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.”

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.

Man’s Flicker or God’s Flame

15 Jan
By Joe Crews
Man’s Flicker or God’s Flame
One of the clearest, last-day signs revealed in the Bible is the build-up of spiritual and demonic forces for a final all-out struggle which will settle the destiny of every living soul. God and Satan will meet in the climactic war of Armageddon, and the age long controversy between good and evil will be resolved for all eternity.
The Bible indicates that Satan will work feverishly through all the artful devices that appeal to the human mind, seeking to deceive the whole planet into his camp. John says that he “is come down … having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:12). In preparation for this encounter, which he has been planning for over 6000 years, the adversary will manipulate both political and religious forces. Centuries of groundwork have been laid in the development of counterfeit ideas and doctrines. The fiendish genius of Satan is aimed at developing a strategy which will keep people from being saved. The ultimate goal of the devil is to make people sin, because sin is the only thing that will keep anyone out of heaven.
The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Paul further clarifies that it is the breaking of the Ten-Commandment law which constitutes sin (Romans 7:7). It is no wonder at all, then, that the focus of the final contest will be over obedience to God’s great moral law. Satan despises the government of heaven and its law. He broke the concord of angels long, long ago by charging God with requiring too much. He accused God of being unjust by demanding obedience to a law that could not be kept. Ever since that time he has tried to make his accusations come true by leading people to break that law. For non-Christians the devil had no problem whatsoever, but how could he unite all the great religious bodies in a program of disobedience?
His grandiose design for the final deception was to lead everyone to transgress against the authority of heaven, even the religious world. Obviously, some scheme would have to be devised which would make Christians comfortable in their transgression, which could be promulgated in the name of Christ, and which would operate across all the boundaries of denomination and creed. Somehow, the plan would have to destroy the traditional view of the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith, and establish some other authority which would still retain a respectable Christian image. In order to encompass all churches and faiths, the program would have to be outside of any doctrine, prophetic interpretation, or standards of living, since these would produce only division and disagreement.
To achieve success, then, in his fantastic goal of harnessing the Christian world in disobedience to God’s laws, Satan had to meet four elementary requirements:

  1. Make Christians feel secure in breaking the law.
  2. Lead them to distrust the Word of God as the acid test of truth.
  3. Establish another test besides the Word that would appear genuine and appealing.
  4. Leave out all doctrine, prophetic interpretations, and Christian standards that would prove divisive.

It is not hard to see that all these elements would have to be incorporated into any vast trickery to unite Christians in disobeying the Ten Commandments.

Are Miracle-Workers of God?
Now let’s study the actual inspired description of how these conditions will prevail at the end of the age. Incredibly, the deceptive powers of the master counterfeiter will achieve all these objectives.
First, notice that Jesus confirmed how many would lightly disobey His law in the name of religion: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Try to understand the alarming significance of those words of our Lord. These people were making great claims of being Christians, even to exercising the extraordinary power of prophesying and casting out devils. They did these miracles in the name of Jesus. But Jesus said He did not even know them; so they were not exercising the apparent spiritual gifts through the power of Christ. Then who gave them the supernatural power to do such miracles? There are only two sources of such power—God and Satan. Since Jesus called them “workers of iniquity,” they had to be healing and prophesying in the power of Satan, the author of iniquity.
This establishes that there will be counterfeit manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the last days. Outwardly they will appear exactly like the genuine gifts, and will be performed in Jesus’ name in the atmosphere of religious fervor. Then how can one tell the difference between the true and the false? Jesus made it very clear. Although they cried, Lord, Lord, they were not doing the will of the Father in heaven. What is the will of God? David answers, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea,thy law is within my heart” (Psalms 40:8). The people who appealed to Jesus on the basis of their many wonderful miracles were rejected by Him as Satan’s workers because they were breaking God’s law. They really did not know Jesus, because to know Him is to obey His commandments.
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3, 4). They really did not love Jesus either, because to love Him is to keep His commandments, also.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
Only the Obedient are Spirit-Filled
This brings us to another tremendous truth concerning obedience: Only those can be filled with the Spirit who are obedient. This means that the spiritual gifts cannot be demonstrated in the life of one who is breaking God’s law. Jesus said, “If ye love me keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:15, 16).
The sequence is distinctly set forth in this text. Love leads to obedience, and obedience leads to the filling of the Spirit. No one should overlook the relationship between obedience and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The most basic fact about the Spirit is that He leads into all truth and convicts of sin.
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Again Jesus said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth …” (John 16:13).
What is included in “all truth” and “all things” which the Spirit will guide us into? The Sabbath would be there, along with all the other nine commandments. In fact, the very first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. Christ described that ministry of the Spirit in John 16:8. “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
What is sin? “… sin is the transgression of the law …” (1 John 3:4). Obviously, one could not be filled with the Holy Spirit without being reproved of breaking the law. Lying, stealing, adultery and Sabbath-breaking will not abide in a Spirit-filled life. The deliberate practice of those sins will effectively frustrate the operation of the Holy Spirit. Willful sin and the gifts of the Spirit are just as alien to each other as God and Satan. In fact, Jesus taught the startling truth that offending the Holy Spirit leads to the unpardonable sin.
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven untomen: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31, 32).
The most serious mistake anyone can make is to reject the guiding, convicting influence of the Spirit as He seeks to lead into obedience to God’s law.
The principle was eternally settled by Luke when he wrote under inspiration, “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).
How clearly we can now see why the miracle-workers were turned away by Jesus as “workers of iniquity.” Having rejected the will of the Father, His law, they lost access to the power of the Holy Spirit. At that point Satan stepped in to supply a continuation of power by producing the same apparent miracles as the Holy Spirit produced.
Lulled into a fatal blindness by grieving the Spirit which convicted them of disobedience, the professed Christians lost their sensitivity to the violation of God’s holy law. Under the exciting emotional stimulus of Satan’s spirit they continued to exercise a counterfeit religious power, based on feeling rather than the authority of the Word of God. Christ taught in Matthew 7:22 that the end time will produce a phenomenon of Christians claiming the Spirit’s power in miracle ministry, but who are actually manipulated by the devil.
Amazing Fulfillment Today
Are there such people in the world today, and do they meet the four basic requirements for drawing the religious world into a massive scheme of disobedience? To open up that question let me share a recent personal experience involving a group Bible study I had been asked to conduct. The class was made up of six people—three business men and theirwives. For many weeks we met every Thursday night to search out the great doctrines of the Bible.
The series was unusual in every respect. In the first place, the three couples appeared to be exceptionally committed Christians. Often during the studies they shared a most fervent testimony concerning their love experience in Christ. It was very obvious that they had emotional feelings about their personal relationship with Jesus.
The second unusual thing was the eager, open manner in which they accepted truth as it unfolded. As subjects like the Sabbath, state of the dead and unclean foods were explored, there was wholehearted acceptance. Over and over they exclaimed about the clarity of the issues, and wondered aloud why they had not seen those things before.
On the last night of the Bible studies I extended an invitation to the group to start keeping the Sabbath. To my utter amazement, not one of them had the slightest inclination to obey any of the truths they had so readily believed. My perplexity was compounded when they began to explain why they had no plans to keep the Sabbath. “We have received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and He tells us everything we do,” they explained. “He has not told us to keep the Sabbath. If He does tell us, we will gladly do it. We know it is in the Bible, and we believe it, but the Holy Spirit will have to tell us to keep it before we do it.” In vain did I try to show them that the Holy Spirit had already spoken to them through the Word, and that He could not contradict Himself by telling them anything else.
The Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:17. That means the Bible is the cutting edge of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction. No one can be guided in truth without reference to the Scriptures. Yet these people, in the name of the Lord Jesus Himself, were renouncing the authority of the Bible in favor of their emotional feelings. Indeed, they were setting another test of truth which seemed to them more valid than the Word of God. They were listening to another spirit which comforted them in their violation of God’s law, but they were doing it all in the name of Jesus. Professing great love for Christ, they defended their direct revelations as evidence of God’s special manifestation in their lives.
