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In closing my series on the Book of Hebrews, the first eight verses of Hebrews 13 are in the Lectionary and are read during Year C (2019) during one of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Thank goodness, because the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a short précis of how to live the Christian life.

Verses 2 and 8 are two exceptionally beautiful and memorable verses:

Hebrews 13:1-8

Sacrifices Pleasing to God

13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The author exhorts his audience of Christian converts to continue in brotherly love (verse 1). That means obeying the Ten Commandments: loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

We should do no harm to anyone and, beyond that, we should exercise kindness whenever we can, especially to our fellow believers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christians should always love and live as brethren, and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father the more they will grow in love to one another for his sake.

To put this verse in context with regard to the Hebrew converts of that era, Henry reminds us that conflict brewed, with the potential of driving the converts apart. Their family and friends also persecuted them, so it was not easy. Furthermore, those who know this book understand that many were having second thoughts about having converted to Christianity.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

It is here supposed that the Hebrews had this love one for another. Though, at this time, that nation was miserably divided and distracted among themselves, both about matters of religion and the civil state, yet there was true brotherly love left among those of them who believed on Christ; and this appeared in a very eminent manner presently after the shedding forth of the Holy Ghost, when they had all things common, and sold their possessions to make a general fund of subsistence to their brethren … This brotherly love was in danger of being lost, and that in a time of persecution, when it would be most necessary; it was in danger of being lost by those disputes that were among them concerning the respect they ought still to have to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Disputes about religion too often produce a decay of Christian affection; but this must be guarded against, and all proper means used to preserve brotherly love.

John MacArthur explains why the author of Hebrews made the exhortation to love so simple:

… the law says, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness,’ – that means to lie – ‘don’t covet.’ And if there be any other commandment, he could put them all together in one saying: ‘Thou shalt’ – what? – ‘love thy neighbor as thyself. For love works no ill to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

That’s why, you see, in Hebrews 13 it doesn’t need to list a whole lot of things. All it needs to say is just love, and that’ll take care of the law; that’s right. If a man loves, he won’t kill; for lover never seeks to destroy. And listen to this: love can’t hate. Love will seek to destroy an enemy by making him a friend.

If a man loves, he’ll never steal; for love doesn’t take, what does it do? It gives. And if a man loves, he will never covet; for covetousness – epithumia, which means the uncontrolled, inordinate desire for self-satisfaction. If a man loves, he’ll never covet, because love is not self-centered, it’s selfless, you see.

So love is really all he needs. In fact, Paul says, “Love is the bond of perfection, it ties everything together.” So love is the basic ethic toward others.

It is also worth saying that the love spoken of here is agape — platonic — not an emotional or sexual love, which some churchgoing advocates of polyamory (yes, they exist) insist upon:

you can reduce Christian conduct down to a simple, common denominator. There it is: love people. And before you say, “Well, I just can’t get it worked out,” let me remind you that love is not an emotion, it’s a principle. Don’t ever forget it.

I don’t get emotional about certain people. I don’t say, “Oh, there’s Mr. So-and-So. Oh, love, love,” you know. No, no. Love in the Bible is not necessarily emotional at all, it is a principle; and if you want to know what kind of a principle it is, read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a principle of self-sacrifice.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So is; you need to condescend to help him, to meet his need, to care for him, to bear his burdens, to pray for him. Those are principles that have handles on them. Those are not ethereal, foggy, pie in the sky, lovey-dovey kind of squashy emotions. Listen, we’re not talking about something that’s just kind of syrupy. Love is a basic principle, and it’s the principle of self-sacrifice based on humility, isn’t it

Verse 2 is not only beautiful, but it also has a biblical basis in fact with regard to ‘entertained angels unawares’, as Henry outlines:

Thereby some have entertained angels unawares; so Abraham did (Genesis 18:1-32), and Lot (Genesis 19:1-38), and one of those that Abraham entertained was the Son of God; and, though we cannot suppose this will ever be our case, yet what we do to strangers, in obedience to him, he will reckon and reward as done to himself. Matthew 25:35, I was a stranger, and you took me in. God has often bestowed honours and favours upon his hospitable servants, beyond all their thoughts, unawares.

Does that mean being a doormat? No, it does not.

MacArthur explains it as follows:

Back in Genesis 18 Abraham put out a nice spread for three visitors, and found out one of them was God and two of them were angels. Now that isn’t to say get ready because angels are coming to your house; not at all. But that does mean that God sometimes will bring people into your path that you need to be very careful to show love to, because you just don’t know who you have on your hands. And it’s not just for your benefit either; maybe they have a tremendous need, and a word of love from you can turn a life around. You know that? How many times have people said to me, “John, my life was such and such and such, and I met so-and-so, and in just a moment of time my life was changed.”

Verse 3 discusses those ‘in prison’ — ‘in bonds’ in some translations. That might be an actual prison — and we know that from the earliest days of Christianity, people such as Peter and Paul were in chains for preaching the Good News. That has not stopped. There are Christians today who are suffering in prison, sometimes tortured, for their beliefs.

