Friday, September 19, 2014

Preaching divine wrath: A pair of timeless and wonderful sermons, one old and one new, to bookend your weekend

I have four favorite sermons. In thinking about them, I realized they were two pairs, one old and one modern. Each pair was of the same subject. Of course each of the two pairs of sermons are edifying. Let me share the first pair now, and the second pair tomorrow.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead; ...
and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink
and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf,
...and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you
and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web
would have to stop a falling rock. Sinners
On July 8th, 1741, pastor Jonathan Edwards ascended the pulpit and preached one of the most famous and convicting sermons in the last 270 years, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

Edwards first preached an outline of it to his own congregation, then preached it fully as a guest pastor to the Enfield CT people. Sinners is part of the First Great Awakening.

The Spirit's work in the First Great Awakening, unlike the Second Great Awakening which reached the unchurched and unconverted, was to shake complacent, church-going Christians to the core and revive their somnolent Christianity to one of fervor for personal holiness and prayer under a loving but wrathful eye of God.

First Great Awakening. Edwards' use of vivid imagery combined with the powerful concepts of personal responsibility for sin in the face of a holy and sovereign God, crushed the hearts of listeners everywhere- because Edwards was asked to re-preach it often.
Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologians," and one of America's greatest intellectuals. The only son in a family of eleven children, he entered Yale in September, 1716 when he was not yet thirteen and graduated four years later (1720) as valedictorian. He received his Masters three years later. (Source)
On July 8, 1741, in Enfield CT (where a small stone marker marks the spot) Edwards delivered this great, theologically convicting sermon. Though Puritan congregations were well used to fire and brimstone teaching and preaching, the fact of hell and wrath unquestioned, the Spirit's desire to spark an awakening by using this gifted preacher and his powerful sermon with vivid imagery stands still today as one of the great sermons.

Here is JD Wetterling's foreword to the sermon, a concise recounting of the sermon's history and impact.
If you live at the turn of the third millennium after Christ walked this earth, you've probably never heard a sermon like this one. Jonathan Edwards was a renowned Puritan preacher, philosopher, theologian, and the leading intellectual figure of colonial America. He graduated from Yale at age 17, became a preacher like his father and grandfather, and is today considered one of the theological titans, along with Augustine, Luther and Calvin, of the Reformed faith.

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD was delivered during a time called the Great Awakening, when revival was sweeping the continent and thousands were daily coming to Christ. Two-hundred-fifty years later it is generally recognized as the greatest sermon ever preached on the North American continent, and one of the prime manifestations of the Holy Spirit that brought about the first Great Awakening. While Edwards was equally fervent and eloquent in his preaching on all of God‟s infinite attributes, especially His love and mercy, he is remembered most for this powerful portrayal of God‟s infinite hatred of sin. Edwards was not considered a charismatic orator. He read his sermons, and when he looked up at all it was to stare at the rope for the church bell on the back wall. He knew that in order for lost sinners to come to Christ, their only hope for salvation, they must first be brought to the realization of the desperate state they were in and the horrendous eternal consequences of it. He brought many of his listeners to that realization this day with “remarkable effect.” Such was the power and passion of his words that moans and groans filled the sanctuary and people fainted as he spoke.

The “h-word” is used more often here than I have heard in 52 years of church attendance—it sets the standard for “fire and brimstone.” Jesus himself talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, and Edward‟s biblical support for his awesomely graphic metaphors is correct,complete and convicting, and elicits a sense of urgency rarely heard in church pulpits today.
To read in original form-
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

To hear on Youtube:
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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Edwards was concerned with sin, complacency, and the wrath of God. His biblical exposition used vivid imagery and is the hallmark woven through the entire sermon. In this next sermon from today's times, the vivid imagery is also a powerful vehicle to bring the concepts of the devastation of sin to the listener.

The title of this sermon that has three times now brought me to a place of utter conviction, is called "Hacking Agag to Pieces." Many people consider this sermon as MacArthur's best. Its content is as vivid as the title, which is a literal event from 1 Samuel 15:33.

John MacArthur's bio from Wikipedia,
John Fullerton MacArthur, Jr. (born June 19, 1939) is an American Calvinist, Baptist pastor and author known for his internationally syndicated radio program Grace to You. A popular author and conference speaker, he has served as the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since February 9, 1969 and also currently serves as the president of The Master's College in Newhall, California and The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California. MacArthur has authored or edited more than 150 books.

