Disqualifying Your Ministry

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1 Corinthians 9

I have been exploring the extent of Christian liberty as it relates to Paul’s teaching on the topic of eating meat sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Previous posts can be read here, PART 1 and PART 2

In review, Paul opens his argument in I Corinthians 8 by explaining how eating meat sacrificed to idols can be a danger for believers. He confronts and rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their egregious abuse of liberty that was damaging the testimony of their church and bringing reproach upon Christ. They believed that because they understood that idol worship really did nothing spiritually to a Christian, they had the right to participate as believers in the pagan temple rituals of Corinth. Paul spends three chapters in his letter explaining how they were wrong about their participation in pagan temples, and exhorted them to get out of those places and have nothing to do with them.

Beginning in chapter 9, Paul moves to correcting their abuse of liberty by drawing their attention to his personal ministry and missionary endeavors. His ministry as an apostle gave him the right, or freedom, to ask and receive financial assistance from those to whom he ministered. Paul instead relinquished his financial rights so as not to be an unnecessary stumbling block that would hinder the spreading of the Gospel. Likewise, he exhorts the Corinthian believers to not disqualify their ministry in Corinth.

Keep in mind that the pagan temple services were societal and cultural gatherings for those in Corinth. If a person wanted influence, social status, connections, and personal power within the Corinthian social ranks, that person received invitations to any pagan festivals, rituals, or feasts. If he were to forsake those invitations, he not only gave up social prestige and getting ahead in Corinthian society, there was also the possible forfeiture of financial gain.

Considering the argument that the Corinthians would personally lose there social benefit if they were to give up their so-called liberty engaging in temple ceremonies, Paul points to his own life and ministry. In chapter 9:1-14, Paul lays out his reasons why he not only had the freedom, but the very right, to ask for financial gain from the Corinthians, but yielding up those rights brought so much more spiritual benefit for the Gospel’s sake.

He starts out speaking to his apostleship, 9:1-6. Just as the other apostles exercised their right to financial support, and even the support of their wives, so too did Paul and Barnabas have such a right. Next, he points out how soldiers are taken care of by the army, farmers eat the produce of their own fields, and shepherds can partake from their own flock, 9:7. He then points out the scriptural principle that one who plows has the freedom to eat of what it is he plants, 9:9-10.

In like manner, Paul explains how the Corinthians were the product of his ministry and he had a right to ask them for financial support, 9:11-12. And then he states that those who perform sacred duties, which could include both pagan and believing ministers, regularly share from the altar, 9:13-14. In other words, they are supported financially by those who attend the temple or seek out their spiritual services.

Now the question may be asked, “What does financial support have to do with disqualifying someone’s ministry?”

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A couple of thoughts,

First off, Greek and Roman culture valued oratory. In other words, an erudite speaker with the ability to articulate ideas and persuade with his words so that he compelled listeners with the philosophy he presented, would have the potential for a lucrative talent. In fact, he could be paid quite well.

Additionally, the educated leisure class, or those who commonly frequented the pagan temple festivities, believed that anyone who did not charge for his speaking abilities obviously did not have anything substantive to say. The message he presented was essentially worthless. A really good lecturing philosopher would charge for his philosophy talks. Paul countered that thinking frequently during his ministry. For instance, he responded to the Corinthians for this very attitude in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

Yet Paul chose not to charge for his preaching, nor did he care about his speaking talent at all. Instead, he refused his right to receive money from the Corinthians and supported his own way through tent-making and other means. He then points to his custom as an example as to why the Corinthians should put aside any liberty they believed they had with participating in pagan temple rituals and get themselves out of those places.

Paul, then, lays out three broad reasons how the Corinthians can disqualify their own ministry if they would not give up their misguided liberty.

Devalues God’s Calling – 15-18. God had called Paul to salvation; to be HIS apostle who carried the Gospel.  However, if he preached the Gospel, as “under compulsion” (vs.16), accountable to others apart from the Lord, he would be beholden to a big donor or perhaps a group of donors. In other words, the Gospel he preached may not be the true Gospel, but the one his benefactors wished him to preach because they gave Paul money.

Paul on the other hand makes it clear that he is beholden to no living person. He is only accountable to God because he choose to give up his rights when it came to making a living at ministry. While he was entitled to financial support, he saw how it could possibly cause others to doubt the credibility of his overall ministry, thus discrediting God’s calling on his life.

Diminishes His Service – 19-21. Paul turns to explaining how surrendering his rights to be supported for ministry freed him for more service (vs.19). Freed from any obligation to a set of supporters provided him liberty to minister to a wide variety of people.

On the one hand, he made himself like the Jews, or what he describes as “those under law.” He wasn’t unnecessarily offensive to the Jewish people, but accommodated their practices for the purpose of having inroads to their synagogues.

An excellent example of Paul’s ministry in this fashion is seen in Acts 16:1-4 where he has his young disciple, Timothy, circumcised so as not to be an offense to the Jews. Paul certainly recognized that honoring certain Jewish tradition did not add anything to his salvation (vs.20), but it did provide him the ability to attend Jewish gatherings for the purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel.

Yet on the other hand, when necessary, he adjusted his ministry to reach gentiles, or those “without the law,” with the Gospel. He avoided the snobbery that Jews often displayed against the gentiles, like for example Peter’s separation from the gentiles when other Jews from Jerusalem visited with him at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).

And just so that Paul was clear to the Corinthians, when he states he is “without the law,” he is not saying he lives a lawless life with no holiness. He is submitted to the “law of Christ,” (vs.21). That doesn’t mean he lives under an entirely different expression of the law of God, but that his ministry is directed by Christ-likeness. Similar to what Paul will later write in this letter in 11:1 to be “imitators of me as I am of Christ,” or how the law of Christ constrains him to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2.

Damages Others – 22-27. Lastly, Paul explains how continuing with the participation in temple festivities can disqualify one’s ministry by losing the opportunity to present the Gospel to the weak.

Now the question among commentators at this point is who does Paul have in mind when he mentions “the weak?” Is it the idea previously discussed in chapter 8, a person with a weak conscience? A Christian who has a thin faith and lacks the knowledge of God like the strong, and who could easily fall back into patterns of sin from which he was saved? Or does he have something else entirely in mind?

The understanding  that the weak is a person struggling with his conscience on matters like whether or not Christians have the liberty to eat idol food would make sense if Paul’s main argument in 8-10 is for the strong to show love for the weak in faith by giving up their liberty for their sake. But as was established in the previous articles in this study, Paul’s argument is for the Corinthians to totally remove themselves from pagan temples and idol feasts. He isn’t trying to settle a dispute between those with the freedom of knowledge to eat idol food and those still trapped by their weak consciences.

Considering the context here, it is better to understand the weak as not Christians with weak consciences, but as unbelievers who were the social underclass in Corinth and could never prosper from the participation in temple culture from their rituals. The primary reason for drawing that conclusion has to do with Paul’s overall discussion from 19-27.

The illustrations in chapter 9 are used by Paul for explaining how giving up his right to financial support helps him further the Gospel. His reasoning from 19-22 for giving up that right is so that he could reach the lost in all levels of society, Jews, Gentiles, and now the weak. If the weak were already Christians, categorizing them with unbelieving Jews and gentiles is strange.

The point he is making is meant to confront the Corinthians who used their liberty at the pagan temples as a means for their personal financial gain. Their right to be free in regards to temple rituals and feasts not only isolated them from those Christians who could be led astray back into idol worship, but also from the unbelievers who were of a lower social class with no economic ability to participate in those temple practices. For Paul, he relinquishes his financial rights for the weak so he can bring them the saving Gospel, (22-23).

