Showing posts with label pharisees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pharisees. Show all posts


Father, Son & Holy Bible?

The Bible is indispensable for you and me. There’s life in its pages, life that cannot be found anywhere else. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. The Bible is a gift from God.

I wonder sometimes if we haven’t elevated the Bible above where it ought to be, if we haven’t made more of it than God intends for it to be to us.

As a species, we have this tendency, you know, towards extremism. Anything that’s good, we idolize. Anything that is uncomfortable, we demonize. Anything that is questionable, we outlaw. We seem inclined to over-simplify issues, and I wonder if we haven’t done that with the Scriptures.

I heard someone confess, recently that "... he no longer regards the Bible as inerrant, dictated by God, historically accurate in all of its claims or even internally consistent with itself." (Others have asked similar questions with different details. This is the list that came before me, so I’m reflecting on this list.)

Believers have bled and died over those four points points: Is the Bible:

Dictated by God?
Historically accurate in every detail?
Internally consistent?

We’ve always been taught (or some of us have) that these are true, that the Bible is all of these things. But is it really?

Since I’ve grown up with a very healthy respect for the Bible, my first reaction was something akin to offense that anyone would even question these attributes. I’m not fond of offense in myself, so I try to examine my offenses when they occur.

And two thoughts occurred to me as I thought about this topic:

1.  We’ve always assumed (I have always assumed) that these attributes were true about the Bible. Assumptions are dangerous things. And

2.  These are not attributes that the Bible actually ever (as far as I can discern) claims for itself. The Bible does not, within its pages, ever claim to be inerrant (though it is “God-breathed” or God-inspired”) or dictated by the Almighty (in fact it claims the opposite), or historically accurate in every detail (much of it does not even aspire to be an historical record), nor does it claim that it is completely consistent within itself (though, in fact, it is remarkably consistent, it is not perfectly so).

And all of this leads me to consider these tentative conclusions:

If these are not attributes that the Bible ever claims for itself, then they must be attributes that people, human beings, have thrust upon it, and this must have happened after the Bible was written.

These sort of claims are not likely to be attributed to the Scriptures by secular people, or by contemplative mystics. These are the sort of claims that are more likely to come from a religious spirit.

I would rather not embrace conclusions that spring from a religious spirit, not even when those conclusions revere things (the Bible) that I hold in very high esteem, not even when they’re (presumably) made with good intentions.

None of this will challenge my love for the Scriptures. None of this will diminish the hours I spend in its pages, drawing life from it as Holy Spirit gently and consistently breathes it into my soul.

But I believe I’ll attempt to not attribute to the Bible things that the Bible does not claim for itself. If nothing else, that strikes me as a violation of the command to avoid adding to the Book.


Another Look at the Forsaking of Jesus

I grew up in a church that sang hymns. Lots of hymns. Old hymns. A big, red hymnbook full of hymns, each with a hymn number.

Did you know that many hymns, particularly the old hymns, often didn’t have titles. I don’t know if song titles hadn’t been invented yet, or if they didn’t want to waste the space, or what. That’s why we use hymn numbers, because often there was no name to use. In that old red hymnbook, Hymn 100 was “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.”

Instead, they referred to the hymn by the first line. Several relatively well-known hymns are still known by their first lines. “Amazing Grace” is one of the more well known. I grew up singing hymns like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “Blessed Assurance,” hymns that are still known by their first lines.

There’s a hymnbook that’s even older than the old red ones I grew up with. The Book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the Jews before Christ, as well as that of the early church.

Have you ever noticed that those psalms, like many hymns, don’t have titles. We generally refer to them by number (like we do with hymns). But the chapter numbers and verse numbers weren’t added until the middle ages (by Steven Langton, in the 12th century if you’re interested). Before that, there were no numbers associated with the psalms.

So before that, they used the first line as the title. People referred to that psalm which we now call “The Twenty Third Psalm” as “The Lord is My Shepherd.” It worked well, because that’s how everybody did it back then.

In fact, it functioned as kind of a shorthand as well. When someone spoke of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” others of their culture knew that was a reference to God’s faithfulness in trying circumstances. (Read Psalm 23 again: that’s what it’s about.)

Star Trek followers may remember “Darmok.” This memorable episode was about a race that spoke only by this sort of reference. In that context, the phrase, “Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra,” clearly spoke of cooperation, while “Sokath, his eyes uncovered” was an obvious reference to understanding or revelation.

The Psalms worked that way. Quoting the first line referenced the entire psalm, and brought the message of that psalm into people’s mind.

Another example: We talk about Psalm 22 only as the twenty-second song in a very long list of songs. But the Hebrew people knew that this psalm spoke about the Messiah, in more detail than many other passages.

Verse 8, for example, predicts his mocking: “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (See Matthew 27:43.) Or consider verse 18, which says that “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (Compare that to John 19:24.)