MacArthur is ... a strong proponent of expository preaching. He has been acknowledged by Christianity Today as one of the most influential preachers of his time, and was a frequent guest on Larry King Live as a representative of an evangelical Christian perspective.
The sermon is paired with the verses from 2 Corinthians 1:12, Romans 6:14-17, both about sin and how it devastates a life, unless it is hacked to pieces. MacArthur exposition of the context of Saul's disobedience set the stage for the doctrinal explanations of the verses in Corinthians and Romans.

Both sermons bring to the listener how important it is not to give quarter to sin. We must not give the enemy any opportunity to weave his way into our hearts nor to nestle there. When we find sin in us we must deal with it immediately and vividly. Jonathan Edwards reminded his audience that it is only the pleasure of God that we draw the next breath. If you are unsaved, and your breath is taken away and death befalls you, an eternity of unutterable torment awaits. Those living a deluded life in false assurance of their salvation are at most risk.

And in MacArthur's sermon, Agag lived a pagan, rebellious life before God and until the first sword stroke never thought it would be his last breath. As for Saul, God pronounced a curse upon him for his disobedience in not killing Agag in the first place, another sin before God, because disobedience is always sin.

Both sermons remind us that sin has profound and eternal consequences.

In tomorrow's blog essay, a pair of sermons that uplift the listener, one old and one new. Prepare to be awed by His providence and His sovereignty.

The preaching of divine wrath serves as a black velvet backdrop that causes the diamond of God’s mercy to shine brighter than ten thousand suns. It is upon the dark canvas of divine wrath that the splendor of His saving grace most fully radiates. Preaching the wrath of God most brilliantly showcases His gracious mercy toward sinners. ~Steven J. Lawson

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ebola may be out of control, but God is never out of control

I've reported on the Ebola outbreak in prior weeks. It is officially an epidemic now. The facts as reported in the past day or so are:
WaPo: Ebola, Portraits of Grief

--This outbreak is actually the first Ebola epidemic the world has ever known. (CDC)
--CDC teams are deployed from the CDC 24/7 Emergency Operations Center (EOC), activated at Level 1, its highest level, because of the significance of this outbreak. (CDC)
--There have been more than 4,300 cases over the past six months. (source)
--More than 2,400 people have died from the virus (source)
--There has been a consistent mortality rate of 55.8% mortality rate. To compare, the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic had a 2.4% mortality rate.
--There is no approved cure in this outbreak. (source)
--Nations with cases in the current epidemic have been Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. (source)
--All 26 previously recorded outbreaks have been successfully contained largely by isolating patients but the WHO said cases would continue to rise for at least six more months in an epidemic that has jumped borders and erupted in urban areas. (source)

The above were the facts. Next are two published opinions about Ebola as stated in two articles that caught my eye. They are as follows:

What we're afraid to say about Ebola
THE Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done. There have been more than 4,300 cases and 2,300 deaths over the past six months. Last week, the World Health Organization warned that, by early October, there may be thousands of new cases per week in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. What is not getting said publicly, despite briefings and discussions in the inner circles of the world’s public health agencies, is that we are in totally uncharted waters and that Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time.
If I was to re-write the opening line and the closing line from a Christian perspective it would be:

THE Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to fulfill future history as much as any plague has ever done. ... What is not getting said publicly, despite briefings and discussions in the inner circles of the world’s public health agencies, is that we are in totally uncharted prophetic waters and that we finally understand that God and only God is in charge of the crisis at this time.

In first opinion piece, I was struck by the person's outlook that the people who are 'supposed to know what to do' ... don't know what to do. Unsolvable problems face the last generation before the Tribulation. How do I know this? Because the world's global problems are in such a Gordian knot that when the antichrist appears on the world stage with answers the world falls down in eagerness to listen to his solutions. (Luke 21:25, Daniel 11:21).

Secondly, of course the comment that Mother Nature is a force that's in charge is also interesting, in terms of how the unsaved look at it. Christians know that there is no Mother Nature. God is in control. But...is He sending plagues? Send Ebola? Would a loving God do that? More on that in a moment.

Here is opinion article #2. This is an Op-Ed from Dr Brantly, the American doctor in Western Africa who came down with Ebola, was evacuated to Atlanta's Emory Hospital for treatment and recovery. He has seen the epidemic from both sides, as doctor and as patient.

