Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Friday, October 12, 2007

Are denominations Biblical?

Question: I have a new question for you to tackle. Is there support in the Bible for the starting of denominations and if so what are the requirements? I would love to hear your comments as most people kind of stutter and and switch topics when asked this question.

Answer: I'm writing this on the fly and I don't have a Bible in front of me at the moment, so I'll give you the first thoughts that pop into my head on this.

First of all, I'm not as negative as most Christians I know when it comes to the subject of denominations. There are many people that see the presence of so many denominations and splinter groups within Christianity as a negative thing. I don't view it that way. If you study the New Testament closely, you'll notice that the apostles approved of diversity within the Church from the beginning.

The first example I can think of is the appointing of the 7 elders in Acts chapter 6. All of the elders chosen were Jews from a Hellenistic background. Dr. C. Peter Wagner in his book, "Acts of the Holy Spirit" says that the incident of choosing Hellenist deacons represents a natural racial/cultural separation in the early church. It doesn't seem that Luke would have us to believe that the incident was a negative occurence. (Of course, we can't press this too far. The church in Antioch was racially diverse and it is certainly held up as a model church for future believers to aspire to)

Another example of a sanctified split is the dispute between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark. After they couldn't resolve their dispute, they went their separate ways. Luke makes no moral judgment on the matter, but we have no reason to believe that Barnabas left the ministry or dropped out of the faith over the issue. He probably continued the ministry in other places.

In Acts chapter 15, when the Apostles dealt with the question of whether Gentiles need to be circumcised to be included in the Covenant community, the Jerusalem Council decided that the Gentiles should not be burdened with the ceremonial aspects of the law even though the Jewish believers continued to practice the Torah in the same way they had always done (although there is evidence that their views did gradually liberalize as is the case with Peter staying with Simon the Tanner). The Jerusalem Council decision was a landmark decision denoting apostolic approval of cultural diversity within the universal Body of Christ.

On the other side of the coin, it's also true that Paul took a negative view of the factions within the Corinthian Church. Some said they followed Paul, others said they followed Peter or Apollos. Paul's point was that Christ should be the uniting factor regardless of who follows who.

Lastly, if you study the Judean Churches and compare them with the churches that Paul founded, you will see that the leadership structure was very different and so was the structure of their meetings. Paul's churches seem to be free-wheeling and "make the leadership structure up as you go along" while the Judean churches seem to be more organized. This tells me that there is no one definitive set of church government in the New Testament. This makes sense because Jesus taught His disciples to shun titles (e.g. In Matthew He says,"Do not call anyone Rabbi, Father, or Teacher)

Knowing that the New Testament does not lay out a uniform set of church government (this is why I reject the doctrine of Apostolic succession) simplifies your question on what is the requirement to form a new group of believers (whether a church or a denomination). The answer is simple: Godly character and doctrinal purity. I don't think the Holy Spirit is as concerned about organizational structure as we are. Just an opinion, but I think it's a wellfounded opinion.

Well that's all for now. I'm definitely not an authority on this subject, so I think this will make a great discussion for the comments section. I'll be out of town for a couple of weeks, so I probably will not be posting for a while. Let's get a discussion going! Perhaps show this to your friends, Pete and see what you guys come up with.

Hope you're enjoying yourself at school. We miss you at SCCC!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Does Ezekiel 36-39 predict a war with modern day Israel?

If you've ever read a Hal Lindsey book, browsed the Left Behind Series, ever tuned in to TBN, or simply glanced at a Charisma magazine, then you have probably come across the idea in one form or another that the Bible predicts an imminent war with modern-day Israel complete with B-52 bombers, AK-47s and nuclear warheads. The usual culprits for the instigators of the war are Russian and Iran, but sometimes Ethiopia is thrown into the mix as well. The idea is based off of Ezekiel chapters 36-39.

At first glance, these chapters seem like a slam dunk for the prophecy pundits. Ezekiel 36 and 37 describe a restored Israel after having been scattered abroad for a long time. Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe armies coming from the north attempting to annihilate the Jewish people and the bloodbath that occurs as God fights for Israel. The idea that this could happen in our time is certainly plausible (at least with Iran, I see no reason why Russia or Ethiopia would want to attack Israel any time soon, in fact, most Ethiopians believe the Jews are their cousins because they see themselves as descendants of the Queen of Sheba).

