Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, March 29, 2012 0 comments
God loves to blend the natural with the supernatural. Examples of this are all throughout the Bible, human history, and even our present society. Whether to view specific things as natural or supernatural is more of a personal choice than anything else. We are so accustomed to being drawn to the "big" and "obvious" miracles that we often fail to see God's supernatural work in everyday life. In our eyes, the supernatural has become the natural. Every day, meteorologists on TV tell us approximately what the weather conditions will be, what the high and low temperatures will be, and what times the sun will rise and set. We pay attention to these things and admire those who study them, but we rarely think about how it all came to be. Scientists have said that if the earth were any closer to the sun, it would burn up; if it were any farther away, it would freeze. Christians point to this reality as evidence that God supernaturally designed the order of the universe to serve His purposes. However, the fact that science has helped us understand some of the finite details of these events has caused us to view them as "natural". The downside of gaining knowledge about how things works naturally is that it minimizes the fact that the "natural order" of things was set up supernaturally!
As I wrote at the start, God works both within our understanding and beyond it. This is consistent with God's character. Remember, God is love and He certainly wants to involve those He loves (all of creation) in His work. Could God accomplish everything He wants to do without us? Of course! Yet, He chooses to grant us the ability to understand certain things so that we can participate in the supernatural with Him.
At this point, you are likely wondering how this could possibly relate to our word for this week - CANON. I know that some of you listen to the weekly radio show called Do Not Keep Silent which includes Jason DeZurik, Katie Erickson, and myself among others. This past Sunday night, Jason and Katie were discussing how the books of the Bible that we have today were chosen to be part of the "canon", or the most widely accepted collection of writings by the Church. On the show, Katie mentioned that the two main characteristics that the early church fathers were looking for in choosing the books of the Bible were divine inspiration and human authorship. In other words, for a work to be considered for acceptance into the canon, it had to have reference to a human writer and evidence that said writer was guided by the Holy Spirit in his/her writing. Yet another way of putting it would be that the work is a blend of both the natural and the supernatural!
We must understand that God can only reveal so much of Himself to us without us being completely overwhelmed, and possibly even destroyed. For those who wonder why so many things about God must remain a mystery, the reality is that the human finite mind cannot comprehend an infinite God. For those who simply wish God would just DO everything and somehow physically write the words down on paper Himself so that there is no question what came directly from God and what didn't, that simply would not be consistent with God's character. He longs to involve us because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. You can't be in relationship with the one you do everything for or the one who does everything for you. Was there possibly human error in the copying down of scripture? Absolutely, it is possible. But that is why we must worship Jesus Christ as "the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). While Scripture reveals some of the mystery of God, it is the Holy Spirit that "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit came to us so that we could have "the Word", which is Christ, dwell within us long after he physically left this earth. Jesus Christ was the only PERFECT blend of the natural and the supernatural that there ever was or ever will be. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). This doesn't mean we don't study and pay attention to Scripture. It does mean that whatever we think about Scripture, whether it be the books considered canon or the books that "didn't make the cut", must come under submission to the authority of "the Word that became flesh" - Jesus Christ. While it is possible that human error has tainted Scripture, it is NOT possible that it tainted the true Word, which became flesh, blending the natural and supernatural together perfectly!
Before your brain starts going down the wrong path, we are not talking about a weapon that shoots cannonballs when lit (that’s a cannon, with two n’s). The canon we are talking about this week is the Biblical canon, which is the list of books considered to be Scripture by the Christian community. Open up a Protestant Bible and look at the table of contents page, and you’re looking at a basic list of the Christian canon. If you happen to open up a Roman Catholic Bible, you’ll likely see some extra books, called the Apocrypha, which most Christians have determined to be outside the approved canon of Scripture.
The biggest question people have when pondering the canon of Scripture is why those books are in and others didn’t make the cut. We do not have much knowledge on how the Old Testament came to be put together since it is considerably older, but it took over 200 years for the church to decide and agree on the books to include in the New Testament! The first proposed canon was in 144 A.D. by a guy named Marcion. However, he messed it up and took out any references to the Old Testament and changed some other doctrine, so his canon was rejected. The first somewhat official canon was put together around 200 A.D., but it was still not quite right. Half a century later another guy gave it a shot, and he was getting closer. Then, in the 4th century, the church decided to get a whole bunch of leaders and theologians together to work it out. The final canon we have today was decided on in 367 and reaffirmed in 397.
