What I’ve Learned This Year (so far) part 1
Firstly I want to expand the time period covered by the title of this article by rewinding slightly to start at the beginning of December. Friday 6th December was my last day at work and I started chemotherapy the following Monday.
Very early in this time period I found that two words struck fear in the hearts of many people I know: Cancer and Jesus. Saying either was a guaranteed way of seeing someone enter a state of panic, trying to change the subject. Using both by telling them that I was trusting Jesus to heal me intensified their desire to avoid what I was saying.
Another thing learned was how the term “believer” is misapplied to many professing Christians. They don’t seem to have an understanding of what it means to believe or to have faith. At least according to biblical definitions that state belief/faith are required when we pray, to guarantee that we receive what we pray for.
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1)
A surprising number don’t have any confidence that they will receive what they ask for in prayer, showing a disregard of Jesus’ promise.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matt 21)
I have been very grateful for the many people who promised to pray when I made the cancer diagnosis known. But I have to wonder what people were actually praying, considering that many Christians don’t understand that it IS God’s will to heal. Too often they compromise their prayer with the tag “if it be Your will” when praying regarding healing. Including that phrase may add an appearance of humility and submission to the prayer, but in reality it displays a lack of knowledge of God’s revealed will and undermines the effectiveness of their prayer.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5)
Motivated by that promise I made it my goal to see if scripture revealed God’s will regarding the health and healing of His people. I thought it could take a lot of time to find a definitive answer – if there was one. There would be a lot of scripture to work through.
In reality it took only a day or two to find a very clear answer. And that was even before I realised the blatantly obvious, that Jesus (who ONLY did the Father’s will) healed everyone who came to Him or was taken to Him. He also went out of His way to heal a few who didn’t seek Him out. NEVER was anyone turned away without healing when approached by someone in need.
This is NOT hidden in scripture. It is open and clear.
And that brings me to another thing I’ve learned (or been reminded of recently) and that is the widespread influence of cessationist theology; even among those who insist they believe in the ongoing validity of Spiritual gifts and the miraculous. Cessationist influence has caused even pentecostal believers to dilute their expectation of signs confirming the gospel. Spirit-filled “believers” are frequently allowing themselves to be influenced by cessationist, so-called, “discernment ministries“.
These people who are allegedly exposing heretical teachings and practices among charismatic groups are often targeting anything that doesn’t conform to their narrow, unbiblical view that Spiritual gifts and signs and wonders have been abandoned by God. No discernment is needed when a broad cessationist brush is applied to dis-empower the gospel and the church commissioned to preach it.
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16)
in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God … I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Rom 15)
…my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (1 Cor 2)
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1)
While these cessationist “discernment” ministries are influencing many to be suspicious of countless preachers, churches and charismatic experiences (some deservedly 1) few ever consider that the “discernment” ministers have no less questionable beliefs than the worst of the people they are “exposing”.
What could be worse than a ministry based on denying the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit – even attributing His work to Satan (because according to their beliefs, God has withdrawn the Spirit’s gifts therefore any expression of supernatural gifts has to be Satanic).
But on a more positive note. While my studies and discoveries so far this year have challenged (even broken) some friendships, I thank God for new friends that He has brought into my life. Their encouragement, prayer and support has been a blessing.
1 A shotgun blast may hit an appropriate target, but in doing so has much more likelihood of hitting innocent bystanders. That is the weakness and danger of lazy, broad-brush condemnations being used instead of genuine discernment, motivated by a love of the truth.
Can there be an overemphasis of grace? Of love? Of prophecy? Of faith?
In my previous post I wrote about my personal experience with “faith” teachings.
Another example of excess that I’ve seen over the years relates to “grace”.
Most recently I’ve seen some professing Christians with the attitude that grace over-rules everything else. They say we are saved by grace – and effectively THAT becomes the only thing that matters. Nothing else is needed, and therefore once gained, by grace, salvation can never be lost – even if a person turns their back on God.
That idea tends to be supported by appealing to one partial bible verse, but it is completely refuted by countless other parts of scripture, a reality that highlights not only the importance of addressing scripture according to context, but the importance of a broad biblical understanding as opposed to a knowledge of parts of the bible.
The people I saw promoting that view of grace and salvation were recommending articles on a website propagating a theology known as “Free Grace”. But they are not the only ones to overemphasise grace.
Previously I have seen other “grace” dominated theologies being promoted.
