Saturday, June 09, 2007

THE ESSENTIAL SCRIPTURES - our defence against deception

Maybe a year ago I raised some questions regarding the nature of the scriptures. But in my questioning I had NO INTENTION of questioning their authority, or their necessity for our Spiritual growth and well being. My concern was that some traditional views regarding scripture had led to the Holy Spirit being sidelined. However, I see the answer to this situation does NOT include reducing the importance of scripture in our lives. As we increasingly give the Holy Spirit room, our relationship with the scriptures will increase and be enriched. The Holy Spirit does NOT replace or supersede the scriptures He Himself inspired.
The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself – therefore there is great value (necessity!) in referring to earlier Spirit inspired teaching as a measure to test current teaching to see whether the current is genuinely Spirit inspired. Look through the New Testament writings and see how often Jesus and the apostles quoted the Jewish scriptures (our Old Testament) to give legitimacy to their teachings. We also have the example of the Bereans who tested Paul’s teaching by searching the Old Testament scriptures.

While the early church prospered without the compiled New Testament, our situation is far different from theirs. Ac 2:42 says of the earliest believers: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship”. The early church had direct access to the teachings of the original apostles, men who knew Jesus; those who had received teaching from and had been discipled by Him PERSONALLY. We obviously don’t have that benefit.

Later, as the church grew and spread out, believers received written teaching from the apostles and other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry. These writings were considered important enough to be preserved by the church until the present day, so those who did not have direct access to the apostles due to distance or time, could benefit from their Spirit inspired teaching. The writings of the New Testament are OUR direct link to this “apostles teaching” that the early church considered to be essential.

While the scriptures quoted throughout the New Testament are obviously the Jewish (Old Testament) scriptures, Peter writes of Paul’s letters in a way that compares their authority to those ancient texts:

2Pe 3:16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

And Paul himself stated:
1Th 2:13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

Who did the Thessalonians receive the word of God from? Was it direct from the Holy Spirit? NO! It was heard through Paul and his companions. Is Paul’s message any less the word of God in writing than it was through preaching? Is the teaching of the apostles any less valid today merely because it has been handed down to us in written form? I would say it is equally valid and MORE of a necessity because we don’t have direct personal access to those original apostles and their teaching. It is MORE of a necessity because it helps us to recognize the GENUINE leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. The written scriptures help us to judge between the genuine and the false.

Almost every book of the New Testament gives warning of deception, of false apostles, false prophets, and false teachers. We are warned against receiving false gospels – even if they are delivered from spiritual sources. We are warned against the spirit of antichrist. How do we recognize the false? By the same method used by the Bereans, MEASURING ANY TEACHING AGAINST THE STANDARD WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN IN THE WRITTEN WORD OF SCRIPTURE. In a day when almost every man and woman (and possibly their dogs) are claiming to be apostles and prophets (despite Jesus’ warnings of false ones appearing), how BLESSED we are to have that foundational teaching provided in the scriptures so we aren’t left in the dark to fumble around to determine the truth; that we aren’t left in uncertainty regarding the nature and identity of any spirit that claims to be the Holy Spirit.

Without the written account of scripture we would have no means of determining validity (or otherwise) in the abundance of contradictory teachings that flood the world. And it can be seen that the variety of conflicting teachings increases the MORE that scripture is either ignored or reduced to a collection of out of context verses. In other words – when scripture becomes a tool of man used to “prove” what man has already determined; when man reads meaning into scripture rather out of scripture. (Refer again to 2 Peter 3:16)

In some parts of the church scripture is held as the only source of revelation to the extent that the Holy Spirit has been shut out. THIS IS CLEARLY WRONG. Both are necessary for effective GENUINE Christian life and ministry. Giving a correct emphasis on the Spirit’s leading does NOT demand a corresponding neglect of scripture; in fact, the MORE we experience the Spirit working in our lives, the MORE we will embrace scripture. If the Spirit leads us away from scripture – then it is NOT the Spirit of God we are dealing with.

The members of the early church that thrived without the compiled, written New Testament not only had direct personal access to the apostles, but they were STEEPED in the Jewish scriptures. These scriptures were continually used as a foundational reference to verify the legitimacy of their doctrine and practices.
They didn’t have a superficial knowledge of scripture like most of us who profess to be Christians. To them scripture was ESSENTIAL. They didn’t denigrate the written word in order to justify their own laziness and their neglect of scripture.

Today many are so steeped in the culture of our times that they give little time for studying the scriptures – and yet seem to have plenty of time to try to undermine the Bible’s importance. Trying to score intellectual points by attacking the authority of the written word they adopt the world’s cynicism, disguising it in sheep skin. Some deny the integrity of scripture and claim to be led by the Holy Spirit alone, while others clothe their deceptive doctrines with carefully selected, out of context, verses of scripture.

