Corporate Fasting

Recently my church decided to designate a time for corporate fasting and praying, in order for repentance, renewal, and revival to develop within our congregation. Our Elders have humbly concluded that we as a congregation have become complacent in our evangelism, and spiritual growth. Thus, in response they have called the congregation to fast and pray.

In light of this, I began to think again about the topic of fasting in the Bible. While the practice seems far removed from western American culture, it appeared to be a central practice among the Jewish community and early Christians. Additionally, fasting was never done for fasting’s sake alone; fasting was always done with a purpose. Fasting was not an end, but a means to an end.  As one sifts through the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments several purposes manifest.

Donald Whitney in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” defines fasting as “a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”[1] The number of purposes for fasting goes beyond the following, but I have focused on these three in order to emphasize fasting in a corporate context.

TO SEEK GOD’S GUIDANCE FOR THE CHURCH

Fasting was seen as an intricate part in deciding how to go about the work of the church. In Acts 13:1-3 we find that the church was “worshiping and fasting” when the Holy Spirit instructed them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work of God. In similar fashion, we find that elders were decided upon in Lystra in conjunction with prayer and fasting in Acts 14. It seems fitting that when decisions for the early church were to be made, and guidance from God was sought after, fasting was involved.

TO EXPRESS REPENTANCE

Whenever a genuine and passionate cry for repentance is offered up by God’s people it is usually evidenced by a time of fasting. That is, fasting outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer. A proper example is found in Daniel 9 where Daniel prays a beautiful prayer of repentance on behalf of Israel. Here is a sample of that prayer from Daniel 9:

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land…To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”

TO UNITE GOD’S PEOPLE IN WORSHIP TO GOD

When corporate fasting is described in the Bible it usually places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God. Fasting expressed in a practical way, the desire to acknowledge the folly of man and the perfection and power of Yahweh. In Nehemiah 9 following the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, the people of God assembled together and participated in a corporate fast (9:1). Later on the text describes that upon reading the Law of God, the people confessed their sins and worshiped God (9:3). The early church also connected worship to God with fasting in Acts 13:2. Fasting therefore, appeared to be a response to God’s perfect holiness. It’s as if those we read in the Bible saw fasting as a declaration of their total dependence on God’s provision and grace.

So, how does all of this apply to the church today? While fasting seemed routine in the days of our forefathers, does it have any relevance in the contemporary church? I think it does. I believe fasting draws our attention away from the cares and desires of the flesh and points us to the purpose of our existence, to glorify God. It is so easy for us in today’s culture to lose sight of the mission and purpose of the church. Fasting, as a unified body, helps direct us back to that purpose, to reestablish the reason we were called out in the first place. It outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer, and places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God.

What do you think? Should Churches participate in corporate fasts?


[1] Whitney, Donald S. (Nave Press, Colorado Springs) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 160

Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

After my recent encounter and ongoing conversation with Ida and Jim, two dedicated Jehovah Witnesses, I have pursued again the topic of the trinity and deity of Jesus Christ. As a result I have accumulated some notes on the subject. I thought that others may find the notes helpful in their own personal Bible study. Thus, below are some thoughts concerning the trinity and deity of Jesus. I hope you find the information helpful and let me know if there Is anything you would add to the information below?

Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

OLD TESTAMENT

Plural references to God (“us”)

  • Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8;

Passages where one person is called God or Lord and distinguished from another person called God or Lord.

  • Psalm 45:6-7 (Hebrews 1:8  refers this to Jesus); Psalm 110:1 (See Jesus’ reference in Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44); Malachi 3:1-2; Hosea 1:7; Isaiah 48:16

Passages where “angel of the Lord” (angel =mal’ak=messenger, equivalent to angelos, Greek for “angel, or messenger) seems to indicate christophony.

  • Genesis 16:13; 18:1-19:1; Exodus 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Numbers 22:35,38; Judges 2:1-2; 6:1,14

Other O.T. Passages

  • Genesis 1:26

o   What do we make of the plural pronoun here?

  • Psalm 110:1

o   The most quoted OT passage in the NT.

o   Jesus uses this passage in Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44 to prove his messiahship and deity. The verse implies that the Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (Jesus the son) sit at my right hand. How can Jehovah speak to himself? He must have been referring to another person.

  • Proverbs 8:22-31

o   Wisdom here is much more than mere personification. It is reference to the son of God (see 1 Cor. 1:24). However, what is one to do with verses 22-25? It seems that these verses make Christ out to be created. Not the case; the Hebrew word usually rendered “create” (bara) is not used in verse 22. Rather it is the Hebrew word “qanah” which appears 84 times in the OT and almost always means “to get, acquire.” Thus the NASB rendering: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way.”

