Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Podcast: Quantum Faith Part 2

In this episode, we continue examining the "Quantum Faith" teaching from Charles and Annette Capps. We also review much of the language found in the Word of Faith heresy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Podcast: Quantum Faith Part 1

In this episode, we review a teaching from Charles and Annette Capps where they compare our faith to microscopic particles...I am not making this up. We review some of the more honest language about the Word of Faith heresy found in this teaching.

This link takes you to the podcast reviewing Len and Cathy Mink's own take on the Word of Faith heresy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Podcast: Steve Kelly on the 700 Club

I meant to upload this episode earlier, but Spreaker was giving me problems. So...don't trust me when I say it was last week that this interview happened, ha ha.

In this episode, we review the 700 Club's interview of Steve Kelly, pastor of Wave Church in Virginia Beach. He talks about his book The Accent of Leadership. We explain what did and didn't get said regarding the doctrines taught by Steve Kelly and Wave Church, especially in regards to leadership.

This link takes you to the episode where we examined the cultic teachings by Steve Kelly regarding leadership.

This link takes you to the episode where we examined the 2014 Easter message at Wave Church.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Rains of Mars Hill Church

The following is based off "The Rains of Castamere", from the Song of Ice and Fire book series (and more popularly known to some through the Game of Thrones TV adaptation). It is based on the recent events with Mark Driscoll.
And who are you, the pastor said,
That you would speak so bold?
Only a ewe who should heed, not lead;
Just do what you are told.
And don't question me, or critique my words,
Yes, don't dare make a fuss.
For bodies stacked up high and tall
Are found behind my bus.

And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
The Pope of Mars Hill Church;
But now his rants frighten no one
For no one longer fears.
And now the saints pray for his soul
With hopes that God will hear.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Sons of Issachar Anointing

Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command. [1 Chronicles 12:32; NASB]
I've seen a lot of talk on social media and in Hyper-Charismatic circles about the "Sons of Issachar Anointing," based off this single verse. The idea is that, just as the sons of Issachar "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do," so to should we "understand the times" (that is, the approaching end times), with knowledge of what the church should do (that is, what the church is to do before Christ returns). It's been brought forward by Rick Joyner's Morning Star Ministries, as well as Mike Bickle's International House of Prayer.

Let's quickly examine the context, by first discussing what is unfolding in 1 Chronicles 12...

In this chapter, men from all across Israel are gathering together to support David in his struggle against King Saul, in order to overthrow him and give the kingdom to David (v. 23). These forces include: the sons of Judah (v. 24); the sons of Simeon (v. 25); the sons of Levi (v. 26); the house of Aaron (v. 27); Zadok with his father's house (v. 28); the sons of Benjamin (v. 29); sons of Ephraim (v. 30); the half-tribe of Manasseh (v. 31); sons of Issachar (v. 32); those of Zebulun (v. 33); those of the Naphtali (v. 34); those of the Danites (v. 35); those of Asher (v. 36); and the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh from the other side of the Jordan (v. 37). All of these men are gathering with David at Hebron, with the intent to make him king (v. 38).

One thing you notice about these various groups is that various kinds of talents and attributes are said about them: the sons of Judah brought shield and spear (v. 24); the sons of Simeon were "mighty men of valor" (v. 25); the sons of Benjamin are said to belong to Saul's own house (as he was a Benjaminite), and had supported Saul until now (v. 29); the sons of Ephraim are, like the sons of Simeon, said to be "mighty men of valor" (v. 30); the sons of Issachar are said to have "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do" (v. 32); those of Zebulun came with various kinds of weaponry for war (v. 33); the Naphtali, like the sons of Judah, are said to have come with shield and spear (v. 34); those across the Jordan are said, like those of Zebulun, to have come with various kinds of weapons (v. 37); later on, those of Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali are said to have brought food and provisions for the army (v. 40).

Focusing on the sons of Issachar, what does it mean when it is said they "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do"? In old Jewish commentaries, the phrase "understood the times" was actually believed to reference a study of astrology. To quote from Charles John Ellicott's commentary:
The old Jewish expositors concluded, from the former part of this verse that the tribe of Issachar had skill in astrology, so that they could read in the heavens what seasons were auspicious for action, as the ancient Babylonians professed to do. [source]
Given the context, however, this is probably not the case. It is said that they understood the times "with knowledge of what Israel should do," and this is being said in the context of various tribes and Jewish sects coming over to David, against Saul. Therefore, they "understood the times" in the sense that all Israel must turn over to David, the Lord's anointed, against the corrupt and fallacious king Saul. Mr. Ellicott summarizes as much:
But all that the text really asserts is that those men of Issachar who went over to David thereby showed political sagacity. No similar phrase occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament. [ibid]
Ellicott is not alone here. Albert Barnes states that this passage "is best interpreted politically" (source). John Gill suggests that this passage may refer to the fact that these "were men of prudence and wisdom, and knew that this was the proper time for making David king" (source). John Wesley says that "they understood public affairs, the temper of the nation, and the tendencies of the present events" (source). Matthew Guzik, while mentioning the astrology argument, says that "we should simply see that these sons of Issachar were men who supported King Saul up until the right time, and at the right time gave their support to David" (source). Finally, Matthew Henry likewise writes:
Those of that tribe were greatly intent on public affairs, had good intelligence from abroad and made a good use of it. They knew what Israel ought to do: from their observation and experience they learned both their own and others’ duty and interest. In this critical juncture they knew Israel ought to make David king. It was not only expedient, but necessary; the present posture of affairs called for it. The men of Issachar dealt mostly in country business, and did not much intermeddle in public affairs, which gave them an opportunity of observing others and conversing with themselves. [source]
Therefore, given the testimony of learned Christian men through history, and (more importantly) the plain meaning of scripture, what is 1 Chronicles 12:32 teaching us? That the gift of the sons of the Issachar, among all the tribes and sects among the Jewish people, was that they recognized the events happening in Israel, and they understood that it was time to give support for David against Saul.

