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Repentance Gone Awry

Numbers 14 records a sad day in the life of the people of Israel. God judged them for their unbelief after hearing the spies’ report of the Promised Land. God says that for every day the spies explored, the people would wander in the desert. Joshua and Caleb would be the only ones able to go into the promised land.

The judgment of God is bad enough. But then the people decide that to demonstrate their repentance by taking matters into their own hands: “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the LORD has promised, for we have sinned.”

Repentance is a good thing to do when you’ve been confronted by God. But they presumed that God would bless their efforts. “But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses departed out of the camp. “ (Numbers 14:44)

The results? “Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” (Numbers 14:45)

How frequently this happens in church. Instead of seeking God’s guidance in decision-making, oftentimes we make a hasty decision and ask God to bless our plans.

Even our repentance is to be according to God’s leading. I recently heard of a pastor who confessed a private sin from the pulpit and went into way too much detail. Several people were deeply hurt by the confession of his sin — one in which they were not personally involved. In an effort to obey James’ instruction to confess our sins to each other in order that we be healed (James 5:16), he wounded other people. Even in repenting from sin, we must not presume that God will bless our plans to “make things right”.


Application: Is there a decision you need to make or a sin you need to make right? Proceed with caution.


Happy 400th Anniversary, KJV!

Today marks the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. This is the most popular English version of the Bible. In fact until the mid-20th Century, it was pretty much the only version of the English Bible available. With the advent of the printing press, literate people were able to read the Bible for themselves – in their own language – and not be dependent on someone else to tell them what the Bible said.

God has greatly used the KJV in the life of the English-speaking church. In fact, The King James Bible was the version used by the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, John and Charles Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon. Missionaries like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and David Livingstone found their calling as they read from it. As people came to faith in Christ, they read the King James Bible to grow in their faith. Even secular writers were also influenced by the KJV.

Copyright protection has long expired and since it is in the “public domain,” many groups like the Gideons use it to avoid paying licensing fees for Bibles they distribute for free to students and hotels. The only cost for publication is, well, publication.

Since I discussed some of the issues of the King James Bible for modern-day readers in an earlier blog, I won’t repeat myself here. But I do want to say thank-you to the translators of the King James Version for the foundation they laid. As the KJV translators stated in their preface, new translations will be required for each new generation so God’s Word can be read in the common language of the people.

Also, join me in thanking God for preserving His Word, and for making it available to us in our common language. If you do not currently have a plan for reading your Bible, check out the one we’re using in our church.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart

(Hebrews 4:12 KJV)


Did They Really?

I happened upon an interesting blog today: “They Ceased. Period.” It was an interview with Dr. John MacArthur regarding the “charismatic” gifts of the spirit. MacArthur is a cessationist, meaning that he believes that gifts of healing, miracles, tongues, etc. passed away with the First Century Apostles.

While I respect Dr. MacArthur’s diligent grammatical study of “stilled” in 1Cor 13:8, he completely ignores the context of the grammar in light of the surrounding sentences. In other words, he centers his entire argument on one word and its grammatical usage, ignoring the fact that words have meaning in the context of sentences. 1Corinthians 13:9-12 says that we do not fully know yet, and until we get to that time, we will still need God’s gifts of grace.

MacArthur says,

“If [charismatic] gifts existed, they would belong to the purest, most faithful, sound teachers of the Word of God to authenticate their teaching…”

Is he actually saying that the “orthodox” preachers today (presumably, MacArthur himself) would be more deserving of God’s gifts of grace than the Charismatic Prosperity Gospel Preachers (eg., Benny Hinn)? Doesn’t that turn “grace” on its head? Besides, I don’t think the main purpose of the sign gifts was to “authenticate” the apostles’ teaching, anyway.

Yes, absolutely, there are excesses. Their existence cannot be denied. However, the existence of excesses doesn’t deny their validity. In other words, the misuse of a gift doesn’t mean the gift doesn’t exist. And one’s theology, however straight or deviant, neither affirms nor denies the validity of a gift.

I think Jack Deere has done a fine job of establishing a continuance view (as opposed to a cessationist view) of the charismatic gifts in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan 1993) and Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan 1996). Dr. Deere was a professor at Dallas Seminary, a bastion of cessationist theology, who wasn’t looking for a charismatic experience, but was confronted by a God Who still speaks and acts — it forever changed his life and the way he understood God. Deere is no “wacko” Bible teacher; endorsements from Wayne Grudem, professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, appear on both of Deere’s books. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in the topic.

