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Feb 272015
 

Jesus and apologeticsLast week we looked at the use of logic in apologetics. We have a reasonable faith and so therefore it should be understood using logic and reason. Just in case you are still not convinced I thought it would be fun to look at how Jesus, the most brilliant thinker in history, used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. If Jesus used these methods, and we are followers of His, then logically we should do the same.

Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it. Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicates that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith as opponents frequently portray.

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Word translated here in Greek is Logos and it is from this word that the word logic derives.

As an apologist for God’s truth, He defended the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as His own teachings and actions.

Presenting Jesus as a worthy thinker can be a powerful apologetic tool to unbelievers who wrongly assume that Christian belief is a matter of blind faith or irrational belief.

Jesus didn’t use logic to win arguments, but so that his listeners would understand and gain insight. It wasn’t about scoring intellectual points, as many of the so-called intellectuals didn’t ‘get it’ and yet everyday people and even children did.

We see in the gospels a number of occasions where the religious authorities tried to trap Jesus and we are then treated to a masterful demonstration of Jesus defeating their arguments through logic. For example in Matthew 22:23-38

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, hoping through their questions for Jesus to change His mind and admit that the resurrection was absurd. They tried to corner Him to admit that either there was no resurrection or that heaven allowed for monogamous marriages.

Jesus, using logic, showed they were basing their arguments on false premises. He then skilfully used their own beliefs to show them why they were wrong.

This is quite a common device used by opponents to Christianity. Their arguments will appear logical but will be based on false or misleading statements and premises.

Jesus was fond of using logical arguments which are called ‘a fortiori’ (Latin: “from the stronger”) The basic form of this argument is as follows

1. The truth of idea A is accepted.

2. Support for the truth of idea B (which is relevantly similar to idea A) is even stronger than that of idea A.

3. Therefore, if the truth of idea A must be accepted, then so must the truth of idea B.

Consider Jesus’ argument against the Pharisees concerning the rightness of His performing a healing miracle on the Sabbath:

Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21–24)

Jesus’ argument can be laid out simply:

1. The Pharisees endorse circumcision, even when it is done on the Sabbath, the day of rest from work. This does not violate the Sabbath laws, because it is an act of goodness.

2. Healing the whole person is even more important and beneficial than circumcision, which affects only one aspect of the male.

3. Therefore, if circumcision on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath, neither is Jesus’ healing of a person on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ concluding comment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment,” was a rebuke to their illogical inconsistency while applying their own moral and religious principles.

Jesus argued in a similar form in several other conversations regarding the meaning of the Sabbath. In Luke 13 after He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler became indignant and said, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus reminded him that one may lawfully untie one’s ox or donkey on the Sabbath and lead it to water. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus’ argument looks like this:

1. The Jews lawfully release animals from their confinement on the Sabbath out of concern for the animals’ well-being.

2. A woman’s well-being (deliverance from a chronic, debilitating illness) is far more important than watering an animal.

3. Therefore, if watering an animal on the Sabbath is not a Sabbath violation, then Jesus’ healing of the woman on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath.

Luke recorded that Jesus “As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.” (Luke 13:17).

A wise apologist will make good and repeated use of ‘a fortiori’ arguments. Here is an example from comparative religion: Many reject the Gospels because they are ancient documents that are supposedly historically unreliable. Many of these same people, however, trust ancient Buddhist and other Eastern religious documents, which have far fewer manuscripts

Jesus would often appeal to strong evidence to back up His teachings. When John the Baptist sent word from prison asking if Jesus really was the Messiah, Jesus answered him

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (John 11:4-6)

Jesus’ logic was as such:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (according to the scriptures), then one is the Messiah.

2. I am doing those kinds of actions.

3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

Let’s look at one more logical tool Jesus used in His arguments. He used a common tool used by Philosophers and other debaters calledreductio ad absurdum’ arguments. The term means “reduction to absurdity.” When used successfully, powerfully refutes an illogical position

Let’s see how Jesus used this argument in Matthew 22:41-46

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Jesus’ argument can be laid out as follows:

1. If the Christ is merely the human descendent of David, David could not have called him “Lord.”

2. David did call the Christ “Lord” in Psalm 110:1.

3. To believe Christ was David’s Lord and merely his human descendent (who could not be his Lord) is absurd.

4. Christ, therefore, is not merely the human descendent of David.

Jesus’ point was not to deny the Christ’s ancestral connection to David, since Jesus Himself is called “the Son of David” in the Gospels (Matthew 1:1), and Jesus accepted the title without objection (Matthew 20:30–31). Jesus rather showed that the Christ is not merely the Son of David. Christ is also Lord and was so at the time of David. By using this reductio ad absurdum argument, Jesus expanded His audience’s understanding of who the Christ is and that He himself is the Christ.

