Monday, October 22, 2012

Pope Peter

I. Principle Observation and Contention: The Roman Catholic Church considers Peter the “first Bishop” of Rome. They assume that Peter was given Primacy, a position above all others, making him the head of the church, or Pope. Thus they believe this gave Rome consequent oversight and jurisdiction of the universal church. This is why they speak of the Roman See, meaning that Rome was the seat of government for the Church. The following material shows that Peter was a leader, influential, and thus singled out on numerous occasions by Christ. But in none of these passages is there evidence that he was given a primacy of authority over other apostles, the church at Rome, and certainly not personally over the whole church.

1 In the scriptural text Jesus did address Peter personally more that any other single apostle, but these were most often confrontations with Peter which eventually effected a subsequent tempering of Peter and a mellowing of Peter’s assertive and impetuous spirit, making his natural abilities more useful to the Lord.

2. Examples of Peter’s impetuosity and Jesus’ molding remedial rebukes:
    a. Transfiguration: Not knowing what to say, said: “Let us build....” Peter corrected. Mk. 9:5-7
    b. Objected to Jesus’ order about fishing, relented, ashamed. Lk. 5:5, 8
    c. “Thou art the Christ.... I know him not.” Later rejoiced to suffer (Acts 5:41)
    d. “Though others offended, I will not, I will die.” Mk. 14:29, 31; Jesus: “You will deny.”
    e. Peter took his sword, Jesus rebuked. Lk. 22:49ff; Mt. 26:52; Jn. 18:10
    f. Jesus, “I will die.”Peter, “This shall never be.” Jesus: “Behind me Satan.” Mt. 16:21ff
    g. Peter: What about John? Jesus: Mind your own business. Jn. 21:20 ff.
    h. “When you are converted,” Lk. 22:32. “Feed my sheep. “Jn. 21:17 1) Not unique to Peter: Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-3; I Tim. 3:1-4

3. Leadership, yes. Authority over rest, and whole church? Nothing so indicated in all this.

4. Consequences of the Lord’s tempering.
    a. Willingly took Paul’s rebuke: Gal. 2:11ff; Cited and Commended Paul. II Pet. 3:15
    b. Would not be bowed down to: Acts 10:26
    c. Real willingness to sacrifice and suffer without fear. Acts 5:41
    d. Content as Witness, Leadership and Decision left to James and elders. Acts 15:19, 22
    e. Changed nature seen in I Peter: Isaak Walton called it, “Affectionate, loving, lowly, humble.”
    f. Conclusion: Peter’s Potential. A leader, conscious of self. After gaffs, enduring correction, tempered into humility, not exaltation. Sharp contrast to Papacy. 

5. What was the “Rock” the church (universal) was built upon. Mt. 16:15ff
     a. Jesus: “Who do you (plural) say that I am?” Any could have answered. Peter, typically.
     b. In Greek, and Vulgate (Official Catholic Text), Peter and rock differentiated. 
     c. Not, upon “you” (masculine), but upon “this rock” (feminine), modifying the foundation upon which Jesus would build his church.
     d. What is that foundation: Since the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and what was revealed to them all, Jesus would build his church upon them, their having not the knowledge of flesh and blood, but the revelation given them.
     e. The foundation of the church was not just one of them but all. Eph. 2:20.
     f. Built upon Revelation and apostles’ use and declaration of it. Jerome and Augustine stated the rock was the divinity of Christ revealed.


II What Were The Keys?:

 1. That which is bound and loosed. If we know what heaven has bound (required) and loosed (permitted) we have the keys to heaven. And all the apostles had that. Mt. 18:18.
     a. e.g., “Woe unto you, ye lawyers, for you took away the key of knowledge, you entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering, you hindered (Luke11:52)
     b. Knowing what heaven had bound (required) and loosed (permitted), one has the knowledge or “keys” to the kingdom.
     c. This knowledge by which they bound and loosed, the keys, was given to all the apostles, not just Peter (Mt. 18:18; Jn. 16:13ff).

 2. New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible, Confraternity Edition: “In heaven God ratifies the decisions which Peter makes on earth” (footnote on Mt. 16:9).
     a. Literal language of Holy Spirit contradicts: “...and whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” (Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, Robert Young).“be bound, be loosed (perfect passive participles).
     b. The apostles were to bind and loose what was revealed from heaven.

 3. The Impartation of this knowledge at first revealed to the apostles, and their consequent usingthese keys to the kingdom of heaven is how the church was built upon the apostles, not just Peter. (Eph. 2:20).

 4. Continuing not just in Peter’s word, but in the teaching and doctrine of the apostles is what constituted the original church (Acts. 2:42): About three thousand souls were added unto them, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine). It is what constitutes the church today. This apostolic word, containing all revealed truth (Jn. 16:13-15), is the rock upon Jesus built his church, not just Peter, but the work of all the apostles. (Eph. 2:20).

 III Peter’s Subsequent Position 

1. Paul certainly did not consider that Peter had primacy over him as he once withstood and corrected Peter to his face (Gal. 2:11ff), and specifically stated that he, Paul, was not “one whit” behind the chiefest apostles (II Cor. 11:5), nor behind any of them (II Cor. 12:11).

 2. In Acts 6 it was the apostles, not Peter, who appointed the 7 deacons.

 3. In the meeting at Jerusalem to correct the understanding of that church regarding gentile Christians, Peter was just one witness as to God’s work among the gentiles, along with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:4ff).

 4. It was not he, but James who upon that and the prophecy of Amos, with the guidance of theHoly Spirit (Act 15:27), announced the verdict, and who with the elders and members sent a letter to the churches declaring the revelation and their compliant and corrected understanding.