When someone referenced Psalm 22, Hebrew listeners knew that they were talking about the suffering of the Messiah.

But they never called it Psalm 22, because the numbers hadn’t been added yet. They referenced it by quoting the first line: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do you remember Jesus saying that on the cross? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

When we hear Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1, we scratch our heads and wonder why Jesus was accusing God of abandoning him. But that question didn’t occur to someone who grew up with the Psalms, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees. To them, Jesus was clearly referencing Psalm 22. Jesus was reminding the people listening of the Messiah who suffers.

When Jesus quoted this verse, he was saying, “Guys, what you’re witnessing is the Messiah suffering. I am that Messiah, and you need to recognize it.”

Jesus wasn’t accusing God. He was announcing, finally, now at the end of his life, that yes, he was God’s Messiah. Messiah has come. Messiah has been killed. Now what are you going to do about it?

Killing Terrorists?

I admit: the murderous persecution of Christians in the Middle East is an ugly thing. I’ve seen photos that make me want to throw up, and I've heard stories that make me want to send an army to the Middle East to bomb them back to the stone age.

I’ve been talking to other believers who have been arguing in favor of responding to terrorist violence with a violent (eg military) response. I understand that there are good and responsible arguments that can be made for using force against terrorism.

I'm not saying we should or shouldn't. I suspect that there are good arguments on both sides of that conversation. I am fortunate in that I don’t need to have the answer to that particular question.

However, I’ve been observing that when the Church faced its first terrorist, God didn't kill the terrorist. In fact, that terrorist, a maniacal Pharisee named Saul, became the apostle Paul, the greatest evangelist for the Kingdom of God in the history of the planet.

I'm not saying, "use force" or "don't use force" against terrorists.

But I think I'm ready to say, Whatever you do, pray for their conversion. Pray for a Damascus Road experience for whichever terrorist group has your attention right now.

If it is true (and it is) that "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," then there is going to be a revival of epic proportions in several places in the Earth as soon as those seeds hatch.

We'll need passionate people to lead it, and we'll need more of them than we have now.

Shoot them or don’t shoot them, as your conscience leads you. But for Heaven’s sake, do pray for them. Pray for their conversion. Pray that they meet the God of the Universe. And pray that he uses them in His Kingdom, like he used Paul.

That’s a response to terrorism with a good track record.


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Christians on the InterWebs

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it happen, but you probably have seen it as many times as I have: someone, somewhere – let’s call him Henry – posts an opinion online. Fine. All is well and good.

Then some fundamentalist Christian sees that post! Far too often, the Christian ignores the heart of what they said, but finds some little detail that they don’t agree with, and they tell them why they’re so wrong. Others join in, and soon we have a feeding frenzy, rapid-fire accusations of all kinds of nasty things, all on account of a detail.

• We are on Facebook, not in theology class. The requirement of rigorously defending one's theology is different in a social environment, such as Facebook, than in an educational environment. I will not demand that someone quote chapter and verse, listing supporting papers for their position, while we're sitting at a dinner table among friends who have no idea what we're talking about.

• Some among us are teachers, and as such, they have a standard that we must live up to. Most people online are not teachers, though their post sounds a little like they’re trying to teach. I will not hold him to the same standard that I hold teachers to. The James 3:1 kind of thing. We don’t hold kids just learning to hear God’s voice to the same standard we hold a mature prophet, do we?

• I do not have my theology perfect. I don't know where it's wrong, and I work hard at correcting it where I find errors. But I am aware that I don't completely agree with ANYone's theology, including my own. Let’s quit arguing about insignificant theology. Who cares if it reminds you of some hated heresy of the past? That’s not the point of their post! Get over it! Move on!

• I tend to agree with John G Lake, when he said, "It is a law of the human mind that I can act myself into believing faster than I can believe myself into acting." In similar spirit, I have concluded that it is FAR, FAR more important to get young Christians out doing stuff, expanding the Kingdom, doing something, anything, even (hear me carefully) even if it's wrong, than it is to sit them down behind a desk and make others learn theology. For example: I would really rather deal with someone who had just raised my dead friend back to life, but was confused about Ananias & Sapphira, than I would deal with a young buck who had just gotten his MDiv and was looking for a church to pastor, but as yet has not really done anything.

• Likewise: I'm far more interested in the fruit that comes from a your life than I am the doctrinal correctness that comes from your teaching. That is NOT to say that good doctrine is unimportant: it IS to say that good doctrine is not preeminent over living out that truth which we already know.

• Authority to teach comes from God. But my authority to teach YOU comes from YOU and nobody else. If Tyler has not invited you or me to speak into his life, but we go ahead and speak into it, then he would be correct to label us as nosy busybodies or worse. If you were on your way to buy a dozen red roses for your sweetheart, and someone jumped in your face, blocked your way, and proceeded to tell you why America made a mistake to abandon the gold standard for its currency, what you can do about it, and why you needed to deal with it •right•this•minute•, it is likely that you would have difficulty receiving that data, and it is likely that anything that that person ever told you would be colored by that encounter. Let’s not be that person.