American Ebola survivor calls the outbreak "a fire straight from the pit of hell"
Many have used the analogy of a fire burning out of control to describe this unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Indeed it is a fire-a fire straight from the pit of hell. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will keep the flames away from our shores. Instead, we must mobilize the resources needed to keep entire nations from being reduced to ashes.
What if I was to re-write the opening line to say, "Many have used the analogy of a fire burning out of control to describe this unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Indeed it is a fire-a fire straight from bosom of heaven," would you charge me with being deluded about our "loving God"?

Today’s people, even Christians, have become so used to the concept of a God who is love-only, not love-and. As in, love and wrath, love and judgment, love and anger. All true Christians will proclaim God and not Mother Nature. But to proclaim a God who sends pestilence? Not so much.

I cannot say that God is sending Ebola specifically to West Africa, nor can I say He is sending it for this reason or that reason. I do not know the mind of God. But I know the character of God, and I know the history of God as it's revealed in the bible.

His character is such that in the past He has sent (or allowed) pestilences to consume Israel’s enemies. He has sent pestilence to consume Israel, to punish. Look at Habakkuk 3:4-5,

His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, And there is the hiding of His power. Before Him goes pestilence, And plague comes after Him. 6He stood and surveyed the earth; He looked and startled the nations. (Habakkuk 3:4-5)

Matthew Henry commentary says of the verses,
After describing the splendour of the theophany, the prophet now turns to the purpose and effects of God's appearing. He comes to avenge and judge, therefore before him went the pestilence. Before him stalks plague, to punish his enemies and the disobedient, as in Egypt, in Canaan (Exodus 23:27; 1Samuel 5:9, 11); and among his own people (Numbers 11:33; Numbers 14:37, etc.; Leviticus 26:25).

God could be directly sending this plague...pestilence...disease, whatever olde or modern word you want to use. Or He could be allowing satan to spread it. Or He could be allowing microbes to do what they do naturally, multiply. The reason I'm interested is because the doctors are saying it is the first Ebola epidemic in history, that there is no approved cure, and that it has such a high mortality rate.

There was a terrible outbreak of bubonic plague in the 1300s and in the 1600s. Modern science has put the likely death rate average over its entire geographic area at 45-50%. In the first of the two mentioned outbreaks, half of the population of Paris died. 40% of all of Egypt died. And so on. In the current Ebola epidemic, a 55.8% death rate is very high. The rapidity and potential geographic spread due to fast modes of travel makes the potentiality of seeing those rates and even higher arise again.

We do know that in the Tribulation there will be plagues that kill a quarter of mankind. (Revelation 6:8, Matthew 24:7).

The point of this essay is to point to who God is. Yes, God is love, but God is also wrath,. He hates sin above all.
God said in times past,

I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the LORD have spoken. (Ezekiel 5:17)

This occurred. Do we think that modern sanitation practices and shiny needles full of medicine would prevent such a plague from happening again? Do we think that we are any better people, that the LORD would not be angry with our sin? Our apostasy? Do we think that He would send plague to His own chosen people in Ezekiel times, but let us slide?

But if God was loving, why would He send this to us? Even to unbelievers who haven't had a chance to "accept Jesus" yet? Proverbs 1:25-26 says,

And you neglected all my counsel And did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes,

Matthew Henry again,
I also will laugh at your calamity,.... By way of retaliation, measuring measure for measure; even as they scorned him, and delighted in their scorning, now he in his turn will "laugh" at them and their distress; which act is ascribed to the Lord by an anthropopathy; see Psalm 2:4; signifying that he should not at all pity them, show no compassion to them, and have no mercy upon them; but rather express a pleasure and delight in displaying the glory of his justice in their destruction: the plain sense is, that no favour would be shown them,
He will glory in displaying His justice. That is also our God. The prophet Habakkuk says of Jesus in the Old Testament, Before Him goes pestilence, And plague comes after Him. He displays His love, and He displays His justice.

Ebola threatens to destroy Sierra Leone and Liberia
The virus is spreading like wildfire. A German Ebola expert tells Deutsche Welle, that it will not be possible to contain the virus with the measures that have been taken so far.
His statement might alarm many people. But Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg told DW that he is losing hope, that Sierra Leone and Liberia will receive the necessary aid in time. Those are two of the countries worst hit by the recent Ebola epidemic. "The right time to get this epidemic under control in these countries has been missed," he said. That time was May and June. "Now it will be much more difficult."
Justice? Punishment? God? We do not know specifically what God is doing but what we do know is that it is time to repent and fall at the feet of Jesus. Nationally and/or individually, the safest and most God-glorifying route is to acknowledge who God is, in all His aspects. Ask forgiveness of sins. That is the real enemy- sin. God hates it because it keeps His people from glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. Sin keeps us from His love.

