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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Do All to the Glory of God

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 (C)Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

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Last week’s post discussed the dangers of mixing Christianity with pagan worship, something which the Corinthian Christians were prone to doing. An admixture of Christianity and other religions is called syncretism.

After telling the Corinthians not to engage in such a practice because it might drive them away from their eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul puts his proscription in a more positive way.

Here he returns to what he said in Romans 14 and 15 about weaker and stronger Christians. The stronger should not offend the weaker, lest they drive them away from the Church. My posts on the subject follow:

Romans 14:13-19 – food, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 14:20-23 – food, alcohol, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 15:1-3 – the example of Christ, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, selflessness

Now on to today’s reading.

Paul says that, although Christians have freedom in Christ — therefore, ‘all things are lawful’ — not everything is ‘helpful’, nor does every act of freedom in Christ ‘build up’ a Christian in the faith (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the gravity of that verse (emphases in bold mine):

A Christian must not barely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and for the use of edification. A private Christian should do so even in his private conduct. He must not seek his own only, but his neighbour’s wealth. He must be concerned not to hurt his neighbour, nay, he must be concerned to promote his welfare; and must consider how to act so that he may help others, and not hinder them in their holiness, comfort, or salvation. Those who allow themselves in every thing not plainly sinful in itself will often run into what is evil by accident, and do much mischief to others. Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done. Circumstances may make that a sin which in itself is none. These must be weighed, and the expediency of an action, and its tendency to edification, must be considered before it be done. Note, The welfare of others, as well as our own convenience, must be consulted in many things we do, if we would do them well.

I highlighted that sentence in purple because I have been guilty of that in the past. Those are relatively seemingly simple things, such as going to a party. Don’t force believers to go if they do not wish to attend.

Logically, it follows that we should not seek our own good in human interaction, rather the good of our neighbour (verse 24). The Lord hates sin. Therefore, if we encourage others to sin, even in their own conscience, we have committed a sin against God. Say that one invites a friend to a Super Bowl party or to a Rugby World Cup celebration. Certainly, believers can attend both. However, those who are abstemious or are under self-imposed food restrictions might see those as wrongful gatherings. Stronger Christians — who can attend, enjoy within reason and leave — should not force weaker Christians to take part in such parties, lest they be tempted to sin — in their own conscience — with alcohol or, perhaps, food.

By the way, I’ve been to a Rugby Union party, given by a former England player. They are the best in terms of endless food and drink. Yet, there is no drunkenness, and no arguments occur. I cannot think of better hospitality. This is the dilemma: do we invite the weaker to celebrate or do we decline extending such an invitation? For some of our friends, we would have to decline such an extension, unfortunate though it is.

Paul lays out ground rules for food consumption in verses 25 to 27. Eat whatever the market sells, for God permits all His animals to be eaten, even at the house of an unbeliever.

But — and as we say today, ‘it’s a big “but”‘ — there is an exception. If someone tells you that what you are about to eat has been sacrificed, then refrain from eating it. You would not do this as much for yourself personally as for the person informing you of that fact (verses 28, 29).

Paul asks why our personal choices can offend another believer (verses 29, 30).

John MacArthur provides answers which explain those verses:

If you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian.

You say, “Hey – well – we’re trying to win them?” The way to win them is for them to see the validity and the honesty and the purity of your Christianity. Right? And if you’re sitting at the table, fighting each other, he’s not going to get a Christian message no matter what you eat. You see?

“The way to win people,” Jesus said, “is to love each other.” Isn’t that right? You love each other, and the world’s going to know we’re His disciples. So, you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian, and make sure you maintain the unity of the love of the body of Jesus Christ, because that’s the greatest testimony that we have in the world. See, that’s his point.

So, condescension rather than condemnation. Don’t do something that’s going to make your Christian brother condemn you. Verse 29, “Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?”

In other words, I certainly don’t want to say, “Well, I’m going to do this,” and have him condemn me for it. I don’t want to get in a position where my liberty, my act of liberty is going to be condemned by another man’s conscience. The word “judge” means condemn. Don’t let him condemn. Injure your host, if you will, and you know what your host will see? He will see an act of love.

And he will say, “If that man loves that other brother enough to make that sacrifice, there must be something to that. Verse 30 adds a further point, “If I by grace be a partaker” – in other words, if I recognize God has given me this food – “why would I be evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?”

Now, let me tell you what that means. It would be pretty ridiculous to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the gracious gift of this food,” and then go ahead and eat it while your brother was condemning you. That’s inconsistent. Don’t thank God and go out and do something that’s going to make some other Christian condemn you for doing it. “Lord, thank you for the marvelous liberty that you’ve given me. Lord, bless this meal,” and eat up, and drink up, and here’s a Christian brother condemning you, condemning you. That’s ridiculous. You can’t think God for something that another Christian brother is going to stumble over.

So, condescension over condemnation. If you have to choose between a Christian and a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian at that point in order that your love might be made manifest to the world. And I don’t mean that you should just run out and offend non-Christians just at will. Just in case you might think that, verse 32 says, “Give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God.” The basic rule, beloved, don’t offend – what? – anybody. But if you have to choose, offend yourself before you offend a weaker brother; and if you have to choose, offend an unbeliever before you offend a weaker brother. But if you can, don’t offend anybody. Condescension over condemnation. Don’t do anything that’s going to cause somebody else to condemn you.

Paul ends on a positive note, saying that a believer should give glory to God in whatever activity he is engaging in: eating, drinking or other things (verse 31).

