Theology sometimes can be very difficult to study, but it even becomes worse, when a student possesses a bad attitude about the subject! So what is Ira Pointer to do, when he is asked at his seminary to teach a private study with a young man who has a rotten attitude about it all, and the subject, as assigned by his advisor, is a view of a theology that he is very militant to defend? Such is the problem that Ira meets---a study with a recalcitrant student to teach him not only the questions concerning dispensationalism, but also a conciliatory attitude on the subject of prophecy, lest he graduate from seminary and tear a church or two apart over the teaching and defense of his favorite subject of dispensationalism, just because of a rotten attitude.You may obtain the book here.
But then in the process of the course, the young man becomes a mystery, as Ira is kidnapped, beaten, stalked and threatened by someone, and he doesn't know who his assailant is. Could it be that the very student he is trying to teach and help is his tormentor? And why would someone carry on such a vendetta against Ira? Thus, it takes all the energy and thoughts of both Ira and Dink to seek to solve this mystery, and when they do, they are totally shocked as to who was behind it all and why!
Friday, February 19, 2010
I am pleased to announce that Dr. Belcher's latest theological novel, A Journey in Dispensationalism, is now available. Here is the description from the Richbarry Press website:
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Following is an overview of what has been commonly called "the Lord's Prayer." Actually, however, it may be best to call Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17 "the Lord's Prayer," because it is one of the best examples we have of an actual prayer of the Lord Himself.
I think this prayer might better be called "the Disciples' Prayer," because it is a model prayer given by Jesus for His disciples to pray. But, alas, it has been called “the Lord's Prayer” for so long that there is little chance of changing it.
At any rate, we will proceed with our overview of the Lord's Prayer under two main headings: 1) the context of the prayer, and 2) the content of the prayer. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from the New King James Version.
I. The Context of the Prayer
Matthew 6:9a "In this manner, therefore, pray ..."
First, the word therefore tells us that Jesus is offering a model prayer in response to the kind of praying He has already discussed in verses 5-8. If prayed sincerely, it avoids both of the errors He has already pointed out there:
1) It avoids the selfish praying of the hypocrites, who pray for their own glory (vs.2). The Lord's Prayer is about God's glory!Second, when Jesus says to pray in this manner, He is giving us an example of what our praying should be like, but is not necessarily assuming that we will simply repeat this exact prayer. However, He isn't saying we should never repeat it either. As a matter of fact, on another occasion He also taught essentially the same prayer and indicated that it was to be repeated as He gave it:
2) It avoids the vain repetitions of the heathen, who think they will be heard for their long-winded prayers (vs.7). The Lord's Prayer is direct and succinct.
Luke 11:1-4 “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.' 2 So He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'” (Italics mine)Third, the Greek text actually has both the 2nd person plural pronoun you and the 2nd person plural form of the verb translated pray. Jesus thus places an emphasis upon corporate prayer as well as the private prayer life He has so strongly emphasized already in verse 6. This is further emphasized in the opening of the prayer itself, in which we are told to address God as our Father (vs.9b).
Application: 1) Corporate prayer is just as important as private prayer, but should never be seen as a substitute for private prayer. In fact, given the order and emphasis of Jesus' discussion in this passage, corporate prayer should flow naturally out of a private prayer life. 2) Also, on the one hand, we should not feel obligated to pray this exact prayer in order to be heard by God, although we should see it as a model for our praying. On the other hand, we should delight in praying this very prayer at times, especially within the context of corporate worship, so long as we remember to pray it sincerely from our hearts.
Kent Hughes offers this helpful reminder:
The obvious problem for all of us is that “familiarity breeds contempt,” in this case “surface familiarity.” Some of us learned the Lord's Prayer at our mother's knees. We cannot count the times we have repeated it. We said it again and again as children. We repeat it today as adults. But there is a danger in our familiarity with its beauty – it can become just beautiful words, so that we “say” the Lord's Prayer without praying it. (The Sermon on the Mount, p.154)Of course, gaining a better understanding of the prayer will help us to avoid this danger. So let's turn our attention now to ....
