you prayed that you are on regular speaking terms with God.”

The times of our prayers should be frequent and regular, but even more important the content should be outward. I frequently catch myself beginning with “gimme” prayers: “Dear, Lord, give me this and give me that” and near the end, I add, “God, I praise your name.” According to the pattern Christ gave us, that’s backwards. I know I underscored this point already, but it’s worth repeating. God has convicted me that my prayers are too selfish, and I need to keep Him and others first in mind when I go to the Father in prayer.

Although we’re about to focus on prayer for ourselves, I feel that before we delve into these absolutely necessary facets of prayer, we need to make sure we have the right order of prayer in mind. Obviously, we should pray for our needs, but as Jesus indicated, when we pray, we want to acknowledge God’s holy name, His purposes, and His kingdom before all other things. And all of our needs must be viewed in the context of His will. With that careful reminder, we can continue our study and discover what happens when we ask the Lord, “Teach Us to Pray!”

“GIVE US THIS DAY …”
Bread represents many things in the Bible. First, “daily bread” means the provisions necessary for sustaining life from day to day. Of course, this is a pattern of prayer, so it doesn’t mean that you can’t also pray for water, clothing, and other needs. When we pray for our daily bread, we’re really asking God to supply the basic necessities of our everyday lives.

Should a wealthy person with their cupboards full still pray “Give us this day our daily bread”? Yes, absolutely. Never take the blessing of basics for granted. Remember Job’s full barns were all lost in one day.

God is telling us that we should feel confident to come before our Lord, asking Him to fulfill our needs. Of course, He is already well aware of these needs, but He wants us to know that it is He who provides all truly good things for His children. For instance, when the Jews went through the wilderness, they prayed for food, and God rained manna from heaven, showing His continual, loving provision. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask—He wants you to!

Remember, though, that when we pray, “Give us … our daily bread,” it doesn’t mean that God expects us not to go out and earn it. Some people think they can pray the Lord’s Prayer and then sit back and do nothing, expecting Him to answer. When the Lord rained down manna, the Jews went out to collect it. They didn’t lie back with their mouths open, waiting for it to fall directly into their mouths. Notice too that the manna fell outside the camp; it didn’t rain on their tents. Part of getting the bread is going out and harvesting it where we work. After that, the Jews had to knead the manna and bake it; only after working could they consume their daily bread. We must likewise invest ourselves in the process and not become lazy with the Lord’s blessings. Don’t forget that giving us our bread day by day also includes this understood caveat: “six days shalt thou labor.”

“… OUR DAILY BREAD”
Is food all that is entailed in “daily bread”? As with most lessons in the Bible, “our daily bread” has a very important spiritual application. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus teaches, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” using the word “bread” to describe all the temporal needs of humanity.

Most important, He would later say, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Christ was not speaking only of our physical needs, but instructing us to invite God into our hearts every day. The bread represents Jesus, our spiritual food, which is far greater and more fulfilling than any physical bread on earth.

How often do we need to be spiritually fed? All through its sacred pages, the Bible speaks of praying daily. “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray” (Psalm 55:17). Daily bread, daily communion with the Lord, should be our top priority. Why do we not say, “Lord, give me a month’s supply”? Most of us don’t fret from day to day that the refrigerator is going to be empty, so we don’t often appreciate the implications of praying for daily bread. Although those who lived through the Depression may understand such a concept, few Americans today, living in a society of such massive abundance, have ever really struggled from day to day searching for something to eat. In fact, some of us have months of food in the pantry.

But many of us don’t have even a few minutes of spiritual food stored up in our hearts and minds. Which bread is more important, the physical or the spiritual? How many of us have a month’s supply of spiritual bread? We need to collect some every day. You can’t live tomorrow solely on what you’ve collected today. Some have a few calories stored up, having memorized Scripture, and it’s going to come in handy, but if you want your Christian experience to be vital and full of life, you must have daily devotions. You’ve got to go out and gather that spiritual manna. One final thought: The Bible doesn’t say, “Give me this day my daily bread. Rather, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s our bread, friend. It’s not my bread. We ought to be as concerned about the needs of others as much as, or more than, our own.

Scripture teaches, “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). We should be doing that physically, assisting the weak by offering our resources and our strength to help them. We should also do it spiritually, by lifting each other up in prayer, offering one another’s petitions on our knees. And we must do this daily, persistently. “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them” (Luke 18:7)?

“AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS”
Did you know Jesus makes only one direct commentary on the Lord’s Prayer? In Matthew, when He finishes teaching the prayer, He adds, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Christ reveals a connection between the vertical and the horizontal relationship—right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps we should listen!

Is this God saying, “I’ll make you a deal: You all forgive each other—no bitterness, no grudges, no more talking about the bad things you did to each other—and I’ll forgive you”? Is that what God says? Is that the gospel? No, that’s not what leads to our forgiveness. We’re not saved by the basis of our works. Instead, the gospel says that we are to come just as we are to God, and He will forgive us. However, God says, “Now that you’re forgiven, I expect you to forgive each other.”

However, although you’re not saved by your works, if you continue to live in defiance, you’ll be lost because it’s evidence that you’re not serious about following Jesus. The mercy and grace of God cannot be cultivated in a heart that’s embracing a bitter and unforgiving spirit. Have you ever been betrayed by a friend? Has someone ever talked badly about you? We’ve all been hurt. And often, we become defensive and start viewing that person narrowly, and we may even wonder if we can dig up a little dirt to even the score. Is that the spirit of Jesus, “who when he was reviled he reviled not again”?

The Bible says that when we realize the high price Christ has paid for our forgiveness, it makes it easier for us to forgive one another. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). We need to be willing to forgive one another, and God points this out to us repeatedly in Scripture. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25, 26 NKJV).

Can you mentally forgive a person even though you may not feel like it? Yes, just like you can accept forgiveness even though you might not feel forgiven. It’s done by faith. You can choose to forgive others who have harmed you. Even though you may never be able forget what happened, you can say, “Lord, by your grace I am going to forgive them.” You make that conscious choice, and then the grace of God follows.

When you accept the forgiveness of God, His grace naturally follows. You must first have faith that God is going to help you forgive. “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). If we can’t forgive each other, Godcan’t forgive us, because our hearts are not open either to give or receive forgiveness. That’s serious, isn’t it? It’s going to require an act of grace—a miracle—for us to be able to do that.

“AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION”
This particular petition is the one that is most misunderstood. At a glance, it almost seems as though we’re begging God not to tempt us. “Please, Lord, we know you don’t want to tempt us. Yet if I don’t ask you not to tempt me, you’re going to tempt me.” That’s a really poor translation. In fact, James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

We’re not pleading, “Lord, please don’t tempt me.” So what is this really saying? Well, because we are naturally prone to walk toward temptation, we’re asking God to lead us away from it. Translated more precisely, the prayer would go more like this: “Lead us away from our natural bent to temptation.”

Do we need to pray that prayer? You bet! We are prone to playing too close to the edge. One minister says that when the Lord says to flee temptation, we often crawl away hoping it catches up with us. It’s like gravity inside our hearts, pulling us toward sin. So we have to plead with God to help us resist that force.

The devil likes it when we crawl, because it’s easier to catch us with those little compromises. The convicted spy Aldrich Ames said that he didn’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’m going to be a spy. I think I’m going to turn everything over to the Russians for money.” One day, very innocuously, he met a Russian who asked, “Could you give me a phone directory? I’ll give you a lot of money.” It was just a phone directory, but then little by little, he gave them more and more until one day he sold them nuclear secrets. This is how the devil works with temptation—little compromises. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered Uriah, and lied to his people. And it began with a small, lingering, lustful look. We should pray, “Lord, lead me away from even the little things, because that’s how the big things start.”

“BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL”
I really like the seventh petition, which says, “but deliver us from evil.” We live in a world drowning in the murky blackness of sin. The only thing that really gives Christians long-term hope is that God promises things aren’t always going to be this way. We’re looking for ultimate deliverance, and when we utter “deliver us,” we’re talking about Christ coming on the white steed—the King of kings and the Lord of lords establishing His kingdom and wiping out every last vestige of evil reigning in the world today.

“Deliver us” takes us away from evil and separates us from it eternally. Another way to phrase it is, “deliver us from the evil one.” And we ought to be praying not only that God keeps us from temptation, but that He also delivers our brothers, because the devil is powerful and cunning, far greater than we are by ourselves. That’s why we so desperately need God to lead us.

In speaking of the second coming, Christ said, “Pray always” (Luke 21:36). I’m not sure how often that really means, but look at your own prayer life and see if it measures up. The full text reads, “Pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of man.” Are you praying always? Jesus also said that we ought to pray that our flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day (Matthew 24:20). Have you prayed that prayer? Every day, every hour, we should be praying to be delivered from evil so that we can escape what is about to happen in this world. Pray that we will be ultimately delivered and saved from evil within and around us. You can’t be saved from an evil world until you’re first saved from an evil heart.

“FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, AND THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, FOR EVER”
This powerful culmination is found only in Matthew, and what it speaks about is riveting. We are in the midst of a great controversy. The devil says he is the rightful king and that he has the power. Yet Christ, before He ascended to heaven, established His preeminence: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). This prayer reinforces that we should never forget who is in charge of this universe. The prayer doesn’t say, “Thine will be the kingdom,” rather “Thine is the kingdom.” Indeed, all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer are only possible because Christ is the power. He has control over all things now.

The devil lives for pride, to bring glory to himself. The Christian’s motive is to bring honor to God, to give Him the glory. That’s why Satan hungers to be a god. He wants the glory he doesn’t deserve. The end of this prayer sets the record straight in our own minds and hearts, confessing before God that we know His character and goodness will be soon vindicated.

