When Evil Becomes Good; And Good Evil

Our culture has reached a point where we admire evil and condemn good.  Let’s look at some examples.

According to the bible, the killing of an infant or child would be called murder.  In our culture, we call it a woman’s right to choose.  image

Two men or two women getting married is called sexual immorality according to God.  Our culture now calls it marriage equality.

And here’s how insane this is getting…a doctor was recently fired from his job at a Harvard affiliated hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for his stance against homosexuality.  The odd thing about the case is this…although Dr. Paul Church is a Christian and has traveled extensively on mission trips to help the poor, he was fired because of his refusal to stand down on indisputable medical evidence of the negative effects of the gay lifestyle and it’s prevalence in diseases like STD’s, HIV and cancer.

It began with Dr. Church expressing concerns over the hospital’s increasing support and presence at LBGT events.  In his opinion, it’s a conflict of interest for a hospital to support a lifestyle that promotes disease which doctors and nurses have sworn an oath to cure and treat. But the hospital’s leadership increasingly became hostile to Dr. Church and utilized it’s human resources policy to eventually fire him.  All of this despite the fact they could not dispute the medical facts Dr. Church cited in regards to the gay lifestyle.  Would you want to be treated at a hospital like this?

As Christians, how do we deal with a culture like this?

First, don’t be shocked.  We are dealing with nothing new and we should react to it for what it is.  It’s sinful and evil and the typical symptoms of a society living in darkness.  And as the Church, we need to get serious and repent at the fact we got here largely because of an absentee Church that has more interest in large buildings, useless programs, money, and an unhealthy infatuation with appealing to the culture instead of rebuking it.

Isaiah 5:20 says:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Let’s also look at a direct quote from Jesus to His Church!

Rev 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
Rev 2:19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
Rev 2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
Rev 2:21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
Rev 2:22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,
Rev 2:23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

As a Church, in attempt to appeal to the culture to bring them Jesus (an anti-Jesus way of doing it), we have turned our back on the culture and let them become sick with evil.  THIS IS OUR FAULT to a large degree.  Now there are specific individuals in places of leadership that I believe are largely responsible for this happening, but that’s neither here nor there. As Christians, we checked our brains at the door of the church of Laodicea (lukewarm) and let these leaders lead us right into bed with Jezebel (Thyatira).  Now we have a Church that is largely illiterate, mostly unsaved, and very arrogant when it comes to their refusal to follow Jesus.  Heck, most of our Church leaders today can be best described by the Apostle Paul as “spiritual infants”.

Somewhere in the past century, we forgot Christianity is not about popularity and never has been.  It’s about suffering and becoming perfected through that suffering.  Let’s look at what the bible says about it.  It’s very clear!

Mat 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Mat 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Mat 16:25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Mat 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Mat 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

2Ti 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
2Ti 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2Ti 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
2Ti 4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2Ti 4:5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Notice the 2nd Timothy passage.  It’s not the leaders that brought about this condition…but like I said earlier, it’s the Church itself and it’s members that accumulate these leaders that suit their passions.  Shame on us!  So what are we to do?

First, we need to get back to a healthy church culture which means addressing the structure of the Church.

The Church is designed by Jesus to function a certain way so as to glorify God.  We need to question what we’re doing Sunday mornings!  The Church is not meant to have singular leadership, but a plurality of leaders.  Those leaders are not to be immature in their faith.  They are to be the more mature folks in a particular congregation.  Unfortunately, many pastors today see putting immature people into roles of authority as being a way to grow them up in their faith, but the bible is clear we are to nurture new Christians for quite a while before we put them in these roles.  In some worse cases, I fear some leaders do this with the intent of keeping the whole Church in bondage to immature ways of thinking.

And the mature leaders are to keep each other accountable and doing things according to the bible – the very words of God Himself as expressed through Jesus Christ.  These leaders should also come from the congregation and not outside of the Church so we know them and their fruits.  These men should exhibit gifts of the Spirit and should be full of good works.  Each one should also be able to teach.  Not facilitate…but TEACH out of scripture.