  •  Isaiah 9:6

o   This messianic passage explicitly calls Jesus “mighty God.”

o   Some state that the term mighty God is different than almighty God. They point out the fact that only the term almighty God is a reference to Jehovah whereas “mighty God can refer to anyone. This is simply not true. In Isaiah 10:21 and Jeremiah 32:18 both refer to Jehovah as “mighty God”

  •  Isaiah 40:3

o   Prophetic text referring to the messiah. Used by John the Baptist in Matthew 2 as he prepared the way for Christ. In this passage the terms Lord and God are both used to describe Jesus.

NEW TESTAMENT

Passages where all three persons of the trinity are simply named together

  • Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21;

The use of kyrios in the NT.

  • The term kyrios is the term used in the Septuagint (over 6,814 times) to refer to Yahweh. In the NT there are instances where it is clear that the term kyrios when applied to Jesus refers to the OT usage as Yahweh.

o   Luke 2:11; Luke 1:43; Matthew 3:3 (see also Isaiah 40:3); Matthew 22:44; Philippians 2:11; Acts 2:36; John 20:28; Romans 10:9.

A look at significant texts

  •  In the following passages Jesus is worshipped. If God is the only one worthy of worship (Matthew 4:10) why then is Jesus worshipped?

o   Matthew 2:2,11;  Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:14; 22:3

o   Note: In Rev. 22:9-10 John falls down and begins to worship the angel who had been speaking to him in the vision. But the angel stops John, and tells him not to worship him, but to worship God. It is only fitting then that if both the son and the father are worshipped in Revelation then both are in fact God. If not, then John contradicts his own message when he pictures Jesus as being worshipped.

  • Matthew 1:23

o   Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and connects it to Jesus’ birth. Jesus is called Immanuel which in translation means “God with us.”

  • Matthew 12:39-41

o   After quoting Isaiah 6:10 John refers Jesus as the one he saw in the vision recorded in Isaiah 6:1-6.

  •  John 1:1

o   The fact that the word was with (pros) God shows a distinction from God.

o   Colwell’s rule shows that John 1:1 is correctly translated “The word was God.” Colwell’s rule simply states that in the event where the predicate nominative precedes the copulative verb (the verb “to be”) then the predicate noun will drop the article. The subject on the other hand, if definite, will retain the article. Furthermore, “copulative verbs express a state of being rather than an action…These verbs link together a subject and an object which are in apposition, which are closely related if not identical (Brooks and Winberry, p. 4).”

o   If the lack of article does in fact attribute an indefinite quality than one need explain the lack of the article in John 1:6, 12, 13, and 18 of the same chapter. Here we have the word God without the article. Surely no one would suggest that in these instances John is referring to “a god” rather than “Jehovah God.”

  •  John 5:18; John 19:7

o   The Pharisees denied Jesus of Being equal to God and Jesus never denied there claim.

  •  John 8:58

o   Jesus claims that before Abraham was “I Am.” The “I am” remark definitely alludes to the “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14.

  •  John 10:38

o   What is meant by “the father is in me and I am in the father?” what does It mean for Jesus to be “in the father.

  •   John 20:28

o   Here Thomas explicitly calls Jesus Lord (kyrios) and God (theos). Those who claim that Thomas was involuntarily speaking to God about Jesus’ appearance miss the emphatic phrase “Thomas answered and said to him.” That is, Thomas directed his comment to Jesus himself. He was not merely speaking abstractly into the Heavens.

  •  Romans 9:5

o   Christ is simply called “God over all” (epi panton theos).

  • 1 Corinthians 8:6

o   Here Paul says that God (theos) is the source (ek) of creation and the Lord (kyrios) is the means (dia) of creation.

  • Philippians 2:5-11

                     “Uparkon” points to Christ’ pre-existence with the father.             (uparkon is present active participle, showing an ongoing existence.

o   Morphe (“form”) is “the sum of those characteristics which make a thing precisely what it is (Cottrell, p. 238).”

o   The previous point is reinforced by the phrase “did not count equality with God something to be grasped at.” That is, although Christ was the same as God, he didn’t seek to utilize his authority/status/privilege as God when putting on human flesh. On the contrary, Jesus “emptied himself (or made himself nothing) taking the form of a servant (doulos) being born in likeness of men, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the cross.” In other words, Jesus who was God, didn’t use his status as God for his own personal gain, but rather humbled himself and became obedient to the father through the cross.

  •  Colossians 2:9

o   Jesus is said to have the “fullness of deity in bodily form.”

