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Taj Mahal 2

I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal.  Some may not know where it actually is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering).  But most people are not really aware of what the place actually is.  The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.”  The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people.  I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth.  Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes.  The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago.  Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.

It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers.  For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to go, much less spend a lot of time.  It’s a rather odd habit to say the least.  Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9).  Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.

Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities.  Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried.  Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use.  In order for a retail outlet to be profitably it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic.  To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often.  Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!”  And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong!  Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which we meet.  If people in your fellowship start thinking of your church’s building as something sacred and requiring special respect and attention, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities.  And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center.  They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.

It’s tragic that as fellowships grow they begin to attract people that try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable; this inevitably means that nicer carpet, furniture, and decor begin to show up.  This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics.  The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities.  In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use and preserving souls through the redemption that is only found in Christ.  The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money!  In case you are unaware, calculated into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks.  Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and decor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years.  In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all?  Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of Christ and his gospel?  Furthermore, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money.  Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest.  So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry.  I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Nevertheless, wear and tear, as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities. This is especially true during the Christmas season, which generally involves a lot of activities where kids are involved and guests come and visit.  A lot of these people are unfamiliar with our policies concerning our “scared facilities.” If we become so focused on preserving our building’s decor so that the visitors coming to our services feel uncomfortable or unwanted—well then you may have prevented a stain from showing up on the carpet, but you haven’t done the Lord Jesus Christ any favors.  Which do you think he is more concerned about, that some one may accidentally break a chair or that they may entrust themselves to him as their savior during this Christmas season? The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people inevitably show up.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014

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snakes beware

 

This past summer I had to get rid of an uninvited resident in our home, which was a 3 1/2 foot snake.  It had lived with us for 3 or 4 years.  How do I know? I know because I counted at least 5 skin sheds in our basement.  I discovered that mice were entering our house through a hole in our external wall that was meant for the utilities.  Apparently a young snake also had crept through it, and once inside it began feeding on a steady diet of mice.  It eventually outgrew the hole; consequently, it became a permanent resident.  If you didn’t know, snakes have a foul odor, leave feces, and would make my wife sell our home if she knew we had one living with us.  Sure, it was solving the mouse problem, but snakes present greater threats, such as Salmonella, viruses, and parasites.  Snakes usually arrive through small cracks, but little snakes become big snakes, and once established they are difficult to catch and cause extensive damage well before it is visually obvious.  A friend helped me to catch it, and later that day he released it into the wild.  Afterwards, I had to remove all the insulation, thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire wall, and then install new insulation.  The entire experience was nerve racking, costly, and messy to say the least.

Unfortunately, there is a serpent-inspired deception that often creeps into Christian organizations and churches. It’s the deception that Christianity’s focus should be on “culture” instead of making worshipers of the Lord (Jn 4.23-24), disciples of Christ (Matt 28.18-20), and proclaiming that salvation is found in no other name than Jesus (Luke 24.45-48; Jn 14.6; Acts 4.12).  I bring this up because I recently received a disturbing email from an “Evangelical leader” explaining that at creation humanity received a “Cultural Mandate,” which she claims is found in Gen 1.28; consequently, the organization that she is president of was to embrace this mandate.  First, it needs to be stated that this is patently flawed interpretation of what the passage actually communicates, or a complete misunderstanding of what the terms “cultural” and “mandate” emphasize, or both.  Regrettably, I’ve seen this misdirection before in other ministries with which I was involved.  This focus inevitably leads to liberalism, which always causes damage in whatever Christian institutions it takes up residence in, and the results are usually catastrophic.

First, it is necessary to address the assertion that Gen 1.28 reveals that God gave humanity a mandate that is culturally focused.  Before doing it is important to define the terms “culture” and “mandate.” When used as a noun the word “mandate” means: “the authority to carry out a policy or course of action”; or when a verb as: “to give (someone) authority to act in a certain way.”  And culture is simply defined as: “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”  With these definitions in mind, it is clear that God did not give Adam and Eve a cultural mandate in Genesis 1.28; he did not tell them to “go and act a certain way,” and to do so in a manner that would be “regarded collectively.”  Instead, he gave Adam and Eve the “Human Commission” to procreate so as to fill the earth, and to properly manage it.  How they did so was up to them, and they were free to fulfill God’s commission in whatever manner they chose, that is so long as they did not break the singular prohibition ordained by him.  In fact, as humanity expanded they were free to fulfill this commission in different ways with different values and methods.  Consequently, diverse cultures are the natural by-products of human communities and their collective free will.  Consequently, God did not give Adam and Eve a mandate to produce a specific culture, and there is a simple reason why his commission did not focus on culture.  God did not focus on culture because it is impossible for humanity to live by the same cultural values and behaviors everywhere on this ecologically and geographically diverse planet.  People in Alaska don’t and can’t act like people in the Caribbean, and people in Afghanistan don’t and can’t act like people in Boston, and people in Sweden don’t and can’t act like people in Venezuela—I think you get the point.  Moreover, communities even have subcultures within them, and they often disagree about what is the best way for individuals to act within their greater societies.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the Bible “mandating” that the world’s diverse people groups behave and act in the same manner.  For example, the Mosaic Covenant found in the Old Testament was to a significant degree a “cultural mandate” that God gave to the Jews while they lived in the Promise Land—now to be clear, it was not just a cultural mandate.  Nevertheless, God did not give this same covenant to the Egyptians, the Chinese, or the Africans.  Were they all obligated to obey the universal moral commandments that God has implanted within the human conscience, commandments that are also codified in the Mosaic Covenant (e.g., do not murder, do not steal, etc.)? Of course they were.  Nevertheless, Gentiles were not expected to implement and abide by the Mosaic Covenant.  Consequently, God has not given to humanity a cultural mandate, and to suggest otherwise is to invite misdirection, deception, and inevitably liberalism into Christian organizations.

