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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.


An Easter Thought: A Meditation on the Ultimate Sacrifice

As I was preparing tomorrow’s sermon, a random thought came to my mind about Easter. It had nothing to do with tomorrow’s message.

Sacrifices, though bloody, were relatively clean and simple: plunge a sharp object into the heart or slit the throat with a sharp instrument…. death was very quick, lasting only a few seconds, if that long. If you’ve ever witnessed the slaughter of a goat, chicken, or some other animal, you know that there’s no suffering.

The ultimate sacrifice: Jesus Christ, however was very different.

Hours were involved from his arrest until he breathed his last breath on the cross.

beard plucked out
scourging with innumerable lashes
carrying the cross
stumbling under its weight
perhaps breaking his nose as he fell on the hard ground
nails driven into His hands
nail driven into His feet
cross dropped into the hole with a sudden stop at the bottom
hanging on the cross for hours in the hot sun
disgustingly nasty sponge with vinegar touching His lips
all the while, bleeding
struggling for breath

To ultimately atone for sin required the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than a simple slash of a knife in a ceremonial fashion, His death was carried out brutally by the forces of hell itself through perfected means, designed to inflict the most pain over the longest period of time. Sadism at its worst — on display.

I confess that I rarely consider the immensity of that sacrifice. And for that sin, His death also atones.

Thank God for Easter: an annual opportunity to remember.


Can a True Christian Live in Bondage?

A few days ago, I sent out a Tweet and updated my Facebook Status, with a quote from Sam Storms at the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference:

“People are in bondage to sin because they’re bored stiff with God.”

From my iPhone I saw that I had several responses, including one or two from a friend from seminary. I went on Facebook this morning to respond to his comments, but he had removed them while I was “unplugged” yesterday. I’m not sure why he did it, but it seemed a bit cowardly to remove them. I don’t know if he will check back on this, but I feel that I must respond. If he chooses to respond, I will publish his response(s).

If I remember correctly, he said that he didn’t think that a “true Christian” could live in bondage, that someone came to a saving knowledge couldn’t live in bondage.

Well since our authority is God’s Word, let’s see what God has to say about it…

Look at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-35. A problem had arisen because some Jewish believers felt that in order to be saved, you had to become a Jew, that only faithful Jews could be Christians. If it were not possible for believers to be in bondage to the Law, then why did the Council even consider the issue?

Look at Paul’s rebuke to the Galatians in Galatians 3:1, followed by his admonition in Galatians 5:1. If it were not possible to live in bondage as a believer, why would Paul have urged them to not be enslaved? For that matter, the entire book of Galatians is a rebuke for those who would choose to live in bondage.

Look at Paul, a “spiritual heavyweight” in my estimation, who expressed frustration in not being completely free (Romans 7.14-25). He states in so many words in Romans 7:25 that the “flesh” is enslaved to the law of sin. As long as we live in a “dirt suit”, we will continue to struggle with the question of, “Whom will we serve?”

Again, without his comments to refer to, I don’t remember his specific words, but I do remember seeing the word knowledge in his post. I think his comments were based in Galatians 4:8. However, if you use that verse, you must also look at Galatians 4:9, which is actually the same sentence in Greek.

I think it’s emblematic of many believers who think that all they have to do is read another book, attend another seminar or go on another retreat to get to that “next level”. In other words, if we just learn a little more, we will be able to behave better and walk closer to Christ. And this may be driven by the plethora of sermons on “Seven Steps to …”, “How to…”, etc.

Whether or not we admit it, it’s a modern-day form of gnosticism and deism. However, we are not to live as gnostics and deists. Instead, we are to live as a “grace-aholic” (to quote the late Dave Busby), relying on God’s grace to not only save us, but to enable to live the holy life that God intends for us to live in freedom (Galatians 2:21).

So much of the preaching that’s celebrated in our churches can be boiled down to, “Now that you’re saved, it’s up to you to clean up. Here are the steps to do it.” I even heard a pastor refer to (in so many words) “God the Father, God the Son and God the Word”. He was greeted with a roaring affirming response from the audience.

WHAT???? It appears that the Holy Spirit has been replaced by the Bible! The empowering Holy Spirit of God has been replaced by the written Word of God. And if you look around at “conservative”, “Bible believing” and “Bible teaching” churches, it’s no wonder. Statistics tell us that our church people aren’t that much better than unchurched people when it comes to the ethical choices we make.

Dr. Storms was spot-on in another quote that I added as a comment to my Facebook status,

“You persuade a person away from rancid beef not by a lecture about freshness but by offering delectable fillet mignon.”

I once heard of a young seminary grad whose parents heard his first sermon. He proudly asked them what they thought of his fine exposition. His mother responded, “I came expecting a banquet, but instead, you gave us an autopsy.”

Our problem isn’t a lack of knowledge. Our problem is that we’re bored with God (or at least our experience and estimation of God). And nobody, including many of our preachers, are telling us that there’s more to experience and empower us to live the Christian life.

The solution is to offer up a very big, magnificent, all-satisfying, personal, LIVING God .

We don’t need medical examiners. We need gourmet chefs!


The Effect of Grace and Seeking the Kingdom of God

I’m experiencing a bit of a “6 Degrees of Separation” this morning. A friend’s Facebook pointed me to his website which linked to a blog on grace. Here’s the blog link. In the blog, the author speaks of the inward and outward move of grace.

“Internally, the grace of God moves me to see my sin, respond in repentance and faith, and then experience the joy of transformation. Externally, the grace of God moves me to see opportunities for love and service, respond in repentance and faith, and experience joy as I see God work through me.”

The 6 Degrees feeling is in light of the fact that tomorrow morning I’m preaching on the Kingdom of God. Jesus told his followers to seek God’s Kingdom first. (Matt 6:33). I touched on this last week, but felt that I needed to expand this a bit, so tomorrow we launch into a series at Bethel.

Seeking the Kingdom of God has the same effect: seeing things through God’s eyes. Henry Blackaby states in his book Experiencing God, that we can’t know the truth of our situation without getting God’s perspective. How true that is. As long as I’m looking at my surroundings, I can’t see the hand of God working in and through the situation to make me more like Jesus. I call it the Romans 8:28-29 Factor.