Thursday, January 30, 2014

Left Behind Is for the Biblically Blind

I really like Nicolas Cage as an actor. The Rock, National Treasure, and Family Man are three of my favorite Nicolas Cage movies. Unfortunately, Nicolas Cage is also the new star of a 2014 major motion picture release entitled Left Behind. This movie is the Hollywood reboot of the insanely popular Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  The only thing worse than people not reading the Bible for themselves is for them to get their theology from a Hollywood motion picture. Even worse, when evangelical Christians think Left Behind represents sound biblical theology about the end of the world, we expose ourselves as being biblically ignorant. 95% of Christians believe what they believe about the end of the world because somebody--either a pastor, a parent, or a popular teacher--told them what to believe. Gone is the day when Christians search the Scriptures for themselves.

The prophet Daniel in his prophecy called "the scroll (book) of Daniel," the Lord Jesus Christ in His prophecy of Matthew 24, and the apostle John in his prophecy called Revelation, all predict the same thing - and it is NOT the end of the world. The prophets of the Old Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the early apostles all predicted the end of the Old Covenant way of life (Jewish sacrifices, Temple rituals, yearly festivals, etc...) through the fall of the Temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the scattering of God's Old Covenant people.

The prophets of Scripture gave a very specific time as to when the Old Covenant Jewish kingdom would come to an end. Daniel said in his prophecy that the Jews had 70 weeks left (490 years), Jesus in His prophecy of Matthew 24:34 said the Jewish way of life (Old Covenant Temple worship) had a generation left (40 years).  and the apostle John said that the events in his prophecy (the same events predicted by Daniel and Jesus) would occur "very soon" (Revelation 1:1) and that the events prophesied in the book were "near" (Revelation 1:3). It was Jesus expressed purpose to fulfill every jot and tittle of the Old Covenant Law through His life, death and resurrection, and then inaugurate His New Covenant whereby He would "make the Law obsolete" and cause it to "disappear" (Hebrews 8:13). Jesus successfully accomplished His work on behalf of sinners (His life, death and resurrection), and then a generation later He sent the Roman army to destroy the Jewish Kingdom in AD 70, similar to the way God used foreign armies to destroy other rebellious nations in the Old Testament (the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, etc...)  Again,  Daniel, John and Jesus all prophesied the end of the Jewish kingdom!  Interestingly enough, God told Daniel to "seal up the scroll" (Daniel 12:4), a Hebrew euphemism indicating the events of Daniel's prophecy (the end of the Jewish Kingdom) were a long way away. However, God told John not to "seal the scroll" of his prophecy (see Revelation 22:10)--a prophecy John wrote in AD 68 (see Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell)--because "the time is near." Jesus said shortly before his death (AD 30) that "all these things" - meaning the end of the Temple and the Jewish Kingdom--would be "fulfilled within a generation" (40 years). Just like the Messiah foretold, the Old Covenant disappeared completely in AD 70!

Any person with a modicum of biblical literacy knows that Daniel, Jesus and John prophesied about the end of the Old Covenant Jewish Kingdom. The New Covenant people of God are those who trust His Son, both Jews and Gentiles. In the New Covenant, faith in the risen Lamb of God makes a sinner--whether male or female, slave or free, rich or poor--a priest unto God. We, the people of Christ, are the new Temple of God. The Royal Law of our King (James 2:8) is the law of love for one another, the same kind of love Christ has for us (John 13:35). In this New Covenant agreement inaugurated by Christ, I live by faith in the risen Son of God, "who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). My at-one-moment with God occurred through the atonement of my King! I trust in no ritual, no festival, no law apart from faith in Him. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection!

So, let me just encourage those of you who are tempted to see Left Behind as Christian orthodoxy to pick up your Bible and read for yourself! Revelation is a glorious book showing how God ended the Old Covenant Kingdom of the Jews and inaugurated the eternal Kingdom of His Son. You and I are members of that Kingdom via faith in the risen Savior! Unfortunately, the beauty of Jesus Christ is missed by Hollywood, and the poor theology of this film will lead to restless living by those who believe the movie to the neglect of their Bibles. It's worth repeating; Left Behind is for the biblically blind.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Contending for Truth on the Internet

Recently someone forwarded me a broadcast from a North Carolina Christian evangelist named Dr. Scott Johnson. The broadcast, entitled Contending for Truth, had me doubled over in laughter. You can listen to the seven minute Part One: Wade Burleson Is a Secret Agent and the even more bizarre five minute Part Two: Wade Burleson Is a Secret Agent and then make your own assessment. My wife wasn't laughing. She said, "Wade, people who don't know you or our church might actually think this stuff is true." I reflected a moment on her concerns, and then busted out laughing again.

