Thursday, April 23, 2015

On the Proper Use of Scripture

It has come to my attention over the last several years that in many cases, I have simply taken what was told to me over the years and incorporated it into my thinking without considering the correctness behind it. This is mainly evident in the use of Scripture to defend or make certain arguments. Taking a look back, I find that the more I study and consider the contexts and points being made in Scripture, the more I see where verses and passages were used incorrectly in order to have a quick "go-to" source for an argument. I do not believe this was done maliciously or with bad intent (in fact I believe just the opposite), but that does not mean that it is OK to continue to let it slide. This post, and possibly another, will explore some of these verses and passages, to see what they mean, and also to look at a better way defend the faith we hold so dear.

This requires a different way of looking at Scripture. Now I am not calling for a totally changed hermeneutic (way that we interpret Scripture), but simply a revisiting of how we use Scripture so that we can do so in the best way possible. This is a good deal harder, and takes a bit more work, than spouting off a single verse to make a defense. In order to make arguments as I suggest, we need a worldview that is not only Biblically centered, but Biblically knowledgeable. This means work, and sometimes is means answering a question with "I don't know, let me get back to you." 

Now I realize I am only one preacher with a small, mostly unknown blog. But we have to start somewhere, so it might as well be here. I hope it is as useful to you to read this as it has been for me to write. :-)

As an example, let's look at the subject of music in worship. Now, the church of Christ arguments tend to center on Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19 and (oddly enough) Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1. Let's look at what those passages have to say.

Col. 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Eph. 5:19
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Lev. 10:1
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.

Now, as I said, these are the go-to verses for the subject of music in worship. However, there is only one problem. They don't actually speak about music in worship at all

Colossians speaks directly about putting on our new selves in Christ, resisting sin, and love. Verse 3:16 is a command on how we are to speak with one another all the time. It is a command about how we speak, how we act, and the thankfulness we should have in our hearts towards God.

Ephesians is much the same. Paul writes about walking in love, escaping sin, and making the best use of the time we have in these evil days. Verse 5:19 is about how our attitudes and interactions with each other should be filled with love, affection and holiness while being filled with the Spirit.

Leviticus then talks about Nadab and Abihu and how they did something unauthorized during the sacrifice to God. This is usually used to say "if God didn't say it, we shouldn't do it." There is just one problem with using this particular verse as the go-to argument: that's not the only thing they were guilty of. See, God had been very, very clear about exactly how the priests were to deal with the sacrifices. There are chapters...and chapters...and chapters...that govern everything from clothing to pre-service to post-service and everything in between. Nadab and Abihu did more than add something because they thought it was nice. They disobeyed clear, direct orders from God Himself doing something "contrary to His command" They had been given explicit directions, and did something else. This is generally not where instruments in worship fall today (unless they are saying "I know A, but I'd rather do B instead, so whatever".

Now, if you are a little spooked, that is OK. If you disagree with me, that is OK. But go and read the chapters (even the whole books), to see if what I say is false. Because I have a little secret.

I still see music in worship as not being what God intended.

I let go of the above verses years ago to argue my point, however, because I found a better way. It is a little more difficult, but much more satisfying, because I am no longer using verses on their own pulled out of context, but instead appealing to God's consistency and nature as I see it throughout the Bible.

You see, throughout the Old Testament, God did allow music in the assembly of worship. But it was never done how and when they wanted. God ordained specific instruments during specific times of the worship, as in 2 Chronicles 29:25-30. He was very clear about the hows and direction the music would take. Outside of the assembly worship there seemed to be less restriction, as David danced and had music played in celebratory worship while the ark was brought back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6. So it seems we see two types of worship here: corporate/temple and non-corporate.

Now as we move into the New Testament, remember how God treated instruments in the Old. He used His prophets to say "do this and this and that." We don't see that in the New Testament. In fact, we are given precious little direction beyond coming together, sharing communion with one another and the Lord, being orderly, and putting each other before ourselves. It would seem then, that if God did desire instruments to be used in corporate worship, He would have had the writers make some mention of it somewhere. This is more than an argument from silence. This is an argument based on how God planned and prepared specific uses and purposes for them in the Old Testament. Indeed, if you look at the history of the church, you find that note was made of how instruments were not used in the early church (The Early Church and Today, vol. 1, page 280).

It is because of these things that I do not see the permission to use instruments. We just don't see it and we do see a known, acceptable way to worship the True King of All Creation. If we are chasing the very best of what God wants for us, what keeps us from doing anything else?

Realize, however, that this takes music off the salvation-issue list. We cannot see into the hearts of men. That power is reserved for God alone. People may be doing their very best, but messing up (as we all do so often). This is an issue that can be discussed and debated, but I am not able to see it as a determining factor on whether or not we can have fellowship with another (which, if it is not a salvation issue, must be the side we come down on).

