The Faith of the Demons

faith2You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

James 2:19 (NIV)

Most overweight people are quite familiar with the cause of their condition. They know the butter-and-jam laden croissants they are about to eat are loaded with calories and fat. They know that the broccoli they shunned in the supermarket would be much better for them. They know which food would be kinder to their cholesterol count, but they consume the dangerous pastry just the same. Mere knowledge cannot help them; it all depends on what they make of that knowledge. The same is true of knowledge in the spiritual realm.

James rebuked those who thought that an intellectual grasp of monotheism gained them a sort of spiritual advantage. If they, so to speak, signed off on a rudimentary doctrinal statement, then they were somehow blessed by God. But the apostle had no patience for such trivialities, noting that demons themselves believed the basic facts about God—that He existed, that He was one. Indeed, they believed this so deeply that they were wracked with dread. But it availed them nothing, for faith is more than cognitive subscription to propositions. Unless the demons worship and obey God, they are condemned.

Incidentally, James 2:19 offers an example of prophetic sarcasm. When James exclaims, “Good!” (“You do well!”), he means it as an ironic “Whoopie!” This is the same tone one finds in 2 Corinthians 11:19, where Paul calls the church members “wise” for putting up with fools, and on Mount Carmel, when Elijah suggests that Baal might be sleeping (1 Kings 18:27). While sarcasm should be used sparingly, it is not sub-Christian and can be quite effective.

It has been said that evangelicals are doctrinal exclusivists, but functional universalists. They say they believe in hell, but their failure to evangelize is just the sort of behavior one would expect from those who believed that all will work out well for non-believers. Lacking a sense of urgency to witness, they show themselves skeptical of the Judgment.

Any number of church members will express disdain for immorality, hope for cultural reform, and faith in the power of God to change lives, but relatively few will act with boldness upon such stated convictions. Perhaps, if they listened carefully, they would hear the voices of the prophets thundering across the ages, “You believe that abortion is evil. Great! So do the demons—and rejoice.” Or maybe the preacher would hear, “You believe that the pulpit is strategic. Wonderful! So does the devil—and trembles.” But what will these saints and Church leaders make of these beliefs? That is the faith question.


The ABCs of Christian Civilization

Many contemporary critics of the faith charge that Christianity is a barrier to progress. Of course, these critics are prone to have a twisted view of progress, one involving moral and spiritual decline. But they also suffer from historical blindness. If they did their homework, they would see that God’s people have been extraordinary agents of social health, artistic excellence, and scientific advance. By God’s common grace and providence, non-believers also do remarkable things, but there is nothing to compare with the consistent, splendid record of the saints. Yes, the Church has sometimes embarrassed herself, as during the Crusades and the Salem witch trials. But the overwhelming weight of good is undeniable—and indispensable to civilization.

Church-Triumphant3A number of contemporary books make this point beautifully.1 Chapter by chapter, they chronicle the contributions of those who have claimed the name of Christ—accomplishments in charity, government, education, science, economics, exploration, medicine, and the arts. For instance, one book presents the reader with a single-page roll call of 30 scientific pioneers, such as Joseph Lister, the father of antiseptic surgery, and James Clerk Maxwell, the founder of electrodynamics.2

It is impossible to do this heritage justice in a brief piece. One way to hint at its breadth is to give two selections, based on an alphabetical listing of first and last names. With little effort, an important figure can be found for virtually every letter of the alphabet. Only the Lord knows which of the following were truly regenerate, but all worked within the Christian tradition and honored Christ in their speech.

First names first: Adam Smith (free-market economist); Blaise Pascal (mathematician/philosopher); C. S. Lewis (author/literature professor); David Livingstone (African missionary/explorer); Eric Liddell (Olympic champion); Fyodor Dostoevsky (author); George Washington Carver (scientist/inventor); Hans Christian Andersen (children’s author); Isaac Newton (physicist/founder of calculus); John Milton (author); Kenneth Scott Latourette (missionary/historian); Leo Tolstoy (author); Martin Niemöller (opponent of Hitler); Nicholaus Copernicus (astronomer); Oliver Cromwell (ruler of England); Patrick (patron saint of Ireland); John Quincy Adams (U.S. president); Rembrandt van Rijn (painter); Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher); Tycho Brahe (astronomer); Ulbaldus Huchbald (father of musical polyphony); Vincent de Paul (hospice founder); William Booth (Salvation Army founder).