As enticing as it may be to pick up the daily newspaper and point to chapters and verses in the Bible to make sense of current events, the conclusions you come to by doing that are usually, if not always, faulty. Worse, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. It seems that every day another TV preacher calls for war with Iran based on these four chapters of Ezekiel.

Let's break this one down.

First of all, Ezekiel was written after the first siege of Jerusalem when the author was in exile in Babylon. The purpose of the book is to warn those remaining in Jerusalem of its impeneding destruction by Babylon and to give hope that God will restore His people to the land after His punishment for their sins are complete. The most plausible explanation for Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37 is that it refers to the restoration of Jews to the land after the Babylonian captivity. This, of course was fulfilled approximately 70 years later when Cyrus the Persian ruler allowed the first group of Jews to return under Zerubabbel. Although prophecy pundits insist that these chapters must refer to modern day Israel, I would suggest that we allow scripture to interpret scripture and see if the New Testament refers to any of these chapters. As a matter of fact, it does. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applies Ezekiel 37:26,27 ( a passage that all prophecy pundits insist applies to modern-day Israel) directly to the Church (II Corinthians 6:16). I find it odd that so many American evangelicals call it heresy to apply ancient prophesies for Israel to the church. By that standard, I guess we can call the Apostle Paul a heretic. Call me crazy, but I think I'll side with Paul over TBN any day.

What about the war prophesied in chapters 38-39? First of all, if we apply the literal hermeneutic closely, which all prophecy pundits insist that we must do, then we should expect Russia, Iran, and Ethiopia to attack Israel riding horses and chariots, not by flying B-52 fighter jets and dropping nuclear warheads. This brings us to a good question. If Ezekiel describes a war with Israel and it doesn't correspond to anything that could happen today, when could this event have taken place?

Good question. I wanted to know that myself. I've found two good explanations. One is that Ezekiel prophesied the events that took place in the Book of Esther. The other explanation says the event happened in the 2nd century B.C. corresponding to the Maccabean revolt.

In my opinion, both of the above theories are credible. Of course, there is another way to look at this even if one adheres to a dispensational perspective. The only other place in the Bible where Gog and Magog are mentioned together is Revelation 20:7-9 and that prophesies an event that will take place at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ. In fact if you look at the parallels between the passge in Revelation and the passage in Ezekiel, the similarities are stunning. If this is the same event, then is it really something we should worry about now? Call me crazy, but I think our Lord Jesus Christ is quite capable of putting down a rebellion if He really is ruling from an earthly Jerusalem for 1,000 years as dispensationalists believe.

So, in the end, even dispensational theology, which the prophecy pundits rest on, doesn't support the prophecy pundits views. If this is true, then why do these pundits continue making millions of dollars off their bestsellers? Beats me!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The day I got Left Behind

The year was 1988. I was 11 years old and my younger brother Paul was 7 years old. Our family was visiting my aunt who lived in what we called at the time the "boondocks" of Missouri. I'm not sure if the word is still around today, but back then it meant the middle of nowhere and, with the nearest neighbor being a mile away, that is exactly what it felt like the day my brother and I were walking and talking in a nearby field. As my brother and I were talking and minding our business, something out of the ordinary happened that we still haven't been able to explain to this day. From seemingly out of nowhere, we heard a piercing trumpet blast.

For most young children, this would have been an insignificant incident, but for my brother and I, it meant the end of the world as we knew it. It just so happened that the day we heard the trumpet blast was the day the Rapture of the Church was predicted to happen by the author of the book "88 Reasons Why the Rapture will Happen in 88."
For those unfamiliar with the Left Behind series, the Rapture is the event that millions of evangelical Christians who follow the dispensational interpretation of Scripture believe can happen at any time without a moment's notice. In the Rapture scenario, Jesus snatches Christians away from the earth to take them to heaven while leaving the rest of the world to suffer the horrors of the Seven -Year tribulation prophesied in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

As children of the charismatic movement, we knew full well the verse in the Bible that says, "In the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible," (I Corinthians 15: 52). The day we heard the trumpet blast, my brother and I fully expected that after we blinked our eyes, the next moment we would be in heaven. After blinking hard a few times, we both looked at each other with the same horrified expression on our faces. "Oh no! We've been left behind!" we thought. Immediately we ran inside my aunt's house and discovered that our parents and our cousins and aunts and uncles were still standing. For the rest of the day we were thinking to ourselves that not only had we been left behind, but our entire family had been left behind as well.

