Skip navigation

Category Archives: Bible

emotionally-healthy-spiritualityThe book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ has been widely acclaimed from all sides of the ecumenical spectrum and has been set up as favoured by the Willow Creek Association among others. It is focused on trying to address what the author sees as a shortcoming of modern Christianity – a failure to recognise the importance of emotional growth in the Christian life. The book sees this failure as being at the root of many of the problems that face Christians today: from marital strife, church splits, bitterness and more. The following quote must be considered:

“Emotionally healthy spirituality is a universal approach to spiritual and religious life … Spirituality is concerned with becoming one with God or the true Self.”

So the focus of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the book and more explicitly the day by day course guide) is concerned with improving religious life by looking inward at ourselves. The only problem is that the above quote wasn’t taken from Scazzero’s book. It was taken from Hindu yoga mystic Swami Atma.

 

1146795

Swami Atma

 

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. – Deut 12

The above is an example of God directly speaking to the people of Israel and explaining his feelings towards adopting the practices of pagan religions and using them to worship God. We understand that we no longer live under the Old Covenant with its laws and procedures to protect national identity and purity. The New Covenant has extended grace and mercy to those who are God’s people, and a common grace to all. We know this because God no longer requires us to stone rapists, or kill witches, or disobedient children. However, we also recognise that doing so did not make rape, witchcraft or being disobedient to parents morally justifiable in God’s eyes. In the same way, even though we no longer are called to burn down pagan temples and break down their altars, we can still see the clear attitude God has towards those who seek to worship Him using the practices of pagan religion.

nadab-and-abihu-are-killed-in-the-tabernacle-leviticus-1900

This was also clearly seen in Leviticus 10, where the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, lit the altar with ‘strange fire’ and were immediately consumed in God’s wrath. Again, this is not to say that God is necessarily going to consume anyone who offers the wrong practice as worship to Him, but it demonstrates how seriously he takes the way in which he is worshipped in accordance with the instructions he has already given to us. God’s response to Aaron after this incident was:

“‘Among those who approach me

   I will be proved holy;

in the sight of all the people

   I will be honoured.’” – Lev 10:3

That word ‘holy’ in the Hebrew is the word ‘qadash’ – which among the uses of the term it holds connotations of being set apart, separate and consecrated. God proclaims himself to be set apart from all systems and sources – he is unique and singular (Isaiah 42:8, 44:6, 46:5). It would then stands as justifiable that seeking to treat him as yet another one of the pagan gods would be an offence to his holy character as if what works for Buddha will work for God.

The book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality opens with a series of personal anecdotes where the writer experienced burnout in the face of various strains and disasters. He goes on to describe what for him he claims was a revelation of sorts. On page 55 he states that his “inner world was not in sync” with his “exterior behaviour”. He identifies this as what Jesus called “hypocrisy” – the state of not being true to one’s inner, emotional self. His call on page 65 is “to know God you must know yourself”.

The problem here is that it is factually incorrect. Jesus refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites, but he never explains that it is because they are not in touch with their inner, emotional selves. In Matthew 6:2, 5 and 16 he uses it to refer to those who make an outward show of religious piety but inside they are rotten to the core with sin. I put sin in italics because it is very telling that it is a word that Scazzero never uses to describe the many terrible situations that he lists at the start of the book. He doesn’t put the problem down to the sinful heart’s desire to sin against God and therefore needs to repent (looking upward) but as man’s inability to tap into his emotional self (looking inward). Inadvertently, Scazzero has told us that all the problems in our lives are to be solved by looking inwards to ourselves, rather than all the sin (for that’s what he’s actually talking about) in our lives being dealt with by looking upward to God. He sees the remedy as “the inward journey” to consider “the forces and motivations beneath the surface of our lives” (page 72). Where God (through the prophet Isaiah) would see the remedy for sin as “Look unto me and be ye saved” (Isa 45:22) Peter Scazzero seems to suggest the remedy is “Look at yourself and be ye emotionally healthy.” Where Jesus would say “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” (John 14:7) Scazzero would have us believe “To know God you must know yourself.” (page 65).

It is this refusal to identify and acknowledge sin that leads to several other troublesome statements throughout the book. For instance, on page 168 we are told that “God’s approval is without conditions”. This could possibly be reinterpreted to an orthodox level of acceptability if what he is referring to is the fact that once saved God gives his approval to his children based not on their performance but on their status as redeemed and blood-bought sons and daughters of God. But my eyebrows are further raised when he starts referencing noted Universalists like Thomas Merton and other emergent writers that seem to suggest he actually believes that God approves of absolutely everyone without conditions, Christian or no. And it is in examining the practical side of his guide to being emotionally healthy that we see this faulty line of reasoning worked out: specifically in chapter 6 where he endorses the mystical practice of contemplative prayer.

Be attentive and open. Sit still, sit straight, breathe slowly, deeply and naturally, and close your eyes or lower them to the ground.” (page 160). Scazzero suggests that we repeat a ‘centring word or phrase’ in order to block out our busy thoughts and allow God to speak through his Holy Spirit. At a recent evening service when this practice was clearly taught to the congregation at our church, similar instructions were given for anyone who wanted to ‘listen to God’. Stray thoughts were to be discarded or pushed aside as distractions – clearly the message was that clear minds were to be achieved in order to “allow God to speak to us”. It was described as “the deepest” and “highest form of prayer”, scriptural support came from Matthew 14:23, 26:36 (Jesus find a place to pray alone) and 1 Kings 19 in the cave with Elijah. Apparently, “even Jesus needed to find time to listen.”

Except what Peter Scazzero, and the lady preaching, say when they describe this “deepest form of prayer” and what the Bible clearly depicts are two completely different things. Not in Matthew 14:23, 26:36 nor in 1 Kings 19 (nor in any other place in scripture) do we see anyone “repeating a centring word or phrase” to clear their mind, neither Elijah nor Jesus sat in silence, pushing their thoughts aside in order to “allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them”. The precise practice is not found anywhere in the pages of scripture.

In Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples approach Jesus with a very particular request. They ask him “teach us to pray”. Doubtless, a lot of them knew what prayer looked like. Some of them had perhaps been into the synagogue or temple a few times in their lives, but there was something different about the way Jesus prayed, and they wanted to know the right way to pray like Jesus did. What was Jesus’ response? If you’ll forgive the parody:

“And Jesus replied to them, ‘I will teach you the highest, deepest form of prayer. First, you sit still, back straight and breathe deeply…repeat my name over and over again until all your distracting thoughts are gone and then…”

No. The passage doesn’t read like that. The one portion of scripture where Jesus is directly asked how to pray and he says: “And he said to them, “When you pray, say:” We have no other instruction from Jesus on how we are to pray. This is it. When you pray – say! Open your mouth and employ your brain function to communicate, not shutting it down completely. The point is that, if we are to believe that this is “the highest” and “deepest” form of prayer, Jesus doesn’t teach us it.

13535

In fact, elsewhere the scriptures will warn us against this practice. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:15 says that, whilst he will pray ‘in the Spirit’, he will pray ‘with his mind also’. Jesus, when rebuking the behaviour of the Pharisees clearly forbids the use of centring words when he says “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (Matt 6:7) The term ‘vain’ here meaning empty, or meaningless.

Notice as well that Jesus identifies this as something ‘the heathens do’. To what is he referring? ‘Heathen’ is a catch-all term used by the translators to describe the pagan Gentiles. Therefore the question is raised: what ‘vain repetition’ is he talking about?

I believe that, with perfect divine knowledge, Jesus is referring to the ancient Arabian, Hindu and Buddhist practice of mystical meditation, in which a mystic would chant, over and over, a mantra in order to allow themselves to enter into a trance-like state. They did this in order to receive mysteries, enlightenment and “unity with Brahma”.

“Buddhist meditation is an invitation to turn one’s awareness away from the world of activity that usually preoccupies us to the inner experience of thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

For Buddhists, the realm of meditation comprises mental states such as calm, concentration and one-pointedness (which comprises the six forces: hearing, pondering, mindfulness, awareness, effort and intimacy).

The practice of meditation is consciously employing particular techniques that encourage these states to arise.”

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/customs/meditation_1.shtml)

This practice was then brought into Roman Catholic monasticism by the likes of St Teresa of Avila and lately Thomas Merton, both of whom Scazzero cites as authorities in the book. These are our examples of how we could be led into emotionally healthy spirituality if Scazzero is to be believed. So who were they?

Teresa of Avila was an early 16th century Roman Catholic mystic who was a regular practitioner in what would be known as ‘contemplative prayer’. Through these mystical practices, she claimed that she had endured physical intimacy with (and married) Jesus, claimed she had regular visions of hell, claimed she could levitate and more. This is the example of emotionally healthy spirituality we are to follow, according to Scazzero.

Thomas Merton was a Roman Catholic Trappist Monk who claimed to have visions (sent from God) of himself as a Buddhist monk performing rituals. He devoted the rest of his writings to uniting Christianity, Confucianism and Zen Buddhism into the same belief system (Mystics and Zen Master 1967).

And the links between Zen Buddhism and Scazzero’s book are clear. According to the BBC article on Buddhism – “Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware.” This ability to detach oneself in order to achieve ‘awareness’ is mentioned throughout the text. Scazzero tells us in page 132 “detachment is the great secret of interior peace”, and he continues on page 133 “those who are most detached on the journey are best able to taste the purest joy in the beauty of created things.

I could mention other things about the book that are troubling (ancestral curses, factual inaccuracies about the Bible, etc.) but I feel I would be beating a dead horse by this stage. Scazzero says that “Most Christians today are struggling spiritually” (page 1 of the 40-day course guide book), and he tries to plug that gap with a mix of Roman Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist mysticism. Whereas Jesus, the word and the Holy Spirit, regarded as sufficient throughout church history by faithful orthodoxy, are cast aside.

If the teaching is a) not found in scripture, b) actively opposed by scripture and c) finds its origins in pagan religion then the words of Deuteronomy ring true even today:

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. – Deut 12

In short, Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, identifies the wrong problem and posits the wrong solution. It is a dangerously heretical text with clear aims to introduce pagan mysticism into the practice of the church.

 

Advertisements

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.

– Psalm 119:9

img_0963

So you’ve been to Soul Survivor.

You’ve had great banter.

You’ve had mind-blowing times of worship. You’ve seen the dancing, the bouncing, the lights, the screeching guitars, the euphoria. You’ve maybe even raised your hands a couple of times.

You might even have been one of the hundreds of people who walked forward at the end of the meetings. Praise God if you did!

And now you’re home.

cover-photo

The tent is packed away for another year, the bracelets and leaflets and stickers and books that you guarded with your life now lie in the corner of your room. You have to get up for church on Sunday morning and…

…it’s just not the same anymore.

image

Do you know ‘God’s great dance floor’?

There are no lasers. There are no crowds bouncing up and down. There are no euphoric swells and people dancing in the aisles and on stage. You’re lucky if there is even a drumbeat because the drummer had to decide between playing the drums and filling in for the bassist who’s not there and the old lady on the organ has no idea what a Rend Collective is (but it sounds painful). Your diet no longer consists of chocolate and pot noodles. You actually have to eat vegetables and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. You no longer are surrounded on a daily basis with people feeling the same thing, singing the same songs or even speaking the same language half the time (See this handy primer on Christianese). Instead, people in school, university or in the workplace are bitter, they’re sarcastic, they’re more interested in the latest gruesome death on Game of Thrones than the latest Housefires single. What’s worst of all is that you find it so much easier to go with the crowd around you, than to try and pull them up to your level.

You, my friend, are caught in the post-festival blues.

 

So how do we survive Soul Survivor?

 

  1. See it for what it is

 

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. – 1 Kings 19

elijah-in-cave.jpg

Elijah saw some amazing stuff on that mountain. Can you imagine the scene? The wind is so strong the mountains are tearing and shattering into pieces! Earthquakes causing the entire landscape to tremble. Fire bursting out spontaneously.

And none of it contained God.

You have to look soberly at your experiences. There’s a lot to be said about euphoria, good and bad. My personal slant is that God gives us the possibility to experience euphoria, and what better thing to feel euphoria about than the presence of God? But looking soberly, like I said, those experiences are not God.

God is in the low whisper.

christianbibleprayerhandsbwjpg

In comparison to mountains smashing and ground shaking and fire raging, that low whisper must have seemed rather dull to Elijah. You can just imagine him thinking, “Oh, I thought when God showed up it’d be a bit more…impressive?” But God was in the dull. He was in the simple, quiet communication of his word.