“AMEN”
Jesus said, “In this manner pray.” It’s not so much His prayer, but our prayer. It’s the prayer of those who want to follow Him. That’s also why this prayer must be something that flows from a truly converted heart. It ought to be a definition of your spirit and attitude. One author put it this way:

“I cannot say ‘our’ if I live only for myself. I cannot say ‘Father’ if I do not endeavor each day to act like his child. I cannot say ‘who art in heaven’ if I’m laying up no treasures there. I cannot say ‘hallowed be thy name’ if I am not striving for holiness. I cannot say ‘thy kingdom come’ if I’m not seeking to hasten the blessed hope. I cannot say ‘thy will be done’ if I am disobedient to his word. I cannot say ‘in earth as it is in heaven’ if I’ll not serve him here and now. I cannot say ‘give us this day our daily bread’ if I am selfishly hoarding for the fu-ture. I cannot say ‘forgive us our debts’ if I harbor a grudge against anyone. I cannot say ‘lead us not into temptation’ if I deliberately place myself in its path. I cannot say ‘deliver us from evil’ if I do not long for holiness. I cannot say ‘thine is the kingdom’ if I do not give Jesus the throne of my heart. I cannot attribute to him ‘the power’ if I fear what men may do. I cannot ascribe to him ‘the glory’ if I’m seeking for my own honor. I cannot say ‘forever’ if I’m living only for temporary earthly rewards.”

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, it must be in a spirit of complete surrender. And if we’re going to be ready when Jesus comes, we need to learn to pray the way Jesus taught. The essence of prayer is bound up in loving God with all our hearts, for we cannot really love Him if we aren’t getting to know Him. If we’re not communicating our sorrows and our joys, even our most intimate secrets, how can we love Him?

I urge you to invest more time on your knees, but if you can’t be on your knees, I urge you to just pray. Recognize that it is essential to spend quality time with Christ in your personal and corporate prayers and devotions, so we can implement those changes in our lives that will glorify God. Take advantage of the “daily bread” of God’s Word, and communicate to God your desire to be transformed from selfish to selfless. Let’s pray for one another more than anything else. Let’s stand together and lift our voices to heaven so that we are more united in the brotherhood and sisterhood of Jesus.

One of my favorite studies in the Bible is reading the great prayers of the Old Testament. I hope you will read them too. Read Hannah’s prayer found in Samuel 2. Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 is also very special. You can also find Solomon’s moving dedication prayer in Chronicles. You’ll find that many of these prayers have elements of the Lord’s Prayer in them. They are about God’s glory, God’s provision, and God’s deliverance, and they’re really about how all of us as Christians are in this together, praying for one another.

Like the British soldier whose prayer set him free, we’re soon going to be reviewed by our Commander in heaven. We need to spend time in drill practice, preparing for the main event. We need to say, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He’s given us the pattern in His Word, so let’s be sure to abide in it. My hope is that you will never see this prayer the same way again.

Urgent!!!!!!!

26 Feb
 
Today’s top story is an unusual and unofficial video of Pope Francis discussing Christian unity revealed during a conference of leading Pentecostals in Texas. The Minister’s Conference was led by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, leader of the Word of Faith movement. The video was apparently recorded on an iPhone by Anthony Palmer, bishop and international ecumenical officer for the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, in a meeting he had on January 14, 2014 with his long-time friend. Palmer shared the video at the Pentecostal gathering, held mid-February, after Palmer’s opening remarks in which he made some eye-opening comments. Palmer announced to the crowd that Luther’s protest was over and reminded them of the agreement signed in 1999 by both Catholics and Lutherans.  Catholics have for centuries believed in salvation by works, while Lutherans believed in salvation by grace. In this document they combine these two together, to become salvation by grace alone leading to good works.  Palmer announces cheekily that Protestants no longer exist because of this declaration since they have nothing further to protest. He urged that it’s time to return to the Catholic church.

In the video, Pope Francis speaks of his yearning for the separation between Catholics and Protestants to be over. He invites the lost “brethren” to come to Joseph for food, referring to himself, and to find their long-lost brother waiting to embrace them.

The most shocking of all was the response of the Evangelicals present. Pope Francis received a standing ovation for his speech, and Kenneth Copeland responded with a video message after he and the entire congregation prayed in tongues for the Pope. Palmer then invites Copeland to come to the Vatican, and Copeland responds “I will. I’m available.”

 
Today’s top story is an unusual and unofficial video of Pope Francis discussing Christian unity revealed during a conference of leading Pentecostals in Texas. The Minister’s Conference was led by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, leader of the Word of Faith movement. The video was apparently recorded on an iPhone by Anthony Palmer, bishop and international ecumenical officer for the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, in a meeting he had on January 14, 2014 with his long-time friend. Palmer shared the video at the Pentecostal gathering, held mid-February, after Palmer’s opening remarks in which he made some eye-opening comments. Palmer announced to the crowd that Luther’s protest was over and reminded them of the agreement signed in 1999 by both Catholics and Lutherans.  Catholics have for centuries believed in salvation by works, while Lutherans believed in salvation by grace. In this document they combine these two together, to become salvation by grace alone leading to good works.  Palmer announces cheekily that Protestants no longer exist because of this declaration since they have nothing further to protest. He urged that it’s time to return to the Catholic church.

In the video, Pope Francis speaks of his yearning for the separation between Catholics and Protestants to be over. He invites the lost “brethren” to come to Joseph for food, referring to himself, and to find their long-lost brother waiting to embrace them.

The most shocking of all was the response of the Evangelicals present. Pope Francis received a standing ovation for his speech, and Kenneth Copeland responded with a video message after he and the entire congregation prayed in tongues for the Pope. Palmer then invites Copeland to come to the Vatican, and Copeland responds “I will. I’m available.” The following youtube segment gives the full picture:

Is Luther’s protest really over? There were 94 other theses of contention that Luther nailed to the Wittenberg door taht day on October 31, 1517. What changed has taken place in the Catholic Church on Luther’s other points? If Luther’s protest is really over, then we should be seeing the Catholic Church eliminating penance, purgatory and the Virgin Mary. But we are not likely to see those changes anytime soon.  

Ellen White reminds us that: When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near. ,—Testimonies for the Church 5:451 (1885)

Movements to join the hands of Protestantism and Catholicism have been progressing for a number of years, but this video provides a blatant progression in final endtime events. As Kenneth Copeland himself says “47 years ago, this was impossible.” But the thinking of society and Protestantism has changed dramatically. As we have been warned, Catholicism has been silently growing into power and today the Roman power is succeeding in gaining the ascendancy and bringing the apostate daughters back under its fold. Those that should be aware of the evils of ecumenism are sealing their ears shut. Are we also? We are rushing towards a one-world religion under Roman Catholicism’s leadership and the ramifications are staggering. We see that we are at the threshold of final events. 

Please see also additional sources:

Read more (www.patheos.com) 

Read more (standupforthetruth.com) 

Read more (www.buzzfeed.com) 

The Surrender of Self

25 Feb
Introduction

 

Would you look into your heart right now and respond to a very personal and important question? Do you judge yourself to be stronger in the things of God than you have ever been before? I hope so; that is exactly the way it is supposed to be. Every day with Jesus should be sweeter than the day before. Each moment should find us moving up in our experience with a deeper, sweeter faith than we had the moment before.

Yet I hope no one is satisfied that God has finished His work of growth and sanctification in their life. This very moment He wants to lead us out deeper into the waters of surrender and consecration. There are still victories to be won, there are sins to be put away, and there is a drawing together that needs to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. And it needs to be done right now. Let me ask you a question. Does God really mean what He says in the fantastic promises of Romans chapter six? No other chapter of the Bible is so lavishly excessive in giving assurance to a struggling Christian. Consider these extravagant phrases for example:

“Shall we continue in sin? … God forbid” (verses 1 and 2).
“We that are dead to sin” (verse 2).
“Henceforth we should not serve sin” (verse 6).
“Freed from sin” (verse 7).
“Dead indeed to sin” (verse 11).
“Let not sin therefore reign” (verse 12).
“Being made free from sin” (verse 18).

There is certainly nothing ambiguous about any of those texts. But is there some secret meaning or perhaps some hidden reservation that might not apply literally to us in these promises? We are tempted to believe so because of the almost fanatical element of certainty in every verse and line.

Some people are frightened by the book of Romans simply because it describes the perfect work God wants to do in sanctifying us from our sins. Many people are also afraid of that word “perfect.” They are fearful that God will ask them to do something that they are not willing to do.

Before proceeding further, let’s settle this question once and for all. God will never do anything in our spiritual lives that we are not willing for Him to do. He never coerces the will or pressures us into any actions to which we have not given consent. So we can totally disabuse our minds of being forced into any life choices that are not free and sovereign.

But now we come face to face with the basic root weakness that has led millions into discouragement and defeat. They simply have not been reconciled to giving up the enjoyment of their sins. There is a certain shallow, short-lived pleasure in sin that dances over the emotions and seeks to capture the mind through the sensory pathway of the flesh. In every case there must be a decision of the will to forfeit those temporary physical “pleasures of sin for a season.” Until that choice is made and acted upon, there can be no real victory over sin in the life.

Let me ask you right now whether you are resigned to the stripping away of all your darling indulgences. Are you prepared to accept all the results of a complete surrender to Christ? The mortifying of every fleshly evil? I am convinced that there are only two possible reasons for a person holding back and failing to gain the victory over sin. Either he is not willing to give up the enjoyment of the sin or else he does not believe that God will give him deliverance from it. Being willing, of course, is our problem, but seeing it done is God’s part alone. We must be willing, but we can never be able. Let us now look at these two great mental blocks that have stolen the victory from so many of God’s people.

 

Self: The Greatest Enemy

 

I think it has probably already been revealed to most of us that self is the greatest enemy we face. Once we have settled the score with that old man of the flesh who seeks to rule over us (Romans 6:6), all the other victories will come in their course.

God has given every one of us a powerful personal weapon to use in combating the self-nature. The will is our only natural reserve weapon, and absolutely everything depends on the right action of this resource. The ultimate sin in the eyes of God, the final factor that will cause a soul to be lost, is to deliberately say no to the will of God. We become whatever we choose to be. We are not what we feel, or what we might do or say in a single impulsive moment of our life. We are what we will to be. We cannot always control our emotions, but we can control our will.

Feelings have nothing to do with the truth of God. It is not your feelings, your emotions, that make you a child of God, but the doing of God’s will. Perhaps you had a headache or arthritis pain when you woke up this morning, but does that change the fact that God loves you? Does it alter the truth that the seventh day is the Sabbath? Whether you feel good or bad, the truth remains exactly the same.

Some people can feel wonderful during an evangelistic crusade or a special revival weekend, but when the meetings are finished, their faith plummets to rock bottom. It is a yo-yo effect with everything tied to emotions generated by circumstances.

