"Nothing more impressive than an intellectual and spiritual approach to seeking truth and a willingness to embrace it unconditionally."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Something I Wish Apostolics Would Do


Yes, you read correctly. I wish Apostolics would debate. I know that many Apostolic preachers would rather a dentist pull their teeth without anesthesia than to debate. I am not speaking about Apostolics debating non-apostolics; I am speaking about intramural debate. I think that we have a need to formally debate our differences. My reasons are as follows:
  1. IT CAN BE DONE IN A RESPECTFUL WAY: I will illustrate this point with one example. Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Brown are the perfect model of respectful debate. White and Brown have teamed up in debate against Unitarians and others. They consider each other brothers in Christ. They share both Christian fellowship and personal friendship. Not only have they team debated against others, but the have also had formal debates against each other. As far as I know, they have debated Calvinism and cessationism. They prefaced those debates by informing their audiences that they were brothers in Christ and that the issues were in-house debates. Apostolic brothers and sisters, we need this kind of discussion among us. We need to develop the ability to disagree publicly with one another in a respectful way. We are disagreeing publically with each other now; we are just not doing it in a respectful and Christian way. Instead of doing in a formal, public, regulated way, we are doing it by taking potshots at each other from pulpits when our targets are not present. For those of you that think public regulated debate would be dangerous, I submit that what we are presently doing is infinitely more dangerous. 
  2. MANY OTHER GROUPS DO IT: Almost every other Christian demographic is debating the relevant issues. These debates are reaching to highest level of theological academia. There are many debates and panel discussions being held on a number of different issues. Perhaps one of the hottest topics being discussed in contemporary Christianity is the doctrine of hell (pun absolutely intended). Theologians of every denominational strip are weighing in on this and many other issues. The question is, if these groups are doing it, why can't we as Apostolics? I will give my opinions in a later blog as to why I think we don't. Brothers and sisters, we have brilliant minds among us. It is a shame that we can't provide a venue where these great minds can weigh in from different perspectives on the same issues in the same venue.
  3. WE ARE DISAGREEING ANYWAY: This is perhaps the most significant of these points. We are discussing our differences already. The problem is that we are doing it in unhealthy and unethical ways that are leading to misrepresentation, false witness and division. We are sitting around conference tables making claims about preachers with whom we have little to no relationship. I have witnessed innumerable accounts of men totally distorting the views of others (including my own). I will confess to having done this myself.  And I regret each and every time that I have. I have watched preachers on social media attack other preachers by claiming that they believe a certain doctrine when I knew they did not. Misrepresentation resulted from one man pouring his definition into the other persons terms. Or they heard a key phrase and instead of letting that man define his term for himself they assumed that he meant the same thing by it that another person who used that term meant. My point is this: since we are disagreeing anyway, why not do it in a way that allows both persons to represent fairly what they believe in their own words. Brothers and sisters, it is almost impossible to portray what someone else believes without distorting it is some way. We have almost an irresistible tendency to build strawmen arguments against the other person's view so that we can cleverly knock or burn it down. It is a much more difficult task to refute another man's view when he is arguing it in his own words. We must change this if we hope to survive as a movement. Finally, since we are disagreeing anyway, let's do it redemptively and respectfully
I intend to follow this blog up with another one that lays out why I think we resist this kind of public dialogue. I welcome any and all responses to this blog. All comments will be posted.

NOTE: If you disagree with debating, but comment contrary to what I have posted, that would be debating. :)

Friday, May 30, 2014

"It Seemed Good to the Holy Ghost and To Us" Is Not a Blank Check!

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; (Acts 15:28 KJV)

Preachers often use this verse as their authority to preach against things for which they admit they have no prohibitive verse (s). Well...they actually only use part of the verse. But I will make that point a little later. So they use this verse as their trump card to every objection that anyone raises against their personal authority. They even use it to trump biblical arguments. 

I am writing this blog post to place this verse in its biblical context. It should not be used as a blank check to preach whatever one chooses. A pastor has the liberty to make certain requirements for local church membership for which he has no explicit biblical command. However, no pastor has the authority bind, either on his local congregation or the global church, as requirement for heaven what scripture does not bind. This applied to me when I pastored in Alton, IL. And it will apply to me if I should ever pastor again in the future.

