Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Faith alone, not deeds, required for salvation, papal preacher tells pontiff

I have discovered the Catholic Online news article Faith alone, not deeds, required for salvation, papal preacher tells pontiff through the website of James White. It is quite astonishing to read of the Protestant doctrine of salvation through faith alone from a Roman Catholic theologian.

Here is an excerpt from the article:
"Christianity does not start with that which man must do to save himself, but with what God has done to save him," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in his Dec. 16 Advent meditation.

The preacher told the pope and top Vatican officials that they, like St. Paul, must avoid any temptation to think that the good works they have accomplished will guarantee their salvation.

"Gratuitous justification through faith in Christ is the heart" of St. Paul's preaching "and it is a shame that this has been practically absent from the ordinary preaching of the church," he said.

Father Cantalamessa said that the Protestant Reformation debate over the role of faith and works led the Catholic Church to focus so much on the need for the demonstration of faith in actions that it practically ignored the need for faith in the first place.
This sermon came from no ordinary Roman Catholic. Raniero Cantalamessa’s website gave the following description of him:
Raniero Cantalamessa is a Franciscan Capuchin Catholic Priest. Born in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, 22 July 1934, ordained priest in 1958. Divinity Doctor and Doctor in classical literature. Former Ordinary Professor of History of Ancient Christianity and Director of the Department of religious sciences at the Catholic University of Milan. Member of the International Theological Commission (1975-1981).

In 1979 he resigned his teaching position to become a full time preacher of the Gospel. In 1980 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II Preacher to the Papal Household in which capacity he still serves, preaching a weekly sermon in Advent and Lent in the presence of the Pope, the cardinals, bishops an prelates of the Roman Curia and the general superiors of religious orders.
If the Vatican does heeds the advice of Raniero Cantalamessa (though it seems unlikely), then it may have to, for the first time, reverse the canon of the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
It is only as recently as 1998 in its official Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification where the Vatican dealt with the doctrine of justification:
The Catholic Church maintains, moreover, that the good works of the justified are always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way diminishing the totally divine initiative (5), they are also the fruit of man, justified and interiorly transformed. We can therefore say that eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits.

In pursuing this study further, it will be necessary to treat also the sacrament of penance, which is mentioned in n. 30 of the Joint Declaration. According to the Council of Trent, in fact (7), through this sacrament the sinner can be justified anew ( rursus iustificari ): this implies the possibility, by means of this sacrament, as distinct from that of baptism, to recover lost justice (8).
As we can see, there is no change from its position affirmed at the Council of Trent. However, if the Vatican concludes we are justified by faith alone, then it follows that the sacrament of penance is not needed any more since there is no “lost justice” to be recovered. Its sacramental works-based system can be abolished.

There is an interesting article found in Raniero Cantalamessa’s website, which is a transcript of the “talk delivered to the world wide representants of Alpha Course
London, 27 June 2005.”

Very early in the article, I am delighted to see that Cantalamessa affirms the doctrine of Solus Christus, which I am ashamed to say, many evangelicals do not embrace. In particular, he strikes out at the liberals who teach there are many ways to salvation. Actually, in my opinion, he appears to be even more "Protestant" than the megachurch preacher Joel Osteen, who denies the doctrine of Solus Christus.
From this point of view, then, Jesus Christ is very much present and exploited in our culture. But if we turn to the ambit of faith, where he really belongs, we notice a disturbing absence, or even rejection of him. First of all among theologians. One theological current today holds that Christ came for the salvation of the Gentiles, not of the Jews (for whom, they say, it is sufficient to remain faithful to the Old Covenant). Another current says that he is not necessary for the Gentiles either, since they, through their religions, have a direct relationship with the eternal Logos and have no need of any mediation by the Word incarnate or his paschal mystery. We may well ask, for whom then is Christ still necessary?
He also spoke of the need to preach the gospel; the importance of evangelism of the gospel above all other social needs. This immediately brings to my mind Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The Church is generally accepted and esteemed as a social agency, for her work in favour of peace and social justice, but is ill tolerated or ignored as soon as she starts speaking about Jesus and his Gospel. Ecclesial movements and individuals who dedicate themselves to evangelization and promotion of faith are easily labelled as conservative, reactionary or fundamentalist.
Lest I am misconstrued as completely agreeing with him, I would like to state that I strongly disagree with his ecumenism as the heart of the gospel lies in the doctrine of justification. To deny or to misinterpret this doctrine can be eternally fatal. Cantalamessa said,
The affirmation that this salvation is received by faith and not by works is certainly present in the text, and at the time of the Reformation it was the point that most urgently needed to be brought back into focus. But now that we have reached fundamental agreement on this point (see the document issued jointly in 1999 by the Catholic Church and the World Federation of Lutheran Churches), we are challenged to rediscover and together proclaim what was the fundamental point in Paul’s teaching: the universal relevance of Christ’s redemption.
Contrary to his speech that implies we can move forward from the doctrine of justification, I would point out that the Common declaration on the Doctrine of Justification issued by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (1999) shows no change in the Roman Catholic position – that justification can be lost. The document states:
30. … But when individuals voluntarily separate themselves from God, it is not enough to return to observing the commandments, for they must receive pardon and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the word of forgiveness imparted to them in virtue of God's reconciling work in Christ.

Friday, January 20, 2006

From Charismatic to Reformed

My purpose in writing this post is to provide a little insight into my background. I realize most of my readers may not be aware I was part of the charismatic movement.

Early Years
I have been involved in the charismatic movement for some 15 years. I was formerly a member of a non-denominational church with charismatic beliefs where I attended Sunday school since age 10. From young, I have been taught charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecies are part of a bona fide Christian experience.

Before I entered my teens, I remember my dad used to play Christian music from Maranatha Music in the car while he took me to school. I also remember I love listening to songs from the Psalty cassette tapes by Ernie Rettino. Besides church activities and Sunday school camps, I have attended children programmes organized by the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International. I also recall attending an evangelistic crusade where Reinhard Bonnke was the main speaker.

All these took place somewhere between the mid-eighties and late-eighties.

Early Teens
I was 14 when I was involved in a ministry. I became part of the sound crew. I served for around 3 years before joining the youth music ministry as a pianist after my GCE “O” level exams. During those times, I became interested in Christian music. I would go to Christian Growth and Trumpet Praise, two Christian stores in Paradiz Centre to purchase cassette tapes. The first tapes I bought were by Integrity MusicHighest Place by Bob Fitts and Chosen Treasure by Bob Kauflin. The first time I attended the Festival of Praise was in 1990 where I bought the tape Pray For This City by Rick and Patti Ridings.