There are also innocent people in prison. There are also criminals who are not only in prison but also have psychological obstacles that act like a prison which caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.

There are other people, walking in perfect freedom, who also live in a psychological prison: addiction, for example.

For all of them, we must be empathetic and at least pray for them.

Note that the author of Hebrews says ‘since you are also in the body’ — the body of humanity or the body of believers.

MacArthur examines the times when Peter and Paul were in prison:

… Verse 3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Do you know really what sympathy is? To suffer with, literally; empathy to get inside and feel what somebody feels. You have to be a selfless person to do that. If people are in prison, do you feel that, those who suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the flesh? In your own body, do you know what people go through when they go through pain?

Remember this morning, when we studied about the church that prayed for three days, day and night for Peter? They felt what he felt, didn’t they? They were hurting because he was hurting. That’s sympathy.

And, you know, sympathy can be shown in three ways at least, many ways. But here’s three interesting ones in the New Testament: 2 Timothy 1:16, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy in the Lord in that day: and in many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” You know one way to be sympathetic? By your personal presence with somebody in need. That’s sympathy, just being there where they are.

Here’s another way: Not only just in your presence, but in certain deeds that you might do. Philippians chapter 4, Paul needed some sympathy, he was in jail. Philippians 4:14, “Notwithstanding you have well done that you did share with my affliction. Now you Philippians know that in the beginning of the gospel when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving, but you only.” In other words, nobody gave me any money to carry on my ministry. ”For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. I’m glad you’re giving, not because I get the money, but because when you give, you get blessed.”

Verse 18: “But I have all, and abound; I’m full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of sweet smell, sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Another way to show sympathy is by deeds of love. Not only your personal presence, but by doing deeds of love.

There’s a third way to show sympathy to somebody and that’s by prayer, praying for them, Colossians 4:18. Paul closes Colossians with these words: “Remember my bonds.” Hey, he says, “Don’t forget I’m in jail; pray for me.” Now this is our basic obligation to other people: to love them with full care and sympathy.

The author of Hebrews moves on from the general to the particular, beginning with a verse warning against sexual immorality and encouraging marital purity (verse 4). He says that God will judge those who have defiled the marital state through adultery or fornication.

God devised marriage as an earthly means of intimate companionship between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is why traditional Christians hold this institution so closely to their hearts. This is also why it is so important to marry the right person.

Henry says:

It is honourable, for God instituted it for man in paradise, knowing it was not good for him to be alone. He married and blessed the first couple, the first parents of mankind, to direct all to look unto God in that great concern, and to marry in the Lord. Christ honoured marriage with his presence and first miracle. It is honourable as a means to prevent impurity and a defiled bed. It is honourable and happy, when persons come together pure and chaste, and preserve the marriage bed undefiled, not only from unlawful but inordinate affections.

Although MacArthur preached the sermon cited here nearly 40 years ago, the problems with sexual purity were already widespread because of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the late 1960s:

Now the word “sex” has become – you know, there were taboos in the past and, you know, sex was a word that was a taboo many years ago. You just didn’t say that word; it was a terrible word. And now sex is everywhere.

Even if mankind thinks it is fine to engage in all manner of sexual impurity, God does not. Students of the Bible know there are many passages condemning it:

“Let the bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Sexual purity. And we live in a world that’s going crazy over sex. It’s not that people’s desires are any different, it’s just that if society will let them do more things, they’ll do it. And Romans chapter 1 says they get real clever and they invent new things.

People in our society have gone crazy in the area of sexual fulfillment. When two people allow their passions to run away with each other, when two people allow themselves to get caught in a compromising situation sexually, let me tell you something, friends, it is not that they love each other too much, it is that they don’t love each other enough. It is that they love each other too little to respect each other’s purity before God.

And I say to you, if a guy comes to you, girls, and says, “I love you so much; give me what I want,” he doesn’t love you very much at all, believe me. His love hasn’t developed where the most important thing in his life is your beauty and purity and holiness. When he sees you like that, then he really loves you.

Now you say, “And why is this a sin against ourselves?” Well, that’s what Paul said, you see, in 1 Corinthians 6:18. He said, “Flee fornication. For every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he that commiteth fornication” – porneia, sex sin“sins against his own body.” You see, you have to live with this in your own flesh. This is a sin against your own body. The purity of your own body has been defiled. And so God says, “I desire sexual purity.”

The next personal message the author of Hebrews has for his audience is to avoid loving money (verse 5). Money in and of itself is fine, but when we lust after it, it becomes sinful.

MacArthur mentions an interesting observation from Charles Spurgeon on covetousness:

Spurgeon said one time, he said, “In all my life” – he said – “I’ve been in a lot of testimony meetings, and I’ve heard a lot of people share how they have sinned.” And he said, “I’ve had people come to me and make confession of sin. In my life” – he said – “I never had one person confess the sin of covetousness to me.” And I’ve only been around a few years, and I’ve never had anyone confess it to me either.

Wow. That means we’re probably all guilty of covetousness, without even realising it.