II. The Content of the prayer
The prayer itself is divided into two parts, the 1st of which seeks God's glory and the 2nd of which seeks our good. Then Jesus ends with an emphasis upon praying for our good for God's glory.
1. It is a Prayer for God's Glory
There are three petitions in this first half of the prayer, in which we are to seek 1) the glory of God's name, 2) the glory of God's kingdom, and 3) the glory of God's will.
1) The Glory of God's Name
Matthew 6:9b "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name."
We should begin praying by reminding ourselves of our relationship to God as our Father. Although he is already a holy God, and we are to pray that His name will be regarded as such by all, He has nevertheless graciously condescended to us sinners and made us His children.
Jesus teaches us that prayer is about a personal relationship with God.
2) The Glory of God's Kingdom
Matthew 6:10a "Your kingdom come."
As members of the Kingdom of Heaven, we should always remember when we pray that our lives are to be about advancing God 's kingdom. We cannot glorify Him as we should without at the same time seeking the furtherance of His sovereign reign in our own lives and in the lives of others. We should also always look forward to and pray for the ultimate coming of His Kingdom in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
3) The Glory of God's Will
Matthew 6:10b "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
We should always pray with a heart that is so desirous of obeying God and seeing His will accomplished that we are not satisfied unless His will is done – in our own lives and in the world – just as it is in Heaven.
Application: With these first three petitions Jesus teaches us that our ultimate priority must always be about seeking God's glory first in our lives. He shows us that if we are really God's children, then we will show this by honoring Him as our Father.
John Stott drives the point home well in his commentary on this passage:
It is comparatively easy to repeat the word's of the Lord's Prayer like a parrot (or indeed a heathen 'babbler'). To pray them with sincerity, however, has revolutionary implications, for it expresses the priorities of a Christian. We are constantly under pressure to conform to the self-centredness of secular culture. When that happens we become concerned about our own little name (liking to see it embossed on our notepaper or hitting the headlines in the press, and defending it when it is attacked), about our own little empire (bossing, 'influencing' and manipulating people to boost our ego), and about our own silly little will (always wanting our own way and getting upset when it is frustrated). But in the Christian counter-culture our top priority concern is not our name, kingdom and will, but God's. Whether we can pray these petitions with integrity is a searching test of the reality and depth of our Christian profession. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.147-148)2. It is a Prayer for Our Good
The second half of the prayer also consists of essentially three petitions, in which we are to seek both our physical and spiritual good.
1) Our Physical Good
Matthew 6:11 "Give us this day our daily bread."
We are to daily recognize our dependence upon God as the one who ultimately meets all of our physical needs. And we are to express that dependence in prayer. In fact, if we cannot sincerely pray this way every day, haven't we really lost site of God as the sovereign Giver of all that we have? How easily we forget that the paycheck we earn, the food we eat every day, the car we drive, the house we live in, the clothes we wear, the beds we sleep in, etc. are all gifts from God.
Note: The term daily indicates that the prayer was intended as a model for daily praying, and thus that all these petitions should be daily petitions.
Thomas Constable, in his online Notes on Matthew, aptly observes:
Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day. The expression "this day [or today] our daily bread" reflects first century life in which workers received their pay daily. It also reminds disciples that we only live one day at a time, and each day we are dependent on God to sustain us.Now that Jesus has focused upon our physical good, He will turn in the last two petitions to our spiritual good ....
2) Our Spiritual Good: Forgiveness of Past Sin
Matthew 6:12 "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Jesus assumes that we will need to ask for God's forgiveness daily (recall vs. 11). And He also assumes that we need a daily reminder that a truly repentant heart is one that is forgiving of others as well.
John Stott is again helpful here:
Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.149-150)Jesus teaches that we cannot be sincere in asking forgiveness for ourselves, if we have an unforgiving heart toward another.