  •  Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1

o   Both these passages fall into the category of the Granville sharp rule, which states “when two nouns of the same case are connected by kai, a single article before the first noun denotes conceptual unity, whereas the repetition of the article denotes particularity.[1] In these two passages “God” and “Savior” are governed by one article. Thus, God and savior refer to Jesus. It is wrong to render the passage “of our God and of our savior Jesus Christ,” distinguishing between God and Jesus. The proper understanding is that Jesus is both God and savior.

  • Hebrews 1:3

o   “exact imprint/representation/duplicate” of God’s “Nature/being.” That is, Jesus duplicates the being or nature of God the father in every way.

  • Hebrews 1:8-9

o   This quotation from Psalm 45:6-7 is a description of Jehovah God. The Hebrew writer applies the meaning to Jesus Christ.

  • 1 John 5:20

o   Here Jesus is clearly called the true God. He in the latter part of the verse clearly fits the antecedent “Jesus Christ.”

PROBLEM TEXTS AND TERMS

  • Colossians 1:15

o   Jesus is called the “firstborn of all creation.” This seems to imply that Jesus was created.

o   First, the term “image” (eikon) refers to the very nature and character of God having been perfectly revealed in Christ (see also John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Hebrews 1:3). The Bible is clear: no one has ever seen God, but Jesus has made the invisible God known. O’Brien writes “the term points to his revealing of the father on the one hand and the pre-existence on the other—it is both functional and ontological.[2]

o   If “image” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to God than “firstborn” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to creation. It may be tempting, at first glance, to view “firstborn” as referring to Christ as a created being among all other created things. But it avoids the immediate context. The following verse introduced by “oti” explains what is meant by verse 15. That is, Jesus is the one from whom all things have been created. It is true that the term “firstborn” (prototokos) can refer to priority of time (i.e. “my firstborn son”). This is how the word is used for example in Luke 2:7 referring to Christ earthly relationship with Mary. However, with regard to Christ nature and identity with God it carries the theological idea of superiority or supremacy, not as a first child (see Rom. 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5). In conclusion, Jesus cannot be both creature and creator. The title “firstborn” is better understood as “The one preeminent over all creation,” thus the following verse which depicts Jesus as the one who created all things.

  • John 14:28

o   Those who oppose Christ’ deity point out the fact that Jesus himself claimed that God was greater than he. At first observance it can seem that Jesus in fact is limiting his equality with God the father. However, at closer examination one finds that the issue is one of position rather than nature. This is clearly seen when the Greek word translated “greater” in John 14:28 is compared to the Greek word translated “better” in Hebrews 1:4. In Hebrews 1:4 the writer states that Jesus is “better” (Grk= kreitton) than the angels. In the context it is clear that the comparison between Jesus and angels is one of nature and not position. That is, Jesus is qualitatively more superior to the angels because he created them (Hebrews 1:3, 8-13). However, in John 14:28 the comparison between Jesus and the God the Father is not one of nature but of position. That is, Jesus is quantitatively limited by his becoming a man (see Philippians 2:5-8), while qualitatively equal with God (John 1:1). Thus, Jesus in John 14:28 was speaking to his state as a man and observing the fact that his temporary humbled position makes God greater than he since God the father was in Heaven where Jesus had formerly resided.[3]

o   Illustration of this point: One might be able to say that the president of the U.S.is greater positionally than I but it would be a much different matter if one was to say that the president was a better man.

  •  “Only Begotten”

o   From “monogenes,” compound word, from “mono” meaning “one” and “ginomai” meaning “only,” unique.” Thus, momgenes literally means “unique one.”[4]

o   Monogenes is used in reference to Jesus’ relationship to the father in the following passages: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9.

o   Many have misinterpreted this term to mean “only begotten.” This rendering is false however, on the basis of monogenes deriving from the Greek term genos meaning “only, or unique” rather than “gennao” meaning “to beget, or create.” Monogenes means then “one of a kind” or “unique.”[5]

o   Two traditional views regarding the use of monogenes:

§  The first view (originating with Origen) suggested that Christ’s unique Sonship and begetting was eternal “being predicated of him in respect to his participation in the Godhead.”[6] Dr. Martin sums up Origen’s view by saying it was “the concept that God from all eternity generates a second person like himself, ergo the ‘eternal son.’”[7]

§  The second view suggests that monogenes, rather than being a process that established the relationship between God and Son (which confuses monogenes with gennao instead of genos) describes the kind of Sonship Christ possesses. Christ’ Sonship is distinguished from all other sonships. “Christ’s unique Sonship and generation by the father are predicated of him in respect to the incarnation…it is the Word which designates his personage with the Godhead. Christ’s Sonship expresses an economical relationship between the Word and the Father assumed via the incarnation.”[8] Thus, it is incorrect to speak of the eternal Son. Rather we speak of the eternal Word who in the fullness of time came into the realm of humanity as the “only unique” son of God.