We need to stop making Sunday mornings an entertainment show for the immature and get back to solid teaching and fellowship to train people to be mature Christians.  Music and sermons have become an unhealthy addiction in the church culture of the West.  Just ask any person why they stay or leave a particular church these days…you would be surprised at how many say it had to do with their perceived quality of the music or the preaching.  And guess what pastors?  You brought this on yourselves!

We can’t have a healthy church culture unless we get back to the real message of the Gospel.  We have created a false gospel that is 100% focused on love when you never see Jesus or His Apostles preach the gospel this way.  The Gospel message is a message of REPENTENCE first and a message of love second.  We basically tell people God is ALL love and He accepts everyone and that is false to the scriptures and the words of Jesus.  God only accepts those who REPENT and BELIEVE.  And that belief equals faith.  It’s only when we have faith can we love and faith comes through repentance.

The Gospel should include a healthy dose of talking about sin.  It’s funny.  Many times when the topic of sin comes up, I will hear churchgoers say, “But Jesus said He didn’t come to save the righteous.  He came to save the sinners!”  They say this as some sort of justification for living in sin.  But let’s look at what Jesus actually said…

Mat 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Mat 9:12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Mat 9:13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When you’re a sinner, Jesus considers you sick.  Someone that needs to be healed.  He doesn’t want to you to be sick and diseased with sin.  Think about this from a logical viewpoint.  If you still lead a life of sin, have you been healed?  No.  And if you have not been healed, how can you be saved?

“But that’s grace!  Jesus forgives us no matter what!” they say.  Here’s what the bible says grace is all about.  That is if you believe the bible.

Tit 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
Tit 2:12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
Tit 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tit 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Tit 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Another thing we need to do to recover a healthy church culture is to never cease in doing good works.  Good works is how the church demonstrates love in our communities and it’s also how God is glorified.

Mat 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Is you church known for its good works?  Would most people in your community be aware your church even exists?  If not, you’re too self-involved.  Get rid of the seeker sensitive programs and lead people out into the community to actually do some good.  Poverty and homelessness is a real challenge in our country.  Put some of your congregants in the middle of the typical problems of a homeless person and you will see spiritual growth.  I promise you will!

Second, we need to re-capture our own language in the culture and stop letting the darkness establish the definitions.

People that support abortion don’t like when Christians call it murder, but that’s what it is.  So make them have an honest conversation about it!  Before they run off down the road of accusing you of being bigoted against women because you don’t support “their right to choose”, force them to first establish some definitions.  Let them know you believe supporting abortion is supporting murder, and yes, you also believe anyone who supports abortion has the heart of a murderer.  There is a great, new animated video that shows people what is happening during an abortion procedure.  Keep it handy on your phone or tablet and when the conversation comes up, make them watch the video.  You can’t watch that video and still claim a fetus is not a living being…

I’m ok with someone supporting abortion, but only if they are willing to admit it’s killing a living human.  At least that’s being honest.  But I refuse to let someone claim you can abort a baby because it’s actually not a person.  That’s a lie!  Be honest and stand up and say that you are ok with killing a person if it means your life can be less inconvenienced in some way.

Last, another thing we can do is make sure we are bringing up our children in the instruction of the Lord.  My wife and I made the decision early on to homeschool our children.  I’m glad we made that decision.  Our kids are rock solid in their knowledge of scripture as well as math and science!  And I believe they have become better examples to other kids because of it.

It makes my heart sick when I see parents dealing with the effects of the public school system and peer pressure as it relates to their kids.  Many of the kid’s lives are over before they start because of bad decisions made.  And although God can work miracles through any situation, parents need to accept responsibility for what their kids have become because they weren’t willing to sacrifice for the benefit of their children.  I challenge any parent to look up all of the scriptures in the bible having to do with raising children.  It might change your perspective.

