Christian Liberty and Starbucks

Note: The following is a response to a question submitted in conjunction with a sermon I preached on 9/20/15 at SonRise Christian Church, Summerville, SC. 

Question: Paul said to not worry about buying meat that was previously used in Pagan rituals. As in consuming the meat didn’t mean that they were supporting or condoning the sin of idol worship. Could that principle be applied to a florist, Baker, etc, providing wedding services to a homosexual couple?

Answer: I think your right in one way . For example , I go to Starbucks. Starbucks openly advocates homosexuality. My buying Starbucks does not mean I support their view of homosexuality. It could be argued however that I may want to spend my money somewhere else ( a Christian coffee company for example) . Nevertheless, the point is I am free to eat and drink anything no matter the source. However, I need to use wise Christian discernment when doing so and not foolishly use my Liberty as a stumbling block to others . Furthermore, in the example you have given, I believe one must do what’s right in their conscience . If it is wrong for a person to sell goods to a homosexual couple then they shouldn’t do it ( see Romans 14-15) .

23 Characteristics of a Church Elder

In Acts 20:18-38 Luke records a most heart-felt speech from the Apostle Paul to his close companions—the elders at the church in Ephesus. Besides discovering the emotional investment Paul developed with the spiritual leaders of the local chushepherdrch, we learn some vital characteristics of a faithful local church overseer. Below are twenty-three such characteristics that Paul alludes to in this penetrating message. These several characteristics may offer tremendous benefit to anyone seeking to lead as an elder in a local church today.

  1. Invests time in the lives of his flock (v. 18)
  2. Has a servant’s heart (v.19)
  3. Maintains an attitude of humility (v. 19)
  4. The ability to persevere through trials (v. 19)
  5. Never refrains from sharing the truth (v.20)
  6. A devotion to teaching God’s Word (v. 20)
  7. An evangelistic urgency (v. 21)
  8. A yielding to the Holy Spirit (v. 22)
  9. An acute awareness of persecution for the sake of the Gospel. (v. 23)
  10. Self-denial (v. 24)
  11. Dedicated to preaching the scriptures in its entirety (v.27)
  12. Sensitive attentiveness to the dangers of temptation (v. 28)
  13. Protects the members of the local church from dangerous threats to their spiritual growth (v. 28)
  14. Care for the church (v. 28)
  15. Ability to recognize false teachers (vv. 30-31)
  16. Allowing those the elder has trained/disciple, the freedom to lead others (v. 32)
  17. No desire for materialism (v. 33)
  18. Strong work ethic (v. 33)
  19. Takes care of his own financial responsibilities (v. 33)
  20. A heart for the marginalized, weak, and oppressed (v. 34)
  21. A generous giver (v. 35)
  22. Emphasizes prayer (v. 36)
  23. A genuine and emotional love for the local church (v. 37)

Gossip: A deadly virus in the church

Inevitably, when a community of people live life together problems will occasionally arise. It was true for the first century church (just read 1 Corinthians!), and it is true for the church today. One of the issues prevalent in today’s church is the issue of gossiping. Our human nature simply enjoys the desire to talk about the problems of other people. However, such negative talk always leads to the tearing down, rather than the building up, of the body of Christ. As the issue of gossip has shown up from time to time in the church I serve in, I thought it would be beneficial to jot down some biblical principles for my church to live by. The following are some general guidelines our church seeks to follow. I believe they are helpful in avoiding the temptation to gossip:

Speaking negatively about any ministry or individual among a private group of peers, only serves to tear down the Body of Christ rather than build it up. If there are areas or individuals that you feel need to be addressed for the purposes of improvement, the proper procedure is to personally approach the individual responsible for the problematic area (Matthew 18:15-20). For no reason should your concern be discussed with anyone outside of this context; this results in gossip and inevitably leads to the tearing down of individuals. A good rule of thumb is to simply follow the guidelines of Ephesians 4:29 which states: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. May we always desire a unified harmony with each other that revolves around grace and kindness.  

 

What do you think about these guidelines? Would you add anything else? 

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES? (Part Two)

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES?

Part Two: Internal Evidence

             In the first part of this article we discussed the external evidence for Pauline authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles. What follows is a look at the internal evidence.