We must recognize the fact that our will and God’s will, at some point, must come into violent collision. Either we let Him have His way or we choose our own course. And when it happens, most people are not willing to admit the true cause behind the raging conflict. They do not see the battle as primarily linked to the self-nature.

In evangelism I have listened to hundreds of “reasons” for not going all the way with Christ. They tell me it is because of Sabbath work, or doubts about the Bible, or opposition of relatives. But none of those things are the true reasons. It goes much deeper than the words they are uttering. There is a basic nature problem behind their lack of commitment. They talk about twigs and leaves when the real problem is the roots. The truth is that God wants something that self is not willing to give up. They love something more than they love God.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus made that strange statement in Matthew 16:24, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”? Why didn’t the Master finish the sentence by spelling out the thing to be denied? “Let him deny himself” what? Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, Sabbath-breaking? No. Just deny himself, period. Jesus knew that self was behind every angry battle against the truth. Once that victory is gained, all other victories will be won also.

Multitudes are outside the will of God and outside the church because they are not willing to give up something that they love more than they love God. Thousands are in the church and are perfectly miserable because something in their life has been fighting the will of God for years. What I am trying to say is this: To be a true Christian requires surrender above everything else.

Do you recall the time that your desire and God’s will met in fearful conflict? There was a titanic struggle. The old self-nature hardened itself and resisted every impulse to turn away from rebellion and sin. Under deep conviction you wrestled and agonized against the powers of the flesh, but to no avail. Then, finally, you surrendered your stubborn will and the battle was over. Peace flooded into your heart, and glorious victory was immediately realized.

What happened to change the picture? Did you finally manage to drive back the devil? Definitely not. Your battle was with self, and when you became willing, God gave you the victory over that carnal enemy. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

It may sound foolish, but it is still true: Before you can have, you must give away; before you can be full, you must be empty; before you can live, you must die; and before you have the victory, you must surrender.

I don’t believe anyone ever felt so defeated, depressed, and cheated as eleven men did on a Friday night almost two thousand years ago. Jesus had promised them the world. They were going to sit on thrones and rule kingdoms. Life would be marvelous for them. They were important. Then, suddenly, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and crucified. The world had come to an end for them. Nothing will bring us as low as the cross brought them. Not even crippling disease, financial failure, desertion of friends, death of dear ones, or injustices of life. But was it defeat? On the contrary, it was the most glorious moment of victory this world has ever known.

 

Is Trying the Answer?

 

Now let’s come back to the question of your sin and mine. We have to admit that we fight an enemy who is stronger than we are. In the weakness of the flesh we find ourselves bound in mind and body by the superior strength of our spiritual enemy. We resolutely struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage, but the harder we try the deeper we sink into the mire. At last, when we are totally exhausted from the effort, a well-meaning friend comes by and says, “I know what the problem is. You need to try harder.”

Listen; if that is the only answer we have to the sin problem, we should stop sending missionaries to India. I’ve never seen anyone try harder to be saved than the Hindus. I’ve watched the wretched penitents prostrating in the hot dust, painfully measuring their length, mile after mile, as they inch toward some sacred river rendezvous. There they will dip under the filthy water, look up at the blazing sun, and pray—then repeat the process again, and again, and again.

Millionaire businessmen will give away all their wealth, take a beggar’s bowl, and spend the rest of their life feeding on scraps of shared food—all in an effort to earn salvation. Never have I seen a Christian try as hard to be saved as a Hindu does. Yet, I have never met a single Hindu seeker who has found any assurance or peace of mind—not even among the Brahmin brotherhood of the highest caste.

Do you know why “trying” will not break the chain of sin? Because sinful propensities are deeply embedded in the very nature of every baby born into the world. We are brought into this life with inherent weaknesses that predispose us toward disobedience. Furthermore, we have all yielded to those propensities. Jesus, born with the same fallen nature, is the only One who never gave way to those weaknesses. He lived a totally sanctified life of obedience.

We do not need instruction in theology to acquaint us with the facts about our fallen nature. All of us have struggled with memories of failure and compromise. We have desperately tried to blot out scenes of unfaithfulness from our minds, but every such effort has ended in utter defeat.

I heard of a holy man in India who traveled from village to village, laying claim to special creative power. As a result of his Himalayan pilgrimage, this sadhu professed to hold the secret for making gold. He would fill a large caldron with water and then stir the contents vigorously while uttering his sacred incantations. But in the process of stirring he also slyly slipped some gold nuggets into the water without being detected.

The headman of one village wanted to buy the secret for making gold, and the holy man agreed to sell it for 500 rupees. After explaining the stirring and the prayers to be repeated, the priest took his 500 rupees and started to leave. Then he turned back and gave a final word of warning. “When you are stirring the water and uttering the prayers you must never once think of the red-faced monkey, or the gold will not come!”

As you can imagine, the headman never could make the formula work, because every single time he stirred the water, there was the red-faced monkey sitting at the edge of his mind, grinning at him.

We have absolutely no natural ability to keep the thoughts and imagination under control for the simple reason that they are rooted in our sinful natures. Only when the mind has been regenerated through the process of conversion can the individual subjugate the lower, physical powers and bring them under the effective control of the Holy Spirit. Only in this way may the very intents of the heart be sanctified and brought into harmony with Christ. Without the transforming grace of the new birth, “the carnal mind … is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

For three years I studied the language in India under the tutelage of a Hindu priest who came to my house daily on his bicycle. This gave me the opportunity to ask questions about various aspects of Hindu worship. Only after many months of classroom camaraderie did I feel clear in asking my teacher about one puzzling feature of his ancestral religion. “Why,” I asked, “did most all the temples have obscene carvings all over the front of the buildings?”

My pundit seemed genuinely shocked by the question and vociferously denied that any such carvings existed. Whereupon I invited him to walk down the street a block or two where a new temple was being constructed. I had watched the builders placing the obscenities by the front entrance door, so the teacher could not deny they were there. But once again he professed surprise and stated categorically that he had never seen anything like it before. He would find out the reason for it and tell me the next day.

On the following afternoon as he was mounting his bicycle to leave, I asked him about the carvings again. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I found out why they put them on the front of temples. You see, when the people go in to worship the gods they are not supposed to think of those evil things, so we place the carvings to remind them not to think of those things while worshipping inside.”

I chuckled at his novel explanation, realizing that none of us need reminding about the intrusion of such thoughts. Without the restraining power of God, they are ever with us. What we need is the panacea of divine grace to subdue and conquer them. The renewed mind holds the answer to both the inside and outside factors that lead to transgression.

 

Controlling the Inner Spirit

 

Have you noticed, though, that it is always easier to deal with external actions than with internal dispositions? Well-disciplined people can force themselves to act correctly on the outside, even when the inward desires are at war with the outward conduct. The Bible teaches that this conflict must cease between how we think and how we act. A true Christian will be the same in both mind and body.

All of us have seen drivers dutifully slow down to fifteen miles per hour through the school zones. They appear so submissive and law-abiding as they creep along in front of the uniformed traffic patrol lady. Yet those drivers are usually seething with internal anger and rebellion because of missing an appointment. Self is behind that angry battle, and the stubborn will has simply not yielded to the idea of obedience. Here is where the desperate need lies for those who claim to be in the family of God. Almost anyone with minimum acting skills can force conformity to the rules (especially if they think someone is watching) but almost no one can force himself to be sweet about it. We can try till our dying breath, and we will never be able to alter the unconverted disposition by dint of determination. Such a major shift requires the creation of new attitudes and thought patterns.

Many are convinced that they are Christians just because they act in a certain way and conform to certain biblical rules and principles. In other words, their lifestyle and behavior identifies them as not of this world. Or does it? Can we always recognize a true child of God by his conduct? Perhaps we can over a period of time, but pretenders are able to deceive most of us for a good while. Eventually the nature behind the good works begins to appear, and the charade is seen for what it really is.

Isaiah wrote, “If ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19). Some people are obedient without being willing, and their fruit is soon exposed as artificial. What does this teach us? It teaches us that two mistakes can be made concerning those who keep God’s law carefully. We might wrongly assume they are legalists because they look so seriously upon the slightest disobedience, or we might wrongly assume they are true Christians just because they show zeal for conforming to the law.

 

Judging the Outward Actions

 

No one can read the motives of another. Therefore, it is a dangerous, judgmental attitude to deprecate the apparent caring concern that a fellow Christian has for keeping the commandments. If his works indeed are based upon principles of self-effort and do-it-yourself salvation, the truth will be exposed soon enough. But if he has a genuine love relationship with Christ that constrains him to be meticulous in obedience, then he deserves commendation instead of criticism.

So we must conclude that it is a fatal delusion to depend upon trying harder and struggling longer to get the victory over sin. The secret is trusting instead of trying, and time will only make a young sinner into an old sinner. Finally, we must admit that we are not as strong as our adversary, and as we surrender our dependence upon human strength and effort, God provides the glorious gift of victory.

Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is a tremendous truth, but we must go far beyond the negativism of this statement and experience the positive reality of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” The difference between “all things” and “no thing” is Christ.

This does not imply that we sit back in relaxed idleness while God assumes all the responsibility for our deliverance. There is a balance between the possibility and responsibility of overcoming sin. One belongs to God and the other to us. The possibility rests with God, and the responsibility rests with us. And as we begin to act against the sin in our life, God provides the power to actually break with the sin.

How far may we go in utilizing that faith method of claiming the victory? John declares, “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). By submitting to that higher power which reaches down from above, the soul is able to bring every thought into captivity to Christ.
Perhaps it can be clarified with an illustration. Suppose the farmer walks along his garden path and looks down at the

soil beneath his feet. Aloud he wonders whether the minerals in that dirt could ever be transformed into vegetables. The human answer immediately fills his head. “Of course not. There are only three categories: vegetable, mineral, and animal; they always remain distinct and recognizable.”

Soon afterward the farmer laid out neat rows by the garden path and carefully planted the cabbage seed according to the instructions on the package. Then the gentle rains slowly moistened the ground, and the warming rays of the sun began to exercise their particular magic on the tiny seeds. They began to germinate and grow, and under those favorable influences from above, the root system began to draw the actual mineral elements into the leaves of the cabbage. By some mysterious process still not fully comprehended by science, the iron, phosphorus, and magnesium were incorporated into the plant and transformed into the vegetable form of the cabbage. The mineral had become a vegetable.

