"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Pondering More than a Moment on the Atonement

The Atonement in the Christian faith is defined as the reconciliation of a God with sinful people through the death of Jesus Christ. In biblical language, the Atonement means Christ died for our sins (I Corinthians 15:3). 

One's view of the Atonement determines one's conceptions of God. Both attraction to and repulsion of Christianity centers around the cross on which Jesus died.

One either appreciates a loving God as the source of Christ's death or one abhors the idea that a loving God had anything to do with Jesus' death. The point of controversy in modern Christianity centers on how one views the cross of Jesus Christ. 

It is for this reason we all need to ponder the atonement for more than a moment. The atonement is Christianity in brief. The Apostle Paul stated, "I resolve to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).  If the crucifixion of Jesus is that important to Paul, then we better figure out why.

In our day, antagonism toward the Atonement often originates from the minds of those who wish to protect their image of a loving God from the charge He put His Son to death. "How," we are asked, "Can a loving God be a child abuser, putting his own Son to a cruel death on a Roman cross?" 

We respond that the Atonement of Christ is best understood through the Scriptures. God forgives sins, the Scriptures tell us, but this His free forgiveness comes at great cost to Himself and to the Son of His love. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). In fulfilling this eternal Law, Jesus Christ died for our sins that we might be forgiven, and resting in that full and complete forgiveness, live our lives now more abundantly (John 10:10).   

There are those who say, "But because God is love, He can forgive our sins without the death of His Son." That's not what God says. God established His Law, and His Law states, "the one that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). Sinners die. But God made Jesus the Messiah "who knew no sin, to become sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21). So "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In other words, Jesus fulfilled the Law by living the life sinners should have lived and dying the death sinners deserve to die (separated from the mercy of a just and righteous God).  Christ's resurrection from the dead is the "seal of approval" that God accepts the sacrifice of His Son in the stead of sinners (see Romans 1:4). 

This is the Atonement.

Problems with the Atonement form in the minds of people today because our culture expunges, extinguishes or explains away any consciousness of sin. When this happens, there is no need for Atonement. To tell people that Jesus died for sinners when nobody feels sinful makes the Atonement as fanciful as Goldilocks or the Fairy Princess. 

Of course, it is impossible for us to convince people of sin. That is the Holy Spirit's job (John 16:8). When we yell and scream at the culture around us in order to convince people of the sin within us, all we do is try to do the job that only the Holy Spirit is equipped to do. In fact, I'll go further. The more you seek to convince of sin, the more the world will ignore their sin. It is the love of God shown to sinners through you to sinners hat leads sinners to repentance.

In other words, when the love of God is magnified and bursts forth in your heart through the apprehension and the appreciation of Christ's death for your sins, then you will die to yourself in order to love sinners in the same manner Jesus has loved you (John 13:34-35). 

This is the value of the Atonement.

During the Fall of 2017 I am preparing a 12 week series on the Atonement entitled "Why the Cross?" and hope to show the great power of understanding the substitutionary, penal death of Jesus Christ for sinners. 

I've already been blessed in the preparation of the series. It will be available via podcast beginning on August 17, 2017.

The Normal Practices of a New Covenant Church

Many "reformed" churches are dying. The authoritarian male elders have no idea why. They think it is "because most people today don't accept the clear teaching of Scripture." The reality is those church elders are stuck in a Hebrew Old Covenant rule of law. The vapor of death descends from the law-oriented lips of leaders who believe they have "spiritual authority" over people.  Their demand for obedience from God's people is the natural outgrowth of their false belief that they are God's appointed vicars to His church.

More than a few church elders today seek to "rule over" Christ's people in the manner Moses and the Hebrew priests and prophets ruled over Israel. Even worse, these men actually believe God wants them to rule over His people. The biblical truth that the Old Covenant system of worship, including authoritarian elders, has become obsolete to God (Hebrews 8:13) is a foreign language to them. 

For those men who wish to rule like Old Covenant leaders in Israel, I have a simple question. 

In I Kings 1, King David of Israel is dying. He already has four wives (including Bathsheeba, Deborah and Haggith), and many concubines. As King David lies on his death bed, the elders of Israel search the country far and wide for a "beautiful young woman" to "lie with the king" and "keep him warm" (v. 2). The cultural custom of Old Covenant Israel was that the kings of Israel could have many wives and many concubines. Kings of nations in Old Testament times must be virile and able reproduce many sons. 