 5. In Peter’s epistles there is no hint of Primacy or exercise of such.

 6. Paul wrote to Rome (ca. 56-58 A.D.) when Catholic sources say Peter was there. In Romans 16 Paul addresses 33 prominent Christians there, but does not mention Peter, indicating that Peter was not there, much less Bishop there, or Pope.

 7. From Rome during his first imprisonment (62-64 A.D.) Paul wrote to the Colossians naming several Christians at Rome saying of his work there: “These only are my fellow workers unto the kingdom of God” (Co. 4:7-17). Peter is not among them.

 8. Writing to Timothy during his second imprisonment and shortly before his (and Peter’s supposed) death there in 68.A.D., Paul said of his companions: “Only Luke is with me.” He further said, “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me” (II Tim. 4:16). If Peter was there, he did to Paul what he earlier had done regarding his denial of Christ. Better to conclude Peter was not “Bishop” of Rome.  And early writings are mixed and not distinct in saying so, and even give contradictory accounts of bishops there.

 9. There is no conclusive evidence that Peter was ever in Rome (A Handbook on the Papacy, William Shaw Kerr, pp. 67-78; Roman Catholicism, Loraine Boettner, pp.117-120).

 Conclusion:
1. Peter was prominent, but did not act like he had primacy.
2. No one else accorded him that.
3. The New Testament evidence is against Peter’s being in Rome when he was supposed to be Bishop there.

 IV What Peter claimed 

1. He identified himself as an apostle and elder, with fellow elders (I Pet. 5:1-2), not as Pope.

2. What is an elder? The term comes from “presbuteros” older. A plurality of these presbyters were appointed in every or each church (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:1; Acts 15:2).

3. What were elders? The elders from Ephesus (Acts 20:17) were told take care of and feed the flock (Acts 209:28). Likewise Peter told elders to “tend the flock” among them, not elsewhere,and with elders in each church the tending or seeing-over this did not extend beyond the flock where each group of elders functioned, that is, beyond the congregation where they were elders.
     a. But again, the shepherds in the church were the elders.
     b. These older men who were shepherds, were overseers (I Pet. 5:1-3), exercising oversight (episcopos, episcopee.) This is the term for bishop (I Tim. 3:2) . Thus the elders were shepherds (poimen, pastors), were overseers (episcopoi. bishops)

4. An Elder (presbuteros), Pastor (poimen), Bishop (episcopos), is an older man, who shepherds, and watches over the flock. These are different terms describing different aspects of the same function, a plurality appointed in each church. The was not such things as one Bishop.

5. In the new Testament no church had one bishop over its pastors and elders. Each church had a plurality of elders, bishops, pastors. Notice the church at Philippi was addressed as the saints at Philippi with the bishops and deacons (servants). That was the structure of each N.T. church; thus autonomous. Not centrally governed except as they were subjected to Christ, the head.
     a. Further, Bishops “must be” married, leading their houses and children well, noting that one who had not managed this was ill equipped to take care ofthe church of God.
     b. This also shows it is not the church the bishop is married to, the members being his children. The bishop’s care of his wife, house, and children indicates ability to care forthe church. The house, wife and children, being one thing, the church another.

 7. This is what Peter claimed for himself. He never spoke of himself as possessing Primacy, or asbeing THE Bishop of Rome, THE Shepherd, Pope, or Head, of the whole body.

 V Nor Did Rome Have Organizational Authority and Power. Thus No Roman See

 1. Tertullian said no church had power over any other church. (Kerr, loc.cit.)

 2. In 1st seven ecumenical councils majority of representatives were Greek. Roman superiority not indicated:
General Council     Year        Place          Greek Bishops    Roman Bishops
1st                     A.D. 325     Nice                   315                     3
2nd                            381     Constantinople    149                     1
3rd                             431     Ephesus               67                     1
4th                             451     Chalcedon          350                     3
5th                             553     Constantinople   164                      6
6th                             680     Constantinople     51                      5
7th                             787     Nice                  370                      7

 Conclusion: Peter, though prominent, was not given any authoritarian position personally, nor given any authority not given to the other apostles. He was not given official primacy. Besides being an apostle he was an elder, a designation for the bishops (watchers-over) and pastors (shepherds) of the congregations, each congregation having a plurality (Acts 14:23, cf. Phil 1:1). It was as late as 150 A.D. when such as Polycarp championed the idea of splitting the function of elders and bishops, placing the latter over the former. This is not what existed in the scriptures and was obviously an innovation in the time and way it was introduced. As for the Roman See, based upon the supposition that Peter possessed Primacy and supposedly being Bishop there, the New Testament evidence is against Peter being there before his death in 68 A.D. Likewise historical notations from oblique statements from such as Clement of Rome, do not positively establish even Peter’s presence in Rome. The case for making Peter THE Bishop of Rome and thus Rome being the seat of the universal body of Christ is neither in the scriptures nor historically substantiated. Indeed, the message of the scriptures refutes it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Forward Christian Soldiers

Polarization. That's the condition of a civilization that hit its apogee in the 20th Century, our country. Our country? Whose? There was a time when we had a shared idea of existence and thus goals. Not everyone was a Christian or righteous. But there was respect for a common morality and mode of behavior. Until these latter decades the majority still had a sense of that, enabling us to struggle toward things better. But finally the long festering influences of secularism have dominated our educational, governmental, and educational systems so that such is quickly fading. What used to be a "melting pot," blending people into some respectful commonness, is eroding with astonishing acceleration. A Balkanization is replacing commonality of purposes and goals. That term refers to the Balkan area of Europe where the indigenous peoples are so divisively oriented that they lack common distinction, the resulting animosities keeping them in conflict. Likely that is coming here. Instead of "united" states, people may begin to gel into distinct groups. There will be those who want to live in the midst of "traditional" morality. Others will prefer existence with no moral restraints. If this should become geographic, and already there are parts of the country where one or the other prevails, divisiveness can lead to physical conflict and violence. Disintegration.

