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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Unreformed and Unashamed: Conclusion (3 of 3)

If you have not already, you might want to read the first two posts in this series (here and here) before you start reading this one. As the title indicates in brackets, the present post is number 3 of 3 posts. Today, we wrap up this examination of the short comings of reformed theology. I deem these shortcomings important enough for me to distance myself from the reformed movement somewhat. The present post deals with a near-fringe element of our disagreement with reformed theology; for the main reason of my disversion from a Reformed identity, check out the previous article.

Introduction and Definition of Terms

Even though many members of churches may not know it, every church runs by a certain general principle that governs the activities of Sunday worship. The two major principles available on the shelf of choice are the Regulative principle and the Normative principle. The Regulative principle claims to do only what God commands in the Scripture, and the Normative principle to not do what God forbids. We could reverse the positive/negative aspects of these definitions, and we would have the Regulative principle emphasising not to do anything that the Scriptures have not commanded, and the Normative principle emphasising only to do what the Scriptures have not forbidden. The slightly different emphasis will play out in the way that the gathered local church will worship. For instance, the Regulative principle will typically see as the only valid elements of worship singing, praying, reading, and preaching the word, besides financial giving and a recitation of historical (uninspired) documents of the reformed tradition. The Normative principle will advocate a flexibility that does all that God has commanded and none of what He has forbidden. Any church will evaluate which elements of the worship service to keep and which ones to drop based on their rubric. If a potential element is not specifically discussed in the Scriptures, the Normative principle may still have it practiced. The Normative church will make decisions on what to do/not to do by taking into consideration the whole counsel of God's word.

Each principle has its extremities. On one hand you have Regulative principle adherents who confuse a forlorn mood for spirituality, and on the other hand you Normative principle adherents who confuse hype and entertainment for spirituality. Both equate spirituality with an emotional response of sorts. However, there are balanced adherents of either view who seek to be reasonable. This post will be comparing the balanced views of either principle with the aim to show why I am convinced towards applying a polished version of the Normative principle. You could think of "unregulative and unashamed" as the title of this particular post in the series; I am biblically unconvinced of the regulative approach. The rest of this post says why.

The Regulative Principle is Impossible to Live-by

In an ideal environment where God prescribed all the details of the worship service, His people might be able to follow it. As it is, though, the Scriptures are not a guidebook on the corporate worship of the assembled saints. The Regulative principle of worship treats the Bible like such a guidebook. As such, it is a principle built on sand. Its first basic assumption is a faulty one; it is no wonder, therefore, that it fails the reality check. It fails to correspond to reality in four fundamental ways.

Firstly, it has to separate individual worship from corporate worship. No one attempts to make the elements of the private worship of God regulative because they cannot do so. The Scriptures say, that everything we do ought to be worshipful (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). The dichotomy between a Christian's church life, and their individual life during the week is not biblical one, but the Regulative principle forces it upon us. Imagine trying to find a Scripture that prescribes taking a shower or brushing your teeth for private worship. As far I can tell, it is impossible to hold onto the Regulative principle of worship without creating an unbiblical dichotomy between the principles governing private and corporate worship.

Secondly, even if we admitted, for argument's sake, that this dichotomy can be made, still, strictly speaking, the Regulative principle cannot be lived out in church. That is why the promoters of this principle have to come up with separate categories of things that can be regulated by the Scriptures, typically called elements, and things that cannot, typically called circumstances. (I wonder where this distinction is prescribed in the Scriptures.)

Thirdly, it makes the worship of God a matter of rule keeping: This point will be developed later in the post.

Finally, Regulative principle advocates see no problem with the reading of announcements and non-canonical confessions, and the teaching of Sunday School classes parallel to the Sunday service, and, yet, they vehemently argue that elements ought to derive from the Scriptures. I do not see the Scriptures prescribing the public reading of any Covenants and Confessions, as profitable as they may be. When Regulative principlers persist in participating in these non-canonical elements, they seemingly show that the Regulative principle is a self-imposed burden which is impossible to bear.

The Regulative Principle Goes Beyond What is Written

The typical reaction when I bring up this point with a Regulative principle adherent is surprise. At a surface level, it may seem like the Regulative principle is trying to stick to what the Scriptures teach. However, two illustrations should suffice to show us how the Regulative principle goes beyond what is written. Imagine unlacing your shoes, polishing them, and leaving them in the corridor (right next to the shoe laces). Now imagine that you sent one child to tell another, "Bring me my shoes," and the child went and delivered that message, but forbade the other from bringing your laces along. Is it not obvious that the messenger kid has added to your prescription by offering a prohibition of their own invention? The Regulative principle does essentially the same thing. It says that you must not do anything that God did not say to do. For a second illustration, a messenger whom you tell, "Buy bananas for lunch," and he interprets that to mean, "Buy only bananas..." has gone beyond your word. A basic understanding of sets in mathematics informs us that the word "only" in an expression means the difference between a right and a wrong answer. On a venn diagram representing the relationship between a basket of bananas (B) and a basket of apples (A), bananas would be represented by B plus (A intersection B) while bananas only would be represented as B minus A. In short, there is a difference between a bare prescription and a prescription that is coupled with a prohibition, and the Regulative principle does not seem to understand that difference.