 


[1] Black, David Alan. Learn to Read New Testament Greek. (Nashville, B&H), 200

[2] O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians. (Waco, Word Books, 1982), 44

[3] Martin, Walter. “Kingdom of the Cults”, 170-171

[4] Adapted from Zodhiates, Spiros The Complete Word Study Dictionary, 995

[5] Zodhiates, 996. For a good example of this rendering see Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called the “monogenes” son of Abraham. Obviously Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, but a “unique” or “one of a kind” son of Abraham.

[6] Zodhiates, 995

[7] Martin, 168

[8] Zodhiates, 996

All you need to be a witness for Christ

We all long (or we should) to see individuals come to Christ. We are encouraged and motivated when we see those being baptized into Christ. Yet, many of us become nervous, anxious, and downright scared when faced with the conviction to share the gospel with another individual. Our minds run frantic, wondering what others will think of us, or if they will deny our attempt to reach out to them. Sometimes, our hesitancy to speak to others about Christ revolves around our lack of confidence in how much we know about the Bible. We feel that a doctoral degree in theology is required before we can accurately share the Gospel with others; but this is not the case. While, we should seek to learn all we can from God’s Word, knowing everything in the Bible is not required to be a witness for Christ. The only requirement for telling others about Christ is your story; what has Christ done for you!

In the 9th chapter of John we discover a most exquisite story of a man blind since birth. Following the man’s miraculous healing by Jesus, the Pharisees, who are outraged because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, arrive on the scene and begin to interrogate the previously blind man. The Pharisees are convinced that Jesus is a false prophet and that this miracle was the result of some scam or hoax. However, after clear proof that the man was in fact born blind and the miracle was undeniable, the Pharisees approach the man again and say “give glory to God, we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner.” The response of the blind man is incredible: “whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

This man had become a witness for Christ, and he didn’t even know that much about Christ. He had no scriptures to quote or a carefully developed theological framework. He did know one thing however, he once was blind and now he sees! That was proof enough for the blind man, and it should be proof enough for us. Therefore, when you go to share Christ with others and you become worried about what people will think of you, or if you know enough scripture, remember the blind man. Tell all those around you about how you once were blind, but now you see. That’s all you need to be a witness, and I promise you, it’s all the proof you’ll need!

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.

What I learned from a Jehovah Witness

Recently I sat down and had a conversation with Ida and Jim, a couple who are Jehovah Witnesses (from now on referred to as “JW”). I met Ida two weeks previously, while dropping a friend off at their house. I asked if we could get together in the future so that I could learn about what JW’s believe and teach. She was delighted, wrote down her number, and said that I could call and set up a time to meet.

I agreed to meet with Ida and her husband Jim at their Kingdom Hall (what JW’s call their place of meeting). I received a friendly greeting as I was ushered into their building. After some small talk and a quick tour of the building (there building’s are very simple in architecture and are only built to hold no more than 130 people. I hear that they build their Kingdom Halls in about 3-4 days time), we sat down to discuss what the JW’s teach about the Bible.

Now,  before you get the impression that I am on the road to conversion, let me assure you, I am not convinced JW’s are in line with the claims of the Bible. In fact, I truly believe that many fine folks have been severely misguided in their understanding of scripture(especially the teachings of Jesus.) Nevertheless, I was impressed by a couple of areas in which I think evangelical churches could learn.

Diligence in Evangelism

Ida and Jim told me that they spend 12 hours a week going house to house sharing their faith with strangers, 12 hours! Admittedly, much of this motivation comes from a works based understanding of salvation. However, The church could glean a lot from the effort JW’s make to reach converts. It is true that the bible teaches salvation apart from works, but many Christians forget that salvation is for the purpose of good works . The Bible teaches that we strive to do good works because of God’s grace. James points to this truth when he says we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only; that faith without works is dead. Imagine if Christians sought to do half of what Jehovah Witnesses do to reach the lost, what kind of results would there be?