With this established, let us now review how the Sons of Issachar Anointing applies the passage, by asking a few questions.

First, is there anything about an anointing here? No. Absolutely not. This is describing one of the groups which came to David and supported him in his struggle against Saul, and states their most strongest trait. The sons of Issachar were not under a special anointing any more than the other tribes were.

Second, is there anything commanding us or telling us to seek or obtain something? No. Absolutely not. This is a descriptive passage, not a prescriptive passage. Many in Hyper-Charismatic circles, trying to get around that this passage is not a command, will argue that it is simply an image of what we are to do - nonetheless, they are using it in a prescriptive manner for something believers are supposed to seek or obtain. This is not how such a passage is to be treated.

Those who support the Sons of Issachar Anointing will sometimes admit that the verse is speaking of supporting David's claim to kingship, but will add that there are "End Times Sons of Issachar" who are prophetic and understand the signs of the end times. The problem with this is that nowhere in scripture is such a connection made, nor is 1 Chronicles 12:32 thought of as a verse for a prophetic group of people - in fact, no one in the history of the church, until the last decade or so, has ever interpreted the passage in this manner. Such an interpretation, therefore, can only be considered extra-scriptural revelation, absent from the teaching and understanding of the plain meaning of Holy Writ. It certainly does not come from any method in accordance with the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Even more dangerous is that this Sons of Issachar Anointing, like Mike Bickle's Forerunners or Lou Engle's Nazirites, presents a kind of anointing which creates a branch of "super Christians," who have special knowledge and insight into God's will which other Christians do not have. To quote from one website speaking on the anointing:
I believe there is an Issachar anointing which brings an understanding of the times and seasons we are in and the knowledge of what to do. This anointing brings with it vision and counsel. In these difficult days in which we are living, we need to have an Issachar anointing to understand the times prophetically so that we will have discernment of how to move with God. We need this for our personal lives, for the body of Christ as a whole, and for our nation. We must learn how to draw on God's prophetic word to guide us through this prophetic season. God wants us to understand the times and what needs to be done in midst of each situation and season. The Issachar anointing brings with it that understanding of what time and season we are in and also the knowledge of what to do. This anointing also brings with it vision and counsel. The Issachar anointing puts in proper timing the plans of God. This anointing understands time and has an anointing for timing. How well do we perceive God’s seasons and timing for His purposes? [source]
Therefore, if one wishes to have "vision and counsel" about these end times, we must "draw on God's prophetic word to guide us through the prophetic season," which the Issachar anointing can bring us. In fact, we need this, and we must learn how to do this - otherwise, how will we "perceive God's seasons and timing for His purposes"? Just as with Mike Bickle's concept of forerunners (which is unbiblical) and Lou Engle's concept of New Testament Nazirites (which comes from a dream his son had one night), such a teaching borders on Gnosticism, an ancient heresy which, in some forms, taught that there was a special knowledge Christ had for those willing to discover or learn about. No such promise is made in scripture, however: the only "anointing" in regards to believers is that which is given to all believers (1 John 2:27), and it is by holy scripture that a person can become better equipped to understand the will of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). Putting all this aside, the passage itself here does not teach of any kind of promised "special knowledge" for Christians to pursue...that is complete and utter eisegesis.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a Sons of Issachar Anointing. The Bible is silent about it, and no one in the past 2000 years of the New Testament church (save for recently) has taught on the subject. It is an unbiblical doctrine which some teachers are attempting to seduce people into following and seeking. Such doctrines and practices have a name in scripture: burdens. This addition to the Christian lifestyle and beliefs comes from unbiblical doctrines, and utilizes an abuse of God's text to attempt to prove it. Any doctrine or teaching sourced to a wild misuse of holy writ should be avoided at all costs. I would plead with any involved in this "Sons of Issachar Anointing," if you believe yourself to be honoring God's word, to really consider what scripture says on this subject. God bless.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Matthew 17 - An Example of Bad Allegorization

How one reads and interpret scripture is a vitally important part of the Christian life. Just as we would want to understand the point behind every secular work created by fallible man, so should we strive to understand and comprehend what God's word is attempting to say. One of the greatest dangers in misunderstanding a passage of scripture is turning a descriptive passage of scripture into an allegory, and by extension turning it into a prescriptive passage.

Recently I saw a link on Twitter for the International House of Prayer's Marketplace Conference. In the video on the page, there was a use of Matthew 17:1 that I thought was worth using as an example to examine and discuss a more proper view of scripture, and an improper use of allegory.

Near the beginning of the video, Linda Fields and Daniel Lim (CEO of IHOP-KC) have this conversation:
Linda Fields: "Our theme is 'come up higher' from Matthew 17, and as you know we were talking about that a moment ago - I loved what you had to say about what Jesus was actually inviting Peter, James and John to. What was that?"