Why am I so disturbed by this email, because it reveals that the same liberalism that I’ve witnessed time and time before has once again successfully crept into another Christian organization through its leadership.  The frustrating question is why does liberalism and this type of deception continually slither its way into historically Christian institutions?  It occurs simply because carnal leaders turn their attention from trusting God and focusing on his commission to the church to being oriented towards results and controlling human behavior.  Leaders feel the pressure to produce results, and if spiritual conversion and growth are slow in being realized, then they feel the need to manipulate human behavior in the hopes that doing so will promote a specific type of growth that they envision and value.  And once you start trying to control how people act it becomes necessary to control how they think.  Once Christian institutions or churches begin to bring in leaders who approach ministry in this manner, then liberalism is the inevitable outcome.  It occurs because leaders expect those under them to validate, accept, and disseminate their values, many of which are simply cultural or political in nature, and tragically are scripturally invalid because they are the products of poor hermeneutics.  And people that don’t share or promote these same values are purged from the organization because they do not adhere to the new liberal orthodoxy. Inevitably, the cultural and political values of the leaders become the goal of the organization, even if they are contrary to the scriptures.  Afterwards, a type of constriction begins, in which more and more biblically grounded people are squeezed out and replaced with those that are culturally and politically minded.  The end results are ministries that seek more participants regardless of their spiritual worldview or commitment to the scriptures.  It is then that a tipping point is passed where the participants begin educating their leaders about what they will tolerate.  When that occurs, then the leaders stop leading and become “community organizers” that move to the will of the collective culture of the organization.  They become “servants” of the community rather than biblical leaders.  Once this transition occurs, then liberalism has matured and is entrenched.  The despicable truth is that liberals attract liberals, promote liberals, produce more liberals, all of whom advocate for liberalism, and they reject biblically grounded believers just as surely as snakes eat mice.

God did not give humanity a cultural mandate; instead, he commissioned it with the goal of global population and the responsibility to properly and efficiently manage the earth.  God has not commissioned humanity to think, behave, and embrace a monolithic culture throughout the planet.  And culture is not the focus of the church—its focus should be on the Great Commission. And a characteristic of all authentic believers is the Great Commandment, which is to love the Lord with all you are and all you have.  If Christians genuinely internalized this command, then we will authentically live out the Lord’s love to those around us.  And if the church and Christians passionately embrace the Great Commission and Great Commandment, then we will impact cultures all across our world.  How will this impact look? That depends, but it will look differently in Mobile, in Moscow, in Mumbai, in Maracay, in Mombasa, in Marrakesh, and in Manila.  And even though these cultures will have different behaviors, tastes, and laws, Christians within them will have the same fundamental beliefs, as well as eerily similar ethics, values, attitudes, and behaviors, all of which are grounded in the scriptures and biblical orthodoxy. Our focus should not be on emphasizing and creating a specific culture, but lovingly reaching people for Christ and discipling them so that they worship the Lord, glorify God, and reach others for Christ.  But if we are misdirected by carnal and misguided leaders into focusing on a culture that they believe produces a certain type of collective human behavior, values, and political group-think, then we are being deceived by serpents that have come among us, which is to the delight of the great serpent himself.

snake 1

Paul and apologetics

Was Paul a mystic?  In my opinion Bruce is not very helpful on this subject, primarily because he uses three different definitions for mysticism in his discussion; consequently, his approach causes more confusion than clarity.  If one attempts to employ every possible definition of mysticism to Paul’s experience, then it will be impossible to determine if Paul was a “mystic.”  Therefore, I will begin discussing this issue by offering a single brief definition before addressing this question.

For the sake of this discussion, and against my better judgment, I will use Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary for a definition of mysticism.  One of Webster definitions for “mysticism” is as follows:  2. “A doctrine of an intermediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding . . . .”   My own definition would be “a propensity to rely upon personal experiences of subjective intuition that bypasses the senses and defies rational thought or reason.”  However, for this discussion Webster’s definition will suffice.

For some people any subjective spiritual experience would qualify as a mystical experience since it does not involve the physical senses.  Such a position, however, views the spiritual world as unnatural; consequently any expression of spirituality is viewed as mysterious or mystical.  I would contend that such a worldview is biased simply because it rejects the spiritual world as a reality; thus, it should be rejected.  Any worldview that considers the spiritual realm as “unnatural” or mysterious should be questioned. The bottom line is this, being a spiritually minded person is not synonymous with being “mystical.”