What could I say? They looked at me with sorrow and pity because I was not favored to receive the ecstatic peace and joy which characterized their experience. Suddenly I realized that this was an exact replay of what Jesus had described in Matthew 7:21-23. These people really believed that their power was coming from God. Yet they were saying, “Lord, Lord,” without doing the will of God. All the gifts of the Spirit which they claimed to possess were parallel to the gifts professed by those who came to Jesus—casting out devils, prophecy, healing, miracles, etc. Jesus said “many” would come at the end, saying those very words. Are there many who fall into this category today?
All across the land today millions are being attracted by a movement which transcends all barriers of denominationalism. Catholics and Protestants alike are caught up in the exciting phenomenon of being moved by a common spirit. They sincerely believe that the Holy Spirit is endowing them with a new language of the soul and that the power of God is using them to heal, cast out devils, and prophesy.
In the light of Christ’s warning, how are we to distinguish between the true gifts and the counterfeit? How can we be certain that miracles are not being worked in the power of Satan? The only way we can recognize the counterfeit is by its failure to obey all the commandments of God. Jesus warned that the great “signs and wonders” of the false prophets in the last days would be so delusive that “even the very elect” would be almost overwhelmed by them (Matthew 24:24). John saw “spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world” (Revelation 16:14).
Don’t fail to catch the spiritual implications of this demon activity. Miracles are operative only within the context of religion. These end-time evil spirits will work through the garb of churches, in the name of Christ, professing to be ministers of truth. Paul actually speaks of Satan’s “ministers … transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15). Writing to the Thessalonians, he further described the work of these false apostles as being “with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness …” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10).
The frightening conclusion is that the devil will so closely impersonate the true manifestations of spiritual power that most of the world, including the churches, will be manipulated by him. And according to the Scriptures, only those who obey all of God’s commandments out of love will be protected from the deception.
Unfortunately, we live in an age of the spectacular and the bizarre. Because of this climate, multitudes are drawn by the promise of healing, miraculous tongues or demon exorcism. Few pause to ask whether the power is God or Satan. Most are totally unaware of the inspired predictions concerning counterfeit miracles, and how to separate the true from the false. Impressed by the sincerity of those who preach and pray with such obvious power, in the name of Jesus, millions “feel” that it must be from God. Their emotional ecstasy is quickly exalted above the true test of the Scriptures.
In talking to my charismatic Bible study group, I discovered that they had fully conformed to the four essential conditions which Satan requires in order to sweep the religious world into his camp. They felt secure in disobeying the law. They had rejected the Word of God as the final test of truth. They had set up another test—their religious feelings—as the proof of their acceptance with God. They also appealed to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit as evidence of God’s approval. Finally, they brushed aside the tremendous doctrinal and prophetic truths we had studied together as being incidental and unimportant in comparison to their charismatic “experience.”
Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals and Episcopalians gladly set aside biblical convictions and denominational stances in order to keep the unity of “the Spirit.” But what spirit is it that works equally through those who worship Mary, break the Sabbath and try to contact the dead? Certainly not the Spirit of God! The Holy Ghost is given only “to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32).
Now let’s take a look at the spiritual gift which has been claimed by more modern Christians than almost any other— speaking in tongues. Since Jesus warned about those in the last days who would prophesy and cast out devils in His name, through the power of Satan, we can be sure that the other spiritual gifts will be counterfeited also. If, indeed, the current epidemic of glossolalia is a perversion of truth, it would be difficult to think of a more perfect plan for Satan to use in getting control of the churches.
No Evidence Needed!
The best way to expose error is to reveal the truth, and the finest way to test the tongues phenomenon is to get the full biblical doctrine of tongues before us. Many believe that speaking in tongues is the evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. If a person doesn’t speak in tongues he is automatically classified as lacking in essential grace and power. This judgmental, mechanistic manner of measuring the Christian experience of other people has produced a large class of spiritual egotists—those who feel themselves to be living on a higher plane than their weaker, unanointed brethren.
Does the baptism of the Holy Spirit require some sign or evidence to confirm its operation? The Bible teaches that it is a gift, and must be received by faith. Paul’s doctrine is “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). If it is by faith, then it is not by feeling. In claiming the promise of forgiveness, we do not demand a sign from God that He has fulfilled His word. We know it is done because He said it would be. In the same way, we should claim the promise of the Spirit by faith, not requiring some special evidence from God that He kept His promise. By demanding signs and evidence people are doubting the Word of God.
The fact is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is just as available to all Christians as is forgiveness of sins. This does not mean, though, that all Christians will receive all the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, Paul states that the gifts, including tongues, will be divided among the Christians. The Holy Spirit Himself decides how the gifts will be distributed, and to whom. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom … to another faith by the same Spirit … to another prophecy … to another divers kinds of tongues … dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
Then Paul proceeds to illustrate the different gifts as being parts or members of Christ’s body, which is the church. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (1 Corinthians 12:18). Systematically he points out how impossible it would be for all to receive the same gift. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (Verse 17). Then he dramatizes that thought with these questions: “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? … do all speak with tongues?” (1 Corinthians 12:29, 20). And the answer, of course, is no. The gifts are divided to various members—never the same gift to all members.
Purpose of the Baptism
The most important truth about the baptism of the Holy Spirit is often overlooked, and it has to do with the purpose of the experience. Many have defined it in terms of personal ecstasy, joyful emotions, or inner spiritual happiness. None of these things even touches on the basic reason for the promised outpouring of the Spirit. Some of those things might be included in the subsequent fruits of the experience, but they cannot and should not be mistaken for the baptism itself. Just before His ascension Christ told His disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5).
Then He spoke these words: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Christ emphasized in this promise that the Spirit would give power in their ministry to others. A witness is a person who tells to someone else something which he knows firsthand. The disciples definitely had something to tell, because they had been eyewitnesses of the Messiah. But they were completely unqualified to stand up and effectively communicate what they had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit would come to make them powerful witnesses, so that souls could be won by their preaching. There was no hint from Jesus that the baptism by the Spirit would give them any special feeling. It was not for their personal benefit, but that others through them might be instructed in the way of salvation.
The disciples obeyed the words of their Master and waited in Jerusalem for the promised power, and on the day of Pentecost it happened. While they were all together in a certain house the heavens seemed to open with a rushing sound, and tongues of fire flashed down to rest on each one of them. The promised blessing had arrived just as Jesus had foretold. The witnessing power had descended to fit them for their work of reaching souls; but howdid it qualify them and empower them? What did they need in order to witness to all the people in Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the earth? Acts 2:9-11 records sixteen different language groups who were present as the Spirit-filled disciples stepped outside the house to start witnessing.
Let the Scriptures tell us what happened next. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).
The astonished crowd could not believe their ears “because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed … saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8).
Here is a simple description of the true gift of tongues. It is not the uttering of some ecstatic language of heaven. The tongues were real languages that people could understand, and every person of every race was edified and enlightened by hearing the gospel preached in his own mother tongue.
Did this gift of tongues continue to operate in the early church when it was necessary to reach unbelievers? Yes, on certain occasions it was needed in order to overcome the language barrier and also to confirm the Gentile converts into the largely Jewish-oriented church.
In Acts 10:44-47 we have the experience of Peter, opening up the gospel to the Gentiles for the first time. While Peter spoke to them the Holy Ghost fell upon them. The Jewish converts “were astonished … because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Peter urged that no one oppose their baptism, since they had “received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” Here Peter equates the tongues spoken on this occasion with the tongues he had spoken at Pentecost—an actual language. Later, when he gave a report of the experience to the Jerusalem brethren, Peter affirmed that “the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). The reference is unequivocally to the tongues experience on the day of Pentecost. The other Bible account of tongues in Acts 19:5-7 seemed to be for the purpose of confirming the gift of the Spirit upon the strugglinglittle church of twelve members at Ephesus, where paganism had threatened to swamp the early efforts of the apostles. There is no reason to doubt that this was also the same gift of languages as that demonstrated at Pentecost.