It was no coincidence that the previous paragraph began with "polarization" and ended with "disintegration," and thus greatness lost. So what shall we do about it? I can see what is attempted, even among Christians. There is great political concern and expression thereof. Militant articles and anecdotes inundate the Internet with great fervor and intensity, extolling the merits of one political view and excoriating the other. If one thinks I am opposed to dissemination of principled positions and discussing them he is going to miss the point, which is: I am wondering what would happen if we spent equivalent time, passion, and opportunity to spread the gospel. I am wondering if we are exercising more emphasis on salvaging human government, than in extending the kingdom of God in the hearts of men. Would I like to see a change in moral, political, judicial, and educational direction? Yes. I would love to live in a nation where virtue was agreed upon and the morals of Christ respected. But the hearts of people must be changed and politics will not do that. So what is going to change hearts, short of a severe destructive judgment for our sins? And given the growing darkness the latter is inevitable. God's "judgments are in the earth...ascribe unto the Lord the glory due his name" (I Chron. 16:14, 29). Ignoring that truth and that urging has eventually brought down every great civilization that has existed on this earth. We apparently are on the same trajectory.

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life" (Jn. 8:12). Heralding his world altering gospel will change hearts and save men, as we serve as "lights in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil 2:15-16). That is our mission, brethren. And we can pray. Prayer can and has changed the course of history. Anguished persecuted saints prayed and God brought down an empire (Rev. 8:3-5). We have something to offer even a world of darkness, and it is "mighty to the casting down of strongholds," as God is "in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience is made full" (II Cor. 10:3-6). When our obedience is made full! Forward, Christian soldiers.
Dale Smelser

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Spirit of the Law"

As noted in a recent class discussion, Christians dedicated to living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4), are derided for trying to keep the letter of the law, when their efforts rather should be expended on keeping the spirit of the law, whatever that is. On the face of it, that is patently ridiculous: God gives us commands to obey in ordering our lives and service and then says, "You don't really have to obey them, just keep the spirit or tenor of them!"
Given that the words "spirit," "law," and "letter" are found in the New Testament, if the above construct criticizing devoted obedience is not valid, there must be a disconnect between how those words are used in scripture and how some apply them. To begin with, they are wrongly assembled. There is no where in the entire original text where you will find the expressions, "Spirit of the law," or "Letter of the Law," (though regarding the latter, "of the law" does appear in italics as an interpolation in one verse in the NASV). But, nowhere does God's word propose keeping the spirit of the law. You read right. Read the sentenced again.
Here is what the Bible says: "...God...made us...ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:4); "We have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6); and of God's "spiritual Jew" under the new covenant, "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter" (Rom. 2:28-29).
So what is meant by letter and spirit? In the first text, new covenant and letter are contrasted. In explanation, spirit and letter are contrasted, thus spirit is equated with the new covenant. The letter is represented by that engraved on stones, thus the law of Moses (II Cor. 3:6-7). The term spirit referring to the new covenant, requires a new condition of covenant participation. Thus the second passage (Rom. 7:6), says we have been discharged from mere law, the "letter," and serve in newness of spirit. What this new requirement is we shall see momentarily.
If "the letter" refers to the law of Moses as well as any system of mere law, which leaves us in condemnation, what is the contrast? For if "the spirit" references the new covenant, seeing that there are laws therein, and it is written as well as was the old covenant, what is the difference? That becomes clear in our third text (Rom 2:28-29). Under the first covenant, the letter, one was a Jew who was born in and of Israel. The law, the letter, decreed all Israel to be associates of the covenant. Thus King Saul was of Israel and a covenant object though spiritually flawed. The lad Samuel was a subject of the covenant, and "ministered before the Lord" with Eli even before he knew the Lord (I Sam. 3:1, 7). By being of Israel they had covenant status by decree, by letter. But now we must know the Lord to participate in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11). Now it is our heart that is to be circumcised. I am to be a child of God in my heart, in the spirit. Thus one's relation to God is not because he is a Jew, established by letter, or law of the old covenant, but individually each must be a child of God in his spirit. He must take God's laws into his mind, and have them written on his heart (Heb. 8:10). New covenant relation depends upon the nature of his individual spirit, not upon a decree or letter covering all in an outward physical relationship, a difference in old Israel and new Israel, the church. Or as Robert Turner once put it, one does not belong to Christ because he attends the services of a certain church, but he attends such because he belongs to Christ. To mitigate obeying God's law fails to see that his laws are so important I must take them into myself, into my very heart, mind, and spirit.
As a closing implication, under the new order there is no decree, or letter, that by birth makes one part of a covenant. For even those who had such status may have wished to break its laws. But with God's law in one's spirit his greatest desire is to keep it. He is a child of God in spirit.
Dale Smelser

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

“Come Unto Me”

In the Tolkien trilogy Lord of the Rings frightful darkness was growing in Middle Earth. The evil quest for power imperiled all creatures. How are we doing today? The 20th Century was the bloodiest in history. One reason for that is, so many more people populated the earth than ever before. What does that tell us? The more people the more darkness. And is there perhaps something to learn here, like, man does not do well on his own and needs help?