          

             The issue of the genuineness of the PE becomes even more complex as the focus shifts from the external evidence to the internal. There is no questioning the undeniable truth thaPault the PE differ significantly from the other ten Pauline letters. As a result of these differences, many scholars have concluded that the PE must have been written pseudonymously.  Moreover, it is pointed out that the writer must have been highly familiar with the teaching of Paul. “The writer. . .  addresses the problems of his own day as one who has drunk deeply from the Pauline well.[1]” While the arguments based on the apparent differences between the PE and the rest of the Pauline corpus appear scintillating, the content of the PE are better understood as genuinely Pauline. The following issues make up the primary areas of dispute.

           

           

            The first internal difficulty deals with reconciling the events mentioned in the pastorals with those recorded for us in the book of Acts. Some are not convinced that the events in the PE coincide with the accounts written in acts and therefore, submit that the writer must be manufacturing allusions that would give the impression of an historical setting.[2] For example, 1Timothy depicts Paul on his way to Macedonia, while Timothy is back in Ephesus, and Paul is longing to return there to see his protégé (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14). This seems to conflict with the picture in Acts 20 wherein Timothy meets Paul in Macedonia rather than remaining in Ephesus. Titus 1:5 indicates that Paul had spent time in Crete and left Titus there to continue the work of the ministry. However, the only reference of Paul being in Crete is the brief comment found in Acts 27:7-13 and fails to imply any reference to ministry work. A final example is found in 2 Timothy 4:13 in which Paul requests a cloak left at the house of Carpus at Troas. In order for the request to be understandable it seems logical that Paul must have recently visited Troas. However, this is difficult to line up with the timeline given in Acts 20.

           

            Several insightful responses have been given to these objections. First, it is important to realize that the book of Acts was not meant to be an exhaustive description of the early church,[3] highlighting every detail of the apostle’s journeys. We know fairly little of what Paul did during those years and there are huge gaps when other events could be squeezed in[4]. For example, when did the events mentioned in 2 Cor.11:23-27 occur? Or what about the three years Paul spent in Ephesus recorded in Acts 20:31; none of Paul’s trips are recorded during that time. The second imprisonment theory offers credence to those who affirm Pauline authorship. This theory suggests that Paul experienced a second imprisonment after the one mentioned in Acts 28. This means that Paul was released from his imprisonment spoken of in Acts 28, served for a few more years and eventually was imprisoned a second time in which he was soon martyred. This theory can be attested by the fact that the book of Acts seems to indicate reason for Paul’s release. Furthermore, 1 Clement 5:7 reports that Paul journeyed “to the outer limits of the west” (i.e. Spain), which would only happen after Acts 28, and  numerous patristic sources mention Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment. While it cannot be made certain, it seems more favorable to fit the PE within the timeline of Acts rather than apart from it.

           

            “Many scholars believe that the understanding of church life that is  presupposed in these letters could not have appeared during Paul’s lifetime. Specifically, they see a strongly organized church with an ordained ministry.[5]” For example, Banks maintains that the undisputed letters contain a reoccurring theme of familtexty imagery that is somewhat diminished in the pastorals. While the terms in the pastorals are generally similar to those in the other letters, the pastorals display a less dynamic view of the Christian community. Moreover, the authority of leadership has shifted from that of the community of believers to certain roles held by individual leaders within the church.[6] The assumption is that the early church began as a charismatic Spirit-led body of believers. It was only much later that the church began to establish elders, deacons, and eventually bishops for the purpose of combating error within the church.[7] While these points should be seriously considered, a few considerations warrant attention. First, it is important to recognize that Paul began establishing elders in churches as soon as his first missionary journey[8] Second, when discussing the development of ordained ministry within the PE only 1 Timothy should be seriously considered. This is seen in the fact that 2 Timothy makes no mention of ordained ministry and Titus, only a small reference to the appointing and qualifications of elders.[9] Finally, the reference to the overseers and deacons in Philippians 1:1 says just as much about ordained ministry as any of the PE do.