So you might have felt the very ground move at Soul Survivor, but see it for what it is. An awesome experience, but one that is not God. It is my experience that God does not often communicate in the mind-blowing, the euphoric, the earth-shaking. The times that I’ve most clearly had communication from God has been on my own, in my living room when no one else is around and I have my Bible open. God is in the low whisper.

 

2. You’ve worked on your public faith, now work on your private faith

 

week-a-venues

It’s so much easier to talk, shout or sing when there is a crowd around you doing the same thing. If you don’t believe me, take a trip to the high street, stand with your hands in the air and belt out “BLESS THE LOOOOORD OH MY SOUL!” and see how it feels. What I’m saying is that being a Christian seems so easy when you are surrounded by Christians. This can be great because it allows you to freely give voice to your beliefs and convictions in a safe place where most people won’t judge you. One of the hardest things, I believe, for a young person to navigate is how to publicly portray their faith honest and openly for the world the see and festivals like Soul Survivor can be a great way of practising that.

But, to take the song out of context a bit, there must be more than this…

picdroit

Obviously, this isn’t my car. For one, it’s clean.

You can polish a car so much that it gleams for everyone to marvel at, but at the end of the day, there has to be something under the hood to make the car go. No car goes around with its radiator and pistons hanging out, they aren’t aesthetically pleasing. But they are so crucial to ensure there is power in the engine for the car to move. In the same way, a public faith is just a façade unless there is something under the hood. We need our roots to go deeper if we are to avoid getting choked out by the weeds when that first trial comes along. I can’t teach you how to love God in your heart, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit. I can suggest some practical tips though for working on your ‘under the hood’ private faith though:

 

i) Read your Bible. Do it daily. Joshua 1:8.

 

class_read_bible_story

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

dr-john-macarthur-1

 

ii) Get some solid Bible teaching. Listen to it. If you are in a church where this is a bit scarce, do what I often do – there are some great podcasts I can recommend, but they won’t suit everyone. I’d suggest:

  • The Village Church
  • Renewing your mind
  • (For the girls) Sheologians
  • (Also for the girls) Flower Mound Women’s Bible Study
  • Daily John Piper
  • Sermon audio
  • Radical with David Platt

reading

 

iii) Read a book for once! Learn as much as you can. It is a lie from the pit of hell that theology does not matter. It totally does! As soon as anyone opens their mouth to speak about God they are being theological. Chances are if they don’t know any theology it’s just bad theology they are speaking.  Start off with a good study Bible (I’d recommend ESV or Matthew Henry, but there are other great ones). Some other great books that have profoundly impacted me include:

  • The Pursuit of God – A W Tozer
  • The Holiness of God – R C Sproul
  • The Reason for God – Tim Keller
  • The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler
  • The Mortification of Sin – John Owen
  • Scandalous – D A Carson

 

3. If you aren’t enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it

 

cool-runnings-success-lessons

Best Jamaican-bobsled-based movie in history. FACT.

One of my favourite movies is Cool Runnings. That bit at the end where they (spoilers) carry the bobsled across that last stretch and everyone starts slow clapping and the guy’s dad is there and he’s wearing the t shirt…gets me every time.

cool_runnings

Hang on. I need a moment.

Okay. But there is one particular scene that always stands out to me the most. John Candy’s character (Irv) is a washed up bobsled champion who cheated once and was banned from ever competing again, but is hired to coach the Jamaica team. The driver of the team, Derice, is talking to Irv and asks why he did it. He was already a champion, why did he feel the need to cheat all those years ago?

Irv: [telling Derice why he cheated] It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?

Derice Bannock: No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.

Irv: Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.

Irv had tasted the euphoria of winning a gold medal and had become so fixated on it that he was prepared to break every rule to get it again. In a moment of self-reflection, he admits that he didn’t feel like he was enough without it. Not only that, but once he had it, he still wasn’t satisfied.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. – Ecclesiastes 5:10

Idolatry happens when you take a good thing (like money, gold medals, euphoric experiences, etc.) and make them the whole focus of your satisfaction and justification. As Christians, all of our delight and satisfaction is found in God alone.

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. – Psalm 107:9

God knows that the only way you will be satisfied, the only way you will receive true joy, is in Him. He will not allow you to find it anywhere else because it is nowhere else. Not even in those things that we use to praise him, like dancing and singing and raising our hands and shouting and feeling the euphoria of collective worship. This is starkly evident when the children of Israel turned from following after God in the book of Amos. The crazy thing is that they are still meeting, still singing songs, still making their sacrifices but God says:

21“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen. – Amos 5

So we can’t look to these things to be our ultimate satisfaction. This frees us up to appreciate any and all styles of worship, knowing that we are not dependent on fog machines and lasers to encounter God any more than Elijah was dependent on the mountains tearing in two. Miraculous signs and experiences are wonderful, but they aren’t what God ultimately wants for us. He wants to give us Himself.

The Jews watched as Jesus fed the 5,000 in the wilderness, and we’re told in John 6 that loads of people followed him because of this.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. – John 6:26

Jesus is quick to deter them, however. He tells them that they were settling for bread that easily perishes and does nothing for the state of their souls. All the while God wanted to give them the bread from heaven that never perishes.

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – verses 33-35

Here is the one thing that will satisfy. Not the bread that perishes. Not the bread that will do nothing for their souls. Not the dancing, the lasers, the sound system, the high tempo music that is gone when you leave Peterborough. Those things, in and of themselves, will do nothing for your soul. Christ is the bread of life. If you aren’t satisfied without all those things, then I urge you to examine whether or not you have truly known Jesus – or are you just following the temporary fulfilment that comes along without him. Is it enough to know that you belong to Christ?

Yours in Christ, Ryan.

[Deu 18:9-12 NIV] 9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.

 

Introduction: What do we believe?

st-pope-gregory-the-great

In the Middle Ages, the Romand Catholic church had been the predominant church throughout Christendom. They had started out as the pure defenders of orthodoxy, but around the time of Pope Gregory I (540-604AD) that began to change. The church began to teach that, while the Bible was authoritative, it was not authoritative alone. Rather, special revelation, given to the Pope direct from God, was necessary in interpreting the will of God. At first scripture was kept in Latin and only the priesthood were able to read it. Then others began to see the benefit of having a Bible that they could read in their own language. 3fb6327e491356f66979f1c475f5ff77-william-tyndale-wolf-hallPeople like John Wycliffe (who was declared a heretic) and William Tynedale (who was burned at the stake) sought to bring God’s word to the vernacular. The Roman Catholic church responded with aggression and violence, executing many others who attempted this.