Oh, being blessed with minds and reason, abundant diffuse resources, and reliable physical laws, material progress occurs, if spotty. How beneficial it might be if we understood that every new material progression results from a discovery of another of God’s decreed natural laws, and that such realization should send us to seeking God’s spiritual laws as well. But how many more of these physical laws are there to be discovered which are now beyond even our imagination? This, while in the realm of the spirit where God has already given us all the answers (II Pet. 1:3), we reject those in pursuit of “pleasure,” which takes us into callous destruction of life in abortion and systematic extermination of those not approved or judged problematic, or into sexual depravities and transmitted diseases, destructive addictions, inventions that publicly spew filth, and hatreds of all sorts. But why not do these, as our intellectuals give us explanations making life a mere accident, eliminating not only purpose in life, but morality. The appeal of that is it theoretically frees them from answering one day to a Higher Power. What a paradox, that light is available while man keeps cranking up the darkness.

On the other hand, what wonderful claims were made 2,000 years ago of a Man who lived then. He was more than just man. He was Deity come to earth, born and dwelling in human form (Jn. 1:1,14). And it is not contrary to reason that true Deity certainly would have that power. This was Jesus, of whom it was declared, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (Jn . 1:4). Oh, you mean Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, Sagan, and Dawkins aren’t? Well, whose ideas do you think are ultimately responsible for the dark moral and social maladies noted above, and more?

Here is Jesus, born of a virgin, pure in life, profound in teaching, and raised from the dead, the last attesting the validity of the rest. And there were witnesses who wrote of, and died as martyrs because of their testimony, of this resurrection. They affirmed such while it could still be tested, as hundreds of witnesses still lived who could be questioned about that death, burial and resurrection (I Cor. 15:6). And no other explanation comes anywhere near explaining all the facts related to that empty tomb. Thus if Jesus, validated by his resurrection, said he is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12), he is. Rejecting that light results in our darkness.

This Jesus, this Light, says, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). He can lead us out of the maladies of men seeking power as Sauron sought the “ring” to consolidate his dark power over Middle Earth. He can deliver us from the guilt of any of those works of darkness we may have fallen into. He can in love make us clean and reconcile us to a Holy Righteous God.. He can lead us into an eternal life where the power seeking of man is ended and unwanted, where the pinnacle of existence is attained. Even present religion is stained with man’s quest for power as men impose their wills upon others. Jesus shows us the light - his way to pardon, and to life, and his way to serve. How wonderful the call, “Come unto me.” How blessed the response, “I will.”

Dale Smelser
www.nwchurchofchrist.net
Germantown, MD

Thursday, January 19, 2012

HELPFUL ANSWERS

Introduction: Listen carefully and choose your battles wisely. There is a tendency to try to answer everything someone says. That is not necessary. To decisively answer some of their questions will establish confidence and provoke interest. Someone says, “But if I don’t answer everything, won’t they think I agree.” Listening is not agreement, unless one remains totally silent in the face of error. Then silence is not golden, it is just merely yellow (Rev. 21:8). But it is better to adequately address one issue, than ten inadequately.

I “The Bible has changed as it was passed down through the centuries.”

That is not so. We have over 4,500 ancient Greek manuscripts, partial or whole, to check with. This is greater attestation than for any ancient writings. Then there are early writings quoting the Bible to compare with, as people write articles today and quote the Bible. There are ancient commentaries quoting the ancient text and many commentaries from as early as the 2nd century such as the Syriac, Old Latin, Coptic, besides the Peshita in the 4th century, and others. The Dead Sea Scrolls have validated the Old Testament.

II “If there is a God why is there so much suffering?”

God did not make a suffering world. He made it all good (Gen. 1:31). All suffering came after man’s sin (Gen. 3:16-17). God could stop much suffering by destroying our free will, but we would be an entirely different kind of creature. Do you want that? By allowing suffering, God helps us to look and hope for something better, and we find him and eternal life (Rom. 8:18-21).

III “What makes you follow Jesus instead of Mohammad or Buddha?”

The empty tomb. The resurrection was prophesied (Psm. 16:8ff) and proves Jesus to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). And consider his witnesses. Before his resurrection they ran away and denied him. After it, they boldly preached him in the same city. They all died holding to the claim that he was raised from the dead. Eleven of them died martyrs’ deaths holding to the claim. If men make up a lie, and know it is a lie, how many will hold to it if you put a gun to their heads and assure them you will shoot unless they renounce the lie. In effect this is what happened, and they all died saying it was so. Mohammed died and people go to his tomb. Buddah died and remains dead.. The tomb of Jesus is empty.

IV “What about reincarnation?” (Heb. 9:27)

V “I was told to accept Christ to be saved, and I have done that.”

Just say, “Praise the Lord.. Now I hope you will do what that gives you the right to do.” When they ask, show them that did not save them but gave them the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12). Then show them how their faith makes them that (Gal. 3:26-27). There, people were children of God through faith, for they had been baptized into Christ.

VI “But isn’t that spiritual baptism?”

This is a new thing made up to get away from water baptism. Note that the baptism in Gal. 3:27 is into Christ. And what puts us into Christ gives us the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). And the baptism that gives us forgiveness or remission of sins is the baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). That baptism is followed by, followed by, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus that baptism is in water (Acts 10:48). Thus the baptism that puts us into Christ where we have forgiveness is water baptism, which saves us (I Pet. 3:20-21).


VII “But that is doing something, and salvation is not of works.”