According to Dr. Johnson, I am a secret agent of the United States government, on the payroll of FEMA and possibly the Department of Homeland Security. "Tool of Satan" is Dr. Johnson's favorite moniker for yours truly. Dr. Johnson has received information that the auditorium of Emmanuel Enid is being "remodeled" (which it is) in these perilous economic times at the behest of the federal government. Based upon the information he has received about our church removing the "pews"  and replacing them with chairs, not to mention his own on-line investigation of me and our church, Dr. Johnson publicly declares that I am working closely with the federal government to turn our church into a collection site for dissidents, planning to ship them by train to a federal re-education camp.

According to the broadcast (Part II), the government is preparing a former federal prison in Watonga as a "confinement facility" for those in northwest Oklahoma who believe in civil liberty, private gun ownership, and other individual freedoms. The government has recently hired 400 security guards to work at Watonga, and our auditorium remodel is in preparation for Emmanuel to become a temporary holding center where government rebels can identified and then shipped by train to the Watonga prison. Dr. Johnson's says the railroad tracks that run next to our church will be used for human cargo trains to transport rebels to the "re-education camp." The way the government will identify these dissidents is through "Pastor Burleson ratting out on his congregants," revealing himself as the government agent he is.

Obviously, not everything you read or hear on the Internet is true. I was laughing because at least the claims of Dr. Johnson are so bizarre they can be seen for their falsehoods. It's not near as funny when the character assassinations are subtle, intentional, and designed to promote an agenda. The Roman general Pliny believed he could prevent assassination attempts by developing an immune system resistant to poison. The general would take small doses of poison "with a grain of salt" in order to be able to swallow the poison. Our English idiom "take it with a grain of salt" comes from Pliny's practice. After many years of being in the public eye, I have learned that anything said about me on the Internet needs to be taken "with a grain of salt."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Necessary Fight Against Church Light

If there is anything worse than dogmatic, authoritarian churches where members are told what to believe and punished for questioning leaders, it is vapid churches where members are given nothing to believe and participate for the sake of being hip and cool. Whereas the former churches ultimately fail because the Information Age launches church members into the stratosphere of interaction with scholars who give cogent arguments for opposing views and then leads them to eventually revolt against insecure authoritarians who blanche in the face of disagreement, the latter churches ultimately fail because members are never taught to value truth in the first place and shrug their shoulders and say, "What's the big deal?" Istoria Ministries has written extensively against authoritarian church leaders who squelch disagreement, but little has been said about theologically uninspiring leaders who are unable to teach people God's word.

No more. There is a rising sense within me that church light is more dangerous than church might. Those crushed by the abuse of church leaders who see themselves as God's vicars on earth are in need of our mercy and support, but those who are enmeshed in church light are also in need of an awakening. The former abuse is overt and painful; the latter abuse is subtle and sweet. In the end, the effects on church members are the same.

God's people ought to be able to articulate the reasons for the hope within them. The ability of church members to articulate the essential differences between egalitarianism and complementarianism, the different world views of dispensational premillennialists over and against partial preterists, the reasons why some believe the Old Covenant laws of Israel are abolished versus some who believe all laws in the covenants--both Old and New--remain in effect forever, as well as members being able to articulate for themselves other theological differences, should be not just the dream of pastors, it should be our goal.

For example, there's no way for Christians to explain the basis for believing the dietary laws of Israel are abolished unless those same Christians read and learn the books of Leviticus and Hebrews and then see how Scripture specifically teaches the person and work of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed in the dietary laws--every jot and tittle of them--and that Christ through His life, death and resurrection for sinners has made these Old Covenant law "obsolete" and causes them to "disappear" (Hebrews 8:13). In addition, until Christians know the book of Daniel, they will never be able to explain how the prophet Daniel was given a vision foretelling the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom, which would crush every earthly kingdom (Daniel 2:44) including Israel's, but that he was to seal up the "scroll of his book" because the time was 'far away' (Daniel 12:4). Unless people read Revelation for themselves and see that John's scroll was "not to be sealed because the time is near" (Revelation 22:10), they might never realize that Daniel's prophecy was fulfilled when Christ rose from the dead to inaugurate His eternal kingdom and then He waited forty years to utterly destroy Jerusalem and the Old Covenant kingdom of His people (the Jews) in righteous judgment. Of course, the dispensational premillenialist would say that the kingdom of God has not YET been inaugurated, and unless Christians learn to understand the differences in eschatology, they will never be able to articulate why they believe what they believe about the future. Christians enmeshed in church light will never know the differences,  much less what they believe, and struggle with understanding why they should care.

