Monthly Archives: June 2008

Jonathan: The Man Who Would Have Been King

I had a delightful opportunity to have lunch with one of my favorite Seminary professors. We had a great discussion over many topics. One side-topic that came up was Jonathan, the son of King Saul. In the sovereign providence of God, the Sunday School material I have been using with my men’s Sunday School class covered Jonathan and David the very week before!

My professor-friend said something quite profound. He said, “Nobody wants to be a Jonathan, but everybody wants to be a David.” This statement got us talking and, subsequently, had me thinking.

My professor friend is exactly right. You do not have to look very far today to see how much people are into themselves. It is as if everyone today (Christians included) live in such a way so as to expect the world to revolve around them.

Here is a tangible example: When was the last time you went to the grocery store? You drive through the crowded parking lot looking for a parking space. Then you notice a good spot close to the front door of the store and you go to park in that spot, until, that is, you notice a discarded shopping cart (or carts!) littering your parking spot. What makes this worse is when the cart return is just one spot over!!!!

The “I-Me” self-absorption of people today is shockingly bad. It seems that no one cares about anyone else. It is as if everyone is screaming “Serve Me, serve me–meet my wants.” It is sad to say that most people today choose churches on the basis of what they can get rather than what we can give.

When we turn to the Bible, we see a bright, shining example of what it is to put other people first. Jonathan, son of King Saul of Israel, is a great example of how we, as Christians, are to live to serve.

Israel, King Saul, and King David

Saul was Israel’s first king. The first time we see Saul is in 1 Samuel 9. Saul’s family, we are told, was wealthy and Saul, it is said, was a very handsome and tall man. Interestingly, the first time we see Saul doing something he is chasing his father’s donkeys, which had escaped.

Saul stands in sharp contrast to Israel’s second king–David. The first time we see David, he is a young shepherd and is simply overlooked by the family when the Prophet Samuel comes to visit. Samuel is looking to anoint the next king of Israel and all of Jesse’s sons, except David, pass before him, but no suitable king is found. David is the youngest (or smallest) of Jesse’s sons and he is off faithfully tending his father’s sheep. Samuel sends for and subsequently anoints David to be Israel’s next king.

Even though David is said to be ruddy and handsome, it is clear that Saul possesses all physical characteristics people look for in a king. Unfortunately, Saul possess none of the intangible qualities that God thinks are important. David possess the intangible qualities–qualities important to God.

Saul Rejected

Unfortunately, Saul’s reign is marked by failure and willful disobedience. 1 Samuel 13 and 1 Samuel 15 show Saul’s most notable failures. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive to perform a sacrifice. Instead, Saul takes it upon himself to make the sacrifice. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul does not completely destroy the Amalekites as he was commanded to do. For these instances of willful disobedience, we are told by Samuel, God will not allow Saul or his children to remain on the throne of Israel. In other words, the throne will be given to another family.

Jonathan: The Would-Be King

Jonathan was the prince of Israel. At the demise of Saul, Jonathan would have become king, had God not removed Saul. Unlike his father, Jonathan is a man of strong character and a man of unwavering devotion to God and to His will.

Jonathan the Warrior

Jonathan was known for being a warrior and he was pro-active in defeating the enemies of Israel. More importantly, however, was his attitude in battle. At one point Jonathan says, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

Note that Jonathan puts his fate in God’s hands. It seems as if he is willing to do whatever God will have him do and it seems that God is foremost in Jonathan’s mind. Jonathan’s attitude is similar to David’s attitude in the face of fighting Goliath. It is obvious that Jonathan is not Saul–he is much more concerned with the things of God.

Jonathan the Friend

Jonathan, being the son of Saul, would not be allowed to be the so-called “Crowned Prince.” Instead the “Crowned Prince” would be David. This is what makes the relationship between Jonathan and David seem so odd to us. Jonathan is best of friends with David–the man who would be on the throne of Israel in his place.

It is likely that Jonathan, being the oldest son of Saul, was privy to the goings on of Israel. It is likely he knew that his father (and therefore himself) was disallowed from the throne and it is likely he knew David was the new “prince,” having been anointed by Samuel.