Here is my question: When a Christian pastor is sick and lying on his death bed, do the church elders call for "a young, beautiful woman to strip and lie beside him in bed to keep him warm?" If not, why not? This practice was as much a part of Old Covenant Israel as worship on the Sabbath, paying tithes to the Temple, etc.... Why do church elders today pick and choose which laws and practices of the Old Covenant Scriptures they will follow? 

Not one Hebraic civil, ceremonial or moral law is binding on a Christian. Every one of the Old Covenant practices of Israel pointed to the coming Messiah but is now obsolete when it comes to the people of God.

Jesus Christ has come. 

The revelation of God in "the law of Israel" has progressed to the full and final revelation of truth in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All the ceremonies, civil ordinances and legal commands of the Old Covenant way of life have now been made obsolete. The righteousness that sinners need must be received as a gift from God through faith in Who Jesus is and what the Christ has done (Philippians 3:9). 

So what "law" do we believers in Christ have over us?

Only one. It's called the Royal Law of love.
"A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. In this manner, you must love one another. By this love will all know that you are My disciples."   (John 13:34-35).
Think about this for a moment. Are you truly loving someone else as Jesus loves you? That means are you thinking selflessly, serving sacrificially, doing what you do for the ultimate good of the one being loved, without regard for your own welfare, benefit or reputation? If you can answer that question with "Yes, I am!" then do what you are doing, and don't worry what others say. If not, then stop doing what you are doing. It's that simple.

That's how sin is defined for the Christian. We don't need any other law. For example, you can't take another woman as your own and truly love your wife the way Jesus loves you. You only need one law to understand what sin is, and that is the Royal Law of love.

Of course, we all fail the Royal Law. But when that happens we own our sin rather than point our finger at someone else. We humbly seek forgiveness for not loving as we are loved by Jesus. We quickly and easily seek forgiveness of others because we've learned to rest in the forgiveness we have from Him who loves us. We don't draw our identity from our failure. We are who we are because of His victory.

That's New Covenant living.

Jesus told us that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). In Biblical language, "heaven and earth" is Old Covenant Israel. The law of Israel has passed away. Any Christian church which bases its governmental structure and principles of operation along the same lines Hebrew leaders governed and led Old Covenant Israel is missing the Spirit of God and will die a legal death.



So what should be the normal practices of a New Covenant Church?

I will list them:

New Covenant Primacy

On top of the Mount of Transfiguration, the mountain shook, the glory of God descended, and Moses (the Old Covenant Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Old Covenant Prophet) disappeared, and only the transfigured Jesus remained. Then the voice of God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, acouete auton (hear Him!).” Any church that emphasizes to followers of Jesus instructions on how to live from the Old Testament Law and/or Prophets will be a church that teaches, “if you will…THEN GOD will.” Indeed, the Old Covenant is conditional. But Jesus is “the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets,” all the blessings and promises of God are “yes and amen in Christ" (II Corinthians 1:20). Therefore, our desire this side of the cross should be “to know Him, and the power of His resurrection” and to “rest in His righteousness, and not my own that comes from my obedience to any law” (Philippians 3:7-11). In other words, we are to get our identity, and our marching orders,  from Jesus Christ, who told us, “By this will everyone know that you are mine, if you love one another as I love you.” (John 13:35). For more information read Radically New (2016).

Limited Pastoral Authority

Contrary to the Old Testament, leadership in the New Covenant is based on a person’s giftings by the Holy Spirit. I believe the New Testament teaches there is no inherent spiritual authority in church position or office. Jesus Christ has all spiritual authority and those who know Him serve one another in the power and grace of His Spirit within us. Old Covenant style leadership fights for control; New Covenant style leadership serves in love. In a modern culture where governments grant tax exemption and legal requirements for churches, pastors may have legal authority, but the notion there is a position of spiritual authority over anyone is not a practice Jesus taught (see Matthew 20:25-26). For more information read Fraudulent Authority (2017)

Broad Evangelical Unity

In my experience, very little good is done when we evangelicals make it a priority to tell others what we are against. The Gospel is Good News. Gospel preachers are neither moralizers nor motivators. We are called to proclaim as broadcasters the Good News in the highways and hedges of life. We in the church are to only report the Good News, we are not called to make it (see John 17:23). I’d rather the world and culture know me for what I’m for (the person and work of Jesus Christ) than for what I’m against. For more information read Hardball Religion (2010).

Full Gender Equality

In the New Covenant Church, men and women are equals. What distinguishes us from one another is our giftedness. Jesus Christ is the sole authority over His church, for “there is Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).  We are the collective body of Christ; He alone is our Head. In a New Covenant Church, servant leadership is determined by giftings, not gender. For more information read What’s with Paul and Women (2014).