Cessationists like MacArthur seem to believe that, if the charismatic gifts existed, they would appear in their churches, and since the gifts don’t appear in their churches, those gifts don’t exist — therefore any appearance elsewhere must be counterfeit. We must be very careful in labeling all “miraculous” works” as “counterfeit”. Counterfeit means fake, thus its origin is not from God. If something is not from God, it is either from man or the devil. Compare that with Jesus warning in Matt 12:31-32 where the Pharisees were attributing Jesus’ works to the devil.


Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Last month, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, blogged about Christians and yoga.   The blog caught the attention of many media outlets including USA Today and landed on Yahoo’s front page on October 7 (two and a half weeks after the original blog). In a second blog post, responding to the Yahoo news story, Dr. Mohler points out that, “Stephanie Dillon, who has injected Christian themes into her studio in Louisville, said yoga brought her closer to her Christian faith.” John Piper responded on his blog with similar concerns.

Without question, Eastern Mystics and New Age proponents seek to align the body and spirit in a way that is inconsistent with the Bible. One doesn’t need to look very far to find this is true. One of the founders of martial arts, Gichin Funakoshi, said “The mind and technique become one in true karate.” His philosophy sounds similar to those quoted by Mohler, et. al regarding yoga. When asked if Christians should practice the martial arts (karate, kung fu, etc.), Hank Hanegraaff, president of The Christian Research Institute said, it depends.

In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He responded, to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Paul reminds us to glorify God in our body in 1 Corinthians 6:20. Clearly these verses show that there is a God-designed connection between our spirit and our body. God desires that we honor and glorify Him with all aspects of our lives.

As we look around at believers, it is obvious that many of us either do not recognize the God-designed connection between our spirit and body, or are not living consistently with that connection in mind.  (Note, I said “us”. I am very much aware of the log in my eye at this point; I am not attempting to merely focus on the speck in someone else’s eye.) Duke University recently released a study that revealed higher obesity and chronic disease risks among Methodist clergy. I’m sure they would find similar results among other divisions (i.e., denominations).

Let me summarize my thoughts at this point:

1. God designed us with a connection between spirit and body.
2. Some have approached this connection in an unbiblical manner.
3. Some have approached this connection in a biblical manner, but are inconsistent in application, even hypocritical in some cases. (I am not saying that Mohler and Piper are hypocrites, just that some people are)

My conclusion at this point is that: God is not honored with an unbiblical approach to the connection. But neither is He honored in a biblical approach with a hypocritical lifestyle.

When a friend asked for my two cents’ worth on the issue, I read up a bit before responding to her question, especially since she  has been practicing yoga.

When I finally had a chance to respond to her question, I felt I needed to ask her two questions:
1. What would you say if I told you that you shouldn’t practice yoga?
2. Where is your heart?

Her response to the first question was, “I’ll have to pray more about it, because that’s not the answer I’m hearing.” Her response showed me that she had already sought God’s guidance and it revealed how sincere her question was.

I felt that I needed to ask my second question to determine why she was practicing yoga. If her goal was to align her spirit and body through a metaphysical or New Age experience, it would reveal that she was not seeking to follow biblical teachings regarding the connection between the spirit and body. If however, she responded that she simply recognized her need to stretch and tone her body, that might be a different issue.

I reminded her about Paul’s caution against “causing a weaker brother to stumble” in Romans 14:21. Paul was addressing the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In his counsel, he did not say that you should never eat meat. Neither did he say you should never eat idol-sacrificed meat. What he does say is that if your eating idol-sacrificed meat causes someone to be kept from the Kingdom of God, then you shouldn’t do it.

One might argue that more people are being kept out of the Kingdom because of the bickering and gnat-straining of Christian leaders than because some people want to relax and tone their muscles, but I digress.

Taking all of this into account, I believe that she is at liberty to stretch and tone her body. But she must walk a fine line of:
1. being aware of those who can’t (yet) walk in that liberty (former involvement in Eastern Mysticism or New Age movement) — looking out for the spiritual health of others
2. not being legalistic — looking out for her own spiritual health.

