Category Archives: Church

What is heresy?

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

I was blogging on Christianity Board on the topic, “Heresy?” where the person asked:

“Every denomination has some teaching or doctrine that we would not agree with.
How would you explain the difference between an incorrect teaching and
a heretical teaching…?
IOW,,,when does an incorrect teaching become heretical? Thanks.”[1]

In the Septuagint (LXX) – the Greek translation of the Old Testament – hairesis is found occasionally as meaning free choice or voluntarily (e.g. Gen 49:5; Lev 22:18).[2]

Like hairesis in Josephus, [the word] denoted in the first instance the trends and parties within Judaism. But soon, when certain minim separated themselves from the orthodox Rabbinic tradition, it came to be used only of trends within Judaism opposed by the Rabbis. . . . The term thus stigmatised certain groups as “heretical.” This sense is found in Rabbinic writings belonging to the end of the 1st and early part of 2nd century A.D. . . . At the end of the 2nd century the term acquired a new meaning, being applied not so much to the members of a sect within Judaism as to the adherents of other faiths and esp. Christians and Gnostics.[3]

New Testament and heresy

For the Christian who takes the Bible seriously, heresy is based on the Greek noun, hairesis. The Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon gives the foundational meaning as “sect, party, school” (BAG, 1957, p. 23).

It was used to describe the “party of the Sadducees” in Acts 5:17; the Pharisees in Acts 26:5 were described as “the strictest sect of our religion.” In the secular literature of the first century, it meant “heretical sect.”

In a later sense they were called “a dissension, a faction” (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20). They also were called an “opinion, dogma . . . a way of thinking” (2 Pet 2:1).

clip_image004Schlier considers heresy must be understood ‘against the Hellenistic and Jewish background. The usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis [Ac 5:17; 15:5; 24:5, 14; 28:22]. . . . In these passages the term has the neutral flavour of “school.”’[4]

Schlier concludes:

“Against this background, it is impossible to solve the problem of the derivation of the special Christian sense of heresy. . . . The separation of non-orthodox groups, the heterdox parties, came to be designated heresy. . . . The basis of the Christian concept of hairesis is to be found in the new situation created by the introduction of the Christian ekklesia. Ekklesia and hairesis are material opposites. The latter cannot accept the former; the former excludes the latter. This may be clearly seen in Gal 5:10 where hairesis is reckoned among “he works of the flesh, along with [sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition]. Yet neither here nor else in the NT does hairesis have a technical sense. In 1 Cor. 11:18f we see even more clearly the impossibility of hairesis within Christianity.[5]

Heresy in the early church

In the age which followed NT hairesis, it

was still understood as an eschatologically threatening magnitude essentially opposed to the ekklesia. . . . Within Christianity hairesis always denotes hostile societies and there is always consciousness of an inner relationship between heretics and the secular philosophical schools or Jewish sects . . . which they also describe by the term hairesis. What the Church usually has in view is Gnosticism. As seen by the Church, the Gnostics form schools.[6]

So anything that was taught that was contrary to that for the early church – opposing Scripture – was called heresy.

So, this gives a wide field for relevance and challenge, especially in light of how denominations add to Scripture in topics such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, etc.

Applications

To sum up: A heresy in today’s understanding is a sect whose way of thinking is dogma that promotes theology contrary to biblical Christianity – an heretical sect. This includes infant baptism, the Lord’s Supper as Real Presence, Covenant Theology, Once-Saved-Always-Saved, and worship of Mary.

An example would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses today who do not believe Jesus is God and they reject human beings as having an immortal soul. Mormonism fits the same category as heresy.

From a Christian perspective, Islam is heretical as it does not promote the Trinitarian God. Islam rejects Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

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(Burning of heretics during Spanish Inquisition)

Works consulted

Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich, tr. & adapt. of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th and aug edn 1957. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edn licensed to Zondervan Publishing House for sale only in the United States of America).

Schlier, Heinrich 1964. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol 1. Ed by Gerhard Kittel, tr & ed Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Christianity Board, “Heresy?” November 21, 2021. Available at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/heresy.44320/ (Accessed 7 February 2022).

[2] Heinrich Schlier 1964. vol. 1, hairesis, p. 181

[3] Schlier, 182.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 182-193.

[6] Ibid., 183,

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 February 2022.

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Scott Morrison, Christian colleges, & biblical Christianity

The Honourable

Scott Morrison MP

Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison.jpg

Morrison in 2021

30th Prime Minister of Australia

Incumbent

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article first appeared in On Line Opinion, 14 February 2022.

I was shocked to read our Prime Minister’s reported view that he does not support the Citipointe Christian College’s promotion of the ethics of biblical Christianity. He did not say it in such straight-forward language but stated,

The federal government will seek to amend a contentious section of the Sex Discrimination Act alongside its Religious Discrimination Bill, in a move that follows lengthy discussions between the Prime Minister’s office and key backbenchers over the past week (The Sydney Morning Herald, “Church schools will lose right to expel gay students as PM deals with moderate Liberals,” (February 3, 2022)

Let’s make it clear: “Moderate liberals” are not supporters of what the Scriptures state about homosexuality. The Coalition government wants “to lock in the support of moderate Liberal MPs ahead of a potential vote on the bill in the next sitting fortnight” (“Church schools will lose the right . . .”

Wouldn’t it be amazing to read a mass media press release that states the Coalition wants to woo Bible-believing Christians in the community and support their views on sexual (including homosexual) ethics – straight from the Bible?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18).

blue-corrosion-arrow-small  “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Rom 1:24)

blue-corrosion-arrow-small  “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom 1:26-27).

blue-corrosion-arrow-small “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice” (Rom 1:28-29).

Citipointe Christian College Aerial View(photo Citipointe Christian College campus)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Bible states that these acts of homosexuality have this consequence:

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Instead of trying to save his political backside for the next election and satisfying the LGBTIQ+ people, he should be representing ALL people and telling the truth about where homosexuality will take people. Bible-believing Christians have been betrayed, in my opinion, and should see the political craftiness of Morrison and give up on him at the next election. I’m not convinced an Anthony Albanese led government will present a better option but at least its ethics will be secular and not in the guise of Christianity – as with Morrison.

The truth about sexual and other sins

Where are the Bible-believing MPs who will speak God’s truth on the eternal penalty of that sexual aberration? Will they speak up when voting on the Religious Discrimination Bill?

Morrison admitted, “My kids go to a Christian school here in Sydney, and I wouldn’t want my school doing that either,” he told Brisbane’s B105.3 radio (Church schools will lose right to expel gay students). He was addressing the Citipointe Christian College issue. So, is he saying he doesn’t want a Christian school to tell the truth of the homosexual lifestyle and its eternal ramification?

Citipointe Christian College should feel let down by a Christian Prime Minister who seems to be playing political games for the next election so he can save “soft” Liberal Party seats. He has lost my vote to one of the minor parties that supports and practises biblical standards.

In my view, Morrison has practised reverse discrimination by compromising biblical Christianity and its ethics on sexuality and sucking up to the LGBTIQ+ community to make it look like support for that view. It is a politically correct view that may cost him at the next election.

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 04 February 2022.

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STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH

Because of the incredible blessings you have received

1 Peter 1: 3-5 (ESV)[1]

A. Introduction

What would happen to your faith if you were one of the survivors in the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and some of your family died in those house ruins?[2]

Christian people were overcome by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.[3] How does faith survive among such devastation?

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(photo Indian Ocean tsunami courtesy Wikimedia Commons)[4]

It’s hard to imagine how a Church can survive in Communist North Korea. According to Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted church, there are about 400,000 Christians living in that country . . . and they desperately need our prayers and support.

North Korea is [considered to be ] the most oppressive nation in the world. There is no freedom of thought, speech, expression, movement or religion. It is the utmost restricting and punishing place on the planet.

Being a Christian in North Korea is extremely dangerous and difficult to conceal. One in three people [is a] government [spy]. If you don’t regularly bow down to a statue of Kim Il Sung, it’s noted [by these spies].

About 200,000 prisoners are serving life sentences in labour camps. . . . Prisoners work for up to 18 hours a day. Anyone who talks risks 8 days in solitary confinement in a 0.6m x 1.1m cage. . . . Torture, executions and experiments occur daily.

Many thousands of prisoners are Christians. “Christians are the most severely abused,” testifies Soon Ok Lee, a former prisoner. “In seven years I saw many believers die, yet they never denied Jesus”.[5]

What is it that keeps these persecuted North Korean Christians firm in their faith? (400,000 of them in a country of 23 million, with such severe persecution)

It’s the same kind of faith you will need when you are ridiculed for your faith in Australia. It’s the faith that you need when the going gets tough.

In First Peter we find why Christians stand firm in the faith when the trials come.

We hear so little of what is happening to the small Christian church in Iraq. I read recently “that Christians and churches are being seriously affected by the internal turmoil across the country. Not only are foreigners being hijacked, but indigenous Iraqi Christians are also disappearing. [Open Doors] contacts stress that in most of these cases, the kidnappers are not Islamic extremists, but more often are young people trying to make some easy money.”[6]

We find it difficult to identify with persecution like this. What did Jesus say about this kind of situation? “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20 ESV).[7]

Let’s get to our text in First Peter.

B. Why did Peter write this first epistle?

clip_image004 It is a very warm pastoral letter with lots of encouragement for Christians who are scattered and persecuted. I Peter 5:12 states, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it”.

clip_image004[1] Peter wrote this epistle to believers who were experiencing these kinds of things:

clip_image006 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”.

clip_image006[1] 2:21, “For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

clip_image006[2] 3:13-14, “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”.

clip_image006[3] 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

clip_image004[2] Do you get the picture? Peter wrote this epistle so that these early believers would “see their temporary sufferings in the full light of the coming eternal glory. In the midst of all their discouragements, the sovereign Lord will keep them and enable them by faith to have joy.”[8]

clip_image004[3] This is a very practical and relevant message for us in Qld. in the 21st century.

As we look closely at I Peter 1:3-5, we are taught to

“STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH: Because of the incredible blessings you have received.”

That’s the title of my message today. 1 Peter 1:3-5 teaches us to stand firm in the faith…

Firstly, because of the incredible blessings you have received in Christ; and

Secondly, because of your inheritance as believers.

Let’s deal with the first major reason.

I. STAND FIRM IN YOUR FAITH because of the incredible blessings you have received (vv. 3-5)

In I Peter 2:9, Peter uses this kind of language about the people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (ESV). Through God’s “great mercy”, these early Christians had received blessings beyond anything your boss could offer. Marriage will not give you what God has given.

A business woman’s multi-millions of dollars will look like chicken feed when compared with the blessings of the people of God.

It’s appropriate that Peter begins v. 3 with an exhortation to praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Conservative Lutheran commentator, Richard Lenski, writes this: “There is too little contemplation of God, too little praise of him in our hearts, especially in our earthly distress.”[9] Would you agree or disagree? Do we praise God enough? Do we know how to praise Him?

The psalmist did and he encourages us to praise like this:

Psalm 103:1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits –

3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (NIV)

There is so much to praise God for. Let’s not be slack about it. Peter calls us to praise:

clip_image008 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter is singing the true glory of God when he meditates on God’s great salvation through Jesus Christ. When Peter thinks on the blessings of salvation, he has nothing but praise for God the Father.

By way of application:

Please pause a moment, and think of what you have been saved from. You know your past and what you did and were when in rebellion against God. What did it take for you to be turned around? Could you change yourself? Of course not, if we are talking about deep inner change! Let’s pause a moment for you to praise God for who he is and the salvation that he has brought to your life.

You may have a family member who is:

clip_image008[1] Threatening suicide;

clip_image008[2] Rebellious children who run away, wag school and abuse parents.

clip_image008[3] Parents who are guilt-ridden because they can’t control their kids, kids on drugs, stealing, vandalising, etc.

clip_image008[4] Adultery, broken families, talk of legalising homosexual marriage;

How do you survive as a Christian in these circumstances?

You don’t have to be going through such extreme conditions. You may be persecuted for your Christian convictions. For you, this first epistle of Peter has some exceedingly good news.

Just in case you haven’t remembered what God has done for you through Christ, Peter summarises some of the blessings for us. Surely these are enough to convince us to hold to our faith firmly.

Never forget these blessings that are taught in I Peter 1:3-5.

A. YOU HAVE BEEN CHANGED FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Look how this inner change is described.

1. Firstly, he has given us new birth

Or, as the ESV translates it, he has “caused us to be born again.” This language is so familiar to many of us who are evangelical Christians that we just gloss over it. Please don’t. What has happened to you, if you are born again, is like going into your mother’s womb again and coming out a totally new person, from the inside out. The image baffled Nicodemus (John 3:3-9). It still puzzles those who have not experienced it.

You have been given new birth because the life of God has been implanted in your soul. This is the whole Trinity in you to give you a new life and a new view of the world. Your heart is filled with new powers, new motives, new thoughts, and a new desire. You are not the same.

It is ours because of God’s “great mercy” (v. 3). God saw us in filth, need and rebellion. He was moved with compassion. Eph. 2:4 says He is a God who is “rich in mercy.” Mercy is God’s compassion for the helpless that results in action to bring them relief. “Mercy is a word specially used in the New Testament of God’s kindness in bringing in the outsider and the unworthy, the Gentile and the sinner, to share in His salvation, and in the glories or riches of His Christ”[10] You can read about it in Rom. 11:30-32; 15:9; Eph. 2:1-7; Titus 3:5.

Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the hungry crowd. But he did more than that. He provided them with the bread and the fish to eat (Matt. 15:32). That’s mercy.

God saw our wretched state, aliens who would rather shake our fist at God than move towards him. We were rebels. In mercy, he offered us new birth through Christ’s death.

It is a new birth that gives us:

2. Secondly, a living hope (v. 3)

We live in a “no hope” world. If we want to put a person down, we call him a “no hoper.” Just think of what has happened to hope during the last century. Two world wars, Hitler’s gas ovens and the deaths of 6 million Jews, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atomic age ushered in with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Vietnam War; the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The slaughter in Rwanda, Zaire, Port Arthur, the war in Iraq, and the rebellion in the Middle East. The Indian Ocean tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti.

Some of the adults and young people I counsel, who are contemplating suicide, tell me they see no hope in the future. They say life is hopeless, meaningless.

