Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Devil in the Details? Matthew 5:18, 19 and the Authority of Scripture part two

A few years after our church got started, we had a man who would attend our church a couple of times a month. He never joined and I visited him on several occasions. He told me why he came to our church, despite his unfaithfulness and disobedience, and it was something like this: "I know that you preach it exactly like it says in Scripture, so I figure if I come here and keep even 50% of what you're preaching, I'll be better than somewhere else where it isn't being preached like this." I've had different names for that kind of thinking through the years---home-spun or seat-of-your-pants theology. It isn't a biblical approach to Christian living. In one sense; however, I was glad to hear that someone believed, and fairly objectively, that he noticed that we were serious about everything that God said.

Wholeheartedness is what anyone should expect of Christianity if he were to read the life of Christ in the gospels. Jesus called for complete obedience to everything that He said. So why is it that we don't see this occurring today in churches? I'm not talking about sinless perfection but a striving to sort out all of Scripture and live every detail by faith. A first way that even professing believers shirk this responsibility is by saying that "Many Things in God's Word Are Doubtful." Anything else?

"We Must Stay Together for the Gospel"

As good as this sounds to some, there is something about it that is slightly off. It isn't exactly taught anywhere in Scripture. It has some truth in it and could be completely true if interpreted a certain way. But what is wrong with this? Mainly, Scripture doesn't say it.