And then last names: Dante Alighieri (author); J. S. Bach (composer); Christopher Columbus (explorer); Leonardo DaVinci (scientist/inventor/painter); T. S. Eliot (poet); Michael Faraday (founder of electromagnetics); Johannes Gutenberg (inventor of printing press); George F. Handel (composer); Adoniram Judson (Burma missionary/lexicographer); Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights crusader); Frank Laubach (literacy crusader); Cyrus McCormick (inventor of the mechanical reaper); Florence Nightingale (nursing pioneer); Flannery O’Conner (author); Louis Pasteur (founder of bacteriology); G. F. B. Riemann (founder of non-Euclidean geometry); Harriet Beecher Stowe (author); J. R. R. Tolkien (author); Vincent Van Gogh (artist); William Wilberforce (anti-slavery parliamentarian); Francis Xavier (Far East missionary); Lin Yutang (UNESCO division chief/author); Nicholas Zinzendorf (founder of Moravians ).

This heritage is gratifying but largely wasted if today’s Christians fail to follow their example of vocational excellence. The world may be intrigued by the fact that Christendom once boasted a Bach, a Pascal, and a Wilberforce, but the world is more likely to be convicted if contemporary counterparts to these greats can be found in pews around the world.

 

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Endnotes:

1 For example, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?: The Positive Impact of Christianity in History (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994); D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998); Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001); John Woodbridge, ed. More than Conquerors: Portraits of Believers from All Walks of Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992); Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith: Forty-Eight Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996).

2 Kennedy and Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, 101.

The Theological Freight of a Cult’s Hymns

On a recent mission trip to Detroit, I came across a treasure house of used books with over a million volumes, jammed into four floors and a basement in an old glove factory. I couldn’t resist a visit, indeed two, and among the books I purchased were four on the Jehovah’s Witness faith, one of them a hymnbook.1 A pastor with whom we were working had asked us to do a Q&A session with some new believers, and some had JW backgrounds. So I wanted to study up.

watchtowerThe first three books made the predictable, non-Christian moves, such as those documented in apologetical tracts and flyers.2 But my attention was drawn especially to the song book. Unlike the Mormon version, which draws heavily on traditional Christian hymns, as it seeks to pass itself off as genuinely Christian,3 the JW collection of 225 songs is totally unique as best I can tell, though some have similar names—“Balsam in Gilead” instead of “There is a Balm in Gilead.”

It’s been said that we Christians, particularly Protestants, learn our theology from hymns, such as Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and In Christ Alone. The same could be said of JWs, as these samples show:

Jesus was created and is not eternally divine with God the Father.4 Playing off Hebrews 1:6 (which simply calls Jesus the “firstborn”), Hail Jehovah’s Firstborn! denies Christ’s divinity and renders him a mere creature: “Let’s hail, Jehovah’s Firstborn—God’s Heir he has been made—Who since he was created, His Father’s voice obeyed.” This is the ancient heresy of Arianism. Bless Our Christian Brotherhood references 1 Peter 2:17 (“Love the brotherhood”), and assigns Jesus the humble job of model: “He showed love in real brotherhood, With zeal for righteousness, Set patterns of humility, Of love and faithfulness.”

You are saved by your works. Working from Revelation 12:17, Meeting God’s Requirements features, “If we make straight paths for our feet, With Kingdom joys we’ll be replete.” They like the part of verse 17 which identifies the saints with those “who keep the commandments of God” but avoid the part about those who “hold to the testimony of Jesus,” which includes His divinity and grace. Lacking grace and mercy, JWs need to be spurred to sing Do More—As the Nazirites Did (Numbers 6:8): “Their lifestyle was simple. Self denial was their role . . . Close to God it surely did bring them. Could we too have such a goal?”5

There are three possible destinies after death. Only 144,000 will make it to heaven, but decent, Christ-respecting people, will inherit an earthly paradise, or else be annihilated, for there’s no eternal hell. One of the three destinies is pictured in God’s Promise of Paradise (from Luke 23:43, with Christ’s words to the thief): “A Paradise the earth will be, With eyes of faith this we can see.” Another destiny is pictured in Proclaiming Jehovah’s Day of Vengeance (Isaiah 61:2).

Earthly government has no claim on your loyalty. JWs’ famous refusal to pledge allegiance to the American flag is reflected in Theocracy’s Increase (Isaiah 9:6, 7), in Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order (1 Corinthians 14:33), and in No Part of the World (John 17:16), which reads, “Because our God set us apart, It is to him we give our heart. No part of Satan’s world are we; Like Christ, our Lord, we choose to be.”

A tour through their hymnbook makes one all the more happy that ours includes the messages of Come Thou, Almighty King, Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, and, yes, in our case, America. How fortunate we are to sing praise and thanks regarding God in Christ, the Gospel, the hope of all the redeemed, and the blessings of life in a “sweet land of liberty” where we are still free to worship.