Using Webster’s second definition, therefore, the question is, was Paul a mystic and was his conversion a mystical experience?  I would argue that Paul conversion and his approach to spirituality was not mystical.  For starters one should analyze his conversion.  Paul was converted when he experienced a miraculous event that was confirmed by several real and physical phenomena.  First, Paul and his companies saw a bright light, which was also accompanied by a noise that was heard by all—which Paul understood as the voice of Jesus (speaking in a Hebrew dialect) but those with him either did not understand that is was a voice or did not understand the language that was being spoken (for further discussion see my blog on is there a contradiction in Paul’s personal testimonies in Acts).  Second, Paul was immediately confronted with the loss of a physical sense—his eyesight.  And lastly, Paul regained his sight when Ananias touched him and “scales” fell from his eyes. These scales were physical to say the least since they were seen by others.  That they may have symbolized Paul’s spiritual blindness before he received Christ one can only speculate.  Nevertheless, they were real scales, they were not imagined by Paul.  Moreover, how mystical could Paul’s Damascus Road experience have been if he didn’t fully understand what had happened to him?  In other words, Paul didn’t fully comprehend the experience and identify of who he had met until Annias showed up and explained it to him (Acts 9.17-18).  Consequently, Paul’s experience was not completely understood and appreciated solely by “spiritual intuition” or through a “personal experiences of subjective intuition.”  Instead, Paul’s conversion involved the physical senses of sight and sound that were also experienced by multiple people, as well as being corroborated and illuminated through rational explanation from Annias concerning the identity of who Paul met on the Damascus Road. Clearly, Paul’s conversion was miraculous, but it was not mystical.  What Paul experienced and heard was attested to by others and involved physical events and phenomena.  Consequently, Paul’s Damascus Road experience and subsequent conversion is best described as a supernatural divine intervention but not a subjective mystical experience.

This is not to say that Paul never had mystical experiences—e.g., being caught up in the third heaven.  Clearly, Paul had personal spiritual experiences that defy explanation or confirmation by others.  The question is, however, were those experiences the basis for his theology (e.g., what Paul meant when he spoke of being “in Christ”)?  If one reviews all of Paul’s epistles what will be found is regular references to the Old Testament and appeals to logic and real world experiences (such as the Law was a tutor, and that Jews are freed from the Law just as a wife is upon the death of her husband).  Paul’s theology was not based upon appeals to his mystical experiences.  Does not Paul call our union with Christ a mystery?  Indeed he did, but Paul’s theology of our union with Christ was not based upon his mystical experiences but upon the teachings of Jesus and the promises that Paul found in the Old Testament.  Being “in Christ” in Paul’s theology spoke to our legal standing before God the Father as much as it spoke to our inseparable fellowship with Jesus.  Paul and his theology was a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” experience or doctrine.  Consequently, while there are mystical elements to Paul’s teachings about our relationship to the Lord (I doubt anyone would argue that the union of sinful mortals with the holiness of God is “normal” or logical), that is not to prove that Paul was a mystic.  Instead, Paul was a leader with a vital and intimate relationship with the Lord, who based his theology of the reality of the Messiah as promised in the Old Testament, promises that could be rationally explained and reasonably believed, all of which were ultimately grounded upon the historical event of the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and physical resurrection from the dead.  Moreover, least we forget, Paul claimed to have met the risen Lord Jesus Christ, not through some mystical subjective experience, but in his physical resurrected body (cf. 1 Cor 9.1, 15.8; Acts 23.11).  Consequently, Paul did not appeal to his own subjective experiences as the foundation of his theology, but to the historic fact of the risen Savior.  Consequently, Paul was not a mystic.  Blessings.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2014

Paul writing

There is confusion today concerning how Christians should relate to the Mosaic Law.  Some argue that it has absolutely no place in the lives of believers today, and that we only live and walk by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Consequently, in this blog I wish to address the theological question of how many “purposes” there are for the Law of Moses (hereafter “the Law”).  Please note, that this discussion does not address the “moral law” that God has instilled into everyone (i.e., our conscience); instead, this is about the Law that Moses received directly from God as recorded in the Pentateuch, which is also commonly referred to as the Mosaic Covenant.  I approach this topic with some trepidation since some have different understandings and misunderstandings concerning the “purposes” of the Law.  To be sure, there are many purposes of the Law, but with respect to theological debate of our time, some argue that there are only 2 purposes of the Law, while others argue for 3.  I will attempt to address these issues briefly, which almost assuredly means that I will either be misunderstood or offend someone.  However, no offense is intended.

The First Purpose of the Law

The first purpose of the Law is easy and virtually everyone agrees as to what it was, which is that it was a covenant between God and Israel that provided for the Jews the “legal” parameters of how they would live with God in the Promise Land.  More specifically, it explained how a sinful people (i.e., the Jews) could co-exist and worship a Holy God while living in the land that he had given them.  It is extremely important to be very precise concerning this use of the Law since some over-generalize it, thus leading many into a critical misunderstanding that Law was and still is a means to salvation.  The Law was never meant to provide salvation to those who obeyed it (Gal 3.11, Heb 10.1-10).  Consequently, the Law was a contractual agreement between the Israelites and the God of Abraham concerning how God would permit them to live in the land that he has promised to Abraham and his descendants.  This contract (i.e., covenant) also included instructions as to how they could remain fruitful in the land, a land which God has unconditionally promised to the Jews forever.  Consequently, anyone that attempts to apply the entire Law, or just parts of it, to their lives today (e.g., the Seventh Day Adventist) while living outside the Land of Israel has completely misunderstand this first essential function of the Law.  The Law explained to Israel how they could enjoy the Lord’s presence and his blessings without offending him by their propensity to sin.  Regarding the inevitable occurrence of sin, the Law explained for the Jews what God required for the purpose of providing temporarily atonement for individual breaches of this covenant.  Essentially, the Law was too curb the sinfulness God’s people as they lived in the land with him and were identified as his people; otherwise God’s holiness would require that he discipline an offending generation, and even potentially cast them out of the land (which inevitably happened). For further explanation concerning this purpose for the Law read Deuteronomy 27-34.  Some refer to this function as the “civic” purpose of the Law.  This designation, however, can cause serious confusion since the Law is often described as having 3 parts: a “moral” aspect (identifying sinful acts and godly responsibilities), a “cultic” or religious aspect (identifying how to practice the Hebrew faith), and a “civic” or “social” aspect (identifying civil responsibilities and reconciling legal disputes).  These divisions may help some today understand different emphases found within the Law; however, the Jews in Moses’ day would not have viewed the Law in such a manner. They would have viewed the Law as a whole, all of which would have been morally obligatory.  The Law in its entirety was a spiritual covenant between Israel and God, and there was no “non-moral” or secular aspect to it. Moreover, stating that the Law focuses on 3 different areas of Jewish life has little to do with ascertaining whether the Law has 2 or 3 “purposes” for believers today. The Law’s different focuses within the practice of the Hebrew faith is not germane to the current discussion.  Nevertheless, at the risk of being misunderstood, the constitutional function of the Law will be referred to as a “civic” purpose of the Law, and it was this specific purpose that was the Law’s original function.