Brothers and sisters, please hear me. Unity isn’t about everybody agreeing with your personal pet doctrines. In fact, unity is not about doctrine at all. Unity is about us all having one father, and a very good heavenly one, and trusting each other to follow Him. Agreeing isn’t part of that equation, and agreeing with YOU is completely off the topic. If I’m following the same Father you are, then eventually, we’ll get to the place where you and I see the main things through His eyes, and we see the peripheral things through our individual assignments. We probably won’t ever agree on the details.

I am not saying that doctrine doesn’t matter. I’m saying people matter more.


Guarding How I See the Church

I've had to make some adjustments to how I see ... no, ... how I look at the institutional or denominational church.

You see, I’ve made a change. For those who read this blog regularly, you may not find this surprising, but here’s my change: I’m not entirely convinced that everything about the institution of the church in North America is completely inspired by Heaven. Shocking, I know. (What’s really scary: there are some folks who would take issue with that statement.)

I live among a people whose passion it is to pursue God. Some among us have left behind the participation in Sunday morning traditional church meetings. Many more of us have a sense in which we have transcended them: we still participate in local church meetings, but our first loyalty is to our Heavenly Father, and our second is to our relationships among the Saints; only after that comes the local church gathering. (And no, Sunday morning church is not synonymous with relationships among the saints.)

In every move of God I’ve seen (and I’ve seen several), there are two things that are pretty consistent: a) the people who are still embracing the last movement are the primary persecutors of the present move (and the new move often comments on this), and b) the people who are embracing the current move often define themselves by the last move: “We’re not like this; we’re not like that!” (We don’t notice this as often.)

Unfortunately, often “We’re not like that!” turns into permission to complain about all the things wrong with the old movement, with the previous traditions, with the way others do things. That’s not appropriate. Often enough, the complaints themselves are legitimate: they may be the very reason that there is a new movement, the reason the last one no is no longer as fresh as it once was. But permission has not been given us to publicly point out the failure of others, except in a very few circumstances. (See Matthew 18 for details.)

I have discovered that I have had to make some adjustments to how I look at the institutional or denominational church.

First, I have to not look too much. I am not a member of the institutional church. I don't aspire to be. I have no ambition to train people to be good at being obedient institutional members of an institutional church, so I don't need to look too much, and that's good, because when I look, I have more ability to criticize, and that also is not my goal.

I have a good Friend who said, "I will build my church," and I've come to understand that he's serious. Inductively, I observe that he is the only person he expects to build the church. I observe that "will" is not conditional, so the building is a certainty. And I observe that he uses a possessive pronoun: he considers the church to be his. Since I want to impress this friend, I've tentatively concluded that criticizing his "work in progress" is not conducive to favorably impressing him. Besides, I really am in favor of his church being built up. All of it!

Third, I've observed that the more I criticize when someone else does it wrong (or what I think is wrong), the more difficulty I have in doing it right. It doesn't matter what "it" is: if I focus on the errors, I don't have as much capacity to live rightly, or to help others live rightly.

Fourth, if my public message is about the failure of another group, how is that going to help that other group to grow, to improve, to overcome their challenges, whether I’ve seen them aright or not. Who among us has been encouraged to grow and change by continually being torn down? I believe that when I stand before God, I will be accountable for the effect of my words on those I lead, as well as on those I do not lead.

Oh, one more: I have become convicted that the institutional church that I see the faults of is not real: it's a caricature. I see what once was, back in the day when I lived among them, which is not who they tend to be now; and I see their worst, because that's what stands out the most. Moreover, the time between "back then" and now, coupled with my complete lack of God's anointing to remember their failings, has led to a skewed and incomplete memory.

I understand that when I look at “The Institutional Church,” or “The Last Move of God” or whatever group I am no longer part of, I am going to see things that I no longer believe in, and probably a few things that I have never believed in. That’s fine, but my job is not to point out the errors of those I am no longer among. My job is to follow God in the ways that he’s leading me and to train those around me to do the same.

And my job is especially not to complain about the Church for whom my Savior died.


Principles for the Prophetic Study of the Bible

In the business community, it is said that the three most important factors in the potential success of your business are “Location, location and location.”

In the world of studying the Bible, the three most important factors in the potential interpretation of a verse are “Context, context and context.”

Biblical context is described a couple of ways:

· Immediate Textual context: What do the verses before and after the one in question say? The paragraphs before and after the verse in question? Knowing the whole thought from which this one verse is taken is a key part of understanding the meaning of the verse.

· Larger Scriptural context: What does the rest of the Bible have to say about the subject that your verse is discussing? Always use scripture to interpret scripture.