Are you so convinced of the Regulative principle that you think you could win me over to it? Answer the following question satisfactorily, and you will have me more than half way there. Help me understand; how do you derive a prohibition to buy sugar solely from a prescription to buy milk?

The Regulative Principle Rides Covenant Theology's Fault

The Regulative principle's direct biblical support comes from Covenant Theology's misunderstanding of the discontinuity between Israel and the church. For instance, Derek Thomas argues for this principle based on the specificity with which the tabernacle was supposed to be built (i.e., Exodus 25:40). In fact, even if we granted this reasoning a fighting chance, for argument's sake, the building of the tabernacle would not be a proper parallel for the activities of corporate worship. Instead, had we to carry it over to the New Testament era, it would be a prescription about something that would typically be understood as a circumstance and not an element of worship. Covenant Theology's faulty view of Israel and the church serves to flame the furnace of the Regulative principle. In this particular instance, the same way that Covenant Theologians make too quick a connection between ecclesiastical eldership and the appointment of the 70 elders in Israel (cf. Numbers 11;16-17), is the way the Regulative principle is carried over and applied to the New Testament in its Old Testament garb. By the same means of the admixture of the Old Testament and the New, OT tithing, Sabbatarianism etc. carry over to the New Testament, a phenomenon that can be attributed to Covenant Theology and the Regulative principle that rides alongside it.

The Regulative Principle Rebukes the Normative Principle

When the Regulative principle rebukes the Normative principle, it poses some really difficult challenges for the latter. However, I think that the Normative principle can answer all its critics satisfactorily whereas, I think, the Regulative principle cannot. I have heard no end to criticisms of the Normative principle. Some of them are valid concerns, but others are mere threads.

A leading valid concern against the Normative principle is its risk levels. I have been asked, "Where do you stop?" The Normative principle's allowance for the faithful to walk by the edge of the fence is dangerous, and it seems antinomian. My response to this concern is usually that I see its validity, and that we ought to tread carefully as Normative faithfuls. However, I usually add that I am more favourably inclined to the Normative principle not because it is risk free, but because it seems like a better representation of Scripture (e.g. Romans 14). A counter accusation I make concerns the Regulative Principle's tendency to build a legalistic fence (i.e. less flexible boundaries) within God's more-flexible fence, as the Pharisees did.

In an accusation which is a specifies an instance of the previous one, the Normative principle has been accused of opening a door to syncretism. I see the point, but the Normative principle is not inherently a door to syncretism. My defense is usually that the Normative principle better allows for the contextualisation seen in Paul, and as such, it may struggle with syncretistic tendencies more than other methodologies. Its resolve to obey the spirit of such passages as 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is what puts it at the risk of the syncretistic tendency. Surely, a risk that arises as a result of obedience to God must be a welcome risk.

I have heard accusations of not adhering closely enough to the protestant reformation's cry of "Sola Scriptura." I have admitted guilt for not adhering close enough to that battle cry, and I have asked God to keep growing me in my love for His Scriptures. Furthermore, I have argued, as above, that the Regulative principle runs the same risk of not adhering to Sola Scriptura, i.e. by adding to the Scriptures. I have pointed out that Luther, who was not a Regulative principle guy, was right at the center of the protestant Reformation. He totally believed the Solas even though he was not "reformed" in the sense that that term is defined today.

Another accusation is that the normative idea oversimplifies issues so that, "I have dad's permission to punch you in the face since dad did not say not to." My response is that properly understanding the whole counsel of God's will usually protect the church, which is "the pillar and buttress of truth" (1 Timothy 3:13-14) from such nonsensical errors. The Scriptures teach a lot more by way of principle than just by direct prescription and/or prohibition. A kid who has interacted with dad long enough will know that dad would not want him punching his siblings in their faces even though dad may never have forbidden that specific act directly.

Also, there have been biblical examples that have been summoned to warn me against my belief in the Normative principle. The deaths of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and that of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 are usually invoked to assert that the Normative principle is dead wrong. My response is usually to point out that Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah each did something that God had clearly said not to do. They crossed the proverbial boundary, and for that breach they died. Nadab and Abihu used "strange fire" where they were supposed to use fire from the altar of the LORD (cf. Leviticus 16:12). Uzzah disobeyed Numbers 4:15. Comparing Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah's situations to the Normative principle is clearly wrong since the Normative principle teaches not to do anything that God said not to do. These examples of people who faced God's wrath to the point of death did so because they did not heed the warning of the Normative principle. Until an example can be shown of someone who was thus treated by the Lord for doing something that God had not forbidden, the Normative principle should continue to stand unmoved.

Conclusion

In light of the fact that several legitimate queries are laid before the Normative principle, I am convinced that every normative practice requires careful application. There are those who are more convinced the regulative way, and would rather deal with the accusations laid before that principle instead. Depending on how much polishing they do to the Regulative principle, we might find ourselves in roughly the same place pertaining to the methodology of our worship.