Daniel Lim: "Well Matthew 17, all of us quite familiar with that verse because it's a verse where Jesus in a very rare occasion revealed his glory to his disciples in a way that would shock them. We call that the Mountain of Transfiguration. But the context of Matthew 17 is actually a context where Jesus invited Peter, James and John to a prayer meeting. They were on their way to a prayer meeting, to a high mountain to pray. So I believe that this is a very beautiful word picture about us engaging in discipling different spheres of society, but from a prayer-based culture. Jesus always invited us to go higher; going higher actually means get nearer; getting nearer to him is a sign of going higher." [Transcribed from the audio]
The passage is further interpreted later on, after some of the speakers are mentioned.
Linda Fields: "I just love the idea of a whole family coming around the table, Daniel, all spheres of society coming together saying we want to impact the world for Jesus Christ. And we are coming here together to come up higher with the Lord and receive revelation, refreshing, there'll be teaching..." [Transcribed]
From these teachings, we get a few things from Daniel Lim and Linda Fields regarding what Matthew 17 has to teach for us:
  1. Christ revealed himself to the disciples "in a way that would shock them."
  2. Peter, James, and John were invited by Christ to a "prayer meeting."
  3. This story is a "word picture" about "discipling different spheres of society" from the context of a "prayer-based culture."
  4. In the passage, Jesus is inviting us "go higher," and hence "get nearer" to God, in order to "receive revelation" and "refreshing."
When we encounter a teaching by someone from the word of God, the first thing we need to do is examine what they are teaching, and hold it to the light of scripture. If what they are teaching is plain in scripture, then they are speaking in accordance with what scripture has written; if what they are teaching is not plain in scripture, then they are inserting doctrines and beliefs into the passage. We will examine these four statements one at a time, and see how they line up with what is written.

1) Christ revealed himself to the disciples "in a way that would shock them."

Some might be wondering why I highlighted this phrase, since, at first glance, it doesn't seem like too big of a statement. The truth is, such language is common in Hyper-Charismatic camps to attempt to make their unorthodox and often shocking interpretations of what is and isn't the Holy Spirit seem much more biblical. This is where you get phrases like "God will mess up your theology," or "God will appear in ways you never expected." While I do not deny God can give His providence and grace through ways not explicitly mentioned in the Bible (for example, finding good health insurance for your family), there are many things which are quite clearly not the Holy Spirit. For example, what is called "holy vomiting," as well as uncontrollable shaking like someone with Parkinson's Disease, are not outlined in scripture as traits the Holy Spirit instills in a fact, they are usually associated with demonic influence. While I am not advocating judging the fruits of the Spirit by subjectivity, if someone that people are attempting to pass off as "the Holy Spirit" appears shocking to us, then that should be a red flag that we should be extra discerning.

2) Peter, James, and John were invited by Christ to a "prayer meeting."

No such invitation is directly given by Christ in the passage, let alone in any of the other versions found in the Synoptic Gospels. The accounts by Matthew and Mark do not make mention of the purpose for which they went up the mountain, aside from the purpose we outlined earlier. Luke's account states that Christ "took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray" (Luke 9:28). The verb "went up" is in the third person singular, referring to Christ alone, and is continued into the verb "to pray." This suggests that Christ had gone up to pray, and had merely brought the disciples along. We see this especially in verse 29: there, we find that Christ is praying alone, while the disciples are said later to have fallen asleep (v. 32). If this was a prayer meeting, it was perhaps the worst prayer meeting in history, since only one person was praying while the others were sleeping through it.

The purpose of the disciples being brought up the mountains, as interpreted by commentators and theologians throughout history, is directly related to the appearance of Moses and Elijah alongside Christ, as well as the voice from God the Father. Moses and Elijah each represented an aspect of the Jewish holy text: Moses represented the Law; Elijah represented the prophets. The words of God the Father regarding Christ were a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15, in which the Lord says, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him." The apostles themselves later confirmed that this statement was a Messianic prophecy regarding Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37). With the three disciples themselves witnessing this, they in essence fulfilled the command by the Law regarding the number of witnesses, and hence could confirm the event took place (Deu 17:6; 2 Cor 13:1).

From all this, we can gather that the point of the disciples being brought up the mountain was to witness a visual confirmation of Christ's words regarding his being the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Mt 11:13), and a confirmation of Christ's Messianic status. The point is, Christ did not invite the disciples up to have a "prayer meeting"; Daniel Lim is completely reading that into the passage to attempt to give Mike Bickle's "prayer culture" theology biblical credit, when there really is none.

3) This story is a "word picture" about "discipling different spheres of society" from the context of a "prayer-based culture."

We must be very careful whenever he hear someone call something a "word picture," or an "image" of something; this is basically admitting that they are creating an allegory, or spiritualizing a passage. There are many allegories in the Bible. There are generally accepted shadows of Christ (cf. Gen 3:15), and there are times where Biblical authors themselves will make reference to certain actions or personalities being shadows (cf., 1 Cor 10:1-4). The danger, however, is looking for "word pictures" and "images" where there a none.

There are two easy ways to tell if someone is overstepping their bounds when it comes to allegories:

a) Is the passage confirmed elsewhere in scripture as an allegory or shadow? For example, the previously cited passage in 1 Corinthians confirms that the Old Testament account of the rock and the water was a foreshadow of Christ.

b) Is the passage being spoken of as an allegory of Christ and salvation, or us?

This last part is especially important, as many times people will transform Biblical passages into commands for us to do something, or turn it into something about us. Even if the intent is to glorify God, it is still a very man-centered view of scripture, because it is transforming the focus onto something about us and what we have to do.

In this particular example we are examining, do we see the focus of the supposed allegory being one centered around Christ and our salvation? On the contrary, it is about us and what we have to do - in this case, "discipling different spheres of society" through a "prayer-based culture" (ie., the 24-7 prayer and intercession modeled at IHOP-KC). There is, however, not a single sign that such a command is present in this passage; again, that has been completely read into it by Daniel Lim and Linda Fields. As we saw before, the passage is about Christ and the messianic status which Christ confirmed before his top three disciples - it has nothing to do about us, even in the context of worship.