As Christians, we need to be committed to having big families too.  Children are a gift from God and we should have more of them…and then bring them up in the instruction of the Lord.

One of the most important things we can do to change the current culture in our society is to create and disciple a new generation of believers that are our children.  I personally see this operating in our local home school organization where I live and it’s something parents can do no matter where they live and no matter what church they attend.

There are many more things we can do to strengthen our churches, families and culture, but hope fully this gives some ideas around just a few so we can reclaim God’s Kingdom in our midst, and once again, see clearly what is good and what is evil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and yet not do what I say?

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I wish churches would give up on the whole marketing thing. As someone who works in the corporate world and makes a healthy living in the world of marketing, I’m telling you with some authority that marketing is not for churches and here’s why:

1. Pastors are not marketing experts. They like to think they are, but they do a miserable job at it. Why? Because unlike a business that adjusts depending on the response it gets from it’s consumers, pastors tend to react by blaming the consumers.
2. Pastors don’t have the education to be a marketer. Think about this (and I know this is insulting to some seminary professors)…the highest educated or most successful people in marketing do not end up teaching this specialization at a seminary.
3. Marketing is a dynamic field with constant change. Most pastors are still trying marketing methods that are 20 years old. They have not kept up with the trend changes or church research and adjusted accordingly.  Bill Hybels still has a huge following supporting seeker sensitive churches, yet Bill has admitted this was a horrible method and did damage to the church.  Yet pastors still do it.  Bad marketing…
4. Trying to market your church is running your church like a business…much like the moneychangers Jesus chased out of the temple. Jesus says His Father’s house is a house of prayer. When was the last time you saw pastors call for real and sincere prayer during Sunday service? They don’t for fear of losing market share to the church down the street.

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I’m writing this article because I care about pastors and the church and I want them to wake up and make some changes. The fact is pastors complain about their parishioners being “church shoppers”, but they made them that way! So wake up pastors! Now you have to fix the problem you created. And the only way to do that is by following Jesus.

Jesus didn’t “market” the truth. Jesus commanded people everywhere to repent of their sin for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus didn’t hide the truth either and tell His followers not to worry about the scriptures. On the contrary, Jesus opened the scriptures up to the understanding of His disciples and pointed them to prophecy concerning His ministry. Why? So they would know the Truth and it would set them free.

People are looking for authentic Christianity today, stop it with the shows and the fake platitudes…we’re looking for Jesus.

WWJD or WDJD? The Church and the Gospel

Many people in recent years have latched onto the saying of “What would Jesus do?”. Now, there is nothing wrong with this. After all, in 1 John 3:14 it says “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.”. So it’s important that we keep the love Jesus showed during His ministry foremost in our minds. This Love is, after all, the centerpiece.

But isn’t it important to understand what Jesus actually came to do, complete, and fulfill during His ministry so we understand more fully what Love this is that God has shown us through His Son Jesus Christ? I think it is.

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If we are to show the Love of Christ to the world, doing what Jesus would do, then we need to know where that Love originates from. What is God’s Kingdom about? What is the foundation that Jesus laid for the church while He was here? When we throw out there, “the Gospel”, do we really understand what that is? Is it really just that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died on a cross, and rose again on the 3rd day according to the scriptures and that’s it? It seems to me the last part of this statement may be the most important – “according to the scriptures”. Why does it say this? Is there something more we need to be cognizant of and also have the burden of relaying to others? The simple answer is yes. But of course, nothing’s completely simple… The more complicated answer lies in looking at the scripture texts themselves which we will do shortly.
Many people ask me how I arrive at my thoughts and beliefs on what the scriptures say, because frankly, much of it is at odds with what most of “institutional Christianity” believes and teaches. My simple response is I study my Bible. I recommend to people they start like I did. Go by what Jesus Himself says. (Now a word of encouragement and advice here. If you don’t have a study bible that has scripture references that cue you to know when someone speaking in the NT is quoting someone from the OT, you need to get one. It is paramount to your correct understanding of much in the NT.)