Then in the early 1500s The Reformation happened, and one of its central tenets became known as ‘Sola Scriptura’. As Christians, we affirm what the Catholics believe that the scriptures are authoritative over the Christian’s faith and practice. However, unlike Catholicism, we affirm that scripture alone is authoritative over the Christian’s faith and practices. We believe that there is nowhere else we can look to tell us what we are to believe and do as Christians. Consider the following verse:

[2Ti 3:16-17 NIV] 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Notice that the Bible testifies about itself that it is useful to equip the servant of God for every good work. That is to say, the Bible is sufficient to train us in righteousness, teach us, rebuke us, correct us and equip us.

maxresdefault

Therefore, if there is any practice that we cannot justify from the Bible, then we ought to discard it as unbiblical and wrong. This was true for the reformers when faced with paying indulgences, prayers to Mary, transubstantiation, et al, and it is true for us today when we are faced with apostasy of our own. In particular, the focus of this article: Contemplative prayer.

contemplative-prayer-image

What is contemplative prayer?

Contemplative prayer has come into fashion in some areas as a means of ‘listening to God’. Its proponents say that it is a way for God to directly contact the believer in a real and powerful way. At a recent service we were told that it is a ‘deeper’ form of prayer, one that gains us greater unity with God.

It begins with choosing a “centring word”. According to Rick Warren (an open practitioner of contemplative prayer) this should be a short word or phrase that can be uttered in a single breath. Normally, something like “Jesus” or “God” or “the grace of God” is suitable. This is done in order to help the believer empty their mind in order to receive communication from God.

Is it biblical?

Support for contemplative prayer is often cited from Psalm 46:10a ““Be still, and know that I am God.” From this, it is said that this is a prescriptive for how the believer is to meditate.

In a recent meeting, the examples of Jesus separating himself to pray (eg Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16 etc.) was used in support of the practice. Also used was Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19 where he heard the “still, small voice” of God.

Notice, however, in none of these passages does anyone have to repeat centring words, empty their minds or enter into a trance-like state in order to hear from God. The Biblical reference do not depict the exact practice they are supposed to support.

What does the Bible actually say?

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. – Matthew 6:7

Here you have Jesus specifically telling people not to perform useless repetitions in prayer. The practice of repeating ‘centring words’, according to Jesus in this verse, is something a Christian should not be doing. Why? Because it’s what the heathen do (I’ll come back to that later).

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. – 1 Corinthians 14:15

In this verse Paul is addressing some of the craziness going on in the Corinthian church where people are praying openly in tongues with no interpretation and it is causing confusion. Here Paul has to address this and say that prayer, while it is done ‘with my spirit’, is done ‘with my mind also’. The practice of contemplative prayer, however, is focused around the process of emptying the mind, not using it. Here again we see a direct Biblical contradiction of the practice in the words of Paul this time.

In fact, any time the act of prayer is mentioned in the scripture, it is always referred to as the conscious act of making communication with God. Asking (Matt 21:22), petitioning (Dan 9:3), pleading (2 Sam 12:16), interceding (1 Kings 13:6) and making requests known (Phl 4:6). There is no mention of repeating mantras in order to clear one’s mind.

So where does it come from?

The practice of contemplative prayer in Christendom can be traced back to the Middle Ages and to Roman Catholic mysticism. Remember the doctrine of sola scriptura was as a response to the propensity of the Catholic church to adopt teaching and practices that were outside of what the Bible taught. In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero references two of these mystics: Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton.

quote-contemplative-prayer-oracion-mental-in-my-opinion-is-nothing-else-than-a-close-sharing-teresa-of-avila-68-59-43

Teresa was a Caremlite nun who, through practicing contemplation, claimed to experience physical pain and sexual pleasure. She practiced asceticism, which was the belief that closeness with God can only be achieved through separating oneself from the world and suppressing the natural desires of the body. She also claimed to have levitated during the Mass.

512bchceteil-_sx332_bo1204203200_

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who (again, in a contemplative state) had visions of himself performing the duties of a Buddhist monk. Later in his ministry he became fascinated by Zen Buddhism, and wrote extensively on uniting the practices of Buddhism with Christian orthodoxy.

What Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:7 that vain repetitions are to be avoided because it’s what the heathen do. Neither Teresa nor Merton were around at the time Jesus is speaking – so to whom is he referring when he says “heathen”?

The fact is that the practice of contemplative prayer, whilst found nowhere in scripture, is found almost identically in the ancient Eastern mystic systems of Buddhism and Hinduism. Kundalini yoga is based around the practice of achieving an altered state of perception through repeating mantras and clearing one’s mind. This has all been popularised through the New Age movement in recent times, and introduced into Christian practice through organisations such as the Emergent church. It is also little surprise that it is rife throughout the ecumenical movement.

wpid-meditate-yoga-picture

So what do I do?

The Bible is clear about God’s attitude towards adopting the practices and beliefs of pagan religions (Deut 18:9-12). If you find yourself performing, or being asked to perform this practice, flee from it. It is right and proper to desire to hear from God, and God has given us all the means of doing so. It’s called the Bible. Read it, asked for illumination as you do. Pray about it. Seek God regarding it. Wrestle with it. Fill your mind with the truth and resist the enemy that would fill it with anything different.

If you are teaching this to people, repent. Those who teach are subject to stricter judgement (James 3:1), and the Bible is replete with warnings about what happens to those who teach false doctrine in the name of God. Repent and turn to Christ, trust his word and come out of new age mysticism before you are deceived any further, and before you deceive anyone else.

Yours in Christ, Ryan.

“The Bible is pretty clear when it speaks to this issue.”

 

“Yea. But the Bible was also used to condone slavery.”

slavery-chains

I can’t count how many times I’ve come up against this argument. It’s the trump card of the liberal atheist and progressive Christian alike whenever anyone brings up what the Bible actually teaches versus what they feel is right. It’s that, because of the Bible’s stance on slavery, the Bible’s moral authority is questionable and can be rejected. This is to be expected from hardened atheists who can neither understand nor want to the full counsel of God revealed in scripture. What has worried me in recent years (since moving to England especially) is the sheer amount of professing Christians who also have this view.