The goal of every pastor is not that every Christian in the church believe the same thing on tertiary issues of Scripture, but that every Christian in the church knows the arguments of both sides of an issue and is able to articulate why he or she believes what is believed!  Peter writes,
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).
It seems Peter is saying one's confidence in the Lord is strengthened when one is able to articulate the reason for the hope that is within. To be able to articulate your beliefs as a Christian in areas of marriage, eschatology, church governance, New Covenant and Old Covenant theology, the person and work of Christ, and hundreds of other important issues from Scripture is the sign that you are maturing and growing in your faith relationship with God.

I would rather have a church member who is a complementarian, dispensational, Old Covenant Presbyterian, believer in male authority and is able to articulate what he believes from his interpretation of the Scripture (though I strongly disagree with him), than I would a member who cares nothing for the truth of Scripture and revels in church light and vapid preachers who "coach" instead of biblically literate preachers who teach the Bible.

There is an official organization called Church Lite. It is composed of atheists, agnostics, and all those who deny the existence of God. Their statement of faith:
"We remove all of the guilt over offending imaginary beings and of enjoying life ( "bad guilt" ) while retaining most of the guilt over harming others ( "good guilt" ) and some guilt over privilege (in the form of concern over the plight of the less fortunate) (not present in all competing churches)."
Sadly,  evangelical church lights share similarities with atheistic church lites. Both have lost sight of the person and work of Jesus Christ in removing guilt by Himself.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Decision Making and Mutual Submission in Marriage

The attitude of every follower of Jesus Christ, whether male or female, is one of servant-like submission. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who.... took the form of a bond-servant" (Philippians 2:5-7).

The best one word description for this servant-like attitude of "regarding another as more important" is the word submission. To be a submissive person is to be like the bond-slave Jesus Christ became for us. The Bible is emphatic that all Christians, both males and females, are to be characterized by love and submission to other people.

Paul describes this Spirit-filled life of believers in Ephesians 5 where he writes- "and walk in love, just as Christ also has loved you..." (v. 2) and then he writes, "and be submissive to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21). Again, these two characteristics of the Spirit-filled life (love and submission) are mandatory regardless of gender. Paul illustrates how love and submission works in the husband/wife relationship in the rest of chapter 5.  "Wives to your own husbands" (v. 22) is what Paul literally writes. Unfortunately, English translators add the words "be subject" after the word wives. Why do our English translators leave off "love?" Paul is writing about love AND submission, and when he writes "wives to your husbands" the emphasis is "Wives, be submissive and loving to  your husbands." Likewise, later Paul "so husbands to wives" (v. 28).  Again, the English translation picks up on the word "love" for husbands, but in the context of mutual love and mutual submission (v. 2 and v. 21), husbands are to express a love and a servant-like spirit of submission to their wives. It may sound strange to your ears to hear that the Bible says a husband is to be submissive to his wife, but it wasn't strange to Paul's ears. This is the teaching of the New Covenant. To say that a husband is to have a submissive attitude toward his wife is as correct as saying that a wife is to love her husband. No gender, whether male or female, is to leave off either submission or love in human relationships. 