As Paul concludes his thought, he notes the discipline of athletes, (24-27). A runner who wishes to win the gold medal will discipline himself so that he can obtain it. He denies himself leisure time, and instead runs to build endurance. He limits his diet, eating those foods that will strengthen his body. He takes care of his feet, perhaps spending extra money on well-made running shoes.

In the same way, Christians need to discipline themselves, and that would be centered squarely on limiting what perceived liberty they believe they have. In doing so, it will keep them from a disqualified ministry that limits the effectiveness of the Gospel.

Neanderthals, Jesus, and Wine

cavemenSo back toward the end of July, I spent a late afternoon California time chatting with the BTWN guys. We talked about Creation Ministries republishing my article addressing Neanderthal/human hybrids and how Reason to Believe’s teaching on that topic is detrimental to Christian apologetics.

We then turned our attention to offering a critique of Darren Doane’s Jesus is Wine hermeneutic he articulated at the ReformCon2016 during the live Apologia radio recording. My focus was not upon the dust up between Apologia and their critics, but upon the typological mindset that allows a person to read the Bible in such a haphazard fashion.

Here’s the episode

BTWN Episode 192

Remember to listen at 1.5x speed because we sound much more intelligent.

A Real Quick Book Review

rapture“17” REASONS Why The Rapture Will Be on September 22nd 2017
by No Man Knoweth
105 pgs., paper
lulu.com

One of the more fun perks I have with working for Grace to You is seeing the myriad of books people will send our ministry. A lot of the books come in manuscript form sent by the author or publisher asking if John would be willing to review the material and write an endorsement for the book. Others have already been published and either the author or publisher want to send a complimentary copy to John or Phil for some reason or another. Sometimes we get multiple copies and I get to snag them for myself.

The really fun ones are those books that clearly emanate from the outer fringes of the so-called Christian world. Generally, those books are sent to us by some well-meaning, but clearly undiscerning listener who believes the book in question just has to be read by John MacArthur because the truths contained therein are so profound and important, reading it will open his eyes to what is really going on in the church or the world or whatever.

For years after it was published, for instance, GTY received at least one to two copies of Gail Riplinger’s, New Age Bible Versions, almost on a monthly basis, with an attached note written by the sender begging John to, “read this book to see the truth of what was happening to our Bibles!” We had a small shelf filled with them until we had to dump them. Those kind of books provide a unique glimpse into the deep, dark bowels of American evangelicalism. Most of the folks here at GTY flip through them, get a laugh, and then toss them out. I however, because I am a fan of unusual and obscure curiosities and conspiracy theories, eat those books up like they are candy cigarettes.

thingSo last week, Phil received a little paperback in the mail entitled, “17” Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be On September 22nd, 2017. He tweeted out a picture of the book; I immediately had to go see it for myself. Thankfully, I was able get it away from Phil long enough so I could skim over the pages to see what those 17 reasons would be. I mean, who is to say the book could be wrong? After hundreds of prophetic date setting books being printed over the years, surely there has to be one that gets all the details right. I’d hate to be that guy who misses out on having all that inside info before the Antichrist and the spawns of hell are unleashed upon the earth.

The book is written by No Man Knoweth, or for my review purposes, Nomak. (I’m only assuming Nomak is a man’s name, so please forgive me if it’s Miss Nomak). The book is in a plain, glossy white cover, (or maybe it is egg shell white, I get my color swatches mixed up), with merely the title in candy apple red printed on the front. I appreciate the humble approach by the author. No fancy designs and pictures that distract from the importance of the information contained within.

Nomak lays out his case in a brief 105 pages as to why he thinks the rapture will happen on September 22, of 2017. With books like this, I believe brevity is the better way to go; get right to the point. Additionally, Nomak avoids all the screaming hysteria typical of the prophetic-date setting genre. That means there is no gratuitous over use of ALL CAPS and exclamation points. It is hard reading a book where I feel as though the author is yelling at me. Instead, Nomak has opted for a more conversational style, using the candy apple red lettering, along with bold italics, to emphasize significant information one should ponder. I appreciated that. He wants to persuade with his arguments, not shout down at people for being idiots.

According to Nomak, he was inspired to write his short book from one Edger Whisenant wrote called, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. [17 Reasons, i]. The problem with Whisenant’s failed date-setting book was the fact that technology was not at the place in 1988 for the Antichrist to pull off what he needs to do technologically so to deceive the world in a short 3 and a half years of the tribulation. Whisenant did not realize this important point in the 1980s. [ibid].

After that brief introduction, Nomak outlines his 17 reasons and expounds a little bit on each one. I’ll review them in turn here,

#1 – The signs Jesus presents during His Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24, Mark 13. The phrase, know man knows the day and the hour, is really a Hebrew idiom speaking to when Rosh Hashanah will take place on the Hebrew festival calendar.

#2 – The astrological star chart that speaks to the Gospel in the Stars when interpreted correctly will give us the exact date of September 22-23 as the starting of the Jubilee of Jubilee’s fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27.

#3 – The 6 Day war in 1967 restarted the prophetic time clock for Israel. 2017 will be the 50th year of the 6 Day war.

#4 – God’s Feasts point to the rapture in September 22, 2017.

#5 – Rosh Hashanah, 2017, will fall in year 5777 of the Jewish calendar. 777 is the number of completion.

#6 – The last ten historical years of Jubilee are all tied to significant events in Jewish history.

#7 – The blowing of the shofar trumpet will take place on September 22, 2017.

#8 – The fulfillment of Revelation 17:10-11, with the seven kings who are fallen being the last seven popes before the 8th, who is pope Francis.

#9 – The four blood moons point to a significant sign in the constellation of Leo the lion (a symbol for Christ), that will have exactly 12 stars in the year 2017.

#10 – The four horsemen of the apocalypse represent the totality of Islam which will rise in power before the rapture. The white, red, black, and green on the pan-Islamic flag.

#11 – Allah is a false god, who is called “the deity.” (he doesn’t really explain how this is a reason, sadly).

#12 – The Ottoman empire represented the feet of clay in the statue of Daniel’s vision, Daniel 2.

#13 – The Ottoman empire will rise again during the end-times before the rapture.

#14 – The rise of Islam’s influence throughout the world. (I think he could have combined #13 and #14 into one point, but I figure that would have wrecked his working title and he would had to have gone back and done a big re-edit).

#15 – Planet X will come to destroy the world. (Google it).

collide#16 – God will give humanity over to a strong delusion to accept an alien messiah. Alien, in the sense of little grey men like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

#17 – Myles, Nomak’s guardian messenger, gave him the 17th reason, which has to do with how Satan is deceiving everyone about the true nature of grey aliens, who are really human/demon hybrids like in Noah’s day before the flood.

mylesNomak ends his book with an exhortation to stand fast in these final days. The end of the world is knocking on our doors, he passionately explains, and we need to go to Jesus to be saved before these events happen or you risk being left behind. He further recommends watching a video posted on the AV Biblebeliever’s youtube channel describing how Roman Catholicism and Islam are connected. In fact, he is so convinced that you will be blown away by the contents of that video, he highlights it several times throughout his book.

He closes his book with a model prayer you can pray, in sky blue font to offset it from the candy apple red font in other parts of his book, in order to be saved. He then signs off telling the reader how he loves us all.

The book is a quick read, and you can obtain a copy for $6.95 at the lulu.com, self-publishing website.