Certainly no one throughout all of church history has interpreted this passage to mean that we are to "disciple different spheres of society" within the context of a "prayer-based culture." No one had any such notion until IHOP-KC and the personal revelations supposedly given to Mike Bickle and his peers by God. What Daniel Lim and Linda Fields are bringing forward is, historically speaking, coming out of a exegetical vacuum. Even the apostle Peter, when writing on the incident that he himself witnessed (2 Pet 1:16-21), makes absolutely no mention of the moment being about discipling different spheres of society through prayer-based cultures. Again, the leadership of IHOP-KC is alone in their interpretation of this passage, both from history and biblical authorship.

4) In the passage, Jesus is inviting us "go higher," and hence "get nearer" to God, in order to "receive revelation" and "refreshing."

Let us ask this very important question, related to our previous point: is there anything in this account in which we are told to do something? As we said before, the answer is no. Not a single part of this passage is about us, or something we must do in our spiritual state. This episode was a specific moment in Christ's earthly ministry, and was meant to point towards his divinity and glory, and his status as Messiah. Peter, James, and John were there as witnesses, not as allegories for what we are supposed to do today within the prayer/prophetic movement.

We must be very careful when someone takes a passage of scripture that is descriptive in nature, and then turns it into a prescriptive passage. Just because something is done in scripture does not necessarily mean it must be done by us. Furthermore, when a teacher or leader begins to call things "word images" for us to follow, and interprets it as something we have to do, we must recognize that they are warping the text to fit it into some doctrine or prescription which they themselves are desiring the people of God to do. The unfortunate thing is that this is what is being done at fact, this is a common thing at IHOP-KC. The scriptural text is being warped to suit the needs of the IHOP-KC teachers, and to try to tell their followers that what they are doing has biblical significance, when really it has absolutely no biblical precedent whatsoever.

From this example, we unfortunately see yet another moment where passages of scripture are warped and misconstrued by IHOP-KC leadership to confirm their doctrines. They believe that they are glorifying God, but in actuality they are, through their mishandling of God's word, placing burdens upon the shoulders of their followers. Those at IHOP-KC truly need our prayers to see through the eisegesis brought about by Daniel Lim, Linda Fields, and others, and to come to a true knowledge of who Christ is, and what God's word says. They do not need a greater revelation to understand the Bible - God has placed it all right there.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just a little note on my blog and podcast

As some of you have noticed, I haven't updated in a while. It's not because I have nothing to talk about, or I've lost interest in doing this. It's simply that I've been busy in my real life, with the approaching birth of my firstborn child, as well as being busier than normal at my day job.

However, things will pick up again once things are back in order, and I still tweet every now and then. In the meantime, prayers for my daughter would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Podcast: Variety Episode 3

In this episode, we review Frederica Mathewes-Green recommending Heaven is for Real (and saying some AMAZING things in defense of it), Rick Joyner speaking about the need for unity (and an "Issachar Anointing"), and then we play a brief custom-made clip about Mark Driscoll.

This link takes you to my review of Heaven is for Real.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Podcast: Eastern Orthodoxy and the Atonement

In this episode, we review a message by Frederica Mathewes-Green from her podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. She speaks on the Eastern Orthodox view of Christ's sacrifice, why the western view of substitutionary atonement is wrong, and all in response to an email...from me!

This link takes you to a copy of the email conversation between Mrs. Mathewes-Green and myself.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

First Book Published!

I have self published a historical fiction book which is now available in print and Kindle at Amazon. It's entitled More Precious than Jewels, and is a story which takes place in fifteenth century Italy. I intended it to be a story of biblical womanhood, inspired largely by my wife, who wanted such a story and was the model I used for the main character. From the description:
Fifteenth century Italy, and the entire peninsula finds itself in one of the largest wars it has seen since the Roman Empire. For a young mountain girl named Francesca, the war is far away and has no meaning for her...until her estranged husband departs to join the mercenaries. She is left alone, struggling to find her place in their relationship.

Then, she discovers a clue that her husband may truly love her. She leaves her small, isolated village and journeys northward in the hopes of finding her husband and rekindling her marriage.

Her journey will take her from convents to cathedrals, hamlets to cities. She will encounter pilgrims and cardinals, peasants and knights. She will come to know the kind and the cruel - and some who are the sheer embodiment of evil. There will be times when she will have nothing left to give her strength, save her faith in God.
Here are the links to the two forms of media:

To the print edition.

To the kindle edition.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Variety Episode 2

In this episode we have Jennifer LeClaire, involved with the International House of Prayer, speaking on a "breaker anointing" in Kentucky, and Joyce Meyer, a Prosperity Gospel teacher, defending female pastors; we listen and review both on today's episode.

Here is the link to the Jennifer LeClaire video.

Here is the link to the Joyce Meyer video.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Podcast: Joel Osteen

In this episode, we examine a message from Joel Osteen entitled "Reprogram Your Mind." Does he teach the Gospel? Does he teach what the Bible teaches? We hold him up to the word of God and find out.

This link takes you to Justin Peters' three part presentation on the Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel heresy.

This link takes you to a video showcasing a New Age teacher saying the exact same thing that Word of Faith preachers teach.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Podcast: Why I Became a Christian

In this (very short) podcast, I discuss why I am a Christian, and not an atheist as I once was.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The New Age Connection with Word of Faith

The following is the full video that I played clips from in my podcast examining Word of Faith teachers Len and Cathy Mink. It features Teal Swan speaking about how to "manifest money" and "create wealth." I'm sharing it to show the similarities between the Word of Faith camp and New Age theology regarding visualization and manifestation. As I said in my podcast, Miss Swan could very well become a Word of Faith preacher - all she would have to do is add the name "Jesus" in her presentation every now and then.