It’s what some commentators have called “Post-Biblicism”. It is the systematic casting of doubt, challenging and redacting scripture in order to make it fit with our own socio-cultural sensibilities. Famous proponents of this have included Steve Chalke, Brian Zahnd and John Pavlovitz who love the phrase “through the lens of Jesus” to describe the process of throwing out all scripture that doesn’t sound like the liberal stereotype they have created Jesus to fit into.

brian-zahnd-post

Sooner or later, in debate with these people, chances are they will throw out something similar to the line at the start of this article, “But at one time the Bible was used to condone slavery.”

And they are right. There’s no doubting that fact. The kidnapping, transporting, enslaving and abuse of Africans from the 15th to the 19th century was indeed justified by some in Biblical terms. As Harvard Divinity School’s Jacob Olupona said:

Christianity was deeply culpable in the African slave trade, inasmuch as it consistently provided a moral cloak for the buying and selling of human beings.

This is a black eye on the face of Christianity only made better by the fact that this evil practice was abolished not by the secular humanists of the day, but by Christians like Wilberforce, Newton, Oglethorpe and the rest of the Clapham Sect.

However, there is a deeper problem underneath all this. What those who argued in favour of slavery did was so convincing (in saying that the Bible condones the practice of slavery) because it is partly true.

The Bible does condone slavery.

slavery

Now it’s important to clarify at this point the distinction between what the Bible condones as slavery, permits as slavery, and what we think of as slavery in the modern day. The issue is still so raw in the public consciousness because the moment we hear the term ‘slavery’ we think about the evil, wicked practice of forcibly taking Africans from their native land, chaining them up in ships, transporting them in hellish conditions and forcing them into labour against their will.

The Bible, contrary to popular belief, condemns this practice quite clearly. The Slave Trade was built on the beliefs that Africans were not equal to their lighter-skinned counterparts through religion (many early sources refer to them as ‘the heathen’) or ethnicity (others referred to them as ‘children of Ham’). However, Genesis 1:27 establishes, right from the first chapter of the Bible, that all men are created in God’s image. This (what theologians call ‘The Imago Dei’) is why we treat people with equal dignity and respect, because we have all been created in the image of God.

Clearer than this is the Biblical condemnation of kidnapping anyone for the purposes of foced labour, Exodus 21:16 saying: Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. This message is reinforced in 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

bible-sunlight

What is clear, therefore, is that the Bible for a time was used to condone the African Slave Trade. However, it was not an abandoning of Biblical authority that led to abolition. We didn’t learn to ‘interpret these passages metaphorically’ or see them ‘as poetry’. No, abolition was not born out of abandoning Biblical authority, but turning towards itBy allowing the Bible freedom to speak from its full counsel into the situation to convict hearts and change minds like only the word of God can do.

400px-mosaique_echansons_bardoSecondly, there is a practice of slavery found in the Bible that is never condoned, but is not opposed either. If anything, it seems to be permitted by God to occur. This was the practice of Rome to take slaves from defeated nations and those in debt. Everything from domestic servants, accountants, teachers, physicians and manual labourers were often slaves. However, there are also records of slaves being expoited sexually (prostitutes were often slaves), subject to torture or summary execution and they had no right to legal personhood in the Roman system. It is in this same system that the majority of the New Testament lives and breathes, and fails to breathe a word against the practice. In fact, slaves are urged to obey their masters in three separate instances, Ephesians 6, Colossians 4 and 1 Peter 2.

This proves tricky for Christians to address because it certainly seems like Paul is pro-slavery here. It’s only in examining and understanding the text in context we get some idea of what is going on here.

The book of Philemon centres around the story of a slave who has escaped – run away from his master and subsequently has surrendered his entire life to Christ under the ministry of Paul. Paul, it is believed, is sending this slave back to his master with this letter (the master’s name is Philemon and we are to believe that he too is a Christian) in which Paul urges the slave to be accepted back not just as a servant, but as a brother and an equal.philemon-18

no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:16

This sentiment is echoed throughout the New Testament where Paul says that both the slave and master have a Heavenly Master who judges rightly and therefore masters are to treat their servants justly, knowing they will both answer to the same master (Ephesians 6:9). In one of the most startlingly counter-cultural verses in his letters he declares that there is no slave nor free among those who belong to Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

So it is clear that the New Testament does nothing to say that slavery must be brought to an end. However, we can see through the counter-cultural attitudes the gospel brings about that God is intending to change this system as a kind of side-effect of bringing people together with him in the gospel. Those who believe the gospel obey their masters, because in so doing they are honouring Christ who suffered for them. In the same token, however, those who believe the gospel treat their workers with respect, knowing that they have been saved not because of their worth but because of the loving grace of God when they too were wicked, filthy slaves to sin. They are both now equal in the gospel.

last-stand

Spartacus tried to free the slaves and it ended in bloodshed. Paul preached the gospel and changed the hearts and minds of the people to honouring and protecting their workers.

The third type of slavery in the Bible is the one that is not just permitted, but openly prescribed by God. Its instructions are found in the Levitical law given to Moses in the Old Testament. This was provided as a way for a person or family to work themselves out of debt. For a poor, nomadic people, state welfare was not as proficiently supplied as it is today. There was no way for impoverished person to feed themselves or their family and therefore they sold themselves (or their family members) into slavery to repay that debt.

redsea

The book of Exodus also contains the clearest example of slave liberation in the whole Bible.

The Levitical law also gave strict rules around the treatment of these slaves. In the surrounding nations, slaves had no rights, not even to be regarded legally as a person. It was not so with the Levitical law. Under God’s law:

  • Slaves were still allowed the right to own property, have a family and be provided for by their masters.
  • They were protected from being killed by their masters.
  • Family members were allowed to be purchased back by their family once the debt had been accounted for.
  • Every 7th year, all slaves were freed among the children of Israel in what was known as the ‘Year of Jubilee’. This protected any slave from becoming enslaved for life.

This kind of service we still find in shadows today in our working lives. Due to the way that slavery is set out in the Old Testament has led many scholars to argue the term ‘slave’ should be better translated ‘servant’. In that sense, ‘slavery’ in the Old Testament was more akin to willing service rather than what we might attach to the term ‘slavery’ today.