Lame Arguments Liberty Drinkers Should Avoid

I originally wrote this post back in 2011 after John MacArthur stirred the dander of the 30-something pastor set who love to play like they are sophisticated metropolitans or who want to “take dominion over and reform drinking booze.” He wrote an article basically telling them to put down their beer steins and wake up to the fact that there is more to Christian liberty than the unshackled, William Wallace shout of freedom with drinking micro-booze.

When I engaged the critics of John’s article, I quickly discovered they made some of the lamest arguments for liberty drinking I had ever encountered. I wrote up a response to each of their key talking points. Since then, new arguments have been put forth, and seeing that this is an issue that is still a problem in local churches, I wanted to update my initial post.

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Allow me to start off by affirming to my readers that I am not a teetotaler. I would never advocate for being a teetotaler. I probably have just as much disdain, if not more, for the legalistic social mores binding undiscerning Christians to classic American fundamentalists.

In fact, I like a good wine. I may have a glass if I am on vacation with my wife and we have opportunity to stay at one of those fancy Pacifica hotels dotting the coast of California. Recently, I have started taking a Coke Zero and rum in the evening, which I find delicious. When Costco has a case of that fruity, alcoholic beer-malt liquor stuff on sale, we’ll pick one up. And during the holidays we splurge a little and buy a bottle of Bailey’s.

However, I am also aware of the fact that alcohol in any form is viewed by the majority of American Christians as being “sinful.” Yes, I realize they are mistaken about that, but reality is reality, and that attitude is not changing anytime soon, in spite of anyone’s efforts to the contrary.

As long as beer and wine is perceived as a terrible vice used by party people on spring break, rowdy tailgaters at a football game, and tavern brawlers whose mugshots appear on the Smoking Gun website, it is not a wise idea for Christian ministers to foster alcohol consumption among their people. My life is lived in front of many folks, and it is to those people I am responsible for ministering Christ. Making it a habit of obnoxiously flaunting my liberty with alcohol consumption is not helpful for them, and will only generate more confusion than is necessary.

Now, with that being stated, there are individuals who insist Christians should not only express their liberty with drinking, they have anointed drinking as a spiritual virtue. Anyone who opposes their outlook is mercilessly ridiculed and condemned. The arguments they put forth, however, are not well thought through. So, let’s look at the lame arguments I have encountered defending Christian liberty drinking.

Martin Luther and/or the Reformers and/or the Puritans brewed beer and consumed wine.

That is generally the immediate response to my position of cautious moderation. “Well, Martin Luther and/or the Reformers drank beer, so why can’t we?”

Keep in mind that Martin Luther lived 500 YEARS AGO!

While we certainly applaud Luther and express our heart-felt Christianly thanks for him defending the timeless truths of the Gospel, that does not mean we are to automatically emulate him, or any other Reformer for that matter, and his various social convictions.

Think about it. What is more important? That we reform ourselves according to biblical standards or historical standards? What was a normal part of society in Germany 500 years ago may had been acceptable, but was it necessarily biblical? Even if it is just American Christians who have weird hang-ups with alcohol because of the old prohibition days still doesn’t mean we need to be like German Christians today. It may not be the best use of liberty for them either just because they live in Europe and have no connection to our prohibition past.

The same can be said about the other Reformers as well. Do we adopt all the social conventions of the Reformers and the Puritans just because they did them? Several Reformers practiced astrology, like Phillip Melanchthon. That’s not to say everything Melanchthon wrote stinks of new age mysticism. He was just as much a complex sinner as the rest of us. But his belief in astrology does reflect a common, historic practice among many Protestants during his time. So, who is ready to reclaim and take dominion of horoscopes from the Fundies and reform them for the glory of God?

jeane

The more bizarre use of the “Luther drank beer” argument is the appeal to Puritans, who supposedly were quite the bar flies, or at least one would think according to their beer drinking defenders. But we’re talking about the Puritans. Those were the guys who thought wedding rings were popish and outlawed Christmas during Cromwell’s Protectorate. Will we “reform” according to those convictions?

And just a closing word about the absurd claim that a brewery was the first building the Pilgrims built upon arriving in the new world. That is an urban legend. If you and your people are sick and dying and winter is coming on in a strange land, do you waste time building a brewery? Or will it be basic shelter?

obesity

Food is abused by way too many people, but you don’t hear Christians crying out about gluttony. Yet there are more people in churches who overeat than there are alcoholics and drunkards. No one rebukes those gluttonous Christians for their reckless overindulgence in food.

The biggest (no pun intended) problem with this argument is that gluttony is not just overeating. It is especially NOT overeating in the sense of a guy eating an entire large pizza in one sitting or scarfing down Chili’s 3,200 calorie “Freakin’ Onion” appetizer all by himself.

Gluttony is always tied to drinking in the Scriptures. What we know to be a drunken, debauched lifestyle. One may say overeating is a part of the debauched lifestyle, but it is the idea of out-of-control, riotous living that makes “gluttony” sinful. This is not super-sizing your McDonald’s order.

Consider Deuteronomy 21:20: And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’

If you look at the entire context, you have parents – PARENTS MIND YOU!; you know, mama and daddy – bringing their son before the elders to be judged because he is basically a thick-headed good for nothing who spends his time and money (family’s money) on riotous living. The word “glutton” has the idea of a vile, worthless person.

Notice what happens with this son. He is brought before the elders of the town so they can pass judgment upon him and if they judge against him, he is stoned to death. That’s the death penalty, folks. He is not executed for being 60 pounds overweight and having lunch at Jack in the Box every other day. (See my further study HERE).

scooterThe Health Consequences associated with eating recklessly is no joke. Just ask anyone with diabetes. Overeating should be treated just as seriously as alcoholism.

Related to the “gluttony” argument is the “obesity is just as bad if not worse than alcoholism” argument. This one is usually put forth in the combox after a teetotaler lists a bunch of statistics telling how many people die from alcohol related deaths, or how many women and children are abused by alcoholic husbands or parents. As a rebuttal, it’s dogmatically proclaimed that obesity is just as bad if not worse of an epidemic and social problem as alcohol.

That is a profoundly ridiculous comparison. The societal impact of alcoholism and obesity is incomparable. That is because alcoholism has the greatest potential to destroy innocent lives.

Many. innocent. lives.

In fact, alcohol has destroyed those lives unmercifully. There are no Mother’s Against Obese Driving organizations advocating against 350 pound people driving automobiles. There are no laws against driving under the influence of fried chicken. A cop won’t stop a guy and ask him if he has been eating, and then give him a breathalyzer to test his blood-gravy level. And there is a good reason for this: Obesity only hurts one person. No man, after leaving the Macaroni Grill has ever gotten into his SUV, and under the influence of the Mama Mia! chicken Alfredo platter he consumed 30 minutes before, crossed into on-coming lane and killed a family.

Now, just so I am clear. I am not saying obesity is a good thing. Being overweight does have considerable health problems for the individual. AND I would say Christians should make eating healthy a part of their spiritual lives. My point here is to merely show that obesity is no where near being the societal problem associated with the consumption of alcohol. No where in the ball park. Obesity is a result of bad lifestyle choices. Much like smoking, another vice liberty drinkers tend to encourage.

ed youngSex is abused just like alcohol. Are we going to forbid sex as well?

That objection falls flat because Christians are not equating the flaunting of liberty drinking with drunkenness and alcoholism, the common idea when one speaks of  “abusing alcohol.”  Christians who are troubled by those who flagrantly parade their liberty drinking from the pulpits, and among others at church, are simply saying that such behavior is profoundly immature and wildly inappropriate.