Justin Peters goes into greater detail in his Call for Discernment series, which I shared here. He shows that the Word of Faith camp and non-Christian ideas of manifestation and visualization have their same roots in the metaphysical movements from the 1800's.

Note: As I recall, there's a picture of the middle finger used as a graphic somewhere in the video. Just a warning if you're watching with kids nearby.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Podcast: The Oddity of Bob Jones

In this episode, we present a dramatized reading of the Mike Bickle/Bob Jones sessions from the late 1980's, taken from the Aberrant Practices document. It features much of the insane stuff Bob Jones talked about or claimed at that time...but remember, this is a man who many considered a great prophet even up until his recent death, and who many still consider to be a great prophet of God. This is the man who Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer, claims greatly influenced him, was his "buddy," and who he looked up to as a spiritual role model.

As much as some of this will make you laugh, it should also disturb you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Are Christians commanded to pray for Jerusalem?

Before I begin this post, let me make it clear there is nothing wrong with praying for cities. Whether it's your hometown, New York City, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Baghdad, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, etc., that's fine. Jerusalem is included in this list. It is perfectly fine to pray that God would protect a city, bring revival to a city, protect believers in a city, have mercy on a city, etc. Again, Jerusalem is included in this list.

The question is...are Christians told by scripture to pray specifically for Jerusalem?

I recently encountered a gentleman on Twitter (his identity is not vitally important) who said that "we are told in the Bible to pray for two cities 1) your own city 2) Jerusalem." The obvious inference was in regards to the current crisis in the Middle East regarding Hamas and Israel. What struck me about this was it seemed to suggest that Christians were commanded by scripture to pray for the city of Jerusalem.

The Biblical Problem

I asked the gentleman where New Testament believers were commanded to pray for Jerusalem; he responded that, as the early church "lived in the psalms," the early believers "would have felt the applicability of Psalm 122." This was a reference specifically to the wording of Psalm 122:6a, which reads: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (ESV).

Logically speaking, note that the individual is starting with an assumption (Psalm 122 would have been applicable to early believers) and is backing it up with a vague historical fact (the early Christians used the psalms). This is begging the question, however, on the notion that early Christians would have interpreted Psalm 122 to mean a literal Jerusalem for which to pray (which we will get to in a moment). Already we see a dilemma in this kind of doctrine. While there is no doubt that the early Christians would have used the psalms, or worshiped with the psalms, we must remember that they would have to use them within context, depending on each individual psalm. There is no evidence, for example, that any Christian in the early history of the church interpreted Psalm 137:9 to mean that Christians should kill infants.

With this in mind, let's examine the full psalm (it's only nine verses):
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built as a city that is compact together; to which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord—an ordinance for Israel—to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there thrones were set for judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. [Psalm 122:1-9; NASB]
Traditionally, this is believed to be a Davidic psalm, though some scholars have placed its dating not until after the exile; in either case, it can be safe to assume that this is about an Old Testament Jew going to the Temple. The first few verses are the language of a pilgrim, going to Jerusalem, as all Jews were commanded to do (cf. Exo 23:17; Deu 16:16).

The language suggests that the pilgrims have just arrived (v. 2) and beholding the city as a "city that is joined to her together" (as it says in the original Hebrew of v. 3). Traditionally, this is translated to suggest that the buildings were built closely together (hence the NASB's rendering of "compact together"). The NET translator notes suggest that this may refer to the duality of Jerusalem's function in the old state of Israel, as it was the center both of the religious and civil authorities (the reference to the seats of judgment and the thrones of David in v. 5 would give some support for this). On the other hand, the Targum (an early Aramaic paraphrase/commentary of the Bible) suggests that this was in reference to the heavenly Jerusalem; the Jews of Christ's time did indeed believe in the "Jerusalem below," or the literal Jerusalem, and a "Jerusalem above," referring to God's realm (hence the apostle Paul's reference to the Jerusalem above in Galatians 4:26).

This connection was broken (or perhaps, more properly, mended) by the connection between man and God brought about by the first advent of Christ, the rejection of Christ by the Jewish state, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Christ came and "tabernacled" among us (the literal translation of "dwelt among us" in John 1:14), and by His atoning sacrifice and resurrection he became a high priest and made the Levitical priesthood null and void, and gave the final atonement for the sins of His sheep, making null and void the Temple sacrifices as well.

In the last few verses, the psalmist begins to speak of how he will "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The reason for this prayer is seen in the following verses: so that those who love Jerusalem may prosper (not meaning financially or physically, but simply that they would have tranquility or security); that peace may be within Jerusalem's walls, and prosperity within the palaces (meaning that the civil institutions would be stable); for the sake of the psalmist's "brothers" and "friends" (meaning fellow believers). For these three main reasons, the psalmist states that he will now say "may peace be within" Jerusalem. Finally, the psalmist says that "for the sake of the house of the LORD our God," he will see "good for you" (in the literal Hebrew), meaning that he will seek the good that is within Jerusalem through prayer.

Let us now highlight the purposes of this "Jerusalem," according to the psalmist:
  • It is where believers go to worship God and "give thanks to the name of the Lord" (v. 4)
  • Those who love this Jerusalem will find tranquility and peace (v. 6)
  • Praying for peace within this Jerusalem is done for the sake of fellow believers (v. 8)
  • This Jerusalem contains the good of the Lord, of which believers may seek (v. 9)
At the time of the psalmist, this context fit very well. Today, these traits could not fit within the context of modern Jerusalem, which is ruled by modern day secular Israel, inhabited largely by Jews who deny Christ and the Trinitarian God.