1 Samuel 18 shows a remarkable friendship between Jonathan and David:

1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

When we read 1 Samuel 18 several things become shockingly apparent: (1) Jonathan gives David all the outward, physical symbols of being the crowned prince of Israel. It is one thing to have the presumptive new king to be a friend, it is another thing entirely to give him the symbols (your symbols!) that show him, not you, to be the crowned prince of Israel. (2) Jonathan seems to embody a phrase coined by a good friend of mine–Saul may be my father, but David is my king. (thanks Chris for this wonderful assessment!) (3) Jonathan knows his future does not include the throne of Israel and rather than try to kill David (as Saul tried to do), Jonathan seeks to protect David with his very own life.

Jonathan the Yahweh Worshiper

It is clear from Jonathan’s life that he held God and the things of God in much higher esteem than his father Saul did. Saul is the proverbial poster child for a life lived in superficial obedience or outright rebellion to God and His commands. Jonathan, on the other hand, is the perfect model of a life rightly submitted to God and His will–even if His will causes disappointment or trauma. Jonathan embodies the idea “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Living a “Jonathan” life

(1) We must be God-worshipers, not self-worshipers.

Saul’s life has one stunning, overriding component: Self worship. Saul gave superficial, lip-service obedience to God and His commands. Many of us do the same thing. We are more worried about what people think of us and how they see us rather than working to live right, biblically-based, and Christ-like lives.

The Broadway show Wicked is the back story to the Wizard of Oz. In this show, there is a song that Galinda (who would become Glinda the “good” witch) sings to Elphaba (who would become the wicked witch of the west)–it is called “Popular.”

Popular! You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper poise
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
Ooh! I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really counts

To be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start ’cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go

…It’s all about popular!
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed

So it’s very shrewd to be
Very very popular like me!

(Source; emphasis mine)

You can see the superficial mindset in this song. As Christians, we are not to be superficial. Knowing the right people, hanging with the right people or fixing your hair is not what we are supposed to be. For the Christian, we are to measure our lives by our Christ-likeness and our “fruits” of repentance and faith. The Christian life is not a popularity contest. In fact, if you live your Christian life to be popular, you are seeking man’s approval over and against God’s approval. A true Christian simply seeks to please God by actively conforming their lives and their persons to His will and His commands, regardless of what man thinks.

(2) We must be good friends to our fellow Christians.

Many of us see friends get the “good” jobs or the better paying jobs or a job at the “perfect” church and we instantly become resentful and bitter. It is so easy for us to forget that God is sovereign, we are not. He is directing things for His purposes. So, when we see something good happen to our friends (especially if we were competing against them for a job) we should rejoice for them. We should rejoice that God’s will has been revealed and done.

It seems that it is much easier to cry with someone who is hurting. We are to do that, but we must also rejoice with those who are rejoicing, even if that rejoicing comes at our disappointment.

(3) We must be warriors for the things of God.

We find it easy to point out moral decay in our society and in other people, yet we rarely if ever see these things in our own lives. Why? We become warriors for the things of us, not the things of God. We must place our own lives and our own agendas aside and take up the banner of God and His agenda.

Part of advancing God’s agenda is making ourselves over in His image. We are to order our lives in such a way that we grow to be more Christ-like and we need to call others to do the same.

We cannot spend our time and efforts fighting each other over our own agendas. We must take up the banner of the Lord and advance His kingdom, not our own.

Be a “Jonathan”

Far too many of us want the limelight that David was given. Certainly, if God wills, that limelight is not necessarily wrong. Life, though, is not about limelight; life is about obedience to God and His will. Put other people first and ask yourself this question, “What can I give?” and quit asking “What can I get?” Even if God calls you to be a David, adopt Jonathan’s attitude and, as a Jonathan, be the best David you can be.

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Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto….?

I love the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. The phrase “…Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided…” is a magnificent picture of God’s sustaining grace. I see God’s mercy every morning when I am allowed to wake up, for I am a sinner and deserve to be struck dead at any moment. God provides for me regularly, though I don’t deserve His provision–I am not rich and my wife and I are struggling to make the financial ends meet, but we have yet to miss a meal or a house payment.

God’s faithfulness is a wonderful thing. But God’s faithfulness may not be what you think it is. Great Is Thy Faithfulness suggests God is faithful to us. I think Chisholm gets this wrong. Follow me as I explain.