Married couples are certainly at liberty to make out with a bit of PDA if they so choose. They are also free to touch one another in an arousing fashion that would lead to sex. Not one person is forbidding them from partaking in the act of sexual relations.

But I think we can all agree that it would be grossly unseemly, not to mention a bit icky, if that couple were to have one of their big PDA make out sessions at church in front of the single folks. I think we would all say the same about them sharing explicit and graphic details about their sexual experiences at a Bible study fellowship.

grass

Why do we want to be so legalistic about alcohol when it is such a blessing to mankind? God created wine for us to enjoy the bounty of His earth. The prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption.

Again, no one is condemning the consumption of distilled spirits. We are all on the same page with the prohibition against drunkenness, not consumption.

The faulty logic of this claim suggests that because wine is processed from grapes, and alcohol is a natural derivative of fermented grapes, that places alcohol in a special category of blessing. Additionally, it is argued that passages like Deuteronomy 14:26 and Psalm 104:15 proves that God not only blesses the consumption of alcohol, but commands it.

Of course, that line of argumentation ignores the overwhelming multitude of biblical passages that warn against the consumption of alcohol. Certainly the prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption, but seeing that the Bible speaks so pointedly against the dangers of drinking alcohol, why would God’s pastor want to use a pub as a setting for a men’s Bible study?

Moreover, that is the exact same argument I have heard from Christians who seriously think God has blessed the smoking of pot. I kid you not. I once had one fellow, with a stern conviction in his voice and passion in his eyes, explain to me that God gave ALL the grass and green herb of the field for man to use, and that means cannabis. I reckon, by extension it would also include opium and the coca plant. And before anyone tries to “rebut” me by saying “but the grass and herbs were meant to be for FOOD, not SMOKING, duh,” keep in mind that pot can be baked in brownies.

Lookit

I realize a lot of the liberty drinkers were saved in one of those smothering, fundamentalist Baptist churches who regulated every behavior and activity with an iron fist of legalism like a draconian-driven HOA board of directors. I mean, a person couldn’t even wear short pants in the church building, let alone dream about drinking a beer. I sympathize with those folks. I really do. But honestly, is drinking beer really THAT important?

When the in-laws were in town for the holidays, there were times we would go to Sunday brunch at some fancy restaurant. My wife had a niece who would only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. She had an entire buffet laid out before her, and she obsessed on the mac N’ cheese. I remember telling her, “You have this wonderful banquet of food and all you are eating is mac N’ cheese? You know, there is much more to life than mac N’ cheese.”

Likewise, there is much more to Christian liberty than sitting in pubs drinking micro-brews.

Gleanings from Judges [10]

gideon

The Downfall of Gideon – Judges 8

Throughout the Scripture, we can take note that, at times, God will utilize men who may not be of the greatest of character.

Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife and he took matters into his own hands with attempting to obtain a heir.

Jacob acted deceitfully, stealing the birth-right from his brother, Esau, and father, Isaac.

David, the king described as a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and had faithful men killed to cover over his sin.

Solomon multiplied wives and entertained idols for them..

Peter denied Christ.

God raises up men, but it is by His grace and in spite of their flaws that they may do good work. They are still subject to the former sins of their flesh, prone to temptation and often giving into compromise and disobedience.

We see that with Gideon. The Angel of the Lord calls him to lead Israel against the Midianites. God gathers around him 300 men and they route 135,000 Midianites. The Lord set every man’s sword against his neighbor so that by the time the Midianites crossed back into their territory, only 15,000 or so remained. 120,000 had perished!

Coming to Judges 8, we regrettably see the downfall of Gideon as he eventually succumbs to the pagan culture that had engulfed the thinking of the Israelites.

We can see four sad steps that brought Gideon to a spiritual downfall.

Ruthless Behavior –

When we pick up Gideon’s story in chapter 8, he is in pursuit of the kings Zebah and Zalmunna. They had crossed the Jordan with what was left of their armies. Gideon comes to Succoth and asks the people for nourishment. The men refused to help. Their reason was simple: The kings Gideon was pursuing had not be captured. If they were to discover the people of Succoth helped Gideon, they would retaliate against them.

Their response may have been cowardly, but given the circumstances, it was certainly reasonable. Rather than taking their response in consideration, Gideon promises to return and punish them. He travels to another town, Penuel, and there he is met with the same response. He promises to return to them and knock down their tower.

He does just that. Once he attacked the two Midianite kings and their remaining army, he leads his men back to Succoth and Penuel, where he proceeded to beat the elders of Succoth and executed the men of Penuel. Mass murder is a bit of an over reaction for refusing to help him.

 Revenge-

Once Gideon exacts his wrath upon the men of Israel, he turns his attention toward the two Midianite kings. It just so happens that Gideon had a grudge against those two kings. In 8:18,19, he holds them personally responsible for killing his brothers. Rather than fighting the LORD’s battle to save Israel as the Angel of the LORD called him to do, Gideon turn to revenge upon the men who killed his brothers.

Getting his revenge was not what he was called to do. It was to deliver Israel from their enemies. Once he killed them, he took their kingly ornaments off their camels as trophies.

Idolatry-

After the defeat of Zebah and Zalmunna and the entire Midianite forces, the people are moved to establish Gideon as king and his family as a dynasty in Israel. To his credit, Gideon declined. HOWEVER, his piety was a bit hypocritical.

First, he requests a piece of gold from each man who had raided the Midianite spoil. From those pieces, he constructs an ephod. It is not like the high priestly ephod at all, but it became an idol, meant to represent something similar to the high priest. He erects it in Ophrah and the Bible says that all Israel whored after it there. His deliverance of Israel began with him tearing down the images of his hometown. Now, Gideon establishes a new idol, one of his own making that drew the heart of the people away from God.

Polygamy-

Gideon may have refused to be king, but he pretended to live like one. He multiplied wives and concubines. The concluding remembrances of Gideon implies he lived in opulence. Additionally, his polygamy brings his family trouble that extends beyond them out to the other people of Israel. As will be seen in Chapter 9, Abimelech, Gideon’s son, will be the main instigator of those problems. Abimelech means, “Son of the king.”

Two concluding thoughts about Gideon.

First, Israel did consider his defeat of the Midianites a major deal. So much so that Gideon and his battle against the Midianites is remembered in Psalm 83:11. Secondly, Gideon is listed in Hebrews 11 in the “hall of faith” as it were. Though he lived a morally checkered life that was marked with skepticism, unbelief, and eventually sinful choices, God used him in a mighty way, thus demonstrating that it is the God behind the messenger that makes the messenger great.

Dispensationalism, Hal Lindsey, and Typology

mark

Shortly after I posted my article exploring the facepalming misuse of Scripture by many in the Reformed camp with the overuse of a typological hermeneutic, I had a dear pastor friend of mine leave a blistering comment on Facebook. He wrote,

There is rich irony in being lectured about typology by dispensationalists who regularly see Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation… Not saying you do, but lets be careful not to over-generalize. Both sides have their fair share of abuses in regard to typology.

Additionally, another commenter wrote,

It’s true that many who over-spiritualize are from the Reformed camp, and A.W. Pink is a good example of that. But I still see it as a problem of certain individuals and their tendencies, and not limited to only people from a Reformed background. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen (from Arminian Dispensationalists) those who give similar bizarre treatment to various Old Testament passages or New Testament parables, in order to ‘prove’ the pre-trib rapture of the church.

Both of them make a good point. In fact I had other folks tell me that their Independent, Fundamentalist Baptist pastors pulled out all kinds of fancy conclusions from stories in the OT. IFB pastors tend to swim in the Dispensational waters.