Interestingly, I think that mistake that reformed theology makes is to think that their theology is what represents the Reformation not totally unlike Pentecostals who think that their theology is what aptly represents the events of the day of Pentecost. In this sense, the names Reformed and Pentecostal can be quite misleading. I understand that Westminster and 1689 are a rich legacy; I would be a great fool not to recognise that, but even a great human legacy is not infallible. Among other shortcomings, Luther had his mutilating of the Scriptures to exclude James, and this was precisely because of his rich legacy. In the same vein, Calvin stuck to his paedo-baptisms considering them the New Testament replacement of circumcision--and that is but one of the dents of his rich legacy. On that note, I will not, therefore, be too surprised to learn, if I do, that I have been mistaken on a point or two, if I have. If such a time ever comes, may the Lord grant me the humility to say, I was wrong, like I have said about some things in the past. Thus must I come to the conclusion of this series that has hopefully blessed you as it has definitely blessed me.

May the revival at my church never bring us to a place where we lose track of the distinctives that make us a more pure biblical church than most today. Chief among those distinctives is an unshakable resolve to obey God's voice in the Bible no matter what. As a church, may we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I hope to see you back here again and again for more meditations on the things of our God.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Tomato Vendor's Ministry

Introduction

While motivating me to join my undergraduate theological training, a pastor-friend of mine said, "The pastorate is better than any career in life. It is better to be a pastor than even to be a president." His reasoning was airtight and convincing enough then. He cited the fact that the pastor commits himself to the eternal rather than the temporal well-being of his followers. I agreed with him. I was obviously excited to hear that I was going to college to pursue a calling higher than the presidency. That I could be greater than Obama, in actuality, was no small lure. Later, as I grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the prospect of being "greater" than the president started to seem hollow and unsettling. While I was in college, another pastor-friend gave me an opportunity to teach a young adults' group about the Holy Spirit, and, as such, about spiritual gifts. In my study of 1 Corinthians 12, I started to understand more of why a pastorate is not better than a presidency. How can one compare the taste of a chocolate bar to that of a chicken's steak? They are both good in different ways. I would be hard pressed to say which was better. Cristiano Ronaldo used a similar argument during an interview in which he was asked to assess how he compared to Lionel Messi's soccer genius. Said Ronaldo, "You cannot compare a Ferrari with a Porsche..." If you ask me, I think Messi, the Barcelona FC striker, has a slight edge over Ronaldo as shown in the comic image below. :)
Moreover, Messi is a natural soccer star. Ronaldo is a hard worker. He gives a lot of effort to turn out right. In a similar manner, we might argue that chicken has a slight edge over chocolate since the former is a natural food. However, the argument of naturalness is fallacious. It does not really answer the question, but it simply shifts the discussion. Whether or not the chicken is natural does not tell us whether or not it tastes better. Messi's more natural talent does not say whether or not he is a better footballer than Ronaldo. Maybe, as Ronaldo says, they are just Porsche and Ferrari; they are both great howbeit in different ways. As many pro Ronaldo opinions may exist as anti-Ronaldo ones.

At least, since, after I prepared and taught that Bible lesson on spiritual gifts, I do not think the pastoral vocation is better than the presidential one. I think the pastoral vocation is better for my pastor-friends since God has called them to it. The presidency is better than the pastorate for someone who is called to be a president. The man whom God has called to be a pastor sins if he tries to be a president instead. In like manner, the person whom God has called to be a president sins if he attempts to become a pastor instead. In other words, it all depends. It depends on what God has called one to. Whatever God has called you to be is not just better than any other profession. For you, it is the best profession in the world. It is exactly what God created you to be.

Two Birds, One Stone

The tomato vendor, the doctor, the good neighbour, or the lawyer, each has a responsibility to worship God through the specific opportunities that God provides. We typically think of the apostles as those who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) with the gospel, but Acts 8:1 and 4 describe a situation where the apostles stayed put in Jerusalem while the rest of the church scattered out of Jerusalem taking the gospel with them. Whereas the apostles were in leadership, and they commanded the respect of all of the church members, they definitely did not turn the world upside down. The turning of the world can only be attributed to God's working through the whole body of Christ's people, not just its leaders.

One time Mr. X, a pastor, was headed home from work. It was so late that the PSVs that he depended on were scarce. He saw another pedestrian walking, headed in his home's direction, and he thought to make friends with this pedestrian so as to walk home together. Together they would be safer in our city which is full of "Nairobbery." After a brief chat to make his acquaintance, X managed to invite the pedestrian to church. X killed two birds with one stone. He walked home a lot more confident than if he had been alone, and he was able to seize the strange opportunity that God provided to do the work of ministry. Two birds, one stone. Does it take a pastor to share the gospel? No. The tomato vendor, the doctor, the lawyer, or just the good neighbour could do exactly what X did. That is ministry. I contend that God has called each Christian, no matter his/her profession, to minister the gospel. Even if one's profession is as ordinary as that of a tomato vendor, God has called us all to be worshipers who participate in the making of other worshipers. God has called us to the ministry of two birds; one stone. You may be a surgeon, a doctor by profession, but God has called you to participate in the Great Physician's mission of restoring sinful hearts to Himself. The house wife who is just a good neighbour is called to show her thirsting neighbour where the Fountain of Living Water is to be found (cf. John 4, especially verse 39). And if this ministry work is true about every Christian, then the pastorate is no better than the presidency as long as the occupants of either office maximise whatever opportunities God brings their way to do the Father's business. Too many people give up what they call "secular" professions when they perhaps should not. To be sure, some of those who give up other professions for the pastorate are right in doing so, but others are simply mistaken when they think that they cannot serve God well unless they are on a local church's payroll.