Later, as the farmer stood in the path and admired the rows of well-formed heads, the question came to him: Could these vegetables ever become animal? And the answer from his human reasoning was clearly, “No. Vegetable is vegetable, and animal is animal, and they are two distinct and separate categories.”

But a few days later the farmer carelessly leaves the bars down on the nearby pasture, and the cows wander into the garden. As they consume the succulent young cabbage a truly remarkable thing happens within their bodies. The vegetable leaves are assimilated into the organs of digestion, and in very short order the vegetable has literally been turned into animal. What a miracle! And it did not happen because of any effort put forth by the cabbage. It merely yielded to the higher power that reached down from above, and the miraculous change was effected.

 

How Far Can We Go In Victory?

 

Now we take the illustration one step further and ask the question: Is it possible for the animal, or the physical, to ever become spiritual? Again the obvious answer would be: “No. That is another sphere and could never happen in this world.” But I submit to you that this kind of transformation is not only possible, but it has actually happened to everyone who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.

By yielding our will to the higher powers from above, we can be delivered from the bondage of the flesh. The entire being is made captive to the Spirit of God, and we are able to think His thoughts after Him. Paul declares that we partake of the divine nature and have the mind of Christ. Again and again, the process is described as a surrendering of the will and a giving up of our own way. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13).

Paul further described the surrender process as a literal crucifixion of the self-nature. He said, “I am crucified with Christ” and “I die daily.” This constant subjection of the will is not achieved by any decision or effort that we can manufacture from within ourselves. Self will never make the choice to put itself to death. Only the Holy Spirit can create the desire to escape from the domination of a sin-loving nature. Only He can bring us to the point of being willing to give up every indulgence of that corrupt, fallen nature.

As the mind and will cooperates with the Holy Spirit, a faith reckoning renders the deathblow to the old man of sin. The life opens up to the sweet, triumphant infilling of a new spiritual power. Little idols disappear as they are dethroned from the heart. There are no more secrets from God, no longer anything to hide or to be ashamed of, no more defeatism as a way of life. Joyfully we put aside the ornaments of self and the world to allow more capacity for the loving character of Christ to be revealed.

Although there are brief superficial pleasures in a life of sin, those indulgences cannot be compared with the delight of following Jesus. Self makes the Christian path seem dark and fearsome, but when self is surrendered and crucified the narrow road is filled with joy unspeakable.

 

The Enigma of Miserable Christians

 

Every time you see an unhappy Christian you are looking at someone who has not surrendered self to the cross of Christ. That inward life of the flesh, that self-nature, has been allowed to survive. There can be no peace in a divided loyalty. Those who have not submitted to be crucified with Christ still carry their religion like a heavy burden. They remind me of the Hindu processions I observed, again and again, on the crowded streets of India. The priests and devotees staggered along, bearing a heavy idol on their shoulders. Occasionally they stopped to rest, and it was an obvious relief to put down their god momentarily to relieve themselves of the burden.

Isaiah described the same thing in his day, as he must have watched similar scenes. He wrote, “They lavish gold out of the bag … and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble” (Isaiah 46:6, 7).

How accurately this describes what I observed in India. Their god was so helpless that they had to carry it from place to place. They wearied themselves with the effort to move it to another location. It was a burden that they were relieved to be rid of when they stopped to rest.

What kind of religion is it that must be painfully endured and borne like some miserable weight? I’ve seen professed Christians with that same kind of experience. They have a religion that seems to do nothing for them but to make them weary and disgruntled. They are like the man with a headache. He didn’t want to cut off his head, but it hurt him to keep it. These people don’t want to give up their religion, but it is painful to keep it.

There is only one explanation for this kind of bizarre situation. It is abnormal in the extreme. Christians should be the happiest people in the world. If they are not, it is because self has not been surrendered and crucified.

Come back now to the text in Isaiah where the prophet described the idol processions of his day. In truth it is not Isaiah speaking but the Lord God Himself. In verse 7 He said, concerning the idol god, “they carry him.” Now read verse 4 where God declared to Israel, “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”

Which god do you serve today? What kind of religion do you profess? You can only serve God or self. When you unreservedly surrender that spoiled, greedy, indulgent self to be put to death, you may reckon yourself dead to the sins which self promotes. Trying to live a Christian life without dying to self is just as miserable as struggling to carry a pagan god. In fact, when self has not been given up to the death of the cross, it comes between you and the Savior, becoming a real god. The constant strain of trying to subdue that self-god by human effort can wear out the most determined saint.

What happens then when faith claims the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil? We are relieved of the strain, because God promises to carry us. “Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). “I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:4).

It is not hard to imagine that Satan’s strongest efforts are aimed at the exaltation of self. He can only control the individuals who continue to feed the carnal nature. I have often imagined that our great enemy has a computer list of self-related indulgences that he constantly holds out to the fallen human race. Each category has been honed and adapted to exploit the particular weakness of the self-nature that Satan recognizes so easily in every member of Adam’s family. Perhaps some of the most appealing subtitles in his list would include self-righteousness, self-dependence, self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-will, self-defense, and self-glory.

Because he is the temporary prince of this world, the devil has inspired an avalanche of material that focuses on developing the love of self. Counselors of every stripe and hue urge us to improve our self-worth and our self-esteem. Even ministers preach sermons around their interpretation of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Are these perversions of the biblical admonitions to “crucify self” and “deny self”? How can we seek to esteem and exalt that which we are told to subdue and put to death?

There is a sense, of course, in which we need to recognize our value in the sight of God. He counted every one of us as more precious than His own life. But that objective recognition is entirely distinct from the basic self-centeredness of the fallen human race. God can love us in spite of our genetic weaknesses and indulged carnal appetites, but the closer we come to Jesus, the less charmed we should be by our own perverse ways. In fact, as we enter into the converted life through the Holy Spirit, the confidence we placed in the flesh will be wholly shifted to the Savior. In describing the new-birth experience, Paul compared it to spiritual circumcision. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

As we have noted already, the great apostle equated this conversion experience to the crucifixion of self. The truth is that the egocentric nature of every baby, child, and adult causes each to want their own way. This nature must be crucified, and under the mastery of the new spiritual nature, the affections are set upon Jesus. Self is no longer important. The flesh has no strength to control the life or fulfill its own will. The song of the soul now is, “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thou art the potter; I am the clay.” God grant us this experience

Riches of Grace

23 Feb
By Joe Crews
Oh! The Riches of His Grace
I read recently about a business executive whose work was to continually conduct interviews of people who were seeking positions in his corporation. This man insisted on having a long office with his desk opposite the door where the applicants had to enter. As they would walk across the room to take their place in front of him, he would watch them intently. By the time they were seated he already knew what he was going to do about their application.

I’m not saying this is a good way to judge and classify people—by initial impressions—but, unfortunately, most of us do it, either consciously or unconsciously. We make quick decisions, quite unfairly, based on how we respond to an individual’s walk, smile or haircut.

Let me ask you a question. Does God judge us in the same way that we judge each other? Aren’t you glad He doesn’t? He looks at the same people we do, but the Bible says that He does everything “according to the riches of His grace.” And what a difference that makes! Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.

One of the strangest texts in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 1:27, 28. Paul wrote, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” How is that possible? Our human reasoning says that it can never be done. How could lowly, ignorant people or things be used to embarrass the intelligence of the highly educated?

I came across the answer to these questions as I studied the manner in which Jesus called His disciples. Think of it for a moment. The Master needed men who could help Him communicate a life or death message to every country and in all the languages on earth. Suppose you had faced such a task? Where would you have looked for qualified spokesmen and personal representatives? I can’t answer for others but I think I would have headed straight for the university centers where linguistics and communication skills were honed to perfection.

Jesus didn’t do that. He passed by the great rabbinical schools of His day, and went down by the seaside where men were casting their nets for fish. There He called His disciples from among those who were rough and crude and even vulgar. He chose some who could not speak properly, even in their own provincial dialect! How could those uneducated peasants from the lowest levels of society ever meet the requirements of His worldwide mission? Why didn’t He select scholars of Greek and Hebrew culture who would know how to relate to people in every social circumstance? Let’s see if we can find the answers.

In the little fishing village of Bethsaida one bright early morning, the fishermen were taking care of the night’s catch. Among those who toiled with the nets and fish was one brawny, hardheaded fellow by the name of Simon Peter. Perhaps he was humming one of the rough folk songs of the sea as he worked at cleaning his catch for the market. Not for a moment did he realize that something would happen to him that day that would bring his name to the lips of millions down through the ages. Peter was just an obscure fisherman when Jesus of Nazareth passed by and looked at him.

What did Christ see as He looked at Peter on that memorable morning? Certainly not the same thing that everyone else saw. You see, the big fisherman was not a very lovable character. He was boastful and arrogant to such a degree that people probably avoided him whenever possible. This impulsive, bumbling man was always putting his foot in his mouth and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It almost seems, from the limited record, that he was the kind of man that only his mother could love. But that is not the man Jesus saw as He looked at Peter that day!

Jesus saw the real fisherman. He looked beneath that rough exterior and saw what this braggart could become through the riches of His grace. He saw a man who could stand up and preach a sermon that would bring thousands to the altar crying out “What shall I do to be saved?” And because He recognized what this diamond in the rough could become through the power of grace, Jesus loved him and called him to be a disciple. Isn’t that wonderful? And that’s why you and I are where we are right now. It’s why we’re not pulling the smelly nets of sin around anymore. Jesus passed by and looked at us. He didn’t see us as we were, but as we might become through His marvelous transforming power. Oh, the riches of His grace!

The Best Out of the Worst
I wish we could know the full story of that encounter by the seaside. First of all, I wonder why Peter and his com- panions were so willing to follow the call of this humble Galilean stranger, who was almost as rough hewn in appearance as they were. There was nothing special about the physical features of Jesus that would make Him stand out in a crowd. We are told that He was like a “root out of the dry ground,” indicating that He was not particularly handsome. His carpenter clothes and calloused hands would have identified Him as just another villager from a nearby community.