MacArthur says:

Be honest: the bigger thing, the better thing, more money, promotion, bigger house, bigger car – this is a temptation for all of us – nicer clothes, all of these things. And it’s a very serious thing. God says, “I want you to be, in a word, satisfied.” Godliness with contentment is really being rich, isn’t it.

Yet, interestingly, as I write this, government restrictions on coronavirus are driving economies around the world into meltdown: ‘Shares may go down, as well as up’.

Both our commentators encourage us to be happy with what we have at the time. I know that is difficult to swallow right now. People are currently losing their jobs: hospitality workers, certain retail workers, self-employed shopkeepers as well as some artisans and tradesmen. The list goes on. They have rent or mortgages to pay and families to support. Life is going to get very difficult for them. Let’s remember to patronise their businesses, have a friendly chat with them and, at home, pray for them.

We are all going to feel the pain in one way or another, just wait. This will not get better for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t a matter of not having enough loo roll or bags of pasta, this is going to be a disaster. That’s not even mentioning civil liberties. But, I digress.

Therefore, we need to commit the end of verse 5 …

for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

… and verse 6 to our hearts and minds:

So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Even though a lot of us will be unable to attend church for the next few weeks, because of coronavirus, we can spend that time reading the Bible and reflecting on our faith in prayer.

Let us also remember our clergy in our prayers, particularly during this time. They, too, have taken difficult decisions in closing churches.

We can reflect on the good example they have shown us and imitate it as best we can (verse 7). That might include praying more, leading a deeper spiritual life, exercising more kindness and patience towards others.

Finally, we come to my favourite verse in the Bible (verse 8):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Jesus had unlimited, boundless love during his earthly ministry, and He shows that same love for us not only today but for eternity. What He considered good in the Gospel stories, He still considers good. What Jesus considered evil during his earthly ministry, He still considers evil. He died for our sins and, sitting at the right hand side of the Father, His redemption continues to hold good, today and forever.

Jesus is our ultimate role model, therefore, let us be Christlike, as MacArthur explains:

Your first group of examples? Men. The supreme example, who? Jesus Christ, who never varies, who never changes. And you notice it uses His earthly name, Jesus. Uses His earthly title, Messiah, Christ. Why? Because it’s presenting an earthly pattern. He says to them – watch – “Follow the men who were your leaders,” but – oh, if you really want to pattern your life, pattern it after the human Jesus.

Let me ask you something. You want to see sustained love? The first ethic we talked about. You want to see sustained love? Who are you going to see it in better than anybody else? John 13, “Jesus having loved them” – loved them what? – “unto the end.” Sustained love. You want to see sympathy? Who you going to see it in? Who you going to see sympathy in? You hear it in John. He goes to the grave of Lazarus, and He begins to do what? To weep. You want to see sexual purity? You’ll see it in Jesus like you’ll never see it anywhere else. As He denounces the vile sin of sexual immorality in John 8 and then cleanses the immoral woman.

You want to see satisfaction? Contentment? You’ll hear it when Jesus says, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” You’ll hear it when He says, “The foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” That’s satisfaction. You want to hear steadfastness? Listen to Him in Matthew 4, as Satan confronts Him three times, and three times He says no. “I’ll trust God’s Word, I reject yours.” Steadfast. You want to see separation from the world? Listen to His prayer in John 17:16, He said, “Father, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

You want to see sacrifice? Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:2 when he says, “And walk in love as Christ also loved us” – listen – “and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor.” Never a greater sacrifice than His. You want to see submission? Listen to Jesus in the garden as He prays, “Not my will” – what? – “Thine be done.” You want to see supplication? Watch Him in the garden as He prays for Himself, for His disciples, and for all the Christians who would ever be born in the world.

My friends, the perfect example, the unchanging-yesterday-today-and-forever example is Jesus Christ. The ethics, great. The example, look at Jesus and mimic Him. And you also will find Him reproduced in the lives of men after whom you can pattern your lives.

I hope that this will give us spiritual encouragement and sustainment now and in future.

I also hope this apologetic explains the tenets of the Christian life we are called to live.

Well done, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), for using Scripture to refute cries for another immigration amnesty.

Lamar Smith wrote a column for Breitbart, posted on July 11, 2018. Any bleeding hearts saying that the Bible supports uncontrolled immigration would do well to read ‘Rep. Lamar Smith: Scripture Opposes Amnesty‘. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

First, St Paul told Christians that they should obey the law:

The Scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens, and punishing wrongdoers. A prime passage is Romans 13:1-7: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Neither God nor the Bible ever rewards lawlessness (1 Timothy 1: 8-10).

Secondly, the Bible does not advocate amnesty:

Consider Leviticus 19:33-34, frequently cited by amnesty advocates: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The law God laid down for Israel allowed legal distinctions to be drawn between natives and non-natives.

Also, the Hebrew term for “sojourn,” as well as the dictionary definition, means “temporary stay.” A related term used in some scriptural translations is “stranger.” So this passage offers no scriptural sanction for allowing millions of illegal immigrants to remain permanently in the United States. In the New Testament, the word “stranger” denotes one who is simply unknown (The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible), not someone who is a foreigner.