Some Scriptural Principles

But, you may argue, the pastor does ministry day in day out. I agree that the pastor's role grants him more opportunities to share the gospel, but remember that Christ, our Judge, looked at the widow to whom God had given less material things and said that her pennies were worth more than the paper bills of those who had even more paper bills to spare. She had given her all; God saw that. Christ looked at the percentage of her giving rather than its "weightage." Will He not judge those who maximise their fewer opportunities to participate in evangelistic work by the same standard with which he judged that widow?

Finally, even though some pastors may be evangelists, the pastor's primary role is not necessarily directly evangelistic (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5). A governing text behind the thoughts in this blog post is Ephesians 4:4-7; 11-16. Those graciously gifted to be pastors among Christ's flock are so gifted to equip the saints for the work of ministry (verse 12). It is the saints, and not just the leaders who do the work of the ministry. (Note that the leaders are also included in the category "saints.") A pastor who thinks, without any disclaimers, that the pastoral vocation is better than any other vocation is ignorant at best, and arrogant at worst. The arrogance may be masked if you compare it to a prestigious office like the president's, but can you imagine a pastor who asserts that his office is higher than that of the tomato vendor? Does such a pastor not sound eerily like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Such reasoning does not work for the unity of the body of Christ, but for the glorifying of one member of Christ's body over the rest (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

Conclusion

The tomato vendor's ministry is a ministry of the word, just like her pastor's. Even in light of 1 Corinthians 12:31, I can still say that all spiritual gifts are equal and none is more equal than others. "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and power forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV; the italics are mine, for emphasis).

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Unreformed and Unashamed: Introduction (1 of 3)

Introduction and Preliminary Disclaimers

This blog post is not exactly a thorough introduction to the issues of its subject matter. I understand that the post possibly raises more questions than it answers. It introduces several ideas that are new to many Christians, even many solid Christians, as I have recently discovered. As such, I have included some links to help with a cursory understanding of the issues discussed. Moreover, I intend to follow this post up with, at least, two more posts: one explaining why I am not convinced by Covenant Theology, and the next explaining why I am not convinced of the Regulative Principle. Even though this particular series of blog posts is one I would have preferred not to be writing, I feel obligated to do so as my formally Independent Baptist church takes a reformed bent. I want to be any help to those who might wonder, like I often do, what it means to be an unreformed baptist who is, nonetheless, not unorthodox.

On three fronts, the title of this post can be misleading. Firstly, I am reformed in the sense that Christ has taken from me the heart of stone, and given me new birth by His Spirit. As such, I have been truly reformed by His grace, and I continue to be reformed daily by the sanctifying work of His Spirit.

Secondly, in spite of the way my title might sound to my dear brothers of the reformed tradition within Christianity, I do not view the reformed tradition with any derision whatsoever. I believe that there is a real revival in our day amongst our reformed brethren, and all of God's universal church is benefiting tremendously from this mini revival. For instance, there is a proliferation of books written by reformed authors especially to delineate the sorteriological considerations of Christian theology: The church today desperately (and quite sadly) needs to define what the gospel is, and the reformed brethren are doing a wonderful job producing such resources.

Thirdly, in fact, those who relate closest with me argue that I am reformed, but that I am simply embarrassed by aspects of reformed theology. Moreover, I find myself in the trenches of ministry with many reformed brethren today. My current home church was not reformed when I joined it, but it is becoming more reformed by the day--thanks to the influence of my pastor-friend (and the other elders?). Also, thanks to the migration of several reformed young adults from a friendly reformed baptist church on the opposite side of town from us.

I cannot sing enough praises of the reformed tradition. I am glad that our church is reforming. The reformed bent has already injected new life into us. I have prayed for revival for my church for several years now, and God has chosen to send one with a reformed bent: Praise be to His name!

Why do I call myself unreformed?

I am a baptist. Because we moved a lot as a family, I have been a member at various baptist churches with differing doctrinal positions. For the longest time, I was a Southern Baptist. In fact, it is in Southern Baptist circles that I came to faith in Christ and was immersed in the waters of baptism for obedience to Christ's instruction for a public profession of faith in Him. Sadly though, Southern Baptist churches in all the places where I have lived so far tend to have charismatic leanings. After high school, uncomfortable with the charismatic phenomena at my Southern Baptist church and at the Scripture Union at my boarding school, I started looking for a church that was not all about charismatic hype. I had to wait for slightly over a year before I came across an Independent Baptist church, which had just moved into the neighbourhood. (While I waited, I experimented with several churches.