Jesus employed another reductio ad absurdum when the Pharisees accused Him of driving demons out by Satan himself in Matthew 12:22-32. In reply to them He said:

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? (Matthew 12:25–27)

Let’s look at Jesus’ logic step by step:

1. If Satan were divided against himself, his kingdom would be ruined.

2. Satan’s kingdom, however, is not ruined (since demonic activity continues). To think otherwise is absurd.

3. Therefore, (a) Satan does not drive out Satan.

4. Therefore, (b) Jesus cannot free people from Satan by satanic power.

A bit of a longer blog today but I hope you have found it useful. Hopefully you will start to see how arguments are broken down into a set of statements and analysing these statements will show you where the errors occur (if any) Next time we will continue our look at apologetics and we will see some more examples of logic.

 February 27, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Feb 202015
 

Logic in apologeticsThe use of logic is very important when defending the faith. God has given us all logic and reason as a gift so that we can think straight. It originates from Him.

We can be very confident in what we believe in, but we should be able to explain why we believe what we do. And a good way of explaining ourselves is through logical arguments.

Logic is a system of reasoning, it is the principle of proper thinking used to arrive at correct conclusions.

It is worth bearing in mind that it is not logic that saves anybody and sometimes, people are so dead-set against Christianity that they are prepared to dispense and abandon reasoned logic.

Logic is used to remove intellectual barriers that hinder people coming to Christ. It can be used powerfully by Christians (and non-Christians) but it does have its limits.

Logic, as you might imagine has a number of principles and laws that govern the validity of its arguments.

  • The first law of logic is the law of identity. This simply states something is what it is and not what it is not. e.g. a dog is a dog, it is not a cat!
  • The second law of logic is the law of non-contradiction. This means that something cannot be both true and false at the same time (and in the same way) In other words, two contradictory statements cannot both be true. e.g. my only pet is a dog, my only pet is a cat.
  • The third law of logic is the law of excluded middle. This is simply that a statement is either true or false. e.g. My name is Adrian is a true statement, I am a girl is a false statement.

To be able to utilise these laws we need to take careful note on what people are saying to us, making sure we fully understand what they are saying and the arguments they use. Sometimes they argue from what is called a ‘false premise’ this is where they state something which isn’t actually true. we need to be aware of these because they are very common. It can help to repeat back to the person what we understand they are saying to avoid any amibiguity. When we are satisfied we have understood them, we can then respond with reasoned and rational comments.

As I cover a few tough questions over the coming weeks, you will see logic quite often comes into play.

Let me leave you with a problem some people try to trip Christians up with, which appears quite clever on the surface but actually breaches a fundamental law of logic. Have you ever heard the question: “Could God make a rock that is so big that He couldn’t lift it?” This is actually an absurd statement and contradicts the second law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. God by definition is infinite. In that statement you are also saying He is finite (limited). He cannot be infinite and finite at the same time. It is a logical fallacy and therefore an illogical statement. To put it simply you are saying that God is God and not God at the same time.

If you want to test how logically you think, here is a website you can test yourself on

http://www.think-logically.co.uk/lt.htm

Lastly as I was researching this subject I found a really engaging, funny and informative youtube video on logic and so I have posted it below

 February 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Feb 132015
 

Apologetics part 2Last week we started to look at the subject of Apologetics. We saw it was not an apology for Christianity but a defence of the faith. There were a number of verses charging all Christians to defend and contend for the faith. We should do it on the offensive (Offering positive reasons for the Christian faith) and the defensive (Refuting objections against the Christian faith) and we also saw that it was not just for ‘clever’ Christians but we could all do it; with the help of the Holy Spirit and through diligent study of the word. We shouldn’t be lazy.

There are 5 main reasons why we should do it:

(1) It strengthens the faith of Christian believers

(2) It removes obstacles to faith (for the seeker)

(3) Enables us to communicate the gospel to non-believers

(4) Challenges pre-suppositions and worldviews that need to be addressed

(5) It is commanded in scripture (1Peter 3:15, Jude 3, Titus 1:9)

How do we do it?