As I went to bed that night, I remember racking my brain trying to figure out what my entire family could have done so wrong to suffer such an awful fate. Neither my brother nor I were fully convinced that the rapture had not taken place until the next day when the family decided to visit a nearby church. To our relief, we were happy to see a church filled with Bible Believing Christians worshipping the Lord together. We figured that all these Christians could not have been left behind, especially not the pastor. As our family worshipped the Lord together that day, I was inwardly thanking God that I wasn't going to have to take the mark of the beast or swim in a river of blood any time soon. The relief quickly turned to disappointment when I realized that I still had to go to school the next day.

As innocent as this story is, I've told it for a reason. An evangelical Christian may read this story and reminisce about the wonders of child-like faith, but a secular American reading this story is likely to have a different reaction. For millions of secular Americans, the Left Behind theology promoted by TBN, the 700 Club, and bestselling prophesy pundits is not only delusional, but also dangerous. The thinking goes something like this. If millions of Americans believe this doctrine, and these same Americans are the most powerful voting block in the country, why would people who believe the world is heading for an apocalyptic meltdown care about global warming or protecting the rain forest? To further complicate matters in the minds of secular Americans, the leading advocates of the Rapture theory are also the most vocal advocates for neo-conservative politics, which, in their minds, is the belief that America should back Israel unconditionally, wage pre-emptive wars to establish pro-Western democracies, and give little to no regard to what the U.N. has to say about it.

At least, that's how the "left" sees things. No longer are we evangelicals the persecuted minority. We are the ones holding the cards with our Apostle -in -chief holding the highest office in the country. As unfounded as many of the theocracy accusations from the far-left are, American evangelicals, especially those raised on Left Behind theology, are facing some tough questions right now, and will face many more in the future. American evangelicals are still the most vocal supporters of the Iraq war, a war that is a quagmire in the eyes of many, and it seems that hardly a day goes by without a TV preacher calling for war with Iran. To make matters worse, these same T.V. preachers also raise millions of dollars to finance Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, giving little to no consideration to the fact that the people they are displacing to create their apocalyptic scenario might actually be human beings with families to feed. Never mind the fact that both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have committed atrocities against each other beyond anything we in our fast food, mall shopping, church hopping American culture can conceive of. Never mind the fact that Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and yet, when Israel was blasting the Lebanese to smithereens last year, preachers were calling it a "miracle of God" despite the fact that the war actually strengthened Hezbollah’s presence in the region. To top it off, according to the Left Behind theology, if someone comes along with a solution to stop Jews and Palestinians from slaughtering each other, according to the same interpretation of Scripture, that person has to be the devil (the antichrist to be exact).

All of the sudden, a cute little story about a boy thinking he has missed the rapture isn't so cute anymore. If millions of others hold to the same beliefs, it could lead to a self-fulfilling pre-mature least that's how the other side sees it. The question I am asking is this: If a system of Biblical interpretation has potentially dangerous consequences for humanity, should it be abandoned or reformed? How about when high profile evangelicals make statements to the media that we wish would have never been said. Do we get angry with the minister for making us look like buffoons or do we start questioning the theological underpinnings that produced the statement? There are many in my generation choosing the latter. As a non-official representative of evangelicals approaching 30, I would like to ask those older and more mature in the faith to pray for us younger evangelicals. Pray that God will guide us as we look to the Scriptures and formulate new wineskins for the 21st century. Trust me. We're going to need all the prayer we can get.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is the Bible inerrant?

Question: Good afternoon and greetings from England.

I have been a member of the fundamentalist movement for a long time now and
I realise that the movement insists that I accept the doctrine of Biblical
inerrancy. The definition of Biblical inerrancy is; " its original
form, the Bible is totally without error, and free from all

I read the Bible in my daily devotions and I have felt for a long time that
I have noticed more and more examples of contradictory verses. These
contradictory verses would destroy the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

One example I have found is the account of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter,
as recorded in Matthew chapter 9, Mark chapter 5 and Luke chapter 8. In
Matthew's gospel, Jairus leaves to find Jesus AFTER his daughter has died.
In Luke and Mark's accounts, he leave BEFORE his daughter dies. Although
this is only a detail difference, it makes these two accounts mutually
exclusive. They are contradictory and cannot both be true at the same time.