A Second Purpose of the Law

Paul identified another purpose of the Law in Galatians 3.15-4.7, which is to convict people of their sin and their need for atonement, justification, and redemption.  In short, the Law also taught Jews (as well as people today) of their need for a savior.  This purpose is at times referred to as the “theological” or Christocentric use for the Law, and on this purpose Evangelicals agree.  The Law was never a conduit for salvation (contrary to what some from the New Perspective may suggest, or others that promote various forms of a “works based” soteriologies).  Paul explained that one purpose of the Law was that of an educator (i.e., a tutor). It teaches sinners of their need for a savior, which Moses himself prophesied would someday come (Dt 18.15).

A Third Purpose of the Law

Whether or not there is a “third purpose” of the Law is where the majority of theological disagreement occurs.  Those who believe there is a third function of the Law assert it may be used as an instrument to educate believers concerning the will of God with respect to specific issues, thus aiding the believer’s ability to experience practical or progressive sanctification (as opposed to positional sanctification).  This third function of the Law may be referred to as the “didactic purpose.”  However, some argue that advocating for such a purpose is a contradiction to what it means to be a Christian.  The argument being that promoting the Law as functional in the life of a believer misdirects them from living by faith in Christ alone; consequently, they deny that the Law possesses any didactic benefit or function for anyone that has received Christ (e.g., some modern Lutherans and Reformed theologians).  Regardless of what some theologians may argue, in order to answer the question of whether there is a “third purpose” of the Law one simply needs to look at the example set forth by the apostle Paul (who originally identified the second purpose of the Law).  For example, twice the apostle Paul quoted a commandment found in the Law (Dt 25.4) in order to provide guidance to believers on matters involving Christian practice.  Paul first quoted Deuteronomy 25.4 in 1 Corinthians 9.9 and then again later in 1 Timothy 5.18.  The issue at hand was whether pastors should receive remuneration for ministries to their churches (hardly a Christocentric or civic purpose of the Law).  The importance of these passages is that they demonstrate that Paul practiced a third use of the Law (whether purposefully or not one can only guess—heaven only knows if Paul would have engaged in this debate).  This practice of Paul demonstrates that he believed that the Law provided insight for believers with respect to what was correct or godly behavior in the eyes of God.  If Paul did not believe there was a didactic purpose for the Law, then he would not have employed commandments found in the Law to teach the church at Corinth or his disciple Timothy what God viewed as appropriate behavior for his people.  He certainly would have refrained from using it if he thought it might promote some twisted form of legalism; thus, confusing believers on how to walk by faith in God.  Nevertheless, Paul saw no danger in employing commandments found in the Law in order to teach believers how they should live with one another and walk with God.  Conversely, Paul never taught believers that they should only seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance concerning matters pertaining to godliness.  No, Paul gladly used the Law to educate Christians with respect to what God expected from them.  Moreover, it was Paul who also wrote that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).  When Paul referred to “all Scripture” he was most definitely referring to the Law, as well as the entire Old Testament, since at that time there was no “New Testament” to which Christians could turn.  Consequently, the Law has a didactic function for believers today, and without question it is an essential aid for helping Christians walk in the Spirit as they seek to obey the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. While the Law can aid us in walking in a sanctified manner, it is not the source of our sanctification, only Christ provides us with positional sanctification (i.e., eternal life and salvation), as well as progressive sanctification (walking faithfully with him throughout our daily lives as will seek to fulfill his will through the guidance of the Holy Spirit).  Consequently, while both the Old and New Testaments teach us about the Lord and godliness, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ who makes us holy.

Doc.

Copyright ©, 2014 Monte Shanks

Paul and Peter 1

Some students have asked me about the confusion between Paul’s early visits to Jerusalem and Luke’s reporting of these visits in Acts.  Regrettably, some textbook discussions of this issue are somewhat confusing.  This blog does not address Paul’s visits that occurred late in his ministry, it is highly unlikely that all of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem are referred to in his epistles or in Acts. Nevertheless, the historicity of the scriptures is an important issue, and we should be very careful of those who suggest that historical errors are contained within them.  Recently I listened to a lecture by Bart Ehrman in which he stated that because of the complexities involving the historical veracity of the New Testament then no one should place a lot of confidence in its historical accuracy of the book of Acts. Consequently, I have put together a brief chronology of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem before the Jerusalem Council convened with the hope of clarifying the specific issue as to whether Paul and Luke contradict one another with respect to Paul’s early ministry movements and his visits to Jerusalem. The issue is not as complex as some make it out to be, and it occurs simply because Luke and Paul use slightly different vocabulary when discussing Paul’s earliest visits to Jerusalem.