After this long explanation, I reach the title of this post. The Bible condones slavery. It does not condone kidnapping, it does not condone forced labour. It does not condone an endless servitude or loss of personhood, because everyone is created in the image of God.

 

But it still condones slavery.

 

A different type of slavery.

fbbd1ee7dee912f7ae2abff905ad79cc

Throughout both examples of Biblical slavery, Old and New Testament, we get a picture of slavery that God actively seeks. God seeks slaves.

 

In Exodus 21:2-6 we get a picture of the Year of Jubilee, where God decrees that all Israelites slaves are to be set free. However, there is a loophole. Say a slave actually loved his master. The text says that the master has taken in his wife and children and the slave is happy to keep them all in slavery under the roof of this “beloved master”. That master would have to take that slave to the judges, then take an awl and pierce the slave through the ear. From thenceforth that slave would remain with that master for the rest of his life. He is no longer obligated, but a slave out of love for his master.

In the New Testament, we get this stark reminder that once we were slaves to sin in Romans 6. What we thought was freedom was actually slavery – causing us harm, abusing us and degrading us and leading us to destruction. Into this picture steps Jesus and pays our ransom – he literally buys us for a fee. The first words of 1 Corinthians 6:20 are emblazoned across our salvation “YOU ARE BOUGHT WITH A PRICE”. We are no more our own than what we were under the lash of sin. We were purchased for the Master. For the King. As Romans 6:18 puts it “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

romans-6-18

Therefore, there is a mark of slavery placed on each one of us. It involves the shedding of blood. The piercing of flesh. The judgment of the One Righteous Judge. That judgment, that piercing, that blood was shed by Jesus himself on the cross, that he might declare his purchase of us not as indentured servants, not as begruding slaves, but as slaves of love. That we might serve Him because we love Him. That we trust Him to be good where all other masters of drink and drugs and greed and self-reliance and lust and pride have let us down. That we not only trust Him for ourselves, but for our families as well. That is serving Christ, literally becoming a bond slave to righteousness, we might find fulfillment and joy. That we can trust Him, and love Him, because He first loved us.

 

The Bible condones slavery. What’s more it encourages it. I couldn’t be happier about that.

 

The freest man on the face of the earth is the one who makes himself slave to a perfect master. – Paul Washer

worship_at_a_basic_conference

Last week a large group from my church went to Spring Harvest up in Minehead. We were unable to go due to a family holiday in Wales, but I’ve been able to catch up with some of the people who went, and the teaching through the videos that have been posted online. The people I’ve spoken to spoke very highly of the worship, the seminars, the social aspect of gathering together outside of the normal setting with other believers. Very few people mentioned the actual teaching, instead referring to a vague notion of ‘unity’. It was only in watching the Archbishop of Canterbury speak at the conference that I got a firm handle on what was meant by this drive for ‘unity’.

And I was appalled.

Please don’t get me wrong. Unity among Christians is imperative. I agree with the words of John 17 where Jesus asks for his people to be one. That is not the issue. It’s what we’re being asked, through vast assumption and little discernment, to be united with that has troubled me. It is clear that what was meant by ‘unity’ was actually ‘ecumenism’.

1024px-te_deum_ecumc3a9nico_2009

Ecumenism is the movement towards unity among Christian groups, however widely understood to mean unity between every group that self-identifies as Christian. I make the distinction because there are many groups and organisations that self identify as Christian and are not. Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two examples. I would add a third, which is where the contention of this issue lies for me, and it’s Roman Catholicism.

Christian unity is very, very important. I cannot restate that enough. The underlying question, however, is what is a Christian?

Is it simply someone who self-identifies as one? Or is there certain criteria we should expect? For instance, we agree that a Christian is someone who loves Jesus. At his speech at the recent Spring Harvest in Minehead the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, suggested such a definition. Therefore, let us use that simple definition for now – that a Christian is someone who loves Jesus.

woman-565104_1920Imagine if I were to sit down and explain how much I love my wife. I am so in love with her I think she’s the most beautiful person in the world. Her long, blonde hair, her tall, slim physique, her penchant for action movies and pre-19th century poetry all fascinate me. I could talk about her all day!

The problem is that’s not my wife. My wife is relatively short. She has shoulder-length brown hair and hates action movies. I doubt she’s ever read a pre-19th century poem since being forced to in school.

So imagine if I were to describe my wife in the first way, then you actually met my wife. You would assume two things. a) I’m lying or b) There is some misunderstanding, and we are talking about two completely different women. Either way, does it look like I love my wife if I’ve got so many details wrong about who she is?

mrafro7___i__m_in_trouble_by_jpsgrfx

In the same way, simply saying we love Jesus isn’t enough. The question must be asked: who is Jesus?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Is he the sole mediator between God and man? 1 Timothy 2:5 or does he delegate that responsibility to his mother, priests, the Pope and saints?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does the Pope serve as “The Vicar of Christ” (the term ‘vicar’ comes from the latin ‘vicarius’ meaning ‘in place of’) or is Christ still active as the high priest for all believers as Hebrews 7 says he is?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Did Jesus die once for all (Hebrews 7:27) or is he to be continually sacrificed in the Eucharist (“The Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely an offering of praise and thanksgiving, or simply a memorial of the sacrifice on the Cross. It is a propitiatory sacrifice which is offered for the living and dead, for the remission of sins and punishment due to sin, as satisfaction for sin and for other necessities.” The Council of Trent, Session XXII, Sept 17, 1562)?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus save people by grace through faith (Ephesians 2) or does he save people after they perform meritorious works? Must the believer then maintain their own salvation through confession to priests and receiving the sacraments? (CCC 1131)

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus regenerate through baptism (section 1215 of the Catechism “This sacrament [baptism] is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God”) or does he do it through faith (Hab 2:4)?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus alone have the power to forgive sins (Psa. 130:4; Isa. 43:25; Dan. 9:9; Mic. 7:18; Acts 8:22) or is the only way to be forgiven by confessing to a priest and being absolved (CCC 1424)?

I hope I have demonstrated above that we aren’t dealing with minor peccadilloes but these differences go right to the heart of who Jesus is. What is being presented in both systems is an entirely different gospel, with different means of grace, different definitions of grace, different functions of the atonement and a different Jesus at its centre.