3) Our Spiritual Good: Deliverance from Future Temptation
Matthew 6:13a "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Jesus also assumes that we will face a daily battle with sin, and that we are utterly dependent upon God's enabling grace to win that battle. Thus He teaches us that daily prayer for God's help is absolutely essential. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson well, and he also taught it to others, as the letter to the Ephesians demonstrates:
Ephesians 6:11-18a “11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit ….”So, in this second half of the prayer we are taught to always recognize that we are utterly dependent upon God for all that we really need, and that He alone is the supplier of these needs, whether they are physical or spiritual needs. Sometimes we too easily forget this and think we may rely on our own strength for our daily needs, or perhaps at least for our daily physical needs, but Jesus wants us to remember every day that we must rely upon God to meet all our needs.
Note: Some see in these last three petitions a Trinitarian emphasis: the Father provides our daily bread, the Son provides forgiveness through the atonement, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome future sin.
3. It is a Prayer for Our Good for God's Glory
Matthew 6:13b "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
When Jesus uses the word for (Greek hóti), He is giving the reason for the preceding petitions.
For example, He is saying that we pray for our own physical and spiritual well-being not because these things are an end in themselves, but because in this way God's kingdom, power, and glory are most fully manifested in and through us.
As John Piper frequently says it, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."
So, God's glory and our good are not two separate ends. They are so inextricably linked in God's plan that we cannot genuinely seek one without seeking the other. Thus, to seek our own ultimate good is to seek God's glory first in our lives, and to seek God's glory first is to seek our own good.
Conclusion: Application Questions: What about me? Do I typically begin my praying with reflection upon who God is as my heavenly Father? Do I make it my priority to put His kingdom and glory first in my prayers? Can I ever expect His kingdom and glory to be first in my everyday living if it isn't first in my praying? On the other hand, do I regularly spend most of my time in prayer asking for what I need – or think that I need – rather than in seeking God's glory?
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Was the American Revolution Biblical? This question was posed to me recently, and in this post I would like to share some thoughts on the matter. I acknowledge up front that this question is one that has been strongly debated by Christians at times. In fact, there was not consistent agreement among Christians at the time of the Revolution either.
I think that the following assessment by Derek H. Davis, Director of the Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, in an article entitled How Christian Was the American Revolution?, shows the diversity of opinion among Christians at the time:
How Christian was the American Revolution? The answer perhaps depends upon how we understand the question. If we seek to know whether there was an adequate biblical justification for the Revolution, we probably cannot give a very satisfactory answer because while there were many Christian patriots who supported the Independence movement, there were many Christian Tories who supported submission to Great Britain and many Christian pacifists who thought that war under any circumstances was wrong. In other words, Christians disagreed on whether the Revolution was a part of God’s will. If, however, we seek to know whether the Revolutionary movement was sustained by Christian ideals, we can probably come closer to saying that the Revolution was indeed Christian, since so much of the Revolution's ideological underpinnings were theological arguments advanced by Christians.
When we come to Scripture for an answer as to whether or not the American Revolution was, in fact, Biblical, the primary passage has to be found in Romans:
NKJ Romans 13:1-7 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists [ὁ, followed by the present participle of ἀντιτάσσω] the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Here the key verses are verses 1-2, which appear to be as universal a statement for Christians as one could imagine. These verses clearly assert that “every soul” must be subject to the governing authorities, that there is “no authority” that has not come from God, and that all the “authorities that exist are appointed by God” (vs. 1). They further clearly assert that “whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (vs. 2). (For a restatement of the general principle see also Titus 3:1.) Indeed, this passage appears to be so clear that it has led John MacArthur to declare:
Over the past several centuries, people have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That's why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are divinely endowed rights.Therefore those believers say such rights are part of a Christian worldview, worth attaining and defending at all cost including military insurrection at times. But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers. (Why Government Can't Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism, p. 6)
But, of course, the many Christians who supported the Revolution at the time were not oblivious to the importance of this passage. In fact, it was at the heart of the debate about whether or not they should offer their support to the cause. Historian Derek H. Davis, in the aforementioned article, is again helpful here:
Christians seeking a scriptural perspective on a possible war with England were especially challenged by Romans 13:1: "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." This verse was an obstacle to many Christian colonists. How could a Christian support independence in the face of such a clear statement that God ordains all governmental authority and obedient Christian citizenship requires submission to such authority? Anglican minister Jonathan Boucher of Maryland, for example, concluded in a 1775 sermon that "obedience to government is every man's duty . . . because . . . it is enjoined by the positive commands of God." Loyalists (those who opposed the Revolution) numbered about one-third of the American population and many of them cited Romans 13:1 as the basis of their loyalty to the mother country.But Romans 13:1 could be interpreted differently. Many patriot preachers taught that the passage did not require unlimited passive obedience unto despotic, evil governments; it rather approved of human government in a broad, generic way in which submission would be the normal practice. Prominent Congregational minister Jonathan Mayhew, for example, held this view, stating that civil magistrates should be obeyed only so long as “they do not grossly abuse their power and trust, but exercise it for the good of those that are governed.” This interpretation of Romans 13:1 became widespread among other colonial preachers, thus removing the verse as an obstacle to revolution.Patriot ministers regularly preached on the theme of liberty as well. If God's people had "been called to liberty," as Galatians 5:13 promised, meaning liberty in Christ, then it did not seem too much a stretch to believe that this also meant freedom from political tyranny. This theme was further supported by the social contract and natural right theories of such philosophical divines as John Milton, Algernon Sydney, and especially John Locke. Modern researchers have affirmed that outside of the Bible, the writings of John Locke were the most frequently cited source for justifying the Revolution.
The problem with the interpretation of Romans 13:1 offered by Jonathan Mayhew – i.e. that civil magistrates should be obeyed so long as “they do not grossly abuse their power and trust, but exercise it for the good of those that are governed” – is that Paul seems to envision no such qualification. And one would certainly have expected him to offer such a qualification if he agreed with it, especially since at the time he was writing Nero was most likely the Emperor. But whoever the Emperor was at the time, corruption was fairly common in Roman government in the latter half of the first century. Perhaps it would be good, then, to take a look at a couple of other arguments for a different understanding of Romans 13:
1) the argument that we must not overthrow government as an institution, and2) the argument that we may overthrow the government if in doing so we obey an interpositional authority.
First, some Christians make the argument that we must not overthrow government as an institution and live in anarchy. David Barton (“the Founder and President of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization that presents America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage") argues in an online article entitled The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion? that:
Americans embraced two specific theological positions that guided their thinking and conduct in the conflict with Great Britain.The first was that most Christian denominations during the Founding Era held that while they were forbidden to overthrow the institution of government and live in anarchy, they were not required blindly to submit to every law and policy. Those in the Founding Era understood that the general institution of government was unequivocally ordained by God and was not to be overthrown, but that did not mean that God approved every specific government; God had ordained government in lieu of anarchy – He opposed anarchy, rebellion, lawlessness, and wickedness and wanted civil government in society. Therefore, a crucial determination in the colonists’ Biblical exegesis was whether opposition to authority was simply to resist the general institution of government (an institution ordained by God Himself), or whether it was instead to resist tyrannical leaders who had themselves rebelled against God. (The Scriptural model for this position was repeatedly validated when God Himself raised up leaders such as Gideon, Ehud, Jepthah, Samson, and Deborah to throw off tyrannical governments – leaders subsequently praised in Hebrews 11:32 for those acts of faith.)[And later in the article he says] The second Scriptural viewpoint overwhelmingly embraced by most Americans during the Revolutionary Era was that God would not honor an offensive war, but that He did permit civil self-defense (e.g., Nehemiah 4:13-14 & 20-21, Zechariah 9:8, 2 Samuel 10:12, etc.). The fact that the American Revolution was an act of self-defense and was not an offensive war undertaken by the Americans remained a point of frequent spiritual appeal for the Founding Fathers. After all, Great Britain had attacked America, not vice versa; the Americans had never fired the first shot – not in the Boston Massacre of 1770, the bombing of Boston and burning of Charlestown in 1774, or in the attacks on Williamsburg, Concord, or Lexington in 1775.
Notice that the first argument here must assume that Paul had in mind only that we should not resist the institution of government in general and thus opt for anarchy when he said, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God …” (Rom. 13:1-2a). But the problem is that Paul is not speaking in this way. He is quite plainly asserting that any particular authority over us has been placed there by God when he says in explanation of the command to “be subject to the governing authorities” that “there is no authority except from God.” In my opinion, to argue that Paul only has in mind resistance to the establishment of any kind of government at all is to read into the text.