How, then, can we explain why those practical men of the sea were willing to walk away from their boats and nets as soon as Jesus said “Follow me”? Who can understand, from this future perspective, why they were drawn to make a lifelong commitment to follow this seemingly ignorant peasant? Surely there must have been something strangely irresistible about the face and voice of Jesus as He called them to leave it all that day. An aura of love and power must have beamed with such strength that they did not even ask the expected questions. There is no record that they asked about leaving the expensive equipment behind, or how much they would be paid, or how they could leave family or friends on such short notice.

But then began the process of molding all of those clods of fractious human material into a team of powerful evangelists. What hope was there that Peter could make the transformation? I’m reminded of the story of Michelangelo as he walked down the streets of Rome one day. In a corner he observed a piece of cracked marble that had apparently been cast aside by some would-be sculptor. In spite of the ugly split seam across the face of it, the great artist stood looking at the abandoned stone for a long time. Finally he called for his assistants to haul the marble into his studio. Behind the ruined surface Michelangelo had seen something that no one else had been able to recognize. He began to work on the stone with chisel and mallet. Weeks and months passed by as the master hammered and hewed the scarred reject, until finally there emerged from under his skillful fingers the figure of a man that was said to be so perfect that it lacked only life itself. That statue of David stood for many years in the basilica of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome as one of Michelangelo most perfect masterpieces.

I believe that’s what Jesus saw as He looked at that marred piece of humanity called Simon Peter. The Divine Artist had seen something in the big fisherman that nobody else had seen, and the shaping process was initiated. It took much hammering to remove all the pride and vainglory. It required blows like the night of the Transfiguration, the denial by the fireside and the night Peter walked on the sea. But slowly there came forth from under the Master’s skillful influence a masterpiece.

We can understand that miracle of Peter because the same thing has happened to each of us. In our unconverted condition we were no more attractive to Jesus than the boisterous, loudmouthed fisherman. But when He passed by and looked at us, He loved us in the same way. I was following a stubborn mule through a tobacco patch in North Carolina when He called me to follow Him. My life has never been the same since. How could He bring any good out of such miserable material? And yet He has done it over and over again. He has taken the weak, foolish things to confound the wise and the mighty. Aren’t you glad that He came looking for you, and did not pass you by? Praise God for His matchless grace!

My Grace is Sufficient
Consider for a moment how God has taken the weakest and the worst to turn the world upside down. Whom did He choose when He had a major earthshaking task to perform? He walked into a cobbler shop in Northampton, England, and tapped a man on the shoulder as he labored over his shoe lasts. In that humble shop God called William Carey to open up the dark Hindu land of India to the preaching of the gospel. That unknown leather worker became the father of the modern missionary movement in India, and it was my privilege, as a missionary there years later, to work with a direct descendant of the first Hindu convert won to Christianity by William Carey.

Again, Jesus passed down a side Street in Chicago and entered a shoe store where a struggling Christian lad was working as a salesman. His name was D. L. Moody, and Jesus called him that day to be a witness for Him. Dwight Moody stepped out of that little store to become one of the greatest lay evangelists since the days of the apostles. Later, he and his gospel singer, Sankey, went to England for a large evangelistic series in the city of London. On one of their slack days, they took a carriage ride through the forest outside the city, and there they came across an encampment of gypsies. Moody ordered the driver to stop so that he might preach to the ill-famed group who crowded around the carriage. After the sermon Sankey sang one of his beautiful gospel appeal songs. One earnest little gypsy boy stood by the carriage wheel and never took his eyes off the great soloist during the song. Sankey was so moved by the lad that he put his hand on his head and said, “God make a preacher out of this boy.” Later, under the influence of that kindly Christian attention, that forest gypsy boy dedicated his life to the ministry and powerfully impacted the world as Gypsy Smith.

In His own day, Jesus also called two tempestuous brothers, who worked the boats and nets with their father Zebedee. James and John seemed to be even less likely candidates for the ministry than the impetuous Peter. They had hair-trigger tempers and would fight at the drop of a hat. Christ actually gave them a nickname in response to their violent dispositions. He called them “Sons of Thunder.” Perhaps He bestowed that name after the experience in the Samaritan village. It was there that the brothers wanted to call fire down from Heaven to burn up the entire population because they did not show appropriate hospitality.

From all appearance, Jesus was destroying His mission by calling James and John to be His disciples. It must have been obvious to everyone that these men would embarrass the Master every time they opened their mouths. Yet, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He saw the glorious potential in the lives of those cantankerous brothers. One of them would become the most tender-hearted of the twelve, leaning upon the bosom of Jesus and writing unparalleled epistles about love for others. Once again God had chosen the “things which are despised to confound the things that are mighty.” “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).

Then there was the time Jesus went walking in the Bowery section of wicked old New York City, and down in the filth of the street lay a drunken wretch of a man by the name of Sam Hadley. Every day he would lie in the gutter as a revolting spectacle to those who passed by, and each night he would crawl into one of the flea-bitten rooms along the Bowery to sleep it off. And that’s what Jesus saw as He passed by and looked. Or was it what Jesus saw? The truth is that Christ did not see a hopeless derelict at all. He looked past the filth and corruption and saw the man Sam Hadley could become through the power of His grace. He said, “Follow me,” and that seeming piece of human refuse responded. For years Sam Hadley preached the gospel along the waterfronts of New York, leading thousands to accept the life-changing grace of Christ, and proving again that God can make the best out of the worst.

Paul Before Nero
How can we describe this “much more” grace that can overpower the strongest propensities of evil? First of all, it is free and available to every soul in the world. Also, it reaches far beyond the trite definitions that we often assign to it. Grace is not a theory, or a dream, or a dead hope. The standard explanation of “unmerited favor” falls far short of describing its redemptive mission. I’d like to suggest that grace is primarily power to provide for every possible need in human life. It takes much power to chisel a chunk of dense granite into the perfect form of a man, but it requires infinitely more to transform a dissolute, immoral man or woman into the image of Jesus Christ.

Of all the writers of the Bible, Paul seemed to have a truer concept of grace and also a deeper appreciation for its dramatic performance in daily living. If the great apostle could write today he would probably not be able to give a more profound statement on grace than he gave to the church in Corinth. He wrote: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). In one verse Paul makes a threefold reference to the grace that was totally responsible for all his accomplishments. Constantly he preached about it and gave witness in every place to his miraculous encounter with Christ on the Damascus road.

Paul never forgot the radical events of the day that brought him face to face with the Messiah he rejected and despised. With fury in his heart he had rushed to destroy every Christian he could track down in the territory of Damascus. But then came the bright light and the voice from Heaven! The proud Pharisee was blinded during that confrontation, but he also had his eyes opened for the first time concerning the object of his intense hatred. As the scales fell away from his spiritual vision and Paul recognized the voice of the very Jesus he had persecuted, he cried out, “What wilt thou have me to do?”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose the most rabid religious fanatic in the Jewish community to be His missionary to the Gentiles? It is certain that all outward appearances would have precluded Saul from any possible consideration for such a mission. But Jesus made His move on the basis of grace—that divine energy that would capture the focused rage of Saul and redirect it into the missionary zeal of Paul. No wonder the great apostle wrote, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”

How did that grace-power operate in Paul’s extensive ministry? When he found grace in the eyes of the Lord, what did it do for him? He found deliverance from the storm at sea and from the deadly venom of the viper later on the island. He was rescued from prison and saved from the mob who tried to stone him. Grace was very real to him, because it consisted of dynamic present power for every dangerous moment of his busy life. It is easy to understand why he made grace the chief theme of his evangelistic thrust among the non-Jewish cities to which he ministered. To the Ephesians he wrote, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

Did Paul find that marvelous grace adequate for all the problems and dangers that constantly beset him? In one case he became afflicted with an irritating physical disability that he designated as “a thorn in the flesh.” From other places in his epistles we gather that the problem had to do with his vision. In his letter to the Galatians he stated, “Ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Galatians 4:15). Again he spoke of having to write them in large letters as though he could not see very well (Galatians 6:11).

The infirmity became so severe that Paul made it a special subject of prayer. He described the experience in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9). Thus God’s powerful delivering grace now became the sustaining grace that held Paul firm and unmoving even though the thorn was not removed.

To understand the strength of that sufficient grace we need to follow Paul through those final weeks and months of his ministry. He had an insatiable desire to go back to Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel where he had barely escaped from the infuriated priests and Pharisees. All his friends tried to dissuade him from the dangerous venture, warning him about the violent prejudice of the Jewish community. Paul’s answer was: “Now I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).

That grace which had been revealed to Paul on the Damascus road was like a burning fire in his heart. He longed to give one final testimony to the leaders of the people he loved, even though God had revealed to him that imprisonment would result.

The enemies, of course, were waiting for Paul, and they did attack him physically. He was manhandled by both soldiers and citizens, and after appraising the depth of feeling against him as revealed in the false witnesses before the governor’s court, Paul appealed to Caesar.

After months of political intrigue, as well as many miserable weeks of life-threatening storms at sea, Paul was delivered to the authorities in Rome. There he was thrown into a dark, mucky hole in the ground called the Mamertine Prison. Today, those who visit the site are conducted down brightly lighted steps into the dungeon area. I thought of Paul’s actual confinement as I walked down those stairs on my visit to Rome. He languished there for many days before they hauled him out and prepared him to stand before the emperor. I’ve tried to reconstruct in my mind how Paul must have felt as he was ushered into the throne room of the most evil, bloodthirsty tyrant who ever ruled a nation. Nero was the heartless despot who had ruthlessly persecuted the Christians at Rome and whose actions toward his own people had been without a trace of pity or compassion.

What a moment it must have been for the eloquent Paul when he was granted permission to speak in his own behalf before the ruler of the entire world. How did he feel as he looked around that magnificent hall where ambassadors and legates from every country were assembled to honor the emperor? There is no doubt that Paul could have presented an able defense for himself because he was highly educated in the persuasive art of speech, but when he saw that vast assemblage of representatives from the ends of the earth his heart was moved within him. He realized that the words he would speak that day would be carried back to all the countries represented there. So instead of his own legal defense Paul preached one of his most powerful sermons about the riches of that grace revealed so long ago on the road to Damascus.