I certainly agree that I have heard my fair share of crazy eisogesis. I recall once hearing a pastor spiritualize the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic is like the person who will not heed God’s warning to steer clear of danger, etc., you get the picture.

But is it accurate identifying those imaginative interpretations regarding the parables, or helicopters, or even the Titanic, with a typological hermeneutic? I don’t believe so.

It may be helpful, then, if I define the terms. What exactly is typology and a typological hermeneutic?

Probably the clearest definition for the concept of biblical types is given by Donald K. Campbell in his old BibSac article, The Interpretation of Types. His working definition defines them as, “…an Old Testament institution, event, person, object, or ceremony which has reality and purpose in the Biblical history, but which also by divine design foreshadows something yet to be revealed.”

There are several instances I would imagine most readers can think of off the top of their heads, like the passover lamb, the mercy seat in the tabernacle, and the great high priest all pointing to the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. Abraham sacrificing his only son, Issac, pictures the crucifixion of Jesus, whereas the lamb caught in the thicket next to them, the substitution Christ made on behalf of His people, and Jonah in the fish for three days picturing the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.

With each type, however, there will be the “fulfillment” with what is called an antitype. Generally, the antitype is clearly stated and obvious in the NT. In other words, the reader of Scripture doesn’t have to engage a Bible study with a clever imagination and an interpretative treasure hunt of “Let’s Find the Type!” in order to see the type.

Additionally, types need to be distinguished from symbols. A symbol will be a graphic representation of an actual event, or person, or object, or even a biblical truth. For example, a lion symbolic of strength, or a sword symbolic of the Word of God, or a dragon symbolic of Satan, or a mother bird covering her chicks symbolic of God protecting His people. There can also be symbolic acts performed by the prophets. For instance, Ezekiel cooking with cow dung or Zechariah making crowns of silver and gold for Joshua the high priest.

It is also important to keep in mind that types are divinely orchestrated, apart from the one who is the type, whereas a symbol is not. In other words, Abraham did not think to himself, “I am a type, picturing the Father’s giving of his son for the salvation of the world,” when he offered Issac like God told him. Only the Lord knew what he was to picture which was yet to be revealed as revelation progressively unfolded into the future. However, when Isaiah prophesied about the work of substitution by Christ, he intentionally spoke of a lamb, an animal all Jews would immediately recognize, as symbolic of the person of Jesus and the work He would do.

While it is certainly true preachers can be given over to describing ridiculous comparisons that are pure imagination and totally miss the point of the passage they may be preaching, that is not the application of a typological hermeneutic.

Consider my pastor friend’s complaint about Dispensationalists seeing Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation. That happens to be a favorite example I hear from Amillennialists any time I defend a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic when reading prophetic books of Scripture. It is taken from prophecy guru, Hal Lindsey, who was the first theologian of sorts who turned a significant profit from the various pot-boilers he wrote on Revelation and other related prophetic themes.

While I am certainly not a fan of Hal Lindsey’s sensationalized approach to biblical prophecy and the book of Revelation, his non-Dispensationalist, Reformed critics, unfairly pillory his work. It is not nearly as crazy as they make it out to be. Plus, he definitely presents material that is much more doctrinally sound, actually taught in biblical context, and is overall saturated with Scripture compared to really goofy current-day writers allegedly in the same vein as Lindsey, like Jonathan Cahn or John Hagee.

The idea of Apache helicopters comes from Lindsey’s brief paperback overview on the book of Revelation called, There’s a New World Coming, published originally in 1973. He walks through the book of Revelation, obviously as a Dispensationalist interpreting the text, and he intentionally adjusts his commentary to a general, post-Jesus People era audience who would be new to studying the Bible, particularly biblical prophecy.

The comment about helicopters is taken from his commentary on Revelation chapter 9 regarding the locust coming out of the pit with stingers in their tails and their ability to torment men. Lindsey gives the standard commentary about the locust but then concludes by writing,

There are diverse opinions among Bible teaches as to whether these creatures are actually going to be a supernatural, mutant locust especially created for this judgment or whether they symbolize some modern device of warfare.

I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Vietnam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Vietnam. They’re Cobra helicopters!”

That may just be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the composite description very well. They also make the sound of “many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail. [138-139].

Notice that Lindsey says that the Cobra helicopter idea may just be conjecture, but most importantly, given what we outlined above regarding types and symbols, he didn’t even come close to a typological interpretation. He is just conjecturing, not claiming the locust are Cobra helicopters!

As much as non-Dispensational haters wish it were so, Lindsey’s amusing anecdote about Cobra helicopters is not the employment of a typological hermeneutic that is so prevalent in Reformed camps. It certainly is not the one I am particularly alarmed about.

As I noted in my first article, the problem with the the Reformed hermeneutic’s use of typology has to do with reinterpreting the OT narrative to make practically every event, person, or situation, a type of Christ. Again, the entire book of Song of Solomon is supposed to be a picture of the love Jesus has for the church, or the nation of Israel being the OT church or the Church the NT Israel.

Reformed proponents have often argued that there are key, overarching theological themes that override the details of the exegesis and the natural reading of the text in question. But is that how we are to ready and study Scripture? The absolute worst instance currently with so-called theological themes overriding the details of exegesis is the trend to reimagine the creation account of Genesis.

John Walton, for example, in his, The Lost World, sees the creation as a picture telling theological truths about mankind, the world, and ultimately redemption. God is not telling us how he formed the world as he is providing a picture, or type, of how the narrative is to function theologically in the remainder of Scripture. G.K. Beale in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, likens the garden of Eden to a cosmological temple that is patterned in the tabernacle in Exodus, another illustration of how theology trumps the details of the text.

While it may come across looking pious and sounding really, really spiritually deep to emphasis the theological types over the plain reading of the text, in taking that approach, the intended meaning is stripped from the text and misses the point the original author intended to convey.

“But God is the ultimate author of Scripture!,” is the usual response to my objection, “so that is what he intended to convey to begin with.” But the LORD used a human author who wrote down what He wanted to say and the original audience did not read it in that gobbledygook fashion. That only puts a person committed to a typological/theological hermeneutic in perilous danger of calling God a lying deceiver when He originally revealed those portions of Scripture.

My Neanderthal Article

My article I wrote about a month or so ago interacting with a Reasons to Believe apologist and their weird human-Neanderthal hybrid ideas, was picked up by Creation Ministries International.

Neandertal-human hybrids: Apologetics Gone Real Bad

I appreciate the opportunity that allows my writing exposure to a much broader audience. I was also grateful for the way Jonathan Sarfati and the folks at CMI helped with punching it up with more details and links I hadn’t supplied in the original.

Jesus and Wine Theology and the Reformed Hermeneutic

Jesus Drank ReislingTheology that is really cool and fun and stuff

At the risk of receiving a severe wedgie from a number of my Reformed acquaintances who run around my game circle, I wanted to respond to a discussion that took place at the ReformCom 2016 with the guys of Apologia radio, N.D. Wilson, and Darren Doane.

I specifically want to focus in upon the bizarre ramblings from Doane regarding what I call his “Jesus is wine theology.” Doane’s “theology,” if we can even call it that, perfectly highlights the horrendous abuse the historical Reformed, typological hermeneutic rains down upon the Bible when a person studies it.

I’ll begin with a bit of background.