A former federal minister of education wrote to The Australian newspaper back in 1997. He said this:

The thematic currency of youth suicide is our failure to transmit a sense of belonging and meaningful purpose to young people. . . . We have created a culture in which young people frequently feel they have nothing other than themselves in which to believe. The mesh of values that held Australian society together 30 years ago – God, king and country – has been systematically dismantled. . . leaving only a vacuum. . . The price of our shallowness is being paid by our children.”[11]

The hope that people had in the optimism at the beginning of the 20th century is dead in the ashes of wars, crime, violence and high unemployment. When you glory in what human beings can do and achieve, you will be bitterly disappointed, even shattered.

For the believer we have a “living hope.” The opposite, “a dead hope,” is what we would call hopelessness. For the Christian it is a living hope because it is in what God has done. Verse 3 makes it clear what God has done. It is a living hope ONLY . .

3. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (v. 3).

What’s the big deal about the resurrection? If you read the 643 pp of this book, The Birth of Christianity by John Dominic Crossan,[12] you will learn that

clip_image010The resurrection of Christ was an “apparition.”[13] An apparition is a ghost, spirit, phantom or vision. His view was:

clip_image010[1] “Bodily resurrection has nothing to do with a resuscitated body coming out of its tomb. . . . Bodily resurrection means that the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvifically present in the world.”[14]

So, there was no empty tomb for Crossan. It was a phantom experience, an apparition and is only a religious experience for believers in the present world.

To the contrary, Dr. N. T. Wright, a British evangelical and former Anglican bishop of Durham, wrote the 817 pp of his book, Resurrection of the Son of God,[15] to refute theories like Crossan’s apparitional view of the resurrection. Wright believes the Bible and is convinced that:

clip_image012 The resurrection of Jesus “was the single event through which the world, and Israel, were changed for ever.”

clip_image012[1] “In particular, Luke insists on the bodiliness of the risen Jesus.”

clip_image012[2] In Luke 24:36-42, “Every line, almost every word, in this scene demonstrates the point. For Luke, the risen Jesus is firmly and solidly embodied, able to be touched, able to eat.”[16]

So, for N. T. Wright, there was a bodily resurrection of Jesus. The tomb was empty and you could touch the resurrected Christ.

For Crossan, Jesus resurrection was an apparition, a phantom, a vision. What happened to Jesus’ body for this scholar? It “did not undergo resurrection (no Easter) and after his execution, was probably eaten by wild dogs”.[17] That’s what he says.

There is a battle raging in scholarly circles over the resurrection of Jesus. But for many of us ordinary Christians, Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave needs to be emphasised.

If there was only Golgotha, we would have a dead Jesus, rotting in the grave. It is because of the resurrection that we have a living Saviour and you can become a new person in Christ. It is a hope that will not die because of the one who conquered death. It matters what the resurrection was.

As Bill & Gloria Gaither’s song puts it:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

Because He lives, all fear is gone.

Because I know who holds the future

And live is worth the living just because He lives.[18]

A person once said to me, “I’m going to live it up for all I can get now because I’m going to be dead a long time.” He was dead wrong! You’ll be alive a mighty long time—for eternity—but where you will be, heaven or hell, will be determined by how you respond to the resurrected Jesus in this life.

For what do we hope? What are we looking forward to?

B. AN INHERITANCE (v. 4)

This is why we stand firm when the going gets tough.

This was familiar language for Jewish readers. They had heard lots about the inheritance that God had for his people. Canaan, the Holy Land, was their portion. They were wanderers in the wilderness after coming out of slavery in Egypt. They looked for the Promised Land. After being brought back from Exile in Babylon, they were looking for their inheritance in the Land God had provided.

But the “land flowing with milk and honey” didn’t fulfil Israel’s hopes. They were soon into idolatry; there was strife between tribes; the land was overrun by invaders. Surely there was something more than this for an inheritance! Was there any lasting hope?

We have seen lots of great things for those of us who live in the ‘Lucky Country’ of Australia. We have wealth beyond measure. Our natural resources are something to behold. The technology in the land is amazing. The sunburnt country has so much beauty. We have one of the best welfare systems in the world.

But in the midst of this splendour, there is so much ugliness. Surely there is more to yearn for than this land of Australia!

Australia or Israel is not the inheritance that the true Church is expecting. Verse 4 says it is an inheritance that

1. Is imperishable

Moths and rats will not eat it up. It will not rust. Thieves will not break in and steal it. No destructive force, natural or made by human beings, will injure it or take it away.[19] “Unlike any inheritance in this world, it is not exposed to destruction.”[20]

It is an inheritance that

2. Is undefiled

It can never spoil. No stain or stink of sin will be there. It is so pure and lofty. Imagine an inheritance that is worth more, much more, than gold. No contamination from anything related to sin. There will be no brothers and sisters fighting over the will to get their share. It will be unspoiled wealth. The believers’ inheritance cannot be “defiled from outside.”[21]

This inheritance

3. Is unfading

The idea behind this word, says Richard Lenski, is that it is

“never withering, (never) disappointing, (never) becoming old and worn. The delight of it will never lessen or grow stale… Our inheritance will never lose anything through age or sickness on our part or through any damage to itself; it will never be marred by impurity; and it will never lessen in delight because it has been enjoyed for so long.”[22]

Unlike a physical inheritance in this world, it cannot “decay from inside.”[23] But there is more. What makes this inheritance even more remarkable is that the security system is out of this world.

4. It is “kept in heaven for you.” (v. 4)

Literally, it has always been kept and is presently being guarded and will be kept there until you reach glory. God is guarding you. He keeps you safe. What a blessing this is!

Please note that this inheritance is:

5. For you through faith (v. 5)

Faith is not to be thought of as some way for earning your inheritance. Never! However, faith in Christ must surely be our response to God’s mercy and love.

While our inheritance is kept in heaven for us by God, we, as faithful believers, are living on earth,

6. “Who by God’s power are being guarded” (v. 5).

Did you grasp what I just said? Your inheritance is guarded by God’s power. God has not left the church without protection in this hostile world. God continuously “guards” the church. Yes, even this church. “Guarded” is an old military term meaning “to garrison.”[24] A garrison is a military post that is permanently established and stays on guard 24 hours a day.

The church is guarded by God’s power every moment of every day.

The psalmist reminded Israel: “[The Lord] will not let your foot slip—he, who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:3-4); Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

The power of God guarded . . .

clip_image014Daniel in the lions’ den;

clip_image014[1]Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo in the fiery furnace.

clip_image014[2]It set boundaries around Job when he was afflicted;

clip_image014[3]It freed Peter from Herod’s prison;

clip_image014[4]It preserved Paul when he was surrounded by dangers, hardships and persecutions.

clip_image014[5]The faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 tells us that, through faith, God guarded those who “were tortured and refused to be released. . . . Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned” (vv.35-37 NIV).

clip_image014[6]However, others were guarded until God took them to heaven: “They were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Heb. 11: 37).

What does it mean to be guarded for us?

7. The coming of salvation: ready to be revealed in the last time (v. 5)

We have salvation now that makes a radical personal difference in our lives. But Peter is reminding the church of the final deliverance that will come at the end of the age. There will be horrible persecution and sorrow in the days ahead and just prior to the return of Christ, from Satan’s final assault. Revelation ch. 12 speaks of Satan being cast out of heaven and filled with fury “because he knows that his time is short” (Rev. 12:12).

Famous theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr, was on the streets of New York City when he was approached by an evangelist with this question, “Are you saved?” Niebuhr always took people seriously. He paused a moment and gave this thoughtful reply, “I was saved by what Christ did; I am being saved right now; I shall be saved when the kingdom comes.”

We don’t know what the evangelist said. But Neibuhr stated so well what Peter is trying to get across to us: “Salvation spans time. It is grounded in the past; it is experienced in the present; it culminates in the future.”[25]

Without a doubt, we, who believe, have begun to experience a true and great salvation now (Luke 19:9), thanks to Christ’s death on the cross. The joys of salvation come through our daily discipleship (2 Cor. 6:2). However, the absolute wonder and the full dimensions of salvation will not be known until the crowning day of our salvation when Jesus comes again.

When Jesus returns, the church will receive the great deliverance. Salvation will be accomplished then.

What a God we have and what a blessing to know that we are guarded by the power of God in this way—in life and through death.

After listening to all this heavenly emphasis, maybe you are tempted to say what Karl Marx said. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff. Isn’t Christianity the religion that is the drug that the ruling classes are using to keep the under-privileged satisfied with their lousy lot? Isn’t this keeping your heads in the clouds so that you don’t have to become involved in solving some of the problems of today’s world?

Of course, this Christian hope can be abused and misunderstood—and it has been. However, it has been the Christians whose hopes have been in heaven who have made a dynamic impact as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Where would we be without committed, evangelical Christians such as William Wilberforce who helped to eliminate slavery from the British Empire. It was George M?ller who helped the orphans in England and lived by faith to receive funding for his ministry.

Another John Howard, besides Australia’s former Prime Minister, influenced by the Wesleyan revival, brought about prison reforms in England. Elizabeth Fry continued his work.

In 1774, [John Howard’s] evidence to a House of Commons committee [in the UK] led to two Acts which aimed to improve conditions in gaols. His published writings on the subject were widely read and his detailed accounts of inhumane conditions caused dismay.

He advocated a system of state-controlled prisons in which the regime was tough, but the environment healthy. In 1779 the Penitentiary Act authorised the construction of two prisons in accordance with his own theories.

He advocated a regime of solitary confinement, hard labour and religious instruction. The objective of imprisonment, he believed, was reform and rehabilitation, not just punishment.[26]

William & Catherine Booth founded the Salvation Army and its ministry to the needy has a continuing international reputation.

David Wilkerson went to New York City to work with the junkies and help them be delivered from their drug habits through Christ and established Teen Challenge. Where would the welfare of our country be today if the church withdrew its ministry to the hurting people?

Those who have a living hope and know their inheritance is in heaven, never to be spoiled, have most often got their hands dirty in the real world of people and their problems.

Even in this letter of First Peter, Peter has some urgent things to say about life in the present. In chapter 2 he deals with how we are to relate to government and our bosses. Marriage and family come into focus in chapter 3. Chapters 3 & 4 deal with how we should respond to suffering for doing good. This is very down-to-earth stuff for those who are chosen people and a holy nation.

So, what has Peter taught us from I Peter 1:3-5? We know that for persecuted believers, for those of us experiencing very hard times, we can stand firm in the faith because of our incredible blessings. They are:

clip_image016 You have been changed from the inside;

clip_image016[1] You have an inheritance.

You have been changed from the inside by being

a. “given new birth in Christ”

b. And a living hope.

What is that new inheritance that will help you to stand firm? It is the salvation that

a. Can never perish;

b. Never spoil;

c. Never fade;

d. Kept in heaven for you;

e. Through faith;

f. Shielded by God’s power.

Please note v. 3. It is given to believers, not because they deserve it, but because of God’s “great mercy.”

And this salvation that we are now experiencing will be fully revealed when? V. 5, “In the last time.” This will be at the glorious unveiling of our full salvation at the Second Coming of Christ.

It has often been said that many Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. That’s not biblical Christianity.

Here in I Peter, those who are sure of their inheritance in heaven and have a living hope that longs for their eternal reward, are most actively involved in this present world — through evangelism and practical ministry. You might ask, “Should we focus on this world or the next?” I think the question is wrong. Rather, it should be, “Does your future belong to a human being’s pride and resources or to God’s grace?” Since our future belongs to God’s grace, our lives ought to demonstrate “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up” to the needy – wherever and whenever.

“Vietnam’s tribal Christians are under physical and spiritual attack. Two brothers tell us their story, and ask us to stand with them through prayer.

“‘Who is teaching your class? Who else studies with you? Why do you believe in this Jesus?’ The policeman barked his questions at Nate, [the policeman’s] eyes filled with disdain and fury. ‘Help me, Lord!’ Nate prayed, pleading for the strength to keep quiet and not give away any details of the secret Bible classes.

“After the interrogation came the second beating – worse than the first. When he’d arrived at the police station, he’d been taken to a room and hit with a wooden club. When Nate refused to talk, the policeman struck out at him again. ‘They hit me over and over again with the club and told me they would beat me to death. One of them kicked me in the groin and then I was hit on the head,’ recalls Nate. I collapsed, falling unconscious to the ground.'”

Troy tells a similar story.

“Nate, Troy and other “Galilee [Bible School]” students from their J’rai tribal group have resolved to keep studying God’s Word. ‘The Holy Spirit has comforted me and helped me to stand firm without fear,’ explains Nate. ‘I am so blessed to be part of the Bible class because I am getting to know Jesus more and more. I will keep studying – even if it leads to my death.”[27]

What is it that keeps these persecuted Vietnamese Christians firm in their faith? The same inheritance that is yours and mine in Christ, through His vicarious atonement and resurrection. It’s the “living hope” that we have, through Christ’s death and resurrection.

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(Street in Vietnam, courtesy Open Doors)[28]

Notes


[1] Preached by Spencer Gear at Gin Gin Baptist Church, Gin Gin, Qld., 11 July 2004; it also was preached at Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church, 24 June 2007; and at Maryborough Presbyterian, 7 Feb 2010.

[2] See “2010 Haiti earthquake,” Wikipedia, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Haiti_earthquake (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[3] See details at Wikipedia, “2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami,” Wikipedia, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[4] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004-tsunami.jpg (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[5] Open Doors, Australia, “The most punishing place on the planet. . . North Korea,” letter, January 2006. Available from PO Box 53, Seaforth NSW 2092; www.opendoors.org.au; email: opendoors@opendoors.org.au

[6] The Door Openers Club, Frontline, June 2004, Open Doors Australia, P.O. Box 53 Seaforth NSW 2092. Website: www.opendoors.org.au.

[7] Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural quotations are from the ESV (English Standard Version).

[8] Edwin A. Blum, 1 Peter, in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 213.

[9] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg publishing House, 1966.30.

[10] A.M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). London: The Tyndale Press, 1959, 75.

[11] Dr. Brendan Nelson, The Weekend Australian, January 11-12, 1997, 20.

[12] 1998, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. I studied the book for my PhD dissertation.

[13] Ibid., p. 550.

[14] Ibid., p. xxxi.

[15] 2003, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

[16] Ibid., p. 657.

[17] In Crossan, J. D. 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco., p. 133.

[18] Words and Music by William J. Gaither; Recorded by William and Gloria Gaither; ©1971 BMI All Rights Reserved. Words available at: http://www.alighthouse.com/lives.htm [24th August 2004].

[19] Lenski, 33-34.

[20] A.M. Stibbs, 75.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Lenski, 34.

[23] Stibbs, 75.

[24] A.T. Robertson, Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume VI (The General Epistles and the Revelation of John). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1933, 83.