Now this is not to say this is not an important subject. Any subject dealing with our worship of God and the how, why and when is important. We should be honest with ourselves about that. There is nothing more important than that which is about to God, our relationship with Him, our worship of Him and our following His Will. These are the first things in our lives, not the last things we consider.

This is what I mean though when I say we need to rethink our use of Scripture. We are People of the Book, those who chase Truth. As we come to know that Truth, we must be willing to subject ourselves to it, regardless of what that means. We are humans, and we all must grow and we will make mistakes, but let our mistakes be ones of trying our best to follow God, and not ignoring Him in favor of our own predispositions.

If you disagree with me, please let me know. If you think I have misused Scripture, please tell me. Leave a message or email me. I am more than happy to have this discussion at any time. Like I said, I am chasing the Truth, wherever that leads, and I will certainly need help along the way. I know I can't do it myself.

But let us seek Truth together, as friends. As those saved in Christ. As the brothers and sisters that we are.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Facing the Storm: A Discussion on Homosexuality - The Importance of Love

It's good to share good things! :-)

Finally, my last post for (hopefully) a long time on this subject (although I have a sneaking suspicion there may be a part 5...). I have covered pretty much all I want covered as well as I can. I hope it has been useful for any who have read it. If you disagree with me on anything, feel free to contact me and let's hash out what needs to be hashed. I am always open to any discussion, as long as you respect the use of Scripture and the search for truth.

Oddly enough, this could be my most "controversial" post on this subject yet. I actually don't think it is all that controversial, but I do hope it causes us to really think and consider what the right actions for the church to take are. If you have any doubts about where I stand on this subject, I do ask that you read parts one, two, and three before making any judgments. This post stems from those.

Today we talk about the importance of love, and its place in the church in regards to homosexuality. Last week I made a short list of do's and do not's in regards to when visitors, practicing homosexuality or not, come into the church. This post is the practical application of that tiny list. I did a little bit of looking, and while there is a lot of "theory" and personal anecdotes, there does not seem to be a lot of discussion on the practical side of things. Also please note - this article is about visitors and outsiders to the church, so please keep that in mind as you read.

The unfortunate thing about the homosexuality debate is that it has ended up in a place where words say one thing and actions show another. Now I realize I am using a broad brush here, but I believe it is applicable. So often people say "well, its just a sin like any other sin and needs to be dealt with." This is true and correct. However, all too often actions and attitudes seem to speak that this sin is worse and more infectious than others, and if it is not taken care of immediately it will cause worse problems.

This is where we need to understand that things do not happen in a vacuum. Our hearts and words want to do the right thing, but our fears and emotions want us to do another. This is not without cause. One of the casualties of the culture wars has been common sense.on both sides. There is a permeating sense that if one inch is given a mile will be taken, and everything will fall off a cliff. I believe this is the reason why it makes people so nervous when we talk about how to handle things when homosexuals come into the church. On one hand we (rightly) want to protect the faith and especially those who are young in it. On the other hand we (rightly) want to show Jesus' love and grace to all. It is in the application of both these needs that we find our difficulty.

So I am going to throw some situations and ideas out there, because the conversation has to start somewhere, and plans need to be made in advance how the church will respond when people come into the church looking for what only God can give. Please note: this is not an exhaustive list. These are just some situations that the church may find itself in that great good can come through if handled properly. This is only a conversation starter, not the end-all be-all.


1) A openly gay man or woman come to church.
Just like every other person, please make sure to welcome them warmly and openly. If they are searching for God, what better place to do it than along with God's people? We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If we can truly help them to see Jesus, there is a good chance they will come back so they can start to get to know Him. We are the ambassadors of Christ. What is seen is us is how they will view Him. 

2) A gay couple comes to church.
This is where I think people will start to get tripped up, so let me just answer: yes, invite them to the potluck. And the movie night. And dinner at your home. And all the other activities. This will be very uncomfortable for some people. Actually, it will probably be very uncomfortable for a lot of people.

But guess what? Jesus didn't call us to a comfortable life. He called us to His life. His, where He ate with prostitutes and sinners and tax collectors. His, where he went to the poorest and most broken of society. His, where he made His relationships with the outcast and the sick and the weary. Where He showed them His light and healed their wounds and then called them to follow Him. We should follow the same pattern: show His light, bring them to be healed, and then call them to follow, giving up all for the name of Jesus, just as we are to do.