People have what is called ‘plausibility structures’ we need to get through. Whatever we say, they are processing in their mind whether it is plausible or not. These could be doubts like ‘Does God actually exist?’ or ‘Was Jesus really a historical person?’ etc. These structures can be built through various life experiences, education, evidence and influence from people such as parents, teachers etc. What this basically means is that people won’t believe you until you acknowledge and dismantle these structures. This can be done in a variety of ways such as using evidence, exposing false ideas and using logic.

When you preach the Gospel to people, they also have defeater beliefs. According to Tim Keller, there are 6 basic defeater beliefs pervasive in modern western culture:

1) Other religions – there can’t only be one true religion

2) The problem of evil and suffering

3) The Sacredness of Choice

4) The Record of Christians

5) The Angry God

6) The Unreliable Bible

Now I hesitated to say all that because all the theory and technical stuff can be a bit of a turn off. It all sounds very confusing. Maybe you are a bit nervous about doing it and perhaps a bit fearful that you will be tied up in knots by persuasive people. What I have found though is that God will help you, even when you stumble, get all tongue –tied and are lost for words. God just wants us to be open and prepared to speak. He will help our feeble efforts.

Hopefully my own testimony can give you some encouragement. I became a Christian at a young age but never really spoke about Jesus to anyone until I left home. I moved up to London just before my 18thbirthday to work at the Ritz hotel as a waiter. It was then, living away from home, that I would sink or swim in my Christian faith. Thank God that He was looking out for me. A fellow waiter found out I was a Christian and on a daily basis would ask me every tough question you could imagine about Christianity. I didn’t know the answer to any of the questions, but would go away and study and come back with an answer that I was satisfied with. This served two purposes; It strengthened my faith and after 3 years my friend became a Christian (despite my sometimes quite feeble responses!!). So Arthur, if you are reading this, thank you. You helped me in ways you will never know.

God used that friendship and those questions to strengthen my faith and grow as a Christian and He will help you too.

I will be covering this subject for a few more weeks, when we will be considering some more questions and problems people have with the Christian faith and how we might respond to those problems. If you have a difficult question posed and would like me to tackle it, why not leave a comment at the bottom of this post or contact me on the contacts page? More next week.

 February 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics, Evangelism No Responses »
Feb 062015
 

ApologeticsWe have been looking for a number of weeks now at bible difficulties and I have attempted to give an answer to many of the common objections people have to the bible and in fact the existence of God Himself. As you can imagine, opponents to Christianity are always trying to find fault and so it is important to bring a strong defence to what we believe.

This defence of the faith is called ‘apologetics’. It is not as the name might suggest apologising for the faith, but it is based on the Greek word ‘apologia’ which means ‘a verbal defence’. The term was used commonly in the Greek courtroom. In its essence a definition would be ‘A reasoned defence of the Christian faith against objections.

The 4 main bible verses that ‘apologists’ quote for using this form of defence are as follows;

always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect     (1 peter 3:15)

contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead (Acts 17:2-3)

It is important to mention though that these verses aren’t just for the elite few who are clever at debating. No, we should all know what we believe and give a reason for it. The trouble is, we live in a world where we see the church leader as professional. He is the one who will win all our arguments for us. If we could only get the people asking them to come to church.

I love the Alpha course, but one of its main drawbacks is we hand over our own responsibility of explaining the faith to our friends and relatives to the people who are running the course. Our culture has become used to being spoon fed information, and this can make us very lazy in studying for ourselves.

Apologetics can be defensive and offensive.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7)

The 2 Corinthians 5:7 passage I quoted earlier gives an example of the offensive side. But it is not about winning arguments. An important aspect, mentioned in the 1 Peter passage above is the way we debate and talk to people who oppose us. It is so important that every conversation is respectful and gentle.

A gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)

When we discuss things in a winsome way we leave the door open for further discussion. There is no point in winning an argument if the way we win it completely turns off the other person because we have been rude or aggressive.

Apologetics has many forms, including studying and debating subjects such as; philosophy, biology, evolution, and logic. But it can also consist of simply giving an answer to a question about your own faith and why you believe and you don’t have to read a ton of books to do that. You certainly don’t have to be highly intelligent to engage in apologetics. Remember, in the New Testament the majority of the key leaders are pretty uneducated. It is only really the Apostle Paul who was really clever. The key is being filled with the Holy Spirit and diligent studying of the bible. God will guide your words when you stand for Him. A bible verse that gives me great strength is in Matthew 10:19-20 speaking about what will happen when we are dragged before rulers and authorities

do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Why not give it a try? See who you can start a conversation with this week?