The fact is, this could only refer to the spiritual Jerusalem (Paul's "Jerusalem from above"), found within the modern day church and with faith in Christ. Modern day believers do not need to pray for Jerusalem to obtain the good of the Lord, for we have it in Christ, the "tabernacle" of the New Testament. We cannot consider the Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem to be our "brothers," as they are not brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not need to go to Jerusalem to worship God and give Him thanks, for our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and Christ is our eternal high priest (Heb 7:26-27).

There are therefore two possibilities regarding this passage:

Firstly, this is a passage written in the context of believers under the old covenant, and the importance of Jerusalem to the individual believer.

Secondly, this is a passage with eternal implications, but within the context of each individual testament. In the old, it was for a literal Jerusalem; in the new, it is for the spiritual Jerusalem.

The Historical Problem

Related to this is the issue is that, historically speaking, most of the early Church Fathers, and most theologians afterward, saw the extension of many passages regarding Jerusalem and Judea into the new covenant within a spiritual context - that is, Jerusalem, Judea, Israel, and many other names refer to the church or body of believers within the new covenant. Just as the sons of Israel were God's chosen people in the old covenant, so are Christians, the spiritual sons of Israel according to the promise (cf. Rom 9:8), God's chosen people in the new covenant.

The contention by the gentleman I was speaking to was that Justin Martyr and other Fathers believed Christ, upon his second coming, would reign in the literal city of Jerusalem. While it is true that many Historic Premillennial Church Fathers believed Jerusalem would carry some significance at the end times, this does not negate that, at the same time, they upheld passages about Jerusalem in a spiritual context. One quote from Justin Martyr (who lived in the second century):
“Now, sirs,” I said, “it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites. But lest I appear now to diverge to other subjects, understand what I say: the blood of that circumcision is obsolete, and we trust in the blood of salvation; there is now another covenant, and another law has gone forth from Zion. Jesus Christ circumcises all who will—as was declared above—with knives of stone; that they may be a righteous nation, a people keeping faith, holding to the truth, and maintaining peace. Come then with me, all who fear God, who wish to see the good of Jerusalem. Come, let us go to the light of the Lord; for He has liberated His people, the house of Jacob. Come, all nations; let us gather ourselves together at Jerusalem, no longer plagued by war for the sins of her people. ‘For I was manifest to them that sought Me not; I was found of them that asked not for Me;’ He exclaims by Isaiah: ‘I said, Behold Me, unto nations which were not called by My name. I have spread out My hands all the day unto a disobedient and gainsaying people, which walked in a way that was not good, but after their own sins. It is a people that provoketh Me to my face.’” [Dialogue with Trypho; 25; source]
The rest of the conversation is likewise beneficial, as Justin and Trypho speak, and Justin clearly distinguishes between the literal Judea Jerusalem of the old covenant, and the spiritual Judea and Jerusalem of the new covenant. Justin Martyr cannot be telling Christian believers to literally go to the literal Jerusalem - he must clearly be speaking of a spiritual Jerusalem.

Other Church Fathers could be called into account for this. For example, Tertullian speaks of "the true catholic Jerusalem" (The Five Books Against Marcion, 3:22; source) and calls individual Christian believers "a citizen of Jerusalem" (De Corona, Ch. 13; source). Likewise Hippolytus, commentating on the psalms, states that we are citizens of "the Jerusalem which is above" (On Psalm 62:6; source). Also Alexander of Alexandria calls Christ "the Son of the true Jerusalem" (On the Soul and Body and the Passion of the Lord; source). The gentleman mentioned before had argued that, before the Council of Nicaea, a "spiritualized Jerusalem" was not a common these quotes hint at, that isn't true.

The fact is, there is no direct command in scripture to pray for the city of Jerusalem. While there is nothing wrong with Christians praying for Jerusalem of their own conviction, and while we shouldn't argue God will automatically ignore prayers meant for Jerusalem, we should not go to the extreme that we are somehow commanded, by God's holy word, to pray for a single literal word. There is simply no evidence of this in scripture, and it is foreign to Christian history.

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Matthew 18 Means

This post is inspired by Richard Liantonio's post The Myth of Matthew 18. Those who know me personally, or have kept track of this blog through Twitter, know I have had to tackle the meaning of Matthew 18:15-17 much more than I ever imagined I would. Mister Liantonio's post was a refreshing read, and inspired me to tackle the subject of Matthew 18:15-17, and what it does and doesn't mean.

First, let's look at the three verses in question (all citations from Matthew 18 will be in purple):
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." [Matthew 18:15-17; NASB]
Now, let's examine these three verses bit by bit.
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." [v. 15]
Many not used to the NASB translation may notice that something appears missing from this verse; the traditional reading of the verse is "if your brother sins against you." These two words have been used by some people to try to argue that Matthew 18:15 is solely dealing with personal affronts, and hence people who hear a Christian has sinned against someone else should, in essence, "mind their own business." The reason for this difference between translations is that the words "against you" are actually a textual variant. The NET translation notes for this verse read:
The earliest and best witnesses lack “against you” after “if your brother sins.” It is quite possible that the shorter reading in these witnesses (א B, as well as 0281 f1 579 pc sa) occurred when scribes either intentionally changed the text (to make it more universal in application) or unintentionally changed the text (owing to the similar sound of the end of the verb ἁμαρτήσῃ [hamartēsē] and the prepositional phrase εἰς σέ [eis se]). However, if the mss were normally copied by sight rather than by sound, especially in the early centuries of Christianity, such an unintentional change is not as likely for these mss. And since scribes normally added material rather than deleted it for intentional changes, on balance, the shorter reading appears to be original. NA27 includes the words in brackets, indicating doubts as to their authenticity.
If "against you" is not to be considered part of the original manuscripts, then this signifies that this verse does not refer to a personal affront, and hence such a situation does not need to occur for us to confront a brother who sins. This also makes Matthew 18:15 perfectly in line with Galatians 6:1, where the apostle Paul writes "if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted."