· Cultural context: What did the statement in that verse mean to its first readers, its intended audience? If you’re looking at a verse in an epistle, what would it have mean to the people that the epistle was addressed to? Understanding the cultural context is important to understanding the current meaning of the verse.

I knew a woman years ago who was not a Christian. She liked the Bible, but didn’t like how Christians behaved. Her favorite illustration was a preacher who didn’t like the hairstyles of the day, so he preached Matthew 24:17 (“Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.”) and declared, “top knot go down” decreeing that bee-hive hairdos were unbiblical. That strikes me as an abuse of the principle of context, in all three forms. She was still bitter against preachers because of that.

Slight change of direction: When studying the Bible, there are, I was taught, two ways to study it: I can study deductively, they said with a frown: I can bring my presuppositions, my theology and my pet doctrines to the Bible and look for verses that support what I already believe. Deductive Study is inferior, they said, and I’m not sure they were wrong.

Or I can study it inductively, and this was encouraged: I can lay aside all of my preconceived ideas and doctrines and let the Word teach me: I sit under it, and let the Word be my teacher, and as it teaches me, I develop my ideas and doctrines. I don’t know anybody who teaches Inductive Study who follows it completely (they all also study doctrinal texts), but it is certainly preferable than the “proof-texting” of deductive study. Inductive Study is good, of course, and it’s “the right way” to study the Bible.

I find myself torn here. These are valuable principles! I was taught these principles in my training, and they have helped me immensely. I’ve taught them to many others, presumably to their benefit. If their founders had practiced these principles, many cults and heretical groups would never have gotten started. (If their followers had practiced these principles, they would not have been led astray.)

These are valuable – nay: essential – principles for serious study of the Word of God. This is the good stuff here.

The only problem is that the Bible itself does not consistently follow them. Time and time again, the Bible takes itself out of context. Time and time again, the New Testament approaches the Old Testament with a method that is neither deductive not inductive.

Any readers that have been through Bible College will quickly label me as a heretic or worse, so I offer some illustrations:

In the first chapter of Acts, the apostle Peter blows up these principles:

"For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
'Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it'; and,

'Let another take his office.' --Acts 1:20

Peter is quoting from two places in Psalms in order to justify filling the position among the 12 apostles which Judas had abandoned. He starts by quoting Psalm 69 where David is writing, yet again, about “his foes”; then he quotes Psalm 109 where David is whining about the “wicked and deceitful men” who oppose him. Neither psalm is considered a Messianic psalm.

The Gospel of Mark begins with a couple of Old Testament verses to explain John the Baptist’s entrance on the scene:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.’” --Mark 1:1-3

The first quotation is from Malachi chapter 3, and it is about the coming of the Messiah in the usual Old Testament vocabulary that mixes his first coming as a suffering servant with his second coming as a conquering king, but it is a Messianic passage: the context (according to the traditional rules) say that the verse quoted is indeed about the one who is coming before the Messiah. All is well and good.

The second passage is from Isaiah 40, and it’s clearly speaking to a discouraged nation as it tries to cope with a conquering army from Babylon knocking down their front door, preparing to haul them into captivity. The only way to know that Isaiah is talking about the Messiah is by Mark’s completely-out-of-context interpretation of it.

In these two passages, the apostle Peter and Mark, the disciple of the apostle Paul, both break the rules that I was taught about studying the Bible. They quote verses completely out of context. They interpret those verses in a way that is neither Deductive nor Inductive.

There are dozens more. John 12:17; John 10:25; Luke 2:46; Matthew 26:31; Luke 20:17….

I’ve come to describe it as Revelatory Interpretation. Looking at these passages Inductively, it appears that the Spirit of God occasionally takes verses, sentences, even brief phrases out of context and breathes new meaning, new application to them that their author never imagined.

I had an odd experience a few months ago. I was walking through my woods, on my favorite trails, and I was talking to God. OK, what I was doing was more like whining at God. I’d been going on for quite a while and when I stopped to take a breath, He interrupted me: "Are you done yet?"

It startled me. He didn’t comment about anything I had said (or whined). Rather, He reminded me of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and then He completely re-interpreted it for me in ways I’d never considered, never heard taught. It completely defused my whining, and the self-pitying attitude that was behind it, and frankly, that lesson has changed the course of my life.

He did the same thing to me that He’d done to Peter and Mark (and no, I am not comparing myself to them, other than the fact that we’re all under His teaching): He re-interpreted the Word in a way that was neither Deductive nor Inductive, in a way that disregarded context. He defied all the rules that men had taught me about interpreting the Bible, but He brought Life to it.

I am not arguing for a wholesale abandonment of the principles of sound Biblical interpretation! There is great wisdom in them, and they are tools both powerful and useful. When I have opportunity, I teach many of these tools because they’re helpful.