People did ask, “What shall I do.” And no one told them, “Nothing.” They were all told something to do (Acts 2:26-38; Acts 16:30-31; Acts 9:6 & 22:16). Believing is doing something (Acts 16:31) and Jesus called it a work (Jn. 6:28-29). People on the one hand confuse keeping the law perfectly and thus being justified by their works, having never sinned, which no one but Jesus has done, and the idea that salvation is conditional. There are things to do. Confession is doing something and they quote Rom. 10:9-10. Repenting is doing something. If there is nothing a person can do, then he doesn’t have to believe, confess, or repent. And after all Jesus said, “Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 7:21).

VIII “I do not know anyone who is a better person than my friend, not even Christians, and he has not been baptized. Do you mean to tell me he is lost?”

A person is not lost because he has not been baptized, he is lost because he has sinned. I am sure your friend is a very noble person. But like all of us, at some time he has sinned (Rom. 3:23). He is not perfect. And that is why we all are lost. Look at Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2). He certainly was a good man but he had to listen to Peter who would tell him words “whereby you shall be saved” (Acts 11:13-14). And Peter commanded him to be baptized (Acts 10:48).

IX “There are contradictions about the life of Christ in ‘the gospels’.”

There are not contradictions. There are different details. Consider the sign put on Jesus’ cross. Matthew: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” Mark: “The King of the Jews.” Luke: “This is the king of the Jews.” John: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Is there contradiction here? No, the sign said all of those thing. Putting them together, the sign said, “This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” The 4 writers wrote from 4 different perspectives. Some emphasize on thing, some another. If they were all going to say the same thing why use 4? And if they had all told all the same facts in the exact same detail, people would accuse them of copying an original. Four different people today will tell different parts of the same event. This is not contradiction.

X Be ready to give an answer (I Pet. 3:15).

I am only one, but I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But I can do something.

What I can do, I ought to do,

And what I ought to do,

By the grace of God I will do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Railing at Glory

Events declare how philosophically and spiritually shallow are the principal influences in our culture. The following events are transient and the details will be forgotten and seem passeňä before long. But the state they reveal will likely get worse until conditions are so distressing reform will be an appealing necessity.
Tim Tebow is a mere football player. But he has a strong conviction about God and is unashamed to declare that. Without all the details, one characteristic will suffice. He credits Christ for his ability and successes. He can be seen on the sidelines on one knee, head bowed, giving thanks. This has driven our cultural mavens into madness, in deranged frenzied antagonism and mockery. Foul mouthed and all but publicly fornicating players receive plaudits, but a person full of good works which bless suffering children as well as others, in monetary and personal ways, is in his faith an absolute thorn in sides of our influential secularists.
And so to their rescue comes Saturday Night Live. A skit is presented where a “whatever” Jesus visits Tebow and the locker room of the Denver Broncos with irreverent banter delighting the “sophisticated” audience. Revelatory enough, but something more significant was to come. Bill O’Reilly, who touts his Catholicism, and criticizes those he calls “secular humanists,” showed the skit on his news commentary show. Following the skit, there he sat with a benign avuncular smile, and chortled, “I hope God has a sense of humor.” Thus a professed believer’s principal response to the profane distortion is amusement. That takes us to new depths of peril. Now a sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and without it life might miss some of it color. And man who is made in the image of God has one, so I take it God does. There are a few things in his word that evoke humor. But principally His Word is a declaration of what he has done, that we might know who he is, and thus his significance to our existence, destiny, and hope, which leads to our serving him with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).
A culture may have it skills, learning, and diversions, but if it lacks something that is greater and more than its transitory self, how futile. If it lacks a knowledge of an existent profoundly greater actuality, how trivial and vain. If there is nothing so high and ennobling that it is due our absolute reverence, life is lacking, especially in purpose. To contemplate and revere things high and noble, greater than the individual, and greater even than the whole collection of mankind, is to be ennobled oneself. To look up to One who is Holy, Holy, Holy, who was, is, and is to come, is to give a sense and purpose to life nothing else can. That is a quality of thoughtful and serious people. Thus our initial observation. How philosophically empty and spiritually shallow is a culture that has nothing so transcendent as to be above parody or burlesque, and that includes O’Reilly’s vacuous amusement. Is humor our greatest quality and virtue?
The scriptures speak of people who are “daring, self-willed, (who) tremble not to rail at glories” (ASV footnote , II Pet. 2:10). Given that is an evaluation of the One who shall eventually judge us all and in whose hands we now dwell, can we appropriately laugh off such things in our empty helpless shallowness?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Heavens Do Rule

To those who do not recognize the sovereignty of God, there is a mystery about history. Why is the course of history so consistent? Why do repeated attitudes and actions of nations always lead to the same result? Why is it that great civilizations do not endure? Why do they all end crumbling or devastated? Regimes and philosophies rise and fall. There appears no permanence.

The answer to all that of course, is that there is law for man's conduct upon the earth. When peoples disdain that law, they break themselves against it. Even before the law was codified by Moses, and radiantly clarified in the gospel, law existed. As long as there has been sin, there has been law: "Where there is no law, there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15 ). Transgression, sin, is a violation of God's law (I Jn. 3:4). Sin has existed since Eden , therefore law has existed since then. God punished the world for its sin in the flood, yet that was before the writing of the law by Moses. The law existed before the law of Moses was written. "Until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed where there is no law" (Rom. 5:13 ).

So, from the beginning there has been a law for the moral conduct of man. When nations set it aside, they do so to their own detriment. God will not allow sin to ceaselessly pollute his earth. When peoples and nations are sufficiently defiled, God brings them into judgment. Afterward, peoples reform. But their offspring neglect the reforms, and then their offspring eventually reject the early standards altogether. And God brings judgment again. The flow of history is thus determined by God in heaven. These repeated patterns indicate law. There is a moral Governor of the universe. As King Nebuchadnezzar learned, "The heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26 ).