Nothing that we do should offend anyone — Jew, Gentile or our fellow believers — following Paul’s own example, in order that many more can be saved (verse 32).

Henry concludes:

Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.

My next post on 1 Corinthians will appear after Easter.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

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.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 18:7-9

Temptations to Sin

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin![a] For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell[b] of fire.

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Matthew 18 opens with Jesus’s teaching the disciples about the dangers of sin and temptation, for ourselves and those around us.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say — today’s passage — that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

Matthew records similar words from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:29-30 relates to lust. Those verses are part of the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Lectionary Year A: 5:21-24, 27-30, 33-37. Note the gaps. I covered the missing verses in 2015:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Jesus’s words in today’s reading concern all sin. Of the repetition Matthew Henry says:

Note, Those hard sayings of Christ, which are displeasing to flesh and blood, need to be repeated to us again and again …

Jesus begins by using the word ‘woe’, a warning of judgement and condemnation (verse 7). Although temptation is a constant in our fallen world, God does not overlook sin.

In saying that if our hands, feet or eye cause us to sin we should remove them (verses 8, 9), He is not asking us to literally cut them off but to do whatever we have to in order to avoid temptation. Henry explains (emphases mine):

The outward occasions of sin must be avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when Moses quitted Pharaoh’s court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.

St Paul wrote often of mortification of the flesh; following on from Matthew 18:9, it would be better to enter heaven with mortified flesh and less sin rather than to enter hell with an intact body full of sin.

Again, the point is to make a total break with what we can see that tempts us, avoid going to places that cause us to sin and avoid using our hands in sinful ways. And woe to us if we cause others to also sin.

These warnings also pertain to unbelievers, whether they like it or not. All will be judged on that fateful final day.

John MacArthur explains:

if you’re in sin, the pattern is there being demonstrated to others…It’s a simple principle. Take drastic action when getting rid of whatever causes you to sin. Take drastic action. Don’t flirt with it. Get rid of it. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I beat my body to bring it into subjection, you know. I’d do anything. I beat my body rather than allow it to move into sin.”

Jesus isn’t dealing with some kind of wooden, literal, literalism where all the disciples would be stumps at this point, and so would all of us; but He is simply, in a metaphorical way, saying, “Deal dramatically and drastically with your sin.” Nothing is so precious that it should be maintained if it leads us to sin

This is why St Paul wrote so insistently about avoiding sin. His words echo Jesus’s, but we do not hear or heed these warnings often enough.

MacArthur summarises the first nine verses of Matthew 18 for Christians this way:

Every Christian is one with Christ; and, when you receive a Christian, you receive Christ. The peril is that, if you offend a Christian by causing them to sin through your seduction, through your indirect provocation, through your example of evil, through your misused liberty, or through your failure to give righteous direction to that life, if you cause them to sin, it would be better for you to be drowned immediately that to do that; because the price for doing that is so high. Instead of doing that, take drastic measures to deal with your own sin. The bottom line is this. Why would a Christian want to assist Satan in his work of tempting God’s children to do evil? You wouldn’t, would you? I wouldn’t.

Pleasure is always nicer than avoidance. There was a song from the 1970s, if I remember rightly, that had the line ‘How can something so wrong feel so right?’ That is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Avoid sin, avoid the near occasion of sin.

Next time: Matthew 18:10-14

A new biography of has just hit the shops — American Titan: Searching for John Wayne, published by Dey Street, a division of Harper Collins.

In it, author Marc Eliot tells the legendary actor’s story to a new generation.

John Wayne — and Elvis Presley, for that matter — were two famous popular Americans who never resonated with me. I know little about either.

Therefore, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the actor (whose real name was Marion Morrison) never enlisted in the armed forces to serve in the Second World War because he was too enamoured of Marlene Dietrich. (I’m being polite in using that verb.)

Wayne was married to his first wife, Josephine, at the time.

If this had occurred during the Vietnam War, no one would have batted an eyebrow. However, during the Second World War, Hollywood had a massive war effort. Nearly every able-bodied actor either volunteered or responded to his letter from the draft board.

In a précis of the book, the Mail tells us:

With all the leading men in Hollywood gone he became a valuable acting commodity – and he knew it.

In his book Eliot explains Wayne’s various excuses for not serving: he was too old (other actors in their mid-30s enlisted); he had a shoulder injury (it did not prevent him from starring in action films); he was the sole provider (he divorced Josephine during the war).

He also made the preposterous excuse that Herb Yates, head of Republic Pictures at the time, was going to sue him if he let himself be drafted.

There is no proof of this because when the war ended, the government had destroyed Wayne’s service-related papers.

By 1942, Dietrich moved on and was dating George Raft as well as recent French emigré Jean Gabin, France’s biggest film star. Wayne was crestfallen.

Wayne decided that he could better serve his country by touring American bases with the USO. However, Eliot writes that this did not go well:

He thought he could make up for it by making appearances at USO shows in the South Pacific and Australia – ‘his version of military service’ but he was greeted with raucous booing by the enlisted men who had served in hard combat.

The press didn’t write about the booing but the soldiers viewed Wayne, along with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Al Jolson as Hollywood entertainers just looking for some good p.r.

Wayne went to hospitals and ‘told the press he felt he belonged at the fronts with the boys’. He told them he’d be back after his picture commitments. But he never went back to Burma and China not only because he didn’t have time but because of the less-than-warm welcome.

It seems that Wayne later felt guilty and tried to (over-?) compensate for his lack of military service:

Wayne’s third wife, Pilar Pallete, an actress from Peru who he married in 1954 as soon as he divorced ‘pug nose’ Chata, stated that Wayne became a ‘super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home’ and not serving in the war effort.