One of the things the author of the book of Hebrews wanted to encourage in his readers was hope. The author desired that the reader would “show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:11-12)

Hope is an important thing in Christianity. The hope that the author is describing is not a “golly-gee-whiz” hope. In other words it is not a “gee-I-hope-this-will-happen-but-I-don’t-know” hope. Rather, this hope is an assured hope–like we hope for the sun to rise in the morning. The hope the author of Hebrews is describing here is grounded in certainty.

The hope the author wanted the readers to have is a certainty that would lead to them being imitators of those having already inherited the promises of God. Men like Abraham, cited by the author, are a great example.

The author to the Hebrews describes this kind of hope, a hope based on God’s character as seen in His dealing with Abraham, the great Hebrew patriarch.

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

The certain-hope we are to have is not based on feelings, little angels or demons on our shoulders, or undigested pieces of meat. No, the hope we have is based on the word, the very character of God–what God says He will do, He will do.

(1) As Christians, we must trust in God’s word and His character as the basis of our certain-hope because when God says He will do something, it will happen.

The author to the Hebrews is making his case based on God’s interaction with Abraham in Genesis. God makes some extraordinary and fabulous promises to Abraham (Abram, at the time). In Genesis 12:1-4, God promised Abraham the following:

  1. Abraham will be made into a great nation
  2. God will bless Abraham and make his name great
  3. Abraham will be a conduit of blessing
  4. God will bless those who bless Abraham
  5. Anyone who dishonors Abraham, God will curse
  6. Abraham will be the conduit of blessing for the entire world

This is simply priceless. Abraham is given a truly unfathomable blessing by God.

Abraham obeyed and followed God. In Abraham’s life, however, we can see that God is true to his word in that he protects and prospers Abraham–in spite of Abraham’s sinfulness. In Genesis 12:10-20, God protects Abraham and Sarah in Egypt.  In Genesis 14, God gives Abraham a huge military victory.

When God called Abraham, Abraham had done nothing to be chosen. In fact, Joshua 24 tells us that when God called Abraham, Abraham was an idol worshiper. God’s call of Abraham was based on God’s good pleasure and His own purposes of election. Because Abraham did nothing to inspire God’s calling, he simply did not deserve anything that God promised him. This is God’s grace at work, pure and simple.

(2) We must see God’s taking of an oath as a further act of grace.

Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it?” I used to like that bumper sticker, but I don’t like it any more. Why? Because the theology is dead-wrong. Isiah 46 tells us:

8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
(Isaiah 46:8-11, emphasis mine)

God’s word and His purposes are the “gold-standard.” The afore-mentioned bumper sticker is absolutely wrong because it does not matter what you believe about what God says, it matters that God said it and that He will bring about what He has said. The bumper sticker should read “God said it, that settles it.”

When God made His promises to Abraham, it was absolutely certain that God would accomplish what He said He would accomplish in the life of Abraham. But, then, why do we see the episode in Genesis 15 where God makes an oath to Abraham?

God will sometimes take an oath to encourage us, as an act of grace. We see this in the life of Abraham. Genesis 15 shows God encouraging Abraham that his reward will be very great. Abraham, on the other hand, counters with a discouraged question. He asks God what will be given to him since he had no son, no heir, to pass this great reward on to. In fact, Abraham’s chief servant Eliezer of Damascus was going to be Abraham’s heir (as was the custom in that day). Abraham audaciously reminds God (as if God didn’t know) that He has not seen fit to give Abraham and Sarah a son to be the heir.

God then shows Abraham the stars and tells him that his offspring will be unable to be numbered. Abraham, we are told, believed God and that belief was credited to him as righteousness. But, later in the passage, we see Abraham’s doubts–even as God is instituting a covenant with him. Abraham says, “How will I know that I will possess it [the land that God has promised].” God institutes a covenant with Abraham (and his offspring, which he doesn’t have yet) with a bizarre ritual dividing several animals into two parts.

Abraham was questioning what God would do. Abraham is understandably confused–God has promised him great things. But, Abraham knows he has no blood-heir. He is wondering how God will accomplish all He has promised.

As Christians we do this often, don’t we? We doubt God’s promises.  All we need to do is look to Christ and the Cross to see that God is dead-serious about sin, its wages, our penalty, and His great love demonstrated in Christ’s death for our sin.

