Sunday, July 01, 2012

Where is the Body?

"Where is the Body if everybody's the tongue? / As if that's the only gift they thought He has brung / And some of you are actin' like the truth is for the few / Tongues ain't the evidence, 'cause the proof is in the fruit"

I hadn't planned on initiating this apologetics blog until I was ready to continually update it. However, something has recently "hit my soul" to the extent of being the cause of a bothersome righteous indignation that I have been feeling for a few days now. It has inflamed me about as much as (if not, more than) prosperity theology and I cannot keep it in.

As the backstory, I began leading an apologetics study group at my church a week and a half ago. One of the people I invited to join is a childhood friend of mine; one I am glad God allowed me to reunite with after I was saved. He told me he was bringing a friend to the first session and I was excited for another interested person. In the first group discussion, his Pentecostal preference soon became clear to me. Now, I never really thought much of the divisions and denominations of Christianity. It just seemed obvious to me that believers would eventually have disagreements over unrevealed matters. These past few days, though, have made me look at them in a different light - specifically, the petty arguments that are not salvation issues and have nothing to do with the gospel message. When these gray areas, in which we have freedom, are made into black and white issues, we end up with disgustingly unnecessary separations to the Body of Christ. It is frustrating – but more than that, saddening – to be involved in non-essential and unbiblical bickering. I’m not so much bothered by debating doctrinal truths as I am by doing it in a study group about something completely different. It takes the concentration away from the topic at hand and needlessly wastes time.

I feel led to post these thoughts about this individual in the form of a letter. It is said that it is therapeutic to write a heartfelt letter, but not send it. I agree. Though, in this case, whether this letter is seen by said person is not up to me.

Fellow believer,

I write this not to attack you as an individual, but purely to rebuke the false teaching I strongly feel you have fallen victim to. As a follower of Christ, it is my duty to reprove doctrine that is false and exhort that which is sound.

I instantly knew what I was dealing with as soon as you mentioned tongues being evidence of a "baptism in the Holy Spirit". I let it slide during our first session, but had to be stopped from rebuking you when you came back the next week repeating what you said the week prior. In a study group about defending our faith against other worldviews, I didn't expect I would be defending it against another believer. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born of the water and the Spirit. A truly saved Christian receives the Spirit upon their conversion and then feels an urge to publicly announce their death to sin and new life in Christ by immersion in water. We are baptized into one body by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). A "secondary" experience of the Spirit is nothing short of a deception. It divides the Body of Christ into "regular" and "special" Christians. I am not saying that one gifted with tongues is necessarily unsaved. I am saying there is no difference between a believer who experiences the Spirit over a long period of time in a "mist" and one who is quickly "drenched". Although, if the one who is blessed with a powerful experience relies on that experience for salvation, they will likely long for it again and place their faith in that and not in the clear teaching of the Word. This becomes a problem and leads to altar calls to receive "tongues as evidence" and not Jesus as Saviour, as in Oneness Pentecostalism. However, it is crucial to understand that on the Day of Pentecost, people from other nations heard in their native tongues, not in jibber-jabber that made no sense to anyone. The gift of tongues was manifest in the hearing of the Word and not the speaking. The miracle lies in the fact that they spoke in other actual earthly languages not naturally acquired. In 1 Cor. 14, the Apostle Paul wrote we should desire the gift of prophecy above all and that he would rather speak five understood words in order to teach than 10,000 words in a tongue. He then wrote that if the whole church spoke with tongues, it would only look crazy to unbelievers. Later, he wrote that God is not the author of confusion. If there is no interpreter, then it’s better to be silent. All the gifts of the Spirit are given to win lost souls to Christ, not just for show. Nowhere in the Church today do we see tongues practiced as in the New Testament and nowhere in the Holy Writ do we read speaking in tongues is proof of being saved. We know we have eternal life by believing on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13). Being in Christ is evident by a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17). One thing we both believe is that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Where does that put speaking in tongues? It is a work. We are to boast in the Lord, not in our gifts. In Rom. 12, Christ-followers are likened to a body with many members, each member having a different function according to the grace given to it. In Eph. 4, every joint of this body is said to do its share. In 1 Cor. 12, we are told there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit works in all, distributing to each one individually as He wills. If we were all one member, where would the body be? Where would the hands and the feet be? Notice that tongues is listed last in the list of things God has appointed in the church. Do all speak with tongues? Hence, according to God's Word - and not man's - different people have different gifts and not all speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues is but one sign of salvation, not the sign of salvation. If anything, a true sign of salvation in a believer's life is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will vanish away (1 Cor. 13:8). If we must deny our self-effort, that includes our own efforts in trying to receive the gift of tongues. No one can access any gift at their will, the Spirit wills to gift those whom He chooses in the way He chooses. Being “Born of the Spirit” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in our conversion, regeneration, and sanctification.