The key aspects they considered when forming the canon was what they called apostolicity - whether it came directly from an apostle of Christ. This is why certain books took longer to be approved for the canon, since not all books are clear on who authored them. The book of Hebrews is the main example of this, but there was debate over 1 and 2 Peter, James, and Revelation as well.
The canonization of Scripture is important because it finalized what books were to be considered important and which are not. Occasionally we see other uncanonized documents surface, such as the gospel of Thomas and others, but we as Christians trust the work done by the church fathers so many centuries ago that only the books included in our Bible are what God intended to be there. Because of that, we can trust that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, March 22, 2012 0 comments
A little over a month ago, a story that was national news was the sudden and tragic passing of singer Whitney Houston. About a week after her passing, many of the news networks aired a memorial service for her that took place at her childhood church in Newark, NJ. I was able to catch most of the program, and one of the things that really caught my attention was the song that everyone in attendance sang at the end of the service. I wasn’t familiar with it at the time, but it was clearly an old gospel song and it had the following lyrics: “God has spoken, so let the church say ‘Amen’”. While these are some very basic words of the Christian faith, they really struck me that day as I thought about the reality of their meaning.
What is the main purpose of the Church (I use a capital “C” to signify the worldwide assembly of Christians and not just a local congregation)? To that question, my answer would be “to agree with God”. We say “amen” at the end of our prayers because it demonstrates that we are in agreement with what was prayed. We are literally saying “so be it” concerning the preceding words. With that understanding, imagine God speaking truth (we can’t say “praying” because God would have no one to pray to) and the entire worldwide group of past, present, and future Christians declaring, “Amen!” The purpose of the Church is to not only speak it with our lips, but to also “agree with God” in the way we live our lives. That’s why we are referred to as “the body of Christ”. We are the physical representation of his Holy Spirit that dwells in the hearts of all believers. Therefore, it’s critical that the world sees us express outwardly that which is in agreement with truth spoken by the One we worship.
While our finite minds cannot logically picture hundreds of millions of people in one place at one time saying one thing, it is the ultimate symbolism of what is described in the Book of Revelation. “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear’” (Revelation 19:6-8 [NIV]). The “great multitude” is praising God because their complete union with Christ, finally unimpeded by sin and evil, is finally here. The Church is Christ’s bride, and while impurities have existed in the Church ever since it started, she is given “fine linen, bright and clean” to wear because Christ’s blood has made her pure. Her past sins are not held against her because the One she is marrying sees her as pure and that’s all that matters! Hopefully, you are getting a clearer picture of how our earthly marriages are supposed to be examples of Christ’s marriage with the Church!
The reality of Christ being our future “bridegroom” and purifying us once and for all does not mean that we can “use our freedom to indulge the flesh” (Galatians 5:13) and not have any consequences. Think once again about an earthly marriage. If we all kept our future unions in mind during our single years and sought to honor those unions, we’d be less likely to act in a way that defiles those unions. The same is true with the marriage between Christ and the Church. We know that he is still going to love us even when we don’t honor him, but that is the very truth that should spur us on to wanting to honor him more. To not honor him causes both he and his bride great pain. The Church needs to wake up to this reality. Men and women have been given great authority within the Church, but Christ is still our head and he is still our future bridegroom. If we are ever saying, doing, or supporting anything that does not honor our relationship with him and is not in “agreement with God”, there must be repentance. This is true both corporately and individually, as all believers are part of this one great assembly!
“I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the church together!”
That song is what I think of when I ponder the question of what is the church. (Can you tell I spent a number of years helping my mom teach kindergarten Sunday school?) It is a very simplistic song taught to young children, but its meaning does hold true.
While we have a tendency to refer to the church as the building where Christians gather on Sunday mornings, it really is so much more than that. The church is made up of people - you and me and many, many others. Specifically, those people in the church are those who follow Jesus, and anyone around the world can be a part of it. The Greek word that we translate as church is ekklesia. It means a community of people or an assembly. This makes it clear that the church is not a place but a group of people.