Ironically, I found one Pentecostal church which was much better at de-emphasising the charismatic phenomena than the Southern Baptist churches of this new neighbourhood. I stayed at the Pentecostal church for most of my waiting period.) In His sovereign orchestration of my life, God did not bring me into contact with any Reformed Baptist churches. (I avoided Presbyterian churches for reasons that we are better off not discussing in this post.) However, I learned Calvinism (and came to appreciate it over Arminianism) courtesy of a love for reading. As I read the systematic theologies written by reformed Christians including Hodge and Berkhof, I had my appetite whetted for reformed theology.

As I delved deeper still into books, journals, and other literature with a reformed leaning--specifically Reformed Baptist literature--I came to conclude that, apart from the solas and other foundational aspects of the Protestant Reformation, there are three basic tenets that define Reformed Baptists: The Doctrines of Grace (summarised in the acronym TULIP), Covenant Theology, and a Regulative Principle of church life. I embraced the Doctrines of Grace, but I have not embraced any of the other two tenets of reformed baptism to-date. The time I spent at the Bible college that I attended in Zambia served to reinforce and solidify my leanings against Covenant Theology and against the Regulative Principle.

Therefore, to the extent that Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle define the reformed identity, I am unreformed. I consider myself unreformed because my theology is not defined by the 1689 Baptist Confession. I have some quarrels with the Westminster Confession beyond simply the question on baptism. Therefore, I have these same quarrels with the 1689 confession since it "is essentially the Westminster Confession of Faith reworded as it pertains to baptism," according to GotQuestions.org (accessed on 22 October 2014). In light of these facts, I hope you can begin to understand why I call myself unreformed.

Why do I have to say that I am unashamed to be unreformed?

The reformed baptist movement is larger than the Independent Baptist movement, and it is not rare to find Reformed Baptist adherents, be it laymen, preachers, or scholars, sound as though they are the only ones on the right track in terms of relationship with God--like Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:10, 18). It seems like the rest of us who are not fully convinced of the reformed identity ought to somehow blush with shame. Honestly, in such a day when the Reformed Baptist movement is doing innumerable exploits for God's Kingdom, I am often tempted to blush over my audacity to question what the movement stands for.

However, recognising that my conscience is bound solely to God's word, I have to remind myself constantly that I cannot be swept by the tide of reformed baptism's Covenant Theology and its Regulative Principle unless I am convinced of these things from the Scriptures, which is the way I was convinced of TULIP. I have to be unashamed (and unashamable) in my stance against Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle since, as far as I can tell, this stance of mine is based on the Scriptures.

The quote below, which I took from Jonathan Merritt's article, aptly summarises why I feel the necessity to add to this post the idea that I am unashamed to be unreformed.

"Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out. (One might call to mind John Piper’s iconic and infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet.) Some within the movement talk of God’s sovereignty while seeking to control the destinies of other Christians and often speak of man’s depravity with a haughtiness that undermines it."

--For the full article, follow this link.

Why, then, do I embrace the reformed concept of five-point Calvinism?

Because I believe in Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Persevering Saints (summed in the acronym TULIP), I sound and feel like a reformed baptist to those who are close to me. It seems to me that TULIP is the foremost defining aspect of reformed theology today. Since I shout heartfelt amens to it, it is understandable why someone would find it difficult to believe that I am not actually reformed. In fact, if TULIP is all that being reformed is about, then forget the title of this blog post, I am reformed. This reasoning, however, betrays the fact that we are assuming that Calvin (and the reformed tradition) invented the, so called, doctrines of grace.

When we argue that someone who believes the doctrines of grace must be reformed, we are saying in essence that non-reformed people cannot see these points in the Scriptures unless they are part of the reformed camp. In other words, if we really believe that TULIP is Scriptural, we ought to say that every Christian should believe TULIP whether or not they are reformed, rather than saying that anyone who believes TULIP is, therefore, reformed. R. C. Sproul refuses to equate reformed theology to TULIP, and he is definitely an authority on things reformed. I believe TULIP because I believe that the Scriptures teach it. C. H. Spurgeon said so too. I thank God for Calvin, whom God used to expound it, but I have no reason to think of TULIP as Calvin's invention, unless someone convinces me so, in which case I would abandon it.

Honestly, I have no reason to think that I cannot embrace the "doctrines of grace" unless I am a true son of the reformed tradition. Moreover, I am obviously in more agreement with reformed theology beyond just TULIP. The points of our agreement far outweigh those of our difference: That is why I consider them Christians, and Christians with whom I can do all kinds of Christian ministry. In fact, the points of my disagreement with reformed theology are so nuanced (they might sound facetious) that it quite fair for someone to accuse me of being reformed and only slightly embarrassed by aspects of reformed theology.

Conclusion

So I conclude this blog post more in agreement than disagreement with my reformed baptist brethren. (The next two posts in this three-post series will be squarely focused on the points of disagreement though.) If nothing else, I pray that this series may be a challenge for those among my readers who have not come to any conclusion concerning these matter to think more about them and to gradually come to some form of conclusion over them. They are important matters which govern how we understand the Scriptures. Both sides of this discussion agree on what the Scriptures are. However, there is considerable disagreement over how the Scriptures ought to be handled. That causes the gravely important differences, differences that we dare not simply ignore.