That sermon never died. It was no doubt repeated by those who heard it until the influence had circled the earth. But Paul was returned to the filth of the wretched Mamertine. Later, he was granted limited freedom to communicate with friends and fellow Christians, but after two years the guards came again to place the aged apostle under chains from which he would never be freed.

Was that promised grace sufficient to sustain the gallant tent maker to the very end of his life? Yes. The day came when they led him down the cobblestone street for the last time, past the emperor’s palace and into the arena where his life was to be taken from him. What did Paul think as he passed the great statue of Nero that stood in front of the royal palace? History tells us that the huge image towered 110 feet into the air; It would have been impossi- ble not to see it as the soldiers escorted the prisoner toward the coliseum.

Paul undoubtedly saw the monument that day and the inscription carved into the pedestal: Nero—Conqueror. Is it hard for us to imagine the thoughts that passed through his head as he looked up at that massive stone image and read the words on the foundation? Surely Paul’s mind was taken back to the day when he sat in the prison at Corinth, writing an epistle of encouragement to the suffering saints in Rome. He had heard of their persecutions under the cruel hand of Nero, and his pen dripped with sympathy and love as he poured out his heart to them. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to sepa- rate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Paul’s own inspired words now come back to comfort him as he reads the boastful inscription on the statue. Surely he must have thought, “Nero, you are not the conqueror. You are the slave of your own perverted nature. Christians are the free ones. We are ‘more than conquerors through Christ our Lord.’”

Paul counted it all joy to make the supreme sacrifice for the Savior he loved. A man cannot die for a shallow cause, but something had been etched into the heart of Paul that could never be erased. God’s grace was sufficient. It did not fail him. Neither has it proved insufficient for any other who has claimed it by faith. A man is never the same when Jesus passes by and looks and loves. Paul certainly wasn’t, and neither was Nathaniel whom Jesus saw under the fig tree.

And what can we say about Zacchaeus, the midget millionaire, who was so eager to see the Master that he climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better look? This man had been a professional white-collar thief, but when Jesus looked at him that day his greedy heart was transformed by grace. Have you considered the miracle of that moment when Jesus called his name and announced that He was going home with Zacchaeus for lunch? In a flash the wily tax collector slid down the tree to accept the offer, but by the time he touched the ground his devious nature had been totally changed, and he was a different person. His first words were, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

No one can deny that those words bear mighty testimony of true conversion. Zacchaeus had a lot to restore, and he still had committed to sharing half his fortune with the poor. What a fantastic heart change took place in that few seconds of conversation. Oh, the riches of His grace! How measureless and deep. One day Jesus passed by on that road and looked down and saw a poor man in the gutter. He reached out to him and met his need. The next day He passed the same way and looked up to see a rich man in a tree. He was able to meet his need also. How wonderful that He can meet the need of every individual at any social level and regardless of the problem. He can meet your need and mine this very moment.

Peter’s Final Triumph
But let’s come back to the biography of the big fisherman. His was probably the most dramatic change of all the rest. Yet there was another time that Jesus looked at Peter under very different circumstances. All the disciples had professed undying devotion to their Master, but impulsive Peter had spoken louder and longer than any of the others. He would go to his death rather than be disloyal to the One who had called him from his nets. Jesus, of course, knew better and warned the ardent disciple that his words would soon be tested and found wanting. “Verily I say unto thee, that this night before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Matthew 26:34).

Within hours the little group of disciples were trying to stay awake while Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. Suddenly, out of the darkness of the night, came shouts from a well-armed mob, and Peter, stirred from his slumber, leaped to his feet with sword in hand. In a rash display of bravado he swung wildly at the nearest man, whacking off an ear. Instantly, Peter was rebuked by the quiet voice of the Master, “Put up again thy sword into his place.”

Then pandemonium broke out as the traitor Judas identified Jesus as the object of their search. In the resulting confusion Jesus was violently separated from His followers and dragged away for an impromptu, illegal confrontation with Pilate in the governor’s judgment hall. As for the disciples, we have this simple, succinct biblical statement, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56). But then Matthew quickly adds these words, “But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace” (Verse 58).

The shameful interlude around the fire in the palace courtyard highlights the depth of Peter’s instability, earlier recognized by Jesus when He added the name Cephas or Peter (rolling stone) to Simon’s name. In three groveling denials Peter distanced himself from the One who was plainly visible through the open door. Those lips which had declared, “thou art the Son of God” now began to pour forth curses and invectives to avert the accusing finger of a little girl who recognized him, but his earthy denials were cut short in mid-sentence by the shrill sound of a crowing rooster. Then Peter’s eyes were drawn through that open door to meet the steady, return gaze of Jesus—a sorrowful look of love and compassion that would burn in the broken heart of Peter for many hours.

As the full horror of what he had done dawned on Peter’s mind he fled into the sheltering darkness. Mercifully we are not allowed to follow the pain-racked apostle as he sought out a solitary place to agonize through a seemingly endless night. But the remorse did not cease for Peter on that Paschal night, nor on the preparation day which followed.

In our own minds we can easily picture the tormented state of Peter’s mind during that special high Sabbath while Jesus rested in the tomb. He struggled with the thought that he might have committed the unpardonable sin. The overwhelming guilt of his despicable deed was constantly before him.

But then it was Sunday morning and Peter forced himself to join the other disciples as they assembled to share their grief. There is shame on the part of all as they remember their cowardly conduct on Thursday night, but Peter is more devastated than any of the others. I can picture him drawing aside into a corner, still red-eyed from weeping. Suddenly the door bursts open and Mary Magdalene flies into the room, gasping out the electrifying news that she has seen the resur- rected Jesus. There is a stir of excitement, but then a wave of unbelief. Excitedly Mary repeats the words of the angel that they should go to Galilee to meet the Master for themselves. But the Bible says that her words “seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed not” (Luke 24:11).

Is it hard to imagine Mary’s frustration at such skepticism of her eyewitness report? But where was Peter? Surely he would believe that she was telling the truth. Seeing him in the corner she rushed to pour out her story anew. “Come,” she said, “We must meet our Lord in Galilee.” “No, Mary. Not me. Jesus will never want to speak to me again. I denied Him with cursing and swearing!” And then Mary’s words tumble out with renewed excitement, “No, Peter, the angel said, ‘Tell his disciples and Peter.’ He called your name. He especially wanted you to be there.”

Did ever sweeter words fall upon a human heart than those thrilling words of Mary? Into the darkened life of that grieving disciple the glory of heaven burst like a newly risen sun. And then Peter is running, running to tell everyone the glorious news. The narrative continues after saying “they believed not,” with these words, “Then rose Peter and ran unto the sepulcher” (Verse 12). The joyful words rang in his heart—Jesus still loved him! Jesus had forgiven him!

I need waste no further words with the story, because every one of us has passed through the same sharp-edged remorse that cut off Peter’s joy and hope. We have asked ourselves the same question that he must have screamed into the darkness—”Why did I do it? I loved Him and yet I denied Him!” And our broken hearts have been lifted and healed by the same blessed assurance that our sins have been forgiven. Jesus loves us still and responds instantly to our cry of repentance. Hallelujah! What a Saviour! How can we not love such a Redeemer? And from such an experience of restoration we may enter as Peter did into a life of constant victory and fruitful witnessing for the Master. All because He has chosen us in our weakness, through the riches of His grace, to confound the things that are mighty. Where sin abounded, let grace much more abound! Thanks be to God for the unsearchable riches of that grace!

AWAKE AWAKE!

22 Feb

I went to church today and im very glad i went the message that was given was not an easy one but it was an IMPORTANT one. So i had to share it with you and i pray you open your heart to it and not harden your hearts.

The scripture was from Ephesians 5:14 and it reads as follows from the KJV:
Wherefor he saith Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead! And Christ shall give thee light

We  as christians are fast asleep while the enemy is wide awake out there, we as christians have a work to do and we havent even begun, we as christians have things in our lives that has no right to be in a christians life.

My brothers and sisters in Christ we are surrounded everyday by death everyday souls are dying because we are asleep. The church is unknowingly in very grave DANGER!

We tend to think that if we read a passage from the Bible and pray that we are doing enough that is not true, We have a work to do we have souls to save.  We are asleep in the middle of a harvest we have put down our sickles. We have to adopt Christ’s character and take to the world ready to teach others what we Jesus has taught us.

WE HAVE TO IMITATE GOD AS A CHILD IMITATES HIS FATHER.

THis message had such an impact on  me it broke my heart because  i am asleep and i didnt know it.

I pray fellow christians that you dont harden your heart towards this message but that we take action and together we can make desciples of men.