Throughout his life, Wayne remained uncompromising in his anti-Communist stance and unforgiving battle against subversives.

He began as a supporter of FDR and became ‘one of the toughest and most unforgiving political soldiers in Hollywood’s war on communism’. He was ‘willing to throw out the cream of Hollywood’s talent, with the bathwater of their perceived politics’ …

‘Wayne’s resistance to change was granite hard and the more doctrinaire he became, the more out of fashion he sounded’.

So, John Wayne, cinema’s war icon, never saw fit to serve his country during wartime. He preferred his own pleasures and new prestige as an actor — when his peers were off fighting the enemy.

A story similar in some ways to that of today’s equivalent: Ted Nugent.

Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco, died at the weekend.

What happy memories I have of dancing to her singles during my stay in France. Her producer at the time, Giorgio Moroder, was the King of Eurodisco, which transformed dancefloors across the Continent in the mid-1970s.

It’s hard to believe that Moroder, now living in Los Angeles, is 72 and that Summer was 63. How time flies.

Words cannot express how much I loved Summer’s and Moroder’s collaborative efforts. They brightened my world for a few years.

Anyway, a few words about this lady — born and raised in Dorchester (Boston, Massachusetts) — and a frequent churchgoer who eventually found her way back to God after a decade of musicals, recording studios and concerts. Although she never lost her faith, at one point — as she told Pat Robertson in 1983 (see video at the end of the article) — she wondered if God would forgive her sins of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Around 1979 or 1980, she was on anti-depressants, which she discusses in the video. She explained that whilst they deadened the depression, they awakened other parts of her mind. For instance, she would stay awake for days at a time. She also felt severe pangs of conscience. She dreamt of herself as being three different people. So disturbed by what was happening, thanks to a friend, she was able to meet with a pastor who laid hands on her. She never looked back.

Although she never gave up recording and concerts, she and her music moved away from the sensuality of the Eurodisco era. In the mid-1980s, homosexual groups criticised her stance on AIDS, which she said was a punishment from God. She later apologised for any pain she caused AIDS sufferers and added that some of the men she worked with were also gay.  As anyone who was sentient at the time knows, disco had a huge gay following in the 70s, particularly in New York (e.g. Studio 54).

Summer, whose maiden name was Gaines, took the surname of her first husband, the Austrian Helmuth Sommer, and anglicised it. She and Sommer had a daughter together — Mimi — who has since had children of her own, adding to Summer and second husband Bruce Sudano‘s familial joy.  The Sudanos had two daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda Grace. Sudano also works in the music business as a singer, songwriter and producer and used to accompany his wife on tours as a musician and singer.

Although she did not smoke, Donna Summer died of lung cancer, said to be unrelated to secondhand smoke. I wanted to highlight that so that people do not start using her in their leftist and secular pietist anti-tobacco campaigns.

Although no prescription drug name was mentioned in the video, I should like to add that Miss Summer’s experience with anti-depressants ties in with those of two people I knew. In the late 1980s, one of my colleagues in the US — a bright, happy, efficient worker — became depressed; it seems her (very) long-term boyfriend had not yet asked for her hand in marriage. (They have since married.) At the time, her doctor prescribed Xanax, which made her tired, weepy and withdrawn, at least temporarily.  In the second case, in the mid-1990s, I worked with a woman in the UK whose boyfriend was prescribed Xanax. They had been having problems before, but the drug made his behaviour violent and erratic. She was very grateful they were not living together because she feared the worst. They broke up several weeks after he started taking the tablets. ‘I’M PERFECTLY FINE — YOU’RE THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM’, he would yell at her over the phone, generally first thing in the morning.  Oh, my.

Donna Summer told Pat Robertson that she took prescription drugs to deaden her conscience. She explained to him that she was trying to run from coming clean with God. The pills only made things worse, although she added that God works everything to His plan. She wasn’t sure if He would forgive her — saying that Satan was starting to get a grip on her to go further down the road to perdition.  After her healing and return to faithfulness, she said that she had assurance, although she still hadn’t completely forgiven herself for several years spent in a ‘kind of darkness’.  Former journalist, now screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas also spoke of coming out of ‘darkness’ when he returned to faith.

Please, if you are in this type of situation, do take a quarter of an hour to watch Summer’s 1983 video. She spoke for many people and, despite all we read and hear about drug use (recreational or prescription), we get very little about its deadening of the conscience of the sinner. Donna Summer would no doubt encourage everyone who feels now as she did then to ask for the Lord’s forgiveness today.  She was broken. Joe Eszterhas — who lived on the wild side — was also broken. They knew the world and sin only too well. Take time to read and hear what they had to say — then give it careful consideration.  May God bless you in your reconciliation with Him, your Heavenly Father who embraces all His prodigal sons and daughters.

Finally, my deepest sympathies to Bruce Sudano and to Donna Summer’s daughters along with prayers for strength and resilience in the days and months ahead.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us Donna Summer and her unforgettable voice.  She made many of us who came of age in the 1970s happy people with fond memories of her music.

Further reading:

Donna Summer – Telegraph

Donna Summer Called Her Singing ‘Power’ from God – CBN News

That quote comes from the second episode in the second series of Downton Abbey, now on ITV1 on Sunday evenings.

Julian Fellowes has written a number of memorable bon mots for Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. This is one of them — and one for Christians, in particular, to take seriously, given man’s proclivity towards excess and impulse.