Subsequently, at Corinth, the gift began to be misused to such a degree that it was creating confusion in the church. Paul had to devote a full chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church to correcting the problem. Among those spiritually-weak Christians, many problems had plagued the apostolic leaders. Corinth had been a hard place to win converts, and the corrupt pagan background had been difficult to erase from the minds of the new believers. Emotional and spiritual immaturity was often the subject of Paul’s appeals in his Corinthian letters.
Now let us take a close look at 1 Corinthians 14, in which the tongues problem is brought into focus. Over half of the verses in this chapter mention the words edify, understanding, learning, or teach. It is obvious that the Corinthian church was not using the gift as it was supposed to be used. Over and over Paul urged that tongues be used only to teach the barbarian, unbeliever or unlearned. Apparently some were creating great confusion by speaking any foreign language they knew, even while others were talking, and also when no one present could understand the language they spoke. The burden of the entire chapter is that no one use the gift of tongues except to edify someone who could not be reached otherwise. Interpreting of tongues was also to be utilized only for instructing those who could not understand without a translation. Almost every verse focuses on the original Pentecost idea of witnessing or communicating:
Verse 4, “edifieth the church.” Verse 5, “except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.” Verse 6, “except I shall speak to you … by knowledge.” Verse 7, “except they give a distinction in the sounds …” Verse 8, “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound …” Verse 9, “except ye utter … words easy to be understood.” Verse 11, “if I know not the meaning of the voice …” Verse 12, “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” Verse 13, “pray that he may interpret.” Verse 14, “my understanding is unfruitful.” Verse 15, “pray with the understanding …” Verse 16, “seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest.” Verse 17, “the other is not edified.” Verse 19, “that I might teach others.” Verse 20, “be not children in understanding.” Verse 22, “tongues are for a sign … to them that believe not.” Verse 23, “unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” Verse 26, “let all things be done unto edifying.” Verse 27, “and let one interpret.” Verse 28, “if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence.” Verse 30, “let the first hold his peace.” Verse 31, “that all may learn …” Verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion.” Verse 34, “Let your women keep silence.” Verse 35, “if they will learn anything …” Verse 40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Those who read this chapter for the purpose of finding ecstatic utterance can locate two or three verses which seem to give them support. But when those verses are studied in the context of all the rest of the chapter, and with an actual foreign language in mind, they all can be seen to harmonize. Paul’s discourse here is built around his contention that “tongues are a sign … to them that believe not” (Verse 22).
Now, a few questions: Were the Corinthians not creating disorder and confusion by talking loudly in tongues while others were talking? Were they not obviously speaking in languages which were not being understood, and which were not edifying anyone? Were they not priding themselves in being especially blessed and gifted in speaking their tongues, and using it to exalt self? The answers to all these questions must be Yes. Then could the Holy Spirit have been producing those tongues to the confusion of the church? No, because the Spirit does not operate to such ends.
What must we conclude, then, about the problem in Corinth? Those weak and immature church members had seen thetrue manifestation of Pentecostal tongues—actual languages. Forgetting that the tongues were bestowed miraculously for the purpose of instructing foreigners in the gospel, they began to think that any words in a foreign language had to be evidence of God’s special blessing. The result of such a false premise led to the problem Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. Many were jumping up in church to speak loudly in whatever smattering of foreign language they might know. At the same time others were trying to drown them out by their “gift” of being able to use another tongue. It was a self-produced scene of indecent disorder. Apparently some of the women, were creating the greatest confusion. Paul wrote,
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches … Let all things be done decently and in order” (Verses 33-40).
Would Paul have commanded the women to keep silent if their gift had been the ecstatic outburst of the Holy Spirit’s power? If so, he would have been guilty of commanding the Holy Spirit to keep silent. The same would have been true of Paul’s command in verse 28. He said, “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church.” How could such an order be obeyed if the speaker were breaking forth in some heavenly language under the Spirit’s control? How could such a one know that there would be an interpreter to their “unknown” words? Paul speaks of the gift as one that could be controlled by the individual using the tongue. Unless they could ascertain that there was an interpreter to convey the translation clearly, so as to edify the listeners, Paul commanded that they not speak at all.
The modern problem of tongues is similar to the ancient situation, except more confusing. Instead of speaking in actual languages, the air is filled with sounds unrelated to any tongue on earth. Even when someone purports to “interpret” the sounds, no one is edified because the message is often inane or meaningless. And the big question is, Why would the Holy Spirit seek to enlighten or instruct someone in truth by going through all the process of a strange tongue and translation when the listener could understand plain English to begin with? If the gift of tongues is for edifying the unbeliever, how perverse it seems just to talk among believers in a garble of words whose meaning must depend on the absolute veracity of another believer, whose “interpretation” provides no objective test for accuracy.
Our conclusion must be that this last-day phenomenon of tongues does not meet the Bible criteria of truth on two major grounds. First, the baptism of the Holy spirit cannot be given to those who are not obeying all of God’s commandments. Second, the true purpose of the gift of tongues—to edify and instruct unbelievers in their own language—is not being served by the gibberish of the modern “tongues” movement. We have found, in fact, that the phenomenon meets all the basic requirements of a vast counterfeit by which Satan can lead millions to disobey God’s holy law. Untold numbers of sincere Christians are being led to believe that God’s Spirit and approval can rest upon those who transgress His law. Man’s flicker has been mistaken for God’s flame, and the world is being prepared to make the wrong choice when the Sabbath-obedience issue climaxes the controversy between good and evil. May we be spared from such an error by trusting the Word alone as our infallible guide.

Life in the Spirit.

13 Jan
By Joe Crews
Introduction
The greatest need of the church today is for a genuine spiritual revival and reformation. This is what true Christians have been praying for through the years – in the family circle, alone in the closet, and with the church body on Sabbath. There is a deep sense of inadequacy when we sit in a home giving a Bible study or stand before an audience where hundreds need to make a decision for Christ. We know that there is no human way to win a soul or convict of Truth. Only the Holy Spirit can really soften hearts for acceptance and stir the soul with conviction. So we pray as we reach out with weak faltering words that the power of God will break forth in that moment of sharing.
Sometimes, of course, we see the answer to those prayers. People are converted, the sick are raised up, and decisions are made for baptism. But why don’t we see it more often? Is this on-again, off-again witness of the Holy Spirit everything we can expect from God? Why doesn’t it happen every time we pray and claim the promises?
There are special seasons when our hearts burn within us, and we leave a prayer meeting rejoicing over the refreshing ministry of the Spirit. But how did God feel about that meeting? Was He able to accomplish His perfect will in that service? When the fullness of God’s power is revealed no one will go out to talk about it in tame, lifeless tones. Like a fire from heaven the Spirit will flash and illuminate from heart to heart until the earth itself will be lighted with the glory of it.
But why are we still waiting for the fulfillment of the promised Spirit in all its Pentecostal power? Probably not one knowledgeable Christian will contend that the fullness of that promise has been realized today. This is not to say that there have not been exciting glimpses and momentary revelations of that blessing which will bring all other blessing in its train. But hungry, longing Christians everywhere concede that we have only scratched the surface of God’s promises.
In fact, there is a general consensus that the church is standing on the threshold of its most unique, predestined mission. The “latter rain” of the Spirit is to provide an explosive entry into the final harvesting phase of the everlasting gospel. And if the exact time of that visitation is not known, there are scores of texts depicting the spiritual consequences of such a breakthrough.  Many believe that the “times of refreshing” have arrived already and that our own lack of faith and preparation has held back the baptism of the Holy Spirit in its final manifestation. When we read the scriptural promises of God’s willingness to work through His committed people there seems to be no doubt that the fault lies with us and not with Him.