[25] Lyman Coleman and Richard Peace, Study Guide for the Book of 1 Peter (Mastering the Basics). Littleton, Colorado: Serendipity USA, 22.

[26] UK Parliament, “John Howard and prison reform.” Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/laworder/policeprisons/overview/prisonreform/ (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[27] Open Doors Newsbrief, July 2004, p. 1

[28] Available at: https://opendoors.org.au/world-watch-list/vietnam/ (Accessed 21 January 2022).

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 January 2022.

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Why I am not a theologically liberal person

https://i0.wp.com/www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/320000/velka/church-building-1576232340ZeQ.jpg?resize=484%2C386&ssl=1

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was published in On Line Opinion, 20 September 2021, Why I am not a theologically liberal person.

I have deliberately avoided using the sentence: “Why I am not a theologically liberal Christian” as I consider liberals have repudiated any sense of Christianity. John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar and a supporter of postmodern deconstruction stated: “In discussing the crucifixion, I argued that the story of Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally unhistorical. If he was buried at all, he was buried not by his friends but by his enemies. And not in a tomb hewed out of stone, but in a shallow grave that would have made his body easy prey for scavenging animals.”

What a disgusting way to speak of the death of the Saviour for the sins of the world. It is totally disrespectful and uncouth.

This is an example of theological liberalism in action. Crossan has added to the text, defining Jesus’ resurrection as “an apparition” (i.e. a ghost or phantom).

Jesus’ resurrection

When I was living in Bundaberg, Rev. David Kidd was the Uniting Church minister who wrote at Easter time 1999 in The Bugle, Bundaberg, Qld, Australia, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, “The Resurrection of Jesus.”  In it, he stated: ‘The resurrection of Jesus. It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible’.

This is a characteristic example of what a person’s theological liberalism does to the Bible, by denying the supernatural and imposing a naturalistic, individualistic interpretation on the text. It is called eisegesis – imposing one’s own meaning on the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself and for meaning to be obtained from the words of the text.

He did not get that view from the Bible. It was out of the mind and theological liberalism of David Kidd.

I would break the rules of grammar and syntax

For me to follow the examples above, I would discard the rules of grammar and syntax I use everyday for the reading of the Brisbane Courier-Mail. I would not go to the Bible for a literal understanding of its content.

Grammar is “the set of rules that explain how words are used in a language” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2021. “grammar.”) Syntax is “the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses)” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2021. “syntax”).

I would be ashamed of the Bible’s literal content.

To be a theological liberal, I would be ashamed of the literal interpretation of the Bible. I would be classified as a “fundamentalist” who would be scoffed at. I’m not afraid of the term “fundamentalist” but when it is used in a pejorative way, it comes loaded with the author’s presuppositions against Bible-believing Christians and the Gospel they share.

I would be accepting heresies.

Heresy - WikipediaIn NT Greek, the term from which we get ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5, of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV).

The research article on hairesis by Schlier (in Kittel, vol. 1) states that its ‘usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis’ but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use.

When the NT ekklesia (church) came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that ‘the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier).

Surely that is what we see in the Uniting Church today in Australia (UCA) with its support of theological liberalism’s unbiblical doctrines and most recently endorsing homosexual marriages conducted by its clergy in its churches?

From the NT, heresy also is used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine, etc. (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1; 6:3; Eph 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God, etc. (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

Therefore, the UCA, in supporting same-sex marriage and the anti-supernaturalism of theological liberalism promotes heresy. This heretical poison will destroy the potential of any church or denomination for growth. According to the Christian Research Association, the UCA lost 31% of its attendance from 1996-2006.

Heresy kills denominations. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, heresy is the “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.” A second definition is: “Opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021. “heresy.”)

Sucked in by a secular agenda.

The major secular agenda today is the acceptance of homosexuality in society and in the church. This is not God’s view but that of a non-Christian perspective.

Dr. Norman Geisler in his chapter on ‘Liberalism on the Bible’ demonstrated how the rise of modern anti-supernatural liberalism had its roots as far back as Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century. He lays bare how liberalism’s view of Scripture includes:

  • An anti-supernatural basis of the liberal view of Scripture;
  • Cultural accommodation is necessary;
  • Negative criticism of Scripture;
  • The Bible is not the Word of God;
  • The Bible is fallible and errant;
  • The origin of Scripture is not by divine inspiration;
  • Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only written and infallible authority for faith) is rejected.
  • The Bible contains contradictions, including scientific errors;
  • There is immorality in the Old Testament;
  • Human reason is prominent in interpreting the Bible;
  • There is a strong emphasis on human experience.

While theological liberalism is broad in definition, it also can accommodate the postmodern, deconstruction, reader-response ideologies of the Jesus Seminar.

Theological liberals have a major difficulty with the supernatural, so the God who creates and intervenes in our world is taboo. You would not expect to find support for the Virgin Birth or the bodily resurrection of Jesus in theologically liberal churches.

Do you want to empty your churches?

I am not a theological liberal because I do not want to empty the church I attend. In Australia, these are some of the statistics:

Some Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.

“The Church of England is just one generation away from extinction‘, (said) the former Archbishop of Canterbury” (Lord George Carey).

When John Shelby Spong was Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark NJ, the Episcopalian Church lost 40,000 people. “His works infamously speculated that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, that St. Paul was a self-hating homosexual, and that Jesus’ unresurrected body was torn asunder by wild dogs.”

That is a brief summary of why I am not a theological liberal.

 

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 08 September 2021

Nobody knows what happens after death!

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I do some Internet blogging and met this fellow who stated:

There are no answers, and there never will be for the living. And there is no difference in dogmatism of those who say that there has to an after life and those who say there is not. Nobody knows.[1]

I responded: Do you understand your hypocrisy? You claim there is no difference between the dogmatism of those who affirm an after-life and those who don’t. Then you give us your dogmatism: “Nobody knows.”

Meet someone who gives evidence for life-after-death.
Let me introduce you to somebody who knows what happens after death.

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:22-24 NLT).

This same author, the Apostle Paul, writing under divine inspiration, affirmed: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV).

This kind of evidence led to this statement in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

“Nobody knows” is arrogance.

I know you won’t like the evidence I’ve provided, but your “nobody knows” position is one of ignorance – even arrogance.
What was Jesus’ view? He said to Martha at the time when her brother, Lazarus, was raised from the dead by Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die [i.e. will never die forever]. Do you believe this?”(
John 11:25-26 NET)

Meet the One who knows what happens at death.

There is most definitely someone who knows where you will be one minute after your last breath. He is the crucified, resurrected and returning Jesus Christ who is alive and well. He is the only one who has provided assurance in life and after death.

You must count the cost of following Jesus with much thought.

  • Salvation is absolutely free.
  • So is joining the army; you don’t have to pay to get into it. Everything you need is provided.[2]
  • Following Christ is like joining the army. It will cost you daily. It will cost you freedom, family, friends, doing things your own way (autonomy), and possibly even your life.[3]
  • I must tell you, a prospective believer, the full truth and nothing but the truth.

See a more extensive discussion on the Gospel and discipleship in, The Content of the Gospel . . . and some discipleship.

Romanian pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, spent 14 years in a communist prison – three of these years were in solitary confinement. Later, he was able to say,

We prisoners have experienced the power of God, the love of God which made us leap with joy. Prison has proved that love is as strong as death. We have conquered through Christ. Officers with rubber truncheons came to interrogate us; we interrogated them, and they became Christians. Other prisoners had been converted… The Communists believe that happiness comes from material satisfaction; but alone in my cell, cold, hungry and in rags, I danced for joy every night… Sometimes I was so filled with joy that I felt I would burst if I did not give it expression… I had discovered a beauty in Christ which I had not known before.[4]

Will you join me in confessing your sin, seeking God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ?

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(VOM refers to Voice of the Martyrs, founded by Richard & Sabina Wurmbrand. Image courtesy Persecution Blog, VOM)

Notes:


[1] On Line Opinion, “Death and the Lords of the Universe,” Peter Sellick, 18 January 2021. Sellick is a liberal Anglican deacon. Posted by ttbn, Monday, 18 January 2021 4:38:24 PM (Accessed 19 January 2021).

[2] John F. MacArthur Jr., Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles. Milton Keynes, England: Word Publishing, 1993, p. 253.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Wurmbrand, In God’s Underground (Diane Books), in David K. Watson, How to Find God. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1974, p. 65.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 04 September 2021.

Crooked Lines Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Five steps to destroy a Protestant Christian denomination

A case study in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA)

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(UCA symbol courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Retired Uniting Church minister, Rev Dr John K Williams, wrote an article for The Age newspaper in 2004 in which he mocked “old time religion,” warning “about the dangers of clinging to a religion that denies knowledge and outlaws doubt.”[1] His claim is that

an evangelist who preaches the “old time religion” is asking hearers to stake the living of their lives upon beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever and that fly against humankind’s painfully acquired knowledge of the world and of themselves. That is not simply, as we today are taught to say, a “big ask” but an outrageous ask.[2]

This is contrary to the fact the old time, evangelical religion continues to fill churches around the world, while Williams’ brand of liberal Christianity is emptying churches.

I’ve had personal discussions with evangelical Christians who attend Uniting Churches in Australia (UCA). I’ve preached in one of their churches and have worked alongside two evangelical Uniting Church ministers. I’m not a stranger to that denomination’s theology.

On the announcement that the UCA approved the marriage of same-sex couples by clergy of that denomination, people are leaving those churches because of that moral agenda. They have told me so.

The UCA’s website stated on 30 August 2018 it …

published an additional marriage liturgy that will allow same-gender couples to get married in Uniting Churches from Friday 21 September 2018.

The liturgy was approved by the Assembly Standing Committee which met in Sydney from 24-26 August.

The publication of the Uniting Church in Australia Additional Marriage Liturgy (2018) follows the decision by members of the Fifteenth Assembly in July to hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among Uniting Church members.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Pastoral Letter to Church members, to reassure people about the additional liturgy.

“By using this liturgy, or the previously authorised marriage liturgies, Uniting Church authorised marriage celebrants will be acting properly within the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia,” said Dr Palmer.

“I reaffirm that the Assembly’s resolution on marriage allows you to hold one of two positions on marriage, as a member, Minister or Church Council. The Assembly made this decision acknowledging the faithfully held positions across the life of the Church.”

The Assembly decision allows ministers and celebrants in the Uniting Church the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages (Additional Marriage Liturgy, 31 August 2018).

The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported this UCA position: ‘Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life’.[1]

It is this decision that has some UCA members up in arms over the departure from biblical Christianity by the denomination and those who have spoken to me are seeking other denominations in which to worship.

This UCA decision has extended to homosexual ministers leading congregations:

It wasn’t a leap of faith but of location and denomination that resulted in the Reverend Ben Gilmour becoming one of the first openly gay ministers appointed to a major branch of the Christian church in Sydney.

Mr Gilmour, who served 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast, has joined the Reverend Nicole Fleming as gay ministers leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2018).

Even a UCA publication, acknowledged that its August 2018 decisions about homosexuality ‘have been accused of being “wishy-washy”, “an indecisive church”, “a syncretic church”, “a church that compromised” (Insights Magazine, 7 August 2018). But it gave this qualification: ‘If one looks at the world or any matter purely from a “black and white” lens or a “right or wrong” lens’.

Why some churches decline while others grow.

Girl On SlideSome Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.[3]

I currently attend a Presbyterian church and note that its pastoral care department leaves much to be desired. I’ve been in hospital 3 times this year, one for a period of 7 weeks and not one Presbyterian came to visit or offer pastoral care. Its TULIP theology may contribute to this coldness and lack of care. In Australia, the Presbyterians are going down the tube numerically, closely followed by the liberal Uniting Church.

The numbers attending the following denominations grew:

+88% Oriental Christian denominations,

+27% Pentecostal denominations,

+25% Brethren,

+11% Baptist, and

+3% Salvation Army.[4]

That’s a wishy-washy way of squirming out of the biblical treatment of homosexuals, liars, thieves and adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV). God does not follow the worldly agenda of placing homosexuality as caused by genetics and there should be no attempt to change the ‘sexual orientation’. God places homosexuality as one of the examples of sinful behaviour for which there will be no entrance into the kingdom of God.

Are thieves, liars, adulterers, perpetrators of sexual immorality, idolaters, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers black and white issues? Of course they are?

Why should ‘men who have sex with men’ be excluded from this list of ‘wrongdoers’ who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11)? God’s decision is precise, black and white: Those who engage in homosexual sex will not be in God’s kingdom

Instead of opposing reparative therapy (conversion therapy), God states:

That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11 NIV).

God changes homosexuals, thieves, murderers and adulterers through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. I know a homosexual who has been changed from the inside out when the person was born again: ‘hat is what some of you were (homosexuals), but you were washed, justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t expect secularists to understand the change that Jesus brings. They won’t agree with it as long as they talk about the genetic cause of homosexuality and ‘sexual orientation’.

An encounter with Jesus changes the human heart – the inside of people: ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun’ (2 Cor 5:17 NLT).

If you don’t believe me, take a read of …

(image courtesy christianbook.com)

clip_image004The book’s description states:

‘For many years Jeanette was an active lesbian. When, as a result of her new-found faith, she realised the need to change her lifestyle, she could find little immediate help. this book is the result of her five-year walk away from lesbianism. Through it she wants to provide a practical tool which can guide others towards the Promised Land of freedom in Christ. Her careful and honest teaching will prove invaluable not only to Christians struggling with lesbianism, but also pastors, counselors and family members seeking greater understanding’.

See my discussion with former lesbian, Jeanette Howard: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism: An interview with Jeanette Howard.

The UCA has swallowed a secular agenda by accepting a worldly, politically correct position on homosexuality instead of the biblical teaching. It’s acceptance of theological liberalism takes it down the same track to devastation. See Step 4 below.

I raised 4 steps to destruction for any Christian church and this applies to the UCA. This is how it can happen:

Step 1: An ecumenical agenda

The basis of union of the UCA (text approved 1971) was ‘for the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia, in fellowship with the whole Church Catholic’ was to form the Uniting Church in Australia.

Recalling the Ecumenical Councils of the early centuries, she looks forward to a time when the faith will be further elucidated, and the Church’s unity expressed, in similar Councils. She thankfully acknowledges that the uniting Churches were members of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, and she will seek to maintain such membership (Basis of Union, Parts 1 and 2).[2]

1.1 What is ecumenism?

According to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC),

there is such a thing as authentic ecumenism – and it is essential for Christian unity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Christ bestowed unity on His Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives His Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ will for her. . . . The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (n. 820) [Abbott 2018].