Jesus inaugurated His ministry publicly when He stood up in the synagogue in His own home town and read from Isaiah 61.  Here is the actual passage:

Isa 61:1-2  The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; (2) To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.

This passage is deep with meaning and implications for both the Jews of Jesus’ day and should have a lot of meaning for the church today.  But how many times have we heard a sermon on this?  how many times have we heard this explained in our churches?  This is, after all, what Jesus says He came to do “according to the scriptures”.

Let’s look even further.  There are many passages in the OT that tell of the coming ministry of the King, the Suffering Servant, the Righteous Ruler, but this Isaiah passage Jesus specifically used to announce His ministry.  Why?  Let’s look at the entire passage and see:

Isa 61:1 – 62:12 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted ; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted , To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners ; 2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God ; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. 4 Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations ; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. 5 Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers. 6 But you will be called the priests of the LORD ; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, And in their riches you will boast. 7 Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs. 8 For I, the LORD, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering ; And I will faithfully give them their recompense And make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Then their offspring will be known among the nations, And their descendants in the midst of the peoples. All who see them will recognize them Because they are the offspring whom the LORD has blessed. 10 I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God ; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise To spring up before all the nations. 1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, And her salvation like a torch that is burning. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory ; And you will be called by a new name Which the mouth of the LORD will designate. 3 You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate “; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married “; For the LORD delights in you, And to Him your land will be married. 5 For as a young man marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you. 6 On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen ; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; 7 And give Him no rest until He establishes And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. 8 The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by His strong arm, “I will never again give your grain as food for your enemies ; Nor will foreigners drink your new wine for which you have labored.” 9 But those who garner it will eat it and praise the LORD ; And those who gather it will drink it in the courts of My sanctuary. 10 Go through, go through the gates, Clear the way for the people ; Build up, build up the highway, Remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples. 11 Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes ; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” 12 And they will call them, “The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD “; And you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”

Naturally, this is a prophetic passage.  There are 2 things very worthy of note.  first, this passage realizes a list of things God says will come to pass when He establishes His everlasting covenant.  Second, in Luke 4:21, Jesus says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears.”  So let’s list off some of the fulfillments we see in this passage.  I will not list off everything as this post would go on forever since there is a lot said.  We will focus mostly on the 1st and 2nd verses and point to some major themes in the others.

1.  Good news would be preached to the meek (humble).

2.  The brokenhearted would be bound up.

3.  Liberty would be announced to the captives, and not only that, but they would be released for a “prison” of sorts.

4.  The acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance would be announced.

5.  A series of things would be given to those who mourn – beauty instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness.

6.  This series of gifts are given for a reason.  So these people would be called trees of righteousness or the planting of the Lord.  This would glorify God.

7.  These people would re-build the wastelands and would no longer be recognized as “Desolate or Forsaken”.

8.  These people would be called Priests and Ministers of God.

9.  These people would be known amongst the Gentiles and recognized throughout the world.

10.  These people would be recognized as “Redeemed of God”.

11.  God will not rest until His righteousness shines forth brilliantly among the nations.

12.  These people will be clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.

Now, this prophecy has a lot more to say, but there are some key points I would like to hit upon in this post.  What we need to determine and think upon here is shouldn’t we be discussing these things in church?  And if we don’t, why?  What impacts can this prophecy and the correct understanding of it have on how we walk with the Lord?  Well, here are some thoughts…

1.  Good news would be preached to the meek or humble.  This goes straight to the heart of why I’ve created this post.  What is the Good News?  This passage of Isaiah mentions nothing of Jesus coming in the flesh, dying on a cross, and rising on the 3rd day.  Don’t get me wrong, that too is very important to understand.  But I think it’s like discussing what you did versus how you did it.  And I think God not only wants us telling people how how He accomplished this everlasting covenant, but what it means to His people and His creation.  Again, what does “according to the scriptures” mean?