Rather, I am proposing that we implement those principles differently. Let us, as the Inductive method teaches, sit under the Word to learn from it, but let us also sit under the Author of the Word, and let Him teach His Word to us. If we lock ourselves in to what the Book says, then we’re perhaps in danger of becoming the right-wing kooks that the world already thinks we are. But if we treat the Word as “living and active” then it becomes “…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And He doesn't always respect context.


Judging Judgmentalism

As the guy said in The Gods Must Be Crazy: “Ai yi yiii.” I hate this kind of stuff.

There are a number of Christian websites that are passionately critical of Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring (which is now on the road, currently in Califorrnia). Hank Hanegraff of CRI, the Christian Research Institute is one of the most visible and most vocal. A friend recently asked me an opinion of Hank’s critical article against Todd and his ministry. It got me thinking. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you might want to read that posting on his blog, though it’s not entirely necessary if you’re at all familiar with the current standards of criticizing somebody different than ourselves.

It appears to me that so many critics of Todd, Hank included, are fundamentally evangelical: that much is a fine thing. The problem is that they seem to make the assumption that the only legitimate form of Christianity is evangelicalism, and everybody else is a heretic, and they're making a name for himself denouncing them. And they're using rather inflammatory language in doing it.

It’s interesting that Hank's biggest complaint against Todd Bentley that an usher wouldn’t let someone come to Todd for healing when they were discussing testimonies, not praying for the sick; they'd done that earlier. Todd’s usher practiced Todd’s teaching, which is (I suspect) a doctrine that Hank and many evangelicals would probably support: Todd is not the “healer”, but Jesus is the healer. Hank’s friend was prevented from coming to Todd as the “healer”, which is consistent with Todd’s teachings, and probably Hank’s too. (Though I allow for the possibility that he did it poorly or without tact.)

In addition, Hank’s friend was defying the instructions from the leaders of the meeting (which were essentially that “This is a time for testimonies, not for requests for healing.”), and Hank finds fault with Todd not permitting such rebellion. Moreover, Hank blames Todd for the emotional letdown and disappointment that his friend felt when Todd’s team stood up for two (appropriate) standards: they wouldn’t permit him to bust up the meeting, or to venerate Todd as “the healer.” Hank’s criticism strikes me as disingenuous here.

I also find it interesting that Hank defends his own judging of Todd while not validating others’ judging of Hank’s critical remarks.

Let me make it clear for the record, just in case Woodward and Bernstein (or their heirs) get ahold of this post: Todd Bentley makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t like how he does stuff. I don’t like how he does his meetings. I don’t like the way he relates to people. I don’t like the way his dad relates to people. I don’t like the truck he drives. I don’t understand the tattoos, and I think they could have been done much more artistically. (Note that these complaints are all about how he does things, not what he does; the difference is significant.)

I know something whereof I speak. I have business dealings with his ministry. I’ve met him and his father several times. I know well several people that appear to be Todd’s personal friends; I’ve been to a number of his meetings, as well as watched (as long as I could) some of his recent meetings on GOD.TV.

Having said that, I have to say that Todd is the best example I know of of the scripture that says, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.” Todd is a very earthy vessel, but the treasure inside is real: this is the real gift, and Todd – with all his warts and tattoos – is my brother. While I’m uncomfortable with his style, I’m convinced that the content is the real thing: God really does work through him to a degree that He does not in other mortals, including Hank, certainly including me, and possibly including yourself, dear reader.

Does that make Todd any less weird? Heck no. The guy’s covered in tattoos, is lousy in interpersonal relations, burns himself out with some (decreasing) regularity, and has a really weird public speaking style. He’s also – lest we forget – functionally a baby Christian: he only got saved a few years (was it 5?) ago from a life of drugs and violence: this guy was not raised in Sunday School: he looks like it and he acts like it.

The guy lacks maturity because isn't yet mature: he hasn’t had the time to develop it. He has his “flesh” hanging out all over the place. But probably no more than I do. Maybe less than Hank does (though I’m not confident that – despite Hank’s vociferous disputations to the contrary – I have the authority to judge that).

Todd's critics use the Bereans, as Hank does, to justify their judgments (Hank's word, not mine). In the Bible, the Bereans were commended for comparing Paul’s doctrine with scripture. Two conditions: judging doctrine and judging by scripture. It doesn’t appear to me that Hank is doing either. He’s judging Todd the man (calling him a “spiritual fraud,” a “liar,” among other things, none of which is about doctrine), and judging him by stories (while denouncing Todd’s stories simultaneously) and by “common sense”. Aargh. That’s not right!

The frustrating part is that both of them, stinky as they are, are my brothers in Christ.