Doane is a commercial video director, as well as a filmmaker.  He is known for religiously themed work such as Unstoppable, a movie addressing the problem of evil with Kirk Cameron, Collision Course, a documentary that follows around Doug Wilson and the late Christopher Hitchens as they debate in various venues, and Saving Christmas, that carries a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes and has the honor of being the winner of the 2015 Razzie award for worst picture.

So much for taking dominion, but I digress.

I tussled once with Doane on Twitter in the months before his award winning Saving Christmas was released. I even stated that I thought the trailer looked fun when I was defending Kirk’s promotion of the movie on a Catholic radio program against some finger-wagging discernment folks. I wrote about that HERE.

Where I took exception with Saving Christmas was with Doane’s excessive overuse of typology. For instance, in our Twitter exchange, he insisted that Christmas trees are talked about in the Bible because God was the first one to bring a tree into His house. He likened the lamp stand in the tabernacle with us putting Christmas trees in our homes. I wrote about out exchange HERE for those interested.

Doane has since moved from spiritualizing Christmas trees to now spiritualizing wine. At the ReformCon2016, he participated on a live podcast interview for Apologia Radio where he enthusiastically discussed the topic of wine and Jesus and drinking for the Christian. The audio can be heard HERE. His comments begin at the 56:06 mark. Or watch the Youtube portion HERE.

I’ve written out a loose transcript of the relevant portions I wish to address. Keep in mind that I have slightly edited his remarks removing the “…and ums,” along with smoothing out the excitable effervescence that bubbles from his talk.

When I became a Christian I didn’t drink, which is even better because I was double-holy. I not only became a Christian, but I was like super moral. Like double-anointed portion.  I don’t drink. This is fantastic, I was the sober guy.

When I became a Christian, the last thing I even thought about was alcohol. I mean, I just received salvation. My sins were forgiven. My interest for the word ignited. I dug into the Scriptures because I wanted to nail down what the Bible taught on important points of doctrine. I couldn’t have cared less about determining the limits of my Christian liberty with drinking a beer or scotch. There were deeper, more profound truths that occupied my heart.

And who was he hanging with as a new Christian? He gives the impression all his friends from church were a bunch of frat party drunks and he was the designated driver taking them home from a Sunday night fellowship.

Skipping to the end, as he wraps up his musings about Jesus and wine, he explains that even after he had studied out wine from the Bible, he still did not drink. That was until an acquaintance asked him why and then remarked, “Whose gonna teach your daughter to drink?” implying, “how is she gonna learn to drink?”

When I heard that, I thought, “Eh?” Christian parents are obligated to teach their kids how to drink? Your kids have to be taught how to drink? What exactly does that entail? Them watching you regularly down a rum and coke? Spirited dinner table discussion of the state drinking age limit? Or what is the best way to age whiskey? Honestly? What is the bizarre fixation with neo-Reformed folks and drinking booze? I’ve never understood it. It’s like a little kid who is now potty trained and has to tell everyone he is wearing big boy pants.whatwouldjesusbrewBut let me move along to what I wish to address specifically and will get me into trouble,

Years later, because I love theology, every year I would sort of pick something to dive into. One year I picked wine. Jesus did say “I’m Wine;” so I thought I would dig into the Bible on “wine.” So I spent almost a whole year going through the Bible, looking at how wine was used.

Jesus said “I’m wine?” Searching my Bible Works, I can’t find any where in the Gospels when Jesus said such a thing. Maybe he has in mind John 15, where Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches?” While it is true that wine comes from grapes that do grow on vines, that is not the same as Jesus saying “I’m wine.” Or it could be when Jesus talked about putting new wine into old wine skins, and he assumes the “new wine” is Jesus. Who knows?

Moving along,

When you start digging into something it gets super fascinating. Like when did wine first appear? When did fruit first appear? In fact in creation it’s at the end of day three and that ties into end of day three of Jesus’ Resurrection, there some cool stuff going on there. What is wine? With wine, you actually have to take grapes and kill them and you have to smash them and you have to kill it, you have to bury it. And put it into somewhere dark then after time it comes out. It’s totally new. It’s glorified. You have this Jesus-picture thing going on. It’s like in theology this is getting really cool and fun and you’re going through this stuff.

And then something hits me about communion, and that’s what theology does, it does everything, it rolls, it starts going, it starts paradigm shifting, all because of theology, right? … And then all of the sudden it hit me that wine burns. [pause here for dramatic effect]. You take grape juice. It’s sweet, it’s fun. My kids love it. But you take wine, Wooo. It burns. It’s fire. God is a consuming fire. Oh Darren’s on the skinny branch right now, he’s just reaching. But you go back and look at fire in the Bible [another dramatic pause] That’s. What. Theology. Does.

I can imagine the scruffy-bearded young folk in the audience listening to that nonsense for the first time thinking to themselves, “Oooohhhh, That’s so deep. I never thought about all those connection between Jesus and wine before.” Well yeah. No one else has either. What he presents is borderline neo-orthodoxy gobbledygook. (I chuckle when he says wine burns and is like fire and you need to go back and look at fire in the Bible. Someone has. It doesn’t mean what you think).

Let’s break down that theology:

God created the seed-bearing plants on day three.
Grapes are seed-bearing plants.
You have to crush and squeeze and essentially “kill” grapes to make wine.
Jesus said he was the vine and we are the branches.
Jesus was crushed and squeezed and killed.
But was raised to life three days later.

See? God creates plants day 3+grapes being crushed=Jesus in the tomb 3 days! Wine! THEOLOGY!

brewing companyDoane’s theology is no more theological as that tongue speaking 13-year old girl telling everyone God says in the Bible that he wants them to be a funnel to receive His blessing. The only difference is that Doane gets a pass from the folks at RefCon because he hangs with Doug Wilson and says he is Reformed and Calviney and of course, drinks wine.

Now I can hear my detractors complain, “Fred, that is Doane’s views, and he is a little whimsical when he reads the Bible.” In fact, during the Facebook comment discussion when I reviewed Saving Christmas, even R.C. Sproul Jr. chimed in telling me that Doane’s imaginative interpretations are unique to a small number of individuals in the theonomy camp like James B. Jordan (who is no longer a theonomist as I understand it). That sounds like a reasonable clarification. It’s inaccurate to impugn a majority of individuals based upon the weird ramblings of a few.

I believe that objection is problematic, however.

Here is where my observations will stir up with my Reformed acquaintances the kind of excitement generated when one throws a live squirrel into a gymnasium filled with 250 yellow labs: The tendency to spiritualize and abuse Scripture with heavy doses of typology is endemic to the Reformed hermeneutic.

The Reformed hermeneutic claims that because Jesus is the fullest revelation from God, the Apostles, as they wrote the New Testament, were led by the Holy Spirit to spiritualize the Old Testament. They would, for instance, redefine the recipients of the OT prophecies that were originally given to the people of Israel, as now pertaining to the Church. The Reformed hermeneutic teaches that the NT has interpretative priority over the OT. Thus, Reformed interpreters believe they are at liberty to utilize a typological/spiritualized hermeneutic when reading the Bible.

The degree to which typology adversely effects the meaning of Scripture will vary from person to person, but it is certainly there among the Reformed. One need merely to look over the few Reformed commentaries on the Song of Solomon to see what I mean. Guys like John Gill and John Collinges, wrote massive, encyclopedic works on Song of Solomon simply to say it is a book about Jesus loving the Church. A.W. Pink, who has always been a favorite of mine, was also notorious for his heavy typological emphasis in his various gleaning series, and even the 1689 Federalism Baptists emphasize typology almost to the exclusion of other hermeneutical elements necessary to the reading and understanding of Scripture. The worst is with folks like John Walton, who turns the creation account of Genesis into some theological picture about the temple of God or whatever.