3) A state-married gay couple with kids comes to church.
If you thought the last one was difficult, here is the final big one. Remember, we are not talking about Christians coming in and trying to force your change, we are talking about those outside of Christ who come into the church looking for the Savior. Now yes, there may be those just looking for trouble, but there will be plenty who are honestly searching. We are to be Christ to all people, not just the ones who like us.

So yes, invite them to the potluck, your home for dinner, the family night, etc. Do your best to build a relationship because they need Christ too. Get to know them and what they do and what they like because you will plant seeds of either love or disgust for Jesus. Plant the ones that can grow into a soul-saving faith. Understand that they will be called to give up enormously in order to follow Christ. It will not be easy, fun or simple, and we need to understand what it will mean for them to have to figure out how things will work in the future.


In all cases where those outside of Christ come into the church, our goal is to (in this order) 1) introduce them to Christ, 2) get them to love Christ and His church, and 3) help them to pay whatever price it takes to follow the One True Savior. This will (probably) not happen overnight or even over a month. It may take years. But we cannot give up because Christ did not give up. Whether it is a single mom, a pregnant teen, or a homosexual couple, we will not, we cannot, give up on bringing them to Christ. His will is all that matters. We are to be gentle and generous with all sinners, not just the ones we are most comfortable with.

This is the importance and goal of love: to show Christ's light and love to a broken and sinful world with patience, kindness and charity. To stand firm on the foundation of belief that Christ has set forth while at the same time not dashing the lost to pieces upon it, but bringing them gently before the Savior so that He can have His way with them.

To follow Christ we must give up all. This includes our fears, our worries and our doubts. This means being uncomfortable when needed, and taking joy that we can be used as tools of the Savior. Let us have love, generosity and charity in all things, so that we may reach all who are seeking Christ.

We are those who follow Christ the Risen King.

Let us show it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Facing the Storm: A Discussion on Homosexuality - Where do we go from Here?

Last week I wrote about the arguments facing Christians on the subject of homosexuality. In that ginormous post I dealt mainly with philosophical and general Scripture arguments while staying away from the so-called "clobber-passages" (I still highly dislike that name) that so many argue over. The overall point was this: that all sexual conduct outside of God's design, whether hetero- or homosexual, is sin, and those who claim to follow Christ must follow His Will in all things, including this. There are no loopholes. There are no back doors. There is, however, grace that far surpasses all our failures, and when we turn our lives over to He Who Saves, we can rest assured that He will cleanse us as we do our best to follow.

All that being said, the question now arises: where do we as the church go from here? There is no denying that the directional flow of culture, especially on this issue, is against us, and that Christians will be put to the test in how they choose to react and serve a world that is dedicated to bending the church to its will not only on this issue, but many (e.g. all) others as well. These are not questions that can be ignored or put aside for later. The path needs to be chosen now, or we will find ourselves in the middle of a war with no strategy, no plan, and much despair.

So let us consider together, as Christ's body and His church under whose Lordship we are under, how we should, need and must respond to the storm that is to come and that is already here.

Christians in Business (the current crisis)
I will keep this (relatively) short, because so, so much has been written about it already. I am going to say this in the nicest way possible, but I know it will offend somebody. Please read through it first.

My Christian family, if a fellow Christian chooses to cater to a "gay wedding," or something similar, you have no right to go and destroy them over it. Shame on you.

My Christian family, if you are not willing to stand up for your brothers and sisters who are being destroyed and wrecked by the world for not catering to an event, you are a coward. Shame on you.

We are called to encourage, exhort and correct in love. We are told that the family of faith is a family bound by the blood of Christ. Do you truly think this is not something that person struggled with? And if they came to a different conclusion than you through honest study and prayer, who are you to come between them and their Lord? Paul states it like this in Romans 14:3-4:
"Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand."
Now here Paul is talking about food sacrificed to idols, but the principle remains the same. There are going to be things that are difficult for people to decide what is right and what is wrong. They will stand in their integrity (or lack thereof) before the Master. We are not the Master, and therefore should leave it to Him whether His servants are acting with integrity and a clean conscience or not.

I will give a warning here, however: do not simply succumb to the pressure of the world and defy your conscience before God. That will be sin, and we are to follow Christ regardless of the consequences. You may lose your business, your home and everything you have worked for. If that is the price you pay, understand that there is a far greater reward for those who give up all in the service of their King. Do not take the easy way out and deny your Lord. Do what you truly believe is right, and follow Him no matter what.

Ministers (the coming crisis)
There will come a time, probably within the next 5 years, where a minister is going to be sued for refusing to service a "gay wedding." This is something that hits me personally, since I am a preacher. This is also something that will affect churches nationwide and is an area where decisions must be made now in order to avoid confusion and despair later. I am also going to be a bit harder in this section, because those in ministry should be able to understand the heart I am coming from with this.

