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11 December 2006

Presumption

Heb. 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”


Deut. 17:8 & 13, “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;.... And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.”


Num. 15:30, “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.”


It is a dangerous thing to sin against God presumptuously. Presumption, as a sin, stems from pride, insolence, and arrogance. It is total rebellion against God and His appointed leaders.


The above scriptures offer us a glimpse of the predicament of those who sin willingly against God. Presumption is the idea that “I know more about how to do this than God and so I’ll do it my way,” or “I don’t care what God (or the man of God) says, I’m going to do this my way.”


Therefore, Presumption can be partially defined as arrogance and rebellion against God.


Moses was writing that it would be better to sin through ignorance than to sin willfully against God. The reason for this is that a person who sins willfully will be cut off from God and the people of God, which implies that the presumptuous sinner will have to live with the results of his sin no matter how often he tries to repent. The sin might be forgiven but the effect will continue because the sin was accomplished through rebellion and forethought. It was done presumptuously.


It might even be said that the person who sins presumptuously reproaches God to the point of committing blasphemy and thus his soul is cut off from salvation because of his blasphemous behavior. This is why it is necessary for the people to “hear, and fear.” They need to know that presumption will not be countenanced.


Peter identifies two traits that accompany the sin of presumption: "...them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled..." (2 Peter 2:10).


Christians who willingly sin are bringing a reproach against God and His Church. This is dangerous business because God “will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.” (Ps. 103:9)


While God’s grace and mercy might allow some latitude for those who are weak or need to grow in the grace of God it is a mockery to think that God will allow presumption indefinitely.


The New Testament speaks of the responsibility of the leaders that God places over us. These individuals are given a job that has eternal consequences for the saint. We must be careful to obey the man or woman that God has placed over us to protect us from the enemy of our soul. Paul knew what it was like to have to share a sad tale of men who willingly sin against God and bring reproach upon the name of Christ. He also knew the eternal effect of such behavior and wanted to warn against such eternal damnation.


Presumption is a dangerous thing and we must make certain that all actions are done in accordance with God’s plan and not our own insolent prideful rebellion. This is why the commandment reads, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).


The very idea of doing something in the name of God without having the authority to do so is presumption. The scriptures are clear concerning the fate of presumptuous sinners. Men like king Saul, king Uzziah, and Uzza were guilty of different aspects of the sin of presumption and each was punished for their sin.


Even those who speak as the prophets of the LORD should be careful that they don't sin after this fashion: "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him" (Deut. 18:22).


This is especially important for us to understand in our day when the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit are claimed by so many. John was wise in his advice to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).


Remember Joab, at the end of his life he attempts to escape judgment and death by grabbing hold of the horns of the altar, but Solomon commanded his death. This may bother us when we consider the mercy of God, but Solomon had a responsibility to be obedient to the Word of God, which states, "But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die" (Deut. 18:22). Joab was certainly in violation of the Law because he sinned presumptuously in the murders of Abner and Absalom.


The New Testament is viewed by many as the dawning of an age of unmerited favor and mercy, but ask those two presumptuous sinners -- Ananias and Sapphira -- about their experience (Acts 5:1-11).


Earlier, it was mentioned that presumption runs pretty close to blasphemy. The reason for this is that the KJV records the psalmist's following words, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Ps. 19:13).


I echo his prayer, "God, keep us all from presumptuous sins."

07 December 2006

The American Jesus


I listened to a lecture a few months ago by Dr. Richard Wightman Fox, the author of Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, who spoke on the diversity of images present in our American culture relative to Jesus. I thought it was fascinating that he would state at the beginning of the presentation that everyone in America has a “Jesus experience” in some way or another, regardless of their system of belief they are aware of Him and have a mental image of who He is/was.

His focus on Christians in America was also revealing because he used statistics to prove how America is still a predominantly Christian nation. According to Fox:
  • 80% of Americans say they are Christian
  • 70% of Americans say the Jesus is divine
  • 40% of Americans claim to be born-again and go to church every week
  • 80% of Americans say that religion is important to them
Fox then made the comment that America is unique among Canada and Europe because their statistics in these areas are half of what ours are, and in order to understand the culture of America we must also understand our American view of religion and the influence religion has had in our nation.

Since religious diversity/tolerance in America is growing, people of varying backgrounds have a wide variety of opinions about Jesus, but, among Christians, the religious experiences with Jesus in America are intense, direct, and profound. According to Fox, Protestants and other Christian groups (i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostals, Apostolics, and Mormons) place great emphasis on revisiting their original experience with Jesus. This is especially true of those Christians who emphasize being “born-again,” because of the intensity of connection in that first contact with Jesus.

Another point of interest for Americans is the continued growth of the Muslim community in this nation (about 1 million at present). However, because Jesus plays such an important role in our nation, American Muslims place more emphasis on Jesus here than in other nations.

Fox also reminds us that the first Christian images of Jesus to enter into this culture were from the Spanish and French Roman Catholic missionaries, not the Protestants. Modern images of Jesus in America stem from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Hollywood, labor, and Muslim sources.