Since then, I have bought quite a number of Integrity Music tapes. Besides tapes from Integrity Music, I remember Bob Fitts’ albums as one of my favorites, for example Live Worship With Bob Fitts (Maranatha Music) and Take My Healing To The Nations / Sacrifice. The first CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) album I bought was by Twila Paris called Cry For The Desert.

During my early teens, I became interested in reading about apologetics, mostly reading books by Josh McDowell. Some of the McDowell books are Understanding the Occult, Understanding Secular Religions, More Than a Carpenter, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1 & 2. Other popular books that I read during my teens include The Bondage Breaker and Victory over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson and Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster.

At 15, I was baptized by immersion. It was an interesting baptism as I was baptized at the East Coast beach by the sea.

Mid to Late Teens
I believe I switched from cassette tape to CD in my mid-teens. I began to discover worship music by Kent Henry. I was quite a big Kent Henry fan back then, having bought many of his CDs. I also remember Petra, a Christian rock group, which I listened to. Some of the Christian artistes and worship leaders whose albums I bought during that time include Lenny LeBlanc, Don Moen, Ron Kenoly, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael English, Ray Boltz, and Dennis Jernigan. I have also bought worship albums from Christ for the Nations.

There were a couple of events I have attended during those years. I was consistently attending the Festival of Praise every year. There were events that have artistes like The Continental Singers, Bobby Michaels, Ron Kenoly and a Christian trumpeter whose name escapes my memory. I have also attended a seminar by Bill Gothard from the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I was about 18 when I began serving as a pianist in the Sunday main service, in addition to serving in the youth music ministry. I was also involved with Campus Crusade for Christ as well, having attended their basic and intermediate training.

Into Adulthood
After my National Service, I was still serving as a pianist in the main service, though I was no longer serving in the youth music ministry. By that time, I have already participated in a couple of music-related and evangelistic church events. I have gone for mission trips and retreats.

During this time, I have read Charismatic Chaos by John F. MacArthur, as well as bought the book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere.

It was probably during this time when I became interested in the history of Christianity. It was mainly because I was interested in examining the doctrinal errors of Roman Catholicism. I was still an Arminian then. One thing basically led to another. I learnt of the five Solas. From there, I became interested in theology. One book that got me interested in theology was By Faith Alone: The Doctrine that Divides by R.C. Sproul. I also bought the book The Doctrine of Sanctification by A.W. Pink. At that time, I did not know that these books were by Reformed writers. In fact, I have never heard about Calvinism or TULIP.

After reading By Faith Alone, I felt as though I have gone through an experience similar to Martin Luther; when he discovered the cardinal truth of salvation. I began to buy more theological books such as The Roman Catholic Controversy by James R. White and Protestants & Catholics: Do They Now Agree? by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. These books make me more appreciative of the five Solas. I have also bought an abridged version of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion even though I was not a Calvinist then.

During that time, I was still buying CD albums from Christian music groups like Hillsong Music Australia, Youth Alive Australia, and Planet Shakers. Some CCM artistes whose albums I bought that comes to mind are Point of Grace, Amy Grant, Rebecca St James, Rachael Lampa, Jaci Velasquez, Russ Lee, and Michael W. Smith.

As I immersed myself into these theological books, I began to turn more and more towards the Word of God. Before this, I was not a serious student of the Word of God, not giving it priority over my love for charismatic worship. Yes, I did read the Gospels and knew the popular Bible stories, but I have not paid much attention to sound doctrine.

The book that was instrumental in turning me into a 5-point Calvinist was Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul. While By Faith Alone awaken me to Sola Fide, Chosen By God impressed upon me the doctrine of Sola Gratia - the sovereign grace of God. From then on, I began dive into the Reformed faith, examining theological arguments by Arminians, buying books by Reformed writers, and not least, carefully studying the Word of God.

At Present
I am still listening to charismatic worship and CCM music, though not as much as I used to when I was a teenager. Nowadays, I find myself enjoying the hymns in the church service much more than the modern stuff i.e. Hillsong, Planet Shakers, Passion Worship Band etc. The sermons have become the most important part of the Sunday worship service for me. I am also more selective in the music I am listening to nowadays, favoring songs with meaningful lyrical content over songs with shallow “Jesus-is-my-Boyfriend” lyrics.

I now hold a cessationalist view of the Apostolic spiritual gift of prophecy, healing and tongues. However, I am a "weak" cessationalist as I believe these visible manifestations only occur under extraordinary circumstances and they are by way of exception rather than the norm.

Like all Calvinists, I do believe in miracles because the miracles God performing today, since the beginning of Creation, is regenerating the hearts of His elect. For without these miracles, evangelism and missions is useless. I do not have to go to a "healing" crusade to see miracles. Just look around you. Believers who are saved through the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ are visible walking proofs that God is still actively performing miracles today.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Benny Hinn: A Heretic and a Fraud

I believe these are the appropriate words to describe Benny Hinn. A heretic. A fraud. If you think that the NKF controversy is bad, in which the former CEO TT Durai mismanged the charity funds of the National Kidney Foundation, wait till you watch the NBC Dateline video of Benny Hinn. This shocking video is a must-watch. By comparison, this video makes Durai look like a generous saint. The video can be viewed at this link, courtesy of Wittenburgdoor.com.