The closest thing to this, I believe, is in Philippians 1:27, and I think we can be sure that Philippians 1:27 is where the seed for the idea comes.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.
I'd love to stay together for the gospel if the Bible taught that. However, notice what the verse says at the end---"with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." Of course, first here, it isn't "staying together," but "striving together," and then it isn't "striving together for the gospel," but "striving together for the faith of the gospel." The Greek word translated "striving together" is found only one other place in the New Testament and that is in Philippians 4:3, which says:
And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.
Philippians 4:3 is closer to the "striving together for the gospel" idea. It is easy to see what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4, however. There was a conflict going on in a single church, the one gathering at Philippi. Two women revealed in v. 2 were having a major fight in the church and that was causing instability there. There were all sorts of false teaching and practice in that area, which Paul mentions in chapter three, that could have caused dissension in the midst, but that wasn't even the issue with these two women. They just weren't getting along for personal reasons. They were two women who had before been working harmoniously together when Paul was there, but now they weren't. They were involved in the work of the Lord, preaching the gospel to the lost in the Philippi area but after Paul left, they started bickering at some point. He wants the church to help them, it seems, get it stopped, for the stability of the church and the well-being of these women.
That isn't anything like---"let everybody in the world who professes the gospel get along and stop fighting over anything other than the gospel." And then there is Philippians 1:27. What does it say we're striving together for? The Faith. Not the gospel. The gospel produces the faith. We can't believe or practice what Scripture teaches without the power and work of the gospel. We can't separate "the faith" from the gospel. However, the striving together is for the entire content of the Bible---that is THE faith---the Christian faith, the truth in Christ, the once for all delivered to the saints faith (Jude 3).
The verb "striving together" speaks of a contest and we are in a struggle, working together in concert as a church. This is the church at Philippi doing the job that God intends in a dark and wicked city. Like their church, our church is in a conflict to preserve and protect the faith from those who attack and destroy. Our members are in a conflict over the truth.
"The faith" isn't the gospel. You can't disconnect it from the gospel, but it isn't synonymous. A parallel passage is Jude 3. Jude wanted to write concerning "the common salvation." He would have gone on and on about the gospel, because he loved it. And it was something that those to whom he was writing had in common. That's something he would have gladly parked on. But he didn't. Why? He neededed instead to exhort them that they "should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." So Jude contrasts the common salvation from "the faith." Certainly they were related, but they weren't the same thing.
If men can widdle away and strike down several, various truths of Scripture, then they can also impact the authority of Scripture. If they affect the authority of God's Word, then they will also negatively impact the gospel, which is part of the faith once delivered.
Romans 10:1-10 and Deuteronomy
There's something else that anyone should consider that thinks that they are emphasizing and highlighting and adoring the gospel of Christ, when they ignore other teachings of Scripture for the sake of what they call "unity." God saved us to keep the details. The gospel changes us into detail believing and practicing people. I can show this in many places, but we'll consider Romans 10:1-10.
In Romans 10, Paul assures Israel that he really is interested in their salvation. If they did not get saved, it wouldn't because Paul didn't have the desire. He had it big time (Rom 10:1). If they didn't obtain salvation, it would be because of their own zealous, yet perverted thinking---being ignorant of God's righteousness, going about to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting to the righteousness of God (vv. 2-3). If they wanted righteousness, they needed to understand that Christ was the opportunity for righteousness for them (v. 4).
With Christ being their righteousness, they couldn't use inaccessibility as an excuse. To get across this point, Paul uses an Old Testament passage---Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Deuteronomy was an explanation of Israel's salvation. Israel could believe, love God, and they would receive blessing. It is obvious in Deuteronomy that this faith in the Lord was tied into everything that God told them to do in His Word. They were not to add or diminish from anything that God said (Deut 4:2; 12:32). This was the fundamental respect for God and His Word that was believing in Him. Don't turn this into salvation by works. It was never works that were a basis for God's saving Israel, but faith. However, their belief in Him was always directly connected to His being the powerful, conquering, faithful Lord and they being the surrendered servant. That is how the whole book of Deuteronomy is laid out.
And Paul quotes that particular passage to explain what it is to receive Jesus Christ in order to be saved. They could confess Jesus as Lord because God would make sure that everything that He said would be available for them to keep. Man believes unto righteousness. Righteousness is positional, yes, but it is also practical. The practical part is not just some of what God said, but everything that He said.
As a part of what we comprehend in Deuteronomy 30 and Romans 10, it is that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, the saving message, doesn't add to or diminish from what God said. Someone Who understands and then receives Jesus Christ as the end of righteousness does see Him as the end of righteousness. What they couldn't possibly themselves accomplish, Christ could and would.
Separating the gospel from doing everything that He said misses the mission of the gospel. The gospel saves. It doesn't save just from the punishment of sin, but also the power of sin. Jesus said to the woman at the well that it is also about making us true worshipers of God. What unifies us in worship is the truth. We worship in truth. God isn't worshiped by false beliefs and practices. He is worshiped by humble, submissive obedience to everything that He said.
Together for the Gospel?
Consider with me Together for the Gospel (T4G). This is the parachurch organization of a Charismatic, C. J. Mahaney, a Presbyterian, Ligon Duncan, a Southern Baptist pastor, Mark Dever, and a Southern Baptist educator, Albert Mohler. Supposedly, because they get together for the gospel (perhaps together for Calvinism, because Calvinism seems to be the primary common ground with them) despite doctrinal and practical differences---infant sprinkling (paedo-baptism) and signs and wonders (continuationism)---they love the gospel more than others that separate over these doctrines and practices. Is that true? Do people love the gospel more who won't separate over other doctrines and practices? Should they just set aside "the faith" for the sake of "the common salvation?" What does that say about everything else that God said in His Word? What does it say about what God saved us for? If we miss what God saved us for, could we ourselves be misrepresenting the gospel?
The T4G guys have other differences---church polity and government, eschatology, worship, methods, and more. What seems to make them so popular is that they, along with their other friends that you'll see on their conference line up, unify on this one point. As much as they stay together for the gospel, that doesn't mean that they will always separate over the gospel. On the campus of Southern Seminary, where Albert Mohler is president, is the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth. In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes concerning Billy Graham:
Not long ago I saw Billy Graham join Shecky Greene, Red Buttons, Dion Warwick, Milton Beryl and other theologians in a tribute to George Burns [a blasphemer of God] who was celebrating himself for surviving 80 years in show business. The Reverend Graham exchanged one liners with Burns about making preparations for eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham amused the audience and assured them that God loves those who make people laugh. It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God.
Billy Graham, who denies a literal hell and has taught universalism, is together with Albert Mohler too. Here's some transcript from one of Billy Graham's appearances on Larry King several years ago:
Larry King: "What do you think of Mormonism, Catholicism, other faiths within the Christian concept?"