Because the Scripture teaches mutual servant-like submission and unconditional love for both the husband and the wife, some Christians who are unfamiliar with Scripture-- but who have been indoctrinated with institutional church dogmatism about "authority"-- may be confused. "How will a married couple ever make a decision if nobody is the boss and everybody has an attitude of servant-like submission and unconditional love?" they might ask.
Great question. Here is how a Spirit-filled couple makes a decision in marriage. 
(1). Both the husband and wife are able to freely give their opinions and express disagreement because the husband considers his wife "more important" than himself and the wife views her husband "more important" than herself,  so each desires to hear what the other person has to say.
(2). The husband listens to his wife and the wife listens to her husband because there is reciprocal love and respect for one another. This love and respect is the same kind of love and respect that the husband and wife have both experienced from Jesus Christ.
(3). If unity of desire and mutual agreement for the proper course of action cannot be found, then the couple mutually agrees to wait on making a decision. They that wait upon the Lord shall be renewed in strength. During this time of waiting, the husband asks God for wisdom and discernment for himself, and the wife asks God for wisdom and discernment for herself.  
(4). After waiting, when the deadline for a decision approaches, the husband--in a spirit of love and submission toward his wife--will either be led by the Holy Spirit to begin having the same desires as his wife, OR, the wife--in a spirit of love and submission toward her husband will be led by the Holy Spirit to begin having the same desires as her husband. Two Christians living together are to honor God by living in harmony with one another. That’s not to say that that the husband and wife are to be the same; harmony recognizes the beauty of differences, and incorporates those differences into a beautiful melody. Mutual submission is the art of hearing from God.
(5). In a Christ-honoring marriage, no person sees himself (or herself) as the "authority" in the home. Jesus Christ has "all authority" (Matt. 28:18), and a marriage that honors God is one where both the husband and the wife look to Christ alone as their authority. Decision making is made with a spirit of mutual submission and love, leaning on Christ to produce unity of hearts and minds.
For anyone married to an unbeliever, this process of coming to unity in decision making may be a tad harder. This is why the New Covenant writers issue a caution about being unequally yoked. However, when two followers of Jesus Christ are married, it is important to remember that Scripture clearly teaches submission is never the wife's responsibility to the exclusion of the husband's, nor is love the responsibility of the husband's to the exclusion of the wife's. A Spirit-filled, Christ-honoring, God-glorifying marriage is one of mutual submission and love.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Coming Caesars: A Modern Prophecy

My friend Tim Price of Trestle Press will soon release a reprint of Amaury de Riencourt's classic work The Coming Caesars. Riencourt's book, first published in June 1957, caused an enormous stir in the scholarly world. In October 1957 Newsweek magazine devoted an astonishing ten pages of its weekly edition for the printing of excerpts from The Coming Caesars without any commentary. Tim's reprint will give the book a new design (see picture left), make it available in both softcover and in digital format, and will serve a new generation of Americans with the caution that throughout history great civilizations built on republican ideals eventually collapse under the tyranny of Caesarism. Tim says he worked to update and republish The Coming Caesars because "there is hardly a book that more accurately depicts what is happening in America. If De Riencourt's thesis was true in 1957, it is far more so today." I would agree. I've read The Coming Caesars and see in it a remarkable prophecy of America, paralleling what happened historically in ancient Rome. The book is not about politics. It is about human history, the natural laws of liberty, and the psychology of human beings that lead us to eventually unquestioningly follow strong leaders.

De Riencourt's thesis is explained on page 5 of his book:
"Expanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and that imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days; further, the greater the social equality, the dimmer the prospects of liberty, and that as society becomes more equalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate absolute power in the hands of one single man. Caesarism is not dictatorship, not the result of one man's overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution. It is not based on a specific doctrine or philosophy. It is essentially pragmatic and untheoretical. It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in a voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master."
The Coming Caesars is uninterested in promoting party politics, be it Republican or Democratic, but successfully indicts Americans in both parties for allowing the power and prestige of the Presidency to rival that of a Roman Caesar. Riencourt writes "Those who doubt that today an American President might be elected for life should remember that no constitutional amendment, such as was voted after World War II, can stand in the way of public opinion if it truly wishes to elect a Caesar for life."  Reincourt traces the rise of Caesarism in Rome and parallels it with the increasing willingness of Americans to follow one man in any emergency, whether it be economic, military, or social. Reincourt argues that this willingness is not political or ideological, but rather it is psychological. It is easier to "personalize" problems and follow a powerful Caesar-like leader than it is to trust increasingly irrelevant legislative assemblies. This, he argues, is historical fact, not political theory.

If this post has sparkedan interest to read The Coming Ceasars,  I would encourage you to wait for Trestle Press's re-print of the book which should be available from Amazon in just a matter of weeks. Until then, it would serve you well to carefully read the excellent on-line scholarly review of The Coming Caesars by the St. John Law Review.

Reincourt did not necessarily believe in the inevitability of Caesarism in America. He writes, "Though all Civilizations have chosen the easy solution of Caesarism, man's historical knowledge (today) makes it possible for the first time to avoid the deadly shoals on which every other Civilization has destroyed itself."

In other words, those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.