Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transition Time

For about a year or so, I’ve been feeling like God has been leading me to take the concept of my weekly blog and transition it into a podcast. For a while, that didn’t seem possible due to the fact that when my wife and I adopted our two kiddos, I gave up my “music room”, and thus lost a space to record. However, now that we’ve moved into a more spacious home, I’ve got my home studio space back. No more excuses.

Like my blog, the podcast will be called Reclaiming the Faith, but not because I believe I have the corner on the truth. The reason it’s called Reclaiming the Faith is that I want to bring to light the beliefs, values and practices of the earliest Christians, which are often neglected by Bible colleges, Christian universities and seminaries. However, to make things a little more listener-friendly, my overarching mission is to demonstrate through these writings how an early Christians would respond to the core issues facing us today.

At first, while I’m still getting the hang of things, I plan on posting every other Tuesday. Next week, you’ll be able to find it on iTunes or at the main site.

Thanks so much for listening! And if you have a minute, please rate and review the podcast next week when the first episode goes up.

Grace and peace!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Faith Once Delivered & Joseph Smith

My wife and I recently moved into a neighborhood where several Mormon families live. I really like Mormon people, and you should too. They are some of the most friendly and sincere folks you’ll come across.

However, engaging in dialogues with them about Jesus can be a little tricky. You see, Mormons talk just like Christians. They use the same Christianese words and phrases as we do, and quote some of the same standard Bible verses that we have memorized. But although they may be using similar words, they have different definitions for those words.

For instance, according to Mormons, “Heavenly Father” (also known as Elohim) used to be a physical man like J. J. Watt. He died a physical death and was exalted to godhood where he had endless celestial sex with his many spiritual wives and produced countless spiritual offspring.

You will hear Mormons say that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. They also believe it is by grace through faith we are saved. However, their own prophets say that we are saved by grace… after all we can do.

To Mormons, Elohim (one of the Hebrew words for God) is just one of a plethora of actual gods, and though he is the only god they worship, he is neither the first nor the last actual god. Elohim’s first created spiritual offspring was Jesus, and one of his next was Lucifer, thus making Jesus and Lucifer brothers.

I could go on an on about their doctrine, but you’re probably wondering who came up with this belief system.

Joseph Smith founded the Mormon faith in the 1820s. He believed that Elohim manifested himself in a vision, telling Joseph to not join any of the standard churches. According to Smith, Elohim said that all of the Christian denominations had fallen from the path, their creeds were an abomination, and their professors (the Christians) were all corrupt. Also, the Bible was missing many plain and precious things.

If one is to trust Joseph Smith, God restored both His true revelation of the gospel and the correct translation and interpretation of the Scriptures in the 1800s. Thus, if we are to believe Joseph Smith, God cannot preserve His own Scriptures, Jesus’ words did pass away, and the faith once and for all time delivered to the Church by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was corrupted in its infant stages.

But are those beliefs accurate? Did the Church mutilate the gospel immediately after receiving it from the Apostles?

First, we have thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts from the first few centuries. Our modern word-for-word translations are not translated from earlier English translations or even Latin translations. Our modern word-for-word Bibles (Like the NASB and ESV) are translated directly from those earliest Greek manuscripts. You can absolutely trust that these types of Bibles are giving you the words that the Holy Spirit originally breathed out.

However, some may argue that the proper interpretations of the Scriptures became corrupted. This is where the earliest Christian writings particularly display their value. For instance, Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna in the early 2nd century, and a personal disciple of John the Apostle. His testimony, therefore, provides us with a unique window into the teaching and legacy of the Apostles.

So, what does Polycarp have to say about the faith handed down to him from the Apostles?  

If we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also to forgive others; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and “we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ.” … Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. … Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning. … Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case. – Polycarp 125CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 60-61 [CD-ROM]

According to Polycarp, the faith that was handed down to the Church once for all by the Apostles was first and foremost to make the Lord God Jesus Christ our beginning and end point. We start with Him and we end with Him. He is our righteous example. No one else.

Mormons may say they are Christians, but they clearly don’t worship the same heavenly Father as we do. They may say believe the gospel, but they obviously have a different understanding of salvation. They say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t believe He is the one true God. They are often very good people, but Joseph Smith, not Jesus, is their example.

What about you? Is the Lord God Jesus Christ honestly your example for righteous living? Do you believe in the faith once delivered?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Giving Keys to Thieves

After church one day a few years ago, a solid Christian woman began to be overcome with feelings of extreme sadness. A few of us, my wife included, went with her into a room to intercede for her away from the crowds.

As we prayed, a demonic presence appeared to manifest. She started to growl, drool and claw at the floor like a wild animal. Honestly, I was kind of freaked out. Though we eventually saw her receive deliverance from the evil spirit, within a few weeks it happened again. When I got a call about her experiencing her third bout with the demon, I sensed God telling me to ask her if she had been harboring bitterness and resentment toward a certain family member.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time I have ministered to brothers and sisters in Christ where prolonged bitterness and an unwillingness to forgive allowed evil spirits to have their oppressive way. Sometimes these Christians heard audible, evil, and berating voices, and one believer even heard voices telling him to do harmful, malevolent things to others.

In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul makes sense of this situation. He writes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” The word translated “opportunity” in this verse (topon) has a lexical range that includes “place,” “region,” “seat,” and “opportunity.” Jesus says in John 14:2 that He is going to God the Father to prepare a topon, a dwelling place, for His disciples.