Culture And The Christian

17 Jan
By Joe Crews
Culture and the Christian
We hear a lot these days about vanishing species in the physical world of nature. Some creatures have almost become extinct as their breeding habitats have been invaded and destroyed by advancing “civilization.”
I would like to suggest that there is a similar problem in the spiritual world also. A certain kind of historic faith and lifestyle is being slowly choked out of existence by the inexorable advance of a voracious, alien culture. Paul warned of a time when the true church would be threatened by a spirit of conformity to worldly values. He said, “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). One translator has made it more urgent: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Phillips).
Is there reason to believe that the simple faith of our fathers has been eroded by a burgeoning hedonistic society? Jesus made some very clear statements about the spiritual threats that would confront His people just prior to His return. He said, “as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26). Obviously there will be some dramatic parallels between this high-tech final generation and the antediluvians of 6,000 years ago. Certainly the Master was not talking about scientific similarities, but something would be the same. What was it? The answer is found in the book of beginnings: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
We could cite scores of texts to show how an obsessive self-indulgence would be rampant in the last days just as it was in the days of Noah. Love of pleasure, vanity, desire for the supremacy, and above everything else an inordinate pride, would characterize the doomed end-time civilization. Self lies at the root of almost every sin for which man will be held accountable. It was that spirit of egocentric pride that precipitated Lucifer into his original course of rebellion against God. He declared that he would be the greatest and sit in the sides of the north. He would even be “like the most high” and take God’s place in ruling the universe.
After being cast out of heaven, Satan sought to infect the human family with the same evil principles of self-aggrandizement that had turned him into a devil. He appealed to Eve’s unfallen mind to become more wise so that she could be like God. Since that encounter with our first parents, Satan has used exactly the same avenues of approach to all the descendants of Adam. His temptations are always aimed at the most vulnerable point of weakness in fallen human nature—and that weakness is pride; the desire to attract attention to self.
Has the prophecy of Jesus been fulfilled today? Have the minds of most modern sons of Adam been invaded by “evil continually”? No one who reads the newspaper can be in doubt on these questions. Murder, drugs, rape, terrorism, satanism and every conceivable related perversion, has turned this planet into a place of fear. And there is an evil basic principle behind every type of crime being committed today. The self-nature wants attention. It wants to rule; to be gratified; to have its own way. People are usually murdered because they stand in the way of someone who is determined to acquire money, power or attention. The twisted ego of fallen man demands to be the greatest, to have the most, and to stand at the top. The drug and sex problems are always related to self-gratification. Political corruption and spiritual compromise are equally rooted in greed, to gain either materially or in popularity. Whether we look at Wall Street, professional sports, politics or religion, we see extreme manifestations of the self-nature seeking to be recognized and exalted.
What does all this have to do with the loss of a spiritual lifestyle among God’s people? Jesus put His finger on the pulse of the problem when He said, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). In other words, there would be a corresponding compromise in the church as the conditions of evil proliferated in the world. The deadening influence of a self-centered environment would gradually infect those who once had a genuine love relationship with God. That love would grow cold.
Are we suggesting that all those violent drug and crime scenes would be reenacted among the saints? No. Jesus did not say that those iniquities would come to characterize His church, but He did imply that they would create a carelessness within the body of Christ that could lead to a loss of faith and love. Note the significant question that Jesus asked, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). No one can deny that a lethargic lukewarmness has crept upon us, diluting many of the unique devotional practices that identified true worship for centuries of the past. Jesus indicated that an encroaching secular society would decimate the ranks of His own followers to such a degree that only a few would survive. “As it was in the days of Noah.” How many were saved at that time? Only eight. Jesus said, “So shall it be in the days of the Son of man.” He was talking about His return. A small remnant would recognize the contaminating process of gradual compromise which would endanger even the “very elect.” Jesus said, “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).
I would like to suggest that any satanic plan capable of destroying the vast majority of believers would have to be very subtle, devious and almost undetectable. It is also quite apparent that such a program would be so well disguised that those deceived would not even be aware of losing their faith. Love grows cold by degrees. The world crowds in closer and closer. Conformity begins over issues that seem small and inconsequential.
Look once more at the analytical sentence of our Lord in describing the anatomy of compromise. He said, “Because iniquity shall abound,” Christians would grow cold. Their love would wax cold. Paul prophesied that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). As evil slowly grows worse in the world, love slowly grows cold in the church.
Why did Jesus tie the loss of spiritual power to the rise of iniquity in the world around us? Simply because He understood how we can be affected by the sights and sounds of a carnal society. Repeatedly the Bible warns against relating to the world. Jesus said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world … therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Paul wrote, “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17). John declared, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). James said, “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
In order to understand better what these inspired people were warning us about, read the illuminating words of our Lord in Luke 16:15. He said, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” There is the real crux of truth that we have been searching for. Jesus defined the enemy for us so clearly that no Christian needs to be confused. The “world hateth you” because you do not esteem the same things they do! “The friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The most highly esteemed things in the world today are utter abomination in God’s sight, and true Christians should be aware of what they are.
A very important question is raised at this point in the minds of many. How can we know which things fit into this category of abomination? Obviously we are talking about social values and cultural practices. Almost everything we do is rooted in a pattern of current customs. Are they all wrong? What aspects of prevailing lifestyles are acceptable and which are unacceptable? Jesus has certainly shown us that abounding iniquity is out there in the world, increasing all the time, and that it will be responsible for the majority of Christians losing their way. He has also said that some of the most popular cultural behavior in the world is an abomination to Him.
I believe the answer to these questions is found in the words of our Lord. He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Please notice that Jesus did not say “let him deny himself alcohol or drugs or illicit sex,” He just said to “deny himself.” Period. All one is really required to do is say no to the self-nature which is resident in every one of us. Since self is behind every sin, this victory will bring all other victories with it. Yielding to the demands of that egocentric nature is to participate in the same sin that actuated Lucifer and later led to the death of Jesus on the cross. It is the constant subduing of that lower, carnal nature which distinguishes the children of light from the children of darkness. Although conversion does not remove that selfish nature, it does bring a new spiritual authority into the life that overpowers the propensities of evil, bringing them under the sanctified control of a surrendered will.
It is important to note that a continual life-or-death warfare is being waged in every born-again Christian. The ever-present fallen nature will always be in conflict with the spiritual mind. We must choose which of the two shall rule our life. Jesus said, “Ye cannot serve two masters.” It must be either self or the Saviour. But many overlook the fact that we are responsible for saying no to self. Jesus said, “Let him deny himself.” Everyday we have to choose what we look at, listen to, smell, feel and taste. The five senses are the doors that give access to influences that either sanctify us or pollute us. The mind automatically conforms to whatever we allow to enter through the sensory perceptions.
This brings us back to the question of which cultural practices we can safely engage in. All of them are going to have an influence on the mind by appealing to one of our senses. By the grace of God, we can close the door on any cultural influence that will feed the self-nature. We need to learn which ones will weaken us and which ones will strengthen us. Cultural practices are neither good nor bad simply because they have become the behavioral norm for a contemporary society. They must be tested by something deeper than a passing fad or custom.
There are many Christians who believe that cultural practices cannot be judged as wrong because they represent only the application of a principle and not the principle itself. They contend that a practice can be right for one society but wrong for another depending on the cultural imperatives in operation at the time. Indeed there are examples that could be given to demonstrate that this is valid as a general principle. But there are also one or two notable exceptions to that rule. If we do not recognize those exceptions, we are subject to some grievous errors of biblical interpretation that could endanger our souls. I am alarmed to see theologians as well as laymen applying this cultural rule to the understanding of Scripture. They surmise that the Bible writers themselves were so influenced by prevailing cultural mores that they incorporated many current social dos and don’ts into their “inspired” writings. It is assumed that if the Scripture authors were writing today they would not take the same position. Thus many biblical teachings believed to betied to a cultural influence are simply disqualified for being relevant to our own day.
Even though time and place may be appropriate to consider, those factors should never be allowed to override the authority of an inspired canonical instruction. It is a serious thing to assume the responsibility of choosing from the counsels of God what should be applied to this age and what should not be applied now. Eternal judgment is to be determined by the Word of God, and no man is to take away or add thereto. What an awesome account will be required of any who weakens one single requirement of the inspired record.
It is interesting to notice which biblical teachings are being modified by an appeal to culture. Almost invariably it proves to be subjects dealing with prohibitions or restrictions in popular lifestyle practices. Do you know why? Because many of those practices are rooted in the indulgence of the self-nature. No one objects to the application of a biblical truth or principle as long as it does not make any demands involving self-denial. Anything that challenges the basic carnal drive of the self-nature is hard to accept. Is it any wonder that Christian standards are gradually being reinterpreted in order to accommodate more of the increasingly egocentric fashions of the world? High spiritual standards always demand a yielding up of self and all that glorifies the perverted pride of the fallen nature.
Jesus said it very succinctly when He declared, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” The spirit of pride has continually catered to attitudes, which focus on self-display. Our Lord said that self should be denied. Scores of Bible texts indicate that God was displeased with the outward adornment of the person. Divine disapproval of jewelry in the Bible is in direct conflict with the natural vain tendencies of the fallen nature. It is not surprising that efforts are being made to nullify the clear biblical counsel on this and other subjects by a new hermeneutic approach. They tell us that specifics don’t apply to us today because the inspired writers were influenced by the prevailing social atmosphere in which they lived. The cultural practices that they found objectionable are no longer objectionable because the times have changed.
This same reasoning has been applied to the subject of ordaining women for the ministry, as well as other areas of pressing public interest. The Bible cannot speak authoritatively in these matters because the writers were simply expressing the current, popular viewpoint of their cultural system. So goes the argument of those who have crumbled under the pressure of majority opinion. I have observed a number of my friends reverse their positions on the subjects of jewelry and women’s ordination. They agree that the Bible evidence is against the two practices, but they do not believe the prohibitions apply today. So they have shifted over to the position that they believe the inspired writers would assume if they were living under our cultural conditions.
Now I would like to explain the real inadequacy of the “culture” argument by a closer look at the jewelry question. Most people agree that there is an abundance of negative references to the wearing of ornaments in the Bible. In some places a list of the decorative items are actually given in the texts, and the Lord Himself gave instruction for them to be stripped away. In every case, the condemned articles were a part of the common cultural practices of the time. But was that the reason for their meeting with divine disapproval?
I submit that God clearly revealed that He was attacking a deeper problem than simply a social or cultural conformity. In Exodus 33:5 He said, “Ye are a stiff-necked people … therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee.” In Isaiah 3:16-18 the Lord addresses the women of Israel thus: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks … the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments.” Paul admonished “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls or costly array” (1 Timothy 2:9). Peter said, “let it not be that outward adorning … but … the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:3, 4).