Another aspect of God's personality is His forgiveness. Though the news about Ebola is dire, the best news of all is this

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Compare and Contrast: lightning bug vs. lightning

A false gospel is a lightning bug


The true Gospel is lightning


The false gospel only brings insect-sized light. Fleeting, not enough to empower, and limited scope.

The true Gospel is the Light, blazing and powerful, able to pierce the darkness even behind closed eyes that do not see. It is from heaven and able to light whole cities...or destroy them.

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:16)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If a teacher teaches some things wrongly, but the Gospel rightly, is it OK to follow them?

A lot of people wonder when it is reasonable to leave off following a teacher. What are the standards for giving loving benefit of the doubt, and banning them completely from your mind, your church, and your home? Both are called for in the bible.

There are these verses,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)

And then there are these verses,

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, (2 John 1:10)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us  (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

How do we know when to do which?

First, it's helpful to understand the difference between brethren and teachers. All Christians are brethren, including teachers. But the standards for becoming a Christian and the standard for teachers are different.

Pure
All brethren stand on the same, equalizing blood-soaked ground. None are qualified to do so, except by the grace of Jesus and faith alone. This standard includes teachers.

But once in the Lord's kingdom through salvation, the Spirit bestows different gifts. The gift of teaching is given to some, not many, and for those, there are different standards of behavior and of scrutiny. In James  3:1-2 we read,

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."

Not many of you. This indicates the seriousness of the calling. The verse also indicates the extreme fallibility in all of us. So teachers should be especially wary, because they handle the word of God, and are in a position to cause more damage and harm in Jesus' name. That is why they are judged more strictly.

So already we know that the first standard of teaching is that it is given by gift of the Spirit. It's not something that can be taught, adopted, or decided upon, and certainly not entered into casually.

The second thing we learn from that one verse alone is that it is a serious calling, and a stricter standard is given for the Christian's performance in it.

Thirdly we already know that 'not many' are given the gift.

So what are the standards for teachers from there? There are moral/behavioral standards, and there are doctrinal standards for teachers.

BEHAVIOR

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3)

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:3

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, (Titus 2:3)

DOCTRINE

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6)

So what IS good doctrine? Well, we know that there are teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). And likewise, there are teachings of God. Theologians generally categorize doctrine into ten major headings: (source MacArthur Study Bible)
  1. Holy Scriptures
  2. God the Father
  3. God the Son
  4. God the Holy Spirit
  5. Man
  6. Sin
  7. Salvation
  8. the Church
  9. Angels 
  10. Last Things
All good teachers will teach any and all ten doctrines rightly. But what about the Gospel? If a teacher teaches The Gospel rightly but some of the other doctrines wrongly, it still OK to follow that teacher?

Well, let's look at exactly what The Gospel is.

Here is 9Marks listing of the elements of the Gospel.
  • The one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him (Gen. 1:26-28).
  • But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23).
  • In his great love, God sent his Son Jesus to come as king and rescue his people from their enemies—most significantly their own sin (Ps. 2; Luke 1:67-79).
  • Jesus established his kingdom by acting as both a mediating priest and a priestly sacrifice—he live a perfect life and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of many (Mark 10:45; John 1:14; Heb. 7:26; Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12-21); then he rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted his sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24, Rom. 4:25).
  • He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30, John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
If you compare the Gospel to the ten doctrines, you find the doctrines permeate the Gospel and the Gospel permeates the doctrines. A teacher must know holiness, speak of and understand how exalted God is. He or she must have a true understanding of sin. So many false teachers teach sin is just a mistake, or can be controlled, or is not our fault due to generational bondage, or any number of reasons that distance ourselves from responsibility for our sins.


A teacher must have a proper understanding of who Jesus is. There's 'this same Jesus' who will return (Acts 1:11) and 'a different Jesus' preached and taught falsely. (2 Corinthians 11:4).

A flawed teaching on the law vs. grace, of the cross, of the resurrection, or of sanctification affects the Gospel relating to those elements. Not understanding what God's wrath affects the doctrine of Last Things.

So you see, if a teacher teaches "the Gospel", they are really teaching 'the good doctrine' (1 Timothy 4:6)

In addition, if you still want to follow a teacher who seems to be teaching some things well and others poorly, remember the demon possessed slave girl.