It is interesting to note that the bizarre covenant-ritual between God and Abraham leads directly to the cross. The “Path of Blood” covenant ritual is supposed to be for both parties (God and Abraham, in this case) to walk through, signifying that if one party breaks the covenant, the offending party will be cut in two, just as the animals are.

Notice that God prevents Abraham from ratifying the covenant. God causes a deep sleep to fall on Abraham (just like the deep sleep He caused to fall on Adam before the taking of the rib) and a great and dreadful darkness fell on Abraham–a clear sign that God Himself was present. Instead of Abraham and God walking through the Path of Blood, only God goes through–in two persons as signified by the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch. At this point, God binds Himself to pay Abraham’s penalty if Abraham or his offspring should break the covenant. From the rest of the Old Testament, we know that the Israelites broke the covenant early and often. While they did lose their land, God paid the price for His elect remnant in Christ on the cross. God paid Abraham’s offspring’s penalty.

This whole episode is not for God’s sake, but for Abraham’s. God had already promised everything to Abraham. And Abraham, as we shall see, was less-than-faithful. God re-assures Abraham through the covenant so that Abraham will understand the truthfulness of God’s word. This is an act of God’s grace. God condescends to demonstrate the truthfulness of His word to Abraham in a “language” Abraham will understand–the covenant ritual which was common in Abraham’s day.

This is precisely why the author to the Hebrews writes, “16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:16-18 )

Do you see what the author is saying? God had already made His verbal promises to Abraham and that was as good as gold. Since God cannot lie, this was as good as a done-deal. But, to show more convincingly, for the sake of Abraham, God took an oath upon Himself. And in that oath, He swore by Himself. So here we have the two unchangeable things: (1) God’s character as seen in His word and (2) His oath which was sealed in Himself. Here we have two equally phenomenal gold standards–God’s word and God’s oath–both of which are rooted in God’s absolutely perfect character.

God does not tell fibs; He cannot lie. When He takes an oath, it cannot be broken. This is a proverbial “double stamp.” God’s word is always trustworthy. It never needs to be confirmed by an outside source. God never consults anyone to see if what He is saying is true. Because God says something, it is by definition true. If at some point in History Past, God decreed that 2+2=5 we would all have learned that 2+2=5. That’s why His promise is Golden. It bears the “Gold Standard” of Himself.

An oath is taken with someone higher as a witness. How many times have you heard someone, usually in anger, say “With God as my witness . . .” They are making an oath. God is called to witness because He is the Greatest Person there can ever be. So when God makes an oath, who does He swear by? Only Himself. There is nothing greater than Himself.

(3) We must come to realize that when we speak of God’s faithfulness we are truly talking about God’s faithfulness to Himself and His promises, not to us.

The author to the Hebrews encourages his readers that God’s promises are our anchor–the anchor of our soul. A sure and steadfast hope capable of going into the Holiest of places. Our hope, our anchor, our ultimate promise from God is Christ Himself. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

Why would this be important? Why must we see Christ as God being faithful to Himself?

Let’s go back to Abraham. Abraham demonstrated a staggering amount of faithlessness, not faithfulness, after God made His promises. Here are some instances of Abraham’s faithlessness:

  1. Abraham’s scheme to lie to Pharaoh–If it was the case that God was going to give Abraham all the blessings promised in Genesis 12 (and we’ve seen it was), Abraham had nothing to fear from Pharaoh. Remember, Abraham lied to Pharaoh saying Sarah was his sister, not his wife (a half-truth). Abraham was afraid Pharaoh would kill him and take Sarah. He was faithless in that he did not trust God to protect him so that God could keep His word of blessing to him. After all, if Abraham was dead, God could not fulfill His promises–therefore Abraham would have to be protected by God. Abraham pulled this very same charade with Abimelech in Genesis 20.
  2. Abraham, at the request of Sarah, took the matters of childlessness into his own hands–To solve the problem of being childless, Sarah told Abraham to visit Hagar and, sure enough, a son, Ishmael, was born. Abraham demonstrated his faithlessness by not waiting on God to fulfill His promises in His time.