The result that I see is that people are disappointed, hurt and confused by Hank’s ministry every bit as much as by Todd’s. But in the process, Hank is smearing everyone who is different than himself with slander, whereas Todd is trying hard (embarrassingly hard, IMHO) to point people to Jesus. I can’t tell to whom Hank is trying to point people; I’m not convinced it’s to Jesus, or at least not to the God of Love that I know Him to be. In other words, it's worth examining the fruit of both ministries: when people encounter Hank and Todd, what is the result; do either of them bring people closer to Christ, closer to other Christians, inspire us to be more passionate about loving God?

So I wish my brother Hank and others like him would just shut the hell up. I mean that literally: it seems to me that their words further the agenda of hell more effectively than that of Heaven.

(Isn’t that funny: the right-wing fundamentalist preaching inclusion? Sheesh. I know I make a pretty poor right wing fundamentalist, but I still get accused of it. )

One more in the sake of fairness. But first, let me ask this: is the Bible the standard for our behavior today? And if it is, do we limit ourselves to only what the Bible permits, or do we permit ourselves everything that the Bible does not limit (whether by command or by principle)? I know many Christians who say they espouse the former: if the Bible doesn’t permit it, then I don’t do it! But they drive a car. And they brush their teeth. And they use flush toilets, power tools and clean underwear, none of which is in the Bible. The Amish come closest to that standard, and they don’t come particularly close.

Most believers actually live (regardless of their doctrines) by the second: if the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, then neither do I. (Well, it could be argued that a fair percentage of American Christians don’t limit themselves at all, but that’s another conversation.)

Todd gets in a lot of trouble for living that standard doctrinally. He teaches some weird things that are not Biblical. They are also not anti-biblical; that is: the Bible does not teach against what he is teaching, neither do his doctrines contradict Biblical doctrine, but they do not conform to the stories and teachings in the Bible either. For example, I’ve heard stories that vilify him for speaking about an angel named Emma (I’ve not heard him directly on this). Is it weird? Yes! I mean, "Heck yes!" Is it Biblical? Well, not in the strictest sense: as far as I know the Bible names only three angels in all of scripture, and Emma is not on that list. But does it contradict Biblical teaching? Not really. It’s like the subject of toilet paper: pretty much ignored in Scripture (possibly for good reason).

Maybe it’s time to shut up about how God chooses to deal with His son and his servant Todd Bentley, and do what He’s telling us to do. Hmm. I suppose that would apply to His servant Hank Hanegraff as well. I think I'll shut up now. But please, let's not waste our time criticizing brothers who do things differently than we do.


It’s the Voice

I’m finding myself more and more convinced I’ve spent most of my Christian life backwards.

I grew up in a mainline denominational church, where they taught me Bible stories both as a child and as an adult. Next to the stories, the priority was on knowing the traditions of the church. I was taught to interpret the Word of God through the filter of my denomination’s doctrine: the doctrine was right, and what I read in the Word was right if it agreed with the doctrine.

Then I spent a couple of decades in the evangelical church, where I learned to study the Word: learn the principles that the Word teaches, and sit under those principles. My doctrine is to come from the Word, and my life is to be conformed to the principles that the Word teaches me and I judge the events around me by those principles.

The first can be described as deductive learning (I relate to the Word as it supports my previously deduced beliefs) and the second as inductive (I sit under the Word, and it instructs me both in doctrine and in behavior).

I’ve come to the conclusion that both of those methods have some value, but are ultimately woefully inadequate. Their value comes with the fact that there’s something outside of myself that’s an ultimate standard, rather than my experience being the standard by which everything is judged (which is the value structure taught in public schools and popular culture today: truth is personal: what’s true for you may not be true for anybody else). Knowing doctrine or knowing the Word, and treating either as a standard, has value.

On the other hand, both are fundamentally knowledge, and there’s trouble with that. “Knowledge puffs up” teaches the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8:1). It doesn’t say “knowledge of non-spiritual things puffs up,” or “knowledge of things not true puffs up.” It says, “knowledge puffs up,” and my inductive study shows me that the Greek vocabulary use here (fusio/w: fusioi) means “to make arrogant or haughty.” So knowledge of doctrine and knowledge of the Word of God work towards making me arrogant or haughty. How many times have we run into websites from people who have their doctrine down, but who are characterized by arrogance? The Word itself teaches that this is the inevitable result of growing in knowledge of the Word.

The other issue is that building my life on principles has serious limitations. Principles, like laws, are fairly immutable standards to which we must conform human lives. Interestingly, disparate principles can be drawn from the Word (and we already know how much variety there is in Christian doctrine).

When I watch some of my favorite heroes of the Bible, particularly in the maturity they develop in their later years, I observe them in a completely different model. In Acts 27, I see Paul talking to the ship’s crew based on what an angel has said to him. In the gospel of John, I hear Jesus declaring repeatedly that He’s doing and saying what God says and does. In fact, while the gospels do announce His fulfillment of prophecy I’m not aware of a single place where the Son of God describes the scriptures as the standard by which He determines either His actions or His teaching. Yes, He obeys them (very well!), but He doesn’t present them as His standard to obey.