Finally, the Bible mentions borders in a number of places. God mandated such borders. Smith cited the following references, which I’m quoting in full:

And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  Exodus 19:12

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
    when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders[a] of the peoples
    according to the number of the sons of God.[b]  Deuteronomy 32:8

Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set. Proverbs 22:28

In conclusion:

Americans need not apologize for wanting to uphold the rule of law. We have every right to be a sovereign nation. Our nation has a wonderful tradition of welcoming newcomers. Furthermore, we admit more than one million legal immigrants a year, far more than any other country.

There is a difference, though, between those who play by the rules and come in the right way and those who don’t. And the Bible’s commentary on strangers and foreigners makes that clear.

Europeans can — and should — refer to those verses as well, particularly given the immigration crisis that started in 2015 and, unfortunately, continues apace.

Have we considered the scriptural accuracy of ‘stairway to heaven’?

This graphic from Reddit explains it beautifully:

This is what Jesus said (Matthew 7:13-14), emphasis mine:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone who is the son of a prominent cleric, now deceased. When he spoke at length about accepting sexual depravity in our modern era — Christian tolerance in changing times — I had to remind him of those verses. I doubt it did any good, but we need to know what the Bible says and to speak up about such things.

My Forbidden Bible Verses post last week looked at Matthew 8:28-34, the account the deliverance of the men near Gadara of their many demons.

This is often referred to as the story of the Gadarene swine, since Jesus sent the demons into a flock of pigs which ran off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee.

The townspeople were no doubt upset at the loss of their pigs. However, more importantly, they were alarmed by Jesus’s divine power and, instead of considering His miracle as being of God, actively rejected Him.

Incidentally, yesterday’s post explained why Jesus sent the demons into the swine.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 9 begins by revealing what happened to the Gadarenes in the end.

First, it is essential to know that our Lord leaves those who reject Him to their own devices:

They bid him begone, and he took them at their word, and we never read that he came into their coasts again. Now here observe, 1. His justice–that he left them. Note, Christ will not tarry long where he is not welcome. In righteous judgment, he forsakes those places and persons that are weary of him, but abides with those that covet and court his stay. If the unbeliever will depart from Christ, let him depart it is at his peril, 1 Corinthians 7:15.

Secondly, He has infinite patience:

2. His patience–that he did not leave some destroying judgment behind him, to punish them, as they deserved, for their contempt and contumacy. How easily, how justly, might he have sent them after their swine, who were already so much under the devil’s power. The provocation, indeed, was very great: but he put it up, and passed it by and, without any angry resentments or upbraidings, he entered into a ship, and passed over. This was the day of his patience he came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them not to kill, but to cure.

However, if His judgement on the Gadarenes did not follow at the time, it certainly did around the time the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. How many of us knew this? Emphases mine:

Spiritual judgments agree more with the constitution of gospel times yet some observe, that in those bloody wars which the Romans made upon the Jews, which began not many years after this, they first besieged the town of Gadara, where these Gadarenes dwelt.

Coincidence? Believers would not think so. Our Lord works everything to His divine plan.

My Forbidden Bible Verses post last week looked at Matthew 8:28-34, the account the deliverance of the men near Gadara of their many demons.

This is often referred to as the story of the Gadarene swine, since Jesus sent the demons into a flock of pigs which ran off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee.

The townspeople were no doubt upset at the loss of their pigs. However, more importantly, they were alarmed by Jesus’s divine power and, instead of considering His miracle as being of God, actively rejected Him. Tomorrow’s post will reveal what happened to them. (If you’re reading this on August 27 into August 28, 2015, the link is not yet live.)

Many people today, Christians and secularists, find this healing miracle of deliverance disturbing because Jesus, at the demons’ request, drove them into the swine. The demons were so powerful that they drove the swine into the sea. Therefore, the modern conclusion is that Jesus was cruel in doing that to helpless pigs.

However, John MacArthur tells us that Jesus had to do it for reasons of human understanding:

Why?  Because if He’d just said, “Demons leave,” nobody would have known whether they left or where they went … But when you watch two thousand pigs dive off a cliff and drown in the sea, they knew exactly what had happened, that the demons had entered those pigs, which proved the point that He had cleansed those two men.

This is an important — and essential — point to explain to people who object to our Lord’s actions in this healing. Everything He did — and does — serves a divine purpose.

 

The second series of Father Brown (BBC) ended recently in the UK. Series One is being rerun as I write.

The Radio Times says that the 45-minute programme which airs in the mid-afternoon has been garnering higher ratings than ever. The second series has outpaced the first. Furthermore, it seems likely that more viewers will see the first series in reruns compared with the first time around.

Mark Williams, originally a comic actor, plays Father Brown and has found it a thought-provoking yet enjoyable role. He told television chef James Martin in another BBC show in the run-up to Christmas that he hopes there will be a third series.

So do I, although I have a few minor quibbles:

– The stories are so loosely adapted there isn’t even a mention in the title sequence of the one used for a particular episode.

– Because it is set in a Gloucestershire village, it’s a bit like Midsomer Murders with a cleric.