Referring again to 2 Peter 3:16, “[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Everything we know of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and how they relate with us ALL originates from the scriptures. Diminish and distort the scriptures and we diminish and distort the gospel and the Christian faith we claim to hold.

Ironically, those who try to undermine the authority of the scriptures often do so by quoting scripture. And often the Holy Spirit is promoted as if He nullifies the value of the scriptures. But who told us about the Holy Spirit?
The first disciples were personally told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit. The Ephesian church was unaware of the Holy Spirit until Paul arrived and introduced Him to them (Acts 19). Without the scriptures HOW DID WE COME TO KNOW?
Without the scriptures we would emulate the Ephesians:
“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

I have also noticed that common verses quoted when trying to promote the Spirit and “spiritual” revelation/experience above the word are:

Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I have seen this quoted to justify all manner of manifestations within the church. With this there is an assumption that God will not allow Christians to be deceived by false signs, wonders or gifts. YET JESUS SPECIFICALLY WARNS of the danger of deception within the church. Almost every New Testament book warns of deception. The scriptures give written teaching to equip us to recognize what is the truth and what is false. If we cast aside or demote the importance of the written word, or if we place “spiritual” experience above the word, we are casting aside the clear warnings against deception given in scripture – and have thereby have already fallen victim to it. Then, by propagating our own scepticism regarding scripture, we ourselves become the deceivers, the false prophets, the false teachers, promoting the spirit of antichrist.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It is so easy to get caught up in the latest fads or with our own obsessions that we become driven by the wrong goals. We take our eyes away from God and where He is heading and create our own path. Either we follow the crowd and the latest “spiritual” gimmick; or we take our own direction and gather those around us who say what we want to hear, “confirming” we are on the right track.
These tendencies can take us along many side roads – and for a while we may still be in sight of God, even though we are not walking along the path He has intended. But, if we don’t correct our progress we’ll eventually find ourselves moving further away from Him.

To get to the right path we need to recognise where God wants to take us; what is His ULTIMATE purpose for mankind. We need to make sure we are not making the same mistake as Peter: “…seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” Mark 8:33

Over recent weeks I’ve been regularly meditating on these things wanting to know more about HIS purposes, what HE considers to be important and how mankind fits into HIS plans. I have heard preachers giving different views about the Christian life. Many preach about the blessings God has provided and the importance of living in those blessings. I have heard some refer to the blessings of Eden as being the standard we should be pursuing (Gen 1:28); others refer to the blessings of Abraham (Gal 3:9) or to the blessings promised to Israel (Deut 28:1-14).
Should appropriating these “blessings” be the Christian’s main goal? Is the blessing of His Children in THIS world God’s primary desire and purpose? Is this the reason for the redemption God provided for us through Jesus?

This is what I’ve found:

Scripture clearly reveals that God’s redemption plan culminates in a new home in a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1). The new heaven and new earth are the “better place, a heavenly homeland” mentioned in Hebrews 11:16 and the “prize” mentioned in verses 39-40.

Man’s first home, Eden, was never intended to be the BEST for mankind. It was never intended to be mankind’s destiny. It is therefore NOT an existence to be aspired towards. We should not hold it up as an example of how blessing should impact our lives today. Eden was merely the starting point for man; it was never the end goal. Eden ALWAYS allowed the potential for sin. God gave Adam and Eve free will. Even prior to their creation God knew they would choose disobedience, and through this foreknowledge had designed a plan for man’s redemption.

The new heaven and new earth will have NO potential for sin. The tree of life will be there, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The choice for God or against God is made here in the current creation. The new creation will only allow access to those who have already chosen obedience and have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness. “The old world and its evils are gone forever” (Rev 21:4).

The new heaven and new earth are the ultimate home of God’s family. This was intended even before the current creation was brought into being . This current earth is (and was always meant to be) the “proving ground” to prepare a family with whom God could share an eternal, perfect, sin-free home.

God’s redemption plan was implemented with the goal of populating this future home. The plan had various stages. The MAJOR stages are the covenants known broadly as the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). Each of these covenants contains their own individual conditions and promises. We need to ensure that we recognise those differences and where we stand in relation to the conditions and promises contained within them. In other words, which parts of these covenants are relevant to us?

1) God’s covenant with Israel (Old Covenant) promised earthly reward for obedience to His law. This reward centred on life within a designated geographical area – “the promised land”. The blessings associated with obedience were physical, material and political. (Deut 28: 1-14). Obedience to God meant being obedient to a specific, detailed written Law.