In the middle of Abraham’s unfaithfulness, God was faithful. But, God was not faithful to Abraham. God preserved, prospered, and defended Abraham in spite of Abraham’s sin of faithlessness. This is why Paul applies this principle in 2 Timothy 2:13 when he writes “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

God’s promises are absolutely trustworthy, they are our anchor.

God is faithful in His promises. But that may not mean what you think it means. I have often heard people say, “God was faithful to me and we accomplished _________.” I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that is a wrong way to think of God. God is not faithful to you. God is faithful to Himself.

Think about it. We are sinners; He is perfect. We are corrupt; He is incorruptible. We fail Him almost all the time; He never fails.

Just as God protected His own promise in protecting Abraham and Sarah, God protects His own promises in our lives as well, and that is God being faithful to Himself.

Romans 8:26-35 shows a beautiful of God’s faithfulness to Himself:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

This passage also shows the so-called “Golden Chain of Salvation:” 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God chooses to save certain people (that is what “foreknew” means, it means God chose. It does not mean God “knew beforehand”). Those whom God chose, He predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Those whom God chose and predestined He also called, justified, and [will] glorify.

For the Christian, this is a truly golden promise. Because God decreed to save certain people, He will absolutely bring it to pass–for His word is golden. Those whom God chose to save will absolutely be saved and God will bring them to glory–because He has decreed it and has taken an oath (for our sake) to do so–in the “Path of Blood” that led directly to the Cross.

This is precisely why most Christians believe in the so-called “Once saved, always saved” doctrine. The reformers put this doctrine in a better theological light when they referred to it as “Perseverance of the Saints.” The doctrine states that God will cause the truly saved to persevere in the faith. Certainly true Christians will fail and sin, even grossly. But God will, ultimately, cause the truly saved person to remain in the faith–acting and living in repentance and faith.

We must always be careful to think properly when it comes to God. It must always be the case that He is always the Benefactor and we are always the Beneficiary. Any other view turns the world upside-down.

God is truly faithful. But, His faithfulness is not to us, it is to Himself–to accomplish what He has purposed to do. We can say that God is faithful to us as long as we realize that God’s faithfulness to us is absolutely rooted in His faithfulness to Himself.

So, had I written the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness, I would have written the chorus like this: “…great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto thee.”

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Alcohol and the Southern Baptist Convention

You’re probably thinking: Not another alcohol post!!!! I myself have tired of reading them too. Much has already been said–some good and some bad. So, then, why another post on alcohol? I think there is something that has not been said and I will try, perhaps feebly at times, to explain.

THE ISSUE

For many years now, the people of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have long been known as teetotalers. Many churches use church covenants containing an anti-alcohol phrase like “We will abstain from the use and sale of alcohol as an intoxicating drink.” So, by tradition, the people of the SBC do not drink. Traditionally, Southern Baptists did not attend carnivals or play cards. It didn’t matter if the card playing was not related to gambling, card playing altogether was seen as a sin–no spades (that would make me very sad), no war (boring as it may be), and no poker (even if no gambling takes place). Unlike past days, church discipline is no longer done concerning matters of card playing. Today, however, alcohol is still a hot-button issue for many, and the issue itself is showing a chasm in the SBC.

THE CHASM

It would seem a deepening rift is emerging in the SBC related to the alcohol issue. There are two sides to the argument: 1) The side that argues all alcohol is wrong in every circumstance and 2) the side that argues Christians do have liberty to consume alcohol as long as they do not become drunk.

Argument 1: The Traditionalists

Traditionalists are, generally speaking, the so-called old guard, or at least they have been brought up in churches tied to the old guard. Old guard churches are typical 1950’s and 1960’s churches that are doctrinally conservative, preach the gospel, rabidly Arminian, and know what they believe.

The church life of the traditionalists is certainly not cult-like but it is marked by preaching and Sunday school teaching that is, at best, indoctrination. The goal of the church education programs is to educate the people what to believe and to eliminate all viewpoints to the “company line.”

Argument 2: The Libertarians

Libertarians (no, not “Liberals”) are, generally speaking, the so-called modern Baptist. Libertarians have been educated in churches which shatter the 1960’s mold of Southern Baptist structure–still doctrinally conservative and gospel-preaching, however. Libertarian churches are usually more Calvinistic (or at least not anti-Calvinistic), know what they believe, and, much more importantly, know why they believe what they believe.