Shared Grace Theology

Those whose lives have been changed by the Gospel will tell you the most transformative truth is “The Gospel message of God's grace in Jesus Christ." This also should be the message of every Christian teacher. It should be the theme of every Christian church. It should be the philosophy of every Christian ministry. Christians must know grace to know Christ. Therefore, if you want to get a feel for whether or not a church shares the grace theology of the New Testament, ask yourself how many prisoners, down-and-out, homeless and helpless, invalid and disabled, needy persons the Christians who gather at that building are reaching in the community - not only on Sundays but throughout the week. The message of grace first transforms what a person thinks and feels; then it will transform how a person lives and loves. For more information see Happiness Doesn’t Just Happen (2002). 

I recently heard that a group of church elders read my above statements regarding "The Normal Practices of a New Covenant Church,"  and responded, "That's so opposite of the way we practice things at our church."

I'm glad that my writing was clear and understandable to the point they could see the differences. Their lack of implementing New Covenant principles, as well as their emphasis on Old Covenant authoritarian leadership, may be a couple reasons their church will continue to decline in Kingdom influence. 

"Always" by Irving Berlin: A Wonderful Love Story

Irving Berlin and his wife Ellen (1926)
Today I had the pleasure of listening to Douglas Newell, director of the Enid Symphony Orchestra, and his wife speak and sing at the Enid Rotary Club. Doug told a fascinating story about  Irving Berlin .

Many of us know the composer Irving Berlin for his famous compositions like God Bless America or White Christmas. But there is a lesser-known song that Berlin composed in 1926 called Always. The back story of the composition of that song is what Doug Newell shared at Rotary.

It seems that Berlin's first wife died of typhoid after contracting the disease on their honeymoon. Berlin remained a widower until he fell in love with a young heiress named Ellin Mackay, the daughter of Clarence Mackay, who was the prominent head of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company. Because Berlin was a pauper musician and Ellin a very prominent socialite, their lives were followed in every possible detail by the press, which found the romance of the poor immigrant from the Lower East Side and the young heiress a good story.

Ellin's father opposed the match from the start. He went so far as to send his daughter off to Europe to find other suitors and "to forget Mr. Berlin." However, Irving Berlin continued to woo Ellin. He eventually won her heart

Ellin's father vowed that their marriage "would only happen 'over my dead body.'" There was no way his prosperous daughter would ever be married to this "poor pauper of a musician." 

Irving and Ellin chose to elope. 

On the morning of their wedding, Irving Berlin wrote the song Always. He put the sheet of music and lyrics in a gift box which he handed to his soon-to-be wife, with a note that said, "All the royalties of this song will be yours."

The words of the song are as follows:

Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I'll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

I'll be loving you, oh always
With a love that's true always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I'll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

By the time of Ellin Berlin's death, she had earned millions from the royalties of Always.

Douglas Newell said that as a boy he would often listen to his father sing this song to his mother on their way home from church on Sunday nights in South Carolina.  It forever made an impression on him.

What a great story. 

And what a great song. 

Can One Be a Christian and a Political Progressive?

The person best suited to answer the question "Can one be a Christian and a political progressive?" is one of the leaders of the Liberal Democrat Party in the United Kingdom. Some believed he was destined to become the next unrivaled leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.

His name is Tim Farron.

Yesterday, June 14, 2017, Tim Farron shockingly resigned from the Liberal Democratic party.

In his resignation speech, Tim said,  "To be a political leader...especially of a progressive liberal party in 2017... and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching... has felt impossible to me." 

Let me tell you a little about Tim Farron. He's a remarkably astute liberal politician, with a passion for classical liberal government, and a love for the people of England.

And, he is a committed Christian.

In the fall of 2013, I went to London, England with my friend Senator Norman Lamb for a WW II heritage tour of England and France. We stopped by U.K's Parliament to visit with one of England's most powerful politicians, a Liberal Democrat leader also named Norman Lamb.

It was while researching the United Kingdom's Norman Lamb that I first became aware of this young, up-and-coming Liberal Democrat politician named Tim Farron. Tim has long been a rival to Norman Lamb from the same Liberal Democrat party. I began following Tim Farron from a distance because of what I learned about his Christian convictions.

Tim Farron has never hidden his evangelical Christian faith. He's a committed follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ. After being excoriated by the press for his views that "gay sex is a sin," Tim responded with a biblical axiom, "the Christian teaching is that we are all sinners."