A non-Biblical example of the same type of contradictory verses would be
the two statements;
1. My sister became a Christian for the first time BEFORE her 18th
birthday, and
2. My sister became a Christian for the first time AFTER her 18th birthday.

I have asked a number of my fellow Christians how they have dealt with
this, and have received various suggestions. However, these suggestions are
rather weak:

1. One said, "Don't look at the contradictions, look at the happy ending
and the raising of Jairus' daughter". While I am more than happy to rejoice
at what the passage shows me of God, if I ignore the contradictory passages
then I am doing no more than 'putting my head in the sand'.

2. Another said, "Look how much these passages agree. That shows they are
consistent". Unfortunately, even if passages are 75%, 80% or even 99%
consistent, if they contradict each other even once, it destroys the
doctrine of inerrancy. You can't have 'degrees' of inerrancy. Something is
either inerrant or it isn't.

3. Another said, "By asking this question, you miss the big picture of
God's grace". However, I do not miss the big picture of God. I love God,
but am asking about a contradiction that challenges a doctrine of the

3. Another said "Look what happens with witnesses at a road accident. One
witness will say that three cars were involved while another will say that
there were four cars. It's just a case of fallible humans getting the
details wrong". This would hold water if the Bible were like humans, i.e.
errant and liable to make mistakes. But it is not. The Bible is the word of
God, written via Luke, Paul, Matthew etc etc. So, if it has the same author
and is inerrant, it CANNOT contradict itself. Unlike witness statements,
the Bible is written by God.

The bottom line is this: God never contradicts Himself. The Bible is God's
word, so Q.E.D. the Bible cannot contradict itself.

Please let me set something straight before I go further. I am a Christian.
I love God. I am not questioning God. However, I AM questioning a doctrine
of the fundamentalist wing of the world-wide Christian church. Seeing as
the church isn't God, it's possible for me to question the church without
questioning God.

For example, we all feel more than able to question the doctrines of the
liberal wing of the worldwide Christian church, and we all feel more than
able to question the doctrines of the Episcopalian wing of the worldwide
Christian church. So any accusation that, in asking this question, I'm
somehow 'backsliding' and need to 'bow the knee' is not applicable.

I would therefore appreciate it if you would explain how we fundamentalists
can sustain the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy in light of the above.

Many Regards

Name withheld

Answer: First of all, let me say thank you for your poignant question. As an evagnelical Christian committed to the authority of Scripture, I too have struggled with this issue. In answer to your question, I think that modern Christians born and raised in the post-enlightenmnet West read the Scriptures in a way that is absolutely foreign to the worldview of the ancient readers to whom the Scriptures were originally written. For example, the idea that something has to be a fact to be true may seem inevitable to us, but, in fact, this idea has only been around for about 200 years. Take the Creation Account in Genesis. We look at the seven days of creation and and try to figure out which came first, the sun or daylight. Ancient readers would have understood the point to be that only one God exists, and that one God is not a moon god, a plant god, or a sun god. In other words, the 7-day creation account wasn't written for scientists, but for an ancient audience steeped in a pagan worldview. Also consider that Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the ground. Botanists know there are smaller seeds than the mustard seed. So, was Jesus giving a botany lesson or teaching about the Kingdom of God?

I think if we realize that the Bible is both a divine and a human document, we will not squabble over details irrelevant to the intent of the Biblical authors. We may think the chronological timing of whether the daughter was dead before or after Jairus went to see Jesus is an important detail, but would that have been important to the Biblical authors writing in the first century? The disciples of Jesus weren't writing for the Associate Press. They were writing in a style common to the Jewish culture of their day.

It's important to understand that the Bible does not claim to be dictated by God. The Bible claims to be inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). There is a vast difference between divine dictation and divine inspiration. Divine dictation means that God dictated every jot and tittle he wanted in the Bible. Divine inspiration means that God inspired human authors to express His will in the language and the culture of their day without overriding their human personalities.

Why did God choose to inspire the Bible rather than dictate the Bible? I don't fully know, but I have a hunch it's because God is far more interested in a relationship with human beings than dictating words from the sky. God likes to use human beings for His purposes and He isn't as concerned with squabbling over details as we are. I personally thinks this makes the Bible much more interesting. I'll take the Apostle James' diatribe against the rich over automatic writing any day.