About a decade ago, I worked with a French business associate employed by an American multinational.  As a manager, he dutifully parrotted what his American bosses said: ‘Perception is 9/10ths of reality’, or something similar.  It sounded quite postmodern to me. As such, and seeing that he was not someone whom one could particularly use as a role model, I ignored it, despite his uttering it with nauseating regularity.

Lady Violet puts it so much better and with more gravitas. Immediately upon hearing her, I began thinking of all the practical applications and a dozen ways in which it convicted me personally.  She wasn’t speaking in a Christian vein but of a situation in the Grantham household which did not project the family at their best to the outside world.

There is always room for the Christian to improve — outside of legalism!  How does the fruit of one’s faith grow — beautiful and inviting or a bit nubbly and undeveloped?

Our appearance, our speech, our reactions, our family life, the state of our homes all bear testament to our growth in Christ and God’s grace.  Yes, there may be many faithful Christians whose outward manifestations do not quite square up with what they feel in their hearts.

As Lady Violet says:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

Yes, certainly, our faith is a private relationship between us and Christ.  However, the other half of the equation is that when we confess Him as Lord, we are representing Him to the wider world.  Christ instructed us to make disciples of all men.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to pray for God’s grace in order to smooth our edges, roughened by sin.

To take a practical example, let’s look at what we do in our free time.  The Revd Gil Burgos is the Pastor of New Covenant in Christ Church and Director of Education at NYC Full Gospel Theological Seminary.  He recently wrote about Christians and alcohol on his blog, Under the Broom Tree.  In ‘Sipping Saints’, he clearly and intelligently unpacks this relationship.  Emphases mine in the excerpts below:

Below are a few verses that I found, along with my own comments: Now, drinking wine (within itself) is not stated as being sinful in the Bible – especially when it comes to medical reasons: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23, KJV). Yet, drunkenness is…“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NLT).

I personally, don’t drink…yet, I cannot say that I have not. Still, here is some ample advice: Christian, keep your personal life private – as you have to answer to God anyway. Yet, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in front of your pastor or church. Also remember, Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27). So, where you go…He goes. Moreover, people can be judgmental. When you post pics of yourself on Facebook or Tweet, “Look where I’m at (Sitting at a Bar),” it doesn’t bring glory to God – for this ungodly world thinks you’re just like them – and you’re not! (I Peter 2:10) …

Again, the world would agree with Lady Violet:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

So, what should the proper Christian response be in this situation?

What God commands Christians regarding alcohol is to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Alcohol, consumed in small quantities, is neither harmful nor addictive. In fact, some doctors advocate drinking small amounts of red wine for its health benefits, especially for the heart. Consumption of small quantities of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom. Drunkenness and addiction are sin

So, how we present ourselves as ambassadors of Christ is paramount.  When we interact with others, be it friends and family or strangers in the outside world, we are supposed to be representing Christ — not our sinful depravity (e.g. slovenliness, lack of control).

Unfortunately, the human impulse is to judge on appearances.  Fellow Christians can also be judgmental, as a drive-by let me know last year in my lack of condemnation of another pastor — of a discernment ministry — who is undergoing physical and spiritual rehabilitation.  An act of mercy would be to pray for his recovery, not denounce him in a proud, holier-than-thou manner.  There but for the grace of God go we …

On a lighter note, Downton Abbey fans might wish to recall some of Lady Violet’s best lines from the first series, courtesy of New York Magazine.

Here in the UK Channel 4 is broadcasting Jamie Oliver’s Los Angeles Food Revolution over the next few weeks.

Those visiting this blog regularly will know that I am not exactly a fan of Mr Oliver’s, although I admit that his earlier series from the 1990s were quite useful for making rustic dinners on the hop.  I still use many of his shortcuts and flavour combinations.

In his latest Food Revolution, Jamie meets with strong opposition from the school board which is about to shut his programme down entirely.  But our beestung-lipped chef and entrepreneur also has other irons in the fire, namely restaurateur Deno Perris of Patra’s, which sells charbroiled fast food to a loyal clientele.

Deno’s father started Patra’s from nothing.  Deno inherited the business when his father died.  Characteristic of many Greek restaurant owners, he wants to make people happy and finds that the best way is through good, home-cooked food.  Deno has a small diner with takeaway and drive-thru sections.

One of my better childhood memories is eating in large Greek-owned restaurants that served all the time-honoured American favourites.  They have mostly disappeared now but used to be in all major American cities right near the best shopping areas and theatre districts.  They had lengthy menus and it really did take a quarter of an hour to decide what to have!  The portions were huge, delicious and very reasonably priced.  Ahhh — happy days, happy days!  But I digress.

So far, Jamie has persuaded Deno to start offering the same or similar dishes but with lower-calorie yet equally flavoursome ingredients.  Deno must decide if he should put what his father taught him to the back of his mind and entertain ideas from Jamie, a glib stranger.

All credit to him, Deno does limited experiments incorporating Jamie’s suggestions.  And, of course, because we’re in televisionland, Jamie needs to show us how successful they were.  Naturally, episode three shows us all sorts of people entering Patra’s and walking out happy customers. Crowd manufacture?  Who knows? At the end, a registered nurse collars Deno and tells him how grateful she is that he is incorporating healthful foods into his menu.  It did not seem as if she was a regular customer, just an opportunistic nudger.

How did she get there?  Probably through informal community organisers like Jamie and his crew.  ‘Quick, we need a nurse involved in dietetics and nutrition to talk to this guy.’

Jamie Oliver is all about community organising and nudging.  Every time I watch him I hope he fails miserably.  He should just leave people to get on with their lives and focus on his own.  But no, he has to interfere.  If you want to find out why nudging irritates so many people in the US and the UK, look no further than his programmes.