Focus on Teaching

The JW’s do not  place much focus on extravagant and attractional worship services. There auditorium is very simple: a pulpit, a microphone, a sound booth, and chairs. They sing songs, but it is all done with a CD accompaniment led by a volunteer. What they do place a lot of emphasis on however, is teaching the Bible (Indeed, with a high emphasis on the Watch Tower magazine). They meet three times a week and have over 2 hours of Bible Study each meeting. The reason JW’s are firm in what they believe is because they are having it engrained in them multiple times a week. The problem obviously, is that they are taught not to learn the scriptures on their own, but what those, who organize the Watch Tower magazine, tell them the scriptures mean. Nevertheless, we could learn a lot from JW’s intentional focus on Bible study. It may prove productive for Christian Churches to place more emphasis on Bible teaching than creating attractional worship services and programs.

Please don’t misunderstand me, the belief system of the JW’s has some severe problems. There denial of the deity of Christ, strange understanding of the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation, and continued false predictions of the end times are just a few of the flawed teachings presented by the JW’s. Yet, the two areas mentioned above display a couple of areas in which the evangelical church could gain insight. Hopefully, we are always seeking to improve our growth in Christ. Ironically, we sometimes learn from those outside of orthodoxy.

P.S. I will be meeting with Ida and Jim again to discuss the Deity of Jesus. Pray that the truth will be exposed and their eyes will be opened.

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.”

Should Doctrine Divide Us?

The New Testament is clear: Christians should not be divided (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25; Tit. 3:10). It was Jesus himself who prayed “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21).” Yet, it doesn’t take long for one to notice the numerous denominations in our very own country. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001) there are 33,000+ “Christian denominations” in 238 total countries! These staggering numbers somehow do not seem to match up with Jesus’ high priestly prayer.

What is it that seems to be the dividing line between all of these various denominational groups? What seems to be the uniting factor, is that each of these denominations maintains the bare essential elements of the Gospel. That is, each group believes that Jesus Christ lived, died, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor.15). This is what in fact sets “Christianity” apart from all other religious groups. However, there are obviously differences among these Christian denominations as seen in the above stat. The question is, what are they?

While there may be other areas of differences among these various denominations I believe a main contributing factor are all of the teachings from the Bible that are extensions of the main message of the Gospel. In theological terminology we call these “doctrines (I’m using doctrines here in the broad sense meaning all the teachings of the Bible).” While all Christian denominations maintain the core beliefs of the Gospel found in 1 Cor. 15, not all denominations are in agreement concerning all doctrines taught in scripture. I believe it is here we begin to divide.

For example, there are some churches who maintain that the doctrine of baptism is an essential element for one to be saved; however, others propose that baptism is merely an outward declaration of one’s faith done after becoming a Christian.  The only prerequisite for salvation, they maintain, is faith alone. Likewise, there are some who believe that the doctrine of “once saved always saved” is taught from the pages of scripture while others hold to the belief that one can forfeit their salvation by living continually in sin. These are just a couple of major disagreements among many others found in differing denominations. One could look at the beliefs of the second coming of Christ, the trinity, the Lord’s Supper, church polity, predestination and find similar disagreements.

The question then arises: should all Christians agree on every doctrinal issue mentioned in scripture or are these open to opinion? In other words, is the Gospel the only thing all Christians must agree on? These questions are not easy questions. There are two observations I would make in considering these questions. First, what actually is the content of the Gospel? For many, the Gospel is stated concisely in 1 Cor. 15: Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose again. This is essentially the Gospel or good news for Christianity. But is this all that the Gospel entails? In Romans 1:15 the apostle Paul tells the Christians at Rome that he is “eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome.” If the Gospel is merely the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, why did Paul need to preach it again to people who had already heard it? I have heard others refer to the Gospel as the things one must believe in order to be saved. That is, salvific teachings in scripture are what unite us and the rest is open to opinion. This brings me to my second observation. If the only things in scripture that are “essential” for unity are salvific elements, then what do we do with all of the other teachings in scripture? Are the teachings of church polity, eschatology, predestination, even ethical issues like homosexuality up for grabs? If it is only salvific elements of scripture that we must be united on, then the answer is yes, everything else is of opinion.

But how do we respond to the heavy emphasis put on sound doctrine found in the New Testament? The following passages seem to place a high emphasis on sound doctrine.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Rom. 16:17).”

“So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:14).”

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim 6:3-5).”

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Tit. 1:9).”

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Tit. 2:1).”

While most, if not all Christian denominations, affirm the basic elements of the Gospel found in 1Cor. 15 certain doctrinal beliefs keep us from sharing common ground. Although the belief in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus creates a shared agreement across denominational lines, certain doctrinal beliefs keep us from total agreement. But what exactly does the apostle Paul mean when he tells the Corinthians that “all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10)?” The question still stands: are the essential elements of the Gospel all that we must agree on or must all Christians agree on every doctrinal issue as well? I like the idea of the former while I wrestle with the latter.