Church life at a Libertarian church is marked by strong exegetical messages from the pulpit and Sunday School material which seeks to educate the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. The goal of the church education program is to make disciples so that every viewpoint, both inside and outside the church, can be engaged and considered in the light of biblical revelation. Usually, on issues that are not related to like faith (the must-haves of Christianity like the bodily resurrection of Christ) and like order (the must-haves to worship together like the mode and purpose of baptism), there is much room for friendly debate and disagreement (like whether the return of Christ will be pre-tribulation, pre-millennium, etc.).

Certainly these are general pictures so there is bound to be some overlap between the two groups. Remember these are “general” statements.

THE INTERSECTION OF ARGUMENTS

The traditionalists and the libertarians are now clashing over the issue of alcohol. To be sure, there are mistakes being made on both sides.

Mistakes the Traditionalists Make

(1) Traditionalists usually make the issue of alcohol a litmus test for true Christianity. In most cases, a person who does not agree with the traditional position on alcohol is branded as a non-believer or a liberal based on this one issue alone.

(2) Traditionalists usually argue their points on the basis of tradition and logic, leaving out the Bible, or worse yet, misquoting and misapplying the Bible to support their view that alcohol in every circumstance is a sin.

Mistakes the Libertarians Make

(1) Libertarians usually argue from the biblical text. Usually, their exegesis is quite good as they note the Bible never forbids drinking except for a Nazarite or a priest actively ministering in the tabernacle/temple. However, the arguments are made in such as way as to belittle or demean the opponent. It is as if the Libertarians use the alcohol issue as a litmus test as to a person’s spiritual maturity.

(2) There are some libertarians who believe this is an issue of license. They reason, since the scripture does not forbid drinking of alcohol, it is their right to drink and anyone seeking to deny that right is uneducated or, worse, not a true Christian.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY

The Bible never forbids drinking (except for a Nazarite or a priest serving in the tabernacle/temple). Even in the two forbidden cases, abstinence from alcohol is not life-long, but only for a time.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is favorable toward alcohol consumption while strongly affirming the damaging and destructive results of becoming drunk. In fact, Deuteronomy shows a quite favorable disposition to drinking:

22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, emphasis mine)

As Deuteronomy shows, drinking is permissible–even before God as an act of worship! But, on the other hand, Proverbs (among many other passages) shows the danger of overindulgence:

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:19-21)

As the Old Testament clearly shows, the issue is not drinking alcohol. The issue is drinking too much and becoming drunk.

The New Testament

The New Testament shows Jesus Himself drinking wine (at least as part of the Passover celebration) and turning water into wine at a wedding. Paul encourages Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach. Now, it is most likely the wine of that day was cut with water. The alcohol made the water drinkable as it killed bacteria, parasites, etc. Again, the New Testament clearly shows the issue is drunkenness, not drinking itself.

Silly arguments as some try to twist the Bible

Some strenuously argue that the wine and other alcoholic drinks in the Bible were not alcoholic at all. I’ve heard and seen an argument stating that wine is simply grape juice. Of all the words used for wine in the Bible, only one probably refers to grape juice. All the others are, by definition, referring to an alcoholic drink. Also, the Hebrew word commonly translated “strong drink” is referring to a malt-liquor of some kind–but it is undoubtedly alcoholic.

What is the bottom line? People in the Bible drank alcoholic drinks, and in some cases were invited to do so by God Himself. Drinking was not and is not a sin. As the Bible clearly states, drunkenness is the issue.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

(1) The libertarians need to realize that the drinking of alcohol is not a right. The Bible gives a Christian the liberty (not license) to drink alcohol as long as the drinking does not lead to drunkenness.

(2) The libertarians must understand and apply to the alcohol issue what Paul writes about eating meat sacrificed to idols. If fellow brothers are offended by the drinking of alcohol we must give up our liberty for the sake of their (weaker) conscience. In this case, any alcohol consumption must be done with the utmost discretion and probably in the privacy of one’s own home.

(3) The traditionals must realize that alcohol is not a litmus test for salvation. If someone chooses to drink, it does not make them less of a Christian.

(4) The traditionals must not make alcohol consumption (or the forbidding thereof) a matter of doctrine. To do so is to place an extra-biblical requirement on the faith and practice of a brother or sister in Christ. This, by definition, is phariseeism.