See you next week for part II.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Terrorists in Shepherds' Clothing

June 2, 2014

Dear Christian, who is interested in Africa,

Re: A Reminder of your Role in Bringing Revival

Introduction
Perhaps you know this, or perhaps you don't, but our beloved Africa is under siege from assailants who are catalyzing a catastrophe which is worse than anything the Al-Shabaab could ever do. The Scriptures say, "...If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?" A little later on, it continues, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:25, 28, ESV).

In context, these verses discourage Christians from too much fear of a certain group of people (the persecutors of Christians), and encourage them to fear Someone else (Jesus Christ). That Jesus is the One to be feared (and the reason why he should be feared) is further clarified in verse 33. "But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" Some of the good news in this blog is that the false teachers who are misleading people, deceiving them, and pointing them towards hell are ultimately incapable of putting any one in hell. Only Christ can. We should fear only Him. 

Meeting the Issue
Nevertheless, false teachers are doing something treacherous. Terrorists persecute genuine and nominal Christians alike: They blast them out of this world. They are the human killers of the bodies of whomever they perceive to be advancing Christian thought against their Jihadist causes. May I submit to you, dear Christian, that we have a worse form of terrorists in leadership over purported Christians all over Africa? They are the human slayers of the souls of billions. These figurative terrorists are quite easy to identify. Like their brothers the Pharisees, they tend to love Mayfair and pomp. They drive pompous cars, and love to dress in pure white from head to toe. When they enter there stadium-sized auditoriums or visit actual sports stadiums, people cheer and act as though they were watching the Triumphal Entry of Matthew 21. But what is worse than their love for the praise of men is their doctrines. Their doctrines are "teachings of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1, ESV). This blog is about such figurative terrorists.

With this letter, I intend to add my voice to those sounding an alarm for a spiritual revival in Africa. Spiritual revival in Africa CAN come about in our life times (not necessarily WILL). If it comes, it WILL (not just it CAN) start with a de-emphasis of the so called "anointed man of God" and a re-emphasis of the anointed Word of God, the Bible. We have a perfect example of Christians whom the Holy Spirit commends for their holy mistrust of man and total trust in God. These were the Berean Jews (Acts 17:11-12). 

"God will give you a job making more money than you've ever imagined / With a position you're not even educationally qualified for. / It is called Favor"--Marcus Gill

My friend had not only borrowed the words and graphics from a Marcus Gill; she had appended three words of her own before the borrowed graphic. She had said, "Recieve this. NOW!" Do not get me wrong, I love the motivational quality intended by this graphic; I even shared twice. But when "Receive this" heads up anything, my theological antennae go up because I understand something about the contemporary scene of theology in Africa. Savage wolves, those terrorists, who call themselves prophets are all over the Christianized segment of the continent spreading a lie: If you accept Christ, they hiss, you will invariably "Receive" tremendous material blessings. They love to use the word "Receive!" in their twisted theology to deceive many who are naive. They say that if you claim anything (especially wealth and/or health), if you claim any of the material lusts of your wildest fantasies, you "WILL" receive it. They say, “you are a god,” and by that, like their father the devil, they mean that “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). It is a half-truth, a lie connivingly calculated for the doom of the hearer. The biblical fact is that if you ask for wealth or health or anything else from God, you CAN receive them. You may receive them, but only if God wills (Cf. Matthew 7:7-11 and 26:37-39; Mark 14:32-36; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10; James 4:13-16 and 5:14 etc.).

What liars they are! Both the Scriptures and Christian experience provide overwhelming evidence against this lie which is propagated by these false teachers, these savage wolves dressed in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15 cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). May the condemnation and downfall of their erroneous theology come quickly! My earnest desire is that God may save them lest they stand before Him on the Day of Judgment and be as surprised as the fools of Matthew 7:22-23. May God save them or do whatever else it takes in His wisdom and design to rid our motherland of the menace of false prophets. Dear Christian, who is interested in the well-being of Africa, I hope you can join me in prayer for that.


Most of the rest of the material in this blog (i.e., after this paragraph) is an edited comment that I wrote under the post for my dear friend others to see. "Why is it edited?" you might ask. I had to add a good amount of Scriptural support to my argument so as to beef it up. I wanted to prove it to you from the anointed Word of God and not just my opinion. The "man of God" (2 Timothy 3:17) is incompetent without the Word of God. If you have the Holy Spirit in you, it may take time, but you should come to appreciate that the so-called prosperity gospel is unbiblical. I hope and pray that He does so sooner than later. I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit convinces at least one person through this blog. In faith, I am praying for this, and I know that He can even though He may not do so. I do not know about you, but I cannot bring myself to say that God WILL do something unless He has said so Himself. Maybe I am just coward, but I cannot muster the arrogance to say that God WILL have to do this or that. My understanding of reverence for God demands otherwise.