2) Jesus’ ministry introduced a totally new concept: the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven). This was the MAIN subject of His ministry. He introduced it and described it to His listeners. It is a Kingdom “not of this world”. The gospel He preached (and instructed us to preach) was the gospel of the Kingdom. It is a Kingdom entered through faith, leading to obedience through the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit, (a law written on our hearts). He opened the way to this Kingdom through His death, burial and resurrection, introducing and mediating a new covenant “superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises”. (Heb 8:6).

3) The “better promises” are eternal and are not limited to our earthly lives.
Israel’s “promised land” of the old covenant was geographical. The “promised land” of the new covenant is Heavenly. We can be part of that Kingdom now. Many of its benefits are available to us on earth, but the Kingdom’s complete expression and experience is still future, being fulfilled in the completion of the new creation.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The following is a compilation of an ongoing email dialogue I had with a woman who claims to be a follower of Wicca (witchcraft).

“I apparently try to see too much of the positive, I used to argue with those preaching at my door that I don't believe in a god which would throw you into a fire and brimstone hell”

Could I use this approach to change the government?

I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia
I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia
I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia

But enough flippancy…

Perhaps you are taking the wrong approach. You are making assumptions about
the nature and motivation of your hypothetical God by expecting him to act in a way that is acceptable to a particular human way of thinking.
Suppose this God thinks and acts differently to us, even in a way that we could find objectionable. What could we do about it? Does refusing to believe really make a difference?

Why would this God want or need to throw anyone into a fire and brimstone hell? And what right would he have to do so?

What if this God was responsible for our origins? Was the one who created us in the first place? Would that give this god any kind of ownership over us, giving the right to reward or dispose of us as he sees fit? What would this god be entitled to do with any part of its creation that didn't come up to the required "quality control" standard?

What if this God had done everything in his power to enable us to achieve the required standard and avoid the abhorrent outcome of hell, but we were too focussed on other things to take notice, or too proud of our self-perceived good qualities? What if it wasn't this God’s desire to send people to "hell", but they refused to accept the way out he had provided?

“I wanted to know why the Vatican with all it's vast fortune didn't do more to help the poor, such as soup kitchens, temporary housing etc, the answer from the Sister on that one was, "there will always be the poor", would get terribly angry looks from certain people for bringing a homeless person into the canteen for a cup of coffee and a feed,”

It should not be ignored that Jesus said that many of those who would find themselves condemned to "hell" were people who claimed to be his followers but who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked; in other words, those who claim adherence to religion, but don't LIVE it.

“Of course, the problem as I see it is that we receive all Christian messages second-hand - at least - via the Bible, which was written by a range of different people, each with their own thoughts and ideas and locations and eras. Which would be the same problem with any religious book - it's not directly from God, but filtered through humans. We learned in film school that as soon as you put your eye to the viewfinder and press record, you are unconsciously tainting the picture with your choice of framing, exposure, etc so that it is subjective - there's no such thing as a completely objective film shot - and therefore, documentary, or movie, or etc etc. Same thing with writing - by its very nature, it's tainted by the choice of wording, by omissions or additions...”

This is why the New Testament begins with four gospels. They give the perspective of different witnesses to the life of Jesus. This is also why there are more than three versions of creation told in the Bible, and why the two books of Chronicles and the two books of Kings tell of some of the same basic events from different perspectives. It seems like God was a Post-modernist even prior to Modernism.
The fact that the bible was written by so many different people over so many different eras is often pointed out as evidence of the divine influence over its content - because DESPITE OF these wide ranging origins, it remains consistent. Yes, there are minor discrepancies as can be seen in the gospel accounts but there is no discrepancy in overall theme. While some critics try to use these differences to discredit the gospels, these differences in fact provide convincing evidence of their authenticity. This is EXACTLY how the genuine accounts of different witnesses would appear, as each writes according to their own perception and memory of events.

As for the bible being filtered through humans, I think you are quite correct as can be seen with the above mentioned gospel discrepancies. While some insist the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, I see it as a collaborative effort. It details the relationship between God and mankind throughout early history, and the bible is itself is a literary illustration of that relationship. The God revealed in the bible is one who WANTS to be known by mankind. Therefore I see no problem with this God, the creator of all things, having “editorial influence” over the book that tells the world about Him, and thereby preventing any "tainting" of His message.

I have come to see the Bible as being an “authorised biography” of God rather than an autobiography. By this I mean that it was not written or dictated word for word by God Himself. It was written by men under God’s inspiration and authority.