The inspired description of our assigned role under the Holy Spirit leaves us almost breathless. Words and phrases are used which seem utterly fanatical and super-exaggerated. Our minds are boggled by the incredible scope of the promises which apply to the people of God right now. We blink our eyes and think there must be a mistake, or else there has to be some secret meaning or hidden reservation in the words. Again and again the Bible uses superlative expressions in defining the victorious experience of believers. God does not say that we can be conquerors; He says we can be “more than conquerors.” He doesn’t merely say we can be saved, but rather “saved to the uttermost.” He will not just cause us to triumph, but “always to triumph.” Do those words truly mean what they say?
I submit to you that God does not multiply euphonic phrases in order to make an impression. There is built-in, self-fulfilling power in every single promise of the Bible. No matter how extreme the text may sound to our ears, whatever is promised shall be precisely fulfilled as soon as we believe. No matter how impossible it may seem to be, we can believe because God says it.
Consider the extravagant nature of the promise in 2 Peter 1:3, 4. “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” Please notice, first of all, that “divine power” is referring to the Holy Spirit. He has already been sent to continue the work Jesus did while here on the earth. The text does not say that the power “will give,” but “hath given” already. We do not need to look for some possible future supply of power. It is ours now for the asking and claiming. We simply need to possess our possessions!
But what has that divine power of the Holy Spirit already made available to us? The text says, “All things that pertain unto life and godliness.” Doesn’t that stagger your mind? It is like a blank check on the bank of heaven, isn’t it? It is not for material things like houses, cars, and lands, but it absolutely includes anything and everything you might need to live a godly life.
Have you longed for victory over sin, for sanctification, holiness, Christlikeness, purity, and perfection of character? It is included in the “all things” of this verse. And don’t try to reason away the words and make them say something besides what they say.
Faith Brings the Power
I repeat that this is a signed check from God drawn on the mighty, inexhaustible resources of the bank of heaven. God tells us to fill it in as to the amount. It is already signed and certified by Him. What a promise! But you might ask, “How is this check to be processed?” The next verse explains the cashing procedures. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Verse 4.
There it is! The power is in the promise itself. As soon as we believe it our lives may immediately begin to share in His divine nature. Can there be any higher privilege than to actually participate in the very life of our Lord Jesus? His omnipotence is joined to our finite weakness, and we are empowered to live out the victory He gained when “tempted in all points like as we are tempted.” We do not have to yield to corruptions and lusts of the world; we can “escape” them by claiming the “divine power” of that “divine nature.”
Many professed Christians cannot muster the faith to believe promises like this. They prefer to believe that our fallen natures are just too depraved to ever be totally victorious over sin, even through the power of the gospel. What a tragedy! They have to trust the words of Scripture to mean something besides what they actually say. In essence, they are magnifying the power of Satan over the power of God, and making it impossible to ever fully stop sinning.
Incredible Promises
Now consider with me one of the most extraordinary promises found anywhere in the counsels of God. “That he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19.
It is that last phrase that we need to examine carefully. How could such a statement be true? I don’t begin to grasp the magnitude of those words. In fact, I seem to be standing on the shore of a vast restless ocean, watching the waves receding into infinity. To be filled with all the fullness of God is one of those unsearchable gems of Truth that we can only accept by faith. We will never be able to understand it, but we can believe it anyway.
What is all the fullness of God? Surely it includes His righteousness, His victory, and His divine nature. We can only begin to comprehend the scope of this promise. Apparently, He wants us to receive and share all that He has. As sons and daughters of God we belong to a royal family, and are fully entitled to participate in all its divine prerogatives.
But now let’s read the grand climax of this pyramid of promises in Ephesians 3. Paul writes, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Verse 20. And what is that power? The Holy Spirit, of course. When we analyze this verse our amazement increases.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful enough if God just promised to give us all that we asked for? Surely such an open-ended offer could be limited only by our reluctance to ask. But our wonderful, beneficent Father assures us in this text that He is willing to give “above” all that we ask. He must realize that we are too easily satisfied, and would not be bold enough in our petitions. In fact, He not only will exceed “all” our requests for spiritual blessings, but will bestow “abundantly” above all we could ask. But that is not all! In the fervency of His love for us, God promises to do “exceeding abundantly above all” we could ask. What a dramatic parade of powerful adjectives to describe the spiritual riches so easily available to all of us. And you could add twenty or a hundred more colorful words and it would not make the promise any more certain than it now stands.
If you feel that nothing could make this text more fantastic than what we have already observed, take another look. Two more little words in the verse make it the most astonishing in all the Bible – “or think.” Not only will He supply “exceeding abundantly above all” we can ask, but even above all we could imagine in our wildest dreams. Unbelievable! Sometimes we have deep spiritual longings which are too intense to express. We fear it would be presumptuous to even utter the words. Yet, our loving God desires to surpass the most profound reaching out of the soul for spiritual help. We stand awed and ashamed in the light of His extravagant provision for our needs. What a Saviour!
A Taste of Heaven Now
At this point it would seem wise to read the Bible definition of the Spirit’s sealing work upon the soul. One of the shortest and most succinct descriptions is found in Ephesians 1:13, 14. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance. ” There it is in four simple words! The sealing or filling of the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance.” What does that mean? What is our inheritance? And, what is an earnest?
Simply speaking, heaven is our inheritance. That includes eternal life and fellowship with Jesus. This is our reward or inheritance which shall be fully realized when Jesus returns. But, in the meantime we may receive an “earnest” of that inheritance through the filling of the Spirit. An earnest is a down payment which constitutes a guarantee that the full amount will be paid when the job is done.
So, putting it all together, we have an astounding statement that heaven can begin right here on the earth while we wait for Jesus to come. Through the Spirit-filled life we may experience an actual foretaste of the immortal joys and thrills of being in the presence of our Saviour.
Someone may object that such heavenly bliss is reserved only for the redeemed, and that the Bible itself declares that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; neither hath it entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9. But such fail to take into account the next verse which continues, “But God hath revealed them into us by His Spirit.” Verse 10.
In other words, through the divine anointing of the Holy Spirit we may now begin to experience a measure of that quality of life which is designated in the Bible as “eternal life.” What an exciting concept! Please keep in mind that we are still only talking about an advance deposit on the real thing, and heaven itself will be far in excess of anything we can experience here.
Purpose of the Latter Rain
But what is the purpose of this baptism of the Spirit’s power? We often hear it spoken of as the “times of refreshing,” the anointing, the latter rain, or the promise of the Spirit. The Scripture often uses the Middle Eastern terminology for the seed-sowing and harvesting. Soon after planting, a seasonal rain provided moisture for germination and initial growth. This was called the “early rain.” Later, near the time for harvest, another copious watering was referred to as the “latter rain.” Biblical writers adopted these ex- ressions to describe the visitation of the Holy Spirit upon the church in a dispensational sense. The “early rain” came at Pentecost to give impetus and vigor to the inaugural witness of the gospel. Another such prodigious outpouring is scheduled near the reaping of earth’s final soul harvest, just prior to Christ’s return.
Some may assume that the purpose of such an end-time bestowal of spiritual blessing is to provide victory over sin, preparatory to translation. But this is not the case. The truth is that no one will receive the “latter rain” who does not already have the victory over sin through the “early rain” deployment of power.
On an individual basis each Christian experiences his own Pentecost at the time of conversion. Under the strength of that spiritual baptism, power is available for complete sanctification. As we consider the purpose of the “latter rain” it becomes even more clear why separation from sin is required under the early rain (conversion) ministration.
Jesus enunciated clearly why the Spirit is needed in its fullness. “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8.
How interesting that the promised blessing has nothing to do with sensation or personal achievement. It is to qualify believers as witnesses. It is to provide power for them to tell something. A witness, of course, is someone who can personally verify an act or event. No judge would accept the testimony of a witness who had only second or third hand information to share.
What do we have to share from our personal experience which merits the mighty witness of the Spirit of God? I’m afraid that too many of God’s people need something to tell more than they need the power to tell it. They already have all the power they need to tell about their defeat and discouragement.