So, if a Protestant denomination has an ecumenical focus of unity to join with the RCC, that church teaches that unity ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ and ‘she can never lose it’. It is unity according to RC doctrine and Papal authority.

That should send alarm bells ringing for any denomination that chooses to join with the RCC. Unity with only one position is an example of a kangaroo court in action.[3]

I was in a greater Brisbane hospital recently and was visited by two volunteer chaplains together. They emphasised they were ecumenical chaplains. However, not one of them read the Scriptures with me or prayed for my illness. If that’s an example of how ecumenicism works, I want nothing to do with it. The Gospel message was snuffed out, as were the needs for prayer and reading the Scriptures.

1.2 Why ecumenism destroys denominations!

This is what destroys ecumenical churches. They must bow the knee to Roman Catholicism because ecumenical unity, ‘we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose’.

Ecumenism is on RCC terms. So, Protestant churches that pursue this kind of ecumenical union cannot be faithful to the Protestant tradition for which Martin Luther and others fought. It would mean differences with the RCC need to be glossed over for the sake of unity.

I’m thinking of differences such as: Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone; rejection of indulgences and the position of the priest as the mediator for forgiveness of sins[4]; belief in purgatory, praying for the dead, making the Roman Pope the head of the church, etc.

Since the Roman Catholic Church claims that it has the ‘true ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ’ and that is ‘only fully possible within the Catholic Church’, Protestant churches should leave any thought of ecumenical union in fantasyland.[5]

Pursuing ecumenical Christianity is like a rat enjoying rat poison. It’s the true path to destruction.

Watch ecumenical Christianity die or become a clone of Rome!

Step 2: Theological liberalism’s heretical poison

2.1 What is heresy?

In NT Greek, the term from which we get ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5, of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV).

The research article on hairesis by Schlier (in Kittel 1964.1:182f) states that its ‘usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis’ but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use.

When the NT ekklesia (church) came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that ‘the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Surely that is what we see in the UCA today in Australia with its support of theological liberalism’s unbiblical doctrines (discussed below), and most recently endorsing homosexual marriages conducted by its clergy in its churches?

From the NT, heresy also is used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine, etc. (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1; 6:3; Eph 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God, etc. (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

Therefore, the UCA, in supporting same-sex marriage and the anti-supernaturalism of theological liberalism promotes heresy. This heretical poison will destroy the poison of any church or denomination.

Radio and TV commentator, Keith Suter, announced: “The Uniting Church is in a crisis. Its membership is in decline but the church bureaucrats ignore the signs of impending doom. For example, the publicity material often contains photographs of happy smiling young people – but a person visiting a Uniting Church congregation will find few such young people.”[5]

See also, ‘What is the definition of heresy?[6]

2.2 What is theological liberalism?

There is an evangelical wing of the UCA known as The Assembly of Confessing Congregations. Its explanation of liberalism in the denomination was that the debate on sexuality would not have arisen to the level that it has ‘without a prominent liberal theological presence in the key councils of the Assembly. Why has the UCA developed an overt liberal theological orientation and public presence, when its membership has been largely theologically conservative? . . .’ (Bentley 2004:1).

Given the context of union, the UCA was always destined to become more theologically liberal than the antecedent denominations because in the case

of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism the majority of the conservative ministers, and a good section of the more conservative members stayed out

of union. It is worth considering that there are important differences still today between Synods and Presbyteries. For example the different public positions and ethos of the synods of Queensland and Victoria reflect the different theological foundations, history, antecedent church background and elected leadership of the first decades,

It is worth noting that Victoria was the only state to have more Presbyterians enter union than Methodists. (Bentley: 2000, 1996).

Methodists had a more overt conservative theological orientation, reflecting their practical theology grounded in the holiness movement and active evangelism schools. States which had significantly more Methodists were naturally going to be more conservative Synods, unless they also had more overt liberal leadership, and in this case they would eventually become very polarised Synods (Bentley 2004:1).

One of the major critiques of theological liberalism was by J. Gresham Machen in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism. This is Machen’s (1923:2) understanding of what amounts to theological liberalism:

The present time [early 1920s] is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears. the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity (emphasis added).

Then Machen proceeded to see how this movement that is “rooted in naturalism” affected core Christian doctrines. He has chapters on the liberal infiltration in these areas of theology: the nature of doctrine, the nature of God and man (human beings), the nature of the Bible, the nature of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the nature of the church.

In this brief article, I don’t show the many faces of theological liberalism that have moved away from orthodox Christianity in their attacks on core Christian teaching.

Dr. Norman Geisler (2002:350f) in his chapter on ‘liberalism on the Bible’ demonstrates how the rise of modern anti-supernatural liberalism had its roots as far back as Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century. He lays bare how liberalism’s view of Scripture included:

  • An anti-supernatural basis of the liberal view of Scripture;
  • Cultural accommodation is necessary;
  • Negative criticism of Scripture;
  • The Bible is not the Word of God;
  • The Bible is fallible and errant;
  • The origin of Scripture is not by divine inspiration;
  • Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only written and infallible authority for faith) is rejected;
  • The Bible contains contradictions, including scientific errors;
  • There is immorality in the OT;
  • Human reason is prominent in interpreting the Bible;
  • There is a strong emphasis on human experience.

While theological liberalism is broad in definition, it also can accommodate the postmodern, deconstruction, reader-response ideologies of the Jesus Seminar.

It is not only the UCA that is going down this theologically liberal path to destruction. See this example from liberal Anglicanism.

clip_image006

(Gosford Anglican Church, photo courtesy Father Rod Bower)

Bower also supports the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras:

clip_image008

Photo: Father Rod Bower has vocally supported the LGBTI community. (Supplied to ABC News: Rod Bower)

Gosford Anglican Church, NSW, Australia is not part of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese. Instead, Rod Bower is ‘Archdeacon of the Central Coast in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’ (Schipp 2016).[7]

2.3 Why should it be called heretical?

The naturalistic, anti-supernatural manipulation of Scripture by theological liberalism is of great seriousness because it ‘consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Place biblical teaching on biblical authority (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16-17), the nature of God (Rom 1:18-20), and moral issues (1 Cor 6:9-11) alongside those of the UCA foundational doctrines and we find the crumbling faith of a denomination that has aborted biblical reality.

2.4 Examples of UCA liberalism

2.4.1 Rev David Kidd

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, Bundaberg, Qld, Australia, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ (Kidd 1999:19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: ‘The resurrection of Jesus.[8] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible’.[9]

This is a characteristic example of what a person’s theological liberalism does to the Bible, by denying the supernatural and imposing a naturalistic, individualistic interpretation on the text. It is called eisegesis – imposing one’s own meaning on the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself and for meaning to be obtained from the words of the text.

He did not get that view from the Bible. It was out of the mind and theological liberalism of David Kidd.[10]

See my article, Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection[11] where I refute Rev Kidd’s views.

2.4.2 Rev Dr Noel Preston

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Dr Noel Preston, ethicist, academic, social justice campaigner and retired Uniting Church minister. Preston’s applause was:

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?[6]

See my response to Noel Preston at: ‘Spong’s deadly Christianity.

The Uniting Church sponsored this Spong meeting. That tells a great deal about the unorthodox theology of this denomination. See my expose of Spong’s theology:

clip_image010The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

clip_image010[1]Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

clip_image010[2]Spong’s swan song – at last!

clip_image010[4]John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

clip_image010[4]https://journeyonline.com.au/opinion/marriage-equality-opinon-piece-by-rev-dr-noel-preston-am/

2.4.3 Fourteen Holey Bible arguments against Margaret Court

In my article by this title, I show the rot in the UCA through the teaching of Dr Robyn J Whitaker at Trinity College, Melbourne. She challenged Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality and ‘marriage equality’. See my response at the above link (2 June 2017, ABC News, Brisbane Qld).

Here is an example of …

Hole 1: It starts with Whitaker’s title that the Bible is not meant to be understood as literally as Margaret Court reads it.

Then she does exactly what she told Margaret not to do. She literally accepts the fact that there are 66 books in the Bible; Abraham fathered children with his concubine as well as his wife.

Her literal interpretation continued: She accepted that David and Solomon had entire palaces full of wives and concubines and that polygamy was common.  Slaves were used for concubines. There was no hint in her article that these were supposed to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically.

Whitaker made self-defeating statements with her examples. She failed to meet her own standard of the Bible being read too literally. The article cannot live up to the criteria she set in the title.

So her self-refuting statements are of necessity false. She violated the law of non-contradiction. This states that A- and non-A cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. This promoted a contradiction when she accused Margaret Court of reading the Bible “that literally” when she did exactly the same with her own reading of the Bible.

Does Whitaker consider the former Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, should have had a name change between 2009-2018? It was sponsored by Etihad Airways, the national airline of the Islamic country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is now known as Docklands’ Stadium.

Was she an advocate to change name of Etihad Stadium during its sponsorship of the stadium?

What is the Islamic view on homosexuality? The Muslim commentary on the Quran, Hadith, states in al-Tirmidhi, Sunan 1:152: [Muhammad said] “Whoever is found conducting himself in the manner of the people of Lot, kill the doer and the receiver”. Another statement from the Hadith is: “Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done’ (Sunan Abu Dawud 38:4447).

Thus, Islam requires capital punishment for both the perpetrator and recipient of what the people of Sodom did.

2.5 Upheaval in the camp

Surely this new situation should send a clear message to UCA liberal leadership. The message is in these articles:

Step 3: Ashamed of the Bible and its literal interpretation

3.1 The Gospel redefined

It shouldn’t take much insight to realise John K Williams “old time religion” is really evangelical, Bible-believing, Gospel Christianity. It’s the core of that which proclaims Christ as the only way of salvation. It treats the Bible as theopneustos (God-breathed).

Step 4:    Worldly morality

4.1    Sucked in by the homosexual agenda

‘From Friday, September 21, the Uniting Church (UCA) will be the first of the three major Australian Christian denominations to endorse same-sex marriage, and thus the first to offer gay and lesbian Christians the option of a church ceremony’ (Whitaker 2018).

However, gay ministers of churches are acceptable in the UCA:

When Australia returned an overwhelming “yes” vote in the same-sex marriage survey, a somewhat unexpected thing happened.

The Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney was bombarded with requests from gay couples to get married in the church.

For its resident minister Ben Gilmour — a gay man himself — it was affirmation that religion and same-sex attraction did not have to be at odds (Reddie 2017).

Back in 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Rev. Ben Gilmour’s move from 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast. Rev. Nicole Fleming was a gay minister leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2011).

Here there is a definite breach of church polity or protocol in homosexuals leading congregations without the endorsement of the Synod or Presbytery. I would call it unethical, sexual practice.

Step 5:   Exceptions can’t save the denomination

5.1    The path the Uniting Church treads to destruction

See the article, ‘Liberal churches in decline while orthodox ones grow, says study of Protestants in Canada‘. It would take a blind Freddy to miss the trend. Evangelical churches what proclaim the Gospel grow and liberal churches that deny the authority of Scripture and its content head towards the church bread basket.

6.    Conclusion

Cover of ACCatalyst magazine

Assembly of Confessing Congregations (Evangelical), Uniting Church)

Where is the UCA heading? This youngish (age 35) UCA minister from Gerringong Uniting Church NSW, spoke at the Sutherland Uniting Church, Sutherland NSW. He outlined the stark reality of the doom of the UCA:

Liberal, pluralist, humanist spirituality is everywhere – so if you’re a young-adult Christian, you have made a decision to reject that ethos and to embrace Jesus as the way the truth and the life. If you want self-affirming liberalism, you can get it anywhere today. Why would we want it in our church? If you are chasing a vague spiritualism you don’t go [to] church to get it. The church is on a hiding to nothing by trying to present itself as a place where people can pursue this sort of spirituality.

Appealing to the liberal, humanist spirituality market might attract some curious interest in the short term, but it won’t stick – it won’t change lives like the saving grace that Jesus alone offers. The reality is that church is the last place people will want to go for liberal, airy-fairy spirituality.

If the church wants to connect with young adults in the 21st century, it needs to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, pure and simple. The reality at universities is that any liberal presence is dwarfed by the evangelical student unions.

What will appeal to my generation in the long run, what will stand the test of time, is to present this timeless truth.

The Pentecostals know it, the Sydney Anglicans know it, the Baptists know it, and look at them go.

They know what they believe and they offer certainty & hope & life in Jesus’ name.

. . . and their seminaries are packed to the rafters.

Which brings me to my next point. . . .

WE ARE SHUNNING THE UNITING CHURCH

Unfortunately, although my generation of disciples are (sic) overwhelmingly evangelical, they are not sticking around in the Uniting Church.

Two of my mates who I grew up with [me] at Galston graduated from Moore [Anglican College, Sydney] last year and are now in ministry in the Anglican Church.

They made a conscious decision several years ago that they could not remain in the Uniting Church given how far it has become adrift from its theological moorings.

Others of my peers from Galston are in lay leadership roles in Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

My generation, via either a conscious decision to leave or simply via finding a faith home elsewhere are shunning the Uniting Church.

With each Assembly a fresh haemorrhaging of our people occurs. And it’s the young families that seem to have let their feet do the talking.

Why, they ask, should we put up with this rubbish when there are other Biblically-based, Christ-centred, Spirit-filled churches down the road?

When I was discerning my call and sharing it with friends and family, one of them came right out and told me straight up: “Whatever you do, don’t stay with the Uniting Church.” The problem we face is that the Uniting Church’s reputation as a ‘liberal’ church, (though we know it’s not really the case among most members of our church), it does tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.We are attracting like moths to a flame every disenchanted Anglican and Pentecostal with an axe to grind.

UTC [United Theological College] bears witness to this.

In defence of UTC, I must say that I am thankful for my time there in that it helped me to know what I believed and why, and that all the staff there (despite an undoubted liberal bias) are well meaning and hard working.

But when you hear candidates saying thing[s] like “Hillsong has a conference???” you start to worry.

When the culture of your theological college leans so heavily towards a theological, social and political liberalism, it will undoubtedly deter the younger generation of leader[s] (who as we have heard is fairly evangelical). It will have an impact on who chooses to attend and consequently who is in leadership in the church (Chapman 2009).

7. Works consulted

Abbott, M C 2018. What Is “Ecumenism”? Catholic Online. Available at: https://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=635 (Accessed 5 September 2018).

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F; & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[7] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Bentley, P 2004. Liberalism, sexuality and the future of the Uniting Church. The Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), July. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/Liberalism_Sexuality_and_the_Future_of_the_Uniting_Church_by_Peter_Bentley.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Chapman, P 2009. Confessions of a Gen-X Evangelical. Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), 18 April. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/states/confessions-of-a-gen-x-evangelical/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology (vol. 1). Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), 19 March.