Another nudger is Sofia, the student in Jamie’s class at West Adams High School.  She meets privately with Deno and Jamie.  Her story is different, because one of her sisters contracted Type 2 diabetes as a young woman.  Their parents are also diabetic.  Naturally, Sofia worries as she often has to care for them and wonders if they can ever truly get their conditions under control.  Intimations of mortality loom large for her, understandably.

Yet, and it’s unclear whether it was Sofia herself or Jamie and his film crew who put this into her mind, she told Deno that it was because of people like him that her sister and parents have diabetes.  Deno was visibly saddened.  He did attempt polite, reasoned resistance but to no avail.  She became more assertive in making her point.  However, neither she nor her family had ever been … customers of Deno’s.

It’s worth noting that radio personality Ryan Seacrest, who interviewed Deno on the air, also produced this series.  Interesting.  Wheels within wheels. And Sofia’s dad still prepares fried meals twice a week at home.

But Deno has the right outlook: Deno and other diner owners are not forcing people to eat in their establishments.  And if the food isn’t right, people will just stop coming in.  Then he and his fellow restaurateurs will lose their businesses and their staff will also be out of jobs.  Then what?

People go out to eat because it’s fun and it’s a treat.  I agree that some rely too much on short-order cooking.  But the world is the way it is.  Presumably, Sofia is cooking healthfully for her family when she can.  And that’s where all good habits should start — in the home — not at Deno’s restaurant or at school or in church. It’s just common sense.  Healthy eating didn’t start yesterday.  Women have known for generations that you shouldn’t eat too much fat and sugar.  They didn’t need a Jamie Oliver for that.

We cannot help the lack of self-discpline that some folks have.  But let’s not penalise and control everyone so that all we eat are veggie burgers and soya shakes.  Ugh.  What a dire world that would be.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Deno and his family — as was his father — are all of normal proportions, from what I could see.  (The shot of Deno’s family was brief.)  So, eating fast food or short-order cooking is not an evil in and of itself.

It’s difficult minding one’s own business.  It’s a lot easier poking one’s nose where it shouldn’t be.  Jamie really should resist the temptation.

Of what we put into our mouths, Jesus said:

18 “… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18-20)

Harold ‘Hal’ Camping’s latest prediction is a cautionary tale.  Not only does it make him look foolish (once again), but many vulnerable souls are not only out of a job and out of a house but have broken off some familial ties as a result of his prediction that the world would end on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

What was ‘supposed’ to happen

The Telegraph recapped events for us on the day, one hour after the world was meant to have ended in BST (British Summer Time):

The 89-year-old Californian preacher and radio host had prophesied that the Rapture would begin at 6pm May 21st in each of the world’s time zones, with non-believers wiped out by rolling earthquakers, as the saved ascended into heaven.

His refusal to schedule a media interview for the following day – “It is absolutely going to happen. There is no way that I can schedule an interview because I won’t be here.” – was being replayed by media as the world firmly stayed standing …

Mr Camping’s doomsday prediction wasn’t his first. He blamed an earlier apocalyptic prediction which passed quietly in 1994 on a mathematical error, last month saying: “I’m not embarrassed about it. It was just the fact that it was premature” …

Mr Camping, a retired engineer, spread his message of doom via Family Radio, which has a network of 66 radio stations and online broadcasts.

However websites in the United States reported that not all of those working for the station were so sure, with a receptionist telling journalists that she expected to turn up for work on Monday …

The Rapture – the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on Earth that precedes the end of time – is a relatively new notion, rejected by most Christians.

What ended (!) up happening

Three days later, the Telegraph carried this update:

Mr Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven Saturday before the Earth was destroyed, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday prediction did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife.

His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions – some of it from donations made by followers – on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 vehicles plastered with the Judgment Day message …

Apocalyptic thinking has always been part of American religious life and popular culture. Teachings about the end of the world vary dramatically – even within faith traditions – about how they will occur.

Still, the overwhelming majority of Christians reject the idea that the exact date or time of Jesus’ return can be predicted.

I guess the paper isn’t allowed to say, in case they offend someone, that the Bible tells us no man can predict the day or the hour.  Yet, Camping predicted it rolling out in an orderly fashion whenever it turned 6 p.m. in each time zone.  Hmm.  An interesting theory.

A former Camping follower, TeachingTulip, is now a Calvinist (we’ll come back to this later) and had this to say on the related Puritan Board thread:

My husband and I have known Camping for years, and supported Family Radio until just after the “1994” fiasco.

I remember him saying way back when, that 2011 was in his thinking and might ultimately be the true date of the Lord’s return . . . but we never, ever, heard him teach a partial resurrection or a “RAPTURE” of only some, leaving others behind to suffer tribulations, etc. (supposedly for another “153 days”) until Judgement Day. Both of these things are new, and we just now discover and disclose them as being contrary to Camping’s life-time teachings.

Camping always denied the Pre-millennial notion of a “rapture,” and always used to biblically teach that the “rapture” really referred to the last and final resurrection of all souls. John 5:28-29.

So this is just another spiritual jolt, experienced by his friends and former supporters.

Not excusing an old friend, but not ready to judge, either.

Please people, reduce the ridicule and increase your prayers for this man . . . he is still alive and potentially able to repent from error, if God might so choose to bless with His correcting grace.