In listening to Justin Welby speak at Minehead he does address these differences very briefly. He calls them ‘really difficult things’ and ‘the biggest issues’. He does this in the middle of his point that unity is more important than these ‘really difficult things’ and ‘biggest issues’. What is implied here is that “the truth of the One God” and “blessing the other” is vastly more important than worrying about whether or not we are preaching a different gospel. It was at this point that I felt he’d be much happier if he simply tore Galatians 1 out of his Bible.

alternative-how-to-respond-to-criticism-and-judgementalism-6-638

He goes on to say that unity is the reflection of God’s holiness. Saying, “Disunity is sin. We cannot be holy if we’re not united.” In this he seems to be in ignorance of what the term ‘holy’ actually means. In the Hebrew scripture the term for ‘holy’ is ‘qodesh’, which means ‘separateness, apartness, set-apart”. The word literally means to separate. It was given to the portion of the offering that was set apart for God in the Levitical sacrificial law. Therefore, to be holy means to separate from that which is ungodly, or set against God as he is revealed in his word. To say that holiness means unity, even with beliefs that are set against the word of God, is mind-boggling.

Again, I am all for Christian unity, but I hold with Martin Luther who said “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” It is my belief that Welby actually intends for us to commit to ecumenism rather than Jesus. This is no surprise, as he openly tells us that his spiritual director is the Roman Catholic monk Nicolas Buttet, and he openly praises the Catholic mystic Jean Vanier as an “extraordinary image of Christ” (Vanier in his book Essential Writings has previously identified the Hindu Mahatma Ghandi as “one of the greatest prophets of our times” and “a man sent by God” and called for all Christians to “open doors to other religions”). One article from a Catholic source said:

Justin Welby has no doubt that he is a Protestant who prays in tongues, whose religion is a Bible religion; but, thanks to P.Nicolas, he adores Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, goes to confession, and has been on pilgrimage to the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby break the mould that the past wishes to impose on them.

peace-and-unity-e28094-ryle

After all this, Welby had the gall to reference Latimer and Ridley, two of the early English reformers, who were burned at the stake for having the courage to separate from the Roman Catholic church in the first place, as examples to support unity with the Roman Catholic church! So it is clear that, in calling for unity, Welby is asking us to disregard discernment, doctrine and the legacy of people like Latimer and Ridley and so many others who suffered for our faith, and using the dying words of Latimer to do it.

ridley-latimer-stake

I do not feel anger or prejudice against anyone, regardless of religious persuasion. We live in a pluralistic society where I brush shoulders with people of many different faiths every day. However, it is very clear to me in my reading of scripture and understanding of the gospel as passed down to me that no one who follows the teachings and practices of the Catholic church can rightly be called Christian. I believe that scriptures like Gal 1:8 are very clear on that point. I do not say this with any malice, or triumphalism, but with a heavy heart. I want to obey Jesus Christ’s desire that I love people, and in this case I love people enough to say that they are lost and in dire need of the gospel that actually saves.

Justin Welby intimated that the world is dying without Jesus, and that the only way we can show them Jesus is if we are united. The irony of that position is that he is standing alongside, shoulder to shoulder with, people who are dying without Jesus and affirming them in doing so. I would rebut this statement that the only way we can show the world Jesus is if we are united (yes, united) on who Jesus actually is, what he does, and how we can approach him. If we present not just social improvement programs but the gospel. The full, unadulterated gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

Love you all in Christ, Ryan.

I’m an avid Star Wars fan. Ever since watching Episodes 4, 5 and 6 on grainy VHS tapes with my dad and older brother, I was completely sucked in to the mythology and action and characters in a big way. To this day, my pulse still races at the sound of a good lightsaber battle. My ringtone is the fierce X Wing battle from the end of A New Hope, and my message alert tone is R2D2’s trademark beeping. On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle with a pair of Darth Vader cufflinks in my shirt.

1006153_485136288236276_66855930_n

The catchphrase of, “Use the Force, Luke.” is also burned into my memory from watching and re-enacting that scene over and over where Luke pulls down the blast shield and blows up the Deathats-no-moon-1024x640th Star. The Force is considered to be this all-pervading…well…energy that flows through all things in the Star Wars universe. Jedi like Yoda and Mace Windu talk about it as if it has a will, one which is working behind the scenes, through the most dreadful of circumstances at times, to bring about balance.

God is not like this in most respects. He is not a vague energy, nor is he found in all things. That would be pantheism. At the same time, all things are through him, and by him and for him, to bring about his glory (Romans 11:36).

Now I know what you’re thinking: this sounds like Calvinism!

4a3c3e9ddb89babe1ae32689dd958171

And you’re right. It does link with Calvinism. I hesitate to say it is Calvinism, because it’s simply the bare words of scripture. If you wish to argue with it, simply go back and read Romans 11:36 again. Not satisfied? Give it another read. In that one verse is encapsulated the will and activity of God. What in this universe is for him? All things. What is by him? All things. What comes through him? All things. Why? For his glory.

5bd54458bb73efb013a85f4842a53873

In a recent blog post, my friend listed his objections to Calvinism very clearly, and I would first like to address these and then look at the alternative which I feel should not go undefended. I intend to address each objection one at a time.

  1. Double predestination

This is the logical outworking of the belief in predestination. It follows that if God chooses some to save, he must choose to damn others. The objection to this is that it is incredibly unjust (my friend uses the word ‘ridiculous’ also). He posits the following analogy:

If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision?

My first response is to say that the above analogy is unjust because both sons of the father feel they deserve an inheritance. It is expected that the just thing for that father to do is to share his wealth with both his sons. What my friend is saying here is that God owes all his sons and daughters the equal chance at salvation. That is only fair.

bible-neethling-efs1755mm-6232880-oLet’s look at what the reality of the situation is, however. Owing to man’s fall, sin entered into the heart of man to the extent that God never in the Bible describes the unregenerate people as his ‘children’. The paternal relationship of the analogy is non-existent in reality, due to the presence of sin. Instead, we are told that prior to conversion, unbelievers are ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3). It is only through faith in Christ that we become children of God via adoption (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5). The analogy does not work because it assumes that everyone has that paternal relationship with the Father and therefore that God owes them a chance at salvation. The truth is that God owes us nothing, there is no mandate coercing him to offer anyone salvation.