I certainly believe God presents pictures and types in the OT that are fulfilled with an anti-type in the NT, but the writer of Scripture tells us what is going on. He doesn’t leave it to us to creatively find the type/anti-type connection. A good example would be marriage originally intending to picture Christ’s love for the church and the church loving Christ. The thing is, however, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that marriage was meant to be that picture.

Types become a problem when enthusiastic Christians begin seeing types when none really exist. One that just drives me crazy and is often appealed to by Reformed folks is 1 Samuel 17 when David defeated Goliath. I listened to one Lutheran pirate, who will remain unnamed, spiritualize that entire story as a type of Jesus defeating Satan. David was Jesus, Goliath Satan. He went so far as to claim the five smooth stones David gathered from the brook before he met Goliath in battle were the 5 wounds of Jesus on the cross, the nail prints in his hands, his feet, and the spear wound in his side.

facepalmI’m Sorry. That deserves a Jesus facepalm

Though it sounds all pious and spiritually insightful, it misses the entire point of what 1 Samuel is trying to convey. It’s merely contrived fancy to say it is all a big story about Jesus defeating Satan.

Where types don’t really exist, any that are discovered become subject to the interpreter’s imagination and it ultimately strips the real authorial intent from the meaning of Scripture. Bible study is turned into a free-for-all, and the true understanding of the text is lost. If you take that approach to reading the Bible you will always be out bobbing around out on the skinny branch with Doane.

The Myth of the Stronger Brother

realmen1 Corinthians 8

I recently introduced the topic of Paul’s discussion on eating food sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10. Folks can pop over to my first post to catch up on the background info.

However, to provide a little recap:

It is my contention that Paul was doing much more than settling a dispute between factions of believers at the Corinthian church who were divided over whether or not a Christian had liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I think Paul was insisting that ALL the Corinthian believers were to leave the idol temples and have nothing to do with them. He did not see eating idol food as neutral that ultimately did no spiritual harm to a Christian. He sees eating idol food as seriously dishonoring to the LORD and a disaster to the Christian Church.

Over the course of three chapters, Paul lays out his case as to why the Corinthians must leave the pagan temples and abandon eating idol food all together. I broke down his argument into four larger points: Eating idol food, 1. is danger to believers, 2. disqualifies one’s ministry, 3. destroyed Israel, and 4. disrupted the fellowship.

With this post, I want to consider the first point: Eating idol food is a danger to believers.

An overview of some critical concepts introduced in chapter 8 will help us understand Paul’s argument.

First, what exactly did Paul mean by the idea of “things sacrificed to idols” in 8:1?

As I noted in my introductory article, the classic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8-10 believes when Paul speaks of those things sacrificed to idols, he is talking about meat from a pagan sacrifice that is used in a religious ceremony, but then is taken to the local street market where it is sold to the general public for a price. The temple authorities not only use the meat in their ritual but also turn a profit in the local market by selling off what was left.

The Corinthian Christians were shopping the local markets for food to buy, find a fabulous piece of meat for a cheap price, and purchase it for the family to eat. Other Christians, who were once heavily immersed in the Corinthian pagan culture, are troubled by those fellow Christians who so easily, without a second thought, purchase food that was once used in a religious sacrifice. In their minds, that piece of meat has the stench of the pagan ritual wafting off of it. Those Christians are defiling themselves and cursing God by eating it.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 10:25, that seems to be the scenario that Paul is addressing as I will explore when I come to that chapter. However, eating things sacrificed to idols is much more than preparing a prime rib dinner for a fellowship time with meat purchased at the local market that just so happens to have been sacrificed to idols.

What Paul has in mind when he addresses the topic is the religious ritual and the meal eaten by the participants partaking in that meal. No Corinthian could avoid the rampant paganism that pervaded their city. Paganism was everywhere. Participation in the temple rituals are what connected them to their society and their culture.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols entailed an elaborate religious meal eaten by all the participants sharing in that meal. The animal for sacrifice was brought to the temple. The appropriate rites were performed that involved a priest making the sacrifice on behalf of the person or persons. The priest would examine the entrails of the animal determining whether there was a “revelation” from some deity. The rest of the food would be prepared for a banquet and eaten by the friends and invited guests. Individuals with unique privileges or social status could use special sanctuaries in the temple for their ceremony.

Participation in those various ceremonies was an integral part of living life in Corinth. Everyone attended and utilized the temple. It was the place where a person would make social connections, advance in business dealings, and demonstrate he or she was an upstanding member of Corinth. In other words, the pagan temple, and all the feasts that took place there, reflected a particular worldview.

That is the reason eating idol food in the temple should have been such a big deal among the Corinthian Christians. Eating at the temple was tied directly to a specific religious worldview opposed to God. What Paul is intending to address throughout chapters 8-10 is that the Corinthian Christians did not see their participation in those ceremonies as a problem and they should have. Rather than leaving the temple culture of Corinth behind them, they whole-heartily participated in it and attempted to synchronize their Christian faith with that participation.

Another important concept Paul outlines in chapter 8 is the idea of “the weak.”

Again, the classic view understands the weak as Christians troubled with eating meat sacrificed to idols. However, the “strong” Christians had matured sufficiently so as to understand that eating meat sacrificed to idols did nothing to really do any spiritual harm. The weak were merely enslaving themselves to a silly superstition regarding meat sacrificed to idols and needed to think biblically. Because their consciences were misinformed on the matter, they were infringing upon every one’s liberty.

buddhistDown the street from my church in LA is one of the largest Thai Buddhist temples outside of Thailand. Nearly every week there is some festival or ceremony happening at that place. The folks attending there bring their food to be offered to the monks and in the various ceremonies. To raise money for the temple, the Buddhists sell food at their temple as well as at a nearby Thai restaurant. Many folks from my church frequent the place. (They have some excellent fried bananas, by the way). However, some of my Christian friends believe the restaurant is a living example of what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 8 and will refrain from eating there for fear of violating someone’s conscience from our church.

The problem with that perspective, and the strong/weak dichotomy in general, is that it doesn’t really exist in Paul’s discussion within these chapters. In fact, the use of the word “strong” to describe the mature believers is nowhere mentioned from 8-10. It is merely assumed that because Paul discusses the “weak” that the opposite, the “strong,” is implied with his argument.

That conclusion is drawn from Paul’s discussion of those with “knowledge” or “who know” found in 8:1-4, 7, 10-11. Thus, those with knowledge, or described as “who know,” are understood to be the mature, strong believers. They recognize that the idol is nothing, that the false religion is just that, a false religion, and eating any food associated with one of the false sacrifices does nothing spiritually or physically to the person. Similar to what Paul writes in 8:4-6. As the strong, they have liberty to buy and eat idol food and to enjoy it. The weak, however, do not. Their consciences trouble them when they eat idol food, so much so that they are said to become defiled from eating it.

The idea of knowledge in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, however, is his way of calling someone a Christian. Knowledge is equated with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to understand and receive spiritual truth. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes of being, “…enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” This use of knowledge is also found throughout many of Paul’s epistles like, 2 Corinthians 2:14, 4:6, 10:5; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; and Titus 1:1 to list a few.

The knowledge the Corinthians had revealed to them the true nature of false gods and false religion, 8:4-6. But rather than their knowledge being a good thing, it was in fact terribly misused. Backing up to 8:1, Paul expresses how knowledge can make one arrogant. When Paul writes in 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of  yours does not somehow become a stumbling block…”, that liberty is not a good thing; he is actually chiding their false liberty they had developed. What they considered liberty had made them arrogant toward one another within the church as well as those outside the church.