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17)

Is there anything inaccurate about what she said? No. Then why didn't Paul like the free advertising? Because nothing pure can come from a deceitful heart. Because her father is the father of lies. Who needs satan to advertise the Gospel when we have the pure word and holy servants to do so?

Matthew Henry commentary says of the slave girl verse,
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers.
Mixing lies and truth is what satan did to Eve. And look what happened.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Galatians 5:9 cf 1 Corinthians 5:6)

If a teacher is teaching wrongly have nothing to do with him or her.

That's not to say that a true teacher must teach all doctrines perfectly. We are imperfect individuals. But as I said in a previous essay, the Holy Spirit who is inside us will never allow a true teacher to remain in a false understanding. The Spirit always testifies of Jesus and points to Him, who is Truth. That's why discernment means being alert, and watchful and patient. A teacher should always be growing in Christ-likeness. A false teacher is always growing away from Christ.

1 Timothy 6:3 says that good teaching is sound doctrine according with godliness. An overseer's primary job is to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Jesus IS Truth. Seek Him and don't compromise for anything less.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Who do you say that I am?"

Who is Jesus?

Is He a prophet? Is He Elijah? Is He a nice, moral man with a few good things to teach?

Who you say Jesus is determines your eternal destiny.

Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" They told Him, saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets". (Mark 8:27-28)

What ho, Mormon, who is Jesus?

Source
Mormons: "Mormons do not believe in the Trinity as we understand it. They believe that God and Jesus were separate physical people" who dwelled on the earth, [former Mormon Beth Johnston said. "God was Jesus' father, and both men died".

Muslims say Jesus (Isa) was a Messenger, a Prophet, not deity, never crucified.

As-salamu alaykum, O Muslim, who is Jesus?

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say

not "Trinity" : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth
. Quran, Chapter 4 The Women An-Nisa: Verse 171

Shalom, good Hebrew. Who is Jesus?

Judaism teaches that it is heretical for any man to claim to be God, part of God, or the literal son of God. The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 2:1) states explicitly: "if a man claims to be God, he is a liar."

Wiki Commons
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)

The exclusivity of Christianity as the sole way to salvation is an eternal truth.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the Messiah, the promised One, the savior of all humankind.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

Anyone who rejects Jesus as Messiah...King...Lord...Savior...Forgiver of sins, will not go to heaven. They remain in their sinful flesh, and will be damned.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:50)

Between the sinful, perishable flesh, and the sinless imperishable kingdom which the gates of hell shall not prevail against, is a great gulf fixed--

And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26)

Except that while they are still living, you may cross from perishable to imperishable by and through Jesus, by confessing Who He Is.

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)




"God told me to..."

Twitter meme. Good one!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Martyr Moment: "Christians" in the Middle East

On Sundays I used to post an essay called Sunday Martyr Moment. I did so because I want to remember the martyrs who went before us in the faith.

Foxe's Book of Martyrs- According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,
Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.
From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:
  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
Text from Foxe's Book of Martyrs

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In the last posting, last February 2014, I looked at the ten primitive persecutions. Foxe developed his chronicle in chapters from the first martyr, Stephen, in chapter 1: "History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions Under Nero" and in February we got to the end of chapter 2: "The Ten Primitive Persecutions". That brought us up to 303AD.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last February was the last Martyr Moment I'd published. I'd wanted to cover only the first ten primitive persecutions, because once you get into the 300s AD, Catholic martyrs are mixed in and it becomes too hard to separate fact from mystical Catholic fiction, at least it was for me.

The first ten persecutions covers well the tribulations the early Christians went through. I listened to a recent sermon from John MacArthur. On Sunday nights he is going through the book of Acts. The sermon is called "Persecuted for Truth's Sake" and it covers Acts 4:1-12. (There is no transcript yet, but there will be). He mentioned the persecutions, the first ten, and generalized some of the more heinous acts. It is always worthwhile to remember what the early Christians did, they were bold in proclaiming Christ to a hostile system, which at that early time was the Jews. I recommend the sermon.

I bring up the persecutions and martyrdoms now for another reason. We skip ahead to 2014, and the Middle East. In 2014, we are living in apostate times and most people attend an apostate church. "Christians" all too undiscerningly accept any person who says they are "Christian". Most of the church today is one big undiscerning, deluded club.