Whilst I take on board what this lady is asking, I cannot help but recall the adage when I think of him, ‘There’s no fool like an old fool’ and ‘God shall not be put to the test’. Let’s recap Jesus’s words in Matthew 24, specifically verses 29 to 31 and verse 36 (emphasis mine):

29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other …

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

A Reformed Pastor’s view

Those who read Calvinist sites regularly will be familiar with Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor, broadcaster at the White Horse Inn (‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’), author and visiting professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.  (Emphases mine throughout in the excerpts below.)

Dr Riddlebarger says that he sees this

as one gigantic mess, which God’s people will be cleaning up for years.  I, for one, am not very sympathetic to Mr. Camping, or to those who follow him.  Here’s why:

1).  He’s done this before.  1994? anyone???  If Camping lives much longer (he’s 89), he’ll likely do this again.  As one of my favorite philosophers, Dirty Harry, once put it when his police superior questioned whether the serial killer (so wonderfully played by Andy Robinson) would continue to kill, Harry replied, “Of course he will.  He likes it.”  You cannot tell me that however Camping came to this particular date for the Lord’s return, and however sincere he might he be in his calculations, that the man does not love the media attention … 

2).  Camping was disciplined by his church, and never once demonstrated the slightest hint of repentance.  When Camping was removed from his office for his unbiblical speculations, Camping’s response was to declare that the church age was over, and that people should leave their churches!Harold Camping is not some grandfatherly old man who has weird views on things (every church has a few of these).  This is a man, who, when he did not get his way, sought to create widescale schism and division in the church.  How can we not conclude that many among his followers are schismatics who have followed their master in his sin?

3).  Camping is not a theological conservative defending the faith, he’s a theological radical, and has a dangerous hermeneutic.  Camping gained a following among Reformed cultural conservatives by defending the view that only men should hold the office of minister, elder and deacon, that evolutionary thought had no place in Christian colleges, and that the rampant immorality of our age cannot go unchallenged nor be accepted by Christians.  Meanwhile, the “conservative” Camping was using some outlandish and distorted hermeneutical method to calculate the day of Christ’s return and telling everyone who would listen that he was right and that anyone who challenged him had no authority to do so.  Since when did theological conservatives attack the perspicuity of Scripture?  Or champion “private interpretation” while mocking the teaching office and disciplinary authority of the church?

4).  Someone  has to say it — the man is a false teacher and a kook.  My sense is that Camping falls within the exhortation given by Paul in Romans 16:17 (and elsewhere) — such people are to be avoided.  Camping is a false teacher, plain and simple.  Anyone who repeatedly pulls the kinds of shenanigans he has should have no credibility.  Non-Christians see him for what he is.  Yet, Christians feel ashamed about calling him out on the same grounds–when Scripture requires that we do so!  Yes, we need to pray for his repentance, and yes, we need to be merciful to those whom he has deceived.  But given the way the man handles God’s word, he is self-edvidently a kook.  He has no business being labeled a “teacher.”  And it is tragic that he has used his vast radio empire to deceive so many.

5).  The only prophecy which will be fulfilled in association with Harold Camping is 2 Peter 3:3!  Scoffers will come, and sadly, Camping has given the scoffers a whole bunch of ammunition.  This is why is is so vital that Christians be clear to everyone who will listen, that despite this man’s false prophecy, the blessed hope awaits all those who are Christ’s, and the day of judgment will come upon those who are not.   This is a serious matter, and Christ will not be mocked.

Those interested may read my recent post for more on 2 Peter 3.

How did Camping get here from there?

For a bit of Camping history, let’s look at the insights of another Reformed pastor’s perspective, that of the Revd Chris Gordon, pastor of the United Reformed Church in Linden, WA, and author of The Gordian Knot blog.

Mr Gordon walks us through the history of Camping’s ministry in ‘Judgment Day, May 21, 2011? Harold Camping & The Untold Story’The story begins in 999, even before Camping’s time:

Predictions of the end had surfaced throughout the first millennium, but as the sun went down New Year’s Eve, the millennial frenzy reached new heights. Possessions were given to the churches, debts were forgiven, prisoners freed, merchants refused payments for goods, and the churches swarmed with people confessing their sins. Many of the sick begged to be placed outdoors to see Christ’s descent from heaven. Pope Sylvester II held a mid-night mass at St. Peter’s in Rome, the supposed last one ever to occur on earth, and in the moments before midnight, as the church bells sounded, enemies embraced each other with the kiss of peace. As the moments into the new millennium transpired, nothing happened.  The aftermath left behind a wake of disillusionment, especially when churches refused to return people’s possessions.

Fast-forwarding to the last century for a bit of Camping’s story, here’s where Calvinism enters the frame.  The CRC is a Dutch Reformed denomination:

Harold Egbert Camping was born July 19, 1921 in Boulder, CO. His family later relocated to the Bay Area in California and became members of the Alameda Bible Fellowship (CRC). After World War II, Camping founded his own construction company, later to sell the company and join in a collaborative effort to purchase Family Stations, Inc.—a California religious based broadcasting network. Following a series of business deals and a mounting multi-million dollar surplus, Camping was able to expand Family Radio throughout the United States, also buying time on foreign stations around the world, translating his teaching into over thirty foreign languages. In 1961 Camping started the Open Forum, a weeknight call-in program devoted to answering questions about the Bible. Camping soon gained a Reformed voice over radio that was widely influential in the Christian world.  Reformed believers, excited that the doctrines of grace and hymns could actually be heard on a radio station, sent in thousands of dollars to support the efforts of Camping. Many people who had never heard of Calvinism and the Reformed doctrines were brought to faith in Christ through the teachings of Family Radio. 