2.  The brokenhearted would be bound up.  In the context of this passage, binding would mean to heal.  So Jesus came to heal these people.  Heal them from what?  Heal them when?  If we are healed as believers, does that mean something different than just forgiveness which is emphasized in our churches today.

3.  Liberty to the captives is announced and they are released from the prison they are being held in.  If captives refers to us (I don’t think anyone debates this), then what are we captive of?  And if we are released, what are we released from?  Is it the fear of God’s wrath we are being held captive by?  Is that the prison we are released from?  That’s what you hear in most sermons today!  But it’s not true…are we not in our current situation due to the Fall of Adam and Eve?  What were the consequences of this Fall?  Maybe this has more to do with what we are captive too and what we are released from.  And maybe, just maybe, understanding this has a big impact on the perspective the church should have and how we understand the salvation of God.

4.  What is the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance?  Is the acceptable year of the Lord the present day church age?  Is it the future?  The same could be asked of the day of vengeance.  Or does that refer to an event in the past versus the future?  Maybe the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD?  All valid questions.  Most people in our churches today have not even heard Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70AD, a very significant historical event that significant passages of scripture may refer to.

5.  The passage in #5 above is a list of blessings that God has given His people.  You can ponder these on your own.

6.  We are called to be trees of righteousness and the planting of the Lord.  This glorifies God.  This one poses some interesting challenges in church today.  If you believe we are still sinners in thought, word, and deed every day (as many are taught today) then how are we to be trees of righteousness that glorify God?  Is God glorified through our sin?  Paul says, “May it never be!”  If we are not really righteous, but just considered righteous, how do we glorify God to the nations?  If we are still utterly sinful, what do they see different than they see in themselves?  Does God ever say He just “considers” us righteous, or does He actually say He will make us righteous?  If so, what are the implications of this?  Does a church promoting acceptance of sin mislead people with false information?  What would change in people if they heard the good news that God actually came to clean us from sin, not let us wallow in it?

7.  These people would re-build the wastelands and would no longer be recognized as “Desolate or Forsaken”.  What does this mean?  Later in this same prophecy, God declares He is making all things new.  He also says He will make a new heavens and a new earth.  Is this a future event or something present?  Something similar is said in Revelation 21.  Ask yourself how many of these things could be present activities and how many are definitely future activities?  Could understanding these things create more urgency in our walk with Christ?

8.  These people would now be the Priests and Ministers of God.  In the OT, the priests were a class of people chosen to communicate the truth of God to the common people.  This prophecy announces a change to that.  It declares we are ALL now priests of God.  If this is so, how does this affect our view of organized church?  Does the organized church today represent this new priesthood, or does it look more like the old covenant priesthood with a chosen few everyone should listen to?  Are we honoring God when we organize our churches this way or do we anger him?  Should people blindly follow an individual or do they have an obligation to search these truths ourselves?

9.  These people would be known among the Gentiles and by all the nations.  What is this saying to us?  Is it referring to missions type work?  The great commission perhaps?  How important is it to God that this happen?  What do other scriptures say about this?  How much do we hear this discussed in churches today?  Or do we hear that all we need to know is John 3:16?  How much money do our churches spend on buildings versus spreading the gospel and taking care of the poor among us?  Do we think God is happy with this in our churches?

10.  If these people are recognized as the “Redeemed of God”, how are they recognized?  What makes them different?

11.  What does it mean God will not rest until His righteousness shines forth brilliantly among the nations?  Does that involve us somehow?  If so, how?  And again, if we do not consider ourselves to be under any different obligation in our behavior than the unsaved, how then does His righteousness shine forth through us?  What do the scriptures say?

12.  Do our garments of salvation and robes of righteousness equate to just a figurative thing in the here and now?  Or did the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ affect a greater change than that of the Old Testament animal sacrifices?  Did you know the answer to that question is in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament?  If not, why don’t you know that?