Next week I will be looking at this subject a little further and giving my own testimony of how responding to a questioning friend helped me in my own faith.

 February 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jan 302015
 

Do babies go to hellA couple of weeks ago we looked at the question “How can a God of love send people to hell?” but we didn’t cover the aspect of what happens to the unborn, babies or small children if they die before ever having the ability to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. It’s a fair question because the bible says that it is only through Jesus that we are saved (Acts 4:12) It also says that we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) so the assumption is that babies, small children are unsaved and heading for hell.

But that doesn’t sit right does it?

That answer is a bit black and white though, isn’t it? As in many areas of life there are no definitive answers in the bible and so we need to look at some general principles from the bible and form an opinion based on these.

I would always focus the attention firstly on the character of God. The bible reveals a lot about that.

First of all God is good

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

He is also trustworthy “All your commands are trustworthy” (Psalm 119:86)

He is also a righteous judge “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” (Psalm 9:8)

There are so many attributes I could fill a book (a very big book!)

Basically because he is righteous and just and good and also knows all things, we can therefore trust him implicitly.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think a God like that would send little children or even the unborn to hell?

Let me change angle.

The bible states that we are all sinners by nature and choice;

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

There is no-one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

It even shows that we were sinful at or before birth;

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” (Psalm 58:3)

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

This means that yes, young children and even the unborn are sinful. Being so young, they are unable to repent or believe, but how different is that to adults? We have all turned away from God. There is no-one who seeks after God

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:11)

Anyone who is a Christian is only a Christian because God has fore-ordained it because Salvation is from God alone and it is based solely on his grace.

who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

God choosing us is called the doctrine of ‘Election’. Speaking about Jacob and Esau it says in Romans;

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)

So the fact that anybodyis saved (Children or adult) is a miracle of God.

If God chooses and saves adults by his grace not because of anything they have done, will he not also save children by his grace as they have not even had a chance to do anything, good or bad?

There is evidence in the bible of God’s hand of grace on unborn children. Speaking of John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel it says..

for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” (Luke 1:15)

And King David says in the Psalms..

From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:10)

After the death of David’s child, David makes an interesting statement, which would certainly suggest that his newborn son has gone to heaven..

But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

There are other clues in the bible if you look for them that suggest that young children or the unborn who die prematurely are at rest, which would certainly not be the description of hell. After Job has had all his family and possessions wiped out he mourns and curses the day of his birth. In Job 3:11–13 he says;

Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest

And in Ecclesiastes it makes a statement about a stillborn child;

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” (Ecclesiastes 6:3)

Better off? In hell?

Another interesting point to note is that throughout the bible, whenever judgement is mentioned it is always in the context of works, for instance;

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had doneas recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)

Even though young children are born with a sin nature and are therefore sinful, they have no chance to follow or reject God, so how can they be judged?

And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39)

In conclusion

If your view of God is of a cruel, nit picky and capricious God who stands at the gates of heaven with a clipboard and if you don’t tick all the boxes you don’t get in, then you will believe that God judges harshly with young children and the unborn and resigns them to hell because “those are the rules.”

But if your view of God is based on how God has revealed himself in the bible; a gracious, kind, patient, giving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate heavenly father, who lavishes his grace on us not because of anything we have done but because of his great mercy, then I suspect your view might be quite different.

Let’s leave the last words with Jesus which I believe is the clincher;

Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

 January 30, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell, Salvation 2 Responses »
Jan 232015
 

slaveryBefore we start, let’s establish what we mean by slavery. If you mention the word slavery to most people in our society they will immediately think of the slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries where Africans were forcefully removed from their lands, transported on cramped ships and made to work on places like plantations in the Caribbean and the southern United States.

This is not what the bible means by slavery. In fact that practice of ‘man-stealing’ is clearly spoken against in the bible. For instance, in Exodus 21:16 it says that if anyone does that, then they should be put to death! It’s also clearly listed as a sin in 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

Slavery, however is mentioned many times in the bible. The Old Testament especially, mentions slaves frequently. It was a very common practice in ancient times, often resulting from the displacement of people due to war etc. Slaves were often treated really badly and thought of as no more than property to be treated how their master liked. In the Mosaic law God provided for slaves so they were treated respectfully and humanely. They were even to be released from their obligations after 6 years, unless they themselves chose to stay with their master (Exodus 21:2) These regulations that God provided for slaves, were really radical in ancient times. God cares for individuals but especially for the poor, destitute and marginalised.