Camping was also involved in the Alameda CRC as an elder and later an adult Sunday school teacher … The problems began, however, sometime before 1988 when Camping began to advance the idea that one could know from the Bible when Christ would return. When challenged that “no man knows the day nor the hour”, Camping was known for responding, “yes, but we can know the month and the year.”[1] In 1992 Camping self-published his controversial book “1994?”, in which he suggested the possibility that Christ would return sometime between September 15th and 27th of that year, dates corresponding to the Feast of Tabernacles.[2] Camping would soon, unashamedly, predict September 6, 1994 as the date of Christ’s return.

Then, Camping predicted the end of the Church.

“Sometime earlier” wrote Camping, “God was finished using the churches to represent the kingdom of God.”[3] In his book “We Are Almost There!” we find that Camping chose the date of May 21, 1988 for the end of the church age.[4]

And that was the date when the Alameda CRC removed Camping from instructing their adult Sunday School.

Is it not the least bit suspect that Camping would later declare that the Holy Spirit was removed from the church beginning on May 21, 1988, the very same period Camping himself was removed from teaching “in” the church? And is it not alarming that Camping now “outside” of the church would declare, soon after his own departure, that anyone still identified with any church is now under the judgment of God? In legal terms, I think it’s safe to say we have motive.

Camping’s followers were numerous:

This is a severe warning of what can happen to those who reject the elders who rule with the authority of Christ. Over forty percent of the Alameda CRC, many of whom were employed by Family Radio, “went out” from the church and subsequently started their own “fellowship”.

Six years later:

People sold their homes, gave their money to Family Radio, and gathered together as they waited for Christ to come that year. As the date passed, hopes were dashed and the next day Camping was unrepentant over the radio, stating that he had made an error in his calculations …

Then (and now):

In a scheme that rivals C.I. Scofield’s dispensationalism, Camping’s teachings are again inflicting fear and confusion upon many in the church. If anyone is to be saved, declares Camping, he must be saved “outside” the church since God has rejected anyone “identified with any church”.[7] What became of the ordinances of the church?  Camping declared that since the church age ended and people were to leave the churches, the sacraments were also to be discontinued—an astonishing claim since the church is commanded to observe them until Christ comes (1 Cor. 11:26).

We now move to an in-depth theological perspective from Dr W Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California:

Camping’s teaching reaches the status of heresy in his recent appeal to the world, “Judgment Day,” an eight page statement online. The saddest and most distressing element of Camping’s latest theological statement is that it is Christless. He does not write about Christ’s return, but about judgment day. In his eight pages of warning and call for repentance he writes only this of Christ: “Because God is so great and glorious He calls Himself by many different names. Each name tells us something about the glorious character and nature of God. Thus in the Bible we find such names as God, Jehovah, Christ, Jesus, Lord, Allah, Holy Spirit, Savior, etc. Names such as Jehovah, Jesus, Savior, and Christ particularly point to God as the only means by which forgiveness from all of our sins and eternal life can be obtained by God’s merciful and glorious actions.” Notice that Camping says nothing of the Trinity, writing as if Christ and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons of the Trinity, but just different names for God. If Camping means this, then he is not a Trinitarian, but has adopted the ancient heresy of modalism. Notice also that there is no mention of the cross and Christ’s saving work for sinners. Forgiveness is nowhere linked to the work of the incarnate Christ. For Camping the mercy of God comes simply to the repentant. He never mentions faith in Christ. He also makes clear that those who cry for mercy might be saved. He offers no assurance of salvation: “Nevertheless, the Bible assures us that many of the people who do beg God for His mercy will not be destroyed.” Notice that not all, but only many who repent will be saved.

Camping’s presentation of God’s mercy is from beginning to end unbiblical and unchristian. He has no Trinity, no cross, no faith alone in Jesus alone, and no assurance. His vision of God and mercy is more Muslim than Christian. If Camping still believes in the Trinity, in Jesus and his cross, and in justification by faith alone, then his recent teaching shows that he is a failure as a teacher of the Gospel and his call to repentance lacks enough content for sinners to find salvation in Jesus.

And, perhaps it is this which attracted so many vulnerable people to the May 21, 2011 date.  Largely, today, the Cross is almost forgotten, and people like it that way.  Yet, without it, Christianity loses its meaning.  However, for a Western society steeped in New Age talking points, one can see the sad, erroneous logic in all of this.

Again, read Scripture, pray, find a good church, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and remember His perfect sacrifice for our sins … but by no means put your faith in charlatans.  And that’s the Gospel Truth.

Channel 4 in the UK has just finished showing the six-part Jamie’s Food Revolution, which documented Jamie ‘The Naked Chef’ Oliver’s attempt to get residents in Huntington, West Virginia, to improve their eating habits.

What follows is my open letter to Mr Oliver:

Jamie, I do wish that we knew each other so that I could have sat down with you before you filmed this documentary. Growing up, I lived in small- to mid-size towns and cities across America (my dad got transferred frequently, part of his job).  I know first-hand how many residents are friendly yet reserved to ‘outsiders’, people who haven’t lived there for three or four generations, as they have.

I can also tell you that you’d better say you like a lot of what you find in that town or else you’ll get an earful.  That means you don’t barge in, all guns blazing, to tell people whom you’ve never seen before that they’re fat, ignorant and in need of ‘change’.

I’ve seen almost all your documentaries and cooking shows in full, starting with The Naked Chef in the 1990s.  Yep, you were a cute, skinny Essex boy then.  Now, you’re a bit heavier, older and more like an experienced community organiser working a town.  (Hint: the ‘community organiser’ bit isn’t a compliment.)