Wittenburgdoor.com, which bills itself as "The World's Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine," has written an insightful article on Benny Hinn, naming it The Heretic. Here is a brief description of Benny Hinn in a nutshell, taken from the article:
He has no church. He belongs to no denomination. He's not even affiliated with any particular religion, although his buzz words indicate he tends to dwell on the freaky backwoods fringe of Pentecostalism. As recently as three centuries ago, he probably would have been burned as a heretic. (To give you some idea of his doctrinal strangeness, he once preached that the Trinity is actually nine persons, because each member of the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – is also a Trinity. He also says that God and the Holy Spirit have real bodies, with eyes, hands, mouth, etc. Various theologians have trashed him, of course, for preaching "new revelations" directly from God that turn out to be, when examined, variations of thousand-year-old heresies.) He thinks of himself as a prophet (even when his prophecies don't come true) and, in one burst of grandeur, "a little messiah walking on the earth." He believes that the Biblical Adam flew into outer space, that when God parted the Red Sea He made it into a wall of ice, that God talks to him more frequently than he talked to, say, Moses, that a man has risen from the dead in his presence, that a man turned into a snake before his eyes, that angels come to his bedroom and talk to him, and that the only reason we're not all in perfect health, living forever, is that there are demons in the world, attacking us. He's expressed opinions normally heard only on schizophrenia wards, and he's done it in front of millions of people – and still they come. They come in such numbers that thousands have to be turned away, and even the ones turned away gladly give him their money.
The article has also cites a number of examples where they uncover, after investigations, the healings were faked.
No wonder Hinn needs bodyguards. Very few, if any, of these people are actually healed. And when they die, or their disease becomes worse, their relatives tend to become angry. For the past ten years this has been demonstrated over and over again by various investigative reports conducted with the resources of the Trinity Foundation, beginning with an Inside Edition show in 1993 hosted by Bill O'Reilly and reported by Steve Wilson.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Even sadder than the people who think they're healed are the ones so sick that Hinn's employees never allow them to be seen on stage. People suffering from paralysis, brain damage, dementia and the like – people who couldn't possibly make any "demonstration" on stage – are rejected at a screening session held backstage.

Despite all these reports, it appears that City Harvest (Singapore) not only endorses Benny Hinn, but the organization featured him prominently in the front cover of Harvest Times Issue 25 (April - June 2005). The magazine was accompanied by articles such as Why Do We Believe In Divine Healing? and Jesus Heals.

City Harvest (Singapore) was also the organizer of Benny Hinn's "healing crusade" at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on March 2005.

Controversies do not just surround Benny Hinn alone. There is another shocking video of Benny Hinn's wife, Suzanne, where she said the following words:
If your engine is not revving up, you know what you need? You need a Holy Ghost enema right up your rear end. ... Be God-pleasers, don’t be people-pleasers. Because if you’re a people-pleaser, you’re a butt-kisser. If you’re a people-pleaser, you’re a butt-kisser. There’s no other word for it.
Following those words, she began babbling, and ran back and forth the stage a couple of times like a charging bull until she fell down. What astonishes me is not so much that she uttered blasphemeous words (maybe I expect this sort of thing from her), but the choir and congregation giving approval by clapping to her words and actions.

There are so many outright heresies in Benny Hinn's teachings that it makes me wonder how could any churches, pastors or Christians with basic Christian beliefs support Benny Hinn.

The denial of the doctrine of the Trinity. The heresy that Jesus Christ became one with Satan. The denial of the fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man. All these and many others. They are not mere non-essential doctrinal trivialities that one can write off, but full-blown blasphemies and heresies that set themselves against the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

For further reading, Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has written a good article The Theology of Benny Hinn, which examines the heretical teachings of Benny Hinn.

10 minutes of excerpts from Dateline's Benny Hinn investigation, Wittenburgdoor.com
The Heretic - Benny Hinn, Wittenburgdoor.com
Mrs. Benny Hinn's moment of zen, Beliefnet.com
The Theology of Benny Hinn, Modern Reformation Magazine

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Response to Terence Concerning the Prosperity Gospel

This is in response to the blogger, Terence, who has posted nearly identical comments on my articles 1 Corinthians 4:6-17 - Suffering or Prosperity? and Refutation of City Harvest's "Divine Healing" Article (Part 1)

Terence wrote,

But I have to disagree with your stand on the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel does not turn God into "nothing more than a genie in a bottle, where God accedes to every material and healing requests of the believer." Where did you get that from? I believe in the prosperity gospel, yet I do not believe a single ounce of that statement.

Perhaps you may want to refer to these quotes:

  1. Are you facing an impossible situation in your finances that has no earthly remedy? ... Offer up your sacrifice and prayers to the Lord in faith, believing that He will do according to your word … Heavenly Father. thank you for the promise of Your Word that declares that, whatever I ask You in the name of Jesus, You'll do. – Larry Keefauver and Tom Gill, Declare Your Inheritance, Harvest Times Issue 23
  2. As a believer, you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on the Word, you are commanding God to a certain extent because it is His Word. – Kenneth Copeland (Our Covenant with God [Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications, 1987], 32.)
  3. When I first got saved they didn't tell me I could do anything. What they told me to do was that whenever I prayed I should always say, 'The will of the Lord be done.' Now, doesn't that sound humble? It does. Sounds like humility, it's really stupidity. I mean, you know, really, we insult God. I mean, we really do insult our Heavenly Father. We do; we really insult Him without even realizing it. If you have to say, 'If it be thy will' or 'Thy will be done'--if you have to say that, then you're calling God a foolbecause He's the One that told us to ask. . . . If God's gonna give me what He wants me to have, then it doesn't matter what I ask. I'm only gonna get what God wants me to have. So that's an insult to God's intelligence. – Frederick K.C. Price ("Ever Increasing Faith" program on TBN [16 November 1990].)
More quotes can be found in the article Word of Faith and Revival Leaders: What They Teach.

On Matthew 6:33

Terence wrote,

THE fundamental verse of prosperity gospel is Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." What does "these things" refer too? Looking at the verse in context, we find that it refers to our daily needs: clothing, food, shelter and of course, the money to purchase these things. So what the verse is saying is this: That if we seek God first and his righteousness in our lives, God will provide for our needs!

So God does NOT answer to our every whim and fancy! We answer to God! We can be sure that God will provide for us and bless us when we are righteous before God and if we are living in God's divine will. Verse 34 talks about ceasing to worry about our finances and our needs, because God will provide for us! This is what the prosperity gospel is about!

First of all, I do not think you understand the concept of being righteous. We are righteous by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, not by our own righteousness (Philippians 3:9). Believers are automatically righteous in God’s sight. Therefore, to imply that there is such a thing as an unrighteous believer is an oxymoron.

Second, what is the divine will of God? Actually, there are two divine wills of God; one that is revealed and another that is hidden from us. Let me give an illustration from the Bible; the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is a sin according to the moral law of God. This sin is against the revealed will of God, but God permitted it to happen according to His hidden will. Also, according to God’s moral law, murder is against the will of God, but God allowed Jesus to be murdered through crucifixion. Again, it is the hidden will of God that Jesus was crucified.

To put it simply, we are all living under the hidden divine will of God. No one except God would know of His hidden will. Therefore, I would suppose you are not referring to His hidden will. And how about God’s revealed will then, the moral law of God? Unfortunately, it is written in Romans 3:23 that no one can fully obey the law.