As we are talking about slavery in the bible, let’s analyse why there was slavery in Israel. Without any form of social security it would have been easy for someone to fall upon hard times and selling yourself into slavery might be the only way you could provide for your family (Leviticus 25:39) A thief who was caught might have to go into slavery to pay off his debt (Exodus 22:3) people heavily in debt too could sell their children into slavery (2 Kings 4:1) This may sound cruel but it ensured their children were provided for.

In New Testament times slavery was still equally prevalent and universal. It was still a means for people to pay off debts and even survive if times were really hard. This is probably why slavery was not condemned outright in the bible. If Christians had somehow managed to get slavery banned, there would undoubtedly be more deaths, so you could say keeping slavery in that society was actually the humane thing to do! So rather than condemning slavery, Paul and the writers of the New Testament wrote some very counter cultural advice on how slaves and masters were to behave in a society where slavery was very normal. Their attitudes were to be radically different to the way the rest of society behaved, which is no different to how we should behave, as Christians, in our workplaces.

As long as there has been human sin and mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow man, there will always be a form of slavery. Don’t for one minute think that in our modern age that slavery has been eradicated, far from it. In a 2014 comprehensive study it was reckoned that there are currently 35.8 million slaves living in the world today! (http://www.walkfree.org/)

The bible knows that the human heart is in slave to sin and that while we walk in that sin, slavery will always be prevalent. But far from condoning slavery, the hope of the gospel is that everyone who puts their hope in Jesus will stand victoriously free, no longer in Physical slavery or spiritual slavery and that is something to look forward to.

 January 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »
Jan 162015
 

Is the bible sexistWe have been looking at various bible difficulties over a number of weeks. Another difficulty people commonly raise with the bible is that it appears by many to be quite sexist. The Old Testament is mostly dominated by men and when true heroines do appear they still seem to be subservient to men (such as Esther).

When reading the Old Testament we should be mindful that it is a very ancient book. It records events as they were ‘warts and all’ it was written without intention to gloss over the nasty parts. When reading it, you must consider the culture at the time which treated women very badly and on many occasions as no more important that property. They were not allowed to contribute fully in society and were constantly subjugated, such as the draconian divorce laws which allowed for a man to hand his wife a written divorce paper for simply burning the dinner. Within all this injustice and inequality, if we read the bible carefully, we see a God who continually stepped in and gave women honour and dignity. God’s intention has always been that men and women are to work side by side, each with their own specific gifts and tasks to perform. There are some significant women in the bible such as Deborah who was one of Israel’s judges who Inspired Israel to victory when men weren’t up to the job (Judges 4&5). Other strong women in the Old Testament were Rahab, Esther and Ruth. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected after his crucifixion (John 20:15-18). There were also women at Pentecost who were filled with the Holy Spirit when He fell in power. It was a woman who truly grasped what Jesus was going to face before any of his disciples caught on in Mark 14:8. And it was almost exclusively women who stayed with him at the cross (John was the only exception)

In Galatians 3:28 it says There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are all equal before God. So how do we square this passage with for example 1 Timothy 2:12?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Do they not contradict each other? I don’t think so, because although we are equal and one in Christ, we have different roles assigned to us. God has made us and designed us to fulfill certain functions. There are of course always exceptions but in general He designed men; bigger and stronger to protect women and children and He gave women much more compassion and durability when it comes to child rearing etc. It has never ceased to amaze me how women cope with the demands of small children and the care and attention they provide 24/7. I have always maintained that infant mortality would increase dramatically if it were only men responsible for their upbringing! We are made in a certain way to fulfill roles that God has ordained that men and women should complete. These roles are not haphazard, they are part of His great design. He is certainly not being sexist!