It needs to be kept in mind that the Corinthians’ so-called liberty was not merely limited to only purchasing meat that just so happened to have been sacrificed in a pagan temple. Instead, they were Christian believers actively involved in pagan ceremonies. The Corinthians were not asking Paul, “Is it alright if we eat food sacrificed to idols bought in the market?” but were insisting, “What’s the big deal about participating in temple services?”

Pulling our discussion together, the weak that Paul describes are those Christians who were still infused with old habits as idolaters.

Those weak Christians heard the Gospel. They believed upon Jesus as the Savior Who delivers sinners out of the bondage to their sin. Christianity is the religion of the true and living God. The worship of God and the fellowship with His people takes place in an entirely different and radically new way. God hates idolatry, according to His own word, and will suffer no other gods before Him.

Yet, fellow believers from their own church still frequent the temple and participate in the services that were offered, fellowshipping with pagans and attending their feasts that were often profane. All the while, those believers claim that because they are now in Christ, they have true knowledge about God and thus the liberty to eat and drink in the temple.

But that attitude poses two significant dangers that threaten the church.

First, it sins against the believers. Paul argues in 8:10-11, “for if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, it he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”  Paul’s words could not be clearer: The Christian who has developed a false sense of liberty in his mind and thinks it is okay to participate in the pagan festivities at the temple could very well bring a fellow believer to ruin. The idea of ruin means destruction, not just offended sensibilities.

Second, it sins against Christ. Paul continues in 8:12, ” And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” Beyond just bringing spiritual disaster against a fellow brother, the Christian is sinning against the Lord Jesus. That is because He is the one who secured that one’s salvation and now it has been place in danger by the foolish behavior of a fellow Christian.

What is Paul’s solution? Does he tell the Corinthians to be on the alert for immature believers and avoid them so as to not to offend their sensitive to the notion of eating in temples? Does he suggest discipling the weaker brother to grow in maturity so he can eventually join everyone else down at the temple? Not at all. He writes, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” In other words, completely eliminate your participation in such activity.

As we will go on to learn, dining in the idol temples is not just a stumbling block for the so-called weaker brother, it is a horrendous idea for all Christians.

Gleanings from Judges [9]

gideon

Gideon Delivers Israel – 6:28-7:25

The last judge I introduced was Gideon. He came from a well-to-do, wealthy and influential family. He was also a skeptical, sign-seeking, questioner of God. When the Angel of the LORD chose him to defend Israel, he excused himself by claiming he was a big nothing among the people of Israel. Yet, in spite of that, the Angel of the LORD came to Gideon and called him to the action of leading them to victory over the Midianites.

The Midianites, and an unnamed “people of the east,” were used of God to bring judgment upon the Children of Israel who had returned to their patterns of sinful behavior. They would swarm into the part of Israel were there was a lot of fertile crops and plunder the land. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat.

God is a faithful, covenant keeping God, and he warned Israel that such things would happen if they were to disobey His voice. The invasion by the Midianites was God’s way of keeping His Word.

When we closed our last study, Gideon had been tasked by the Angel of the LORD to confront the false religious system in his home town. Not only was his hometown the center of cultic worship practices, the house of his father served as the meeting place of the false religionists. At night, Gideon destroyed the altar with a bull, cuts down the totem pole associated with the altar, and makes an offering to God with a new altar he built out of the debris.

In the typical display of sinful backwardness that often follows when people move away from God, the men of the town confront Joash, Gideon’s father, about him tearing down the altar. They even invoke Deuteronomy 21:18 where the Scriptures declare that a stubborn and rebellious son must be stoned. The people were so given over to their idolatry and covenant breaking that they began to call that which was righteous evil.

Joash, revived in spirit, defended his son’s actions. He threatened the people with death who would fight for Baal. He told the people that if Baal is truly a god, he can fight for himself and he will punish Gideon. They then gave Gideon the nickname, Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him.”

Israel Delivered

All of those events my have happened shortly before the Midianites came around for their annual marauding, because shortly after Joash challenges the town folk, in came the Midianites.

Gideon is said to have been “clothed” or “filled with the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit of the LORD possessed Gideon. Keep in mind this is a separate “filling” than what would happen at salvation. This “filling” was a theocratic anointing that gave the recipient the ability to command and lead. With Gideon, he rallies the troops for battle and they readily come to join him.

However, he still has his doubts about his calling and assured victory. In fact, his doubts are so enormous that he tests whether or not the LORD would truly help him by ask for a sign with a fleece. Twice!

Gideon’s fleece is often used as an example of how to determine God’s will. A person who has an important decision to make that could have multiple possibilities and outcomes is told to “throw out a fleece.”

I recall a young man I knew in college who did this with a particular girl he had been dating. He was fretting over whether or not he should really commit to her as the one he would eventually marry. One evening when they were leaving a sporting event together, they were headed over to a church fellowship, but they had drove separately. When they were leaving the parking lot, she was in front of him in her car. Remembering the idea about throwing out a fleece, he quickly prayed, “If this girl is the girl I’m to marry, please show me right now with the direction she turns.” As they pulled on the road from the parking lot, she turned to the right, when he knew he would turn to the left, heading over to the fellowship. For my friend, God had just answered his prayer! Of course, she had to pick up some cookies she said she would bring and the closest supermarket was down the street a block in the other direction. But no matter, that was God’s clear answer that he was free to date another gal he had met.

Gideon already knows what God told him about saving Israel from the Midianites. In fact, Gideon even tells God in a prayer, “If you will save Israel by my hand, AS YOU HAVE SAID,” (6:36). Gideon’s appeal to the use of laying out a fleece is not him determining God’s will for the matter at hand, he already knew what God’s will was. It was an act of disobedient doubt of what God clearly had revealed. It is only be an act of God’s grace that He answers Gideon’s requests about the fleece. In a way, it is as if God alone is concerned about His people’s deliverance.

When God does deliver, He wants to put His power on display so as to glorify Himself. He does that with Gideon’s army (7:2) and declaring two separations among the people.

First, God tells those who are afraid to go home. That word reduced the size from 32,000 to 10,000. The second separation is a bit difficult to understand in Hebrew, but it involved how the men drank water.

The idea is that 9,700 of them got down on both their knees and put their head and hands down low so as to draw water up with their hands to their mouths. The remainder merely knelt down on one knee and drew up water with one hand. There was nothing particularly special about how they drank the water that separated those 300 from the rest, as if the way they drank made them especially inclined to be great fighters. It just so happens that is the way they drank water by a brook. If their drinking technique indicated they were better than the rest, then that defeats the whole purpose of it being God who alone receives the glory for Israel’s victory over their enemy.

By this time, the Midianites were probably very much aware of Israel’s presence. They have probably seen the army gather and then leave over the course of a day or so. God placates Gideon’s fear by telling him to go down into the camp of the Midianites with his servant. When they came there, Gideon overhears one Midianite telling another about a dream he had about a loaf of bread knocking down a tent. The other Midianite responds with the interpretation that it was Gideon and that God has given the enter encampment into his hands. Only God can give such an amazing sign. Upon hearing that revelation, Gideon is said to have “worshiped” (7:15). He knew God was there with them.

Returning to his men, Gideon rallied the troops. He divided the 300 men into three groups. Pretending to be larger than what they really were, their blowing of trumps and lighting torches, set the camp of the Midianites into disarray. The LORD set everyman’s sword against his fellow man (7:22) and they fled in terror.