The Blessing of Abraham
One of the clearest texts in the New Testament gives an exact description of what we are required to know and experience before we can qualify as a Spirit-filled witness. The amazing mandate laid down in this verse identifies the only group who will receive the latter rain. “That the blessing of Abraham may come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:14.
A careful analysis of this verse reveals that only those who possess the “blessing of Abraham” will receive the “promise of the Spirit.” One thing is given (the blessing of Abraham) in order that we might receive another thing (the promise of the Spirit).
Since this is such a crucial verse we need to study it most carefully. What is the “promise of the Spirit”? We have already determined that it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in its fullness to empower us for witnessing. But, according to this text, one must first receive the “blessing of Abraham” in order to be baptized with the Spirit. Whatever that “blessing” includes it surely must be the most urgent need of every life. Here is an absolute requirement for every soul who aspires to being filled with the “latter rain” experience.
To understand the blessing of Abraham we must carefully read Romans 4:19-22. “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.”
From these words we understand that the blessing of Abraham was righteousness by faith. Can we reduce that phrase to a more simple equation? Consider the promise God made to this aged patriarch and his 90-year-old wife. How could Sarah conceive and bear a son when the Scripture clearly states that her womb was dead? Both of them knew, beyond any question, that they were too old to have any children. It was a physical, biological impossibility for Sarah to become a mother. Yet, God had said she would bear a son!
What did Sarah finally do as doubts continued to assail her concerning the promise? She proposed to Abraham that he take Hagar, her handmaid, and try to have a son by her! If it worked, at least a part of God’s promise would be fulfilled. It seems that Sarah was trying to bail God out of a very embarrassing situation in which He had gotten Himself. Even if she couldn’t produce the child, it just might be that Abraham could be a father, and thus partially salvage the integrity of God.
As we all now recognize, Abraham did have a son by Hagar whose name was Ishmael, but did God ever acknowledge that son as the child of promise? Never. He came back to the old couple and reaffirmed His promise that they would have a baby. And this time they began to believe that if God said it, the miracle would have to take place. In simple, raw faith they stepped out on the promise as though it had already happened. And, by a creative act of God Sarah brought forth the son from whose descendants the Saviour of the world would be born.
Because of his absolute confidence in the Word of God – trusting it to be fulfilled against all odds – Abraham became the “father of the faithful.” God imputed to him credit for right-doing because he counted things that were not, as though they already existed.
This explains the “blessing of Abraham” as far as the patriarch was concerned, but what is it as far as we are concerned? We have learned from Galatians that none of us can receive the baptism of the Spirit unless we first experience the “blessing of Abraham,” or righteousness by faith, also.
How do we meet this precondition for the Holy Spirit baptism? Have we also had some incredible promises made to us? Indeed we have, and some are so extravagant that we struggle, like Sarah, to believe that they mean what they say.
One such promise is found in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What an unrestricted assurance! But how do we know that forgiveness has taken place? Only through faith in the promise. Like Abraham we must accept the Word of God as already accomplished, just because God said so. We refer to that faith transaction by the theological name “justification by faith.” It simply means that through repentance and confession we have been forgiven for all past sins, and have entered the new born-again relationship.
Justification and Sanctification Together
Now the question: Is this experience of justification by faith the same as righteousness by faith? The answer must be no. It is only a part of righteousness by faith, and so the two things are not exactly equivalent. The truth is that we all need more than just forgiveness for the past; we need power for the future also. There are more promises in the Bible, and they apply to victory over sin. For example: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy.” Jude 24.
What happens when we kneel in faith and claim the power to stop yielding to sin? God places a reservoir of strength in our life, and in that moment we can claim deliverance from any habit of sin. A long theological title has been attached to this experience by the scholars – sanctification. It simply means that God has now entered the life to impart power over the inherited and cultivated tendencies of the fallen nature. Like justification it is also received by faith in the promises.
Now we are ready to put these two faith processes together and get the true definition of righteousness by faith. When justification and sanctification unite to function in an ongoing love relationship with Christ, you see the “blessing of Abraham” in the full sense. Now you really have something to tell! And according to Paul you also qualify to receive the power to tell it.
If you meet someone who has not accepted Christ as Savior you can mightily bear witness to your own personal joy and assurance in Him. You can also give first-person witness to the simple steps which lead from death to life!
On the other hand, if you meet someone who is struggling with a personal weakness or habit, you can powerfully share the secret of claiming victory through the self-fulfilling promises. By experiential involvement in these two prerequisite relationships you are now ready to apply for the final step of Holy Spirit baptism. Please take note that this infilling also is received as “the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:14. This gives us a clear conception of how and when it is bestowed. It must come by promise, and it has to be by faith.
Immediately we can see that many modern churches have a distorted understanding of this subject. Those groups who demand some physical “evidence” of the baptism are not biblical. Faith and feeling are opposed to each other in this setting. The purpose of this anointing is not for sensation, but for service. To require some sensory or emotional feeling is to negate the explicit designation, “by faith.”
Is this failure to claim the gift of righteousness by faith responsible for the lack of power in the church today? To a very large extent it certainly is true. The Scriptures repeatedly assert that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell with those who are disobedient. “And we are his witnesses of these things and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” Acts 5:32.
The Spirit may convict sinners and draw them to repent, but there can be no ministry of witnessing power until the witness is thoroughly furnished with something to tell. And the Bible defines that something as justification and sanctification. Are there some who have received both of these qualifying experiences who still may not be filled with the promised power? Indeed, it is possible that some have not received simply because they have not asked. We are talking about a very special, specific gift which requires total surrender as well as total faith in asking. Let’s review the steps again which head up to this outpouring of power.
The first level of preparation for this divine anointing is to claim the gift of justification. At that time a measure of the Holy Spirit is supplied to the believer which makes it possible to overcome every inherited or acquired weakness. In the strength of that conversion experience (early rain) the second level of preparation is made possible – sanctification. This consists of appropriating the “early rain” power for Christian character perfection, and reflecting the righteousness of Christ fully. Both justification and sanctification are faith transactions.
Level number three involves an exercise of the same kind of faith for sharing with others the beautiful experiences of levels one and two. It consists of actually claiming the promised power to make our words convicting and fruitful. Nothing is more sterile than a testimony devoid of the Spirit of God, and nothing is more humbling than to see what God can do with the halting speech of a sincere, spirit-filled saint.
Recently a young minister friend told me a story that illustrates what God can and will do for us if we are willing to be used of the Spirit. Tony had been converted from Catholicism on the streets of New York, and almost immediately he came under an inescapable conviction to be a minister. With two small children and little money there seemed to be no possibility for Tony to attend college or seminary. Yet the call was so strong upon the tender heart of this newborn youth that he decided to step out in faith.
Before enrolling at a Christian college Tony promised the Lord that he would accept every opportunity to speak in front of an audience. He realized how much he needed the experience of thinking on his feet, and articulating his thoughts to a listening congregation.
Soon after moving his family into the college community, Tony learned that there were many small churches surrounding the campus, and that fledgling ministerial students tried their wings in those country chapels. It wasn’t very long before Tony was approached on a Friday afternoon with an invitation to preach in one of those churches. Although he had only the evening hours to prepare for the Sabbath appointment, Tony remembered his promise to seize every opportunity for speaking. So he accepted the appointment. He did his best to put a sermon outline together as he prayed and studied late into the night. But, alas, he was only able to produce notes for a ten minute message at the most. Hoping against hope that he might be able to pull some more thoughts into his sermon notes during the Sabbath School class study, Tony left early the next morning for the frightening rendezvous. As a very immature young Christian he had almost no previous experience in pulpit speaking and was almost paralyzed with fear that his ten minute sermon would be more humiliating than enlightening.
Arriving at the church, Tony slipped into one of the classrooms, hoping for a chance to blend with the group and study his meager notes during the lesson. But it was not to be. In the class that day was an obstreperous man who was creating turmoil. He constantly disputed points with the hard-pressed lady teacher and seemed to do everything possible to embarrass her. Tony spent much of the class time helping her fend off the man’s distracting and irrelevant attacks against the issues under discussion.