But soon Tim Farron realized that the press and fellow liberal politicians were far more interested in what Tim privately believed about sin than they were about what Tim publicly declared about poverty. It wasn't enough that he was a classical political liberal and believed that religion had no place in the public realm. The liberal progressives of 2017 increasingly have made known their position that they want no one in government who privately believes differently than they.

That's intolerance, not liberty.

The scary part in Tim's resignation speech makes it clear that liberal progressives in 2017 are the most intolerant people of all.
I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and Who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society."
Progressive liberals, in both the United States and England, are creating a religious litmus test over whether or not one can serve in government. Liberal Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders said last week Christians are not the "type of people" that should be in government.

The world is changing. Hostility toward the Christian faith is increasing.

It used to be persecution against Christians was something you read about in history books. Now it's something you read about in the newspaper. Persecution of Christians used to occurr in third-world countries ruled by totalitarian dictators. Now it seems persecution is occurring in Western Civilization within countries ruled by liberal progressives.

Give me old fashioned liberalism.

Give me liberty.

2017 progressive political liberalism is totalitarian governmental fascism in disguise.

Get ready America.

Soon, to be a follower of Jesus Christ might very well cost you.

On the bright side, true revival is the flower formed from the seed of suffering.

In the end, more people will know the love of Christ and love other people the way Jesus loves sinners because Christianity is the only answer to man's private sinful dilemma.

Click here to read the full text of Tim Farron's resignation speech.

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Restrictions on Women, and Eternal Subordination

Recently a letter was sent from International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond to all missionary leaders regarding a paper under review regarding the official position of the IMB regarding women in ministry, women on the mission field, and a woman's subjection to men.

The paper makes official the "complementarian" view of the International Mission Board.

For those of you unfamiliar with the meaning of the word complementarianism, I would encourage you to read this article entitled Complementarianism as a Movement.

Many Christian men and women hold to complementarianism.

However, the problem with the IMB position paper on complementarianism that is now being formulated is the same problem the IMB had ten years ago when I served as a trustee. Back then a group of men took it upon themselves to narrow the doctrinal requirements for serving as a Southern Baptist missionary. They formulated doctrinal papers on spiritual gifts and baptism which stated positions that went far beyond the Baptist Faith and Message. They then demanded applicants agree to the doctrinal positions before serving as a missionary. I objected back then when the issue was forbidding anyone with a "private prayer language" or anyone who was "baptized by immersion in a church that didn't believe in eternal security."

It took ten years but those two poor doctrinal policies were eventually reversed.

Now the issue is complementarianism.

It seems the International Mission Board is moving to prohibit anyone from serving on the field who will not agree that complementarianism is the biblical view of women within the organization structure of the IMB. In the past, women were considered "Team Leaders" as were men. However, in the new complementarian mandate, IMB leadership is going so far as considering removing the title "Team Leader" from any woman, referring instead to her as "the Team Leader's wife."

According to complementarianism, a woman is not to serve in a position of leadership because it would place her in authority "over men." Consistent with that view, it is being proposed that no woman can lead anybody at the IMB in the future. She can only support her man who leads.

What is most serious of all, the paper under formulation is using the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father as the theological basis for the subjection of all women to the authority of men within the International Mission Board.  That means, a woman is to be eternally subject to the authority and will of the man, just as Jesus is eternally subject to the authority and will of the Father.

The idea of equality in the Trinity and between men and women is anathema in the complementarian view. Nearly 10 years ago I wrote about the false doctrine of eternal subordination, a view that was gaining traction in the Southern Baptist Convention then.

I never dreamed I would see the day when it would be implemented as back-door policy at the IMB.



Bernie Sanders Is a Danger to Religious Freedom

This past Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Senator Bernie Sanders angrily shouted down Russell T. Vought, President Trump's nominee for Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. One would hope the American public could watch this horrible exchange, but for some reason, our government has chosen to remove the video from the public square.

Why was Senator Sanders so angry? It seems Sen. Sanders believed Vought was unsuitable for public office because Mr. Vought believes that mercy from God is found only through faith in Jesus Christ. Someone with that kind of religious belief, says Sanders, "is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about." 

Huh?

David French of the National Review pinpoints the trouble behind Sanders religious test for public service:
This is a disgraceful and unconstitutional line of questioning from the man who came close to being the Democratic nominee for president. He’s not only imposing a religious test for public office in direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution, he’s gone so far as to label this decent man — who’s seeking to serve his country in a vital role — as “not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” Vought expressed entirely orthodox Christian beliefs. There is nothing “extreme” about his statements, and they mirror the statements of faith of countless Christian churches and schools across the land. Are these believers also not fit for public office? I’ve written that Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God. I suppose that means America’s not “about” me, either.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford warned that Sander’s comments “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.”