Despite the importance Christians give to the bible it would be a mistake to assume that its content is the sole source of their knowledge and relationship with God. While many churches stick with their rituals and historical tradition, there are others who recognise that God is not trapped between the covers of a 2000 year and older book. They believe in a living and active God who continues to relate to his followers today.

“ People are afraid to think for themselves and reinterpret, because they've been told that questioning and interpreting is not for them... it denies faith and all that. So I guess what upsets me is not religion, but dogma. And denial of the intellect and of common sense. If only there were a greater part of the Christian community that could have as open and enquiring a mind as you do! Although you acknowledge that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christian knowledge - I wonder how many everyday people who identify themselves as Christians agree, or have even thought about looking beyond the Bible?”

To put things into the correct perspective, while I think the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christian knowledge, it is the foundation that all Christian knowledge and understanding are built upon. Any further understanding can not be in contradiction to it. Acceptable teaching or inspiration from "beyond the bible" would always be compatible with the written word. However, Jesus spoke out against those who tried to enforce the "letter of the law" but ignored the spirit of the law. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

On the other hand, Jesus also made it known that the spirit of the law was harsher than the letter. He equated wrongful anger against another as being equal to murder in God's eyes and lustful thought was equal to adultery. The spirit of the law goes deeper than judging actions; it also takes into account the attitude of the heart.

Valid interpretation of a belief system has to be done with respect for the foundations of what is being interpreted. Move away from the foundation and you have something totally different. Following Christ requires a recognition that mankind has fallen from the standard required by God, resulting in spiritual death. But God has made a way for us to regain a relationship with him through faith in Jesus Christ. Without these basic (simplified) foundations there is no Christianity. Any religious system or spiritual belief that tries to adopt or borrow Christ to further a different agenda is way off track. For example, I wish those syncretists who speak of "Christ Consciousness" and being "Christed" would discover enough integrity to change their terminology.

I have no problem respecting the right of other people to hold their own beliefs. We are all responsible for our own search for truth and have to be willing to face whatever consequences come out of the decisions we make. However, I do get annoyed when people try to merge Christ into a pick and mix “spirituality” that denies the very teaching that Christ gave. We can't water him down and take only the “palatable” parts of his life and teaching.
Likewise I do not tolerate the beliefs of those who claim to be Christians but are selectively blind regarding Christ's life and teachings, although I do recognise there is always room for growth in understanding and maturity.

People have every right to investigate different religious and spiritual beliefs for themselves as they seek for truth, but the SERIOUS seeker can't select a bit from here and a bit from there to create their own personally tailored spirituality. If the source beliefs from which those selections were taken are mutually exclusive, there can be no integrity in the patchwork that's created. It might be comfortable, it might make them feel good, but it has no logical, intellectual, or spiritual integrity. Without that internal integrity within the belief system itself, how can it give a relevant and valid view of the external world?
Those adopting Syncretism of this type are not genuine in the pursuit of spiritual reality. They are more concerned with personal comfort and good feelings than in seeking truth - which will often challenge and confront.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

REVIVAL – yet another idol?

From my very first active involvement with Christianity in the mid 1970s, there has been an expressed hope for (and belief in) an impending revival. And this hope goes back much further than my own experience.

The issue of “Revival” seems to me to be another of those distracting issues that takes our eyes off the Father’s business, and places them on a historical by-product of the obedience of previous generations. It measures the success or failure of the work being done by the standard of whether “revival” is obtained.

I’m not against revivals – it’s a matter of NOT pinning our hopes on them, not expecting that experiences of the past should be repeated merely because they have happened before. Not seeing “revival” as the measure of success or a goal to achieve.

Revival seems to be one of those “romantic” ideals that have happened in the past, or happen in distant nations. If anything happens “here” it is often derided and labeled as false when it produces “fruit” contrary to our expectations.
Toronto and Brownsville have often been dismissed by many for just such reasons, yet others proclaim these as examples of “revival”. It seems to me that revival is a very subjective term that depends on a person’s particular theology and is therefore a weak yardstick of spiritual reality or success.

While historical accounts may be inspiring they should not be the basis of our faith and expectation. They can provide encouragement but not direction. “Revival” in its historical context is a human concept created to excuse the times when “revival” is not happening. It creates an impression that “revival” and its fruit are ideals to be reached on rare occasion instead of lived in at all times. Why else would 1904 in Wales (over a hundred years ago!) still be such a notable landmark in church history?

Instead of majoring on revival, we should follow Jesus’ instruction to seek first the Kingdom of God. The Lord and His Kingdom should be our desire; not a taste of something experienced by others in the past, no matter how exciting and inspiring that experience may have been.