           

            A large amount of ink has been spilled over the linguistic problem found within the PE. Simply put, when contrasting the PE with the other Pauline epistles there arises a significant difference in language. The forerunner of this critique was P.N. Harrison and his work The Problem of the Pastorals.[10] In his effort to critique Pauline authorship Harrison offers a massive amount of statistical data in support of his double contention that Paul did not write the PE and that the language reflects that of a second century author.[11] Harrison’s presentation of the problem is fourfold[12]: First, Harrison points out that one-hundred and seventy-five words found in the PE are found nowhere else in the New Testament (i.e. the Hapax Legomena).[13] Second, there is the problem of the large number of words found in the PE and other New Testament writings but unknown to the other ten Pauline epistles.[14] Third, stands the problem of characteristic Pauline words and groups of words missing from the PE.[15] Finally, Harrison suggests several grammatical and stylistic differences.[16] Harrison’s extensive work has convinced many that the PE could not be attributed to Paul. Harrison’s view carries some significant weaknesses however. That a significant amount of vocabulary is unique to the PE does not warrant non-Pauline authorship. It seems ludicrous to believe that Paul’s vocabulary was limited to only that which we find in the ten Pauline epistles. Moreover, Harrison’s claim that the language used in the PE fits more in line with second century literature is weak on the basis that most of the words shared by the pastorals and the second century writers are also found in writings prior to A.D. 50.[17] Additionally, that some of the words are used with different meanings signifies that only the contexts are different, Paul also uses vocabulary with different meanings in the ten letters. [18] In the final analysis it must be observed that although the statistical data provided by Harrison is impressive, it is unable to offer the reason as to why the differences exist. Too many variables are at stake; Paul is writing to individuals instead of churches, different topics are discussed, the context for writing is different, there could be a different amanuensis, and so forth.

           

             Opponents of authenticity do not neglect to point out what they believe are doctrinal differences between the Pauline epistles and the PE. Some argue that the PE contradict some of the Pauline themes found in the undisputable letters and that some of the theology is un-Pauline.  Several categories are usually given:

           

              It is argued that some of the major Pauline themes such as the Holy Spirit, the cross, and flesh verses spirit are missing in the PE. The importance of this point comes from the idea that certain theological themes are so central to Paul’s thought and message that their omission calls Pauline authorship into question.[19] In light of this argument some considerations should be made. First, Paul is not limited to what we might feel is his core theological themes. Moreover, these types of expressions, while not phrased in the same form as the Pauline epistles have them, often incorporate Pauline terms—perhaps used in a different way, but still Pauline.[20] Secondly, the fact that Paul is writing to two individuals concerning specific historical circumstances speaks to the fact that it was not necessary to discuss basic theological topics. Finally, Mounce rightly observes that in the acknowledged Pauline epistles there may be theological themes common in one book but not in another.[21]

            Paul 2

            Some see an issue with certain Pauline terms being used differently within the PE. For example Banks understands Paul’s use of the word agape as the ethos within which members carry out all their communal responsibilities.[22] However, according to Banks, in the PE agape has lost this significant meaning.[23] It is argued that words such as faith and righteousness are severely un-Pauline. Faith for example is not seen as a gift from God but a “deposit to which nothing can be added,”[24] and righteousness is a “virtue to be sought.”[25] In response to these arguments one only need recognize that words carry semantic ranges. In other words, Paul’s theology was not so rigid that every time he used a certain theological term it always carried the same meaning. This can be attested for in the undisputed Pauline letters themselves. For example, when Paul tells the Roman church that their faith is proclaimed in all the world (Romans 1:8) it is not the gift that is proclaimed but the fact that they are Christians.[26] Therefore, the argument that Pauline terms are used differently in the PE seems insignificant.

           

            The fact that the Holy Spirit is only mentioned three times[27] in the PE is considerably significant to some. The problem involves the emphasis Paul gives to the Holy Spirit in his other letters; if so much emphasis is designated in the authentic Pauline letters, why not the PE? While the lack of reference to the Holy Spirit may be, at face value, unlike Paul, it should be noted that such references are not evenly spread over all Paul’s earlier epistles. In the case of Colossians and 2 Thessalonians the Holy Spirit is mentioned only once, and in Philemon not at all.[28]

           

            Seeking to determine the genuineness of the PE may at times create just as many questions as it does answers. Nevertheless, there seems to be a sufficient amount of evidence to satisfy an affirmative conclusion concerning Paul as the author of the PE. The early church’ reception of Pauline authorship is well established under close examination of the external evidence. It may even be probable that P46 points to the validity of the PE rather than speak against them. The internal evidence sheds additional light to Pauline authorship. The difficulties of reconciling the events between Acts and the PE are troubling at first glance. However, the difficulties seem less atrocious when recognizing that Acts is not exhaustive and in light of the second imprisonment theory. Ordained ministry, undoubtedly adapted and fine-tuned in the second century, was by no means unfamiliar to the early church as seen in Philippians 1:1 and the reference in Acts 14. Harrison’s detailed observations on the seemingly problematic linguistic issues failed to satisfy careful scrutiny and any theological terms questioned in the pastorals neglect to take into account semantic domains. Altogether, it seems fitting to conclude that based on the external and internal evidence it is highly probable that Paul is the author of the PE.


