Monday, October 05, 2015

Is The Book of James Against Grace?


I have seen much confusion caused among believers because of a misunderstanding of the message of James in the Epistle of James. Some have glossed over it and made it seem as if James didn’t really say what he said, others have twisted the words of James to mean what they want it to mean, and others have outright rejected the Book of James, teaching or implying that it shouldn’t even be in the Bible.

In Martin Luther's preface to the New Testament, he wrote the famous words, "St. James' Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it." (Actually that appeared only in the 1522 edition. In the 1545 revision it was taken out.)

Is the Book of James against grace?

After all, James uses the word “law” 12 times, and “grace” only twice. He uses the word “works” 13 times, but the name “Jesus” only twice.

He even says blatantly, in James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." And he gives an example in James 2:25, "In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?"

Is the Book of James against grace?

In case you’re getting a little nervous, the answer is, “No, James is not against grace." Two things are important here.

First, we need to understand that James is not just writing to believers.

He is writing to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad”. These were Jews who were scattered around the then-known world, some of whom were now Christians.

You can never understand James until you realize that he was addressing unbelievers as well as believers, some who professed to believe in Jesus, and some who truly did believe. And James, in some of his comments, sort of throws them all into a hopper and mixes them up, and then tells them what’s what. You may not like his method here. You may prefer a systematic Paul, who more logically progresses with his points and makes it clearer whom he is talking to. But God has used James to make some points that no other Bible writer has made.

Second, we need to see the purposes in James' writing.

He was not laying down a theological treatise on salvation, or what we call soteriology. He wasn’t, like Paul in Romans, detailing the makeup of man, the work of Christ on the Cross, and the election, calling and justification of men by grace through faith.

To see these purposes of James, let’s do a very brief review of the Book of James, and comment on some of the issues James was dealing with. There are 5 chapters, and we’ll give each one a title, reflecting the main theme of each chapter. These 5 titles will begin with letters which spell out the word Works. W-o-r-k-s.

Chapter 1 “With Trials Comes Growth”

Chapter 2 “Only Works Show Faith”

Chapter 3 “Rudder-Tongue Steers Ship”

Chapter 4 “Keep Humble, Get Grace”

Chapter 5 “Suffer Patiently, But Pray”

So James is not against grace. But he wants true grace to be in evidence. Not a false or spurious grace. 

He wants to emphasize that when you become a New Creation, there will be fruit that comes from that. When you are born again, something happens. You are given a new spirit, which is the true you, the essence of your being, your very nature…a new nature which loves Jesus and hates sin. 

And when that new true nature of yours expresses itself, there will be good works. And when we walk by the Spirit, some of those works will be seen. 

And it’s all by Grace!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Reflections On Cessationism (The view that certain spiritual gifts have ceased)


I’m saddened by the confusion brought into the Church by the so-called Charismatic Movement. This is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise on the subject, but just a vehicle for setting out some comments I made in a Facebook discussion, with the hope that they may be helpful to someone who has experienced that confusion.

I won’t include the comments of others in the following (you probably can intuit them), but here are a few comments I made:

NUMBER ONE

1. No one I know of says the gifts of the Spirit have ceased in general.

2. Many, however, including me, believe that the SIGN gifts have ceased.

Short reasons (as opposed to writing a book):

a. They were signs/wonders to authenticate the apostles in establishing the New Covenant — see Acts 14:3; 1 Cor 14:22; 2 Cor 12:12; Eph 2:20; Heb 2:3,4.

b. Comparing the true miraculous sign gifts of the Church of Acts with today’s nonsensical gibberish “tongues” and inaccurate “prophesy”, convinces me of the overt deception (including self-deception, sadly) of today’s supposed tongue-talkers and prophesiers.

c. What has been the result? A Trojan Horse brought into the Church to undermine the Scriptures, teaching that FURTHER revelation is needed, through these sign gifts. But all it has brought is confusion.

NUMBER TWO (In response to recommending D.A. Carson, a non-cessationist)

I’ve read Carson, Piper and Grudem [all non-cessationists whom I respect otherwise] on this subject and found them unsatisfying. Here’s why:

What they have proven exegetically, I believe, is that God COULD THEORETICALLY give someone the gift of tongues or prophecy today without violating the Bible.

But so what? The real question is this: IS HE DOING SO?

The answer, I believe, is as obvious as the pink elephant in the room — no.

And the problem with the nice-sounding argument that we must test today’s tongues and prophecies is that the Trojan Horse has swelled to an estimated 500,000,000 “charismatics” in the world today!

And by the time Diogenes and his lantern find an honest man (to use a comparison), and get through 400,000,000 of them, “testing” as he goes, and 400,000,000 of them are found to be phony, he still will swear that there might be a real one in the last 100,000,000!

And all 500,000,000 of them already swear that THEY are the real deal, shouting “shambala donna duego shabeeki”, or “Thus saith the Lord, ‘My people, and you are my people, seek me this day while I may be found, for dark days lie at your door, blah, blah, blah'” and call it tongues and prophecy.

Or to put it another way, I’m not a so-called cessationist because I think God could never theoretically give these sign gifts to anyone ever again — I’m a cessationist because it’s obvious to me that He is not doing so, and has not done so for many many years.

Sorta like He has “ceased” parting the Red Sea.

And though Carson and Grudem mean well, they are merely adding to the confusion.