What does he owe us? The concern of the analogy is about what is just for God to do. Therefore, what are our just desserts here? We are told in Romans 6 that the wages of sin is death, and that death spread to all men because all men have sinned (Romans 5:12). In an oft-forgotten piece of scripture, God through the Psalmist tells us that he hates all evildoers (Ps 5:5), this is corroborated in instances in Hosea 9:15 and Proverbs 6:16-19 among others.

bcgrnnqki-1To tinker the analogy then to make it a little more accurate (still not quite there I’ll admit), an old man is beset by two robbers who are intent on destroying him and stealing all his stuff. The old man manages to catch the two men in the act. What does he owe two guilty criminals? He owes them the full penalty of the law. It’s only in letting one, or both, go that he is actually acting in an unfair manner. I would urge my friend to be very careful, therefore, in determining that in offering salvation God should be just and fair, because just and fair means we all get hell.

2. My choice

This is an argument based on my friend’s choice to follow Jesus which can be pinpointed to a particular time in his life. Immediately my thought is that if we place our own personal experiences over the authority of scripture then we are on a slippery slope. The downfall of the modern day pentecostal movement is replete with people who interpret scripture in the light of their personal experience rather than the other way around.

I was speaking to a young person over the Summer who came to me with a problem. This was a very devoted, godly young man, who came to me and said that he wasn’t sure he was saved. Sometimes he felt saved, but at other times he didn’t (this young man attended a denomination with Arminianism at its core). He had spent the previous evening in a worship service on his knees weeping for God to let him know if he was saved or not. Imagine that? Imagine having to come to your Father and beg him to let him know if he loves you or not? Imagine expecting that to change based on your own performace? Yet this was the situation this young man was in.

I will lead my friend who wrote the blog through the same journey I took this young man. “Last night,” I said, “you were seeking God. Would you say that’s correct?”

The young man agreed.

“But if you look at Romans 3:20-21, it says that no-one seeks God. No not one. So how can you be seeking God if God says no one seeks him?”

The young man was stumped, and it took someone else to say, “God is seeking you in the first place.”

The young man left that conversation with a newfound assurance and trust in the Father who loves Him with a steadfast, everlasting love (Jeremiah 31). That anyone who comes to the Lord shall in no wise be cast out (John 6:37). Why? Because as Jesus puts it:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him – John 6:44

The young man, just like my friend, had the perception that coming to God was his decision. Due to this, he had no assurance because he could easily just decide not to follow Jesus and would then not be saved. I had the same perception until I read the scriptures and found that I had only chosen God because the Father had drawn me to Jesus in the first place. What he has begun in me he is faithful to finish, and in that I have such assurance of my salvation. Assurance that lets me sing, “Thank you for saving me, what can I say?” because he is the one who does the saving, not me.

3. Hyper Calvinism

The objection here is over the sovereignty of God in all things. We’ve already seen that my friend places himself in opposition to Romans 11:36 here, but I think we can afford to nuance this a bit.

f20998109ee5b018bc4a438497926e5b

If we consider the example of Joseph, we can see clearly the providence and sovereignty of God in even the darkest of circumstances. Joseph was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, put in prison and left to rot until he was miraculously rescued. Not only this, but he saved the land of Egypt, and his family (the very brothers who threw him in the pit in the first place) from starvation. God, in his wisdom, used even the “free will” sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about their salvation. The brothers willed to sell Joseph into slavery, but in all of it God was working his sovereign purpose to preserve the bloodline of the Messiah that was to come.

viacrucis1_clip_image002_0000

Whose will was carried out that day? God’s? Or the crowd’s?

Jump forward a few thousand years and we see the same thing play out at Calvary. Judas has a “free will” decision to betray Jesus. Pilate has a “free will” decision to have Jesus killed or not. The crowd have a “free will” decision between Jesus and Barrabas. The guards had the “free will” decision to break Jesus’ legs or not. And through it all, every single decision that was made served to fulfil the prophecy God gave through Isaiah some 500 years before. In the midst of such seemingly random chaos, God’s pre-ordained plan was being filled out to the letter.

All things are through him, and by him, and for him. We can trust that, in the bleakest of circumstances, in the hardest of struggles, that God is still working in us his will and pleasure. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. 2 Corinthians 4:17.

Eph 1:3-6 ESV – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

My friend calls this sort of reading scripture “dogmatism”, which is merely a namecalling technique liberal people love to use when they want to dismiss an argument or opponent without having to face the argument. He even likens people who do this to ISIS fanatics who behead children, which would be hilarious were it not clearly offensive. In a rare moment of Biblical appeal, he gives three scriptures which apparently “undermine predestination”. These are

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Which seems to be explaining that salvation is secured through perseverance in the faith.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT CALVINISM TEACHES.

ce97bdc720a01edabee2f71333c44a1a

I’d thank my friend to familiarise himself with the P in TULIP. Calvinism (in accordance with Romans 9:18) teaches that God elects those he will for salvation. Calvinism does not teach who those people are, because it doesn’t know. Rather, the only way we can tell if someone is truly predestined is if they persevere in the faith (1 John 2:19).

The pet complaint against Calvinism is that it paints a heartless, callous God who damns people to hell unfairly. Hopefully, I have addressed some of those concerns in this response, although it’s not intended to be an exhaustive list. I’m always open to discussing and debating finer points in order to get to the bottom of what the scripture actually teaches.

However, I find the God of Calvinism by far more preferrable to the God of Arminianism. I cannot accept a God who might love me today, but cast me out tomorrow based on my performance for him. I find that hard to reconcile with the idea of a good Father. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently become a Father myself, but I know that my little girl made no decision to be born to me, nor to accept my love and acceptance. I will certainly not raise her with the expectation that she is my daughter today, but might not be tomorrow unless she continues to please me. I tremble at the idea anyone could believe in a God like this.

I tremble at the idea anyone could believe in a God who is subserviant to the will of man. Often the charge laid against Calvinism is “Why pray then?” And my response is often, “If God is not sovereign in salvation, why are you praying?” Are we not, in praying for God to save someone, asking God to overrule their free will? How horrifying would it be if the answer came back, “Sorry, I’d love to save the crack addict, the prostitute, the drunkard, the abuser, but gosh darnit they don’t want to be saved!”

Instead, I believe in a God whose mission in Christ Jesus was not just to make it possible for some people to be saved if they want to, but to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). That salvation belongs to him alone (Jonah 2:9) and he is able, beautifully able to save (not just a little bit and wait for us to do the rest, but) to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25) and never cast them out (John 6:37).

I love Star Wars though.