Now lest some think that I disparage the Bible, let me hasten to say: the Word is supremely precious, and it is the standard by which all else is measured. Jesus never acted or taught anything contrary to the Word (though He re-interpreted it often enough), and I aspire to the same: that everything I teach is grounded in the Word. I note that when He was tested in the wilderness, Jesus wielded the word against the enemy with great effectiveness! I love that model!

But ultimately, I don’t want to be led by my doctrine. And I’m ready to be done with being led by principles, as valuable as they are. I want to be led by the voice of God; I want my life to be built on relationship with my Daddy more than on the book He left behind.

Certainly – since He is immutable – anything I hear Him saying now must be judged by what He has already said: if I hear something that contradicts the Word, I’ve heard wrong, and I need to hear again. On the other hand, if I hear something that contradicts popular interpretation or application of the Word, then I may have heard correctly: I’ll certainly want to be careful.

It’s been said that following the Book without following the voice of His Spirit qualifies me to be a Pharisee, and following His voice without the Book is flakiness. There are a thousand caveats, disclaimers and principles I can add here which would doubtless be of some benefit, if only to calm the fears of those who have built their lives on knowledge, or those whom they have taught. But I really only want to communicate a single point today: following the voice of God is more valuable than even following the Book of God.

Doctrinal Integrity

I’m becoming more and more aware of a confusing situation – a problem – in the church. It’s hard to talk about head on, so I’m going to approach it from the back side, through a story.

One day some years ago, my family and I were out driving on a sunny Sunday afternoon, talking about our need to replace the vehicle we were riding in. We happened upon a small car lot, so we drove through, looking to see what they had that was interesting.

Within seconds, we were greeted by a salesman with slicked back hair, a polyester tie and big toothed smile: the quintessential used-car salesman. He proceeded to tell us why it was in our best interests to trade in the vehicle we were driving for a similar car of the same make and mileage for “only a few thousand dollars more,” and we could make payments at “only 12% interest.” I imagined him licking his chops, as he looked on us in our tired station wagon.

It was clearly not in our best interests to do business with this gentleman. My daughter called him a shark.

I came away from that experience with a new principle for my life: “Never ask a car salesman if I should buy a car.” The reason is obvious: some car salesmen have difficulty separating what’s good for their commission check from what’s good for my household, and their recommendation – their “expertise” – is self-serving.

Another illustration: imagine a judge presiding over a trial in which his brother-in-law is the defense attorney. The reason judges recuse themselves from cases like that is because the public cannot trust their impartiality: they have a conflict of interest: do I serve justice, or do I help out my family?

I see this happening in the church with alarming frequency: I see self-serving principles taught from the pulpit without any acknowledgement of the conflict of interest. I hear doctrines taught as truth, which clearly benefit those teaching them, and which sometimes do not benefit those being taught. And nobody questions either the doctrine or the motive.

What am I talking about? I’ll state these doctrines more bluntly than they’re taught from the pulpit, but this is the content being taught. I’ll state them very directly in the interest of clarity:

* You must tithe in this church where I get my paycheck or else you’re stealing from God,”

* If you’re not in this building every Sunday morning you’re in town, the devil’s gonna getcha!”

* If you don’t teach in Sunday School, our children are all going to hell!” or

* Give $1000 to my ministry and God will give you [fill in the blank]!”

Let me digress long enough to clarify what I am not saying: I am not saying that the doctrine of tithing is incorrect. I am not saying that the doctrine of covering is heretical, or that there’s something wrong with teaching Sunday School. I believe in tithing and I believe in raising our children as a community.

I’m also not saying that we should reject any teaching that could possibly be construed to the benefit of those teaching. I’m also not saying that the people who teach these things are necessarily teaching them out of self-serving motives. An ethical used car salesman can give me good advise about cars; an honest judge can judge fairly even when his family is involved; a televangelist truly can speak about money without greed in his heart. A true pastor or can invite people to join his church without thought of personal gain – financial or otherwise. It can happen, but it’s hard to have confidence it’s actually happening.

I am saying that it’s kind of awkward that the only people teaching the doctrine that individual believers must belong to an organized Sunday-morning church are the leaders of organized Sunday-morning churches. I’m saying that it’s confusing that the only people teaching that the Old Testament laws about tithing apply to New Testament believers (and who also teach that the rest of the Old Testament laws don’t apply to New Testament believers) are generally the same people whose paycheck comes out of that offering basket they want me to fill up: they may be teaching the truth, but it sure appears that they’re going to benefit more than I am from that teaching.