So basically, remaining bitter with someone and refusing to forgive him or her is like handing a thief the key to our house. Specifically, Paul tells us this thief is the devil, and the house for which the key is made is our body. To be sure, handing over the key to our house is not the same as signing over the deed to that person. Just because someone has a key to our house does not mean he or she owns it. We still own the house.

If you have been born again, God hasbought you with a price and your body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit. The devil cannot own or possess something that is owned or possessed by God. However, if you have given away the key to your house to him, he has the ability to cause much damage to your life. Again, as Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Knowing this, why would you willingly give the key to your house to the thief?

Though what you just read may be outside of your tradition, the early Christians affirmed that unrepentant Christians can be oppressed and demonized by evil spirits.

Holy Scripture teaches us that there are certain invisible enemies that fight against us. And it commands us to arm ourselves against them. … We receive certain initial elements and (as it were) seeds of sins from those things that we use agreeably to nature. However, when we have indulged them beyond what is proper and have not resisted the first movements to intemperance, then the hostile powers size the occasion of this first transgression. They incite and press us hard in every way. They seek to extend our sins over a wider field. – Origen 225CE, ANF Volume 4, p.   [CD-ROM]

Thankfully, all of the individuals experienced full and lasting deliverance once they repented of the sins of bitterness and unforgiveness. They experienced the Spirit of God cast the evil spirits out from their bodies through the power, authority, name and blood of Jesus Christ. These Christians felt incredible spiritual and physical relief as a result of the repentance and deliverance that had taken place. One of them was finally able to start having a full night’s sleep after roughly two decades of restlessness.

What about you? Has a root of bitterness been allowed to run deep in your life for too long? Is there someone you need to forgive?

Today is the day for reconciliation. Today is the day for freedom. Today is the day to reclaim the keys of your house.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What I Didn’t Learn in Seminary

I’m so grateful that I was able to do my undergraduate work at a Christian university. It was there that I truly developed a love for the Scriptures and a passion to impact the world for Christ. I’m also thankful for being able to graduate from Seminary, and for the many practical ministerial lessons I learned there.

However, even though I was blessed with a wonderful traditional Christian education and graced with many brilliant professors, I feel like the writings of the earliest Christians have deepened my faith far more than anything I was exposed to in the classroom.

To be fair, we did learn about a few of the major Gnostic heresies during the Ante-Nicene period such as Marcionism, Valentinianism and Manichaeism. However, it was basically implied that real orthodox Christianity began to take root with the 5th century teachings of St. Augustine (who spent his early years as a Manichaean before converting to Christianity).

I have encountered many believers who experienced the same carefully shaped version of Christian history in Bible college or seminary as I did. We were informed of the heresies the earliest Christians stood against, but despite the vast amount of Ante-Nicene writings available to be studied, we were neither exposed to them, not taught what the earliest Christians actually stood for.

So, for the remainder of this blog, I’m going to provide you with a few testimonies from the early Christians that led me to begin questioning my previously held spiritual worldview. Each of these testimonies are from apologetic-type works, with the authors describing the actions of Christians around the entire known world at the time.

As you read these excerpts, I’d like for you to ask yourself this question: Why? Why are testimonies like these rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?

Justin Martyr on Christians and Violence in 160CE:

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified… Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us. – Justin Martyr 160CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 413 [CD-ROM]

Irenaeus on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in 180CE:

Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, … perform [works] in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift that each one has received from Him. Some truly and certainly cast out devils. The result is that those who have been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come. They see visions, and they utter prophetic expressions. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and the sick are made whole. What is more, as I have said, even the dead have been raised up and remained among us for many years. … It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church throughout the whole world has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them. – Irenaeus 180CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 676 [CD-ROM]

Tertullian on Christians and Government in 197CE:

As those in whom all zeal in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead, we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; nor is there anything at all more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state. … If, also, Jesus exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, He shrank back from being made a king, He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God? What kind and what number of weapons would escort Him? What kind of purple would bloom from His shoulders? What kind of gold would beam from His head, had He not judged the glory of the world to be alien both to Himself and to His? Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp. – Tertullian 197CE, ANF Vol. 3, p. 67, 110 [CD-ROM]

So, what do you think? What could be some of the reasons that testimonies like these are rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?

As I mentioned earlier, these are just a few of the subjects written about by the earliest Christians that began to cause shifts in my spiritual worldview. It can be scary when our worldviews are shaken; I know from experience. However, I’m so thankful that it happened.

The early Christians taught me to take Jesus more simply and seriously than I ever did before. They inspired me to believe with much more fervency that the same Holy Spirit who indwelt and empowered the Apostles still transforms and enables Christians today to walk as Jesus walked. They challenged me to trust more fully in God as my protector and avenger, and to more passionately wage war against the forces of darkness with the divine weapons graced to us by our Lord.

If you’d like to read more about my journey with Christ and how the testimony of the earliest Christians has been affecting my approach toward so many areas of life, please check out my book. Also, perhaps the best way to get introduced to the beliefs and practices of the Ante-Nicene Christians is to invest in The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. I recommend the hard copy, as it has proved much more user-friendly when navigating from topic to topic than the digital version. 

Seminary was definitely a blessing for me, but it’s what I didn’t learn in seminary that totally changed the course of my life.