Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Merely academic or experiential?

If it is true that the Holy Spirit gives the Christian believer abilities and gifts of service for the building up of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) and enables powerful and effective service for Christ (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8), then, is it not a good thing to pray for the Holy Spirit to so equip and empower our lives? Is it not right to pray that our lives be conduits through which the Holy Spirit can flow for the benefit of others (John 7:38-39)? Is it not right to pray that our Christian service might be in demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4), so that we might be useful and effective, to the glory of God?

Such prayer, of course, is simply prayer for an experience of the Holy Spirit. Now, I know that any talk of experiencing the Holy Spirit makes some Christians nervous, but I firmly believe that God wants us to experience the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. He is “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). For the Christian, the Holy Spirit is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). So, prayer for an experience of the Holy Spirit is prayer for Christ’s active working in and through our lives. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In saying this, He was reminding us that we cannot accomplish anything of eternal significance apart from the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—working in and through us.

It seems that many Christians have a complacent attitude toward the Holy Spirit. We believe the Holy Spirit came to the Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and we believe the Holy Spirit came into our lives when we trusted Christ, but what about our experience of the Holy Spirit in the here and now?

Did you know that our Lord Jesus encourages us to pray for the Holy Spirit? It’s recorded in Luke 11:5-13:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The theological study of the Holy Spirit is called “Pneumatology”. For too many of us, the Holy Spirit is only a topic for theological discourse—purely academic. But, Jesus wants believers to have more than a merely academic knowledge of the Holy Spirit; He wants us to have an experiential and practical knowledge of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person—He is the Spirit of Christ—He is God—therefore, we can know Him and experience Him.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Prayer for the Holy Spirit will move our Pneumatology out the realm of the merely academic into the realm of the experiential and practical, and will move us from complacency to being vibrant witnesses to the risen Christ.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

“Because of His great love…”

Pay attention!

I am a Trinitarian. That is to say, I believe that God—the God who is revealed in Scripture—is one, yet three—One eternal God who exists or subsists eternally and simultaneously in three distinct, co-equal Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I have great appreciation for the historic definitions set down in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and believe them to be faithful to biblical teaching.

In affirming the doctrine of the Trinity, I reject a teaching currently popular in certain Pentecostal, Apostolic and Word-of-Faith circles that maintains that God has “manifested himself as Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, and is the Holy Spirit in the Church.” This teaching--called “Modalism”—rejects the Trinity and asserts that God is one in His Person and has merely changed forms or “modes” at various times. Modalism is contrary to biblical Christianity, and was soundly rejected as heresy by the church around the year 262 A.D. (proving that “there is nothing new under the sun”).

Biblical Christianity rejects any theology which confuses the Persons of the Trinity. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father: three distinct Persons, yet one God in essence. It is important to keep in mind the distinctions between the Persons of the Trinity, as it will save us from much confusion as we read the gospel accounts. For instance, there is this oft-asked question: “If Jesus is God, then to whom was He praying in the garden of Gethsemane? Was He praying to Himself?” The answer, of course, is that the Son was praying to the Father.

Biblical Christianity also rejects any theology that makes the Son out to be anything less than very God. In a society such as ours, in which there are a multiplicity of religions, Christians must keep in mind that Jesus is fully God. In the person of Jesus—the promised Messiah born in Bethlehem to a Jewish virgin named Mary—the eternal Son became a man, without ceasing to be God. 100% God and 100% man: That’s my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No one less than the sinless God-Man can save lost, helpless and hopeless sinners like me.

We must also remember that biblical Christianity rejects any theology which would reduce the Holy Spirit to some kind of impersonal force, presence or emotional feeling. The Holy Spirit is not some kind of pantheistic presence, or a good “feeling” that comes over one when the mood is right. On the contrary, the Bible reveals the Holy Spirit as God, who was active in Creation (Genesis 1:2), present in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ (e.g., Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:1, 14, 17-21; John 1:32-33; Acts 10:38), and who was the power which raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). The Bible reveals the Holy Spirit as present and active in the Church as the agent of salvation (e.g., John 3:5-8), creating faith, applying the saving work of Christ, indwelling and sealing the believer (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13-14), and equipping and empowering for service (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

Why do I bring up all this “heavy” theology? Because I am very concerned that far too many professing Christians, in far too many churches and denominations today, are riding loose with theology. The American Church, in general, is not in good shape at all, and some so-called “Bible-believing” churches aren’t any better. For years, I’ve observed a great theological complacency among many professing Christians, fueled in large part, I think, by a gross misunderstanding and misapplication of Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many of these professing Christians are highly reluctant to question any false teaching, lest they be guilty of “judging” (although, interestingly and ironically, I’ve run into a few over the years who will question and vehemently resist sound teaching). For years I have also observed an unbelievable amount of gullibility in some church circles, to the point that it appears some will accept any spiritual teacher who claims to be led by the Holy Spirit (or has the title “bishop”, “apostle” or “prophet”), especially if he or she also claims to speak in tongues.

Some, no doubt, would respond, “So what! What does it matter?” “Doctrine” is seen as a bad word today by a whole lot of people in the pew. Interestingly, the Athanasian Creed begins with this sentence: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [or “universal” Christian] faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” Really? Really! You see, doctrine matters. What we believe can spell the difference between heaven and hell.