Afterward as he waited to walk onto the platform Tony’s mind was still whirling from the emotional confrontation, and even his brief sermon outline was not very clear in his thinking. With earnest prayer he committed himself to God and stepped up to the podium.
Somehow Tony struggled through the ten minutes of sermon notes, and just as he stood desperately groping for further words a loud anguished cry came from the audience. Looking down the center isle Tony saw that a man had fallen out of his seat at the end of the pew and was crawling on hands and knees toward the front of the church. He was weeping at the top of his voice, and his wife was trying in vain to pull him back toward his seat.
One quick glance identified the man as the relentless debater in the Sabbath School class. By then, between broken sobs, he was pleading that the church pray for him. “Your sermon has spoken to my heart and the Holy Spirit has convicted me of my sins. I’ve been breaking God’s law and now I want to make things right. Please pray for me.”
In a moment the congregation melted into tears also, and the meeting closed on a glorious note of victory as the audience joined hearts and hands to pray for the penitent seeker.
What an encouragement for a young preacher! Tony told me that he could not even remember a word he spoke that day. But God simply added the Holy Spirit to the stammering efforts of a surrendered heart, and a miracle resulted. When Tony returned to that church a year later he found that man serving as the head elder of the congregation.
Do you see now what a difference it makes to be filled with the Spirit? This is God’s will for every one of us and He has made it possible through the beautiful promise of Galatians 3:14. Reach out right now and fasten your faith on the blessing of Abraham. In the strength of that righteousness, imputed and imparted by faith, you may be empowered to speak words that will change lives.

God’s Role for Women in Ministry

9 Dec
By Doug Batchelor
God’s Role for Women in Ministry
After reviewing hundreds of applications, a Fortune 500 company’s search for a new marketing director had been narrowed to just three candidates. The first person called for the final interview was asked just one simple question: “What is two plus two?” Surprised by the inquiry, she wondered if it was a trick question—but in the end, she answered “four.” The CEO thanked her for coming and ushered her out the door. The next candidate received the same question: “What is two plus two?” She thought about it for a moment and replied, “Statistically, it is the number between three and five.” Though more impressed with this answer, the CEO thanked her for coming and ushered her out the door. Finally, the last candidate to be interviewed was also asked, “What is two plus two?” Without pause, she replied, “What do you want it to be?” She was hired on the spot.
In today’s culture, when it comes to marketing, absolute truth is a rare commodity. Morals are more often determined by popularity or political correctness than by the simple truth. This is not how we should approach the Bible’s teachings, no matter how sensitive the lesson to be learned can be.
When you consider that more than 60 percent of all practicing Christians are women, this dynamic between truth and popularity can be especially volatile when exploring the subject of women’s ordination. The question of women’s roles in the church, and whether or not they ought to be pastors and elders, is under serious debate within many churches. Both sides of the argument stir strongly held beliefs—which is why I want to approach this topic not only with great caution but, more important, much prayer and humility.
Laying the Groundwork
A discussion about the Bible, men, and women in this culture leaves the door wide open to impassioned and often false interpretations of biblical lessons, so I want to lay out a foundation of how we should approach this issue together. We must each ask ourselves: What is my view of the Bible? Is it God’s Word, or is it just the thoughts of men? Does it contain errors, and if it does, can we decipher those errors from what is true?
For instance, many who advocate the position that the Bible sees no difference at all between men and women in the church and the family must often discard very pointed remarks from Paul’s letters, sometimes without any textual reason for doing so. Paul, they suggest, made an error—but on what basis do they come to that conclusion?
Another question each Christian must consider is this: If the Bible teaches something that I am uncomfortable with, will I still obey it? That is, are we as individuals the final arbiters of truth? If we consider that we are the authors of truth, we put ourselves on a dangerous path. As Christians, we must resist falling prey to our “instincts,” because the prevailing thoughts and value systems of the world can influence our thinking in unbiblical ways.
Indeed, the most fundamental basis for Christians is that Christ says if we love Him, we will obey Him. We must stand for the truth that God has shown us in His Word. That’s why I have written this booklet based on the following principles:

  1. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
  2. When God’s people have been unfaithful to Him, negative consequences follow.

With these ideals in mind, I firmly believe we can come to a biblical conclusion to just about any doctrinal disagreement between people who love God.

The Family and the Church
At the end of Creation week, God not only established the Sabbath (Genesis 2:18, 21–24) but also the family (Genesis 2:1–3). And in the last days, we will see Satan not only attacking those who remain faithful to the Sabbath, but he will also strike at man’s most intimate relationship—the family. In fact, this battle has already begun.
Any victory by the devil in the war against the family is ultimately reflected in the church. The very survival of both society and the church leans heavily upon the family unit. In this unit, seen not only in God’s Word but also His creation, we find a basic truth: Men are fathers, and women are mothers.
As we shall see later, men and women are without question equal as humans, but they are also entirely unique as creatures. They are not only distinct sexually, but almost every other aspect of their natures is different as well. I believe these differences should be apparent, maintained, and even emphasized in everything, from the way we walk and talk to the way we work and dress. Men should never try to be women, and women should never try to be men.      Now, I am not a male chauvinist. I wash dishes, change diapers, and make beds. In the 1970s, my mother was a leading voice in the women’s liberation movement (now called the feminist movement) in North America. Very articulate and outspoken, she even wrote an entire album of songs dedicated to women’s rights. And like her, I firmly believe that men and women should get equal pay for equal work.
My mother also left the movement because it turned into something else. She saw feminism becoming more about angry women who wanted to be like men rather than attaining the rightful respect for being a woman. And this is the feminism, albeit more refined, that is pushing its agenda into churches with a frightening degree of success today. Of course, I expect this influence in the world. However, when it seeps into the body of Christ disguised as an “improvement,” it often signals a very serious problem.
This movement in our church is partly the result of some Christians, who have an earnest desire to reach the world with the message of salvation, naively trying to increase their influence by adopting popular social philosophy. In an attempt to reverse the injustice against women throughout the ages, they have allowed the feminist movement to push the church beyond voting rights and equal pay into the arena of unisex thinking.
And by substituting a politically correct but biblically inaccurate social philosophy as their guide, they are inadvertently erasing any biblical distinction between men and women. Often when an organization seeks to correct some wrong policy, it overcorrects. I fear this is the case of the church, which has a valid need to create more avenues for women to use their gifts of ministry. However, this need is being translated by some into a problematic desire for women to be ordained as pastors and elders.
When Men Fail to Lead
I should hasten to say that the blame does not lie with just the liberal feminist movement. In fact, the brunt of the blame must fall on indifferent and even lazy men within the church. They are failing to fulfill their roles as strong, loving, and servant-oriented leaders. As a result, women are naturally stepping into the vacuum.
Yet Isaiah 3:1–12 offers a sobering thought about this scenario. “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. … As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (emphasis supplied).
It appears that when men fail to lead as they should, women and children fill the void as a negative consequence. This often comes with bad results, as was the case with Queen Jezebel, who usurped her husband’s authority. (See 1 Kings 18, 19, and 21.) While in power, she severely persecuted God’s prophets. Not long after, her daughter Athaliah took the throne of Judah—a six-year reign marked by bloodshed and confusion (2 Kings 11:1–16).
The Christian author E.G. White wrote, “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”1
When men fulfill this mandate, when they are spiritually strong and obedient to God, we find an outpouring of blessings. But when men do not obey God and are not spiritually strong, whether they are weak, lazy, or cowardly, God responds in judgment by allowing an unnatural and unintended role reversal to take place.
We can take this to mean that God has clearly established men to be the rightful leaders in the home, church, and society. The word husband means “house-band,” because men are to be the head of the household and bind their families together in the love of Christ.