Let me examine your statement in the light of what has been shown: “God will provide for us and bless us when we are righteous before God and if we are living in God's divine will.” If you are referring to the revealed will of God, that is His moral law, how much obedience is enough to be blessed? Is fifty percent obedience enough? How about eighty percent then? At which point does God begin blessing the believers?

What is Matthew 6:33 about in the first place? The clue is found in the words “His kingdom and His righteousness.” Consider this verse,

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14

As believers, we are already in the kingdom of God. However, the kingdom of God will reach its ultimate end when Jesus Christ returns in glory (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). We have already sought “His kingdom and His righteousness.” Christ’s righteousness is already imputed onto us. Since all these requirements are fulfilled for believers, the words “all these things will be given to [believers]” must be automatically fulfilled as well.

Are “all these things” given according to Matthew 6:33? Yes, but not in the sense of what the prosperity gospel implies. According to Terence, “all these things” are not automatically given. Believers need to be more "righteous" to inherit "all these things," as if there is another level of righteousness. If this is true, there are two classes of Christians: one class of blessed wealthy "righteous" Christians and another class of unblessed poor "unrighteous" Christians. Do we find any indication of such teachings in the Bible? I don't think so.

Here is another passage of Scripture found in the gospel of Matthew:

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19:27-29

According to Jesus, the disciples “will receive a hundred times as much.” Could Jesus be referring to earthly treasures? When we read 1 Corinthians 4:6-17, we discover that this is not the case. I have covered this in the article titled 1 Corinthians 4:6-17 - Suffering or Prosperity? The apostles were hungry, thirsty, in rags and homeless. At the end of their lives, most of them were martyred for their faith. If Jesus has promised them earthly treasures, then His promise has failed.

Therefore, it is clear Jesus must not have been referring to earthly treasures, but referring to heavenly treasures. It is written:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. – Matthew 6:19-20

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. – Luke 12:33

The Apostle Paul reinforced this doctrine of heavenly treasures when he was in prison writing the epistle to the Philippians.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14

The Apostle Peter wrote of a heavenly inheritance that does not perish, spoil or fade:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:3-4

In conclusion, the first part of Matthew 6:33 would refer to the call of men to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of Christ. The second part of the verse is about the promise of rewards in heaven.

On God and Money

Terence wrote,

Then what does verse 19-24 say? That we cannot serve 2 masters. But does this mean God and Money are contradictory things? No! In verse 24, it says that "we cannot serve two MASTERS." That means we can only serve God or Money. But this does not mean that we cannot HAVE or master money. It just means that we cannot let money control us! If God is in control, money can become a great way to finance God's work!

Having established that 1) God is definitely our Provider if we are righteous, and that 2) God and Money are not contradictory but are in fact complimentary, with money being a tool for God's Kingdom, let us look at Mark 10.

This is what I call setting up a straw-man argument. I have no issue with “mastering” money or whatever you call it. The real issue lies with the false doctrine that God promises to make us healthy and wealthy on earth.

I am disturbed that you made the statement “money can become a great way to finance God's work! … money being a tool for God's Kingdom.” Though it is true that most of the time money is required to get from point A to point B to preach the gospel, one must not forget the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.

Observe in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus sent out his apostles,

These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." They went out and preached that people should repent. – Mark 6:8-12

The Kingdom of God is not expanded through money, but by the work of God alone. Therefore, all glory must be given to God alone. The recorded means of evangelism is through prayer and preaching, not money (Matthew 9:37-38, Romans 10:14-15).

On Mark 10:29-30

Terence wrote,

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

These two verses talks about our rewards for forsaking all and following Him. What are our rewards? Eternal Life definitely. But not just that. God promises rewards IN THIS PRESENT AGE, which are a hundred times more than what we gave to God (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions)! Persecutions! Godly rewards come with persecution no doubt!

This verse has nothing to do with being prosperous or wealthy. It is speaking specifically of those who forsake home and loved ones for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. These individuals will receive a “hundred times” in the sense that they become a part of a community of believers.

Let me quote the Baptist theologian Dr. John Gill (1690-1771) from Exposition of the Entire Bible:

shall receive an hundred fold: Mark adds, "now in this time"; and Luke likewise, "in this present time", in this world; which may be understood either in spiritual things, the love of God, the presence of Christ, the comforts of the Holy Ghost, the communion of saints, and the joys and pleasures felt in the enjoyment of these things, being an hundred times more and better to them, than all they have left or lost for Christ's sake; or in temporal things, so in Mark it seems to be explained, that such shall now receive an hundred fold.

And here is the comment of the Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) from Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke - Volume 2:

But what he promises about recompensing them a hundredfold appears not at all to agree with experience; for in the greater number of cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, and other relatives -- who have been reduced to widowhood, and stripped of their wealth, for the testimony of Christ -- are so far from recovering their property, that in exile, solitude and desertion, they have a hard struggle with severe poverty. I reply, if any man estimate aright the immediate grace of God, by which he relieves the sorrows of his people, he will acknowledge that it is justly preferred to all the riches of the world. For though unbelievers flourish, (Psalm 92:7,) yet as they know not what awaits them on the morrow (James 4:14,) they must be always tossed about in perplexity and terror, and it is only by stupefying themselves in some sort that they can at all enjoy prosperity. Yet God gladdens his people, so that the small portion of good which they enjoy is more highly valued by them, and far sweeter, than if out of Christ they had enjoyed an unlimited abundance of good things. In this sense I interpret the expression used by Mark, with persecutions; as if Christ had said, Though persecutions always await the godly in this world, and though the cross, as it were, is attached to their back, yet so sweet is the seasoning of the grace of God, which gladdens them, that their condition is more desirable than the luxuries of kings.

Please do refer to the portion on Matthew 19:27-29 as I have covered this issue in my argument on Matthew 6:33. Once again, I would like to stress the apostles did not die wealthy and healthy. John the Baptist did not die healthy and wealthy. They died poor at the very end of their lives.

On the Book of Job

Terence wrote,

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1:1-3)

So who is Job? Firstly, he is a blameless and upright man. Secondly, he is rich with a capital R. I wonder how many rich Christians today have undergone the persecutions of so-called Christians who condemn them just because God has blessed them tremendously? I wonder what the media would slander about Job if he lived today?

Nonetheless, God decided to test Him. With God’s permission, the devil took away everything he had: his sons and daughters, his wealth, his possessions. To cut the long story short, his friends and even his wife spoke against him, trying to condemn him while Job insisted his righteousness. In the end, God intervenes, tells Job about his mistakes, and Job repents.