I’m not convinced that the system is corrupt, or that just because a pastor benefits from our obedience to his teaching, that he is necessarily teaching from a self-serving heart. I know a lot of pastors, and frankly, the vast majority of them are men and women of integrity. I have watched one or two of them struggle with the very issues I’m writing about here. But I’ve watched many others – particularly in small churches, where the size of Sunday’s offering determines whether they get a paycheck this month or not – where the line between their doctrine and their need becomes seriously blurred.

Obviously, a response is appropriate on the part of leaders and teachers who teach doctrine from a motive of self-enrichment, and that response starts with repentance for trusting something other that God as their provider. It may or may not be appropriate to acknowledge the conflict of interest publicly: the real response of a right heart must be towards God first, and only then towards man. As leaders, we must guard our teaching, our counseling, our hearts from mixed motivation.

Interestingly, as believers, our response to this dilemma is old news: after we forgive them, we as the Body of Christ in the pews need to examine the Word for ourselves, not just live off of what is fed to us by others. I’m not advocating an abandonment of all that is taught by paid pastors; I’m advocating that we test the things taught us, that we “search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.


The Priests Profane the Sabbath.

It will be easy to misinterpret my thoughts here today. I’m going to challenge some of the favorite beliefs of the Pharisaical spirit of today. There are a number of statements that have often come in this context which I am not saying here: please don’t hear more than I’m saying. And I’m only describing one side of this debate. Feel free to add comments with another side if you like.

Yet again, the Pharisees were angry with Jesus and how much freedom He gave His boys.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Matthew 12)

This is a story about profanity, which is to say that it’s about some folks profaning what is sacred to someone else. It’s all about being offended in the name of God, and how Jesus deals with that.

  1. The boys offended the Pharisees because they broke – not God’s law – the Pharisees’ interpretation of God’s law.
  2. The Pharisees’ response ticks Jesus off. The text doesn’t say if He was angry, but He certainly does get confrontational in His response.
  3. Clearly, Jesus’ response offends the Pharisees. In fact, that seems to be part of His purpose here. Judging their response to His next miracle, He succeeded.
  4. His response describes how the priests profane the Sabbath that they serve, by obeying the very Law that the Pharisees are whining about.
  5. His bottom line is in the last verse: the focus here is not about keeping the rules, but about recognizing the True Authority when He walks among us.

But first and foremost, I see Jesus defending His boys, and I’m impressed yet again. When our people are attacked or accused, perhaps particularly when they’re attacked by a religious spirit, it is our place to defend them.

More important to today’s conversation is how Jesus handles the Word in His defense of His boys. He does refer to the Word, but He handles the Word it in a completely different manner from what I see among preachers and pastors and other Word-handlers today.

I’ve been taught that there are two basic ways to handle the Word today: Deductively, where I hold certain beliefs, and I go to the Word to find either teaching or examples that support my beliefs, and Inductively, where I come to the Word and sit under it in order to let it speak to me.

Jesus does neither. He takes a story of men running for their lives, of men acting in desperation. Apparently there is a third way to handle the Word: prophetically. The Spirit of God – whose job description includes guiding me into all truth – apparently thinks He has the authority to grab scripture out of context and bring fresh revelation from that.

Jesus, whom John says is the Word incarnate, uses that story – completely out of context, mind you – to confront well-established religious doctrine: principles that are pretty well beyond questioning. That’s a tough assignment already, but more than that, He actually expects them to understand the principles of the Kingdom based on that out-of-context story taken from the history books they teach others from.

A brief digression: I am not Jesus: I am not the Word incarnate, so I don’t have the same authority to wield His Word. I probably want to reserve the bulk my out-of-context revelation for personal conversation between myself and my Heavenly Lover. Certainly, I’ll need compare my newly-found revelation to the whole of scripture before releasing it publicly. And comparing my revelation to church history may guard me against some of history’s favorite heresies. Let’s not be stupid here.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there: the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, brings to their attention an example of the Word contradicting the Word. Nowadays, we run and hide from apparent contradictions in the Word, and as a result, the world thinks us shallow and ignorant; I’m not sure they’re wrong. Jesus seems to seek those apparent contradictions out, and He wields them as a bludgeon against the religious spirit of the Pharisees, while He teaches his boys spiritual principles they couldn’t learn from those religious leaders. He doesn’t explain the answer at all, so it looks like the question is more valuable than the answer.

So Jesus, who is my example, shows me several things in this story:

  • Defend your friends, even against religious leaders. (Note to self: “religious leaders” does not equal “spiritual leaders,” but that’s for another day.)
  • Let God speak from His word, even if what He’s saying is completely different from what your religious leaders have taught you. Don’t be the Pharisee. Don’t follow the Pharisees.
  • Don’t hide from contradictions and things hard to understand. God often has secrets hidden there. Asking the questions properly – and specifically not having all the answers – is often the right position.

Conclusion: we must obey God rather than men. We need to be in community in order to guard against heresy, but heresy is maybe not as much of a danger to the development of disciples who know the Holy Spirit as religious traditions may be.