God’s Love Equal for Men and Women
We need to be clear about one thing before moving forward. The value of men and the value of women are perfectly equal in the eyes of God. “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 3:28, emphasis added). The spiritual standing of every human being, regardless of nationality, class, or gender, is the same. The ground at the foot of the cross is level—women matter as much as men. This is abundantly clear from the life and ministry of Jesus and the apostles.
For instance, Jesus taught women directly and was ministered to by them. “Now it came to pass … that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house.” (See Luke 10:38–42.) He was also supported financially by women (Luke 8:3), and women were among the first to accept the gospel (Acts 16:14, 15).
Yet the fact that men and women have equal rights and access to salvation does not negate the need for submission to leadership in the home or the church. Indeed, Jesus and the Father are equal, yet Jesus submits to the authority of the Father. “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Of course, men should be responsible leaders in our home and churches, firm if necessary but always kind. (Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.” In studying the phrase “be not bitter,” I found the idea to be that a man should not treat his wife harshly, because it will eventually make her bitter.)
Moreover, in America, “equal rights” does not negate the authority or leadership of society’s leaders. You have the same civil rights as a police officer, but you are expected to submit to their authority. Likewise, equality in salvation does not negate the God-established system of male leadership in the home and church. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1, emphasis added).
It is true that for far too long, men have misunderstood the proper role of women in the church, often treating them as second-class Christians. Because of this, many gifted women have been left without an arena in which to use their gifts. Perhaps this is why many Christian women reacted to their unfair status by following the “prevailing winds” of the world, ultimately desiring things that God forbids.
The fact is that the pendulum of the role of women in the church has swung too far in both directions. But where humans have failed, God promises victory, peace, and restoration. That’s why both sides in this debate need to seek wisdom and guidance from God’s Word in order to grow in the unity of the faith.
Finally, in considering women’s roles in the church, remember also the broader idea of ministry itself. There are role distinctions in the church that are not in dispute. (See 1 Corinthians 12.) You don’t hear the argument that a man gifted in teaching is more valuable than a man gifted in encouragement. The nature of a body is that different members perform different roles, yet each member is equal in importance. Different does not mean better or worse.
So as we continue our study, please note that this booklet is not designed to be an exhaustive study on the subject of women’s ordination, neither will it deal with every single argument regarding women as pastors or elders. Rather, it is a simple presentation of “Thus saith the Lord,” which should always be our guide in determining the truth on any issue.
In The Beginning
Let’s begin with Creation. It can be said that God made creatures in the order of their value and complexity. First, He created the base elements of earth, water, and air; then, He made vegetation and light. Next, He made the birds and fish, and then land creatures.
Finally, God made a man and, as the concluding act of Creation, a woman. We can take this to mean that women are the most beautiful and complex creatures on the planet. They even tend to live longer than men and use more of their brains in concert.
Note, God did not create the first man and woman in the same way. He made the man from dust, but He made the woman out of the man (Genesis 2:21, 22). And while God named the man, it was the man who named the woman. “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23; see also Genesis 3:20). So God’s creation process itself suggests a very distinct difference between men and women.
Later, after sin entered the picture, God also established a system of authority to maintain harmony in the family, the church, and society. It is a system in which man would lead. “Unto the woman He said … thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). The word rule means “to govern, or have dominion.”
It is important not to rush past this pivotal verse, as some have argued that the passages regarding man’s leadership role reflect the biases of a male-dominant culture. But notice that the command in Genesis 3:16 comes directly from God; it did not come from Moses, King David, Peter, John, or even Paul. It is God’s own voice speaking.
Likewise, it’s been said that we must disregard these passages because they were based on ancient eastern traditions that don’t apply today—after all, there were also laws regarding slavery and polygamy in Bible times. That’s certainly true, but God never directly commanded people to have slaves or multiple wives either. Rather, as Jesus said, it was because of “the hardness of your heart [that Moses] wrote you this precept” (Mark 10:5).
We also need to back up a little and understand that the supporting role of women was established before the fall. (See 1 Corinthians 11:7–9.) Eve was created to be Adam’s “help meet” (Genesis 2:18). Thus from the very dawn of Creation, the role of a woman is to support her husband.
Women In Church
Let’s now dive into a controversial but eye-opening passage that deals with women in a church setting. Paul writes, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:8–15).
Here we discover Paul advising the young Timothy on appropriate church life, offering practical guidelines for structuring the church and choosing its officers, with qualifications for each position.
Paul also addresses women’s attire, requesting that they avoid the appearance of worldliness by dressing modestly and focusing on propriety, because “ostentatious dress, in the ancient world, sometimes could signal a woman’s loose morals and independence from her husband.”2 Of course, these general teachings are widely accepted in principle by most churches, but what Paul writes next often causes a serious stir.
For women, Paul says, their role in worship is to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” That is, within a worship gathering at the church, a woman should remain quiet. But what does he mean by quiet? Paul clarifies, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” So this isn’t an absolute quiet, but rather “quiet” in the sense clearly described—without teaching or exercising authority over men. This understanding is in complete agreement with Paul’s discussionin 1 Corinthians 11, which is a passage that demonstrates women participated in prayer and prophecy in the early church.
The Heart of the Matter
To understand this limitation on the ministry of women a little better, we need to clarify what the word teach actually means. First, it is clear this passage is in regard to spiritual matters within the church. The epistle itself is pastoral in nature, providing instructions for the church and appropriate conduct therein. Therefore, it doesn’t preclude women from occupations that require instruction of or authority over men outside the church structure.
But considering its usage throughout the Scriptures, the term teach is used “to denote the careful transmission of the tradition concerning Jesus Christ and the authoritative proclamation of God’s will to believers in light of that tradition.”3
Therefore, according to Paul, women are not to exert spiritual authority over men. This isn’t limited to the husband and wife relationship, but rather encompasses all male-female relationships in the church.
The same sentiment is echoed in 1?Corinthians 14:34,?35: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” In this passage, Paul also tells the women of Corinth to learn in silence. (In this particular incidence, he is addressing the proper evaluation of prophecies.)
Many have argued that though Paul restricts women from teaching men, it was based entirely on cultural traditions that have no place today. However, although it certainly is important to understand the historical and cultural background of every Bible teaching, Paul simply does not leave room for us to disregard this passage in that manner.
Why? After giving the restriction, Paul gives a timeless reason for it. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1?Timothy 2:12). Here Paul grounds his teaching directly to the creation of all things, implicitly stating that men and women were created differently and have different roles in the natural, pre-fall conditionof humanity. Therefore, there is no room to say this is a teaching for the Ephesians in their time and place in the world.
The reality is that Paul often writes about the roles and distinctions between men and women among other role distinctions. For example, in Ephesians 5 and 6, he calls on women to submit to their husbands and for servants to submit to their masters. Indeed, this passage follows another in which Paul talks about putting on the “new self” in Christ (Ephesians 4:23, 24). It is the newly converted man who understands the created order and is able to live in submission to God. Thus Paul never abolishes roles; rather, he explains that Christ has abolished any distinction with regard to spiritual position: We are each justified by faith alone and are equally granted the right to be children of God.
Not Just Women
Some suggest that because there are generally more women than men in the church, leadership roles should be divided according to those percentages. But by using this reasoning, it would follow that in a family with three children, kids would be entitled to the largest share of leadership!
On the contrary, authority in church does not come through a popular vote, but rather from the Word of God, which equates the spiritual authority of man over woman with the authority of Christ over man. (See 1 Corinthians 11:3.)
Furthermore, wives should willingly acknowledge the headship of their husbands. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing” (Ephesians 5:23, 24). See also Titus 2:4, 5, and 1 Peter 3:6 for even more about a Bible-centered relationship.
Paul also says pointedly that elders are to be husbands; that is, men: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). (Note: The terms bishop and elder are interchangeable.) “[Paul] did not say that just any man could be a bishop, even as in the Old Testament not just any son of Aaron could be a priest. The office has always been limited. The Christian leader Paul spoke of must be ‘blameless’ and married, ‘vigilant, sober, of good behavior,’ etc. There is a long list of requirements that eventually eliminates most men and leaves only a very few eligible.”4 Women aren’t the only ones who are ineligible to be elders and pastors; so are most of the men!