As for Barton's allusion to Old Testament examples of rebellion against a governing authority, I would respond that, in my view, these cases were all instances of God's special revelation that such should be done or of His divine intervention on behalf of a people whose position was that of a national entity under His rule. Can we really apply such cases in the history of national Israel to the Church? I think not. I think this would fail to properly take into account the differences between the nature of the Old Covenant people of God as a nation among nations and the New Covenant people of God as a family of believers from among all nations. Under the Old Covenant the very nature of the case often required rebellion against foreign oppressors or the overthrow of wicked kings, and then only with Divine sanction and guidance. But the New Covenant Church is not such an entity. As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 NKJ).
As for part two of Barton's argument, I suppose we would have to debate whether or not the Revolution was in reality a war of self defense or whether or not it was the resistance of an authority that had the right to quell opposition by means of force. As I consider this notion in the context of Romans 13, I can't help but wonder why the early Church did not avail herself of such an argument, especially when one considers just how unjust the Roman government could often be in its use of force.
Second, some Christians make the argument that we may overthrow the government if in doing so we obey an interpositional authority. That is, if we are subject to a lesser authority which rebels against a higher authority, then we may obey that lesser authority by joining in the rebellion. And the magistrates in early America, it is argued, constituted just such lesser authorities.
But notice that this argument assumes that it would be right for a lesser authority to seek to overthrow a higher authority in the first place. But what if it isn't right? Does Paul assume in Romans 13 that it would be right? Or does his position indicate that it would be wrong? It appears to me that it would indeed be wrong, because it would in any case entail resistance of a God ordained authority, and such resistance would be considered sin by Paul. In fact, couldn't I argue on the basis of Romans 13 that, when a lesser authority requires me to disobey and resist a higher authority, I must disobey that lesser authority because it is requiring me to sin against God?
Now, I obviously do agree that Paul expects the governing authorities to wield their authority justly, but he does not say that resistance is acceptable if they fail to do so. Not that he wouldn't agree that civil disobedience is permissible at times, for I have no doubt that he would agree with Peter and John and the rest of the Apostles when they practiced civil disobedience. For example:
NKJ Acts 4:18-20 “And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'”
NKJ Acts 5:27-29 “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, 'Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!' 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'” (For Peter's general point of view, which of course agrees with Paul, see 1 Peter 2:13-14.)
Of course we could add other Scriptural examples of civil disobedience, such as the Hebrew midwives in ancient Egypt (Exod. 1:15-21) or Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in ancient Babylon (otherwise known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Dan. 3:8-18), or Daniel in Persia (Dan. 6:1-23). But the point is that in none of these cases is overthrow of the government involved. They disobeyed only at those points where the governing authority expressly required them to disobey God.
Now, I suppose one could give Old Testament examples where overthrow of the government did take place, such as when Jeroboam the son of Nebat rebelled against Rehoboam, but aside from the problems with directly applying such Old Covenant situations to the New Covenant Church, I would simply observe that in this case (and others like it) there was special revelation from God calling for the rebellion (1 Kings 11:29-39). Kirby Anderson, President of Probe Ministries, cites such examples in an online article entitled Civil Disobedience, and he makes the following helpful observations:
Notice that in each of these examples there are at least two common elements. First, there was a direct, specific conflict between God's law and man's law. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill male Hebrew babies. Nebuchadnezzar commanded his subjects to bow before the golden image. King Darius ruled that no one could pray. And, in the New Testament, the High Priest and the Council forbade the apostles from proclaiming the gospel.Second, in choosing to obey God's higher law, believers paid the normal consequence for disobedience. Although most of those previously cited escaped the consequence through supernatural intervention, we know from biblical and secular history that others paid for their disobedience with their lives.
Actually, we may be called upon to carry out such civil disobedience in the near future. As the recently drafted Manhattan Declaration asserts in its final paragraph:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s. (This document was drafted October 20, 2009 and released November 20, 2009.)