Ministers, preachers and those employed by the church: you have no business being involved in the ceremony for a "gay marriage" ceremony. Biblically speaking, marriage is not just a promise of love. It is a covenant between a man, a woman and God. To invoke His Name to bind something that He has nowhere claimed bind-able is to 1) speak lies in His Name and 2) make yourself the decider of what God "really wants." You have no right nor authority to do either of these things.

Make no mistake, if you refuse, you will almost certainly come under fire of the most withering kind. You will be called horrible things (as I was privately a couple weeks ago), said you hate people, and possibly even threatened or arrested (depending on the country). Welcome to the history of saints who have given that and so much more. Regardless of what happens, though, you must stand firm. Remember, you are not to speak on your own nor of yourself, but that which comes from God.

All this being said, please, please always remember to preach, teach and speak in love. You can do more damage (and do it quicker) than nearly anyone else out there. It you speak out of bigotry or disgust, you will likely turn away souls from God for good. We are here to be salt and light. Now salt may hurt when put on a cut, but if put on gently in love it only burns for a little while and the recipient sees the point of it. If you grind it into the wound you are bringing unnecessary pain and causing that person to see God as a painful, harmful Master. In the same way Light, when given at the proper dosage, is good and helpful and healthy. But if you force someone to stare at the sun for too long you are going to damage their eyes so that light can no longer get in. You will have done such damage that they can no longer see the great gifts and joys that the Father does have in store for them.

Do not be someone who harms. Stand firm. Stand fast. And stand in the love of Christ for others above all else.

Personal Life (the aroma of death & life)
2 Cor. 2:15-16a
"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life."
Understand, Christian, that you must stand for the truth in love above all else. You may have those dear to you who come out to you to tell you they are gay. Do not deny and reject them the care you held for them at the first. Chances are they are coming to you with the most vulnerable and scary thing they have ever told you. You are to continue to be the fragrance of Christ to them and help them see His will, for their lives, whatever it may be. That may be choosing to fight it, accept it along with God's regulations for sexual conduct, or struggling to find definition and purpose in God's family. The choices you make could very well determine whether they continue seeking Christ or turn away from Him once and for all.

Colossians 3:12 gives us a very good idea of how to handle those around you (regardless of the circumstance you find yourself in), where Paul writes,
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,"
Furthermore, if someone comes to you saying that they have sinned in this way, do not recoil and cast them out. They, like you, need Christ's love and mercy. They need strength and encouragement not to fall again. Everyone has their own struggles and temptations. You would not cast out a kleptomaniac for messing up and stealing, nor someone who has difficulty not lying when they slip up. Most would not even throw out an alcoholic for their failure or gambler for theirs. Homosexuality is no different. It is a fight and struggle to deal with and it is far beyond time we understand that. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they cry out for help in following His Will. Let us be those who say "we are here, we are love, and we will help bring you to the One Who Redeems and Saves.

The Church (reactions and necessities)
The Church is facing a crossroads. There will come a time where you will have to decide what to do when someone who is gay, or a gay couple, decides to come into the building. I would strongly suggest that the decision be made as a church before that happens. Again, it will save much confusion and strife if done beforehand. I humbly suggest the following:

1) Do not ostracize, ignore, or lead with the questions about their sexuality. This is of no use. Get to know them as people first. If you are going to lead with judgment, they will leave immediately. Confronting someone's sin without knowing anything about them or building any sort of trust with them will get you nowhere.

2) Do invite them to study the Bible (and not just about sexuality) and church events. Chances are, you would not lead into a Bible study calling out all of a person's sins. In most cases we lead with the fact that all have sinned and fallen short, and that all are in need of God's mercy and grace. If the study goes long enough, they will bring it up. By the time they get to the point they are ready to give up everything to follow Christ in baptism, the choice will have been made whether they are really ready to follow or not. But let it flow naturally, like any other person you would study with.

3) Do not try and make someone change right there on the spot when you first meet and talk to them. Everyone has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Give time and grace, just as Christ gave you.

4) Do hold a Christian struggling with this issue accountable for their actions, in love. There is nothing loving about giving sin leeway in someone's life. Recognize that, just like every other person struggling with sin (aka: every person on the planet), they too need to be held to Christ's standard in everything. Just like you.

I know I have not answered every question, but neither was it my intent. Indeed it is my goal to have given a basic, Biblical framework so that individuals can figure out how to handle the various situations they can and will find themselves in. Above all, however, remember that we are held to one standard, Christ's, and nothing else matters. If we give up all then so be it. But let the reward we seek be the one from our Father in Heaven, and not the passing things of this existence.