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Bible, Theology

Why Don’t We Use The Apocrypha?

July 29, 2020

One of the dividing lines between Protestants and Roman Catholics is their view regarding the Apocrypha, primarily the OT Apocrypha books. For those that are unfamiliar with the debate, the Apocrypha is a collection of books that were written between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament (around 4th century BC to 1st century AD). There are also New Testament Apocrphyal books, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, but both Roman Catholics and Protestants reject these are canonical.

For Christians, books of the Bible are canonical in the sense that they are regarded as sacred, written by human authors, but breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). In this regard, both Protestants and Roman Catholics view the 66 books of the Protestant Bible as Scripture, while the Roman Catholics include the Old Testament Apocryphal books as well (such as 1 & 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Judith, Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, as well as some smaller works and even some additions to existing canonical books). Why then do Protestants (we) not regard the Apocrypha as Scriptural or canonical?

No Historical Attestation

If the Old Testament apocryphal books were regarded as Scripturally and canonically valid, we would assume that contemporaries of their writings would regard them as such. Historically, this is simply not the case. As Michael Kruger notes:

Although these books were known and used among the Jews of this time period, there is little evidence to suggest they were regarded as Scripture. Neither Josephus nor Philo—key sources for our understanding of the scope of the OT canon—used them as Scripture. In addition, no NT author (most of whom were Jews) cites even a single book from the Apocrypha as Scripture. And later rabbinic writers do not receive the Apocrypha, affirming only the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Jewish canon (b. Baba Bathra 14–15).

Michael Kruger

Even after the early Jews rejected the Apocrphyal books as canonical, early Christians in the 1st and 2nd century did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical. In fact, it wasn’t until the 6th century that Augustine argued for its inclusion, which was later confirmed in the 16th century at the Council of Trent. Therefore, for the first 1500 years of Christian Church History, they were not included as Scriptural or canonical.

No New Testament Attestation

Can you guess how many times an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament? 855. In all of these hundreds of cases, not a single one is quoted from the Apocrypha. If the early Christians, many of whom were previous Jews, relied upon the Apocrypha as Scriptural, would it not be fair to assume that they would use and refer to the Apocrypha in their New Testament writings? There is not a single instance of an Apocryphal text being cited as Scriptural according to New Testament authors.

Helpful But Not Scriptural

This is not to say that the OT Apocrypha is not helpful in any regard; I simply wish to communicate that it is not Scriptural or canonical. The Apocrypha gives us a view into the world of the inter-testamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments). It helps us, like a good history textbook, to understand what was going on in the current political, social, and culturally moments of the time. It also helps us understanding the 1st century Jewish context more, as there were 400 years of historical development between the last writing of the Old Testament and when Jesus was born.

So, can we learn from the Apocrypha? Absolutely. Should we treat it as equal to the rest of the 66 books of the Bible? No. Early Jews, Christians, and Church Fathers did not regard these books are canonical and we would be unwise to reject their conclusions. Again, Michael Kruger is helpful:

The story of the OT and NT canon is a story that also involves “other” books. These other books have been a point of contention and controversy at various points within the history of Christianity. Moreover, these other books can raise concerns for modern day Christians who might wonder whether they’ve been improperly left out.But the historical evidence suggests we can have confidence in the content of both the OT and NT canon. Despite many years of wrangling over the OT Apocrypha, the Hebrew canon handed down by the Jews still stands as the Bible known by Jesus and the apostles and therefore is properly regarded as Scripture. Likewise, even though there has been much talk about “lost gospels,” these texts were written much later than our canonical ones and have little claim to historical authenticity. Thus, our biblical canon is complete. As Origen declared, “The net of the law and the prophets had to be completed . . . And the texture of the net has been completed in the Gospels, and in the words of Christ through the Apostles” (Comm. Matt. 10.12).

Michael Kruger
Bible, Culture

A Call To Civility In An Age of Hostility

July 28, 2020

If you were to describe the current cultural climate of the United States right now, what words would you use? For some, our country embodies hope, creativity, and exploration. For many, though, our country, at least right now, embodies an air of hostility, division, and a general spirit of unkindness towards one another. Perhaps this has been amplified by the rise of digital technology, allowing men and women to express what has always been inside their hearts, now with little to no consequences. If I were to select a few words to describe the current cultural climate, it would be hostility and division.

Perhaps in no other time in America history (outside possibly the Civil War era) has our nation been so divided. Before us is constantly a binary choice, forcing us to choose sides, dig our heels in, and vilify our opponents. Rather than approaching one another with dignity and respect, we assume the worst of one another, painting each other in negative lights, and use derogatory language about one another. A prime example of this is our current President, who should be the representative of a nation (perhaps, he is, after all), continuously mocking his political opponent with the nickname “Corrupt Joe Biden.” We can do better than this.

DISAGREEMENTS ARE HEALTHY

Contrary to what most people assume, disagreement and conflict are actually incredibly healthy for individuals, teams, and marriages. The ability to resolve conflict demonstrates a healthy system, rather than a family or team that never fights. A system devoid of conflict is not healthy, quite the opposite. The same is true for cultural systems and countries—our ability to resolve or not resolve conflict and disagreement is a barometer of our health. Ecclesiastes 7:5 notes, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” In some arena of life, there are those that are smarter and wiser, and thus, it would be wise for us to heed the rebuke rather than pick a fight.

What is required to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Both parties must possess charity, kindness, and grace for one another while at the same time possessing incredible self-awareness.