Mckenny, L 2011. The Sydney Morning Herald, “Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations,” 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Mckenny, L 2018. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations. 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 5 August 2018).

Reddie, M 2017. ABC News, Brisbane (online). Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney bombarded with same-sex wedding bookings — but there’s a catch, 8 December. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-08/same-sex-marriage-church-bombarded-with-requests-for-ceremonies/9239004 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Schlier, H 1964. In G Kittel (ed), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol 1), tr. by G W Bromiley, 182-185. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Schipp, D 2016. ‘A bloody man should do the right thing and go to church’. news.com.au (online), 25 September. Available at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/good-news/a-bloody-man-should-do-the-right-thing-and-go-to-church/news-story/1f02dea749c651482891a2adb500c8ca (Accessed 6 September 2018).

Whitaker, R 2018. The Conversation (online). After a long struggle, the Uniting Church becomes the first to offer same-sex marriage, 17 September. Available at: https://theconversation.com/after-a-long-struggle-the-uniting-church-becomes-the-first-to-offer-same-sex-marriage-102842 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Notes


[1] John K Williams, “It’s not good enough for us,” The Age, 19 January 2004, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.theage.com.au/national/its-not-good-enough-for-us-20040119-gdx50q.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Philip Hughes, Christian Research Association, “Why some churches grow while others decline,” accessed 29 July 2021, https://cra.org.au/why-some-churches-decline-while-others-grow/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Keith Suter, “Future of the Uniting Church,” On Line Opinion, 16 April 2019, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20257.

[6] In “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=65 (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

Notes:


[1] Sunday Mail 2018. ‘Uniting Church allows gay marriage’, 15 July, p. 27. news.com.au reported on this decision on 14 July at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/uniting-church-of-australia-consents-to-samesex-marriages-at-its-premise/news-story/df0834aee9852fc1a473e2dc90564ed9 (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[2] Available at: https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/HistDocs/basisofunion1971.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[3] A kangaroo court is ‘any tribunal in which judgment is rendered arbitrarily or unfairly’ (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. kangaroo court).

[4] This article states: ‘True ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ are only fully possible within the Catholic Church. This is evidenced by the wide array of Protestantism, which hold a large amount of conflicting teachings…. Although much truth exists in other Christian religions, the only infallible truth lies within the Bible and the Traditions of the Catholic Church. If Christ had not established a teaching, living, apostolic church then how could we properly understand the doctrines of the Bible?’

[5] Ibid.

[6] Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/heresy-definition.html (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[7] For training of the clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle ‘The Bishop has approved Trinity Theological College [Melbourne] as the main provider of ordination education for people preparing for service in stipendiary, self-supporting and local mission and ministry’ (The Anglican Church n. d. Studying theology [online]). Available at: http://newcastleanglican.org.au/mission-ministries/studying-theology-2/. (Accessed 6 September 2018).Trinity Theological College, Melbourne, has an ‘open and rigorous spirit envisioned by [its] ‘large and liberal education’. It ‘still thrives in a mostly non-resident community committed to ecumenical endeavour and Anglican comprehensiveness…. An Anglican organisation, the Trinity College Theological School engages with students from different religious traditions; it is a place where diverse beliefs and opinions are valued and respected’ (Trinity College Theological School: 2018 Handbook. Available at: https://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/getmedia/61cdcc77-afb3-4b89-abdb-8293e208bd0a/Handbook-2018-vn-2.aspx. Accessed 6 September 2018). So, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle (and so the Gosford Anglican Church) embraces the training of a theologically liberal college. The evangelical Anglican college in Melbourne is Ridley College, which also is associated with the University of Melbourne. See: https://www.ridley.edu.au/partner-with-us/history/ (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[8] ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, ‘It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . . . ,’ so I was left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.

[9] The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.

[10] The Mackay The Courier-Mail reported in 2012 that Rev David Kidd was a ‘Uniting Church pastor who has spent the past 18 years in Mackay’ and stood as a candidate for the Mackay Regional Council’. See David Kidd, 12 April. Available at: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018). This website confirmed Rev David Kidd retired from the UCA in 2012: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[11] Available at: https://truthchallenge.one/blog/2018/07/10/was-jesus-resurrection-a-bodily-resurrection/ (Accessed 12 December 2018).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 July 2021

Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney

Cathedral Church of Andrew the Apostle

(courtesy Wikipedia)

Sydney NSW 2000, Australia - panoramio (291) adj.jpg

West front

By Spencer D Gear PhD


This article first appeared in:

ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?

By Spencer Gear – posted Thursday, 3 December 2020

I’m an orthodox evangelical believer. I watched the Christmas Eve service 2011 which the Dean of the Cathedral, Phillip Jensen, led from St. Andrews Cathedral, Sydney, telecast on ABC1 in Australia. It was a magnificent Christ-centred service led by Dr Jensen. I know his church is a member of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney which has been an orthodox stalwart in the midst of an Anglican church that has become theologically liberal in many states.

Anglicans in Australia

What is happening to the liberal Anglicans in Australia? The Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson, at the Sydney ‘Lambeth Decision Briefing’, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Friday 14th March 2008, wrote of ‘The Anglican Debacle‘. Here he stated the obvious for that denomination in Australia that biblical Christianity has struggled under the Anglican umbrella. There was never a time when it was uniformly accepted by the church hierarchy.

He pointed out that early Anglicans such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burnt at the stake with the consent of most of the rest of the bishops in Mary’s church.

According to The Melbourne Anglican (2017), the 2016 census revealed the ‘number of Australian Anglicans fell by 580,000 in five years.’

Primate of Australia, Archbishop Dr Philip Freier, attributed the decline in the Anglican Church to a number of factors, singling out a culture ‘that no longer “carries” Christianity.’

A Sydney Anglicans news’ release about the event in 2011 stated it was the first time in many years ABC Television screened an evangelical Christmas Eve service. It was chosen by the ABC for a 6pm Christmas Eve service. It featured Dean Phillip Jensen, the Cathedral choir, guest musicians and orchestra. Jensen said: ‘This broadcast provides a great opportunity to express the message of the birth of our Lord in a genuinely modern and Australian fashion.’

What’s at the heart of the Anglican problem?

Senior Associate Minister at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Parramatta, Sydney, is David Ould, becoming a minister in 2013. His beef with the undermining of Anglicanism is very different from the liberal wing of the denomination. He considers one of the main problems is with integrity of the ministers.

What? He is crystal clear on what he means. He used an illustration from the world of advertising: If you were a marketing director for a major drinks’ company who drank the opposition’s leading brand of milk at a press conference, you would expect to lose your job if the company had any integrity.

However, what has happened with the Anglicans? They discuss an aging population, schisms over sexuality issues, young people preferring experiential over traditional worship, etc. However, Ould does not see this at the core of the problem. For him the nucleus of the issue is over promises made by bishops which states: ‘I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God.… I do solemnly and sincerely declare my assent to be bound by the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.’

Then the bishops set about rejecting the standards set by Scripture, refusing to support the content of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, fail to accept the 39 Articles as the ‘standard of doctrine’, not using the Book of Common Prayer as the worship standard, and rejecting some of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.

What then should these prodigal bishops and ministers do, since they deny fundamentals of biblical Christianity and of the Anglican requirements for ordination? C S Lewis got straight to the point of what should happen:

It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men.… We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them (‘Christian Apologetics‘, 1945:1).

Evangelical Anglican: Christmas as the birth of God

One phrase caught my attention from Phillip Jensen several times in the telecast as he spoke about Christmas being a celebration of ‘the birth of God.’ Could this kind of language give the wrong impression? He has a brief article online that is titled, “Celebrate the Birth of God” (published 2 December 2005). In it he writes of Christmas as a time to ‘celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is God in the flesh’ and ‘give thanks to God for the great privilege of celebrating the birth of our Mighty God in this way.’

He seems to be trying to communicate that Jesus is both God and man, but does the language, ‘the birth of God’ have potential problems? These are my questions:

  • Is it misleading to speak of the birth of God when God the Son has always existed and has had no birth eternally? The God-man was born in Bethlehem.
  • Could it be better to say that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh (a man) and we celebrate His birth at Christmas time?
  • Many do not understand how a virgin could conceive and give birth to the Son of God as flesh, without the insemination of a male. Does the language of ‘the birth of God’ convey orthodox theology, or is it meant to get the attention of secular people who celebrate Christmas for materialistic and holiday reasons?
  • I cannot ever understand the supernatural act of God in the virgin birth if I reject miracles as John Shelby Spong (an Episcopalian/Anglican) does when he states, ‘Let me say bluntly that I no longer think that the miracles of the gospels have anything to do with what we once called the miraculous.’

Phillip Jensen clarified this in 2013, ‘We celebrate more than the birth of the baby, Jesus. When we retell the history of his birth, we are celebrating the meaning and purpose of God’s action in our salvation.’ That’s a better way of putting it.

Prophecy of Jesus’ birth

The prophecy of Christ’s birth in Isaiah 9:6 states, For to us a child is BORN, to us a son is GIVEN.’ For this one event of the incarnation, there are two distinct matters.

(1) A CHILD is born – this is the human Jesus, and

(2) A SON is given. The Son was not born; Jesus the Son was GIVEN. He was from eternity.

I am not sure that Phillip Jensen made this distinction as clearly as he should have. I consider that he ought to have made it unambiguous about the humanity of Jesus (a child is born) and the deity of Jesus (the eternal Son is given). God was not born on the first Christmas Day. God the Son has always existed as God and he became a human being on that first Christmas Day but there was no ‘birth of God’ as such.

We know this from a well-known verse such as John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ So, God SENT his Son. This presupposes that the Son was always with the Father and was ready to be sent.

The apostle Paul is clear about what this means at Christmas time. According to Romans 1:3-4,

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (ESV),

W4BDA9-1The eternal generation of the son is orthodox Christian doctrine. The Nicene Creed affirms the eternal nature of the Son:

(The Nicene Creed at the First Council of Nicaea, image courtesy Alamy)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

The Scriptures state that the child was born at the first Christmas, but the Son was given. The eternal Son of God was not born at the first Christmas. He was from eternity the Son.

I have been warned not to be another Nestorius

Since I see that Christmas celebrates the birth of the humanity of Jesus, the God-man, some have written to me warning that my view could come close to the false teaching of Nestorius (ca. 386-451). Most Christians would not know of Nestorius and his teaching.

The Nestorian controversy came to a head at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This Nestorian website gives a summary of the Christological controversies surrounding the teaching of Nestorius who was bishop of Constantinople in 428. He came from the Antioch school and was taught theology there by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

He opposed a new theological teaching of theotokos. This affirmed Mary was the ‘God-bearer’ or ‘Mother of God.’ Nestorius was concerned with this teaching when applied to Jesus because it could infer that the Son of God had a beginning and then suffered and died.

I confirm none of these things could happen to the infinite God. Therefore, instead of a God-man, Nestorius taught there was the Logos and the ‘man who was assumed.’ He favored the term ‘Christ-bearer’ (christotokos) as a summary of Mary’s role, or perhaps that she should be called both ‘God-bearer’ and ‘Man-bearer’ to emphasise Christ’s dual natures of God and man.

Nestorius was accused of teaching a double personality of Christ – two natures and two persons. He denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.

Yes, he was from the Antiochene ‘school’ (now in Turkey) and wished to emphasise a distinction between Christ as man and Christ as God. He did not deny that Christ was God. He said, however, that people should not call Mary thetokos, the ‘mother of God,’ because she was only the mother of the human person of Christ.

In the Nestorian view, the human and divine persons of Christ are separate.

Great opposition developed against Nestorius’s teaching and his opponents charged that he taught ‘two sons’ and that he ‘divided the indivisible.’ Even though he denied this charge, Nestorianism continues to be linked with the teaching.

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, who was one of the most ruthless and unrestrained of the major early bishops. Cyril ‘condemned Nestorius’s works by issuing twelve anathemas [stong curses] against him. Nestorius responded in kind. The two men were harsh individuals and fierce antagonists.’

The possible danger in my discussing the birth of the humanity of Jesus at Christmas, which is true, and rejecting anything to do with the birth of God (as the eternal God cannot be born), is that when I speak of the God-man Jesus, that I try to attribute some of Jesus’ actions to his humanity and some to his divinity. That is not what I’m saying, but I want to make it clear that God cannot be born, either as ‘Mary the mother of God’, or the celebration of ‘the birth of God’ (Phil Jensen) at Christmas.

Conclusion

The language that ‘God was born’ at Christmas does not provide biblical warrant for orthodox, biblical thinking. God, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has existed eternally. At that first Christmas, the Son obtained his humanity through being born to a virgin. This inaugurated the God-man nature of Jesus, but the Son never ceased being God from eternity. That the first Christmas celebrates the ‘birth of God’ in Jesus, is false theologically. It was the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal. 4:4) at which God the Son became the God-man.

It’s unusual for an orthodox evangelical such as Phillip Jensen to define the incarnation as the ‘birth of God’ in his Christmas Eve service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and telecast on Australian ABC1 television. I have written to him to get his views, with much of the information provided above.

God cannot be born. That’s an oxymoron. God is from eternity and is always eternally God so there can be no ‘birth of God’ or ‘God was born’.

Jesus, the Son, who also is called ‘the Word’, always existed and continues to exist as God. We know this from John1:1-2: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.’

As for the Anglican churches in Australia, they are losing attendances wholesale because ministers and bishops refuse to be loyal to their ordination vows. They suffer the consequences of lack of integrity in support of scriptural authority and other commitments made at ordination.

If Anglican ministers affirmed the full authority of Scripture at their ordinations and stray from that path they should do as C S Lewis recommended,

‘You must change your profession‘ to be honest men.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 6 June 2021.

Swirly rainbow decoration vector drawingSwirly rainbow decoration vector drawingSwirly rainbow decoration vector drawing




What is wrong with allegorical interpretation?

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(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Does this understanding make sense when you read the newspaper online, view the TV news, and read the Bible?