From pondering the issue for over a week now, I believe that the issue isn’t whether or not Christians should practice yoga; the issue is the honor and glory of God in our lives.

So should Christians practice yoga? If they can do so without endangering the spiritual health of others and themselves, then they should do it to the glory of God! (Colossians 3:23)


On Modern Bible Translations

A friend recently asked me what I thought of the King James Version of the Bible. He remarked, “I’m enjoying the Independent Baptist church that I’m going to. They only preach and teach the King James. The pastor said in one of his sermons that the King James is a translation and other versions of scripture are translations of what the writers of the scripture thought. What is your opinion about this?”

My initial response was, “Do you really want to know my opinion? You will probably not like it.” He said, “I think that I probably will agree with your opinion since most evangelical churches use other translations of scripture. I use the NIV myself. But why would my pastor believe what he does about other translations?”

I’m glad you asked that question!

My response: Part One

(Before reading further, let me say that I believe the New Testament documents are the most reliable in all antiquity. In over 26,000 manuscripts and fragments, there is not one single point of disagreement in doctrinal or ethical matters. The few differences that do exist can be explained by obvious scribal mistakes, spelling, word order, etc. For more in-depth information on “textual criticism”, check out Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict)

Many sincere Christians believe that the KJV is the most reliable translation of the Bible. This is common among “Independent Baptist Churches” and other groups. The belief is based on the assumption that the collection of manuscripts used to translate the KJV (the “Majority Text”) are superior to other collections. It’s called the “Majority Text” because there are more of those manuscripts than of the other collections of manuscripts. But does the number of manuscripts prove they are better?

In a popular party game people line up and the first in line whispers a sentence or phrase to the next in line, who passes the message to the next. When the last person in line gets the message, he or she will speak out loud what they heard. More often than not, the message fails to be transmitted intact through the entire line and everyone gets a good laugh.

An original message of, “Adam and Eve got married” could end up, “Adam and Steve got married.” The words sound somewhat similar, but the message is very different.

The fifteen people who heard, “Adam and Steve got married” may sincerely believe they heard and passed the correct message. One might assume that since fifteen of the twenty participants heard this message, it must be completely reliable. But when you find that the only five people who heard “Adam and Eve got married” were at the beginning of the line, then you know that Adam married a woman, not another man. The earlier version is more reliable, though fewer people heard it.

Such is the case with the manuscripts used for translating the KJV. Although there are more of them, the older manuscripts are often more reliable than the later ones, simply because they were closer to the original source.

My response: Part Two

Now, for the second part of my friend’s question. His pastor is partially correct on the question of the KJV being a translation the text and other versions being what the translators thought.

When translating from any language to any other language, you can either translate word-for-word, or thought-for-thought — or somewhere between. Some Bible translations (KJV, NASB, ESV) attempt to translate in a word-for-word fashion, while others like the NIV and NLT tend to favor communicating in a thought-for-thought manner, also called “functional equivalence”. The more the translators lean toward functional equivalence, the more the translators’ opinions can creep into the end result.

Obviously, there are dangers by insisting on either method to be “correct” way to translate from one language to another. If someone insists that you should *always* translate word-for-word, you will be confused as to why a man in France would call his wife his, “little cabbage”; to English speakers, it doesn’t sound very much like a term of endearment.

I find it interesting that the KJV translators didn’t see their translation a finished work; they recognized that as language changes, new translations of the Bible would be necessary.

What is the best translation of the Bible?

So what about the King James? Do I recommend it? I’ll answer the question by asking another question. “When speaking with a good friend, do you talk like William Shakespeare?

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It was the language spoken by the people. The New Testament was written in Greek — but not just any Greek. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek — common Greek — the language spoken by the people.

God revealed Himself and His ways to people in the language they spoke and understood.

I don’t speak “King James” English. I don’t know anyone who does. I speak late-20th to early-21st Century (American) English. So why would I want to limit myself to a 400-year old translation when trying to grow in my relationship with God? And why would I want insist the same of others?

I once heard that the best translation is one that is understood by the one reading it … and that is applied to the reader’s life. I agree. If you and your spouse sounded like Romeo and Juliet on your last date night, the King James Version might be the best translation for you … so long as you apply what you read and study. Otherwise, there are a number of good, reliable translations available for you to choose.

Just make sure that you read it and apply what you hear!

Prov 22:17-18; Josh 1:8