When Gill said, "God will give you a job making more money than you've ever imagined / With a position you're not even educationally qualified for. / It is called Favor,"

I said

Powerful words: I would change just one word. "Will" would become "can." "God can give you..." The fact of Scripture and of life is that God may or may not give his children material things. But whether He does so or not is a manifestation of His favour. Often God's favour on you may demand that He take away the material things that have become idols to you so that you can be molded into Christ's image from glory to glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18). God may show the greatest favour to you by allowing Satan to inflict you with a terrible and undesirable affliction so as to keep you from sin or to perfect you. We know that God did this for Paul so as to keep him from pride (2 Corinthians 12:6-7). When he thought of it, Paul could say, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities" (verse 10). It takes a refiner's fire to purify gold (see Malachi 3:1-5).

Question 1: Why does gold have to go through the hot embers of purification?
Answer: Because, coming straight from the mines as a raw mineral, it is impure. Precious as it is to the miner, even gold needs purifying from impurities that naturally comprise and compromise it. 

Question 2: Why may Christians need to go through the hot embers of suffering?
Answer: Because, coming straight from total depravity as unbelievers, they have clinging impurities (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8, 10). Precious as they are to their Maker, even saints need cleansing from sin that naturally comprises and compromises them.

In short, from God's perspective, at certain times, suffering may be a better for you than earthly prosperity. (Cf. Isaiah 45:7; compare the two major portions of Psalms 73, i.e. verses 3-16 and verses 17-28). "And we know that for those who love God all things (whether "good" or "bad") work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, ESV).

Conclusion

Dear Christian, who is interested in Africa, you probably know that theological astuteness eludes Africa. You have probably heard the cliche "Christianity is miles wide and an inch deep in Africa." Sad to say, this is generally true. (I say GENERALLY to protect us from the deception that grasped Elijah's heart to make him think that he was the only true worshiper of YHWH left in Israel at that dark moment in the nation's history, 1 Kings 19:9-10, 18). The fact is that God has preserved many other miles-deep kind of Christians today just like He did in Elijah's day. For all such Christians in Africa, we thank God.)

Therefore, dear Christian, who is interested in the well-being of Africa, pray that a correct understanding of Scripture may soon pervade Africa. Pray for revival. Furthermore, ask God to reveal to you how He can use you to beat back the effects of the terrorists among Christ's under shepherds in Africa. Ask Him to show you how else you can support the drooping hands of the faithful few Christians in Africa. Let us stand opposed to all those who defame Christ's name in Africa.

May God bless you abundantly! Mwenyezi Mungu awape baraka tele! Wele abawe tsingabi mubwitsufu! Mukama abawe emikkisa mu bujuvu! Ba Lesa na bakwate uku mipala sana fye! Chibumba abawe enkabi enindi ino!

For the fame of Christ's precious name,

Caleb Nakina

P.S. I believe that every Christian bears a part in the mandate to spread the gospel “to ends of the earth. As such, although this mock letter is set in Africa, its content is intended for every Christian.

Two Possible Objections

#1 What about Jeremiah 29:11?

My Response: Action speaks louder than words. God cannot promise through Jeremiah a kind of prosperity which he does not give to Jeremiah. Do you realize that the prophet who wrote these words suffered tremendously? In fact, he suffered so much that, apparently, he started to make a habit of whimpering (e.g. Jeremiah 12:1-4). When Jeremiah whimpered, God saw it fit to give him an interesting kind of rebuke. In the NIV Jeremiah 12:5 reads, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” In other words God saw that Jeremiah thought that he had suffered enough, in the worst possible ways. God, therefore, asks in effect, what if I increased the intensity of your suffering. What, then, Jeremiah? Hebrews 12:4 is a similar rebuke for suffering Christians. So, unless you believe that God can contradict Himself, whatever prosperity means in Jeremiah 29:11, it cannot mean that there is no physical suffering for God’s people. I hope you see what I mean when I say, Action speaks louder than words. God cannot promise through Jeremiah a kind of prosperity which he does not give to Jeremiah. The life struggles of Jeremiah throughout the book of Jeremiah refute the interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 to mean that God intends that we have no pain in this life.

#2 What about Psalm 37:4

My Response: This one should be easy. I could simply ask you to transpose my argument in the response Jeremiah 29:11 to fit into Psalm 37:4. The David through whom the Holy Spirit wrote Psalm 37 was surely no stranger to suffering. But secondly, I will say, when you switch the places between the 3 and the 7 of Psalm 37, you get a Psalm 73, I referred to earlier in my mock letter above, i.e., Psalm 73. One could see interesting similarities in the content of Psalm 37 and Psalm 73, but the major one is in the fact that the both of the Psalmists’ hopes are not in immediate but in future prosperity (Compare Psalm 73:17-20 and Psalm ). The terrorists who are spreading the prosperity gospel and their blind followers are eager to follow the bad attitude and bad example of Asaph displayed in Psalm 73:2-16 instead of the renewed attitude that he manifests in verses 17 through 28. Trust me: Christ is better than all the wealth and health of this world. For crying out loud, He creates them and sustains them (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:16-20). If you have developed the Berean attitude of holy mistrust for man and complete trust in God, which I encourage in this mock letter, then it will be more convincing to you when I say to you, Trust God’s voice in the following verses, He wants us to desire Him more than His gifts: Psalm 37:7-9 and 73:26-28; Matthew 6:19-34 and 16:24-27; Mark 8:36; Galatians 1:6-10; Hebrews 3:1-19 etc.). For those of you who love poems and rhymes, this portion of my amateur poem.