Many believe that Jesus established the concept of church in Matthew 16. In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples about who people say He is:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Did you see what happened there? Immediately after Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus declares that He will build His church upon that rock. The rock Jesus is speaking of is what Peter just confessed. The church is not built on Peter; the church is not built upon institutions or traditions; the church is built on his confession of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. This is the purpose of the church - to preach Christ and his gospel, that is how all people throughout the world may have salvation through Him.
If you and I believe this, then we truly are the church together!
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16 [NIV]).
With this one confession, Jesus’ oldest and boldest of all his disciples started a movement that would eventually grow into the world’s most popular religion. But his statement would also pave the way for the first and only faith that is defined not by rules, but rather the relationship that is offered by the One in whom our trust is placed. When you think about it, Peter already had a friendship with Jesus at that point. They walked together, ate together, fished together, laughed together, followed the same Jewish customs, had the same group of mutual friends, and stayed in the same places as they traveled. Before his confession, there was already a significant relationship in place.
To understand just how bold Peter’s statement was, you have to think about his default worldview. He was a devout Jew, which means he viewed God with reverence and respect. He viewed his relationship with God as one defined by rules which, when broken, made him subject to God’s wrath. The very thought that a sinful man could be in relationship with a holy God would have been initially considered blasphemy in Peter’s mind. When he declared that Jesus, his friend and teacher, was in fact “the Christ”, he made a choice to do away with the worldview that otherwise would have held him captive. He chose to believe by faith in the revelation that came from God rather than the wisdom of man. Jesus’ reaction in the verses that follow show us just how big of a deal this was. He declares that the revelation came from his “Father in heaven” (v. 17), and that Peter is blessed to be the "rock" on which the church of this "Christ" would be built (v. 18). To my knowledge, this is the first place in the New Testament that the Greek word for "church" is used. It literally means "assembly". So, Jesus' words clearly show us that Peter's confession would eventually lead to many more, and that the worldwide group of those confessed would be ONE assembly under ONE name!
While many of you are probably reading this and wondering why I am stating the obvious, I think it is something we all must consider. The name "Christ" not only gives an appropriate title to the One who came to save us, but it also unites a worldwide group of people that otherwise have nothing in common except sin. We come from different backgrounds, cultures, languages, life experiences, family dynamics, and biological makeups. But we are united as one group by the name "Christian". It is quite a phenomenon. The problem is that so many Christians have lost their perspective on this. Rather, we've been divided into Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, and a whole slew of other names. We focus on our differences and even become judgmental on matters that have nothing to do with salvation rather than operating under the unity of the Spirit. We must not become complacent in the faith we have taken for granted, but must always remember just how important it is to make the statement that the "Christ" has arrived and fulfilled His mission on this earth, and that his human identity is Jesus of Nazareth.
Peter gave his confession from the heart. There is no way he could have known the worldwide impact it would have before he made it. I mean seriously, he most likely spoke an Aramaic word [or possibly Hebrew], which was then translated into the Greek Christos, which when translated into English forms the base for the international faith. And all Peter did was confess what he believed by faith in his own heart!! The rest was up to God. Just imagine what He might be waiting to accomplish through our bold confessions of truth, which we are so often hesitant to give.
This week’s word of the week, Christ, has significant meaning to those of both the Jewish and Christian faith. Christ is from Christos in the Greek and from mashiah in the Hebrew, and it literally means messiah, or anointed one, or a coming deliverer. It has different meaning to each of those two groups.
In the Jewish religion, Christ signifies the hope that is yet to come. The Christ, or Messiah, is not a present or past reality but a future one. They are waiting on the anointed one of God to come to earth and establish his reign. They long for the Messiah of the Lord to come to earth.
For Christians, however, Christ is a reality. We believe that the man Jesus was the Christ as stated in the New Testament. He fulfilled every one of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies of the messiah. We do not have to hope that He is yet to come; we have hope in our lives because He has already come. He came to earth to live an earthly life while maintaining His God-ness. He died an earthly death and was raised again by God, which brings us the opportunity to be delivered from our sins. He was the anointed one by God to deliver us.