Calvinists have their “Irresistible Grace” through which they insist that God saves those who He has personally elected for salvation. It is a kind of grace that effectively forces people to believe, over-ruling the totally depraved nature that Calvinism insists prevents anyone from turning to God through personal choice.
Arminians answer the Calvinist belief with the idea of “Prevenient Grace” – which suggests that hearing the gospel can empower people to choose (despite a depraved nature), of their own free will, whether to believe or not.
I think an important thing to note is that the terms “Free Grace”, “Irresistible Grace” and “Prevenient Grace” can be found nowhere in scripture and they each describe different types of “grace” that have different and contradictory, outcomes.
Grace has an important role in the gospel message and without God’s grace salvation would be impossible, but it is NOT the ONLY thing at work and God’s grace does not nullify His character or His word, or the standards He requires of His creation
Some theological views not only claim that God’s grace makes “works” unnecessary for salvation, they also portray works as being counterproductive, being tantamount to attempting to earn what is given freely with no strings attached.
Other theologies speak of justification by faith alone (sola fide), with a similar insistence on the counterproductivity of works, but James in scripture not only tells us differently, but actually the complete opposite, (“a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone“).
Clearly, the fact that salvation is provided through the grace of God by faith, does not nullify the requirement of fulfilling God-given conditions to receive and maintain our salvation.
As with my experience of WoF teaching, any teaching that focuses primarily, and exclusively, on grace (or faith), will inevitably detour into error.
Grace is not the be all and end all of salvation – it is more like the starting point. God through His grace has made the way to salvation possible and accessible through faith. Both grace and faith are each important, but they are only PART of the whole gospel reality.
Neither should be given prominence in isolation, and neither should be defined or practiced in ways contrary to the revelation of scripture – the WHOLE of scripture.
Description or Definition? :Terminology’s Effect on Theology
After recommending Jeff Weddle’s article yesterday, this is something I wrote addressing a very similar topic.
Again, please follow the link (labelled “view original post”) to access the whole article.
(Edited/updated version of an article written 4 years ago for my old blog site.)
Description or Definition? :Terminology’s Effect on Theology
I have a particular aversion to non-biblical terminology being used to describe biblical beliefs. I think inevitably that such terminology will begin to DEFINE our beliefs instead of merely describe them.
Take the phrase “Total Depravity”.
To the Calvinist this means a total inability to respond to God prior to regeneration. It goes much further than merely describing man’s separation from God due to a sinful nature. The Arminian understands the term in a slightly different way, allowing the sinner to believe in God PRIOR to regeneration in response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction through the hearing of the gospel.
Personally I prefer to have man’s condition described as being: “bound over to disobedience” as per Romans 11. At least with the biblical definition there is a scriptural context revealing the reason for…
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Calvinism and a House Divided
Another insightful article from Jeff Weddle about the inconsistencies of Calvinism.
If there were a sixth point to Calvinism’s TULIP, it would be Meticulous Determinism. Unfortunately, this would make it TULIPM, which doesn’t sound right. Perhaps TULIMP?
Meticulous Determinism is best defined by The Westminster Confession of Faith like so:
God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.
This includes sin and bad stuff.
One of the particularly bad things that has occurred in the course of human events is demon possession. Demons make people crazy. They throw them into fires and convulse them and all manner of other physically harmful things.
Jesus took the opportunity to demonstrate His divinity by casting out demons.
On one particular day, Jesus was charged with being a tool of Satan. Various Jewish religious leaders said the demons were cast out by the power of Satan.
Jesus said that…
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God’s Determinate Counsel and Other Things People Can Mess Up
This is the first time I’ve used the “reblog” option.
Jeff presents a logically argued examination of a topic that is so grossly misrepresented by extreme Calvinists.
(sorry about the format of the quoted scripture verse – it’s something I don’t seem to be able to fix. I strongly recommend a visit to the originating site to read the whole article.)
A particular branch of Calvinism believes that everything is a result of God’s determinate counsel. Everything that happens, even sin, is a result of God’s ordination.
God said it should happen, therefore it happens.
In this elaborate structure, God, who makes people sin, is also released of blame. I have never been able to figure out why, nor has the Calvinist. “It’s a mystery” is the closest they will come to explaining it.
Which is fine, probably their safest answer, but it may also signify that the initial doctrine is illogical.