As I hope you can now see, the Bible is our only authority and it is clear on this issue. Writing on false teaching brings me to the next topic at hand: false teachers. In the second of your repetitions unrelated to the discussion questions, you spoke out of context against the “wisdom of words”. Meanwhile, you were promoting Jimmy Swaggart’s Expositor’s Study Bible. It seemed fitting, that in that same session, we just learned that the first criterion of truth is that it is noncontradictory. Will you let Scripture interpret Scripture or will you contradict yourself and allow a single man’s interpretations to steer your thinking? Am I not saved because I listen to God’s Word alone and not the interspersed personal comments of a mortal man? This man has mixed his words among the words of God and made them red like the words of Christ, disobediently adding to the words of God (Prov. 30:5-6). His heretical comments (too many to name) and blasphemous beliefs of British Israelism steer readers of it away from God’s truth. Furthermore, he has an incomplete teaching of sanctification without repentance, reading the bible, or prayerfully yielding to God. He also replaces the name of Jesus with the term “The Cross”, idolizes the cross as “the object of our faith” instead of the Lord Jesus, talks of “Christ crucified” and not Christ resurrected, and claims our redemption is in the cross and not in the Resurrection. Ignoring the fact that our Lord was raised to free us from our sin is a grave danger to unsuspecting souls. Similarly with the crucifix of Roman Catholicism, the focus is on the problem and not on the solution. Christ alone saves, not the cross. Jesus upon the cross sets us free, not the cross. Your preaching is vain if you are not preaching why Christ was crucified (Heb. 12:2). Our victory is in Him risen, not crucified. We are in Christ, not in the cross. In the New Testament, “cross” appears 28 times and “crucified” appears 37 times, whereas the name of Jesus appears 942 times. The Old Testament foretells a Redeeming Messiah and the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross fulfills the Scriptures, not the cross itself. Without the empty tomb, the cross means death, not life and atonement. We look to a Person as our Saviour, not to an object of death. Anyway, I could write a different update just going on and on about Jimmy Swaggart. I have just scratched the surface. Even if we did not have Swaggart’s skewed views on denying our whole selves and suffering for Christ, we would still have the only clear indication we need of false prophets; their bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). Enough said.

Another concern of mine regards the comment you made about preaching the gospel. After another member of the study group expressed her worry about not being able to give to all those in need she encounters, you responded that our only command is to preach the gospel and not give money. This is hazardous thinking. I immediately thought of Matt. 25, where Jesus commends those who took care of the “least of these” and condemns those who did not. In 1 Cor. 13, the Word of God reveals that the greatest gift is love. Even if I were to miraculously speak in an unlearned language and have it interpreted, I would be nothing without love. A true follower of Christ can’t help but be motivated by the love of Jesus. Having the mind of Christ includes sharing His compassion. As a believer, if you have not received His compassion, I would question your salvation. Pure religion is described as visiting orphans and widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). There are numerous verses in God’s Word about helping the homeless, compared to a handful about speaking in tongues. Scripture tells us that the one who shuts up his heart from one in need does not have the love of God in him (1 John 3:17). To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). I suggest you put others before your mere words before disregarding our duty to help the needy again. We are commanded to preach the gospel, but it is not our only command. Jesus said we would abide in his love if we keep His commandments (John 15:10). What about Jesus’ command to love God and one another (Matt. 22:37-40)? What about the commands to give more than is required to those who ask and give to the poor to please God (Matt. 5:40-42, 6:1)? What about the commands to be born again, to forgive, to love our enemies, to beware of false prophets, to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Him, and to be prepared for His return (John 3:7, Mark 11:25-26, Matt. 5:43-45, 7:15, Luke 22:19-20, 12:40)? Clearly, we are commanded to do much more than just preach. Needless to say, there are also the 10 Commandments

Lastly, I feel that you do not seem to be able to grasp the concept of apologetics and its purpose. Apologetics is not “the way” by any means. It is simply a way of learning how to answer the questions of unbelievers. It is the art and science of Christian persuasion. Instead of answering the discussion questions properly, you redundantly answered in circles with one answer for them all. You said the Holy Spirit does all the work and all people need to know is that Jesus loves them. Obviously, it is the work of the Spirit to save a soul, but there are many ways for us to plant seeds. Apologetics does not negate the work of the Spirit. There is a difference between preaching the gospel and having answers for our hope in Christ. They work hand-in-hand, but are not the same thing. You can tell a skeptic that Jesus loves them, but what will it profit them if they don’t believe Jesus existed? You can tell an agnostic that Jesus loves them, but what will it profit them if they don’t know why or how He loves them? As an atheist, “Jesus loves you” didn’t help me at all since I didn’t have any reason to believe in Him in the first place. To present Jesus as the Truth, doubters need to first know there is truth. This is the purpose of apologetics; to present reasonable evidence for the Christian faith and defend it against objections. What would you say to someone who wanted evidence for the existence of God? What would you say to someone who said the Bible is contradictory? What would you say to someone who told you they don’t believe in Jesus because they believe He is just a mythological character? What would you say to someone who asked you why they should choose Christianity over all the other religions? What would you say to someone who asked how a good God can allow evil and suffering? What would you say to someone who told you they didn’t believe in a good God Who sends people to Hell? Christian apologetics is all about answering tough questions to give a rational basis for Christianity. I hope you now have a clearer understanding. We both know that nothing is impossible for God, hence the Spirit can work in any given situation. We must not box the Spirit of God in to what we believe He is able to do (Eph. 3:20).

In conclusion, I first thank you if you have read this far. I didn’t expect this letter to be this long, but I now see why I felt I had to get all of it out. I believe we shouldn’t get caught up in technicalities of words, such as “worldview” or the “Christian” label. We are to be in the world, but not of it. This doesn’t mean we have to hide our light in the world. In 1 Cor. 9, Paul says he made himself all things to all men, that he might by all means save some. Should we prevent spreading the gospel message because it’s in a rock or rap song? What if that’s the only way a certain individual will hear it? We must not have a holier-than-thou attitude towards a lost world. The message is of importance, not the vessel. I believe we should also do something instead of just talking. Not only must we spend time with our bibles, but incessantly with Jesus. We are not called to just say a few words and let the Spirit do all the work. On the contrary, we are to be sent into the world as the hands and feet of the body. However, the focus of apologetics is on our speech to lost souls and God’s Word teaches us that it’s better to edify than to speak in confusion.

Just a brother concerned,
Mike W.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure if your still on here but Im wondering if you know of scholarly works touching on the subject of the lack discovery of biblical main personages ( patriarchs etc . )