If a brother is discovered or sin, or we somehow discover that a brother has sinned, we are told to "show him his fault in private." The Greek for "show him his fault" is literally in the Greek "go reprove him" (ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν). The word for "reprove" is the same used by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2; the general idea is that you should go and demonstrate the guilt of your brother. Obviously this should be done, as the apostle Paul said, "in a spirit of gentleness," hoping to bring the brother to repentance and not simply make them feel guilty for their transgressions (though, if they are truly repentant, guilt should be a definite part of it). The goal of this confrontation is that the brother "listens to you" - that is, he repents of his sins, confesses them, and seeks to show the fruits of this repentance.

Some have argued that there should be given "time to repent." However, this is nowhere in the passage, and tends to be argued simply to give the person an excuse to continue in sin.

We are told to do this "alone" (μόνου). Much has been attempted to be said and done about this single word, and so let's understand two things about it:

What this does mean is that we should do this reproving in private, to respect the dignity of our brother. We should not bring it out into the open, or before the entire church, simply at the drop of a hat, unless there is some immediate danger or concern for another person's life or well-being.

What this doesn't mean is that we are absolutely forbidden from seeking advice or help on this matter. The "alone" here (as Mister Liantonio rightfully points out) simply contrasts it with the reproof involving one or two more witnesses in verse 16 - it is about the confrontation itself, not the prayerful consideration leading up to the confrontation.

Let us say, for the sake of example, that someone sees one of their fellow church members at a restaurant with a woman not his wife. Maybe he doesn't feel comfortable confronting the individual, but he goes to a friend of the man and says, "Hey, could you talk to your friend? I've seen him in sin." In this case, the friend would be taking over the regulations of Matthew 18:15. He may also make it more anonymous, but ask some brothers, "Hey, I've seen someone at my church in sin - should I confront him?" It is perfectly possible to seek godly council and not enter into the realm of gossip.

Of course, gossip should be avoided. However, there is a difference between "I've seen so-and-so committing sin, what should I do?" and "Hey, have you heard about what so-and-so did?"
"But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed." [v. 16]
Verse 16 presumes that, after the private confrontation, the brother in Christ did not repent, and has stubbornly continued without repentance, or have even remained active in sin. At this point, the person doing the confronting takes one or two more people who are also aware of the brother's transgression.

The reference to the "mouth of two or three witnesses" is actually a citation from the Law (Deu 19:15). This is also, incidentally, the "two or three" Christ is referring to in v. 20, which is perhaps one of the most misused passages of scripture: Christ is not referring to church fellowship, but to church discipline.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." [v. 17]
Verse 17 assumes that the individual has not repented, even though he was confronted by two or three people on their sin. In this case, the person is brought forward to "the church." This suggests that the sin is to be handled in a local context, within the sinning individual's church, and by the church body.

The idea of being "as a Gentile and a tax collector" is that you should not associate with such a person on a high level (in the first century Jewish context, Gentiles were not allowed within the inner parts of the Temple, and tax collectors were considered among the very worst of sinners). Most would rightly assume that this means excommunication, or at the very least enacting some form of church discipline which removes from the individual the joy of fellowship.

The unfortunate situation nowadays is that many people are "lone wolf Christians," or do not attend a church for reasons outside their control, and hence have no primary authority to be disciplined by. Some things to consider:

First, if someone is a lone wolf Christian, then they are in violation of scripture's command to be a part of corporate worship (cf. Heb 10:25), and this suggests some deeper spiritual issues with the individual. I would put forward, if a person continues to willingly forsake fellowship even after it has been offered to them, and they are fully capable of engaging in fellowship, then this may be a sign that they are not truly converted, and in this case (but only in the most extreme scenario), the person may be already considered "as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Second, if the person has a legitimate reason they are not part of a fellowship of believers, then the solution will most likely be on a case-by-case basis, and at the discretion and conviction of those who are exhorting him to repent. Obviously, the ultimate goal would be that the person be brought to repent.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Podcast: The Gospel of Stuff

In this episode, we review an episode of the Len and Cathy Mink TV show, reviewing how Christ died so we could have "stuff." In doing so, we examine the Word of Faith heresy, and how scriptures are twisted to affirm the doctrines.

This link takes you to Justin Peters' presentation on the Word of Faith heresy.

This link takes you to my examination of Malachi 3:10

Friday, July 4, 2014

Does Malachi 3:10 Teach a Blessing for Us?

I recently dealt with a citation of Malachi 3:10, which was said you could not "out give" God, and in fact God commands that we "test Him" on this. It was being used by a local church to try to raise money, though I would not be surprised if it has been used by other churches to teach similarly.

The full context of the verse (with verse 10 highlighted in bold):
“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts. [Malachi 3:6-12]
The book of Malachi details a series of criticisms against the nation of Israel (cf. Mal 1:1). It commonly features God making an accusation against the people about their transgressing His Law, followed by a presupposed objection the people might have (cf. Mal 1:6; 2:14; etc.), followed then by God's response and more detailed rebuke, along with an offer of reconciliation and a return to the blessings promised by the Law.