The normal interpretation of literature is inherently literal. If we can’t trust words to mean what they say, then writing ceases to be a useful means of communication. Only when Scripture itself indicates a text is other than literal should we interpret it non-literally.[1]

1. What is an allegory?

The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of “allegory” is that it is “a story, play, poem, picture, or other work in which the characters and events represent particular qualities or ideas that relate to morals, religion, or politics.”[2] Pilgrim’s Progress was an allegory of the spiritual journey through life. St Augustine’s City of God is “an allegory of the triumph of Good over Evil.”[3] What we must remember is that for an allegory, there must be specific characters and events that are used to represent symbols. Biblical examples include: rock (Deut 32:4; 2 Sam 22:3); lamb (Gen 22:8; Ex 12:7); the cross (as in “The old rugged cross”), and

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/ICTHUS.gif = ICHTHYS | Christian symbols, Greek words and meanings, Christian fish

The Christian hymn (written by George Bennard in 1913), “The Old Rugged Cross,” was abounding in allegories:[4]

  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame
    ;
    And I love that
    old cross where the Dearest and Best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain
    .

    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it someday for a crown.
  2. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see
    ,
    For ’twas on that
    old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me
    .
  4. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
    There His glory forever I’ll share (allegories highlighted)

I led a Bible study in 2018 and the pastor of the church was present. We had just finished singing  “The Old Rugged Cross” when he declared there was false doctrine in the hymn. He said we don’t worship a cross. I jumped in: “Pastor, what do the first 2 lines teach? An old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame’. As I’ve highlighted above, allegories are found throughout this hymn. We don’t worship the cross but it reminds us of the one who suffered and experienced shame for sinners.”

2. Are there allegories in the Bible?

See examples in my article, What is literal interpretation?

Of course there are biblical examples of allegories. See illustrations in other sources:

2tn_.jpg 1.0K “Does the Bible contain allegory?” (Got Questions)

2tn_.jpg 1.0K  Allegory Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary

2tn_.jpg 1.0KAllegory” (Oxford Biblical Studies Online)

Let’s move from allegories in the Bible to allegorical interpretation. What’s the difference? Surely there is a need to understand biblical allegories. How can that be at variance with allegorical interpretation?

3. What is allegorical interpretation?

You will find some of my exposition on allegorical interpretation in this article: What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

There are many articles online explaining allegorical interpretation. I see no reason to repeat their content. I refer you to these articles:

Basically, when you interpret Scripture allegorically, you don’t allow the text to speak for itself in exegesis (obtaining meaning out of the text) but choose to impose another “deeper meaning” on the text – which we call eisegesis (reading something into the text).

3.1 Problems with allegorical preaching

David E Reid told of a sermon he heard from Genesis 24:63-64. It was supposed to be a “revival” sermon from the first book of the Bible. These verses state: “One evening he [Isaac] went out to the field to think.[5] He looked up and saw the camels coming from far away. Rebekah also looked and saw Isaac. Then she jumped down from the camel” (ERV).

Here is the crunch line of interpretation for this preacher:

Without elaborating on his interpretation, the preacher explained that Isaac symbolized Christ; Rebekah, the church; and the camel, whose physical characteristics would be the focus of his message, represented the grace of God. Then he delivered a seven-point exposition based on an allegorical interpretation as classic as any I’ve ever heard.

The camel’s nose, he said, can detect water from far away and lead its rider to drink. The spiritual lesson, he added, is that God’s grace can lead us to spiritual water. He similarly interpreted and applied six more of the camel’s characteristics, none of which was mentioned in the text….

As the preacher’s message illustrates, allegorical interpretation seeks some implicit, symbolic meaning hidden in the explicit, literal meaning of Scripture.

Allegorists consider this perceived “deeper” or “spiritual” meaning to be more profound and therefore more desirable than a text’s literal interpretation.[6]

David Reid gave his reasons for rejecting allegorical interpretation (and I endorse them):

clip_image008“Fundamentally, there is no reason to believe God regularly invests Scripture with more than one meaning.[7]

The normal interpretation of literature is inherently literal. If we can’t trust words to mean what they say, then writing ceases to be a useful means of communication. Only when Scripture itself indicates a text is other than literal should we interpret it non-literally.

For instance, nothing in Genesis 24 indicates Isaac, Rebekah or the camels represent anything other than themselves, so the narrative should be taken literally. On the other hand, in John 15:1, Jesus clearly was speaking metaphorically when He said, “I am the true vine …” and His words should be interpreted as such.

It is true that in Galatians 4:21ff. the Apostle Paul interpreted the Genesis account of Sarah and Hagar allegorically even though the Old Testament text nowhere indicates that story is allegorical. But Paul received his interpretation from the Holy Spirit as he wrote a New Testament letter. We don’t have his inspired prerogative.

Since the Bible never suggests it regularly has more than one meaning, additional interpretations should not be assumed.

clip_image008[1]The allegorical method obscures the true meaning and legitimate application of Scripture.

Allegorists generally see the literal meaning of a text only as a tool for unlocking the perceived allegory. Their pursuit of an illusion, then, causes them to ignore the truth which is there.

When interpreted literally, the Song of Solomon exalts the joy of sexual love in a marital relationship. However, generations of Christian allegorists have interpreted it as symbolic of the relationship of Christ to His bride, the church.

Embarrassed by the sexual nature of the text, they have obscured its meaning, even though nothing in the Song indicates an allegory. Their inhibitions have caused them to conceal what God and the author meant to praise.[8]

clip_image008[2]Allegorical interpretation is open to almost unlimited subjectivity.
The allegorist can make Scripture say whatever he wishes. Although his interpretation may seem reasonable and be consistent with what Scripture teaches elsewhere, who can know if it is the right one for a given passage?
[9]

3.2   St Augustine’s strange allegorical interpretation

Take this example from the eminent church father, St Augustine (354-430). Robert Kinney[10] made these observations for Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

In Augustine’s rendering, there is a man (Adam) traveling a road. Having been stripped (of immortality) and beaten (or persuaded to sin) by robbers (the devil), he is ignored by a priest (the Law) and a Levite (the Prophets) before being attended to by a Samaritan (Jesus Christ). The Samaritan takes him to the inn (or the Church) where two denarii (the promises of this life and the life to come) are paid to the innkeeper (the Apostle Paul), to take care of the man.[11]

It’s an intriguing example of allegorical interpretation. Yet for those committed to biblical exposition, this kind of interpretation is deeply problematic.[12]

Expositional preaching should be constrained by the biblical or any other author’s intent—and neither Jesus in his telling nor Luke in his recording could have meant much of what Augustine suggests.[13]

This is a longer version of Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead. The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come. The innkeeper is the Apostle. The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him “to live by the gospel” (Dodd 1961: 13-14; slightly abridged).

Another one of the “villains” promoting allegorical preaching was an early church father, the Alexandrian of northern Africa, Origen (185-254), known as the father of allegorical interpretation. Other church leaders preceded and followed him.

Take a read of his articles online and you’ll see how he does it. See HERE. This is one example of how he abandoned literal interpretation to impose his own view on Scripture:

Origen, in his Treatise on First Principles, recommended that the Old and New Testaments be interpreted allegorically at three levels, the first being the “flesh,” the second the “soul,” and the third the “spirit.” Many of the events recounted in the Scriptures, interpreted in the literal or fleshly sense, Origen claims, are impossible. Many of the laws, when interpreted literally, are impossible or nonsensical. To get at the meaning of these passages, it is necessary to interpret them allegorically. Some connected passages will contain parts that are literally true and parts that are literally impossible.

In this case, says Origen,

For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty for the salva­tion of man…. The reader must endeavor to grasp the entire meaning, connecting by an intellectual process the account of what is literally impossible with the parts that are not impossible but historically true, these being interpreted allegorically in common with the part which, so far as the letter goes, did not happen at all” (Bk 4, para 11, 20).

Clement of Alexandria - Wikipedia

(Clement of Alexandria – ca. 150 –215 –  Image courtesy Wikipedia)

The individual ought, then, to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the ‘flesh,’ as it were, of the Scripture. For so we name the obvious sense. While he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the ‘soul,’ as it were. The perfect man, again, … may receive edification from the spiritual law…. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.

Origen’s predecessor, Clement of Alexandria, also supported the need for allegorical interpretation:

For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables— preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic (The Stromata – Miscellanies 6.15.para 15).

The fundamental error with allegorical interpretation is its adding to the text what is not there.

4. What is literal interpretation?

On 19 December 2020 in Australia, I watched test cricket on TV where Australia convincingly won the test by bowling out India for India’s lowest test score on record of 36 – their worst ever performance at test level. Did that happen? Is the plain meaning that it was literal cricket, a literal test match between Australia and India played at the Adelaide Oval, and there was a literal winner and a literal loser? Australia won by 8 wickets. Was that a literal fact or not?

Some symbolic language was used to describe this diabolical performance, “’Carnage… unbelievable… wait, what happened?‘” So symbolic language was used by a journalist to describe a literal event.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline of 19 December 2020 was, “COVID-19 concerns for inner-city; northern beaches in lockdown.” Was this an actual outbreak of Covid-19 or should we seek for a deeper meaning as we read the news?

You know that would be ridiculous but when it comes to the Bible there have been all kinds of reasons given, generally by liberal interpreters, to reject literal interpretation. These are but a few examples:

clip_image010John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar claims, “Mark created the empty tomb story, just as he created the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane.”[14]

clip_image010[1]Crossan again: “The authorities know and quote Jesus’ own prophecy that he would rise on the third day. That prophecy is made to the disciples [Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33;  Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19]…. The authorities do not necessarily believe Jesus’ prophecy, but they fear the disciples my fake a resurrection. Therefore, no guard is necessary because Jesus will have been proved wrong.”[15]

clip_image010[2]“The risen apparitions in the gospels [i.e. the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection] have nothing whatsoever to do with ecstatic experiences or entranced revelations. Those are found in all the world’s religions, and there may well have been many of them in earliest Christianity…. I do not find anything historical in the finding of the empty tomb, which was most likely created by Mark himself…. The risen apparitions are not historical events in the sense of trances or ecstasies, except in the case of Paul.”[16]

There are other biblical scholars who have ridiculed literal interpretation. German theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, was one of them. This is how he attacked the Christian faith:

People cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the case of illness, take advantage of modern medical and clinical means, and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the new testament. and whoever intends to do so must be aware that they can profess this as the attitude of christian faith only by making the christian proclamation unintelligible and impossible for the present.[17]

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(Image courtesy Quotefancy)

clip_image010[3]This anti-supernaturalism continues with:

John Shelby Spong who had a stroke in 2016 and had 90% completed his last book. He can’t write now, so his wife transcribed the last 10%. In the book he stated:

The Incarnation, the virgin birth, resuscitation as the meaning of resurrection and the concept of the Holy Trinity—all are explanations that will never last. People hear the experience of Christ being challenged when it is only the explanation that is at stake. I wanted to make sure that people could understand that explanations have to die, but the experience remains eternal.[18]

clip_image014 There was a public forum at St Francis (Anglican) Theological College, Milton, Brisbane, on December 9, 1998, involving Dr Greg Jenks of the Jesus Seminar (of the Drayton Anglican parish, Toowoomba, Qld., Australia), and Dr Paul Barnett, Anglican bishop of North Sydney, defending the orthodox view. The Seminar was titled, “Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: Implications for Christian Discipleship.”  Dr Paul Barnett[19] is author revised, Is the New Testament History?[20] As of 2012, Dr. Jenks was on the faculty of St Francis Theological College, Brisbane, but as of December 2020, he was: Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton NSW; Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Theology, Charles Sturt University; Executive Director, History; Coin Curator, Bethsaida Excavations Project, Israel; Fellow, Westar Institute, Willamette University, Salem, OR.[21]

Please understand this anti-supernaturalism is associated with their naturalistic world-view. Naturalism dominates their presuppositions. There is no place in their theology for the supernatural Lord God almighty. People like Greg Jenks, John Dominic Cross, John Shelby Spong and others of similar belief are threats to those who don’t know their Bible.

4.1 Literal interpretation includes figures of speech[22]

Thomas Horne, British theologian and researcher (AD 1780–1862) wrote:

The Literal Sense of any place of Scripture is that which the words signify, or require, in their natural and proper acceptation, without any trope [a figure of speech], metaphor, or figure, and abstracted from mystic meaning…. The literal sense has been called the Historical Sense, as conveying the meaning of the words and phrases used by the writer at a certain time….

Interpreters now speak of the true sense of a passage, by calling it the Grammatico-Historical Sense…. The object in using this compound name is, to show that both grammatical and historical considerations are employed in making out the sense of a word or passage.[23]

When I was an MA student at Ashland Theological Seminary, I used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s (1963) text in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). Mickelsen provided this definition:

Literal … means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of ‘door’ in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning.[24]

The nature of parables is that they are similitudes, i.e. extended similies.
Some examples may help to understand the differences.
[25]

clip_image016 A simile: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth’ (Acts 8:32 ESV, emphasis added). The eunuch is quoting from Isa 53:7 (ESV) but it is a figure of speech known as a simile.

clip_image016[1] A metaphor: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29 ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image016[2]We have an example of a similitude, i.e. parable, in the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 (ESV), ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?’ (Luke 15:4 ESV) In this same context of Luke 15 (ESV) Luke tells us the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32 ESV).

clip_image016[3]There is an example of an allegory of the door for the sheep and the good shepherd in John 10:1-16 (ESV). ‘I am the door of the sheep…. I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:7 ESV; John 10:11 ESV). Like the sheep need a fence with a door to keep them safe and from wandering, Jesus is the door into the Kingdom of God.

All of these are examples of the literal sheep, lamb or shepherd but different figures of speech are used.

I take the Scriptures literally but this does not exempt understanding the use of figures of speech in that literal language. I speak of figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, similitude/parable and allegory. When Jesus said, “I am the door” he used a metaphor and did not refer to a wooden door when speaking of himself. When he told Christians, “You are the salt of the earth” he did not refer to literal salt but to the metaphor of how Christians should penetrate the world’s systems with their world views and pervade the secular culture like salt permeates a prepared meal.

This is why it is important to explain what “literal interpretation” means. From the examples I’ve given here, it does not mean an acceptance of dead letterism that does not include figures of speech. Letterism

is a wooden, thin interpretation that fails to go beyond the standard meanings of words and expressions … or to discern the manner in which an author attends to these meanings…. Hence literalism short-circuits the literal sense insofar as it fails to appreciate the author’s intention to give his or her utterance a certain kind of force.[26]

Can you imagine reading your local newspaper or any information online with an allegorical interpretation? How would you ever know if the 9/11 disaster was real or only an allegory? How about Nero’s slaughter of people in the Roman Empire in the first century? Do we have to abandon literal interpretation for the alleged “deeper meaning”? How is my “deeper meaning” of a passage more legitimate than yours? If we use a diversity of meanings of the text it will create chaos in interpretation.

I urge you not to interpret this article using allegorical interpretation. This writing is meant to be read literally.