Paul describes his first visit with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in Galatians 1.18-24.  This meeting is recorded in Acts 9.26-30.  It appears that Luke’s term “many days,” should be understood to have been approximately 3 years (Acts 9.23 & Gal. 1.18).  Luke’s statement that Barnabas brought Paul to the “apostles” (Acts 9.27) should not be understood to mean that Paul was brought before all 13 apostles (by the number 13 I am including James the half brother of Jesus and Matthias), but only that Paul meet with a few apostles that represented the entire group, specifically Peter and James the half brother of Jesus (note that Paul refers to James as an apostle in Gal. 1.18-19:).  This could be justifiably understood as meeting with “the apostles” because Paul met with more than one of the Jerusalem apostles, and also because in the Jewish mindset a part of something was often considered as sufficient for the whole.  The lack of precision is less than desirable for our modern way of calculating, but it was a Semitic inclination just the same. Paul stated that after his first meeting with Peter and James he left and went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1.21).  Luke confirmed Paul’s destination after leaving Jerusalem, but rather than focusing on the “regions” that Paul went to, instead he focused upon the specific city to which the apostles sent Paul, which was Tarsus—Paul’s hometown (Acts 9.30).  Tarsus is located in the southeastern region of Cilicia. The purpose of Paul’s first meeting was to introduce Paul to a few of the church’s leaders in Jerusalem with Barnabas being the intermediary.  Luke made it clear that during Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem most believers were extremely untrusting of him (Acts 9.26).  Given the suspicious nature of Paul’s dramatic conversion it would make sense that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem would not allow all the apostles to be exposed to Paul in case his “confession” of faith was just an elaborate charade for the purpose of ferreting out the leaders of the young church in Jerusalem.  Consequently, Paul only met with Peter and James.  I would guess that during this brief first visit to Jerusalem (15 days Gal. 1.18.) that Paul asked a lot of specific questions to Peter and James concerning the things Jesus actually taught since Paul apparently had not heard Jesus for himself.  Paul boldly spoke in the name of Jesus while in Jerusalem (Acts 9.28), which should be understood to mean that he preached the gospel and spoke of Jesus as the promised Messiah.  However, Paul was adamant (Galatians 1.15-17) that he did not need to be taught the gospel from those who were apostle before him since he had personally met Jesus and received the gospel directly from him (cf. 1 Cor. 15.8-10).  The church in Jerusalem became somewhat familiar with him as a result of this visit.  However, while the church in Jerusalem had learned about Paul’s conversion to Christ and his boldness for the Lord, other churches scattered throughout the greater region of Judea still could not identify him by sight (Gal. 2.22).  Being that Paul was only in Jerusalem for a little more than 2 weeks, it is understandable why Paul was fairly unknown in the greater region of Judea during the period immediately following his conversion to Christ.

Paul described his second meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.1-10.  It appears that the main reason for this visit to Jerusalem was because of the prophecy/vision concerning a coming famine (Gal 2.2; Acts 11.28).  This visit is also recorded in Acts 11.27-30.  Paul took the opportunity while in Jerusalem to meet with the “pillars” (i.e., leaders) of the church there for the purpose of explaining his ministry and calling, which was to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  Since Paul mentions the issue of circumcision in Gal 2.1-10 it is likely that this topic was discussed, but no official or public decision was made by the leadership of the church in Jerusalem at that time.  Nevertheless, the apostles who met with Paul clearly affirmed his ministry and his understanding of the gospel.  This meeting was not the meeting recording in Acts 15, and we know this because in Gal 2.10 the apostles encouraged Paul to be mindful of the poor, which is not even mentioned in the general epistle to churches recorded in Acts 15.23-29.  The encouragement in the universal letter to all the churches recorded in Acts 15 concerned fornication/idol worship and Jewish sensitivities to animals that had been sacrificed to idols (Acts 15.29); notice, there is no mention about caring for the poor.  The apostles and elders of the Jerusalem Council were essentially calling all Gentiles believers to separate themselves from everything that had anything to do with pagan worship, which would be a natural result of coming to faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord.  Essentially the leaders of the church in Jerusalem were calling gentile believers to make a public decision and stand for Christ.  There is no indication of such a concern during Paul’s second visit with the leaders at the church in Jerusalem, which Paul detailed in Galatians 2.1-10.

From Acts 15.1-29 we learn of Paul’s third meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.  This meeting is not recorded in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.  If this meeting had occurred before Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians then he would have been obliged to announce their decision in his letter to the Galatians, as he in fact did with the church in Antioch and elsewhere (Acts 15.30; 16.4).  However, we find no reference to the decision made at the Jerusalem Council anywhere in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The purpose of the Jerusalem Council was to address the false gospel (Acts 15.1; i.e., a faith plus works gospel) that had arisen within the church by a sect of the Pharisees (Acts 15.5) who claimed to follow Jesus as the Messiah, but had actually contaminated the gospel by requiring obedience to the Mosaic Law (i.e., circumcision).  They were not true believers (which is a major that point made by Paul throughout his epistle to the Galatians with respect to anyone who held to such a soteriology).  The decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was an official universal decree made by the leaders of the church at Jerusalem through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15.28) concerning what was the authentic gospel as received directly from the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24.44-48), which is salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 15.7-11).  The Jerusalem Council did not make attempt to change in the gospel message but to remain faithful to the gospel that the apostles had personally received from the risen Lord.