It’s no surprise then that WDGG (‘The Dawg’) Radio‘s Rod Willis reacted the way he did to you. (Photo at left courtesy of delish.com — Jamie, Rod and radio sidekick Rocky.) Ditto dinner lady Alice Gue.  I met a lot of Rods and Alices when I was growing up.  They’re just regular folk telling you home truths in an uncompromising way. And what did you do but cry because they had the temerity to … disagree with you? Pull your socks up, mate.

You were fortunate in that Rod eased up on you during the 1,000-resident cooking session which appeared on Good Morning America.  But I do agree with him when he told Huntington News Net after the series premiere in March 2010:

I should have been a little more receptive to the [nutritious] things he was talking about and a little more cruel to him. I don’t think Jamie Oliver should be the one to tell us how to live our lives. After all, this guy is a rich, British b——d.

(That he is, Rod — a multi-millionaire several times over who lives in Primrose Hill in London now, well-shielded from fat people.)

Jamie, how much did you know about Huntington before you went there, other than an obesity statistic?  How much do you know about the history of the Appalachians?  I lived across the river from another city in West Virginia for a summer.

To get there, I crossed the Appalachians by car with my parents in the 1960s.  I know the conditions people were living in then.  They were dignified, God-fearing people from British stock who lived in dilapidated shacks. While all of President Johnson’s special funding was going towards the inner cities, these people had nothing.  They had to rely on growing their own basic crops on a tiny plot, raising a few chickens and were probably lucky to have meat once a week. I saw many women on foot carrying boxes of charity shop clothes from their nearest small town back to their shacks a few miles away. There was little industry in the parts we went through and few jobs.  It really was like Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Okay, I realise Huntington is a city, but how many people there have their roots going back to the mountains?  If you think about it, we may be seeing the first couple of generations for whom food — thankfully — hasn’t been an issue.  Granted, the type of fare on offer hasn’t been the best, as we saw from some of the youngsters and their parents featured in your show.  However, I would have suggested delving into the psyches and backgrounds of people like the Edwards family before hauling them off to the hospital for checkups.   Food means different things to different people.  I think you would have been surprised at the answers you would have received … if only you had cared enough to ask.

Incidentally, I contrasted the way you treated the people of Huntington with the way you acted towards the people in your inner-city television series.  Remarkable.  It didn’t matter that your inner-city ‘mates’ ate deep-fried food, did it?  No, that’s because those recipes came from their grandmothers.  It didn’t matter, did it, that they were still high-calorie, fat-laden dishes?  Apparently not.  Then you told us that the United States had stolen land which rightfully belonged to Mexico and that it should be given back.  Fair enough, you can air your views (again, you’re missing some history there), but there was no such empathy for something as simple as eating habits of the residents in Huntington, was there?  Even if some of those schoolkids were probably on the same socio-economic level as their inner-city counterparts.

And how could you expect those first-year students to know what an aubergine (eggplant) was?  Or what peas in a pod looked like?  Even in the most middle-class of supermarkets, they aren’t even on offer most of the time apart from on the East or West Coast.

So, no, I’m not surprised that Rod Willis and Alice Gue were offhand with you, even though they probably never watched one of your series. And you should have taken it like a man.  They weren’t being nasty to you as you alleged, just honest.

Let’s look at things from Alice’s perspective, shall we? (Jamie, I’ve borrowed a photo from your website to show the folks who Alice is — the lady in black.) In one episode, Alice expressed concern that she and the other dinner ladies would need to come in earlier to begin preparing meals for no extra pay.  Funny that, because I remember the English dinner ladies saying the same thing during your school lunch crusade this side of the pond.   Either that, or they would have to try to get some extra help in the kitchen.  Do you realise those costs need to be factored in to a school’s or a council’s budget — months in advance?  It didn’t seem to me in either case that you cared too much.

What’s more, rules in the United States for what goes on a child’s school lunch tray are remarkably bureaucratic.  And, yes, French fries do count as a vegetable. I’m not sure whether ketchup still does. I watched in amazement as you expected the rules to be bent and budgets to suddenly be increased just because … you asked?  The best scene for me was at the end as the ineffably polite lady in charge of local school food services, Rhonda McCoy, and the superintendent of schools suggested you discuss matters with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).  Why did that take you by surprise?

What Jamie’s Food Revolution showed us was yet another facet to your personality — the man who cannot bear to hear the word ‘no’.  You want to change the eating habits of certain people — not all, mind — and you go in swaggering and matey but don’t know a thing about where you’re going or with whom you’re dealing.  Many viewers saw a display of pride and arrogance which we certainly didn’t see in your inner-city series.

Maybe you and your dad should have a bit of a father-son chat concerning how you go about making these shows.  I’ve picked up a lot of useful culinary short-cuts from you over the years, but sometimes your desire to ‘change’ — not to mention control — some people and not others leaves me wondering about you and your motives.

Humility in all things, Jamie — humility.  Not to mention patience.  And a bit of understanding.

On that note, Cabell Huntington Hospital has just pledged another $50,000 towards your programme.

For further reading:

Jamie’s Food Revolution USA

‘Huntington Still Welcomes Jamie Oliver’Huntington News Network

‘West Virginia eats Jamie Oliver for breakfast’The Independent

‘Can Jamie Oliver Really Start a Food Revolution in Huntington, WV?’Huffington Post

‘Can Jamie Oliver Convince Americans to Eat Well?’Newsweek

‘The Food Issue — Jamie Oliver Puts America’s Diet on a Diet’New York Times

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