4.2 I do not use allegorical interpretation because:

clip_image018It destroys the meaning of the text.

clip_image018[1]It invalidates the plain meaning of the text.

clip_image018[1]It promotes eisegesis rather than exegesis of the text. It reads into the text an alleged “deeper meaning” that is not in the text. I wouldn’t do that when I read the daily newspaper and I don’t do it when reading Origen, Bultmann, Spong or Crossan. Promoters of allegorical interpretation wouldn’t dare ask us to use that methodology when reading their writings.

clip_image019[1]It is parallel to a contemporary postmodern, deconstructionist, reader-response interpretation. See my article that explains the similarity: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts

What does a postmodern deconstructionist hermeneutic do to the text? I had an interesting email discussion with New Zealand researcher, Dr Jeremy Koay, who supports the reader-response model because:

(1) Readers, as much as the text, play an active role in a reading experience. He rejects the theory that meaning resides exclusively in the text. Why?

Words in a text evoke images in readers’ minds and readers bring their experiences to this encounter. Because individuals have different life experiences, it is almost certain that no two readers or reading sessions will form the exact same interpretation of a text.[27]

(2) We need to view reading “on an efferent-aesthetic continuum.” Efferent refers to the information taken away after reading, but aesthetic focusses on the readers’ thoughts and feelings during the reading. Both foci are needed, according to reader-response.[28]

I’m sure happy a judge doesn’t use that method of interpretation when making a judgment on the guilt or otherwise of someone who breaks into my house and steals valuables. I’ve had 5 open-heart, valve replacement surgeries. They left me with emotional and physical scars but I can’t deny the facts of where and when I had those surgeries.

I have no problem accepting that emotions can be stirred when reading some narratives. That happens with me, especially when I read of the persecution and martyrdom happening today through Voice of the Martyrs newsletters. No matter how much my emotions are stirred and I’m provoked to pray more for these persecuted saints, we cannot overlook the fact that these facts don’t go away:

  • IRAN: Imprisoned Christian Dangerously Depressed;
  • INDIA: Christian Pastor Beaten and Left to Die;
  • EGYPT: Riots Follow Blasphemy Accusation;
  • PAKISTAN: Court Acquits Imran Ghafur Masih;

Is this an either/or situation when we read books, news, etc? No! However, we don’t act on the emotions, the aesthetics.

Here you’ll read some of the interaction I had with Dr Koay. While he emailed me, he refused to print my article on the website of Edumaxi. This is my article as a response: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts

Are the death and resurrection facts of history or feelings of aesthetic beauty?

4.3 Compare allegorical interpretation with postmodern reconstruction

See 4.2 (2) above.

Allegorical interpretation is another version of contemporary, reader-response deconstruction of a text: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts.

I consider that I would be cheating John Milton in Paradise Lost to use my culture, experience and world view to place my meaning on Milton’s poetry written in the seventeenth century. I need to understand the language and concepts he used and the biblical world view to which he referred. Uncovering the intent of the author is my primary task as an interpreter of any document from Yahoo News, or to the Bible.

This is done by listening to the “plain meaning” of a text. I don’t use the language of “pure literal meaning,” so I don’t know how that differs from taking a text – narrative or poetry – at face value. I obtain the meaning from the text and not from my creative invention (reader-response, pesher method, allegorisation) of the text.

I have great difficulty in refusing “pure literal meaning” when I investigate Captain James Cook’s circumnavigation of NZ and sailing up the east coast of Australia in HMS Endeavour in 1770:

clip_image020HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland
by Samuel Atkins c. 1794 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

How is it possible to use a reader-response interpretation dealing with the Endeavour when Captain James Cook’s name is associated with an ocean-going ship, The Endeavour? Pure literal meaning applies as much to Jacinda Ardern’s being Prime Minister of NZ and Scott Morrison being elected by his cabinet as the new Prime Minister of Australia. Is plain reading of a text the same as ‘pure literal meaning’ to you?

You stated “This theory rejects the structuralist view that meaning resides solely in the text.” Do you consider that structuralism (meaning because of the language system) has been superseded by postmodern reader-response methodology?

I can’t walk into a local fish and chips shop and give a reader-response interpretation of the menu and expect to get what I ordered. I had to ask for clarification when some friends and I had lunch at a local tavern. My friend ordered whiting for the fish dish. He discovered his fish was NZ whiting and not Australian whiting. Questions for clarification are not equivalent to reader-response hermeneutics whether in the supermarket, at Centrelink (social security), reading The Sydney Morning Herald or reading the Bible.

This is the major problem with allegorical interpretation and a postmodern, deconstructionist, reader-response method of interpretation. I find it best to describe with an image. It wrecks the text of its plain meaning.

clip_image021

(Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures.net)

5. Conclusion

The major problems with allegorical interpretation and postmodern, reader-response interpretations is that they fly along parallel tracks of biblical interpretation. They add to what the text states. This is taboo and should be rejected outright.

While allegorical interpretation adds to the text, it must not be confused with application of a text. I don’t have to follow St Augustine’s interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 ERV). But the application to people in this century is:

  • Whenever we see a person in need and are able to help, act like the Good Samaritan and go out of your way to meet the practical need.
  • Be the one who helps your neighbour and other people in need.
  • A friend of mine works in aged care. She said many of the older folks are never visited by relatives. Could you check with a local retirement village to see if you can visit people in the village? Make sure you follow the Covid-19 safe procedures.

There are many practical reasons for Christian pastors to abandon allegorical interpretation and stick with the plain meaning of the text. Faithful Bible expositors remain with the text to try to discern what the intent of the author was for the original listeners. They don’t search for “deeper meanings” they invent behind the text.

6.  Works consulted

Barnett, Paul 2003, Is the New Testament History? (rev.), Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia.

Bultmann, Rudolf. “Theologie des Neuen Testaments.” ET: Theology of the New Testament.

Crossan, J D 1995. Who Killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Horne, T H 1841. An introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son. This citation is available as part of a Google Book HERE  (Accessed 19 December 2020).

Koay, Jeremy 2018. Edumaxi, “What is reader-response theory?” Available at: https://www.edumaxi.com/what-is-reader-response-theory/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Reid, David E 2019. Preaching. “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

Spong, J S 2018. Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. New York NY: HarperOne.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] David E Reid 2019. Preaching.com, “The problem with allegory in preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[2] Collins Dictionary (2020. s.v. allegory).

[3] Ibid.

[4] From Timeless Truths: Free Online Library, public domain. Available at: https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/The_Old_Rugged_Cross/ (Accessed 19 December2020).

[5] Or, “to go for a walk” (ERV footnote).

[6] David E Reid 2019. Preaching. “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

[7] David R Reid, “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Robert Kinney 2020. 9Marks.com, “Allegorical Interpretation: Finding the Line Before You Cross It”, 31 March. Available at: https://www.9marks.org/article/allegorical-interpretation-finding-the-line-before-you-cross-it/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[11] Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 118, 121 and 125, De Doctrina Christiana 1.30.31ff, Sermo 299.

[12] Without naming Augustine, John Calvin responds to this kind of interpretation in characteristically blunt fashion:

The allegory which is here contrived by the advocates of free will is too absurd to deserve refutation… I acknowledge that I have no liking for any of these interpretations; but we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning. And, indeed, any one may see that the curiosity of certain men has led them to contrive these speculations, contrary to the intention of Christ.” See Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37 in John Calvin, The Harmony of the Gospels, Vol. 3 (trans. W. Pringle and J. King; Altenmünster: Jazzybee, 2012), 49. While Calvin’s comments indicate that he is strongly opposed to this kind of allegorical interpretation, he ironically engages in it with a striking frequency. For example, in his commentary on Exodus 28:X, he notes that the garments made for Aaron and his sons are meant to ‘conceal their faults’ and, instead, display virtue and, indeed, the ‘wondrous glory of Christ.’ The text, in Exod 28:2, simply states the garments are to be made “for glory and for beauty.” See Calvin’s commentary on Exodus 28:2 in John Calvin, The Harmony of the Law, Vol. 2 (trans. J. King; Altenmünster: Jazzybee, 2012), 103.

[13] Mark Dever defines expositional preaching as

preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Third Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 44. David R. Helm defines it similarly as “empowered preaching that rightfully sub­mits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” David R. Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton, Crossway, 2014), 13. D.A. Carson defines it similarly as “the unpacking of what is there.” He goes on to add: “it is unpacking what the biblical text or texts actually say. If we expect God to re-reveal himself by his own words, then our expositions must reflect as faithfully as possible what God actually said when the words were given to us in Scripture.” D.A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit” in Preach the Word: Essays in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (ed., L. Ryken, T. Wilson; Wheaton: Crossway: 2008), 176-177. Finally, Bryan Chapell offers this definition: “An expository sermon takes its topic, main points, and subpoints from a text.2 In an expository message, a preacher makes a commitment to explain what a particular text means by using the spiritual principles it supports as the points of the message.”Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 131.

[14] J D Crossan, J D 1995. Who Killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 184.

[15] Ibid., 180.

[16] Ibid., 208.

[17] Rudolf Bultmann, “neues testament und Mythologie,” 18.

[18] From J S Spong Unbelievable, in Insights magazine 2018, “Controversial Author Releases Final Book”, 19 January. Available at: https://www.insights.uca.org.au/controversial-author-releases-final-book/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[19] Paul Barnett 2003, Is the New Testament History? (rev.), Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Information available at Greg Jenks’ homepage: https://gregoryjenks.com/about/ (Accessed

21 December 2020).

[22] Some of the following material is taken from my article, What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

[23] T H Horne 1841. An introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son, 357. This citation is available as part of a Google Book here.

[24] A B Mickelsen 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 33.

[25] These examples are taken from Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, 212-213.

[26] K J Vanhoozer 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), 311.

[27] Jeremy Koay 2018. Edumaxi, “What is reader-response theory?” Available at: https://www.edumaxi.com/what-is-reader-response-theory/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

[28] Koay, “What is reader-response theory?”

 

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2020.

Was Jesus the Son of God or only the son of a woman?[1]

Photograph of Dawid Samoszul

(Photograph of Dawid Samoszul

Close-up street portrait of Dawid Samoszul, probably taken in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, between 1936 and 1938. Dawid was killed in the Treblinka killing center at the age of 9. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Abe Samelson, View Archival Details)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Whenever I write a Christian-based article for On Line Opinion, it is guaranteed to receive a rant of abuse – mainly through the use of logical fallacies. These were some of the responses to my article, Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?

1. Reactions from anti-Christians

One fellow who is known for his hostility wrote:

Jesus never claimed any more than the son of man. He’s on the record as allegedly saying, with regard to the miracles, it is not I who does these things, but the Father in me.
Only fundamental (sic) fanatics try to make him more than a man born of woman. . . .

They also claim that Jesus was God (a false premise) and believe that confers some authority! And just risible rubbish, given they never ever had such authority! Never![2]

2. Was Jesus the Son of God?

It is too bad Alan B didn’t acquire accurate biblical knowledge to counter the ignorant statements like this. What he said here is blatantly false.
God, the Son, is regarded as God. He has the attributes of deity:

(1) Eternity (Jn 1:15; 8:58; 17:5, 24);

(2) Omniscience (Jn 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:17);

(3) Omnipresence (Mt 18:20; 28:20; Jn 3:13);

(4) Omnipotence. ‘I am the Almighty’ (Rev 1:8; Heb 1:3; Mt 28:18);

(5) Immutable (Heb 1:12; 13:8);

(6) He does the actions of deity:

  • creator (Jn 1:3; Heb 1:10; Col 1:16);
  • holds things together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3);
  • forgives sin (Mt 9:2, 6);
  • raises the dead (Jn 6:39-40, 54; 11:25; 20:25, 28);
  • he will be the Judge (Jn 5:22) of believers (2 Cor 5:10), of Antichrist and his followers (Rev 19:15), the nations (Ac 17:31), Satan (Gen 3:15) and the living and the dead (Ac 10:42).

Only Alan B’s bigotry against biblical content has caused him to reach his erroneous conclusion.[3]

3. A fundamentalist fanatic’s response[4]

“Only fundamental (sic) fanatics try to make him more than a man born of woman.”

Yes, mate, evangelical believers like me, who take the Scriptures seriously, know that you are dumping your presuppositions on us.

You don’t know the Bible, do you? Why don’t you own up to the logical fallacies you use whenever articles on this forum clash with your worldview, particularly Christian-related topics?

Let’s check the Scriptures: ‘Jesus answered, “The fact is, before Abraham was born, I Am.” When he said this, they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus hid, and then he left the Temple area” (John 8:58-59).

We know from John chapter 5 that Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. This did not please the Jewish leaders as they questioned Jesus about his violation of the Jewish law. Jesus claimed authority over the Sabbath.

Those Jews began trying to make Jesus stop these actions on the Sabbath. ‘But he said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I work too.” This made them even more determined to kill him. They thought it was bad enough that he was breaking the law about the Sabbath day. And now he was saying that God is his Father, MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL WITH GOD’ (John 5:16-18).

Have you ever read this in Scripture? Peter called Jesus, “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)? Did Jesus support your view and emphatically deny he was the Son of God? Not at all! Jesus’ response was: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

Jesus emphatically affirmed he was the Son of God and not just the son of man. The Bible contradicts your view. I suggest you obtain a REAL theological education by taking the Bible seriously and examining its claims.

4. An atheistic perspective

An atheist could not resist this jibe: “Here we go again, arguing over who has the correct sky fairy”.[5] My reply was just as pointed, “I hear the wind blowing; the thunder and lightning are flashing and clapping; the cyclone is blowing our way from your ‘sky fairy’ fantasy.”[6]

5. Questioning my orthodox view over liberalism

Diver Dan took a different line:

I take you to task on your confessed orthodoxy. You may be an orthodox Christian in these times, but Christianity is historically built on shifting sands with orthodoxy.
Lack of consistency in its literature over two thousand years, has added confusion.

The belief in the trinity has been an evolutionary process. Explaining away the Christian God head from the orthodox stance as you do, relies on the belief of the infallibility of the biblical text as it now stands.
The Liberal view is Academic. It is more inclined to see the evolution of the Christian faith in term of history.

I see a danger in both views. The extreme of the liberal view is effectively disbelief in the creed, which I see as created by an overly questioning study for which it’s (sic) reward is lack of faith, followed by agnosticism; because the text through the years has been inconsistent and often tied into current historical events.
I think all orthodoxies should be questioned without risking loss of faith. You say your views are orthodox, but are they also fundamentalist by the same nature.