One important note: the Council’s decision was a universal proclamation of the true gospel for both Jews and Gentiles concerning how one is saved.  However, the Council’s decision should not be understood to mean that Jews should no longer continue the practice of circumcision.  It only meant that circumcision was not a “requirement” for salvation (moreover, circumcision was never intended to secure salvation).  However, if Jewish parents wished to continue to identify their sons as Jews who would participate in the promises made to Abraham, then they could and should have their sons circumcised.  Circumcision was always a sign for Jews of their ethnicity and participation in the Abrahamic Covenant.  If circumcision no longer had any meaning or purpose whatsoever, then Paul would not have had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16.3).  The sign of circumcision predates the Mosaic Law, and was the way the decedents of Abraham to identify themselves before God as ethnic sons of Abraham who were looking toward the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham concerning the land (Covenant Theology notwithstanding, but this would be a debate for a different class).  Some might ask “what about women, how would they make the same identification”?  The way women could continue to be identified as participating in Abrahamic Covenant as Abraham’s descendants would be to marry Jewish men.  Jewish women continue to participate in the Jewish community by marrying Jewish men, and thus perpetuate the Jewish race (some may disagree, but this again would be a different discussion for another course).  Anyway, I hope this clarifies any confusion concerning Paul’s meetings with the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem early in his ministry as documented by Luke in Acts and Paul in his epistles.  The primary take away from this blog is that there are no significant discrepancies between Luke’s history on the birth and growth of the early church and Paul’s personal descriptions about his early ministry movements.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2014

Pauls conversion 2

 

Is There an Absolute Contradiction in Paul’s Testimonies in Acts?

In Acts 9 and 22 Luke recorded descriptions of Paul’s testimonies about his conversion.  What is very interesting about these accounts is that Luke faithfully recorded an apparent contradiction found in them.  The first observation that must be recognized is Luke’s faithfulness to his source!  It is impressive that Luke did not “clean up” this apparent contradiction!  One would assume that if either of these accounts were a fabricated story then Luke would have avoided any kind of contradiction, but he did not.  Consequently, one should assume that Luke has accurately recorded Paul’s description of his conversion in Acts 9, while in Acts 22 Luke actually quoted Paul’s own words.  Regardless, we should not excuse the differences in these testimonies as simply the result of Paul’s summarizing his testimonies to different audiences.  Such a solution questions or marginalizes the doctrine of inerrancy.  That being said, in Acts 9 Luke only recorded a summary of Paul’s conversion, he did not record an actual verbal description given by Paul.  This second observation, while minor, will be addressed below.  The passages in question may basically be translated as:

Acts 9.7: “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one.”

Acts 22.9:  “And those who were with me saw the light, but the sound they did not hear of the One speaking to me.”

What first must be explained is that the words in italics parallel one another in the original Greek.  Consequently, one could level the charge that a contradiction has occurred.  However, just because the words in both verses are the same does not demand that they must have the same exact meaning every time they occur.  This is a common occurrence in both the Greek and English languages when dealing with words that often have multiple meanings and/or nuances.  Consequently, charging that a contradiction has occurred is tenuous at best.  An absolute contradiction would have been if Luke had only recorded the following:

Acts 9.7: “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one.”

Acts 22.9: “And those who were with me saw the light, but they heard no sound.”

But this is not what Luke wrote.  At this point the possible meanings of the Greek word “akouw” must be addressed.  This word maybe translated with 3 basic meanings, they are: to hear, to listen, and to understand.  An excellent verse for understanding the nuances of this word can be found in Matthew 13.13, which may be translated:

“. . . and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (NASB)

In this verse the words “hearing” and “hear” are both the same Greek word, which again is “akouw.”  Clearly Matthew meant something more than “hearing they do not hear.”  It is impossible to be both hearing and not hearing at the same time.  Consequently, this verse can be translated as “. . . hearing they did not hear or gain insight,” or “. . . hearing they did not listen or gain insight,” or finally “. . . hearing they did not understand or gain insight.”  All the words in italics are the same exact word in Greek; i.e., “akouw.”  Consequently, it is obvious that in different contexts this word has differing nuances, and thus at times should be interpreted differently.  More importantly, in Acts 22 Luke recorded additional data provided by Paul which should influence how we should understand what Paul meant.

In Acts 22.9 Luke recorded Paul as testifying that those who were with him did not “hear the sound of the one speaking to me.”  The word in italics in Greek is “phwne,” which can be translated as “sound, noise, or voice.”  This word is used in Acts 9.7 to refer to the “noise” that was heard by those who were present with Paul, as well as in Acts 22.9 to refer to the “noise” that those who were present with Paul either did not hear or did not understand.

Consequently, the great debate is this, could these witnesses have possibly heard the sound of the Lord speaking to Paul but did not understand that someone was speaking to Paul?  The answer is emphatically yes, and there is an excellent example of this same type of event occurring in John 12.27-30.  In this passage some of those who were with Jesus “heard” (i.e., akouw) a “noise” (i.e., phwne) but did not understand that it was God who was speaking to Jesus.  They heard the sound of God’s voice but they did not comprehend the fact that it was God speaking directly to Jesus!  This raises the question, why would Paul’s companions not have understood that someone was speaking to Paul?  The answer might be because of the language of the speaker!  In Acts 26.14 Paul provided additional data concerning the event, stating that the voice spoke in a “Hebrew dialect.”  First, we know nothing about Paul’s traveling companions; consequently there is nothing that demands that they were not Greek speaking Jews who did not understand Aramaic.  Additionally, it is just as possible that Jesus actually spoke to Paul in Hebrew rather than Aramaic (Paul being a well-educated Pharisee would have been proficient in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Septuagint).  Consequently, I argue that Paul’s traveling companions heard the sound of someone speaking to Paul, but they did not understand what was said because they did not understand the language of the one who was speaking.  Observing this phenomenon, raises the question, have translations such as the NIV provided an accurate interpretation of the passages in question?  The NIV translates these passages as:

Acts 9.7:  “. . . they heard the sound but did not see anyone.”