               [1] D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 555

               [2] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 561

               [3] Mounce, Pastorals, 35.

               [4] A.T. Robinson outlines a fine argument in favor of the events within the PE reconciling with those in Acts. See John A. T. Robertson. Redating the New Testament. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 67-85.

               [5] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 564.

               [6] Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting. Rev. ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 194-195

               [7] Mounce, Pastorals, 36

               [8] Acts 14:23

               [9] Tit. 1:5-9

               [10] For a helpful summary of Harrison’s points see Carson and Moo, Introduction, 555-558.

               [11] Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles,  54

               [12] ibid, 54

               [13] Harrison, Problem, 20.

               [14] ibid, 21.

               [15] ibid, 31-38.

               [16] ibid, 38-46.

               [17] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 556.

               [18] ibid, 556.

               [19] Mounce, Pastorals, 39.

               [20] Carson and  Moo, Introduction,  565.

               [21] Mounce, Pastorals,  39-40.

               [22] Banks, Community,  195

               [23] In fact, Banks argues that a major understanding of Paul’s is the involvement of community, especially within church discipline and decision making. Thus, Banks questions whether the PE are genuinely Pauline because of the seeming neglect of communal responsibility and a shift to established roles in church leadership. 

               [24] Mounce , Pastorals,  42.

               [25] ibid, 42.

               [26] ibid, 42.

               [27] 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim 1:14; Tit. 3:5

               [28] Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles,  49.

 

Original Sin or Original Grace?

Below I have outlined a chapter in Dr. Jack Cottrell’s book “The Faith Once For All.” The chapter attempts to discuss the issues regarding the doctrine of original sin and specifically how one should understand Romans 5:11-21. I found the content fascinating. What do you think of Dr. Cottrell’s conclusions?

 

Original Sin or Original Grace?

What is the meaning of Romans 5:12-19?

Cottrell believes that this passage teaches original grace not original sin.

Cottrell seeks to answer four questions in explaining original grace in Romans 5:12-19.

 

Question 1: What is the purpose of this passage in relation to the epistle as a whole?

  • It is best understood as continuing the theme of assurance that began in 5:1.
    • Paul assures his readers that we can put all our hope and confidence in one saving act (the cross) of one man (Jesus Christ).
    • In verses 1-11 there are 10 references to the saving efficacy of Christ and his cross.
    • Some may wonder “isn’t this expecting a lot from just one man?” Yet this is essentially what the gospel asks us to believe. Therefore, the one act of Jesus on the cross has the power to save the whole world.
    • In order to show that Jesus’ one act can in fact save the whole world Paul shows how the one sinful act of one man (Adam) effected the whole human race.
    • So, in verses 11-19 Paul compares and contrasts the one sin of Adam and the one act of righteousness of Jesus. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater: If we can accept the fact that the one sin of man brought sin and death upon the whole world then surely we can believe the one act of Christ can bring salvation upon the whole world

Question 2: Does this doctrine teach the doctrine of original sin?

  • This passage definitely teaches that humanity has inherited more than just physical death; there is a spiritual death as well.
  • However, the biggest problem to the approach that every child is conceived in a sinful state is that it assumes that Paul’s main subject is Adam’s sin and its consequences. This is not the case however; Paul’s subject is Jesus and his cross, and the universal, all-sufficient consequences of that saving event.
  • In reality it does not matter which view of “original sin” one takes because Paul’s main point is this: whatever the whole human race got (or would have gotten) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Question 3: What is the scope of the words “many” and “all” as they are used in 5:12-19?