We need to face some realities in our churches today.  Our current organized church structure has failed to a large degree in discipling people to follow Jesus Christ.  The statistics speak for themselves.  Abortions are on the rise, materialism is rampant (even in the church), and the divorce rate of “believers” is as high as those outside the church.  And yet we have not reflected, we have not repented, and we have forsaken the ways of our Lord.  We don’t even care enough to talk about it.  Ever try to have a conversation with someone in your church or even your pastor about these things?  Try it and see what happens.  You will probably be disappointed.  But take heart, find other genuine Christians, and start real ministries that DO follow scripture.  You will be blessed by the Lord and all will recognize you as being a true follower of Jesus Christ when they see the fruit you bear.

Misuse of Acts 17

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From time to time, I hear enough misuse or misunderstanding of a particular passage of scripture that I feel compelled to correct the record. We are called to be contenders of the faith and to defend God’s Word, and sometimes, that can be as simple as providing the correct insight into a passage of scripture.

I don’t think, for the most part, that people intentionally misuse Acts 17, but I do think maybe they heard a sermon, read a book, attended a seminar, or read church marketing materials that use this passage to prove we should contextualize the Gospel. So to begin, let’s first take a look at the definition of “contextualize”. After all, it’s not a bad word. It’s just a word used in language that has meaning and looking at it’s meaning may provide help in understanding the purpose of my post.

Definition of CONTEXTUALIZE

to place (as a word or activity) in a context
— con·tex·tu·al·i·za·tion noun

Examples of CONTEXTUALIZE

When the rebellion is historically contextualized, it becomes clear that there were many factors contributing to it.

Now, I would just like to make an interesting observation here. I was actually surprised when I looked up the definition in the dictionary since the whole thrust of why I’m writing this post is people using the phrase “contextualizing the Gospel” to mean changing or altering scripture or how we deliver it to unbelievers in an attempt to reach them more effectively. But that’s not really what it means at all. As you can see, the word “contextualize” actually means to take something in it’s original form and place it in its proper “context” or “setting” to better understand it.

Now, if this would be the case when I hear people use this phrase, I would be all for it. Taking a passage from scripture and explaining the cultural and situational circumstance at the time of the writing often leads to the real meaning which edifies the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, this is not the case anecdotally when I hear this phrase being used.

For example, in an attempt to “contextualize” the gospel, I once witnessed a young pastor degrade the character of the Apostle Paul. This pastor actually claimed Paul had serious issues with sin. He used Romans 7 and also the issue of the “thorn” Paul had to bear. I’m sure he didn’t realize it, but the sermon really came off badly. Had he been pastor of a church with any spiritually mature members, he would have had a serious problem on his hands. But there in lies the problem… The whole gist of this church plant was to only attract unbelievers. They did not want many mature Christians at all, so the problem was a 3 fold problem. 1). Instead of studying scripture to create his sermons, he was reading books promoted by the emerging church movement. 2). He had no members in the church capable of providing him spiritual guidance such as elders or teachers. 3). As a result, he could teach false things unchecked doing a lot of damage to those unfortunate people’s understanding of Jesus and His Apostles. And all you heard in the days leading up to this sermon was how churches need to “contextualize” the gospel. What he meant was change the Gospel to attract numbers instead of making disciples like Jesus instructs us to. Unfortunately, this same pastor (who I’m careful to leave anonymous) had a blow up with several other members in a panic over money as the church began to fail. Too bad. But that’s the reason why James said “not many should become teachers”.