Acts 22.9:  “. . . but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.”

I would argue yes, in this case the NIV has correctly translated the words in these passages to fit their particular contexts.  Obviously some would disagree, but regardless of their objections there is adequate information to reject the charge that an absolute contradiction has occurred in Paul’s conversion accounts found in Acts 9 and Acts 22.

Doc.

Copyright © 2014 Monte Shanks

Paul and Barnabas

Paul’s Missions Strategy

Reading and researching Paul’s missionary journeys also provides insight into his approach and strategy for the church’s mission.  Missions should be at the heart of every church.  It is not the only focus of the church; but nonetheless, a church that has little concern for missions is a church that knows little about the Lord Jesus Christ.  If one wishes to know how to go about the task of missions then one only need to look at the church’s first missionary, the apostle Paul.  This blog will predominantly draw from Paul’s own approach to missions as described by him in his letters and as found in the book of Acts.  It will first identify his goal, and then his message, and then lastly it will attempt to briefly explain his method.  First, everyone should understand that Paul became a missionary in response to the Lord’s call on his life, which is described in Acts 9.15-16; 26.15-19.  The Lord chose Paul to be an international ambassador for the gospel so that he would reach Jews, Gentiles, and global leaders of his time.  Consequently, everything Paul did was in obedience to the Lord’s call upon his life.  So with that in mind let’s first look at Paul’s goal.

Paul clearly stated his goal in Roman 15.20, which was to take the gospel to places where it was previously unknown.  Regardless of what anyone else may tell you about what the mission of the church is, if the clear proclamation of the gospel where it has not been heard is not the primary and ultimate goal of any missionary organization, then it is not really doing missions.  It may be doing other great things in Jesus’ name, but it is not doing missions.  Regrettably, some institutions and organizations like to call themselves “mission organizations” because by doing so they find it easier to raise funds, but in reality they are not actually doing missions.  Taking the gospel to the unreached people groups around the world is the heart and goal of the mission of the church.  Does the church have other important “ministries,” yes, but disseminating the gospel throughout the world is the “mission” of the church.  Moreover, only the church has been commissioned by the Lord to complete this task.  No other human agency or institution has been called to this most holy endeavor.

This raises a most essential question: which is what is the gospel—more specifically, what is the gospel message (and to be clear, we are not referring to the gospel’s impact, but the essential components of its message).  Quite simply Paul understood that the gospel message was the news of the physical crucifixion and bodily resurrection from the dead of the Son of God—the Lord Jesus Christ—for the forgiveness of sin and the reception of eternal life with God the Father (1 Cor 1.23, 2.2; 2 Tim 2.8-10).  This message was to be received and internalized by Paul’s hearers simply through repentance and placing one’s personal trust in the living Savior (i.e., by faith alone). Thus we have both Paul’s goal and his message. Now we come to his method or strategy for fulfilling his calling.

Paul’s calling and strategy was to preach the gospel (1 Cor 1.17), and to do so simply, clearly, and without pretense, gimmicks, human sophistication.  Paul stated that the gospel itself was the power of God for the purpose of saving people (Rom 1.16-17), and that to preach this message via the impulse of human ingenuity or sophistication would actually diminish its capacity to affect salvation into the hearts of those listening to its message (1 Cor 1.17, 2.1-5).  Paul stated that Jesus had called him to reach those who had no hope of hearing the gospel unless he went to them, and that Jesus had called him to do so by the method of preaching.  In other words, it was Jesus who chose the foolishness of preaching in order to reach the lost (1 Cor 1.22-29).  Preaching was not Paul’s chosen method, it is a method ordained and commanded by Christ.  Lastly, Paul also knew it was important that having preached the gospel, and having gathered a community of converts, that it was then essential for them to remain faithful to gospel that they had received from him (Gal 1.6-9; 1 Cor 11.1-2, 23-26).  In other words, Paul was not in the business of evangelizing the lost and establishing churches, only to see them corrode into community organizations that were free to lose their focus and become social outreach centers for their community’s greater good (e.g., YMCA).  They were to remain faithful to Christ their savior and to his gospel.  Paul was so serious about this that he constantly did follow up with the churches that he had planted.  He was not a traveling evangelist that barnstormed one town for a week and then was on to the next—never to be seen or heard from again.  Constant follow up and oversight for the purpose of fidelity to the Lord and his message was an essential part of Paul’s strategy, and why this was important will be explained in further detail below.

Another important aspect of Paul’s strategy was adapting himself to the cultures that he engaged—that is within reason.  Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23; his point was that he did not require pagans to act like Christians or Jews before he explain the gospel to them.  An excellent example of this is seen in Paul’s interaction with the philosophers of the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17.16-34).  What makes Paul’s engagement in Athens such a significant model is that while he adapted his dialogue to his audience he never compromised the essential elements of the gospel.  The salient point is Paul never expected the lost to act like him (i.e., like a devote Christian).  Instead he accepted them where they were.  Nevertheless, neither did he enter brothels, pagan temples, or dens of iniquity in order to reach the lost (this is what I meant by “within reason”).  Paul never engaged in sin or enabled others to sin in order to reach them for Christ.  Paul never acted like a sinful pagan in order to reach pagans. Did he love them—yes, but he never acted like them at the expense of personal convictions and holiness.