I recently clipped the following from some newspaper. It noted that the great civilizations of mankind have averaged about 200 years before collapsing in hardship, and had to start over again. Those societies proceeded through the following cycles:

From bondage, to faith and strong morals
From faith and strong morals, to courage and strength
From courage and strength, to liberty
From liberty, to abundance
From abundance, to selfishness and license
From selfishness and license, to complacency
From complacency, to apathy
From apathy, to dependency
From dependency, back into bondage

Ancient Ninevah repented in the time of Jonah and set the clock back when its doom was nigh. As the salt of the earth, and light of the world, Christians need to do their work. And we need to pray, and then live commensurately with our prayers. Too many who claim to be Christians have put other aspirations first (selfishness), and have succumbed to the false promises of materialism, unrighteousness, and immorality. Where on the above list do you think this nation is? We know where it was in its beginning. Let us remember. The Heavens do rule. The glory of God must be our first concern. And that concern will be blessing to us. -- Dale Smelser

Common Standard

From Sword and Staff I lifted the following anecdote which provoked the thoughts following: President John Quincy Adams called both houses of Congress together for a special session. He walked in carrying two "bushel" baskets and said, "The bushel measure in my right hand came from South Carolina; the one in my left hand came from the city of New York. One of these bushel measures contains sixty-eight cubic inches more than the other." He paused a moment to let that fall on the minds of the Senators and Representatives.

Then, he walked to a table and picked up two one pound weights and said, "This weight in my right hand came from Massachusetts ; this other one came from Maine . One of them weighs nearly an ounce more than the other." He gave them time to think about it, then he concluded, "Gentlemen, we need a standard measurement and a standard weight in the United States of America ."

The result of that speech and demonstration was the establishment of the Bureau of Standards of Weights and Measures, now known as the National Institute of Stadards, or NIST. Now, whether you live in South Carolina or New York City , a bushel is a bushel, and whether you live in Massachusetts or Maine , there are sixteen ounces in a pound.

Now think, the requirement that saints " keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3), and that the same apostolic ways be taught "everywhere in every church" (I Cor. 4:17 ), likewise requires a common standard. If such is required of saints, and those two passages are addressed to saints (Eph. 1:1; I Cor. 1:2), then there is to be a common standard among saints. Those who reject that conclusion for the subjective conclusions of their own preferences, are not saints.

Paul required Timothy to, "Hold the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me" (I Tim. 1:13 ). He then commanded Timothy, "The same commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also (II Tim. 2:2). Paul's message was "the word of God" (I Thess. 2:13 ). The conclusion is that we are not to measure ourselves by ourselves, or by our own varying standards (II Cor. 10:12 ), but by the word of God, that which Jesus revealed to the apostles (Jn. 16:13 -15).

This says that saints have a common standard for life and service. Just as our states have common standards for various measurements, there is a standard for measuring what and who a saint is, and what he does. Those not conforming and not complying are "illegal." Or to put it another way, they are transgressors, not abiding in the doctrine of Christ (II Jn. 9). Since saints conform to a common standard, and we are called to be saints (I Cor. 1;2), those not complying with the pattern are not saints. They may be religious, but they are not the set apart people of God.

Can we think God will take it lightly that some have more respect for the standards of the United States , than they do for his? In the judgment we will not be judged by our own varying religious standards, but by a common one. Jesus said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (Jn 12:48 ). There will not be varying sizes of bushel baskets in the judgment. -- Dale Smelser

The Lord's Supper

To understand how and how often to eat the Lord's supper we must understand what kind of book the Bible is. Is it just history? Is it just devotional inspiration? Is it a guide, a pattern? If the latter, what in it must we follow?

The Bible teaches in ways other than direct statements and commands. Paul said, "Be ye imitators of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy...who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 4:16 -17). From this we learn that the Holy Spirit, directing Paul, expects us to learn by example, as well as by commands. We are to imitate the ways of Paul. Not all his ways, just those that are in Christ, those having to do with how he served Christ. And his examples are to be followed alike by all the congregations (I Cor. 4:17 ). Similarly we read, "The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do" (Phil 4:9). By showing us how real people and real churches in real history acceptably served Christ, Jesus says, "Here is how I want to be served. Serve me as the people did who were directed by the apostles."

Now we go to Acts 20:7 and find: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples gathered together to break bread, Paul preached to them." Paul arrived there on Monday. So in spite of the fact that Paul was hastening to Jerusalem , he tarried until the first day of the week when the saints would meet to break bread (eat the Lord's supper, I Cor. 11:26 ). Some read this and say, "So what, they ate the Lord's supper on the first day of the week. What does that have to do with us?"

Remember, the Lord teaches us by the examples in his word. So when we ask how often the church meets to eat the Lord's supper, the only information is an example telling us brethren met to eat it on the first day of the week. And the hastening Paul waited until then to eat it with them. They would not be coming together to do it sooner or at some other time. So we eat not just following a casual event, but a purposeful apostolic example. Since the Lord said he wanted us to learn in that way and follow, we take this precedent as instruction, and eat the Lord's supper on the first of the week, not neglecting any. If we decided not to eat the Lord's supper on some Sunday, then we would not have eaten it on the first day of the week according to precedent.