A BETTER PLAN

Rather than draft resolutions outlining an extra-biblical position, both sides should come together to affirm the dangers of drinking and the benefits of laying down our liberty for the sake of others. I would phrase things this way:

While the Bible allows for the consumption of alcohol, we have chosen to lay aside our freedom to drink so that we may serve the interests of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as an untainted witness in the eyes of the world.

We fully affirm that some will still choose to drink and that this is not a sin.

We encourage all persons to debate this issue in the truest sense of Christian love and civility.

Many blessings to you all, teetotalers and drinkers alike.

The Archangel

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Intentional Mediocrity

It is interesting and quite sad to see how the church parallels the world. Of course, the church should not look like the world, but in many ways we do–to our shame. One such way we look like the world is our “education” system.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in education and I see many problems (and that’s putting it lightly) in the American education system. While I may not comment on all the problems, these are, in my estimation, the biggest ones and they also can be found in our churches.

(1) Indoctrination, not education.

The American education system gave up on true education decades ago. True education involves development of the processes related to thinking and self-education. The goal of true education is to be able to think–to know what you know, to know what you believe and to know why you know it and why you believe it.

The American education system is now fully dedicated to indoctrination. Take, for example, the recent squabbles over teaching intelligent design along with evolutionary theory. Now, in a system truly dedicated to education, the teaching of these two points of view would not be a problem. A system dedicated to education would be happy to juxtapose these two systems of thought in order to think through all the issues related to the question of creation vs. evolution. When this happens, the students are the big winners–they are taught to think and, ultimately, they will know why they believe what they believe.

It is incomprehensible and unconscionable for an educational system to willfully and systematically keep their students ignorant–depriving students of the opportunity to know of alternate points of view and alternate world views. To do so instills a one-viewpoint set of information, which is indoctrination. For the American education system to pursue this as a its practice of “education” is nothing less than chasing mediocrity.

(2) Students are not taught how to think.

This is closely related to point number one. When I was a kid, I hated the “just because” answer. I always wanted a reason. Today, most students cannot give a reason for anything they believe because they are told what to think, not taught how to think.

Thinking takes time and effort and it is dangerous–someone with the same set of facts can come to a different and disagreeable conclusion. Thinking is based on the evaluation of one or many truth claims and an evaluation of the claim (or claims) in light of all available evidence to see which truth claim is correct.

Of course this is hampered by the bent of postmodernism to eliminate all truth claims as false and oppressive. Modern education has bought into this lock-stock-and-barrel.

I have seen a bumper-sticker that has become one of my favorites, it says: “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Teaching someone to think is the same thing. If you teach someone to think you will equip them for a lifetime. To intentionally neglect teaching the process of thinking is to court mediocrity.

(3) Competition is not allowed.

You may have seen this for yourself. You go to a high school graduation and listed under “Valedictorian” are some ten names. Now, I’m not all that old, but I remember when there was one valedictorian–the one with the best grade point average (of course, in the case of a tie in GPA, there could and should be multiple winners). Second place was for the “Salutatorian.” At typical graduations these days, there is a cadre of valedictorians and salutatorians. The two have become many.

Why is this a problem? Without competition, the vast majority of students see no need to push themselves in order to better themselves. In this system there is no need to take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof, to better your mind. If there are only winners, you cannot lose–no matter how stupid you actually are (Note: Stupid here means willingly throwing away a golden opportunity to learn or better one’s self).

Also, the education system seeks to spare the student the pain of losing, so competition is dumbed-down or eliminated altogether. This, of course, bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.

If one of the purposes of an educational system is to prepare its students for life in the real world (and it is), there must be winners and losers. Learning how to lose is as important as learning how to win and learning how to lose with dignity is as important as learning how to win with honor. Also, it is important to learn how to be tenacious in the face of overwhelming odds when a loss is all but guaranteed.

Here’s an example: When I was doing my student teaching, I was partnered with an amazing teacher who used the high school football team as an example. The football team was terrible. In fact, there were not enough people on the team to field an offense and a defense. There were only enough players to have the kids play both ways–offense and defense. I don’t think they won a game, but they never gave up. Their tenacity was phenomenal. As my cooperating teacher said (this is a paraphrase), “These kids are learning far more about life by getting their butts kicked week after week and still getting up, dusting themselves off and trying to make themselves better and win a game.”