In this instance, God opens up by saying He, the Lord, does no change - meaning, in this context, that He does not change his mind regarding the covenant He made with Israel (v. 6). It is common for mortal man to give up on an agreement when the other person does not follow up with it, but it is not so with God. It is because of God's faithfulness to the covenant that He has not yet consumed the "sons of Jacob" (a reference to the promises made in Genesis 28:13 and 35:12) with judgment. These people rightly deserved judgment, because "from the days" of their fathers they "have turned aside" (that is, ignored) God's Law, and have not kept it (v. 7). However, the Lord asks them to return to Him (ie., repent), and He will return to them (ie., restore His blessings).

God then presupposes the question, "How shall we return?" In other words, what are the people to repent of, and how are they to repent? God accuses the people of robbery, and presupposes either their dumb ignorance or fake innocence with the question, "How have we robbed you?" The people are accused of not honoring the "tithes and offerings" (v. 8), but what are these "tithes and offerings"? In fact, these are references to the crops that were owed not only to the Temple (Lev 27:30-33), but which were provided for the Levites and priests (Num 18:8, 11, 19, 21-24), who had no land to sustain themselves like the other Jewish tribes had. The nation's failure to fulfill this obligation of the Law has placed them under a serious curse (v. 9).

Now we come to verse 10, where God commands the people to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." What does this mean? What is the "storehouse"? No doubt some pastors will attempt to spiritualize this to mean our bank accounts, but if we honor God by remaining true to the text of His holy word, we understand that this is speaking of the storehouse of the Temple (cf. Neh 13:5), as seen clearly by the following words "so that there may be food in My house." Remember, also, these are specific offerings God has commanded the people to give. These were the crops and produce of their land, and these were meant to go to the Temple (which no longer exists), and to support the Levitical priesthood (which has been replaced by Christ's priesthood). We cannot rip this verse out of it's context - we must adhere to what the word of God is saying.

Some might read God's command to "test" Him, and ponder if this is a contradiction with Deuteronomy 6:16, which clearly states not to test the Lord (and which was quoted by Christ against the devil). The key here is that these two verses actually have two different Hebrew words: Malachi 3:10 uses a form of bachan, which means to examine, try, or prove, and is often used in verses dealing with God testing mankind for their faith; Deuteronomy 6:16 uses a form of nasah, which means to test or tempt, and which, while often used in reference to God testing mankind, is also used in passages in which mankind puts God to the test, or in essence "tempts" Him to do something. Hence the KJV translation might be more accurate with the use of "prove" rather than "test."

Let me try to use an analogy to show how this verse is getting mishandled. Suppose I was good friends with someone at a car dealership, and he sold me a car for a good deal, with an understanding that I would meet the monthly payments to finish the rest of the cost. Some months down the road, I begin to fail to make the payments, and I get close to having my car repossessed...but, since we're friends, the car dealer gives me a friendly warning, saying, "You need to give me the money, and then you can keep the car." Now imagine if someone took the dealer's words and went around telling people, "Aha! Just throw money at the dealer, and he'll give you a car!" Is that an honest handling of the situation, and what the dealer said? Absolutely not.

On this note, those who attempt to use this verse to teach some kind of blessing for a monetary offering are actually in violation of Deuteronomy 6:16. When God says "put Me to the test" in Malachi 3:10, He is merely saying, "Act according to the statutes, and I will prove to you that I am faithful on my end of the covenant." On the other hand, those who teach that we should give as much as we can, as a way to see if God will do something in return, are, in essence, tempting God to act. They give as a way to say, "Come on, God, show me what You can do!" It is almost as if we are placing God under an obligation to give us financial blessing, when no such obligation exists.

Furthermore, if you continue on with the verse and those after it, you see that this blessing is agricultural in nature, not financial. It speaks of opening up "the windows of heaven," which is scriptural language for bringing rain (cf. Deu 28:12; Psa 78:23). He promises to rebuke "the devourer" (literally "the eater"), a reference to locusts and other insects which are destructive to crops; likewise, God will make certain the vineyards do not "cast" their grapes - literally "miscarry," and basically meaning a promise that the vineyards will bear fruit (v. 11). The reward will be so great that "all the nations" (meaning the Gentile nations) will call them blessed, for they are a "delightful man" (v. 12) - not meaning anything overtly spiritual, but simply meaning that, if Israel fulfills her end of the covenant, than the Gentile nations around them will see how happy and fulfilled they are.

No doubt, I'm sure, some preachers will here want to spiritualize all these things. The crops are our finances, the devourers are those who would take those finances from us (or maybe the devil, who takes time out of his day to try to make us poor), and the "nations" are those who can look at those in the church and see how prosperous Christians are. However, once again, this is robbing the passage of its original context, and spiritualizing it to say what we want it to say. We would not do this with any other historical document, and we would not want anyone doing this to our own words - why, then, should we treat the word of God with any less respect?

In conclusion, does Malachi 3:10 teach that, if we try to "out give" with our finances, we can test God and see what sort of blessings He will give us in return? On the contrary, it teaches nothing of the sort. Anyone who uses this passage to teach that it does is mishandling the word of God.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Podcast: Ernest Angley

In this episode, we provide a brief review of televangelist Ernest Angley, along with his questionable doctrines, and some statements I heard him and his staff make while I visited his church in person.

Much of this episode's content I owe to a study on Ernest Angley over at the discernment website Let Us Reason.

Here's the link to the blog post referencing Ernest Angley's teachings on the Latter Day Rain doctrine.

UPDATE - OCTOBER 13, 2014: I was sent a link to this article, discussing the allegations of sexual abuse at Ernest Angley's church, as well as his approval of abortions and vasectomies. I had encountered such allegations during my research for this podcast, but it had come from blog comments and fly by posts by people on news media, not "official" sources. This is the first source I've come across that placed it in a legitimate place for discussion.