None deny that God is addressing a principle here rather than just localized social custom. The women in all cases were afflicted with pride, the great basic sin of fallen humanity. The wearing of the jewelry was merely a symptom of the real problem, but it was playing havoc with the spiritual principle of modesty and humility. The texts show that the women were cited as an example of the violation of the principle. Thus God’s disapproval was not rooted in a cultural practice, but in a basic flaw common to all the human family. Had it been tied only to culture, God’s objections would have changed when and if the culture changed. But since God’s prohibition rested upon an inherent condition of human nature, the prohibition would remain as long as the fallen nature remained. If a certain practice stirs up sin because it appeals to a weakness in every human being, then that practice is wrong on that basis alone! And it would be wrong whenever and wherever it appeared in fallen human nature. No one can point to a single period in history when the wearing of ornaments did not elicit from that carnal nature the same inordinate pride that the inspired writers saw and condemned in their day.
To be totally honest, we must concede that, culturally, the practices of adornment appear to be just about the same today as they were when the Bible was written. Since those practices were portrayed by the inspired prophets as being a violation of the spiritual principle at that time, we have absolutely no grounds for assuming they would not be equally wrong today.
If it could be demonstrated that the objectionable adornments stirred up sinful pride in one age but not in another, then the cultural argument might have some validity. But even then we would have to ask why God would include so many specific instructions in the eternal Scriptures that would be applicable at one time but not applicable at another time. It is very superficial to assume that by proving a cultural connection we are destroying the application of those prohibitions to later generations. Surely no one can honestly contend that pride is a less devious problem in its manifestation today than it was in the days of Isaiah, Peter, Paul or John.
It is truly a staggering thought that the great original sin by the author of all evil was the sin of pride of appearance. The Scripture declares of Lucifer: “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness” (Ezekiel 28:17).
Think of it! Here was a holy creature, totally unlike the race of fallen Adam. He had no natural propensities toward sin, but yet he was overcome by yielding to the appeal of personal vanity. We have every reason to recognize this temptation as the most powerful that any free-choice being could ever face.  Surely if inordinate pride of his “brightness” and “beauty” overwhelmed the most glorious of God’s creatures, then we fallen mortal beings must be a thousand times more susceptible to the same appeal. Is this why God warned against the feeding of those fires of self-love by adorning the physical person? Was God trying to protect us from an innate perversity that was almost second nature to every descendant of fallen Adam?
This would certainly explain the inherent propensity of women to be so emotionally distressed by the removing of make-up and jewelry. For years I wondered why ladies would often react with tears and anger even when the subject was broached. I’ve observed the same visceral reaction of some men to the giving up of rings or chains. Now I understand why the offended self-nature leaps to a defense of those items. The very deepest springs of perverse pride are affronted by the stripping away of the outward objects. Few will admit that they really are attached to the glittering baubles, but none have been able to explain, if that is true, why they are so disturbed by taking them off. The truth is that pride is so subtle, being the root of most other sins, that it creeps into many cultural practices almost unrecognized. It not only tries to attract attention to self physically by wearing artificial adornment, but also intellectually by dominating conversations, and spiritually by calling attention to one’s dutifully correct way of life. In reality, self-righteous spiritual pride could be more deadly than the pride of vain display.
Sometimes I have been asked why God would deny us the wearing of gold, jewels, pearls, etc., when the Holy City will actually be composed of such rare gems. Again we are reminded that the precious stones are not the problem; they are not evil. The problem is what the wearing of those things does to the carnal human nature. After this fallen nature is removed, and these purified characters are translated into glorious immortality, there will be no more lower self-nature to be appealed to. Golden crowns can be safely worn by all the redeemed, and not one heavenly being will be seeking to draw attention to anyone save the Lamb who will be in the midst of us.
Glittering earrings, chains, finger rings and colorful cosmetics will not be collected and worn by competing saints in order to appear more beautiful or more sophisticated. The beauty of the Lord our God will be upon every ransomed man, woman and child, and no one will give the slightest thought to being more than our God makes us by His own divine adornment. How wonderful it would be if all could now be satisfied to bear the same heavenly beauty of His righteousness without obscuring it by cheap, artificial tinsel.
It has been suggested by some that all specific applications of a principle must be left to individual conviction. These people contend, therefore, that no church should set up a standard that would proscribe certain articles of adornment. But if this is true, why did the Holy Spirit inspire Bible writers to make lists of then-current items of dress that were objectionable? It was God who identified such things as earrings, rings, and eye paint as being displeasing to Him. And it had nothing to do with culture! These things were condemned because they catered to the carnal appetite of a sinful nature. They violated a holy principle whose roots went far deeper than the shallow vagaries of contaminated culture.
The truth is that there are scores of modern manifestations of pride that were unimaginable in the days of Bible writers. Were they writing today, they would undoubtedly call them by name and warn against the indulgence of them. If there is uncertainty on the part of anyone as to which of the latest innovations of pride would be specifically named, let them have no uncertainty about the listing of those indulgences that called forth their strong condemnation when they wrote hundreds of years ago. They would surely look at the same symbols of pride—rings, earrings and painted eyes—and would write, “I will therefore … that woman adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broided hair, or gold or pearls or costly array” (1 Timothy 2:9).
I view the problem of cultural interpretation as one of the most serious issues in the area of biblical research. What uninspired scholar or layman can claim the wisdom to separate between cultural issues and eternal principles—if indeed there are such things as cultural issues in the Bible? It boggles our minds that God would clutter the pages of His everlasting, living Word with remonstrances that would have meaning only for a certain few people in a certain brief span of time.
Through the appeal of this perverted hermeneutic, thousands have found a way to avoid unpleasant requirements of the Scriptures. It is not hard to be persuaded if one is already looking for the means of evading a difficult duty.
The confusion would be unimaginable if specific biblical standards were tailored to the social whims of any particular age. How would any of the Bible be trustworthy if any part of it could be attributed to a writer who was influenced more by his environment than by the Holy Spirit? Many times the inspired prophets had to take stands against extremely popular cultural activities. Some were put to death because they dared to defy the demands of a dissolute social order.
We need to study once again how men were moved by the Holy Ghost to translate God’s thought into human verbs and adjectives. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;” not just the part which appears relevant to my age, my culture or my sex. The Bible is absolutely timeless in its universal application to every person, in every age, and under all circumstances.
But now let’s consider the fact that the jewelry question cannot really be properly placed in the “cultural issue” category. The basic argument in favor of doing so collapses when we discover that ornamentation practices of biblical times and the present are essentially the same. It is true that the inspired writers observed the majority of women in their day wearing almost every variety of decorative jewelry—just as we see it being done today. Yet, with those culturally acceptable practices before their eyes, they wrote against the wearing of them. If indeed they were being influenced by culture, they would have certainly bent toward a tolerance of the practice. How can we charge the writers with cultural bias when they wrote counter to the cultural demands? And on what basis could we believe they would write differently today? If those men were to come alive today, they would see many strange and bewildering things on this modern scene, but I submit that the earrings, bangles, chains and makeup would probably be the most familiar custom with which they could relate.
Do we dare contend that they were influenced to write against the most popular practice because everyone was wearing the ornaments? And if we took such a view on that issue, how would we correlate it with the parallel issue of ordaining women to preach? In New Testament times, women were culturally not permitted to be spiritual leaders, and Paul took a firm position against their public function as such. By doing so he has been charged with undue bias favorable to the cultural demands. Yet in the same chapter, Paul wrote against women wearing ornaments, even though his position, this time, was unfavorable to the cultural demands. So poor Paul has been charged with cultural bias regardless of what he wrote. Is it not obvious why he wrote against some practices that were popular, and supportive of other practices that were equally popular? Paul was writing what the Holy Spirit inspired him to write. Whether it agreed or disagreed with majority opinion was the least of the great apostle’s concern. This man had faced every form of violent opposition without compromising his message. What an insult to even suggest that Paul might have allowed cultural circumstances to dictate his position on controversial issues whether popular or unpopular.
Surely it must now be clear why some people today are inconsistently charging Paul with bias on both of these issues. It is the only way to discredit the inspired words of Scripture that cut across their own preferred lifestyle. The truth is that Paul’s modern-day accusers are the only ones being influenced by culture. It seems that they do not have the courage to stand against the overwhelming tide of popular practice in the area of personal adornment and women’s ordination, and the only way to justify their compromise with a worldly culture is to somehow discount the clear Bible statements condemning those practices. But they cannot have it both ways. They must define how culture is supposed to affect inspired Bible authors. Does it pressure them to favor that which is culturally popular? Or does it pressure them to condemn current acceptable customs? Regardless of how they answer those questions, their real motive is exposed. The culture argument seems to provide a way to indulge the self-nature and to be popular with the crowd, even if it involves rejecting certain parts of the Bible to do so.
Because it tends to weaken credibility of the Scriptures, most advocates of the culture-interpretation view seek to dilute their humanistic approach with a variety of trite surface arguments against a literal application of the texts. For example, a great deal is made out of certain Greek and Hebrew words which, in their translation, can be made to describe either functional or decorative articles of clothing. And because the Bible cautions against ostentatious and extravagant display of otherwise acceptable dress, it is made to appear that if we approve any expensive type of clothing, then we must also approve the wearing of purely ornamental jewelry as well.
This same exaggerated ploy seeks to confuse the issue further by equating utilitarian objects such as watchbands, tie clasps and cuff links with decorative display jewelry. Even though it may be wise to avoid wearing certain functional items because of the way they are perceived by some, there is a clear distinction between the two classes of articles. For instance, no one would ever suggest that a pair of eyeglasses is in the category of ornaments. Yet if the frames were worn without any lenses held before the eyes, those frames would certainly qualify as a true ornament. Even a ring would not be counted in the jewelry class if it served to hold the finger on the hand! That would make it a functional object. Generally those who press these frail arguments are simply trying to create a rationale for indulging self. Unfortunately the predictable result is a loss of confidence in the integrity of Scripture.
Women’s ordination is endorsed in the face of Paul’s unilateral assertion that elders should be “the husband of one wife.” The apostle’s explanation of women’s secondary role in spiritual matters, based upon the order of creation, has been totally rejected by the new culture revisionist. They fault Paul for allowing personal chauvinistic prejudice and/or local cultural mandates to influence his writing of the epistles. The strongest arguments they can offer in favor of female priestesses and ministers are built around the verses alluding to equality of salvation for every man, woman, Jew or Gentile. Those verses have nothing to do with assignment of office or spiritual roles. They are referring to salvation and moral worth. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. … There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). Just as surely as slave/master relationships were physically unaffected by entrance into Christ, so were the male/female physical relationships unaltered. Spiritually, yes. But not in any other way. The physical roles were not changed, either legally or in practice.
By the way, it should be noted that there are some very important and specific roles for women to fulfill in the church today. Just because they have been excluded from spiritual leadership does not mean they have no responsibilities in sharing and teaching. Short of serving as priests or elders there are multiplied functions of ministry available to dedicated Christian women. Millions are serving in these supportive roles with no thought of public acclaim or ordination.
In both cases of jewelry and women’s ordination, the Bible clearly reveals that the objection was not tied to the culture. It went deeper by far. The ornamentation violated the spiritual principle of modesty and humility while the ordination of women violated the spiritual order of creative roles. Paul pointed to these basic principles in dealing with the two issues, but that fact has been ignored by those who seek to make both of them a mere matter of cultural relativity.
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