“Determinate counsel” appears one time in the Bible in Acts 2:23:
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain
The “Him” is obviously Christ. “Determinate,” according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, means, “to mark out the boundaries or limits, to ordain, determine, or appoint.” Counsel…
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Stephen Fry and “blasphemy”
I saw an article this morning: “Stephen Fry investigated by Irish police for alleged blasphemy” * and thought it appropriate to draw attention to two articles I posted in 2015 after Fry had made similar rants.
Personally I ‘m opposed to blasphemy laws. God is more than capable of facing the rants and ravings of wilfully ignorant fools.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
Luck. Blessing. Desire for truth
In a discussion with a friend about the state of the world, he said how lucky we were to have Jesus in our lives. I agree totally, also realising how difficult it can be to express that sentiment without using problematic terms like “luck”.
It could be avoided by replacing it with “blessed”, but I’ve also come to see that word overused and misapplied, to the extent that it dilutes understanding of what GENUINE blessings are.
Previously I’ve commented on the way that in affluent societies, so many of the things we designate as “blessings” may very well be thorns and weeds that choke the fruitfulness of God’s word out of our lives (see Mark 4) Our idea of blessing may differ significantly from God’s.
The idea of “luck” suggests chance or even worse, chance combined with “predestination” – as if we were fortunate to have our names pulled out of God’s salvation lottery hat, a very simplistic view that far too many people (like Calvinists) believe (though they probably wouldn’t like the way I described that belief).
It seems clear that there ARE so many seemingly “lucky”, random aspects to salvation and our response to it, including:
1) The religious culture of where we are born and raised.
2) Our parents’ attitudes to that religious culture.
3) The non-parental influences we face as we grow up
4) Personal experience and how we respond to it.
5) The availability of the gospel.
6) Our “mood” if and when we hear the gospel.
7) The quality of teaching and encouragement we receive after responding to the gospel.
It seems like some people can be more advantaged than others, to the extent that it doesn’t seem fair for those who don’t have the advantage of free access to the gospel.
In the past I’ve come across people who ask about the fate of those in other countries where Christianity is suppressed or absent in some other way; where conditions like those mentioned above are rarely favourable. That scenario is raised in a way that questions the validity of the gospel, because surely there’s no justice in someone’s eternal fate being dependant on their response to a message they never hear.
Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the key is a person’s desire for truth and that God WILL get the gospel to ANYONE who has a genuine desire for truth wherever they are, no matter what obstacles there seems to be.
And maybe there’s another perspective to consider. Should we recognise the “disadvantage” of having too much access to the gospel where the gospel seems to be freely available to all?
In that latter scenario it can be too easy for compromised messages and diluted gospels that aren’t really THE gospel to be adopted.
But again I see it is all dependent on a person’s genuine desire for the truth. It is that desire, and the integrity of an individual’s search for truth that makes the difference and ultimately protects him/her from the risk of false religions of all kinds, including secular/political alternatives such as nationalism.
All Things Work Towards God’s Agenda
The following is a slightly amended version of an email I recently sent to my American friend and brother, Steve.
* * *
I think one of my most important realisations came out of my reading into WWI: that nothing happens in isolation from God’s purposes.
All of history has been working towards the future that God has planned. It’s not always clearly seen – but God works through man’s actions, even man’s evils, to bring about His purposes.
Unlike Calvinists I don’t believe God plans, causes or intends man’s evils to take place, but I believe He “deflects” or manoeuvres the outcomes of man’s evil actions into a direction that furthers His agenda and takes us towards His ultimate purpose: A new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and all unrighteousness is excluded.
Nothing, whether it is history, politics, art, or any other aspect of human life has an importance or relevance separated from spirituality and God’s ultimate intention for His creation.
We can easily get caught up in the politics, the facts of history or mankind’s creativity, but if we make those things the central focus we miss the point.
And if I may make a statement that some will find controversial – the same can be said of the bible, of prayer, and any other “spiritual” matter – if we make THEM the focus rather than God and our relationship with Him, we miss the point. Those things are just a necessary “means to an end” – and that “end” is God Himself.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
The Calvinistic Atheist’s Attitude to God
After sharing my comments about the Stephen Fry quote yesterday, I realised that the kind of God that he rails against is very much like the image of God presented by Calvinst theology.
He rails against a God he sees as controlling every aspect of creation and is therefore a God responsible for the state of the world: who has ordained it to be that way.
If I had that image of God, I’d very likely find atheism an attractive option.
But that is NOT the God revealed through scripture and it is not the God revealed through Jesus Christ.
…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God
Don’t blame God for what man’s sin has done to the world. Be grateful for the gift of His Son. Believe in Him and the light and life He brings.