– Father Brown plays a bit fast and loose on occasion with the Ten Commandments. He does a bit of pilfering as well as breaking and entering in order to solve two cases.

– The green vestments used in the first series were very much Vatican II, certainly too modern for the 1950s setting. The costume department must have asked for older ones in the second series. It was good to see a traditional black vestment used in the funeral scenes.

That said, this show provides good discussion material for older teens and parents. A variety of ethical problems arise discreetly throughout both series: adultery, fornication, spousal abuse and much more. The hostile atheism the two detectives display (they change between the two series) and Father Brown’s response to it is instructive.

Which brings me to today’s Apologetics Corner. As was true with the first detective, the new one finds Father Brown’s intrusions annoying, even though the priest manages to solve every case.

In one episode in Series Two, the police detective says to Father Brown, ‘Just leave this to the professionals.’

To which Father Brown calmly replies (only slightly paraphrased), ‘But remember that professionals built the Titanic. An amateur built the Ark.’

Truer words were never spoken. A good deal of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, common sense and perseverance will see many of us through life’s problems. We don’t need to have a special qualification, graduate degree or billionaire status to reap those divine rewards!

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

From this verse is derived the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’.

When I was growing up and even as a young adult, there was no such thing as Every Member Ministry (EMM), where laying a table at a church supper counts as much as preaching the Word of God.

So it seems, at any rate.

Today’s churches of whatever denomination push their various programmes involving laypeople. These are often referred to as ministries. It still surprises me to visit a church website, click on the word ‘Ministries’ and find that these do not pertain to clergy.

Such is the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) says (emphases mine):

We affirm the priesthood of all believers. Laypersons have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ’s name. That is why the Convention requires strong lay involvement on its boards.

This doctrine is first and foremost a matter of responsibility and servanthood, not privilege and license.

It is of course, a perversion of this doctrine to say that all views are equally valid, that you can believe anything and still be a Baptist or that the pastor has no unique leadership role.

Hmm.

Notice how the SBC calls this ‘priesthood’ a ‘right’ and a ‘responsibility’ in an incorrect way.

On this topic, Theopedia cites Daniel Akin in Perspectives on Church Government, (p. 37):

The priesthood of all believers… means that in the community of saints, God has constructed his body such that we are all priests to one another. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with the believer’s service than with an individual’s position or status. We are all believer-priests. We all stand equally before God. Such standing does not negate specific giftedness or calling. It rather enchances our giftedness as each one of us individually and collectively does his part to build the body (Eph. 4:11-16). We are all priests. We are all responsible.

It will come as no surprise to find that Dr Akin is a leader in the SBC and is president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

If that is the actual reading of St Peter’s verse, then how is it that most churches never held to this position until the past 20 years or so?

I was not alone in having been raised by parents and religious teachers with the concept that ministry — the pastorate — was a ‘vocation’ or a ‘calling’. This also held true for abbots, nuns, friars, brothers and other vow-professing members of religious orders. It did not extend to Mrs Smith or Mr Jones down the street, as nice and churchgoing as they were.

Earlier in 1 Peter 2 — verse 5 — Peter introduces Christian priesthood by saying:

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Reading that verse puts a different slant on 1 Peter 2:9.

One of the few traditional, orthodox interpretations of ‘priesthood of all believers’ is that of David J Riggs:

all Christians are of that holy priesthood and can offer spiritual sacrifices to God. All have the right to go directly to God through Jesus Christ, our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). 

… Rev. 1:5-6 says, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Consequently, the New Testament repeatedly teaches that all Christians are priests. When one obeys the gospel of Christ, he is added to the body of Christ and is thereby part of God’s holy priesthood. As priests, all can offer up spiritual sacrifices and draw nigh to God through the mediatorship of Jesus.

A sacrificing priesthood of men was appointed under the law of Moses, but the animal sacrifices offered by those priests were mere types and shadows of the one sacrifice made by Christ. By the one sacrifice made by Jesus, He put an end both to the Levitical priesthood and the Old Testament law. (See Heb. 7:23-25; Col. 2:14-17) …

There is no priesthood on earth that has the right to forbid each Christian from going directly to God through Christ, or to assume the authority to administer graces and obtain mercy for others. All Christians are of that royal priesthood of God, and have but one great High Priest, Jesus Christ …

That is what the ‘priesthood of all believers’ means.

It does not mean judging and demanding confessions in small groups, like the Communists do (as per Bella Dodd). No layman has the ‘right’ to hear about your sins.

It does not mean poking our noses in someone else’s business because they do something in the freedom of Christ with which we personally disagree.

It does not mean that by baking cookies for the church fête or being a church greeter on Sundays that we are performing a priestly function.

The ‘priesthood of all believers’ means that we do not require a high priest on Earth to intercede on our behalf to our Father in Heaven. The Christian lay ‘priest’ (true believer, faithful to the Gospel) may pray freely and directly to Christ Jesus, his only Mediator and Advocate.

Dr R Scott Clark explores this in one of his Heidelblog posts, ‘Ministers All?’