This week I will be writing about a couple of problems we face within the Southern Baptist Convention. However, those problems pale in comparison to the outright attack against Christians, exampled by Senator Bernie Sanders.

David French rightly points out that Christians can and do believe Jesus Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and Senator Sanders job is to protect the right of orthodox Christians to believe as they see fit, without fear of punishment or exclusion from the public realm. Religious freedom,

Mr. Sanders, belongs to even those people whom you don't like.

The Good News Is About God's Goodness in Christ

Many evangelicals feel it necessary to convince a sinner of his guilt before sharing the Good News of God's grace in Jesus Christ.  The starting point for many who share Christ is man's inherent sinfulness and the danger of hell-fire judgment. This is why many pastors and leaders of evangelical churches focus on the Law and yell about sin.  The church believes the Law must condemn before the Lawgiver can save. 

This philosophy often leads preachers and soul winners to avoid proclaiming the goodness of God for sinners until sinners are worked over good with the Law.  For this reason, the message often heard in church shows more concern with convincing sinners of sin than sinners of the grace, glory, and goodness of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Some reading this blog so far might be thinking - "What's wrong with convincing sinners of sin? You can't lead a horse to water without thirst. A sinner will never know his need of God's salvation without knowledge of his condemnation and need for salvation."

Not so fast.

In our zeal to deliver sinners from judgment, we often miss the beauty and simplicity of preaching Christ. Jesus said, "I have come that you might live life more abundantly." (John 10:10). Proclaiming the goodness of God in Jesus Christ breathes life into those who don't know themselves dead. To yell and scream at a dead person with a boulder on his chest does no good in removing the boulder. Likewise, for Christians to yell and scream at sinners about their sin does no good in changing a sinner's lfie.

Gospel-preaching never requires the sinner to feel his sin before coming to Christ by faith. Only God can awaken the dead, and the evangelist's job is to simply preach Christ, not sin and the sinner condemned.

18th century Baptists held to a radical emphasis on simply preaching and proclaiming Jesus Christ--leaving the work of conviction and conversion to the Spirit. These 18th century Baptists were supremely Christocentric.They were not as concerned that the sinner knew and felt his sin as they were the sinner heard the goodness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is how they put it in their First London Confession of Faith (1644):

Article 25 of the 1646 London Confession of Faith

The preaching of the gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free; no way requiring as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, or terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the law, but only and alone the naked soul, a sinner and ungodly, to receive Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again; who is made a prince and a Savior for such sinners as through the gospel shall be brought to believe on Him. John 3:14,15, 1:12; Isa. 55:1; John 7:37; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 4:5, 5:8; Acts 5:30,31, 2:36, 1 Cor. 1:22,24.
The starting point for these 18th Century Baptists was the goodness of God in Christ, not the sinfulness of man. The Law and the prophets in the Old Testament all pointed to Christ. The Law was never given to drive a man to be righteous in himself, but rather to drive the sinner to faith in the One who fulfilled the Law for sinners and provides a righteousness that comes from outside the sinner's own obedience.

The feasts, the Sabbaths, the festivals, the sacrifices, the laws of Israel, the Temple, the priesthood, and all the other important features of the Old Covenant fulfilled in Christ. With the establishment of the New Covenant, signed and sealed with the blood of Christ, the Old Covenant faded into oblivion because it possessed a fading glory, but the goodness and grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ has an eternal glory (I Corinthians 3:7-18).

So the next time you hear a preacher berate the sinner with words of judgment and condemnation, please know that he is neither speaking in a manner that focuses the listener on the centrality of Christ's goodness which leads to repentance.

If one objects, "But Christ spoke harsh words of condemnation to the Pharisees in Matthew 23!"

Yes, but notice that Christ always reserved His words of condemnation to the religious who deemed themselves superior to sinners.

If we are biblical evangelists, we will do two things:
(1). We will always proclaim the finished work of Christ for sinners, and emphasize the grace, love and kindness of God in Christ, for we recognize that is it the goodness of God in Christ, combined with the work of the Spirit, that alone leads sinners to repentance.
(2). We will refrain from constantly complaining of sin and peoples' sinfulness because we recognize that only the Good News of God's goodness in Jesus Christ will ever lead a sinner to change his ways. 
Isn't it odd how the modern evangelical church get things reversed? We preachers tend to yell and scream at the world for sin, and the world screams and yells at us for yelling at them.

Maybe if we simply loved sinners and proclaimed Jesus Christ at least some of the yelling would stop.