But what happens in the end? God prospers him even more! In Job 41:10, it says, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” So what this story illustrates is this: that righteousness brings about wealth and abundance!

First of all, Job was already righteous to begin with – “he feared God and shunned evil.” If anything, this biblical account demonstrates the sovereignty of God in taking away Job’s health and wealth despite being him being righteous.

Second, the Book of Job is largely concerned with the question, “Is misfortune always a divine punishment for something?” Job was a righteous man and he insisted on his being righteous. Job wanted to ask God for the reason behind his misfortune.

I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered- a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless! – Job 12:4

How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. – Job 13:23

Contrary to the prosperity gospel, Job rightfully said that God afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous.

It is all the same; that is why I say, 'He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.' – Job 9:22

His friends, like all prosperity teachers, argued otherwise and told him that his misfortune, as well as all misfortunes, is the result of the punishment for sin.

Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. – Job 4:7-8

At the end of the book, Job repented of his wanting to question God for his misfortune. Job did not repent for insisting on his being righteous. His reason for repentance was the mistake of asking God to show him the reason behind his misfortune. Hence, by repenting he acknowledged the sovereignty of God in all things.

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. – Job 42:2

And also, God became angry with the friends of Job that they “have not spoken of [Him] what is right, as [His] servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Job had spoken right of God by refuting his friends’ notions that it always goes well with good men and ill with bad men; whereas the reverse is the truth.

Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? – Job 21:7

In conclusion, this biblical account portrays the sovereignty of God over all things; that God brings misfortune to both the righteous and the unrighteous according to His perfect will. It illustrates that being righteous does not bring about “wealth and abundance.” If you read chapter 42 of the book of Job carefully, there is no indication God making Job prosperous again is based on Job being righteous.

On Prosperity

Terence wrote,

This is an established pattern in the Bible. The nations of Israel and Judah prosper when its people are righteous. But when they sin against God, punishment and wrath comes. King Solomon, when he was righteous for God, sought wisdom, but he ended up getting wisdom plus prosperity. Adam and Eve had the Garden of Eden before they disobeyed God. But after that all they had was barren land. God saved Noah and destroyed everyone else, effectively giving the whole earth to Noah and his family.

No, prosperity is definitely not an established pattern in the Bible. On the contrary, it is established that God destroys both the righteous and the unrighteous according to Job 9:22. Misfortunes fell upon Job despite Job being righteous. I have raised up examples of the poverty of the apostles and John the Baptist. I do not see any means whereby adherents of the prosperity gospel could get around these examples.

As the inerrant and infallible Word of God, the Bible contains no contradictions. When we study the Word of God, we should aim to harmonize the verses. Upon closer examination of the prosperity gospel, it is conclusively proven that the prosperity gospel is not consistent with these examples I gave and thus should be rejected.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Four Bad Reasons to be Weird

I have found this article Four Bad Reasons to be Weird by Gregory Koukl to be quite helpful in dealing with bad reasons posed by certain Christians, mostly if not all from charismatic circles. These reasons are commonly used to silence the opposition who question their bizarre doctrines and behaviors. Here are the bad reasons, provided along with excerpts from the article.

1. The Gospel is foolishness. We should be willing to be fools for Christ.
Some people ask: What's wrong with being weird? The Gospel is foolishness. We should be willing to be fools for Christ. Paul said we should be fools for Christ in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul says the Gospel is foolishness, so why should we subject the work of the Spirit to rational, logical, sensible assessment?

I got a response from a professor at Talbot, Dr. Paul Cox, who was talking to a non-Christian student who was laughing at the Gospel. Dr. Cox said, "Do you know why you're laughing? Because you're perishing."

You see, Dr. Cox understood 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness." 1 Corinthians 1:23 says, "We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness." To whom is the Gospel foolish? To those who are perishing, to the Gentiles who don't understand. Those are the ones who think it's foolish.

The Gospel is not foolish in itself, it's just foolish to those who don't understand it. In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:6, "We do speak wisdom among the mature." It's wisdom, not foolishness, but it's a wisdom that is not of this age.

What about Paul saying we should be fools for Christ? He was being sarcastic. Look it up, 1 Corinthians 4:10, "We are fools for Christ; but you are prudent in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are distinguished but we are without honor." His own apostleship was in question: We're just lowly apostles, after all.
2. Don't quench (or grieve) the Holy Spirit.
You witness something that they suggest is the Holy Spirit. You say, Gee, I'm not so sure. I'm not going to participate. And then you're accused of quenching or grieving the Spirit.

This argument is circular. It presumes that the Holy Spirit is working, and by denying what's going on, you are grieving the Spirit when the question of whether the Holy Spirit is involved at all is precisely what is under consideration. By presuming that you're grieving the Spirit, they are presuming what you are questioning.

Worse than that, it's a veiled threat. It's like saying that when one challenges weirdness, he is actually hurting God's feelings or offending God. If you raise the question, you're threatened with hurting God's feelings. You are actually fighting God. You are not merely taking exception with the person who is inviting you to participate; you are fighting God. That's a very strong statement to make. It is precisely whether God is involved or not which is under question.

Don't be intimidated by someone who lays this particular trip on you. I might be quenching or grieving the Spirit. I'll take that chance. Why? Because the Spirit will survive, but I may not. I may not survive if I get involved in something weird and extreme and get pushed off the deep end. My faith may not survive it. That s why I say it's better to run the risk of quenching the Spirit--if that's what is going on--rather than going off the deep end.

Some people are afraid to risk quenching any spirit: the Spirit of God, the spirit of frivolity, the spirit of Antichrist. They think that just because it is supernatural and weird, it must be from God. The weirder the better. It's proof of God's hand.
3. You can't put God in a box.
You can't put God in a box. I'm amazed how many people actually think this is a good argument. The problem is, I can agree with the statement entirely. God can do anything He wants. I can't put God in a box. But does it follow from the fact that God can do whatever He wants that any particular manifestation in question is from God?

You can't put God in a box, therefore, bouncing around on your head during "a movement of the Spirit" is God's Spirit. How do you know for sure? Because you can't put God in a box.

One has nothing whatsoever to do with the other. It's a non-answer. That kind of justification can be used to defend just about anything. I mean, sure, God can do anything He wants but that doesn't mean He is in fact doing anything here, which is the question.