Not quitting in the face of impossible odds is a virtue and it is one our schools have jettisoned by making competition a joke. A world without competition is, by definition, mediocre.

So, then, what does all of this have to do with the church? Plenty!

(1) Churches must educate their people in the knowledge and ways of God from the Bible

Like the world, the church spends its time indoctrinating people. If you look closely at much of what is called preaching and much of what passes as Sunday school material, it is easy to see that there is not much, if any, application. Sure, there may be a lot of information, but the preacher or the Sunday school lesson seldom tells us what to do with that information.

Biblical information without application leads to the false and deadly “internal versus external” dichotomy. Many people think (because of poor preaching and discipleship programs) that it doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters what you believe. Nothing could be further from the truth! Believing the right thing, the Bible, must show up in our actions. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James’ statement means that the connection between faith and the outworking of that faith is a non-negotiable. If we claim to be followers of Christ we must live our lives according to the Bible, not according to the world.

In a proper education program, churches will seek to instruct people in the doctrines of Christianity and how those doctrines are derived from the Bible. Equally important to this doctrinal instruction is the why–why we believe the doctrines. Doctrines alone do not define us because any true doctrine is, ultimately, biblical so the Bible is what defines doctrine and, therefore, the Bible ultimately defines us and our actions.

In this way, the church will instruct her people how to read, understand, and live the Bible.

(2) Churches must teach their people to think for themselves.

In high school, I had an amazing teacher for my British Literature class. He introduced us to the concept that a proper educational program will, by necessity, if the program does its job properly, eliminate the need for a teacher. The idea here is that a properly-educated person will be able to teach him or herself. Is that not the goal of teaching students to read? So they can read books and, thereby, educate themselves?

The goal of a church’s discipleship program must be about teaching the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. This involves much effort to help people “Rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A wide-spread, far-reaching, and well-educating education system is not optional. We are commanded (by inference) by God to love Him with our minds. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Matthew 22:37, which is Matthew’s exposition of the Deuteronomy passage)

The church must equip her people to do these things if we are to fulfill the Great Commission mandate to “Make Disciples.” Anything less is a sin.

(3) Churches must teach their people to better themselves by intentionally becoming more Christlike.

Suffering is not popular today. Whether it be the world trying to protect students from the suffering of losing or the church trying to preach and teach a suffering-free health and wealth gospel, suffering is off the table. So, it should not surprise us that at the first hint of suffering, church people head for the door.

If we take the life of Job and see what is being played out there we can learn that there is great potential in suffering. In his book of poetry on Job, John Piper rightly suggests Job, through his suffering, was given a great gift–to see God as He really is, in all of His magnificence. The title of Piper’s final chapter is “Unkindly you have kindly shown me God.” Job suffered greatly (at the hands of God, I might add) and he benefited greatly from his suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. We only need look at Hebrews 12 to see that we are to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This means that we are not to quit–even in the face of tremendous and life-threatening opposition.

Furthermore, the church must teach her people to struggle to become more and more Christlike as they seek to live a rightly-discipled life. Paul writes of his struggle:

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

As Paul struggled and pressed on, so we must struggle and press on. We must struggle and discipline ourselves to be more Christlike today than we were yesterday. We must live the Bible more today than yesterday.

We should not be surprised when people quit coming to church or leave our churches or when high school students completely reject the Christian faith when they get to college. We have not been diligent in equipping our people, and the statistics of decline and our living like the world show that.

Similarly, we should not be surprised when our churches or The Southern Baptist Convention struggles with certain issues like worship style, alcohol, and spiritual gifts. The main fight is between the Indoctrinated and the Educated. The educated are offending the indoctrinated with their biblical arguments and the indoctrinated offend the educated with their often-superficial proof-texting.

If we look at the history of higher education, we quickly and easily see the church led the way in education. After all, Harvard and Yale were originally chartered as schools to train ministers of the Gospel. The church once led the way and it must do so again. If we are to fulfill the imperative of the Great Commission to “make disciples,” we must be about the business of educating our church people, so that they become an army of lay-person scholars able to “rightly divide the word of truth”, enabling them to believe the right thing and live the right way–according to the scriptures.

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