Of course, every Christian, male and female, is called to minister in some capacity, but not in every capacity. “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12).
The Church Role of Women in the Bible
What then is the role of women in Christ’s church? The Bible is very clear that women ought to leap into ministry with both feet! Indeed, one of the greatest weaknesses in the church is the lack of women’s ministries truly focused on Christ and growth in the Word.
Plus, throughout the Bible, women are shown as equal in the nature of their ministry. Several examples include Deborah, who was a judge of Israel (Judges 4:4); Huldah and Anna, who were prophetesses (2 Chronicles 34:22; Luke 2:36); Priscilla, who was active in evangelism (Acts 18:26); and Pheobe, who was a deaconess (Romans 16:1).
Women also played a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus and ministry to Jesus (Matthew 28:1–10; Luke 8:3; 23:49; John 11:1–46; 12:1–8). Further, no spiritual gift is limited to men in the lists in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12:27–31; Romans 12:3–8; 1 Peter 4:8–11), and women were commanded to edify the body of Christ, which included teaching (Titus 2:4) and prophecy (Acts 2:17, 18; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
As you can see, women have an incredibly important role in God’s church throughout the ages. That hasn’t changed. However, even though men and women both serve the Lord in significant ways, we should not conclude that God has intended men and women to function in the same capacity.
Yet just because 1 Timothy 2:12 explicitly teaches that a woman is not to teach a man, women are nevertheless free to teach in many other ways. In fact, women are commanded to explain the gospel to everyone, including lost men (cf. Acts 18:26). Within the church, women may teach women and children. With men in the church, women should discuss spiritual matters in a manner that informs but is not authoritative. This does not mean that a man cannot learn from a woman’s conduct or from a conversation with a woman and apply what he learns to his life. Rather, what it means is that the woman’s purpose in talking with a man is not to instruct him as a leader would.
Of course, Paul’s limitation on women in teaching and exercising authority over men has been challenged in other ways. Some suggest his words in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not allow,” are his personal preference, but not something for the church at large. However, this undermines Paul’s apostolic authority; he commonly spoke in the first person in directing the church (1 Timothy 2:1, 8, 9). Others even contend that Paul was simply wrong, but this must be rejected on the grounds of the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).
Even though we can conclude that a woman should not assume the office of a pastor or elder within the church, it is clear that women are important to the church and do important things. The woman who fulfills the role God established for her is not inferior in any way to a man; rather, she is acting as a godly woman.
A Powerful Influence in the Church
While it is abundantly clear that women are not to be pastors or elders, because doing so would place them in a leadership role over men (1 Timothy 2:11–14; 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35), there are other things that women can and should do. Their ministry revolves around support, service, and ministry to women and children.
For instance, women can teach other women. “The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient totheir own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3–5). Therefore, mature Christian women are to disciple younger women, teaching them to exercise self-control, to be affectionate to their own husbands, to correct their children wisely, to be restrained in their passions and desires, to be modest, and to be upright in character.
Further, women should minister with the Word to other women. In Acts 21:8–11, Philip the evangelist has four unmarried daughters who minister in this way. While some point to this passage as evidence that women can be pastors, the context shows differently. Paul stayed with Philip and his family and was ministered to, but when God wanted to reveal something to Paul prophetically, He did not use any of Philip’s daughters. He used a male prophet from another city to instruct Paul.
Women can also share the gospel in a private context. For instance, Priscilla and Aquila shared the gospel with Apollos privately. It was a team effort, but it is clear from the passage that Priscilla took part (Acts 18:26). I believe the Bible allows that women can share the gospel with a man in a non-public setting if the opportunity presents itself, as long as: 1) it is done with the husband’s permission; 2) it is done discreetly; and 3) it is done in a way that avoids the appearance of evil.
Women should also be involved in supporting roles in the church and missionary work. Philippians 4:2–4 says, “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Servants of the Church
Even though the Lord has chosen many women to serve as prophets through the ages, He has never hinted that a woman should be ordained as a priest. Pastors and elders, of course, are roughly the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament priests. Pastors and elders lead out in communion, which is the New Testament equivalent of offering a sacrifice—a role that was performed by a man. And while many priests were prophets, no women prophets were priests. Amram and Jochebed had three children—Miriam, Aaron, and Moses (Exodus 7:1; 5:20). All three were prophets, but only the boys served as priests.
Of course, women have served a vital role in the church from the very beginning, but men were assigned the role of church leadership. The apostles were all men, the churches were started by men, the Scripture was written by men under inspiration, and the churches were led by men. This does not mean that women are less capable of teaching than men; it simply means that God created us this way. Perhaps by spending more of our time understanding God’s purpose in creating this structure, we’ll find lasting satisfaction—rather than trying to find it by bucking against the teachings of God’s Word.
Romans 16:1,?2 says, “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (emphasis supplied).
The word translated servant is the Greek word diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os). It literally means “to run on errands; an attendant, a waiter at tables or in other serving duties.” The word in the masculine gender, diakoneo(s) (dee-ak-on-eh’-o), appears in the New Testament about 68 times and is translated as “serve, minister, administer.” Every time but five, the word refers to the office of a deacon that can be held only by men (1 Timothy 3:8–13; Acts 6:1–7). I bring this up because some say that Phebe held the office of a deacon. She did not. She was a servant, a helper around the church, and she succoured (assisted, helped, or was hospitable) to many such as Paul.
In 1 Timothy 5:9,?10, we learn, “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.” I have turned us to this passage because it gives the qualifications for a widow considered worthyof regular support by the local church. She was to have a history of good works, have been a faithful mother, hospitable to strangers, and willing to serve fellow Christians in humble ways. In short, she was to have a history of diligent labor for the Lord. One such example is Tabitha, or Dorcas, found in Acts 9. She made clothes for many of the believers; she was a woman with a true servant’s heart.
Embracing Our Roles
F. B. Meyer said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other and that the taller we grew in Christian character the more easily we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower.” Remember, it was Mary Magdalene—who was content to kneel at Jesus’ feet—who was also honored to be the first to see the Lord after His resurrection and share that good news with others (John 20:17).
Submission is the putting of oneself under the authority of another. It is an act of humility, something that both men and women in our churches should practice much more. Within the church, Paul teaches that women ought to submit to the authority of men in the church. But this must never be an excuse to foster inequality. Christ submitted to the Father, yet He is equal to the Father in worth and essence. Therefore, submission is about order, not value!
At the same time, there is a tremendous problem of ignoring the clear statements of Scripture in respect to the role of women in the church. Christians who sweep aside plain statements of Scripture as outdated traditions or local customs are building on a foundation of shifting sand. Soon every other Bible truth will be in danger of sliding away, so that even the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and marriage will one day be mere ancient traditions that no longer apply to a politically correct world. We should not undermine the Scriptures so easily.
The fact of the Bible is that there is not a single example of a woman being ordained as a priest, pastor, or elder. Indeed, Jesus only ever ordained men. Was He just conforming to the popular customs of the day? Well, the truth is that in His time, most of the pagan religions had women priests. Moreover, the notion that Jesus confined Himself to following the traditions of His day is completely opposite of His teachings. He said, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). Jesus laid down His life in defense of truth, irrespective of popular trends. We should always be willing to do the same.
When the Lord made woman, it was the crowning act of His creation. So this isn’t about honor or pride or our social standing before humans. It’s about following the plain teaching of the Bible. Interestingly, the Bible uses a woman as a symbol of His precious church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In Scripture, we find the greatest success comes to the church when she humbly embraces her role to serve Christ in saving others.
Before the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were striving for higher position and arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them only after they humbled themselves and resolved to accept the calling God had placed upon them. I know the Lord wants to shower His Spirit upon His people again, but first we must turn away from the politically correct teachings of the world and with the mind of Christ humbly submit to the clear teachings of His Word.
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