The amazing thing about the Christ is that the person of Jesus Christ exists in the past, present, and future. Jesus existed before the creation of the world, as described in John 1:1-3. Jesus did not exist at that time in the incarnate state of his earthly ministry. But because Jesus is God and God does not change, he was human in some way and had awareness and knowledge of his human nature. In the incarnation he was revealed in bodily human form. Jesus came to earth in order to be the mediator between humans and God, and thus to provide for our salvation as well.
The title Christ is given to Jesus so that we may see Him clearly for who He is - our deliverer, anointed by God to grant us salvation.
When I first saw the word for this week, I immediately thought of lyrics from two of my favorite country songs (I know I'm probably almost completely alone in that, but to each his own, and in this case country music is my "own"). The two songs are "Baptism" by Kenny Chesney and Randy Travis, and "Muddy Water" by Trace Adkins. All three of those men have their own well-documented past struggles with alcohol and/or drugs. Regardless of where they currently are spiritually (which only God can judge), the lyrics to these two songs about baptism are an accurate representation of both the outward act and the inward experience of baptism. In "Baptism", they sing "down with the old man, up with the new...I felt like a newborn baby cradled up in the arms of the Lord". In "Muddy Water", he sings "it's a long way away from my hometown, but there's a man in me I need to drown". Most of us probably think of baptism as a pleasant, joyous occasion. It is right to view it this way because it usually comes with some sort of verbal confession, is likely preceded by a time of praise and worship, is done in the presence of close friends and family members, and is followed by food and fellowship. That all sounds pretty joyous to me! However, this is only describing the outward act that is done with water.
The true baptism that occurs in the heart and life of the believer rarely feels like a joyous experience. As the lyrics of those two songs tell us, we have to go "down with the old" before we can come "up with the new". Something "needs to be drowned" before we can experience a rebirth. This makes me think of something one of my best friends pointed out to me about a Biblical story we all learned about as kids. In talking about the great flood, which only Noah, his wife, his sons, and his sons wives out of the whole human race survived, my friend pointed out to me the fact that God BAPTIZED the whole earth! He saw the wickedness of men that had infiltrated the perfect earth He had created and "the Lord was grieved and his heart was filled with pain" (Genesis 6:6). So, His response was to cause the very first baptism - one that included the whole earth! I'm fairly certain that neither seeing the wickedness nor responding to it was a pleasant experience for God. But He knew what needed to be done. He knew that simply adding more people to the mix would only allow more souls to be influenced by the existing worldwide epidemic of sin. So the flood wasn't just one of God's options; it was His ONLY option, considering He wasn't going to take free will away from us but also wasn't going to allow our wicked choices to destroy everyone and everything He created. Once the unpleasant experience of ridding the world of all of the old junk was complete, the road to spiritual regeneration was paved.
And so it is with us. Too many Christians have attempted to do what is logically and spiritually impossible. They have gone through the public ritual of water baptism, and then have tried to add the "new" to their lives without getting rid of the "old". Scripture declares that this cannot happen. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24). In other words, the disease of willful sin and disobedience that has infected us all must be drowned before we can move forward with the abundant life that following Jesus brings.
I believe that this is why John the Baptist makes the distinction between baptism by water and baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). One is an outward act that can be performed by anyone and received by anyone, regardless of the true condition of their hearts. But the baptism by Holy Spirit and fire can only be performed by God Himself, and can only be received by those whose hearts are truly repentant. Church denominations have debated for centuries the "correct" methods and ages for baptism, but the sad thing is that all of them have mostly missed the point. True baptism (the ridding of the old and refilling with the new) is done by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. How and when that happens can only be determined by the One who sent us His Holy Spirit - Jesus! It may not be a pleasant experience to go through, but the reward on the other side makes it all worth it. Let us remember that God promised to never again "baptize" the earth by water (and I'd say He has kept that promise considering we are way more wicked now than in Adam and Eve's day). But He WILL "baptize" it with fire. "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). The revelation of John (aka the Book of Revelation) clearly shows us that the purpose for this "baptism" will be to have a new earth where God can dwell with those who have already been baptized by the Holy Spirit. While going through the experience of being baptized by the Holy Spirit may not always be a pleasant one for us, it sure beats the heck out of the alternative!!