  • If the answer to the above question is correct why do so many still teach a doctrine of original sin? The answer lies in how they interpret the words “many” and “all” in these verses.
  • Most all interpreters view the words “all” and “many” to be synonymous terms not contrasting each other but contrasting the words “one” in reference to Adam and Jesus. In other words the term “all” is used to convey totality, but is not meant to be broader in scope than “the many.”
  • The problem lies in how one applies these terms to Adam on the one hand and Jesus on the other. The common approach is that when the terms are used in relation to Adam they are universal in scope but when used in conjunction with Jesus they are more limited and do not literally mean all people. Therefore, Adam’s sin did in fact come to all people but Christ saving work is only given to those who have received Christ by faith.
  • More often these terms are understood in light of an Augustinian view of original sin which are stated thus: The consequences of Adam’s act extended to all who were in him or belonged to him when he sinned—which includes the whole race; but the consequences of Christ’s act extended only to “all” who were in him or belonged to him when he died—which only includes the elect.
  • It must be emphasized that the above approaches are false. The reason is that all attempts to reduce the words “many” and “all,” when used of Christ, to anything less than their scope when used of Adam, would negate the whole purpose of the Adam-Christ comparison!
  • The question of assurance is this: can I have confidence that Christ’s work is sufficient for taking away all of my sins—and the sins of the entire world? Paul’s answer is yes based on how Christ one act of righteousness has already counteracted everything brought upon everyone by Adam’s one sin.

Question 4: Does this passage teach universal salvation?

  • Some do take Paul’s use of “all” and “many” to teach universal salvation
  • However Cottrell argues that this passage does not teach universal salvation for the following reasons:
    • The primary focus of this passage focuses on how Christ’ one act of righteousness counteracts the one sin of Adam for every single individual.
    • However, Paul here absolutely does not say the same thing about the consequences of all our personal sins. Personal sins are only removed through personal faith.
    • The universal language in this passage only refers to what we have inherited from Adam.
    • From a practical point of view this passage addresses the question of the spiritual state of infants when they are conceived and born. Infants are therefore born in a state of original grace because of Christ one act on the cross negating the one act of sin committed by Adam.
    • However, when one reaches the age of accountability they enter into a state of personal sins which requires personal faith in Christ to receive forgiveness.

Am I doing enough?

I recently received the following question: Do you feel like you do enough for God or was that a motivation for you to go into the ministry? Below are some thoughts I had in response.

I have to admit, that I never feel as if I do as much as I can. I think that this reaction is only human. We strive to give God our best, but when Jesus is the paradigm how does one compete with that! Here are some thoughts I have had on the subject (for what it is worth):

First, we are dealing with two areas of our Christian walk. One is our conversion. That is, the point in which we are declared just in the sight of God (we see baptism as this point in time). Justification, as the Bible teaches us, is given to us solely on the basis of Jesus’ work on the cross. Nothing we could ever do brings justification, we are saved by grace though faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, there is a second aspect to our Christian walk, namely, sanctification. Sanctification involves the process in which we grow or mature spiritually into the image of Jesus. There is no questioning our salvation, because that was taken care of on the cross. However, while we are justified in the sight of God, we still struggle with the reality of sin and battle with our spiritual maturity. This is what I think the apostle Paul is referring to in Romans 7:7-25. Here Paul paints a picture of the struggle we face: living by the flesh or the Spirit. Our daily lives consist of numerous choices wherein we decide whether to live by the flesh or by the spirit. Paul makes it clear that we don’t always follow the Spirit’s guidance; sometimes we choose to follow the ways of the flesh (vv. 14-24). So, the Christian walk consists of living with this struggle. However, the more we grow in Christ the easier it is to follow the Spirit. Do we still struggle? Of course we do! But when I think back 20 years ago and reflect upon how I was as a young Christian, I can see evidence of growth and spiritual maturity. I can say now that I look more like Jesus than I did then, and that’s what I can find comfort in. Are we ever doing enough? No! But with the Spirit’s guidance, and constant study in his word I believe we can get closer and closer. Then one day, we will have the opportunity to stand in front of Christ and hear those words: “Well done good and faithful servant, enter in your father’s rest!!!”

I don’t think the Bible seeks to keep us in a state of fear and worry, wondering if we are doing enough. Instead I think the Bible gives us principles and guidelines for us to follow so that we can keep our eyes on the finish line. Therefore, if we are constantly thinking upon Jesus and his Kingdom we should live in a state of gladness and joy (Read Philippians!). It is only when we neglect God’s work that we should begin to fret over our Christian life.

In direct answer to the initial question, maybe. I do feel that initially I went into ministry because in ministry, I would always be involved in “God’s work.” However, I have found that you can be completely immersed in ministry and be as far from God as an atheist! I have come to discover that we are all minister’s for the kingdom, and I have just happened to be called out among the church and serve in a full-time manner, As Paul so eloquently puts it in Ephesians 4: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”