Now that was just one example. I’ve heard many people reference Acts 17 as scriptural proof that we need to “adapt” the gospel to our culture in order to win people to Jesus. And my reason for posting this today is to emphatically say 1). This is incorrect to do according to scripture itself and 2). Acts 17 doesn’t even say or prove this. To me, it’s a case of people using scripture to prove something they want to do (usually associated with marketing trends in churches) instead of letting the scriptures speak for themselves as to what we should do. 3). It’s ineffective. Churches have been taking this approach for many years now and we continue to lose the cultural battle for souls. According to recent surveys, more people in this country now disassociate themselves with Christianity than at any other time in our nation’s history. Considering the Apostle Paul said “the gospel is God’s power unto salvation”, this should tell us something is wrong. Could it be we don’t communicate the real gospel in our churches today?

Let’s look at my 3 points specifically:

1. It’s incorrect, according to scripture itself, to change or adapt the gospel in order to win people to Christ. Look at these 2 passages from Paul himself:

1Co 2:1    And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.
1Co 2:2    For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1Co 2:3    And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,
1Co 2:4    and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
1Co 2:5    so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Rom 1:16    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Rom 1:17    For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Rom 1:18    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Rom 1:19    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
Rom 1:20    For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

In these 2 passages, I pick up 3 key points Paul makes. The gospel is simple and meant to be delivered in simple terms, the gospel has the power to save men without the aid of wise or additional speech from men to “help” it, and it works this way because, from the beginning, God makes it plain to mankind He exists and they are convicted of their unrighteousness. I think I could also go with a 4th point on this that God does it this way so that no man can boast.

To think Paul said this and then decided to change his mind at Athens and take a different approach to convince people of Christ renders the inspired Word of God as contradictory. It also makes Paul look a little insincere too. Imagine a fellowship with Corinthian and Athens Christians if Paul had actually contradicted himself with the 2 groups. Wouldn’t that serve to cause them to question their faith? My point is I think those of us taking on the responsibility of teaching others need to be mature and think these things through carefully and not act like a train wreck.

2. Acts 17 doesn’t even demonstrate or prove that we need to “contextualize” the gospel. In order to show this, let’s read the passage.

Act 17:15    Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
Act 17:16    Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Act 17:17    So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
Act 17:18    Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
Act 17:19    And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
Act 17:20    For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
Act 17:21    Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Act 17:22    So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
Act 17:23    For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Act 17:24    The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
Act 17:25    nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Act 17:26    And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
Act 17:27    that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
Act 17:28    for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Act 17:29    Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.l
Act 17:30    The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
Act 17:31    because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Act 17:32    Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
Act 17:33    So Paul went out from their midst.
Act 17:34    But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

The passage reveals in Acts 17:16 that Paul is waiting or Silas and Timothy to join him on his missionary journey. Athens is just a rendezvous point. How do we know this? Because the 2nd half of the verse says Paul was “provoked” at all of the idols he saw in Athens. Then, in verse 17, it says it’s because of this provocation that Paul decides to enter the city and preach. So this wasn’t a planned missionary effort Paul had decided to undertake like others. We can also observe Paul didn’t look at this culture and say, “Gee, how can I connect with this people and bring the gospel to them so they understand it and not be revolted by it”. No, instead, I think we can surmise that Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to go preach because of all of the idolatry he saw.

In the next verse, we see Paul following his usual routine by first going to the synagogue and preaching to the Jews. It says he did this for several days. It then says during these discussions, he encountered others of the Epicureans and Stoics that were inquiring into his preaching. So he didn’t go pursue these people with an adjusted message just for them. No, when they heard about what he was saying, they came and sought him out. And when they heard him speaking of Jesus, they insulted Paul calling him a “babbler”.