Fundamentalism led to the extreme of orthodoxy with the creation of Jimmy Jones, and his people’s Temple horror story.[7]

6. My response to “shifting sands” of Christian orthodoxy

“Christianity is historically built on shifting sands with orthodoxy.”

Then you gave not one example of these “shifting sands”, so you built a straw man fallacy.[8]

“Lack of consistency in its literature over two thousand years, has added confusion.”

Have you read EVERYTHING of Christianity from the 1st to 21st centuries to conclude about the “lack of consistency”? Or is this a fallacy of hasty generalization that springs forth from your worldview?

“The belief in the trinity has been an evolutionary process.”

False again! The trinitarian teaching is orthodox from the “us” of Genesis 1 to the full blown articulation in the New Testament. Ray Pritchard asked: “What is the Trinity? Christians in every land unite in proclaiming that our God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those who deny that truth place themselves outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy. Having said that, I admit that no one fully understands it. It is a mystery and a paradox. Yet I believe it is true”, http://www.christianity.com/god/trinity/god-in-three-persons-a-doctrine-we-barely-understand-11634405.html.

The Trinity is not an “evolving” doctrine but one that is seen more clearly with progressive revelation in moving from Old Testament to New Testament.

“The Liberal view is Academic.”

No, the Liberal view changes what the Bible states. There are sound, evangelical, academic views of the orthodox Trinity.

“You say your views are orthodox, but are they also fundamentalist by the same nature.”

I said my views were “evangelical”. You have inserted “orthodox” and “fundamentalist.” I do not shy away from labelling my theological views as containing fundamental theology at its core – including the inerrancy of Scripture in the original documents, Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and Christ’s second coming. However, the language of “fundamentalist” comes with too much baggage, as seen in your linking me to Jim Jones and his fanatical group.

“Fundamentalism led to the extreme of orthodoxy with the creation of Jimmy Jones, and his people’s Temple horror story.”

This is an ad hominem (guilt by association) fallacy. Here you have a negative view of my beliefs because of its supposed association with Jim Jones, that you view negatively. We cannot have a rational conversation when you engage in this kind of fallacious reasoning.

7. “Who is Christ?” has many answers

Diver dan had this comeback. How accurate was he?

One of the problems dealing with people on this site, is accommodating their hypersensitive natures.

I’m not about to trade scriptural references towards proving a theory I put forward to you, based on my observations over a lifetime on this subject.

But like it or not, the question of “who is Christ” has as many answers as history has to any other subject.

So the difficulty with the answer is, the difficulty of who debates the question, and the biases that are natural in the mix. And historically, the question of who is Christ, has shifted through the years; that’s the point I make.
On another point you raised, which I noticed in your article, which was the differing opinions adding a different emphasis on scripture, between Liberals and evangelicals.

Unless there is consistency, then there are dangers in both views.
Jimmy Jones began his ministry with good intentions, but he lost the plot and strayed from tradition. Tradition is very much where the Liberals are. Viz Peter Selleck on this forum.
[9]

How should I reply as his response contained some fundamental errors?

8. Who are Hitler, James Cook and Aristotle?

“But like it or not, the question of “who is Christ“ has as many answers as history has to any other subject.”

American soldiers enter the Buchenwald concentration camp following the liberation of the camp. [LCID: 09807](US soldiers enter the Buchenwald concentration camp following the liberation of the camp. Buchenwald, Germany, after April 11, 1945. Photo courtesy Holocaust Encyclopedia)

 

If I want to know about “who is Hitler?”; “Who is Captain James Cook?”; “Who is Aristotle?”, I go to the historical sources that deal with this historical information.
Since I want to know who Jesus Christ is, I go to the primary documents of the Gospels that deal with this information. I don’t go to the pseudepigraphical Gospel of Peter and the “Cross Gospel” which John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar promotes.

“Tradition is very much where the Liberals are. Viz Peter Selleck on this forum.”

To the contrary, the Anglican tradition is with the formulators of the 39 Articles, which provide a very evangelical statement of beliefs in The Articles of Religion 1562.
They are not Liberal Anglicanism but support evangelical, Bible-believing Anglicans. I suggest you get your facts straight on this topic.

The heart of the Anglican doctrines is evangelical and does not synthesise with the teaching of John Shelby Spong or Peter Sellick. See HERE.

9. Conclusion

Notice what most of these comments contain:

(1) They avoid dealing with the primary content of the article. This means they choose to,

(2) dump their presuppositions on the reader.

(3) They allow their ignorance about a topic to be exposed, and

(4) It is a common trait of these anti-Christian antagonists to use logical fallacies to divert attention away from the main topic.

Logical fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

10. Notes


[1] This topic began as a blog on one of my ejournal articles with On Line Opinion, 3 December 2020. I blog as OzSpen.

[2] Posted by Alan B., Thursday, 3 December 2020 11:03:22 AM.

[3] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 11:53:35 AM

[4] This was a response to Alan B, posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 8:29:56 PM.

[5] Posted by TheAtheist, Thursday, 3 December 2020 6:28:41 PM.

[6] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 6:40:50 PM.

[7] Posted by diver dan, Thursday, 3 December 2020 8:29:15 PM.

[8] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 4 December 2020 12:50:38 PM.

[9] Posted by diver dan, Saturday, 5 December 2020 7:31:15 AM.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 December 2020.

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Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?

St Andrew's Cathedral c.1868.jpg

(St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia. Image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was published in On Line Opinion, ‘Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?’ (3 December 2020)

I’m an orthodox evangelical believer. I watched the Christmas Eve service 2011 which the Dean of the Cathedral, Phillip Jensen, led from St. Andrews Cathedral, Sydney, telecast on ABC1 in Australia. It was a magnificent Christ-centred service led by Dr Jensen. I know his church is a member of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney which has been an orthodox stalwart in the midst of an Anglican church that has become theologically liberal in many states.

Anglicans in Australia

What is happening to the liberal Anglicans in Australia? The Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson, at the Sydney ‘Lambeth Decision Briefing’, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Friday 14th March 2008, wrote of ‘The Anglican Debacle’. Here he stated the obvious for that denomination in Australia that biblical Christianity has struggled under the Anglican umbrella. There was never a time when it was uniformly accepted by the church hierarchy.

He pointed out that early Anglicans such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burnt at the stake with the consent of most of the rest of the bishops in Mary’s church.

According to The Melbourne Anglican (2017), the 2016 census revealed the ‘number of Australian Anglicans fell by 580,000 in five years.’

Primate of Australia, Archbishop Dr Philip Freier, attributed the decline in the Anglican Church to a number of factors, singling out a culture ‘that no longer “carries” Christianity.’

A Sydney Anglicans news’ release about the event in 2011 stated it was the first time in many years ABC Television screened an evangelical Christmas Eve service. It was chosen by the ABC for a 6pm Christmas Eve service. It featured Dean Phillip Jensen, the Cathedral choir, guest musicians and orchestra. Jensen said: ‘This broadcast provides a great opportunity to express the message of the birth of our Lord in a genuinely modern and Australian fashion.’

What’s at the heart of the Anglican problem?

David Ould(photo David Ould from his website)

Senior Associate Minister at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Parramatta, Sydney,  and a prolific blogger is Rev. David Ould, who became a minister in 2013. His beef with the undermining of Anglicanism is very different from the liberal wing of the denomination. He considers one of the main problems is with integrity of the ministers.

What? He is crystal clear on what he means. He used an illustration from the world of advertising: If you were a marketing director for a major drinks’ company who drank the opposition’s leading brand of milk at a press conference, you would expect to lose your job if the company had any integrity.

However, what has happened with the Anglicans? They discuss an aging population, schisms over sexuality issues, young people preferring experiential over traditional worship, etc. However, Ould does not see Core Value - Integritythis at the core of the problem. For him the nucleus of the issue is over promises made by bishops which states: ‘I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God.… I do solemnly and sincerely declare my assent to be bound by the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.’

Then the bishops set about rejecting the standards set by Scripture, refusing to support the content of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, fail to accept the 39 Articles as the ‘standard of doctrine’, not using the Book of Common Prayer as the worship standard, and rejecting some of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.

What then should these prodigal bishops and ministers do, since they deny fundamentals of biblical Christianity and of the Anglican requirements for ordination? C S Lewis got straight to the point of what should happen:

It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men.… We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them (‘Christian Apologetics, 1945:1).

Evangelical Anglican: Christmas as the birth of God

Neapolitan presepe of Maiori (nativity scene courtesy Wikipedia)

This phrase caught my attention from Phillip Jensen several times in the telecast as he spoke about Christmas being a celebration of ‘the birth of God.’ Could this kind of language give the wrong impression? He has a brief article online that is titled, “Celebrate the Birth of God” (published 2 December 2005). In it he writes of Christmas as a time to ‘celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is God in the flesh’ and ‘give thanks to God for the great privilege of celebrating the birth of our Mighty God in this way.’

He seems to be trying to communicate that Jesus is both God and man, but does the language, ‘the birth of God’ have potential problems? These are my questions:

  1. Is it misleading to speak of the birth of God when God the Son has always existed and has had no birth eternally? The God-man was born in Bethlehem.
  2. Could it be better to say that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh (a man) and we celebrate His birth at Christmas time?
  3. Many do not understand how a virgin could conceive and give birth to the Son of God as flesh, without the insemination of a male. Does the language of ‘the birth of God’ convey orthodox theology, or is it meant to get the attention of secular people who celebrate Christmas for materialistic and holiday reasons?
  4. I cannot ever understand the supernatural act of God in the virgin birth if I reject miracles as John Shelby Spong (an Episcopalian/Anglican) does when he states, ‘Let me say bluntly that I no longer think that the miracles of the gospels have anything to do with what we once called the miraculous.’

Phillip Jensen clarified this in 2013, ‘We celebrate more than the birth of the baby, Jesus. When we retell the history of his birth, we are celebrating the meaning and purpose of God’s action in our salvation.’ That’s a better way of putting it.

Prophecy of Jesus’ birth

The prophecy of Christ’s birth in Isaiah 9:6 states, For to us a child is BORN, to us a son is GIVEN.’ For this one event of the incarnation, there are two distinct matters.

(1) A CHILD is born – this is the human Jesus, and

(2) A SON is given. The Son was not born; Jesus the Son was GIVEN. He was from eternity.

I am not sure that Phillip Jensen made this distinction as clearly as he should have. I consider that he ought to have made it unambiguous about the humanity of Jesus (a child is born) and the deity of Jesus (the eternal Son is given). God was not born on the first Christmas Day. God the Son has always existed as God and he became a human being on that first Christmas Day but there was no ‘birth of God’ as such.

We know this from a well-known verse such as John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ So, God SENT his Son. This presupposes that the Son was always with the Father and was ready to be sent.

The apostle Paul is clear about what this means at Christmas time. According to Romans 1:3-4, ‘concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (ESV).

The eternal generation of the son is orthodox Christian doctrine. The Nicene Creed affirms the eternal nature of the Son:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

The Scriptures state that the child was born at the first Christmas, but the Son was given. The eternal Son of God was not born at the first Christmas. He was from eternity the Son.

I have been warned not to be another Nestorius

Since I see that Christmas celebrates the birth of the humanity of Jesus, the God-man, some have written to me warning that my view could come close to the false teaching of Nestorius (ca. 386-451). Most Christians would not know of Nestorius and his teaching.

The Nestorian controversy came to a head at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This Nestorian website gives a summary of the Christological controversies surrounding the teaching of Nestorius who was bishop of Constantinople in 428. He came from the Antioch school and was taught theology there by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

He opposed a new theological teaching of theotokos. This affirmed Mary was the ‘God-bearer’ or ‘Mother of God.’ Nestorius was concerned with this teaching when applied to Jesus because it could infer that the Son of God had a beginning and then suffered and died.

I confirm none of these things could happen to the infinite God. Therefore, instead of a God-man, Nestorius taught there was the Logos and the ‘man who was assumed.’ He favored the term ‘Christ-bearer’ (christotokos) as a summary of Mary’s role, or perhaps that she should be called both ‘God-bearer’ and ‘Man-bearer’ to emphasise Christ’s dual natures of God and man.

Nestorius was accused of teaching a double personality of Christ – two natures and two persons. He denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.

Yes, he was from the Antiochene ‘school’ (now in Turkey) and wished to emphasise a distinction between Christ as man and Christ as God. He did not deny that Christ was God. He said, however, that people should not call Mary thetokos, the ‘mother of God,’ because she was only the mother of the human person of Christ.

Great opposition developed against Nestorius’s teaching and his opponents charged that he taught ‘two sons’ and that he ‘divided the indivisible.’ Even though he denied this charge, Nestorianism continues to be linked with the teaching.

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, who was one of the most ruthless and unrestrained of the major early bishops. Cyril ‘condemned Nestorius’s works by issuing twelve anathemas [stong curses] against him. Nestorius responded in kind. The two men were harsh individuals and fierce antagonists.’

The possible danger in my discussing the birth of the humanity of Jesus at Christmas, which is true, and rejecting anything to do with the birth of God (as the eternal God cannot be born), is that when I speak of the God-man Jesus, that I try to attribute some of Jesus’ actions to his humanity and some to his divinity. That is not what I’m saying, but I want to make it clear that God cannot be born, either as ‘Mary the mother of God’, or the celebration of ‘the birth of God’ (Phil Jensen) at Christmas.

Conclusion

The language that ‘God was born’ at Christmas does not provide biblical warrant for orthodox, biblical thinking. God, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has existed eternally. At that first Christmas, the Son obtained his humanity through being born to a virgin. This inaugurated the God-man nature of Jesus, but the Son never ceased being God from eternity. That the first Christmas celebrates the ‘birth of God’ in Jesus, is false theologically. It was the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal. 4:4) at which God the Son became the God-man.

It’s unusual for an orthodox evangelical such as Phillip Jensen to define the incarnation as the ‘birth of God’ in his Christmas Eve service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and telecast on Australian ABC1 television. I have written to him to get his views, with much of the information provided above.

God cannot be born. That’s an oxymoron. God is from eternity and is always eternally God so there can be no ‘birth of God’ or ‘God was born’.

Jesus, the Son, who also is called ‘the Word’, always existed and continues to exist as God. We know this from John1:1-2: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.’

As for the Anglican churches in Australia, they are losing attendances wholesale because ministers and bishops refuse to be loyal to their ordination vows. They suffer the consequences of lack of integrity in support of scriptural authority and other commitments made at ordination.

If Anglican ministers affirmed the full authority of Scripture at their ordinations and stray from that path they should do as C S Lewis recommended, ‘You must change your profession’ to be honest men.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 December, 2020.

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