We eat one bread, which is a communion of the body of Christ (I Cor. 10:17 ). There is a unity of our eating, unleavened bread. We drink one cup which is a communion of the blood of Christ. There is a unity of our drinking, fruit of the vine (I Cor. 10:15 -16). The one cup is not the container. The word "cup" is a figure of speech known as metonomy, where the contents are referred to as the container. We say the baby wants a bottle. Lots of luck. Hand the baby just the glass container and he will continue to cry. We drink one cup, the contents. We all drink the fruit of the vine, representing the one thing, the blood of Christ. You will not find some drinking orange juice, others tea. At the passover meal, Jesus instituted the Lord's supper. He took a cup and told them to divide it among themselves. They didn't fragment the container. They divided the contents. Then they ate the bread and drank the cup which was already divided among them (Lk. 22:17-20; I Cor. 11:23-27). Drinking the cup, they evidently used several containers, having divided the cup among themselves before drinking. -- Dale Smelser

That Your Days May Be Long

The article in the Washington Post announced, "Study Finds Regular Churchgoers Get More Life Out of Life." Its lead paragraph said, "Live longer, go to church. A major study of church attendance and mortality indicates that people who attend church every week live an average of seven years longer than people who never attend."

Life expectancy was 53.3 years beyond the age of 20 for people who never attend church. For those who regularly attend at least once a week, the increase was 61.9 years. For those who attended more regularly, there was an extra year added to that, making life expectancy for them, 83. The study was funded partially by the National Science Foundation. Other studies had noted a positive link between religion and physical and mental health. But this was the first study on a national level. Suggested explanations are that frequent churchgoers are less likely to engage in "unhealthful" behavior of the less principled. There are also the supportive ties between members. And there is the possibility that worship decreases the stress which is at the root of many illnesses.

While germs, viruses, and genetic flaws can appear at random striking anyone, it should not surprise us that even approximation to God and righteousness is beneficial even in this life. Even religion that is deficient would have benefit as it approached the ideal. In emphasis on God rather than self, upon excellence rather than indulgence, upon principle rather than pleasure, there is bound to be some benefit. The response of the unprincipled leaders of our day is predictable. There will be the sit-com canned laugh line, "Religious people don't live longer, it just seems longer." But that denies the actual math, doesn't it? They just don't understand that the pleasures of righteousness are not so fleeting as theirs, which need a constant "fix" in new indulgence.

Here are some relevant promises of God. "Godliness is profitable... having the promise of the life which now is, and of the life which is to come" (I Tim. 4:8). There is national benefit as well as personal. Immediately after giving the Ten Commandments, and teaching love for God, Israel was required to do "right and good, that it may be well with you" (Dt. 6:18). Moses said the commandments to fear the Lord, "are for our good always, that He might preserve us" (Dt. 6:24 ). And in the Commandments is a requirement and blessing. "Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land" (Ex. 20:12 ). Of course it was understood that the parents were walking in and teaching God's laws.

The results of the above study were declared long ago by Peter. He said there is a "blessing" in righteousness, and then declared the blessing: "He that would love life and see good days... let him turn away from evil and do good... For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication (I Pet. 3:8-12). Living longer is not going to convert lovers of sin and haters of righteousness. Nor is it going to make us love God more. It is faith that humbly and joyfully compels us to the feet of God to worship Him. The advantage is icing on the cake and some vindication in the face of the assault on faith and piety. And thank God for that gift. But especially for the hope we have in Christ for eternal life in utter joy and undiluted blessedness. -- Dale Smelser

The Book of Job

Sometimes the book of Job is discussed under the heading, "The problem of suffering." But the book does not really answer why we suffer. It does teach us that faith in God, and dependence upon Him, makes suffering endurable, hopeful, and thus manageable.

After all the accusations and counter claims in the book, after all God's discourses with Job, Job never learned the reason for his suffering. He continued to serve God and died without knowing. But he learned to trust God who has answers we don't understand.

But we know why Job suffered. Satan had accused man, saying in essence, "Every man has his price." Thus God had Job stand in our place and prove the nobility and principled behavior (as opposed to mere opportunism or pragmatism) of which man is capable. Because of who God is, good men will endure the utmost suffering to serve God out of mere faith and love.

As Christ stood in our place, so did Job. And both suffered for precisely the same reason. They were righteous. An unrighteous person could not have successfully endured, represented, and performed what was best in, and for, man. Job's accusers argued that his suffering was a sign of his unrighteousness. But the suffering of neither Christ nor Job had anything to do with their own sins. That is why Job foresaw Christ as his redeemer (vindicator, Job 19:25 ). Suffering does not necessarily denote God's displeasure with a particular individual. And regardless of the terrible anguish in Job's life during the events of the book, we can be sure Job is now rejoicing because of his role in the history of man, and rejoices at the suffering he endured, knowing now the crushing blow it was to Satan, and the glory it gave to God.

The vicarious suffering of neither Christ nor Job needs repetition. Once the ability of humans to act with integrity was proved, and once atonement was made, it was not necessary to establish or accomplish either again. It was done.

A problem some have had with the book is this: If it is to prove the nobility of man, doesn't the convenient and romantic ending where Job is rewarded, detract from pure nobility? Job was given even greater substance and standing than before. The answer is that the ending completes his typifying Christ, who would be exalted and glorified after his suffering (Heb. 12:3; Phil. 2:5-11).