What if I told you that you should come with me to a church that has a brand new work of the Spirit? You say, what is it? I say, when the Spirit moves us, we stand in a circle and urinate into a big tub. We pee in a pot. We call it "whizzing in the Spirit." You say, Koukl, that's bizarre. I say, there are no verses against it. Find a verse against it. In fact, I've got a proof text: "From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water." There it is! Works for me! After all, you can't put God in a box, can you? God can do whatever He wants, can't He? So who are you to judge Him?

Tell me what the difference is between my justification for whizzing in the Spirit and anyone else's similar justification for any other kind of bizarre thing. There is no difference. That isn't good evidence for my point of view. God can do whatever He wants, and it isn't good evidence for anyone else's point of view at all. The point is, God can do whatever He wants. So what? We're not talking about what God is capable of doing; we're talking about what God might actually be doing or maybe is not doing in this circumstance, and we have to ask different questions for that.

Some of you might be offended by my example. This is a principled example. The purpose wasn't to gross you out. It used to be that we could choose extreme examples which everybody would agree was bizarre. We'd choose something like swinging from the chandeliers or barking like dogs. We all knew it was an extreme example. The problem nowadays is things like the Toronto Blessing, where people are barking like dogs and roaring like animals, and this is called being Spirit-filled. The clear-case examples of the past are no longer clear-case examples, and I have to reach even further to come up with a case we can all agree is extreme.
4. Don't touch God's anointed.
The final defense is the one that annoys me the most: Don't touch God's anointed. You raise an objection to something that seems extreme and bizarre, and what you get is the statement, Don't touch God's anointed.

Do you know what that actually means? Do you know what people mean when they say it? They mean, Shut up. How dare you even raise the question about whether this man is anointed of God or not. They presume he is, and when you challenge it you are threatened.

Essentially, people are saying, Don't you dare try to protect God's church by raising questions, by being discerning, by trying to be careful. It may be that we raise a question about something going on and are wrong about it. It may be that the Holy Spirit really is working, but the way to conclude that is not by forcing people to shut up.

We have an obligation to ask the question. We have a responsibility from the Scriptures to pass judgment. Titus 1:9-11 says that "elders should be ones who hold fast the faithful word, which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." Paul said if you want leadership in the church, you better know the truth so well that you can teach sound doctrine to people and clearly refute those who contradict.

Paul doesn't say you refute them by telling them to shut up. A refutation is a result of an analysis based on evidence and sound thinking. They're not silenced, they are refuted. In refuting them, they are silenced. Paul does say we should silence them. "There are many rebellious men, empty talkers, deceivers, especially those of the circumcision who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families." They're not silenced by being told to shut up, they're silenced by being refuted. This only happens when there is open conversation about the issues. It protects the church when Christians raise principled objections. If the questions are not proper, the best way to deal with them is to answer them, not to shut people up.

When somebody says to me don't touch God's anointed, I ask them where it is in the Bible. Normally they don't know, they just heard somebody else say it. Here's a standard rule of thumb when people try to issue a biblical mandate: Just ask them to look it up. Look it up yourself.

This particular reference is found in 1 Samuel 24: 6, 7, 11, and 13. David is hiding from Saul in fear for his life. Saul comes into the cave that David is hiding in to "relieve himself," as Scripture delicately puts it, and David cuts a piece from Saul's robe without him knowing it. He could have killed Saul. After Saul leaves, 1 Samuel 24: 6-7 reads: "So he said to his men, 'Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord's anointed.' And David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul."

Not touching the Lord's anointed means not killing him. So don't let anyone intimidate you with this one to keep you from asking appropriate questions.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism

(I have previously posted a satirical article A Modern Evangelical Shorter Catechism. Well, here is another one, which pokes fun at Arminians and dispensationalists. The original article can be found at this link.)

Q: What is the chief end of each individual Christian?
A: Each individual Christian's chief end is to get saved. This is the first and great commandment.

Q: And what is the second great commandment?
A: The second, which is like unto it, is to get as many others saved as he can.

Q: What one work is required of thee for thy salvation?
A: It is required of me for my salvation that I make a Decision for Christ, which meaneth to accept Him into my heart to be my personal lord'n'saviour

Q: At what time must thou perform this work?
A: I must perform this work at such time as I have reached the Age of Accountability.

Q: At what time wilt thou have reached this Age?
A: That is a trick question. In order to determine this time, my mind must needs be sharper than any two-edged sword, able to pierce even to the division of bone and marrow; for, alas, the Age of Accountability is different for each individual, and is thus unknowable.

Q: By what means is a Decision for Christ made?
A: A Decision for Christ is made, not according to His own purpose and grace which was given to me in Christ Jesus before the world began, but according to the exercise of my own Free Will in saying the Sinner's Prayer in my own words.

Q: If it be true then that man is responsible for this Decision, how then can God be sovereign?
A: He cannot be. God sovereignly chose not to be sovereign, and is therefore dependent upon me to come to Him for salvation. He standeth outside the door of my heart, forlornly knocking, until such time as I Decide to let Him in.

Q: How then can we make such a Decision, seeing that the Scripture saith, we are dead in our trespasses and sins?
A: By this the Scripture meaneth, not that we are dead, but only that we are sick or injured in them.

Q: What is the assurance of thy salvation?
A: The assurance of thy salvation is, that I know the date on which I prayed the Sinner's Prayer, and have duly written this date on an official Decision card.

Q: What is thy story? What is thy song?
A: Praising my Savior all the day long.

Q: You ask me how I know he lives?
A: He lives within my heart.

Q: And what else hast thou got in thine heart?
A: I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Q: Where??
A: Down in my heart!

Q: Where???
A: Down in my heart!!

Q: What witness aid hath been given us as a technique by which we may win souls?
A: The tract known commonly as the Four Spiritual Laws, is the chief aid whereby we may win souls.

Q: What doth this tract principally teach?
A: The Four Spiritual Laws principally teach, that God's entire plan for history and the universe centereth on me, and that I am powerful enough to thwart His divine purpose if I refuse to let Him pursue His Wonderful Plan for my life.

Q: What supplementary technique is given by which we may win souls?
A: The technique of giving our own Personal Testimony, in the which we must always be ready to give an answer concerning the years we spent in vanity and pride, and the wretched vices in which we wallowed all our lives until the day we got saved.

Q: I'm so happy, what's the reason why?
A: Jesus took my burden all away!