 

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Endnotes:

1 All were published by their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society: Happiness: How to Find It (1980); You Can Live Forever in Paradise (1982, 1989); Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (1995); and Sing Praises to Jehovah (1984).

2 http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952841 (accessed May 15, 2014).

3 For example, All Creatures of Our God and King, God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand, How Great Thou Art, I Know that My Redeemer Lives, Joy to The World, Count Your Blessings, Onward Christian Soldiers, https://www.lds.org/music/library/hymns?lang=eng (accessed May 15, 2014).

4 They have notoriously robbed John 1:1 of its power with their own New World Translation, which calls Jesus “a god” rather than simply “God.”

5 Door-to-door evangelism is a very familiar aspect of their ministry for reward. They undergird this practice in song, drawing on Acts 20:20 (which pictured the rotating fellowship of the early church): From House to House: “From house to house, from door to door, Jehovah’s Word we spread.” They press on, though comedians regularly make fun of them in this connection. Here’s a sampling from http://www.jehovahs-witness.net/jw/experiences/199125/1/Best-JW-Joke#.U2mEIMf8EUU: “Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses get killed during an earthquake? They’re always in your doorway” (Johnny Carson); “What does Hannibal Lector call a Jehovah’s Witness? Free delivery!” (Jay Leno); “Hey, I tell you I get no respect! The other day a Jehovah’s Witness came to my door, and he said he wasn’t interested” (Rodney Dangerfield) (accessed May 15, 2014).


How Many Bible Passages Speak to Homosexuality?

On a predictably regular basis, someone publishes a book claiming that the Bible only speaks to homosexuality in a handful of places and that if those references are explained away, Scripture can be viewed as “open and affirming” toward same-sex relationships. Most recently, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian focused on six Scripture passages that condemn homosexuality.1 Similarly, Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible references five passages that depict same-sex intimacy. In 2012, homosexual bibleactivists produced the Queen James Bible, a version of the Bible with eight key verses edited to prevent “homophobic interpretations.” Before that, Jay Bakker’s Fall to Grace identified three “clobber passages” in the New Testament that are used to “beat people over the head” regarding homosexuality. The list could go on—you get the idea.

But is the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality limited to just a smattering of references? In short, no. All of these “open and affirming” interpretations do violence to the plain meaning of the verses in question, and Christian scholars have demonstrated that to be the case.2 Yet there is a broader issue. Not only do specific passages condemn homosexuality; many of the Bible’s major themes, metaphors, precepts, and commands assume that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the norm. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible leaves no doubt about God’s intentions regarding marriage and sexuality. Consider the following:

– The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:1-6) depended on God’s people marrying and producing offspring for its fulfillment.

– In the Decalogue, the fifth, seventh, and tenth commandments all assume a backdrop of traditional family structure, with a husband, a wife, and children (Exodus 20:12, 14, 17).

– The entire book of Song of Solomon assumes the inherent beauty of male-female marriage. In at least two places, the book depicts a man describing his wife’s female anatomy in admiring detail (Song of Solomon 4:1-5; 7:1-9)—a phenomenon with no homosexual parallel in Scripture.

– In both Testaments, God’s relationship with His people is compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. Whether it’s Isaiah 1:21, Jeremiah 2:1-37, Ezekiel 16:1-63, or Hosea (chapters 1-3) in the Old Testament or Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22-33), the authors of Scripture believed heterosexual marriage provided an apt metaphor for God’s tender care of His people and their gracious commitment to love Him.

– The New Testament’s pervasive references to the church as God’s household presumed that a traditional family structure was normative. In Paul alone, the terms “brother” and “sister” are used 139 times; “Father” is used 63 times in reference to God; and Christians are referred to as “sons” 17 times.3

– The character of candidates for church leadership was to be gaged by the faithfulness of their participation in heterosexual marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

– The relationship between the persons of the Trinity is reflected by the intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:2).

So don’t let anyone convince you that the Bible’s case against homosexuality is dependent on just a handful of verses. Marriage lies at the heart of Scripture, providing the best earthly analogy of God’s passion for His people. When we accept any distortions of God’s plan in this area, we begin to lose our understanding of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.

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Endnotes:

1 For a biblical response to Vines, see R. Albert Mohler Jr., ed. God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2014), http://www.sbts.edu/press/ (accessed May 7, 2014).

2 See, for example, Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001).

3 Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 77.