Fox says, “Christian faith renews itself by being critical of its self.” I think that one area of criticism that Christians need to look at is the increasing commercialism of Jesus in our culture. Music, fashion, art, literature, and even travel industries have been honing in on Christians through advertising at an unprecedented level over the last few years. This attempt to market Jesus in an economically productive manner has the danger of diminishing the influence of Christianity in America as it becomes less Christian and more like the world.

Does Jesus “unsettle all our settled ways of thinking,” as Dr. Fox believes, or do Americans use Jesus to justify and support their various causes and positions? I think that in an attempt to get to the heart of the matter we need to be honest with ourselves and realign our perspective of Jesus with the Bible, because, while the American Jesus is a cultural reality it is not a biblical one.

05 December 2006

The Fundamentals of New Testament Faith and the so-called post-apostolic fathers

Some time back I interviewed a Roman Catholic priest from an Evansville, IN, parish for some research I was involved in. When I asked him what the Roman Catholic Church followed as a "plan of salvation" he quickly replied that the RCC follows "the apostolic tradition of the 3rd century." Since I know that the Church began in the 1st century and was firmly established on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the Chief cornerstone this puzzled me.

So, here are a few of my thoughts on the the so-called post-apostolic fathers and the fundamentals of our faith. I know it may be odd to begin my first post on this topic, but it is what I've been working on today.

There were a number of men listed in books who are registered as having been a part of the post-apostolic era, but for this exercise I'll take a synoptic view of only five of these men and their doctrine in comparison to the true orthodox practices of the early church in the New Testament. The "post-apostolic fathers" I'm referring to are Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Justin (Martyr), and Hermas.
 
The fundamentals of our faith are based solely on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the twelve Apostles (referred to as the "
Apostles' Doctrine"), which includes total adherence to Acts 2:38 as the only plan of salvation and a biblical understanding of the oneness of God (monotheism). The Apostles' Doctrine then must be followed to be a true Biblical Christian, which is:
 

  1. Repentance.
  2. Baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ.
  3. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost evidenced initially by speaking in tongues as the Holy Spirit gives the ability to do so.
  4. The Oneness of God.

Any deviation from the original teachings and practices of the Church at Jerusalem is an obvious rejection of the true message of Christ and not in accordance with the true orthodox Christian Church of the New Testament.
 
Repentance as practiced by these men was largely based on works since they do not appear to have any real understanding of the true spiritual significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They did not understand the concept of justification by faith and were constantly looking towards martyrdom as a way to assure their place in heaven. These men also began to buy into the idea that repentance could involve confession to a priest. This is in direct contradiction to the scriptural teaching on repentance. We need only go to Jesus Christ in prayer to find forgiveness of sins.
 
The doctrine of water baptism was also perverted at this time. The writings of Clement would cause one to believe that these men taught baptism in name of Jesus Christ, but further studies show this to be incorrect because Justin began the formation of what became the trinitarian formula. Prior to this, the early Church baptized only in the name of Jesus Christ (as they had been taught by Jesus and the Apostles). Besides using the wrong formula for baptism, it also appears that at this time immersion began to be replaced by pouring water on the head, sprinkling, and even infant baptism. Such disregard for the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles should reveal something about the true nature and feeling these men had for Jesus Christ.
 
As far as the speaking in tongues is concerned, it is evidenced by different books and writers that none of the so called post-apostolic fathers wrote about or stressed the importance of receiving the Holy Ghost with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues. This leads us to believe that in this area they had thrown away the doctrine of the Apostles and most importantly the teaching of Christ. These men covered many different subjects in relation to the Church (like eschatology, responsibilities of the bishops, and so on), but never spoke of the gift of the Holy Ghost or speaking in tongues, as far as I have found. Without this experience in their lives they could not truly say that they were adherents to Christ or even Apostolic in doctrine.
 
From the many quotations taken from the writings of these men, we understand that they did not have a true understanding of the oneness of God and thus were not strict biblical monotheists, but rather tri-theists, or dualistic, in their understanding of God. Although it is highly improbable that these men used the word “trinity”, their thinking on the matter was evidently a primitive form of what came to be known as trinitarianism.
 
Because of their total disregard for the scriptural mandates of the Word of God as to salvation, we must deduce that the post-apostolic fathers did not truly believe that the Word of God is the final authority. They were already at ease with changing what God had established as the plan of salvation for all mankind.
 
I think it is safe to say the post-apostolic fathers are not extensions of the true Church, but rather they broke off with the teachings of the Apostles almost from the moment that the last Apostle died. These men did not follow any of the fundamentals of faith and because of their lack of obedience to the Word of God, their personal faith in Christ is suspect and without any real credibility. I find it quite sad that many believe that these men were in some way a part of the heritage of the Apostolic doctrine. These men are a stain on the pages of Church history and helped to bring many to apostasy and heresy by their doctrine, not the Apostles' Doctrine.