Q: What are the means given whereby we may save large crowds of souls in a spectacular manner?
A: Such a spectacle is accomplished by means of well-publicized Crusades and Revivals which (in order that none may be loath to attend) are best conducted anywhere else but in a Church.

Q: Am I a soldier of the Cross?
A: I am a soldier of the Cross if I join Campus Crusade, Boys' Brigade, the Salvation Army, or the Wheaton Crusaders; of if I put on the helmet of Dispensationalism, the breastplate of Pietism, the shield of Tribulationism, and the sword of Zionism, having my feet shod with the gospel of Arminianism.

Q: Who is your boss?
A: My boss is a Jewish carpenter.

Q: Hath God predestined vessels of wrath to Hell?
A: God hath never performed such an omnipotent act, for any such thing would not reflect His primary attribute, which is Niceness.

Q: What is sanctification?
A: Sanctification is the work of my free Will, whereby I am renewed by having my Daily Quiet Time.

Q: What rule hath God for our direction in prayer?
A: The rule that we must bow our hands, close our heads, and fold our eyes.

Q: What doth the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A: The Lord's Prayer teacheth us that we must never memorize a prayer, or use one that hath been written down.

Q: What's the book for thee?
A: The B-I-B-L-E.

Q: Which are among the first books which a Christian should read to his soul's health?
A: Among the first books which a Christian should read are the books of Daniel and Revelation, and The Late Great Planet Earth.

Q: Who is on the Lord's side?
A: He who doth support whatsoever is done by the nation of Israel, and who doth renounce the world, the flesh, and the Catholic Church.

Q: What are the seven deadly sins?
A: The seven deadly sins are smoking, drinking, dancing, card-playing, movie-going, baptizing babies, and having any creed but Christ.

Q: What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is an insidious invention devised by the Catholic Church whereby men are drawn into idolatry.

Q: What is the Lord's Supper?
A: The Lord's Supper is a dispensing of saltines and grape juice, in the which we remember Christ's command to pretend that they are His body and blood.

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is the act whereby, by the performance of something that seems quite silly in front of everyone, I prove that I really, really mean it.

Q: What is the Church?
A: The Church is the tiny minority of individuals living at this time who have Jesus in their hearts, and who come together once a week for a sermon, fellowship and donuts.

Q: What is the office of the keys?
A: The office of the keys is that office held by the custodian.

Q: What meaneth "The Priesthood Of All Believers"?
A: The Priesthood Of All Believers meaneth that there exists no authority in the Church, as that falsely thought to be held by elders, presbyters, deacons, and bishops, but that each individual Christian acts as his own authority in all matters pertaining to the faith.

Q: Who is the Holy Spirit?
A: The Holy Spirit is a gentleman Who would never barge in.

Q: How long hath the Holy Spirit been at work?
A: The Holy Spirit hath been at work for more than a century: expressly, since the nineteenth-century Revitalization brought about by traveling Evangelists carrying tents across America.

Q: When will be the "Last Days" of which the Bible speaketh?
A: The "Last Days" are these days in which we are now living, in which the Antichrist, the Beast, and the Thief in the Night shall most certainly appear.

Q: What is the name of the event by which Christians will escape these dreadful entities?
A: The event commonly known as the Rapture, in the which it is our Blessed Hope that all cars driven by Christians will suddenly have no drivers.

Q: When is Jesus coming again?
A: Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon.

Q: When the roll, roll, roll, is called up yonder, where will you be?
A: There.

Q: Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah!
A: Praise ye the Lord!

Q: Praise ye the Lord!
A: Hallelujah!

Q: Where will we meet again?
A: Here, there, or in the air.

Q: Can I hear an Ay-men?
A: Ay-men.

Friday, January 06, 2006

1 Corinthians 4:6-17 - Suffering or Prosperity?

Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 4:6-17
The Apostle Paul has written the above Scriptural passage to the church in Corinth. Now what do we know about the Corinthians from the first epistle to the Corinthians? Well, here is a brief list that I have compiled:
  1. They were followers of men (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).
  2. They do not lack any spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:7).
  3. They were once the lowly things of this world; unwise, not influential and not of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
  4. They were still worldly – mere infants in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). They do not display the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); there was jealousy and quarreling among themselves (1 Corinthians 3:3).
  5. They did not give glory to God for their material blessings (1 Corinthians 4:7).
  6. They were rich and honored by men (1 Corinthians 4:8).
  7. There was sexual immorality among them; and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1).
  8. There were lawsuits among them (1 Corinthians 6:7).
  9. There were cheating and wrongdoings among them (1 Corinthians 6:8).
The apostles, however, stood in sharp contrast with the church in Corinth.
  1. They were like men condemned to die; a spectacle to the whole universe (1 Corinthians 4:9).
  2. They were fools for Christ and dishonored among men (1 Corinthians 4:10).
  3. They were hungry and thirsty. They were in rags. They were brutally treated. They were homeless. All in all, they were poor. (1 Corinthians 4:11)
  4. They were cursed and persecuted by men (1 Corinthians 4:12).
  5. They were regarded as scum of the earth; the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:13).
If I do not know any better, the Apostle Paul might have been describing the megachurches of today, instead of the church in Corinth. The megachurches that love to preach health and wealth to its followers in opposition to the teaching of the Word of God. And since the church in Corinth did not lack in any spiritual gift, I would imagine that there were faith healers and prophets in the church of Corinth, very much like the megachurches too.

However, does the exhibition of spiritual gifts and material blessings prove that the church is right with God? Of course not, as we can see from the apostle’s warning found in 1 Corinthians 4:14.

Let us consider the following verse:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21
The church in Corinth was obviously not heeding this biblical injunction. Their hearts were fixed on the treasures on earth, not on the treasures in heaven. And as a result, the Apostle Paul had to warn them that they were disobeying the Word of God (1 Corinthians 4:14).

What would be the remedy to the problems in the church then? The Apostle Paul wrote,
Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. – 1 Corinthians 4:16-17
The apostle urged the church in Corinth to imitate him in his way of life; to suffer for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is written:
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. – Philippians 1:29
From the look of it, it appears that the church in Corinth was not really putting any effort into evangelism. Perhaps the church was conducting “seeker-sensitive” services to appeal to the worldly pagans. Perhaps many people were drawn to the church because of promises of health and wealth. In any case, it is clear the church in Corinth was not suffering.

It is also likely possible that after reading the epistle, the church in Corinth would not be too happy with the Apostle Paul upsetting their way of life. If the church is like the megachurches, its proponents might be writing a letter back to the apostle, warning him not to judge them. They were probably having a very good time with their material riches, eating and drinking while the apostles suffer for the sake of the gospel.