Clark examines Ephesians 4 and other New Testament passages in light of Every Member Ministry (EMM).

He started his Christian journey as a Southern Baptist before becoming a Reformed minister. Note how the aforementioned SBC ‘priesthood of all believers’ definition came to play out in his life:

I wasn’t always a stuffy high-church Calvinist. I came to faith in the context of a revivalist Southern Baptist congregation. I learned quickly as an evangelical that I needed to have a “ministry.” It wasn’t enough simply to be a teen-ager and to learn the basics of the faith and to go about my daily life trusting Christ, dying to sin and living to God. No, I had to have a “ministry.” So we took “spiritual gift” tests. The test said that I had the gift of prophecy. I’m still waiting for that one to kick in. In order to be regarded as full-time, sold-out, born again Christians, one had to have a ministry. So, with other students, we started a campus bible study at the local public school (which was contested by the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union the next year!). I was at Campus Life and if not there then at Youth Group or at a FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) or Campus Crusade (I was a religious over-achiever) meeting at the University or every week. My last two years high school w[ere] a blur of religious activity. When I got my first radio job helping to produce and then to host a Sunday morning gospel show on a local country station, my well-meaning youth pastor told me that it was okay to miss Sunday AM services because I had a “ministry.”

Later, as a young Reformed minister:

If I can be brutally honest when I embraced the “every member ministry” model during my pastorate in Kansas City it was because we were a small church and we didn’t seem to be growing and, in response to the tremendous internal and external pressure felt by most pastors to “grow the church,” I adopted a series of “new measures.” I became a predestinarian evangelical. I fiddled with the Regulative Principle and I made friends with the so-called “church growth” movement and I let those things color my biblical exegesis. I read a series of distinctly modern assumptions back into Ephesians 4.

Clark cites Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV):

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

He rightly asks:

Did Christ give the various offices listed “to equip the saints to do the work of ministry” or did he give them “to equip the saints, for the work of ministry….”? In other words, are these two phrases to be taken as a list of things to be done by these special offices or is the purpose of the offices to equip the laity to do the work of ministry?

Clark begins his post by saying that EMM has its roots in the 18th century Second Great Awakening. By the 1820s, it was becoming a pattern in American evangelicalism.

Is EMM biblical or is it populist and democratic?

The New Testament does not say much about EMM:

Our Lord did not give the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16) to every member but to the apostles, the first officers in the visible, institutional church. The “every member” model fits well into the program-driven approach adopted by virtually all evangelicals since the 18th century but does it fit Paul’s view of the church elsewhere? It seems to me that, if Paul had such a view, he would have expounded on it in detail in other places but he did not. He did, however, spend a considerable amount of space detailing the nature of the special offices. 1 and 2 Timothy were written to a young pastor. 1 Timothy 3 is about the offices of elder or overseer (vv.1-7) and deacon (vv.8-13). Most of 1 and 2 Timothy are about how Timothy should conduct his office as pastor. Much of Titus 1 is taken up with the matter of elders and Titus 2, again, is about the conduct of pastoral ministry. 1 Peter 5 is devoted to the office of elder. In other words, we have extensive revelation about the special offices and precious little about so-called “every member” ministry.

I’ve heard it argued that Acts 8 reflects the apostolic approach to “every member ministry” in as much as the church was scattered and “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” One difficulty with the application of this narrative to this question is that the only Christians named in the narrative are special officers (Stephen and Philip). The first example of this preaching to which Luke turns is Philip. It is not at all clear that the intent of his narrative is to supply a ground for the “every member” ministry model.

Back to Ephesians 4:

Why would Paul turn to “every member ministry” in the midst of a discussion aimed at and about the ministry of special officers? In the verses before Ephesians 4:11-12 he’s speaking to Timothy about the conduct of his office and the first thing he says in v. 13 has to do with the public administration of the Word. In short, the every-member interpretation of Eph 4:11-12 doesn’t seem to fit even the immediate context.

So, what do laypeople do as church members? Clark helpfully explains our responsibilities as Christians just the way I understood them when I was a child:

I think it’s helpful to speak about the witness of the laity to the faith (that which is objectively revealed in the Word and confessed by the Reformed Churches) and their witness to their faith, i.e. to their subjective appropriation of the biblical faith. Yes, we should speak to our neighbors, friends, and co-workers about the faith and our faith, but we should distinguish lay witness from the official proclamation of the gospel. God the Spirit is free to act through popular witness or public proclamation, but as has been noted, it is to the latter that he has attached promises.

I realize this is heresy in contemporary evangelicalism, but not everything every Christian does is “ministry.” The baker has a vocation to bake to the glory of God but baking is not his ministry. We need to recover the idea of vocation. Calling the daily work of Christians “ministry” is intended to elevate it but it actually accomplishes the opposite. It devalues it by implying that anything that isn’t “ministry” isn’t valuable significant in itself. Really, what the EMM model has done is to take us back to the pre-Reformation view of the church in which there were two classes of Christians. The Keswick Movement did the same thing. Again, folk were thinking of two classes of Christians, those who have the blessing and those who don’t. The EMM movement implies that unless what someone does is “ministry” it isn’t really significant.