Billy Graham: "Well I think I am in wonderful fellowship with all of them."

Larry King: "You're comfortable with Salt Lake City. You're comfortable with the Vatican?"

Billy Graham: "I am very comfortable with the Vatican."

Larry King: "You were preaching in his church (Pope) the day he was made pope."

Billy Graham: "That is correct."
You may wonder why Larry King, a Jewish man, would mention Mormons first. He's married to a Mormon. Billy Graham has wonderful fellowship with the pope and Albert Mohler has fellowship with Billy Graham and John MacArthur has fellowship with Albert Mohler. At some point, should someone separate over the gospel, you know, to make sure that we preserve it? Do you find it interesting, like I do, that these men and especially their evangelical and fundamentalist admirers could constantly exhort everyone about careful exegesis and then take the truth of "together for the gospel" so out of context?
The TG4 men should do more emulation of Jude, who, before he would teach of the common salvation, would exhort that they should earnestly contend for the faith. You can't preserve the gospel without even separating over the gospel. God is in the details of Scripture. The gospel isn't a reason to ignore or disregard the details, but a reason to be even more careful with what God said.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Announcement: Our Church Finishes Singing through all 150 Psalms

On Sunday evening, our church very unceremoniously finished singing all 150 of the psalms by singing Psalm 150:1-6. We decided to sing them in order right off the bat so that we would have sung all of them. It took a few years to finish. We sang them to God and because He said He wanted to hear them. The five books of the psalms are like an echo of the five books of the Pentateuch, giving back to God for what He has given us.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Devil in the Details? Matthew 5:18, 19 and the Authority of Scripture