For I believe if the church was really preaching the gospel among the pagans, I highly doubt that the Corinthians would be honored among men. Instead they would be reviled everywhere. The church in Corinth would have been like the church in Philippi, going through the same struggle like the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:30).

Take for instance, imagine trying to preach the gospel to the unbelieving Arabs in Saudi Arabia. Or how about somewhere closer to home, like the Malay Muslims in Malaysia. Would you expect health and material blessings to be showering all over you? Or would you expect to be persecuted and your possessions taken away from you? The answer is pretty obvious. I believe the apostles were facing a similar sort of situation. And as the Apostle Paul has shown, material blessings and bearing the cross does not go hand in hand.

Faith healers and prosperity teachers would say that if you do not experience material blessings and good health, it is because you are not right with God. On the contrary, I would say to them: if you do not suffer persecutions for the sake of the gospel, your lives are clearly not reflecting the teachings of the Word of God. For it is written:
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:19
I do not believe evangelism is about inviting your friend or colleague to go to church. I do not call that evangelism. To me, that is a cop-out. I would term it as “invitationalism.” In the very end, it is the church that does the evangelizing, not you. I believe the biblical method of evangelism is found in Acts 8:26-40, where the Apostle Philip preached the gospel one-on-one to the eunuch, explaining in detail the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not that the gospel being preached in churches is not evangelism or the gospel preached in crowd-filled stadiums is not evangelism. But to leave evangelism to the church and to church-designated missionaries while you enjoy your worldly possessions and look forward to a healthy long life is clearly not fulfilling your divinely ordained responsibility.

When we take up the cross and follow Jesus, the responsibility of evangelism comes along with the burden of the cross. And with evangelism, we will experience persecution. And with persecution, we may have to forsake our worldly possessions and our health.

In fact, I do not like the separation of an artificial distinct class of people called missionaries. The Word of God calls all of us to preach the gospel, and therefore every Christian are to be missionaries wherever we are, be it at work, at home or abroad. And that is not simply to unbelievers but to believers too.

Did the Apostle Paul preach the gospel in his epistle to the Christians in Rome? Yes he did. Did he preach the gospel to the Galatians to put to a halt the teachings of the false gospel? Yes he also did. I believe the gospel, the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, has to be preached to unbelievers and believers alike. The gospel has to be preached, and at the same time, be defended from false teachings and unsound doctrines. This is supported by the Great Commission, which commands us to "make disciples of all nations... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

In conclusion, God has never promised that earthly blessings and health would be automatically granted to us during our temporal lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we must take up the cross and follow Jesus. We must be willing to deny ourselves the pleasures and profits of this world. We must be willing to forgo the comforts of life and be subjected to poverty and distress. For it is written:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? – Matthew 16:24-26

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The sum of the Christian life by John Calvin

The sum of the Christian life is denial of ourselves. The ends of this self-denial are four.

  1. That we may devote ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
  2. That we may not seek our own things, but those which belong to God and to our neighbour.
  3. That we may patiently bear the cross, the fruits of which are—acknowledgment of our weakness, the trial of our patience, correction of faults, more earnest prayer, more cheerful meditation on eternal life.
  4. That we may know in what manner we ought to use the present life and its aids, for necessity and delight. Necessity demands that we possess all things as though we possessed them not; that we bear poverty with mildness, and abundance with moderation; that we know how to endure patiently fulness, and hunger, and want; that we pay regard to our neighbour, because we must give account of our stewardship; and that all things correspond to our calling. The delight of praising the kindness of God ought to be with us a stronger argument.
- Book III, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1509-1564)

Source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.iii.html

Sunday, January 01, 2006

On the false teachings of Joel Osteen

The previous article Keep Christianity counterfeit-free has brought to my attention Joel Osteen, a man who was willing to compromise on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Since I have not heard of Joel Osteen, I have decided to look him up on the Internet. The first thing I did was to search for the interview transcript between him and Larry King.

Here is the direct link to the transcript of the interview conducted on June 20, 2005 that I have found. And here is a shocking excerpt from the interview:
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
It is astonishing, but perhaps not totally unexpected, that besides misleading people with the false teachings of word-faith theology, Joel Osteen is willing to deny that salvation is only through Jesus Christ alone. This particular denial alone would fully qualify Joel Osteen as a heretic.

And by saying that unbelievers love God, Joel Osteen also deny the following Scriptural passage; that unbelievers are hostile to God and cannot please God.
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. - Romans 8:6-9
The Wikipedia article describes Joel Osteen as the “the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, North America’s largest and fastest growing church congregation, averaging approximately 30,000 adult attendees every week in 2005.”

According to the article, Joel Osteen is also “associated with the Word of faith movement in charismatic Protestantism.” During the interview with Larry King, he shows his support for this movement.
KING: What is the prosperity gospel?

OSTEEN: I think the prosperity gospel in general is -- well I don't know. I hear it too. I don't know. I think what sometimes you see is it's just all about money. That's not what I believe. It's the attitude of your heart, and so you know, we believe -- but I do believe this, that God wants us to be blessed. He wants us to be able to send our kids to college, excel in our careers. But prosperity to me, Larry, is not just money, it's having health. What good is money if you don't have health?
Besides denying Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), it appears that Joel Osteen is also not willing to preach on the doctrine of sin. While it is one thing to open the church to everybody (which I absolutely agree), it is quite another to minimize the gravity of sin.
OSTEEN: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don't think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don't think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I'm not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.

KING: You don't call them sinners?

OSTEEN: I don't.

KING: Is that a word you don't use?

OSTEEN: I don't use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don't. But most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don't go down the road of condemning.
I, for one, would not hesitate to renounce Joel Osteen as a false teacher. A man who holds the position of “Senior Pastor” surely would know better than to compromise the doctrine of Solus Christus and the doctrine of sin. Because of this, I can only conclude that Joel Osteen has every intention to deceive the Christian community by preaching a false Christ. Joel Osteen clearly stands out as an example of why biblical discernment is necessary to distinguish the wolves from the sheep, for it is written:
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3
Update 25 June 2006! Bloggers on Joel Osteen:
Outing Joel Osteen: A Challenge to the Evangelical Blogosphere, Internet Monk
What's Wrong with Prospering? The Gospel according to Joel Osteen, Ben Witherington
The Limits of Encouragement, Albert Mohler