The apostle Peter, writing near the end of his life, said, “And we have something more sure [“more sure” than what he and James and John personally saw and heard on that mountain where Christ was transfigured before their eyes, see Matthew 17:1-8], the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention...” What is this “prophetic word” that Peter was referring to? Read on: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21 my emphasis). Peter said we “do well to pay attention” to Scripture. That’s why so many churches and individual Christians are in the sad shape they’re in today: They have failed to pay attention to the Bible!

O reader, doctrine does matter! We must pay attention to God’s written word! Our eternal destiny depends upon it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An addendum to my post on “Slavery and the Bible”

While the apostle Paul does not outright abolish slavery, he does pronounce it to be “contrary to sound doctrine”. See 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (emphasis added):

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Thank you, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, for pointing this out in your recent T4G message.

Read my post on “Slavery and the Bible”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Slavery and the Bible

I am of the conviction that the Bible is God’s word written, and is therefore true and authoritative. I don’t claim to understand everything in the Bible—in fact, I would say there’s more in there I don’t understand than things I do understand—but I still accept it all as God’s word.

The past few days, I’ve been involved in a heavy Facebook conversation with an acquaintance, who also happens to be a student at a major liberal seminary on the east coast, about the Bible, and whether or not it is entirely trustworthy. In our conversation, the issue of slavery in the Bible came up. You need to know that the Bible’s apparent endorsement of slavery is a major sticking point for many, especially Black people, when it comes to accepting the Bible as God’s infallible, inerrant and authoritative word.

Well, this morning, after thinking about our conversation and my previous comments, I decided to write once again to clarify and expand my views on this issue of slavery in the Bible. So that others, hopefully, may be encouraged to think deeply and biblically about this very sensitive and controversial topic, I’ve my latest comment below. I’ve never thought a whole lot about slavery in the Bible before now, because the issue never really bothered me, even though I’m a descendent of slaves. I’ve also never read anything about this topic. So, if you have any thoughts or insights on this topic, please feel free to comment.


You’ve forced me to think more deeply about this issue of slavery than I’ve ever needed to, and that’s good. Nevertheless, I still cannot come down on the side that would have man sitting in judgment over the Scriptures (and over the God who inspired them).

The regulations for slaves that God gave Israel (e.g., in Exodus 21 or Deuteronomy 15) describe a system far different than American slavery (or the Egyptian slavery that Israel experienced). Two things, in particular, stand out: slavery under the Mosaic Law wasn’t relegated to a specific race or culture outside Israel, and slaves were not involuntarily slaves for life and from generation to generation. The recurring refrain in the Mosaic Law is, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt”.

As un-politically correct as it sounds, I don’t think one can make a BIBLICAL case that slavery, in and of itself, is immoral. I don’t think you can demonstrate that from Scripture. What makes slavery immoral—and this would apply to American slavery (or modern day human trafficking, for that matter)—is how, and for what purpose, it is carried out or practiced. American slavery was an evil institution for the fundamental reason that it was based on racism—it targeted an entire race of people, for life, and from generation to generation—and it involved physical, spiritual and emotional brutality and deprivation for those so enslaved.

Although the Bible never commands the abolition of slavery, I do see in the New Testament the seeds for what eventually became the abolition of slavery in Europe and the Americas. Take, for instance, this passage in Philemon (vv.15-17):

“For this perhaps is why he [Philemon’s slave, Onesimus] was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me [the apostle Paul] your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”

Or, these verses in Galatians (3:26, 28):

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, rather than endorse or give approval to slavery, I believe the overall message of the Bible undermines slavery, but not because slavery is wrong in and of itself. Rather, the Bible undermines slavery because in Christ people are made equals, and it is difficult to keep in slavery one whom you view as your equal before God.

This is poignantly illustrated in the life of Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Are you familiar with his life story?). In short, Allen was converted to Christ after hearing a Methodist preacher. His slave master was so impressed by the change in Allen and how Christianity made him a better slave (and I can’t help but think of Ephesians 6:5-8), that he gave permission for Allen to invite a Methodist preacher to hold meetings at the plantation. As a result of the preaching that the slave master heard at these meetings, he, too, was converted to Christ. After he was saved, the slave master realized he could no longer keep slaves and allowed Allen to work and buy he and his brother’s freedom.

So, I believe the Bible ultimately undermines the institution of slavery. Have you ever considered that, perhaps, God prescribed slavery in the Old Testament as a concession to the culture of the people, similar to what he did with His laws on divorce (cf. Matthew 19:3-9)?

Additionally, as I’ve already stated [in a previous comment], I think we err in thinking of slavery as inherently wrong or evil, because if slavery is inherently evil, then it is also wrong to be a slave of God and of Christ. I know you think it ridiculous to make the comparison, but isn’t it interesting that God inspired the writers of Scripture to use the terminology of slavery? I think that fact is significant. As I stated before, whether we like it or not, we’re somebody’s slave—either a slave of sin, which leads to eternal death, or a slave of Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life. Given the choice, I will gladly embrace my status as a SLAVE of Jesus Christ.