Work as the Christian Calling—Paul Helm

paulhelmPaul Helm teaches theology and philosophy at Regent College, Vancouver, following his retirement as professor of the history and philosophy of religion at Religion at King’s College, London. In his writing on the scriptural teaching about “calling,” he underlines the significance of human labor for Christians. Daily employment is not “just a job;” it is rather a calling from God to serve Him in the world. Moreover, the Christian is to take pleasure in his work, just as the Creator God delights in all that He has made.

[W]ork is part of a Christian’s calling . . . The Christian is not called to be a workaholic, someone for whom only his work matters. What makes for difficulty for the Christian is that there is not one supreme duty which he has to fulfill but there are numerous competing duties and interwoven relationships each of which claims time, energy and commitment. But one relationship may help another, offering support and strength, as marriage may support work, and work marriage. On the other hand they may compete with each other, and a Christian will have to think seriously about which obligations, in a certain set of circumstances, come first. Ought he to work overtime, or be at home with his wife and family?

The old, misleading, sacred/secular distinction relegated much work to the spiritual margins, but the Reformers taught that all labor accepted as a calling and performed “as unto the Lord” was noble. Grasp of this truth has slipped dramatically both in the Church and the culture.

Work is part of a Christian’s calling, part of his ‘vocation’ . . . [T]his biblical idea has had a profound influence in Europe and North America since the Reformation but has largely been forgotten, due to the eclipse of the influence of the Christian gospel from national life, or has been distorted through ridicule and caricature . . . [T]he Bible gives great prominence to the idea that human lives are lived in the sight of God, and this thought includes a Christian’s daily work, as Paul explicitly notes when he reminds Christians that they have a Master in heaven (Eph. 6:9). It is not that the ‘spiritual/religious’ part of a man’s life must be lived before God, those times when he is on his knees, or reading the Bible, and that the remainder of his life is his own affair. The basic motive for serving other men in work is that one is a servant of God.

A Christian’s work is not therefore ‘just a job’, something burdensome which he attempts to make easier by being slipshod or second rate. It is part of his calling, his service to God. Yet this may at first seem rather ridiculous. How could a person whose job it is to serve dinners at school, or to make parts for sewing machines, or to manage people on a factory floor, be serving God? Is not such language merely religious rhetoric? Is it not pious talk which amounts to little? Such language can merely be pious talk but it need not and ought not to be.

–The BibleMesh Team

Water and Shade in a Thirsty, Sun-Baked Land

On a tour of Jordan, as our bus made its way north from Petra to Amman, the guide kept touting the great lunch awaiting us in the capital with the words, “Many salads!” This puzzled us until we realized that, in a desert region, an abundance of leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, and cucumbers was a rare treat.

desert waterAs we traversed the Holy Land—through the Negev, the Judean wilderness, the Dead Sea region, and even the grassy districts of Jezreel and Sharon—we gained a greater appreciation of much of the Bible’s imagery. If God had settled the Israelites in the Arctic or the Amazon Basin, we would be reading more about the benefits of warmth and dryness, than of blessings particularly desired in an arid region:

Water and Vegetation: Psalm 1:3 speaks of those who are “like a tree planted by streams of water” and Revelation 7:17 promises “springs of living water.” Isaiah points to a day when

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus . . .1
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (35:1, 6b-7)

Shade: In a sun-parched land, we are able toabide in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1); as if in “the shade of a great rock in a weary land (Isaiah 32:2); for

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night. (Psalm 121:5-6)

Of course, each of these features can typify something fearsome. Noah’s deadly flood was made of water, and the Psalmist seeks comfort in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But the over-arching imagery is one of comfort and safety in the presence of water and shade.

Last week, I had lunch with an immigrant from the Middle East, a man who served as translator for our troops in the region. He and his wife have Muslim backgrounds, but they may be coming to faith in Christ. At any rate, they’ve turned to my wife and me and for help in crisis, now that they’ve gotten the frightening word that she has a malignancy and that surgery is imminent.

They’re well acquainted with literal desert, but now they find themselves in a desert of dismay, and I see little evidence that they’re finding water or shade for their souls in Allah or their circle of friends at the mosque. And so, over lunch last week, I took him to the Bible, where we read the “Be anxious in nothing” passage in Philippians 4:6, and I gave my testimony of how God does not always give us bread when we ask for it, but gives us bread or its equal—and not a stone (Matthew 7:7-11).

I gave him an inexpensive paperback version of the Bible and showed him it was okay to mark it up, as I had done with mine. We turned, then, to Psalm 23 where David spoke to those who had received Yahweh as God: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

This poor couple is parched by circumstances, but it is our prayer that they will not only find the water of physical healing on earth, but also the living water of salvation for eternity.

 

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Endnote

1 Some argue, with good cause, that the modern state of Israel has benefited the actual land in her day, causing “the desert to bloom.”