As I stated earlier, we do not have the authority to bind as requirement for heaven what scripture does not bind. Furthermore, we do not have the authority to use our opinions as a basis to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

The context of Acts 15:28 was whether or not to bind circumcision—therefore, the whole law—on Gentile converts. The Jerusalem Council decided that Gentiles should not be compelled to be circumcised. This is the context in which one should understand the statement under consideration.

This phrase is thrown around as though scripture did not figured into the apostles decision in Act 15. Therefore, this phrase is used to justify men binding their own opinions about contemporary issues on the entire body of Christ. This is the text many use to prove they don't need scriptural support for what they bind.  In fact, based on this verse, they can bind their own opinions on the body of Christ when the entire witness of scripture says the opposite.

So, did the apostles use this phrase because they issued a binding edict without, or contrary to, scripture? God forbid! Let's back up a few verses and see:

"And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written...Wherefore my sentence is..."  (Acts 15:15, 18 KJV).

Brothers and sisters, James and the others based their decision on written scripture. The reason  it seemed good the the Holy Ghost, the apostles and elders was because they consulted the written words of the prophets.

Notice the rest of the verse that never gets quoted:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; (Acts 15:28 KJV)

What seemed good to the Holy Ghost was not:

  • To bind unnecessary rules for which one has no scripture. 
  • To bind unnecessary rules that are contrary to scripture.
  • To make ones own personal opinions the basis by which they judge those who do not comply. 
  • To make 20th and 21rst century standards (many of which may be wise) perpetual, unbreakable law by which we condemn all present and future generations. 
"To lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" is what "seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us."

If we are going to quote this verse, quote it all. And if we are going to use this verse, use it. Don't misquote and misuse it. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book, Chapter, and Verse?

Do we need "book, chapter, and verse"? Do we need specific scripture in order to act or not to act in a particular way? The answer is both yes and no. The answer is, yes, if you are asking about whether or not something is sinful. The answer is, no, if you are asking about whether or not something is wise. The answer is, yes, if you are asking about doctrine. The answer is, no, if you are asking about personal direction. The Spirit can speak to a person apart from scripture about direction for their lives (whether or not to take a particular church, etc). But the spirit will never, and can never, reveal commandments or doctrine that is not written in the word of God. The role of the spirit is to bring to our remembrance what the word has told us (John 14:26). The following are few things for which we must have "book, chapter and verse."
  • We must have B, C & V for any doctrinal faith that we bind to the conscience of Christians. 
  • We must have B, C & V for anything that we claim is a heaven-n-hell issue.
  • We must have B, C & V for any issue that we use to exclude one from the body of Christ.
Furthermore, the wisdom that we practice for which we do not have book, chapter and verse, we should have strong biblical principle. We cannot produce holiness by inventing rules out of our own imaginations. We cannot produce holiness by inventing rules that flow out of our own personal likes and dislikes. We may chose to not participate in a certain activity simply because we don't like it. But we have no authority to make our personal preferences a matter of holiness. Brothers and sisters: before we judge our fellow Christians let's make sure that our judgement is rooted in scripture. 

Too often what we "feel in the Spirit" is really just self-sanctification of what we feel in our own human spirit. We are destined to err when we equate what "we feel" with what "God feels." If God wanted to bind a particular thing on the church as a matter of essential faith, he would have written it in his word. He would not have left it up to the fickle feelings of one man, or a tiny group of men. 

I fully understand that local pastors should set certain guidelines that may not be spelled out in scripture. But that is quite a different story than using those local parameters as the standard for judging the body of Christ. Local congregation membership requirements are not synonymous with the requirements for membership in the body of Christ. The requirements for local church membership will always be more stringent than the requirements for heaven. 

However, way to often we begin to judge the universal church by the local church. We sometimes think that if everybody everywhere isn't doing what we do here, then they do not measure up. We must not measure who measures up by our local guidelines. For this brothers and sisters, we need "book, chapter and verse."