We mustn’t take verses out of context though and it is important firstly to say that the translation ‘man’ in 1 Timothy 2 could equally be translated husband, which adds a whole new light to this verse. Also, this verse could conceivably be referring to one particularly domineering woman in Ephesus where Timothy was leading. But in other New Testament passages we also see women teaching. Women such as Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila taught Apollos (Acts 18:26) and Timothy himself was taught by his mother and his grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15)

I believe the only office not available to women is that of an Elder. Unfortunately, some people seem to spend all their time debating this one prohibition when there are numerous other wonderful roles that God has provided to complete and fulfill women. Instead of complaining, we should be encouraging women to reach their full potential and thrive in everything He has given them to do. As the French say vive la difference!

 January 16, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »
Jan 092015
 

hellWe are continuing in a series of blogs around the theme of bible difficulties. We have already looked at the argument that the bible is God’s word and can be trusted, but the problem is, the amount of difficult questions it raises. Last week we looked at how a good God could allow evil and suffering in the world and we saw that God has placed a high value on human beings having the ability to make choices (called ‘free will’).

This week we look at a problem which is associated with last weeks question and that is; “Why would a God who is good and loving send people to hell, which is a place of eternal torment?”

God sending people to hell, from a human perspective seems very unfair. From our point of view it is really difficult to imagine people being subjected to eternal suffering. Eternal is forever, never ceasing. Surely that can’t be right?

It’s important though that we take a balanced view. It is a very emotive subject and we need to see the situation not just from our own viewpoint. The bible helps with a number of starting points which we need to consider;

An important thing to consider is that God is holy;

for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Holiness is perfection, a complete absence of sin. Not even having the ability to sin. God is completely pure and incorruptible, the absolute standard. And importantly, not even allowing sin to be anywhere near His presence.

Allied to this is the fact that He is righteous

God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. (Psalm 7:11-12)

Meaning He will only do what is right, He cannot do and accept wrong. It is against His very nature

In perfect balance with His Holiness and righteousness is His love. God is a God of love. He is the meaning of the word, it too is in His very nature.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

This aspect of love is why we see that God takes no delight in people going to hell

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

If God were to only be loving He would let everybody off and in fact if He was only just, Hell would be full, including all the people who have ever existed. God has balanced his righteousness and love in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin on himself and has made, through His body, an escape from hell. Justice and love were both served on the cross of Jesus Christ.

This now brings us to the subject we looked at last week. There is a very real sense that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to hell. All who go there deserve to be there because that is what they have chosen, that is their ‘free will’. Sin continues in this world through the choices we make that are not in God’s plan. Choices we make to go our own way each day. You may say that they are not ‘big’ sins like rape and murder, but actually the biggest sin of all is rejecting the one who has provided a way of escape from the punishment of the consequences of our sin and those that go to hell have committed that sin.

Ok, so what about young children, babies, those who have never heard of Jesus? What happens to them? Well, our ‘human’ assumption is that they are innocent, but actually the bible suggests that we are all born in sin, we are born with a sin nature and therefore guilty.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)

We simply don’t know enough about God’s judgements as He has chosen not to reveal them fully to us, but what we do know is that He can be trusted completely. As we have seen already He is completely Holy, entirely just and utterly loving so what He will do will be right. What a comforting thought to know.

 January 9, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell No Responses »
Jan 022015
 

Why would a good God allow evil to existBefore Christmas I started a few blogs about bible difficulties. I’m continuing that subject this week with a very common argument against Christianity and the existence of God. This is not so much a bible difficulty as a problem that people have with God himself, although the bible gives us plenty of clues as to why evil still exists.

The bible makes it clear in various places that God is good, holy, righteous and all powerful.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

It is clear that God, as the creator, has the capability to stop sin and also hates it and desires that it be eradicated completely. This raises the question from opponents that either He is not powerful enough to stop evil or He is powerful enough to stop it but is just not as loving as He says He is and chooses not to stop it. If He is both fully capable of stopping it and genuinely wants it ended, why is it still around and seemingly more prevalent than ever?

The key point in this whole argument is that in His wisdom, God has decided to allow us ‘free will’ we have ability to choose good and follow God or to choose evil and rebel against Him.

He could have made us machines that don’t know right from wrong or ones that have no ability to choose. I don’t know why He didn’t choose either of those two options, but I feel it must be something to do with the joy we experience when we worship Him freely. His giving us the choice must have been the most loving thing He could do for us.