Additionally, Paul knew it was important that as he entered new mission fields that he was not a financial burden to those he was attempting to reach.  In other words, he did not hit them up for money, nor did he immediately require them to give their money away (1 Cor 9.18; 2 Thes 3.6-8).  Paul understood the importance of not building unnecessary barriers between himself and those he was seeking to reach.  Consequently, he modeled an industrious life of self-support while walking in devotion to the Lord and trusting that the Lord would provide for his daily needs.

Another extremely important element of Paul’s strategy was partnering with others in the work of missions (Phil 2.19-22; 2 Tim 2.2; Acts 20.2-4).  Paul’s most well know disciple and partner was Timothy, but there were many others (e.g., Barnabas).  Paul knew that the Lord had called the leaders of the church to make disciples (Matt 28.18-20).  He also knew that Jesus informed him that he would inevitably suffer for the sake of the gospel.  Consequently, Paul knew that one day he would be gone, so it was important for him to train (2 Tim 2.22) and partner with other gifted men to take up the mission of the church after his departure—and Paul’s letters are littered with dozens of references to those he partnered with and trained for the task of fulfilling the church’s mission.  This leads us to recognize another essential partner that Paul enlisted in the task of missions, which were local churches.  Some were churches that he was instrumental in planting (Phil 4.10-18; 1 Cor 16.6, 17), others were not (Rom 15.22-24).  Nevertheless, Paul knew that if a church was to be faithful to her Lord and Savior then she must be committed to global missions for the purpose of reaching the world with the saving message of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly Paul did not suffer from a “lone ranger” complex, but strategically trained others and partnered with them in order to have a greater impact for Christ.  Paul’s partnership with these local churches was predominantly comprised of constant prayer, financial support, and men and women who were commissioned to assist Paul as he went out on their behalf in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Consequently, an integral part of Paul’s strategy was to instill within all local churches a passion for missions and a sacrificial partnership with him as he went proclaiming the gospel.  Moreover, this partnership with Paul could only endure and prosper as these churches remained faithful and committed to the gospel message as identified above.

And lastly, as one traces Paul’s 3 missionary journeys it becomes obvious that he was incrementally attempting to fulfill his specific calling from the Lord Jesus Christ to take the gospel to Rome (Acts 9.15: notice that whenever Paul began a mission trip it was always with the intent of heading west).  Since Paul was also called to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles he usually entered synagogues and first proclaimed the gospel there, and then as converts came and opposition arose he would see to it that unified fellowships would be fostered, and from these groups local churches would be established.  Paul knew that he was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2.7-8), but Jesus had called him to reach Jews as well.  Consequently, when he entered a new city he first engaged audiences that already possessed the best pre-understanding of the theological construct of his message (i.e., Synagogues containing Jews, proselytes, and Gentile “god-fearers” that embraced monotheism and the belief in a personal God).  The mission principle here is to always try to find or develop a common point of contact that will assist you in the goal of communicating the gospel.  Nonetheless, while Paul did all these things he did so on his way to Rome, to the heart of power of the entire empire (Rom 1.13-15, 15.20-21), just as Jesus had called him to do (Acts 9.15).

This brings us to one aspect of Paul’s missionary strategy that is not necessarily universal for all mission endeavors.  As you map Paul’s incremental advance westward toward Rome he made it his aim to engage multicultural urban centers of influence, commerce, and important travel corridors.  While this was an extremely productive strategy for Paul, the church is called to take the gospel throughout the world, which means that often it will be necessary to engage cultures that are primitive, isolated, ethnocentric, and polytheistic.  Reaching these people groups will take greater time, expense, and endurance, but this will be unavoidable if Christ’s commission to the church is to be fulfilled—just as the Lord predicted it would be (Matt 24.14).  That being said, an important approach of effective missions is strategically penetrating urban intersections where cultures comingle so that the gospel of Christ can be efficiently disseminated throughout the world.

There is one last point, which should be assumed but often it is not, which is that everything Paul did he did out of a love for Christ and a love for those he sought to reach (2 Cor 5.14).  Paul knew of Jesus’ great love for the world, and because of Paul’s great love for the Lord he sought to reach others with gospel.  Virtually everything that Paul did—his preaching, his teaching, and his ministry—he did with a love for Christ and a love for those he was trying to reach.  For Paul there was no other way to engage in ministry other than with a heart filled with love (1 Cor 12.31-13.3).  Paul believed it unimaginable to do anything in the name of Christ without love for those he was trying to reach.  Some do ministry out of a desire for fame, while others out of a desire for control, authority, or simply out of a sense of duty.  Paul would have found such motives contrary to the example set by the Lord.  There are others who think they have to demonstrate love to others before sharing the gospel with them—the thinking is that we have to “earn the right to be heard.”  The problem with this mentality is that sharing the gospel is by definition an act of love.  We do the lost no favors by delaying our proclamation and explanation of God’s love for them.  And no one can confess love for Christ if they are tardy, passive, or ashamed of the message that He so passionately wants us to spread abroad throughout the entire world.  The bottom line is that we don’t need permission to share the message of God’s love as found in Jesus Christ since the Lord himself has commissioned us for this very purpose.  Thus, sharing the gospel is by definition an act of love.

This was Paul’s strategy for missions in a nutshell.  I wish this blog was shorter, but this was the best I could do.  I hope you will also embrace Paul’s passion for missions, as well as instill it into every ministry with which you partner.  Blessings.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2014