What they do next is key. In verse 19, it says “they took him”. The Greek wording would denote they took him by force. This wasn’t an invitation. By studying ancient Athens, the story reveals even more. You see, the Epicureans and the Stoics took him to Mars Hill. At that time, Mars Hill was where the council of judges met. In ancient Athens, it was against their laws to introduce a new religion without permission. So in effect, when Paul was taken “so we can hear more of these things”, Paul was being brought before judges to decide if he was breaking the law. If proved he was, the punishment would be death. Historically, this is the fate that Socrates suffered. So the notion that the Epicureans and Stoics were “fascinated” with what Paul was saying that they invited him to Mars Hill to speak to a larger audience is just not true. Sorry Marc Driscoll, I know this kind of throws a wet blanket on the name of your church, but oh well…

Now mistakenly, many have claimed what Paul does next is “contextualize” the gospel. No, that’s not it at all. What Paul does next is revert to his instincts being raised under the teaching of Gamaliel. He reverts back to an expert sense of how to argue the law. You see, Paul had noticed the inscription of the “unknown god” on one of the Athens monuments. So he basically pleads his case that he is, in fact, not introducing a new religion or god to the Athenians, but no less THE GOD of the Athenians. He then proceeds to preach the gospel as he always does. God created everything, therefore He is entitled to the Athenian’s worship over their other gods, and since He is the Judge of all men, they should repent and worship Him. And when Paul says this has been proved to be true since God has raised a man from the dead through Whom God would judge the world, the Athenians around Paul scoffed at him. Others said they would hear him again about these things; probably a veiled threat that Paul would once again be tried if He hung around.

And yet, there were a few who did believe. The passage ends with Paul leaving out of their midst.

So, to my point, the circumstances surrounding Paul’s experience in Athens can’t be used to justify some “missional” cause in which a church needs to become like the culture around them in order to win them to Christ. This brings me now to my 3rd point.

3. It’s ineffective.

From a logical standpoint, let’s just pretend that Paul did decide to “contextualize” the gospel as an intentional way of reaching the Athenians with the gospel so they would understand it and accept it. Heck, Paul even quotes one of their poets in an effort to do so. How effective was it? Not very. I mean, from a heavenly standpoint, angels would be rejoicing at the few that did accept the gospel. I wish we, as churches, would be more like them! But as far as “missional” standards go, and let’s face it’s always about the numbers, it would have been a failure. There would be no articles written about it’s method, no books written by the person responsible for it, no big mega church built as a result of it. So using it as justification for a new church program to match the church with the culture just doesn’t hold water logically. So if it doesn’t make sense scripturally or logically, I think we really need to be asking if it’s something we should be doing at all.

Now for those that would then point to 1st Corinthians to try and prove the same point because Paul says he becomes all things to all people in the hopes that some will be saved, I suggest going back and re-reading that book again. Because Paul is talking about sacrifices he’s making to reach people and he’s specifically talking about food rituals of the time. Paul also cautions about building the church God’s way and not ours…Taking it beyond that is taking it too far. And those making their profession in religion may want to especially tread lightly since Paul makes it clear he surrenders his right to any material gain from the church too…

Now, I would like to close this post out with some thoughts on how to really reach out to the communities around us.

1. People will do what the Lord’s will is if they KNOW what it is. So if you’re responsible for a body of believers, make sure you disciple them so they know what the character and activities of a follower of Jesus Christ are. Then you will really see God begin to move.

2. Get the people you fellowship with as Christians out of the church. All of God’s meaningful work takes place outside of your church building. Make it a priority for people to do this. Involve your church in local ministry. Feed the poor, cloth the naked, take care of the widows and orphans. Sound familiar? It should. Jesus said to do these things. If you have people in your church so wrapped up in things that really don’t bring value to the Kingdom of God, then you’re wearing them out for doing real Spiritual sacrifices. This is the same thing the Pharisees were doing!

3. If you’re a leader in your church like a pastor, an elder, or a teacher, lead by example. Get involved in local ministries in your community. There’s plenty to do, and as Jesus said to His disciples, there’s not enough workers. So if you’re too wrapped up in non value add things you need to change too. Remember, if you’ve assumed the mantle of shepherd, your flock is going to follow you. So if you place more priority on the worship music, marketing gimmicks, and writing checks to solve problems, well then, don’t complain when all you get is selfishness from your members and a dead church with God not doing much at all.

I close with saying I pray for all the brethren. I know we can do better! If God’s for us, who can be against us?