People will still argue why God doesn’t stop the worst evil in the world, but surely, if He is going to stop some, where should He stop? Another option would be to stop all the evilest people, but if they are removed, pretty soon we are the most evilest people on the planet and we should be removed too. The bible makes it clear that we are all sinful, each and every one of us and it’s not just our actions that are evil but our thoughts as well

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

People in every generation have struggled with these very real questions, but thankfully as I said before there are helpful clues in scripture. Let’s consider 7 thoughts to help us through:

(1) Jesus was well aware that there would always be evil around

In John 16:33 He said “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” Nothing takes Him by surprise.

(2) Evil was not created or caused by God

We have already looked at that in the passage in Deuteronomy 32:4

(3) Most suffering is caused by human sin

If you analyse it, everything that goes wrong with people (apart from natural disasters etc) can be boiled down to sin; such as anger, jealousy, greed and pride.

(4) We live in a fallen world

After Adam and Eve sinned the whole creation was corrupted by the curse. The world became distorted and ‘off centre’.

(5) God will ultimately judge all evil

The reason sin is not all judged immediately is because of God’s patience and His desire for people to be given time to repent. But one day, on that final day, everything will be judged and justice will be served.

(6) God suffered too

He is not distant from our suffering, not detached from it. Jesus not only suffered it in his life, but when He died, took on the full weight of mankind’s evil

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

(7) God can bring good out of bad.

Look at the example of Joseph in Genesis where he was sold into slavery, abandoned, forgotten about and thrown into prison, but God turned it all for the good of the whole nation and his family. He was able to forgive his brothers because he recognised God’s plan in and through his ordeal. He said to them:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

God is so good that even when evil seems to be triumphing, God can still turn it around. The greatest example of course was Jesus who won the ultimate victory in the face of the greatest evil.

In conclusion; In a world of free choices, God’s will is rarely done. Going our own way is much more common. We shouldn’t blame God for the atrocities committed on a daily basis, blame the people who blatantly ignore His commands, put there for our good. We were made for a relationship with God, but He will not force himself upon us. He is all to ready to comfort, guide and direct us, but the choice is ours.

 January 2, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Goodness No Responses »
Dec 262014
 

Boxing dayAs Boxing Day has fallen on blog day (or Friday to the rest of you) I thought I would write a short blog on the subject. I was vaguely aware what it was all about; I knew it wasn’t about the sport of “Boxing” for instance, but I didn’t know anything else for definite other than that. I must confess I don’t like not knowing things so I decided to do some research and find out the facts.

The first thing that surprised me was that Boxing Day is largely not celebrated in America. However it is celebrated in Canada, although through the passage of time many differences have developed between the way we Brits and Canadians celebrate this day.

The second surprise I had was that the more I searched, the clearer it became that nobody actually quite knows where it all started. There are a number of theories and in fact it could be a little bit of all of them…or not. The one thing that all agree on though is the date: December 26th. But hereafter the theories of the origin of Boxing Day vary. Here are the main theories so take your pick!

  • Some believe it dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church of England had ‘poor boxes’ in which they would collect money. These boxes would then be opened on Boxing Day and distributed amongst the poor.
  • It could also be the tradition of trades people such as postmen, bin men etc receiving a box of goodies or money in recognition of great service throughout the year.
  • Another possibility is that this tradition stems back to when the wealthy had servants who had to work on Christmas day serving their masters. Their masters would give them a box of gifts to take home the next day, which would be their day off.
  • A tradition I wasn’t aware of was that during the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a “Christmas Box” was a symbol of good luck. It would be a priest (bringing a bad name to Christianity in my opinion) who would place the box on the ship while it was still in port and the superstitious sailors would put money in it hoping for a safe journey. The priest would then seal it until the journey’s end when, upon safe return, he would say a mass of thanks and distribute the contents to the poor.

In many places Boxing Day is referred to as “St Stephens Day”. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Acts 6&7. It says that he was “Full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was arrested and taken before the council, where he preached an amazing sermon to the religious leaders who took exception to him accusing them of putting to death the Messiah. He enraged them so much that they took him out and stoned him. Even while being stoned he still forgave his attackers. Now he is the type of hero I would like to celebrate on Boxing Day!

On a similar heroic note, the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was set on Boxing Day (the feast of St Stephen). It tells the story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step by step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia(Modern day Czechoslovakia).

Let us take inspiration from “St. Stephen” and “St. Wenceslaus I”, continuing in the tradition of these two men, who stood strong against violent opposition and refused to compromise in the face of opposition and put themselves out to help the poor. Happy St Stephen’s Day!

 December 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:00 am Christmas No Responses »