The answer as to why there is suffering in a sinful world ruled by a good God, is found elsewhere. If this realm where sin abounds, were suffering-free, man would be content and never yearn for better. He would continue in sin and never seek God. So God subjected this place to vanity, "in hope" that man would seek deliverance from this bondage of sin and find the eternal life available to him in God's plan (Rom. 8:18 -25). In a world that suffers, God produces the craving of hope. And suffering declares that God's order, as it had been in Eden , cannot be corrupted without consequences. There are consequences in a world of sin. Sin is here, and the creation suffers, even those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit. This is not our abiding place; this is not for what we were made. Job stood in our place and proved the nobility and faith of which man is capable. Christ stood in our place and atoned for our sins. The hope is attainable. -- Dale Smelser

Religion and Family

There is a new study out of the University of North Carolina about youth and religion. UNC is hardly a religious bastion. Some of its public stands have been anti-religious. But the new study gives support to the idea that the family is the basic unit of society, and that family stability is strengthened by religion.

This is contrary to a lot of modern theory which has tended to get children away from the home earlier. Some educational theorists have been effective in advocating this. Our observations here are not an attack on public educations per se, but of the direction some therein wish it to go. Their aim is to get the child out of the home as soon as possible. First there was kindergarten, then preschool, and now there is some movement to start public education at age three. Some of the more radical elements have let it slip that parents are too early corrupting young minds with out-of-date ideas, including religious ideas, and that schools getting control of children sooner will save the children from these corrupting influences.

In states where kindergarten is available but not compulsory, I have known parents who chose to opt out of the kindergarten choice. They felt the child would profit more by another year at home under family influence. Of course, where both parents worked, kindergarten was a convenient option, as is the possibility of even earlier schooling. It is free day care. This present study, as well as others, may undercut the idea of compulsory universal early schooling. The idea is that more home influence is better than early socialization. The latter tends more to peer pressure, and pressure to conform to societal, rather than family, norms. And the study says that religion strengthens the home.

The study was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., and its latest publication, “Family Religious Involvement and the Quality of Family Relationships of Early Adolescents,” also draws conclusions from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It concludes such things as, “Adolescents...reared in religious households are more likely than peers from nonreligious families to admire Mom and Dad, to not run away from home.” And, “More religiously active families...exhibit signs of stronger family relationships”... “The parents get along with the teens better, the teens (are) more likely look up to their parents.”

That considered a “religious family” in the study is where religious activity such as attending worship services, or praying together, are engaged in 5 to 7 times a week. Among such families more than 70% of youth want to be like their parents. In non religious families this falls to about half. Obviously societal and peer pressures are stronger upon youth from non religious homes. In religious homes 61% of youth report eating dinner together with their families every night. Among non religious families only 38% of youth eat with their families each night. Having fun with the family each day was reported by 19% of youth from religious homes as compared with only 5% of youth from non religious homes.

While these figures are not ideal, they show a correlation between religious activity and family stability and influence. They show a spiritual component to man not satisfied by a secular society. And if we are not critical of public education per se, we are not champions of religion per se. The knowledge and practice of Truth that comes from God is going to be more powerful than just religion. But those of you with teens are to be commended for your faithfulness. Be assured that your faithful attendance is beneficial to your youth. Also let the gospel pervade your households. The family will be stronger, your young will be happier, and better equipped to withstand the godlessness that has been sown in this nation. “Nurture your children in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). - Dale

Reflections from Childhood

I generally think of my present faith as one developed seamlessly, without interruption. In my upbringing I was taken regularly to church, and trained morally and spiritually at home. With steady and growing understanding, came faith and commitment. I don't know what got me to thinking, but it came as a shock to me that such was not quite the case. There were cross roads and forks along the way. Different courses could have been taken. It frightens me to think what might have happened if one of those other paths had been pursued. Would I have recovered?

Here is one of them. My mother was a Christian. My father was not. That alone might make it easy for a boy to be disinterested. With World War II, my mother went to work. It was the patriotic thing to do. It was also financially beneficial. My family bought a house. I had lots of freedom and ran with a group of kids who had the same unsupervised time I had, and had similar preoccupied parents who tried to make it up to us in providing frequent parties here and there. Actually, at ages 10 and 11 we were acting much older than we were. A group of us went to a movie, but some of us were paired up. The girl with me being 12, and I 11, I bought one "adult" ticket and one "child's." I cringe when I think of that, for many reasons, but it helps me understand why our "relationship" deteriorated somewhat. She was associated with a younger man. But we all had as much or more impact upon one another as our parents did. I still went to church on Sunday mornings, but things could have gone either way.

What saved me, and probably several of us, is that we had a background of teaching regarding right, wrong, honesty, and responsibility. Though we were too free, those lessons being recent rather than remote, still carried weight. There was also the influence of my mother's faith in earlier years when she had been so determined and fought so hard for my spiritual attention, and guided it. She went to much trouble to see that we attended services regularly. That had made church an important thing, and had residual influence.

Nevertheless, I can look back and see weakness of resolve in my self and probably her. I can remember a Sunday when a friend with whom I was sitting didn't want to stay after classes. A fleeting, and I mean momentary, stomach discomfort hit me. It had before and would again, without interrupting other things I was doing. But I decided to complain that day, and my mother said I could go home. She should have told me I would live. I remember walking home with mixed feelings. There was a little guilt, but it was really a nice Sunday morning to have off.

Even with such lapses, I still identified more with what was right because of early teaching. I was just growing less militant about it. But if those lapses had begun to dominate, where would I be today? And if we had stayed there, they might have. But the war ended and we moved. My mother was at home again, her determination was renewed, and the folks at church took an interest in me. I began to listen better. Conviction grew and I obeyed the gospel. Thank God.

I was prepared to do right. But in softening of resolve, I might have lost the fruit of that preparation. Fortunately my peer influence had come from those who were not so different. That often is not true today. What do you think will keep our children from taking a wrong fork in the road? How about, our consistent unrelenting commitment, and example? -- Dale Smelser