To those looking for their first church or transferring to another, beware the exhortation to join a ‘ministry’ under the spurious obligation of the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

Respond by telling them what that phrase really means.

And, yes, let’s recover the idea of ‘vocation’ and ‘calling’ with regard to our clergy.

Yesterday, we read about St Peter’s exhortation for Christians to engage in apologetics — a reasoned and true defence of the faith.

Today’s post features another brief excerpt from the Bible.org article on the history of apologetics, examining what St John said through his Gospel (emphases mine):

The apostle John followed a strategy similar to Paul’s adoption of Greek philosophical and religious terms in his Gospel, in which the preincarnate Christ is called the Logos (“Word,” John 1:1, 14; cf. 1 John 1:1). The notion of a preexistent Word involved in God’s creation of the universe had Old Testament associations (for example, Genesis 1:3, etc.; Psalm 33:6, 9). Still, to any Gentile or Hellenistic Jewish reader the term Logos would have immediately conjured up Platonic and Stoic notions of the universal Reason that was believed to govern the cosmos and was thought to be reflected in the rational mind of every human being (cf. John 1:9). Yet the announcement by John that this Logos was personal—that he was God’s Son (verses 1, 14, 18; cf. 20:31) and had become incarnate (1:14)—was shocking to both Jews and Greeks. It required a completely new way of looking at God and humanity to believe that Jesus was the divine Logos incarnate.10

You can read an analysis of John 1 on the Bible.org site, with the text on the left hand side and the exegesis — including an analysis of the Greek used — on the right hand side.

Readers interested in theology will gain much from reading the page in its entirety. Here are two brief excerpts which address John 1:1-2:

1 In the beginning. The search for the basic “stuff” out of which things are made was the earliest one in Greek philosophy. It was attended by the related question of “What is the process by which the secondary things came out of the primary one (or ones)?,” or in Aristotelian terminology, “What is the ‘beginning’ (same Greek word as beginning, John 1:1) and what is the origin of the things that are made?” In the New Testament the word usually has a temporal sense, but even BDAG [A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament] 138 s.v. ἀρχή 3 lists a major category of meaning as “the first cause.” For John, the words “In the beginning” are most likely a conscious allusion to the opening words of Genesis – “In the beginning.” Other concepts which occur prominently in are also found in John’s prologue: “life” (1:4) “light” (1:4) and “darkness” (1:5). describes the first (physical) creation; describes the new (spiritual) creation. But this is not to play off a false dichotomy between “physical” and “spiritual”; the first creation was both physical and spiritual. The new creation is really a re-creation, of the spiritual (first) but also the physical. (In spite of the common understanding of John’s “spiritual” emphasis, the “physical” re-creation should not be overlooked; this occurs in with the changing of water into wine, in with the resurrection of Lazarus, and the emphasis of John 20-21 on the aftermath of Jesus’ own resurrection.)

tn The preposition πρός (pros) implies not just proximity, but intimate personal relationship. M. Dods stated, “Πρός …means more than μετά or παρά, and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another” (“The Gospel of St. John,” The Expositors Greek Testament, 1:684). See also Mark 6:3, Matt 13:56, Mark 9:19, Gal 1:18, 2 John 12.

Apologetics is the careful defence of the Christian faith through Scripture and doctrine. Its purpose is not only to point out error but also to support believers.

Error and heresy have been about since the earliest days of the Church. St Peter exhorted his flock to defend the faith in 1 Peter 3:15-17:

3:15 But set Christ 24  apart 25  as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 26  3:16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, 27  keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 28  3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, 29  than for doing evil.

Bible.org has a helpful article on apologetics from the New Testament to the present day. With regard to 1 Peter 3, it says (emphases mine):

Three key observations should be made about this text.

First, Peter is definitely instructing believers to make a reasoned defense of their beliefs. Logos (the same word used in John 1:1 to refer to the preexistent Christ) is a very flexible word, but in this context it clearly refers to a rational explanation or account. The word apologia, while not meaning “apologetics” in the modern technical sense, does indicate that Christians are to make the best case they can for their confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Second, this apologetic mandate is given generally to all Christians, requiring them to give reasons for faith in Christ to anyone who asks for them. In the context Peter is specifically urging believers to be ready to do this when threatened with suffering for their faith (see 1 Peter 3:13-14, 16-17), but there is no basis for limiting the mandate to such situations. The language is quite general (“always . . . to every one who asks you”) and makes the apologetic mandate a standing order for the church.

Third, Peter instructs us to engage in apologetics with proper attitudes toward both the non-Christians with whom we are speaking and the Lord about whom we are speaking: “with gentleness and reverence.” The term “gentleness” indicates the manner in which we are to answer those who challenge our faith (again, in context this includes both “seekers” and those who are antagonistic to the Christian message). The term “reverence” (phobos, almost always translated “fear”) is translated “respect” in some versions, and this is often understood as referring to respect toward the people to whom we are speaking. However, Peter has just said we are not to show phobos toward people (3:14), and elsewhere says we are to show phobos toward God (1:17; 2:17). Almost certainly, then, Peter is telling us to conduct our defense of the faith with an attitude of holy fear or reverence toward Christ, whom we honor as Lord (3:15). We do so by striving to be faithful to Christ both in what we say and in how we live (verse 16).