Bartley's quotations say that "the devil is in the details" is actually a modification of the original quote, "God is in the details." Does it surprise anyone that the quote has been altered? After all, God is in the details. We see that nowhere better than Matthew 5:18, 19, where Jesus says,
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Often when this section of Scripture is quoted, you get only 17 and 18. However, verses 18 and 19 fit together too. If you leave out v. 19, you miss what Jesus was talking about here. "One jot or one tittle" in 18 connects with "one of these least commandments" in 19.
I've never said that I disagreed that this part of Jesus' sermon isn't about the authority of Scripture. It is; not about authority alone, but it is about authority. God's authority reaches to the smallest details of what He said. He wants us to do every part of Scripture without exception.
Why Was the Lord Bringing Up "the Details" of God's Word in the Sermon on the Mount?
Everything in the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with a stronghold that was in the audience to whom Jesus was speaking that day. The Pharisees saw the devil in the details. That was one way that they clashed with the Old Testament. So Jesus was reminding them that God was in the details and that He still was in the details. From the rest of His sermon, you can see that Jesus saw this as a major issue with that crowd. The religious leaders had twisted the Old Testament into something convenient for them, "allowing" them to "obey" God's law without actually obeying all of it.
The Pharisees obeyed a part of the law and called that obeying all of it. They left out the passages that they didn't like to keep. They could do this by either ignoring those sections or explaining them away. Like today, when you get enough people disagreeing with what a text is saying, then you can just say that it is too difficult to understand so that you're no longer responsible to keep it. "If God wanted us to obey this, He should have made it clearer." By doing this, they essentially made it so that they could keep God's law without having to keep all of it, especially the "nasty" details.
After this in chapter five, the Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said" (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). These references of the Lord are not every single violation of God's Word by the Pharisees. However, they do represent how these Jewish leaders were dealing with God's law. In their teaching and practice they were leaving things out that God had said. By doing so, they were sinning. Those "least of the commandments" were still authoritative. They had not and would not pass from the law. They were still responsible to keep them, even if they had what they thought was a legitimate excuse.
Since keeping all of God's Word is impossible for anyone, people who are trying to become righteous by their own efforts almost always minimize what God said to make it easier. They might add to Scripture too, but they more commonly take away from the Bible. That's why Jesus mentioned nothing "passing away." He doesn't say, "Not one jot or one tittle shall be added to the law until all be fulfilled." The problem here wasn't adding, but it was taking away. Adding certainly is a problem and the Pharisees sometimes did that, but their biggest problem was taking away.
Within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was exposing the unrighteousness of the people. They couldn't match up to the perfect righteousness of God that was required for them (Matthew 5:48), which is why they needed to follow the narrow way and build their house upon Christ (Mt. 713, 14, 24-29). The false prophets of which they needed to beware (Mt. 7:15-20) were showing them the broad road, which is easier and more people are on it. The broad road is more popular and why do you think that is? The broad road promises less regulations, so more fun. You don't have to worry about every jot and tittle on the broad road. The narrow road says that if you are going to follow Jesus Christ, you will want to do what He says, that is, "the will of the Father which is in heaven" (Mt. 7:21).
The Rebellion against God's Details
"Taking away" from God's Word is still the most common problem. Men rebel against God especially in the details. Instead of seeing God as a good God that gave the details for our benefit, they choose to see the devil in the details. They probably won't verbalize their disbelief in the goodness of God. As a matter of fact, they'll talk about how that they love God more than those who care about the details. They'll explain how that their love is "in their hearts," which is "what God judges." They opine that God doesn't care so much about the outward appearance, but about the great feelings and desire they have for God.
Jesus later says to His disciples that if we love Him, we will keep His words, sayings, and commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24). He doesn't say anything about how they feel in their heart or about their desire, sometimes expressed by these types in their breathy tones. The impressive heart for God will show up in deeds, even as 1 John 3:18 says:
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Of course, the heart must be a part of it. When Mary praised God for God's benefits to her, her "soul" magnifed the Lord and her "spirit" rejoiced in God her Savior (Lk. 1:46, 47). Worship of God must be in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23, 24). No doubt God doesn't want heartless obedience. However, in Isaiah 1 when God expressed His disgust with their heartless worship, it was because they were disobedient to many of the other things that He had told them to do. In other words, heartlessness reveals itself when we stop caring about the details of what God said.
How Are Details Being Lost Today?
Churches which fudge on the details of God's Word on average are exponentially larger in numbers than those who care. Men want convenient religion to count as commitment. I think everyone knows that. Sadly, the larger churches are marked as those having the greatest success. It's possible for a church doing right to become large, although it doesn't jive with the "few there be that find it" that we see in Matthew 7:13, 14, especially in a U. S. culture that is institutionally hateful to Biblical Christianity.
In a capitalistic country where success is judged by numbers, property ownership, and extent of growth, religion has followed suit. One common conclusion is that the leaders of the big churches must be doing something right or better than the those of the smaller ones. I believe that good churches will grow. How and why they grow is important. We can't judge success by size. What do the large churches do about all the things that God said that their people are not doing? How can they say they are representing God, when they are leaving out many of the teachings of God's Word? There are a whole lot of ways that this gets done today that I want to enumerate.
"Many Things in God's Word Are Doubtful"
God knew that men would say that Scripture wasn't accessible to them. He knew that they would use this an excuse for not doing what He said. This is one important reason why He said this in Deuteronomy 30:11-14:
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Several of the deeds God mandates in Scripture aren't easy to do because they clash with the world system. When men haven't wanted to keep those teachings, they have developed a "new interpretation" to those passages. After several new interpretations are invented, then it is too difficult to know what it means because there are "so many different interpretations."
The Bible says that wives submit themselves to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). The unbelieving world chafes at this. They start calling it the chauvenism of a bygone era, and they say we're past that paradigm of human relationship; "we've advanced." Many women don't want a patriarchal society. They like to take charge. Churches once stood for male headship anyway, despite whatever consequences. After decades of erosion, now many churches see it as too controversial to practice, that we really didn't understand the intent of the words of the passages. So we have churches who are egalitarian in their relationships. They don't want "to hold women back." They portray their position as superior. Gender distinctions in dress were the first to go, and then the alteration of the authority structure followed.
This is one easy example, but there are many other means of taking away from God's Word. The egalitarians would say that we need to "agree to disagree" and learn to see these things in different ways to keep the unity that is so important. And that brings us to a second way that we eliminate the details of God's Word.
"We Must Stay Together for the Gospel"
"We've Got to Major on the Majors"
Stay tuned as I deal with at least these two others in part 2.