We hear repeatedly that Christians are being killed in the Middle East for their faith. We read articles about the Christian martyrs in Syria, Iraq, and other places. We read about ISIS, the terrorist group, which is actually a government successfully holding large swathes of land, insisting at point of a knife for all to convert or die. Many "Christians" refuse, and are killed.

What I am going to say is not popular, but we need to be discerning for two very important reasons.

First, most of the people killed in ISIS-controlled territory who say they are Christian, are not.

The largest non-Muslim group in the Middle East are Coptic Christians. By some accounts, between 4 and 8 million Egyptians are Copts. Some estimates say 10 million.

Egypt's Coptic Christians are set to vote for a new leader on Monday to succeed Pope Shenuda III,
who died in March leaving behind a community anxious about its status under an Islamist-led government.
The candidates for leading the Coptic Church, (from L) Father Bakhomius of Virgin Mary in Wadi Natroun,
Father Rafael from St Marina Monastery, Father Seraphim of Virgin Mary, Bishop Raphael of Central Cairo, and Bishop Tawdros of Beheria in Giza Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany Source

Copts are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church (AKA Oriental Orthodox). Copts believe that liturgical ritual and faith plus works saves you. Of Orthodox churches, according to this excerpt from GotQuestions, says that
in doctrine, they have much more in common with Roman Catholics than they do with Protestant Christians.

Sadly, the doctrine of justification by faith is virtually absent from the history and theology of the Orthodox Church. Rather, Orthodoxy emphasizes theosis (literally, “divinization”), the gradual process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. What many in the Orthodox tradition fail to understand is that “divinization” is the progressive result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation itself. Other Orthodox distinctives that are in conflict with the Bible include:

The equal authority of church tradition and Scripture
Discouragement of individuals interpreting the Bible apart from tradition
The perpetual virginity of Mary
Prayer for the dead
Baptism of infants without reference to individual responsibility and faith
The possibility of receiving salvation after death
The possibility of losing salvation
Coptic Monks circa 1900, Wikipedia

Here is another article regarding Coptic "Christians" specifically-
"What is Coptic Christianity, and what do Coptic Christians believe?"

Well if the Copts adhere to a doctrine that is not saving, what about the other people who are called Christian in the Middle East? The second largest group claiming to be Christian are Lebanese Maronites, and they simply are Catholic. The other name for them is the Maronite Catholic Church.

As for the rest, most are from some kind of Orthodox church, whether it's Russian, or Greek, or Armenian etc.

There was an Assyrian Evangelical Church of Tehran but it was forcibly closed between 2010 and 2012. There is a Presbyterian church in Iran, but it is small, and it is unknown as to whether it is still going. It was (I believe) affiliated with PC USA which is a denomination gone apostate, anyway.

I am NOT saying there are no Christians in the Middle East. I AM saying that we do not automatically accept every single person claiming to be Christian as Christian, especially when they are from obviously apostate churches such as the Catholic or Orthodox. We must be discerning. We stand for a pure doctrine and proclaim 'this same Jesus' who left us and will return. We don't abandon that mindfulness and steadfast adherence to purity in the church when we're pressured by the natural response of grief over deaths and persecution of any minority.

The second reason to be cautious is not only to display a measured and mature response in discernment, but that if indeed most of the people calling themselves Christians are not, then it is worse when they are killed. True martyrs make the boldest statement of all when they are killed for the name of Jesus- in truth. Then they go to heaven. False Christians who are killed for their faith make a weak statement by their death, for they stand on sand and proclaim hot air, and when they die, they go to hell. We cannot celebrate their survival as wholly as we would like, because they proclaim a false Gospel and a different Jesus, which spreads when they flee persecution. We do grieve their death because they are eternally damned.

It's sad when a true Christian is killed for the faith but their death glorifies God. It is bad when any lost person dies, because their soul is damned in hell under eternal torment forever. But when a false Christian is killed 'for the faith,' that is the worst, because the person goes to hell but on earth the Spirit had been blasphemed and Jesus had been denied by their false Gospel. Their death brings glory to satan's gospel. Therefore, it's the worst.

Knowing the facts about 'Christianity' in the Middle East helps us pray more pointedly and mindfully. In the heat of the emotional moment, please don't abandon discernment in trade for running to stand under a too-large umbrella of faiths that are no faith at all. We love the people of the Middle East, Muslim or Orthodox, because they are both hanging by a gossamer thread over the pit of hell, and in such a harsh environment they could die at any moment. But now you know how to discern and now you know in which direction to pray for them.