           I know that streets of gold,
           Have advertised heaven from of old.
           However, when you hear, “repent, and be saved,”
           Think “Embrace Him who created us,”
           Not so much to walk the streets He paved,
           As to be with Him who breathed you into existence.
           Learn to love the gift-Giver,
           More than the many good gifts He gives.
           Do not be the horrible gift-receiver,
           Who is so terrible; only for himself he lives.

#3 What about….


My Response: Surely there can be no other objection can there? You know exactly how I will handle it. 1) I will urge you read the rest of the immediate context. 2) I will urge you to read the rest of the Scriptural context. 3) I will challenge you to think if you are better than Job and all the other biographical characters of the Bible (see, for instance, Hebrews 11 especially from verses 35b through 40.). I am convinced that all the purported Scriptural arguments for the so-called prosperity gospel will fail when subjected to closer scrutiny in the concentric contexts of Scripture. Friends, I rest my case.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Prayer as a Distress Call

I read on Matatu recently, "When there is no way out, let God in," and I wondered whether that supposedly wise saying was even wanted, let alone needed. After all, prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily. It is silly to suppose that God is good enough for us only when we want Him to solve our problems. Sadly though, this skewed perception is very common (We can have a post on that in future). In this post, let us think about the saying I saw on that Matatu.

Is it Needed?

Prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily. What else can one do? What may one do when they reach the end of their human resources with no resolution to their travail? Such a one seeks aid because their situation clearly indicates their insufficiency; naturally, they must look for someone more apt to overcome the situation, someone to provide a solution. It has been said that there is no atheist on a deathbed. It is not that atheists do not die; it is just that they tend to adopt a softer stance when they are dying. The deathbed, which is perhaps the most distressful thing about life on earth, gets rid of all atheists. They start saying things like, "What if God is really there? Perhaps there is really a God." This change of mind happens because of their natural desire to let Someone bigger than themselves take the foes who are too strong for them, e.g. death. Prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily; it is virtually a reflex. Just as you do not need anybody to remind you to blink, you do not need some purportedly wise individual to remind you to let God in when there is no way out. Not even hardened atheists need to be reminded to pray when they are at their wits' ends.

Is it Wanted?

Prayer in distress is a good thing. But, surely, we must agree that it is not enough. None of us desires to be in a relationship with someone who talks to them only when they want something. Nonetheless, many of us are eager to foster a parasite-host relationship with God--ourselves playing the role of the annoying parasites. For people, who pray only when battered by life's difficulties, may I adapt Christ words to the Pharisees, this "you ought to have done without neglecting the weightier matter of" (cf. Matthew 23:23) prayers at all times as taught in Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 etc. Prayers are not only to be offered in times of distress, but in times of tranquil too. So to the extent that let God in when there is no way out may be misconstrued to mean that we should wait until things are out of hand before we pray, to that same extent the saying is an unwanted one. We ought not want to wait that long before we pray.

Even the unbelieving world knows that prevention is better than cure. Praying only when distressed is like visiting the doctor only when the illness has advanced to life threatening proportions. That is, when your off-the-counter medications, your own efforts, can avail nothing. It is like attempting to appeal your case in the hour when you are set to be hanged. Are you not afraid of how long it might take for your appeal to be reviewed? When the judge is done reviewing it, will there be any time left to save you from your death sentence? Even worse, prayer that is restricted to times of distress is like a prideful and persistent turning down of the benevolent offers of the physician and the judge in my illustrations until it is a hopeless situation in your estimation. Then you have to plead with them hoping that their benevolence still exists unperturbed by your previous insolence.

The Conclusion of the Matter

When you are in distress, pray. But hopefully you are not learning how to pray in your distress. And hopefully you will continue to pray after your perceived distress. You ought to continue to pray after that particular issue is resolved (whether positively or negatively). Hopefully you will pray before the next issue arises. That is the point of this blog post, to encourage my Christians fellows to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We must not wait until there is no way out to let God in as that saying on the Matatu seems to advocate. Whether or not there seems to be a way out, dear Christian, pray. Remember, "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine" (Isaiah 55:8, NLT). Or as most of the other more popular translations put it, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (ESV, KJV, NASB*, NIV, ISB*, etc.). There are times when you think all is well when, in fact, the opposite is true. At times you will think the worst thing is happening to you, when in fact, from God's perspective, you are experiencing His utmost favour just then. In short, you cannot trust the judgment of your deceitful heart to tell you when you are truly in distress. After all, for as long as we are in this fallen world, we are in a place where we need God's unceasing sustenance and intervention. We ought to pray without ceasing for this.

Adieu! Have a prayerful day, won't you?

*NASB and ISB use the word "nor" instead of the "neither" in the more popular three.