As the Revd R C Sproul explained in a recent blog post on the subject:

When we become Christians, we do not leave our mind in the parking lot. We are called to think according to the Word of God, to seek the mind of Christ and an understanding of the things set forth in sacred Scripture. The Bible is a big book, and every bit of it, I believe, has been inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the author of this Book is God. He gave it to us to be understood, and we cannot understand it if we close our mind to the careful study of it.

Tomorrow: Apologetics in St John’s Gospel

Yesterday’s post featured a sermon on happiness by the Revd Louis Pernot of l’Eglise Reformée de l’Etoile, near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  If you have not already read that entry, its content will be relevant to this post.

Pastor Pernot gave another sermon on the subject in May 2011, ‘The tyranny of happiness’, in which he discusses other aspects of this much sought-after ideal, which many of us consider a state of being.  At a time when not only our family and friends but also experts and politicians want us to be happy, it is important to understand what Scripture says with regard to this topic.

Pastor Pernot takes as his texts Matthew 16:21-25:

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter,  “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus

 24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

and Matthew 7:12-14:

The Golden Rule

 12“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Emphases in the excerpts below are mine.

We live in a society in search of happiness at all costs, one which elevates it as an ideal. Many believe that this is because, today, our contemporaries no longer believe in salvation, in eternity, but rather in living life in the here and now: we must be happy, we must have Heaven right now on Earth.  This is dangerous and certainly makes many people unhappy.

It’s dangerous because if we have to be happy and radiant, beautiful and in good health, then there is no place in our society for the poor, the depressed, the fat, the ugly, or those who suffer or are unhappy. This pressure for us to be constantly shining all the time brings with it depression, often treated through immoderate self-medication or drugs as we search for this highly sought after happiness.

The problem is that theologians are certainly complicit in this outlook.  In fact, it is the norm to say in church that the objective of the Gospel is happiness, that faith will fill us with joy and lighten our burdens.

Without a doubt, faith gives us a degree of happiness, and there is joy in service according to the Gospel, however, I believe there is something not only dangerous, but false, in these affirmations.

It is certainly false in that our goal in life is not to be happy [but] to do what we were put here to do, to fulfil our mission in life — whether that makes us happy is immaterial

Wanting to be happy is a temptation from Satan; searching for happiness is always the wrong direction [to take]; the danger is that it turns the subject back to us and our own egotism. The goal [for the Christian], according to the Gospel, is not to chase happiness but to ‘lay down his life for his friends’ [John 15:13].

There is something else dangerous about this thinking [quest for happiness] which is the notion that the Gospel — faith — adds an extra obligation for us: if faith brings happiness and I’m not happy, then I’m guilty [of not fulfilling this obligation] — a sign that I lack faith.

We say all too often that a Christian must be happy. We criticise Christians who have a dour demeanour or a look of concentration when they communicate with others.  Why must we always have a radiant smile when we communicate with others?  …

Being happy isn’t an obligation.  We do what we can.  We don’t have to be happy in order to lead a good life; to be good Christians; to have faith, love and hope

Besides, there are unhappy Christians. And we need to realise at what point our habitual discourse on the happiness God brings us can be destructive and make them feel guilty …

When we present happiness as being God’s grace, as a goal of the Gospel, we end up making unhappy people feel twice as bad …

The Gospel is about welcoming everyone, even those who are unhappy.  The Bible doesn’t say that God will make unhappy people happy but rather that the unhappy will not be abandoned (Psalm 9:18):

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

… The aim of the Gospel is not for us to find ourselves in a happy situation but to keep on the move, engaging with life … It’s not a question of consuming happiness and taking advantage of life’s opportunities but rather one of giving happiness to others.  The Christian life is measured less by what we submit to or consume, but by what we give and what we do.

The danger with happiness as we understand it today is to think it is a state in which we would hope to live.  And can we be happy if we are mourning, poor, persecuted or hungry? No, but we can go on living, keep moving forward, following a road that will take us somewhere. 

And this is what life is about … this road won’t be strewn with rose petals of happiness, it is likely to be hard and stony:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

And I believe this is how we can find happiness. We find it when we aren’t looking for it.  Wanting to search for it, presenting it as a desired ideal, is bound to make us unhappy. Happiness is no longer worrying about finding it or being self-centred, [it’s about] wanting to give.

But God doesn’t abandon us, because we have the promises of the Gospel: first, God gives us peace … peace, not happiness … And then, love: I know there is a God who loves me.  And finally, grace: my life might not be perfect and I might not be the way I should be, but God has already assured me of life — I am accepted, I am loved and saved

In God, I am free, I am loved, I am saved, and I am free of all subservience, from all tyranny, even that of obligatory happiness. I am who I am and God loves me.  And such as I am, I can still be a light in this world.

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