NUMBER THREE (In response to the friendly accusation that I’m acting as if I’m omniscient on whether sign gifts have ceased)

I admit to a tiny bit of agnosticism on the subject, which is why I repeatedly use the term “theoretical”, but my agnosticism is on the level of theorizing that God might be parting the Red Sea, or at least the Jordan River, at this moment — though I’m pretty confident that tomorrow will show that He didn’t, just as I’m pretty confident that tomorrow will show that no biblical tongue talkers or prophets will cross my (or anyone else’s) path today.

I know these people.

I was heavily into it in the early ’80’s. I’ve met thousands personally, and witnessed tens of thousands second-hand. I’ve heard their “tongues” and heard their “prophecies” and witnessed their delusions as they laid hands on cerebral palsy patients and literally declared them healed while the victim of their delusion sat twisted in their wheel chairs — then brought guilt and shame on the victim because they didn’t have enough faith.

I’ve never met ONE who was not clearly self-deceived, or a blatant deceiver, or often both.

It’s tragic and confusing to the average person in the pew, who often feels superior because he is “Spirit-filled” (AKA tongue-talking) or feels a confused emptiness because he isn’t.

In the midst of the tragic stuff, there is occasionally humor. I’ll never forget the speaker at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s meeting in about 1982.

He declared from the podium, “I yoothed to have a thpeach impedimal, but God healed me.” Even the charismatic crowd had a hard time not chuckling. You could not tell that guy he still had a speech impediment.

And the Trojan Horse confusion marches on.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Proper Christian Mysticism


It is possible (maybe even likely) that as a Christian reading this article, you fall into one of two camps regarding Christian Mysticism:

Camp 1. You think it’s perfectly acceptable to seek God for “a word”, or “a revelation”, apart from the truth that He has revealed to us in the Bible, the Word of God.

You think that “new truth” can be derived about God, or regarding God’s will for your life, by means of meditation, or even “lightning bolt” revelation apart from the Word of God.

You think nothing of carelessly saying, “God told me this or that” (though you might instinctively hedge your bet by asking, “What do YOU think?”, because in your heart you know He didn’t really “speak” to you.)

You point to folks in the second mystical camp below and say, “They’re just nothing but doctrine! Don’t you know God speaks to us?!”

Or…

Camp 2. You despise the very idea of being a Christian Mystic. You think Christian Mysticism is dangerous, and you take the Sergeant Joe Friday (“Dragnet”) view of truth and the Bible: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

You think that the revealed truth of Scripture is strictly an intellectual pursuit, and the more knowledge of that Scripture, the better — automatically.

You point to folks in the first mystical camp who look like fools in their mystical excesses, and say, “Forget mysticism, gimme Theology!”

I Believe Both Camps Above Are Wrong

Before specifying “why”, let me say these things:

1. Many folks would not consider themselves in either camp, but frankly are admittedly confused by the issue.

2. Theology is great. Since Theology is basically the truth of God and His ways, we NEED theology, and lots of it. In fact, we can’t know God without Theology, also known as Doctrine. If you hear a Christian demeaning Doctrine, they know not what they do.

3. Theology is not enough. First, because it has to be CORRECT theology, that is, biblical. Second, because correct theology has a purpose beyond even itself. “Just the facts, ma’am” is inadequate when it comes to Scripture.

Let me show what I mean directly from the Bible itself with three verses from 1 John.

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“…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:3

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” – 1 John 1:6

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7
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Fellowship with Christ is Proper Christian Mysticism

Fellowship (from the Greek “koinonia”) with Christ is something which is alive and active, just like the Word of God itself. The Greek word is also translated “communion”, which gives some more flavor to this unseen spiritual reality.

As Christians, we can go well beyond knowing ABOUT Jesus Christ, to actually “communing” with Him.

But there are some principles for communing with Him, which we can derive from those passages in 1 John.

1. We need to walk in the light, not in darkness. That means we need the truth of the Scriptures! Without that truth, we simply cannot have real fellowship or communion with Him. This is where “Camp 1″ is in serious error. Serious.

Peaceful, mindless “feelings” can be had by practitioners of demonic Eastern religions, or by drugs, or even by spinning around in a circle until dizzy. Obviously that is not communing with Christ.

Fellowship with Christ includes fellowship with the very Apostles themselves (1 John 1:3). How is that possible? Through their ghosts, or disembodied spirits? Of course not. It is through their WRITINGS, inspired by God. Through the WORD of God.

2. Communion implies “communication”, and so it makes perfect sense that as we LISTEN to God through His Word, that we also SPEAK to Him in prayer.

In that sense, fellowship with Christ may be capsulized as “the Word of God and prayer”. When we say, the Word of God, we imply other things: reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and hearing teaching on the Word of God.

Of course, once we’ve “hidden” the Word in our hearts and minds, we have the beautiful BONUS blessing of being able to commune with Christ at will, even when we don’t have our Bibles in front of us.

But make no mistake, it’s not fellowship or communion if we merely “empty our minds”, or think our own thoughts and call it communion. Every thought must be taken “captive to Christ”. In other words, be HIS thoughts, through HIS Word. Then we may interact in prayer — a great privilege, by the way — as we “boldly come before His throne”, cleansed by the blood of Christ.

3. One more thing. Seek Jesus Christ in the Scriptures. It is about Him. All roads lead to Him. Gaze on Him as you take in the Word of God.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

This is proper Christian Mysticism.

Camp 1, get back to the Word, please. Don’t look for “revelation” outside of it. That will only keep you in confusion. The completed Bible God has given us is “sufficient” for every thing for which we need a word from God.

Camp 2, don’t fear communing with the Lord, as though it were some Eastern weirdness. He is in you. We are “one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Our union with Christ is a mystical thing. It goes beyond doctrine, though it never violates it.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” – 1 Corinthians 13:14