Beginning with the latter, understanding our true selves as we approach a conflict is very important. What biases do I bring to the table? What presuppositions am I assuming (all Republicans value ____, all Southerners are ____)? How has my story shaped my beliefs? How can that be driving my desires at the present moment? In the former, leading with charity, kindness, and grace can entirely change the tone of the conversation. If there is a heated disagreement, we should first seek to listen and understand before we lecture.

This sort of demeanor is present not primarily in words but in our attitudes towards one another. Do I really see the person on the opposing side as someone made in the image of God, worthy of my dignity and respect, even if they disagree with me on fundamental issues? Do I believe that regardless of what a person believes, they are not worthy of my berating comments? Do I seek to follow the golden rule, of speaking to others as I would like to be spoken to? Words of kindness and charity flow from a heart that is full of kindness and charity for others; a lack of such words reveals that our heart is perhaps far darker than we dare even realize.

THE CHURCH AS AN EMBODIED KINGDOM ETHIC

Sadly, in the last few years, I have noticed that the broader American church has not followed the way of Christ in servanthood, kindness, and grace, but instead, has taken up the cultural vernacular of unkindness, bashing, and shaming. Rather than understand and show compassion to those we disagree with, we vilify and demoralize our opponents. What if the church embodied a Kingdom ethic, that was demonstrated in the character of God that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness?

What if, as a church, we realized that every hill is not worth dying on, and that perhaps our kindness speaks more than our ability to argue? What if the world was drawn into our community by our affection, love, and kindness rather than our division and incivility? Dear Christian, remember, this world is not your home, you belong to the King and to the Kingdom. Rather than making every argument high stakes, remember that the Bible calls us to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18).

Will you then, live counter-culturally, not by abdicating from certain immoral behaviors, but by embodying a speech ethic that is shaped by the Kingdom? Will you lay down your weapons, pull up a chair, and invite conservation that is charitable and profitable? Will you seek to serve your enemies rather than slay them with your words? Church, God is inviting us into a live of civility and kindness for the sake of a watching world.

Bible, Theology, Uncategorized

Why Are There Missing Verses In My Bible?

July 27, 2020

In last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about a Facebook post that has been floating around. The post accuses various modern translations and their publishers for removing verses from the Bible. If you haven’t seen it, I have attached a picture of the post, which has been shared 26,000 times:

On the surface, it is shocking. Would Zondervan and Crossway really remove Bible verses because it does not fit their agenda? Should we stop reading the ESV/NIV translations because of this? Is it even true? Many questions such as this have been asked of me of late and I thought I would explain what is going in the textual differences.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

Textual criticism is not a phrase that gets thrown around in common Christian circles very often but it is incredibly important when understanding the textual differences that we see in different translations of the Bible. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s word, literally, breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). At the same time, the Bible was written by human authors and then transmitted through human copyists. As humans, we are fallible and prone to error, even when our intentions are correct.

In order to preserve the accuracy of the original text, copyists took painstaking efforts to keep the text as pure as possible. But with any human effort, errors are a natural occurrence. For example, in grade school, we used to copy definitions from the back of textbooks onto sheets of paper. From time to time, we would either skip a line, repeat a word, or miss a punctuation mark. This is natural as our eyes glance from the textbook to the notebook. You probably also remember copying large chunks of text and accidentally repeating words or entire lines, forgetting key words, or misspelling difficult words.

The same is true in copying texts of Scripture. At times, a copyist would be transcribing a text like we would with a textbook open, glancing back and forth between the text and the writing. Other times, someone would be reading the text out loud and they would copying down what they heard. In both cases, small textual errors would develop as people would spell words wrong, repeat words or lines, or omit punctuation marks. Contrary to what secular theologians would assert, the number of key errors in the biblical text is incredibly small, less than 1%.

It is the job of a translation committee to gather these various manuscripts (which are dated from various time periods) and assess which ones display the most accuracy. This is done through multiple ways, such as finding the most difficult translation, finding the oldest manuscripts, and a host of other complex solutions. When we read this Facebook post then, is it right to claim that Zondervan and Crossway are leading a crusade against the Bible they publish?

MISSING VERSES AND UPDATED MANUSCRIPTS

Again, one of the ways translators choose the most accurate text is by date. For example, we all would intuitively understand that a copy of a text written in the 3rd century is probably far more accurate than one copied in the 13th century because there is a larger gap between when the original text was written and when it was copied. In other words, the more time that elapses in the copied manuscript, the more likely it is prone to error (a bit simplified but lets work with it for now). How does this impact the Facebook post in question?

The author of the Facebook quote claims that the KJV is superior to the ESV and NIV in accuracy because it has not removed the verses in question. In order to understand why these verses were removed, one has to understand the previous statements regarding textual criticism. You see, the KJV was translated and built off an outdated manuscript system, namely, the Textus Receptus. This manuscript system was developed by Erasmus in the 16th century, which was a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate. At the time, these were the most updated manuscripts they possessed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, we now have over 25,000 manuscripts (comprised of various Greek, Latin, and Syriac/Coptic translations). Simply put, the more data, the more accuracy. Furthermore, we now have manuscripts that date very early in comparison to its publication, compared to the Textus Receptus that used relatively outdated manuscripts (in today’s standards). Because of simply the amount of data now available through the thousands of manuscripts, translators have seen that previous translations did not provide the most accurate translation due to the manuscript deficiency that they possessed.

WHAT ABOUT THE MISSING VERSES?

This leads us to finally deal with the problem at hand: where are the missing verses? If you were to open up the ESV or NIV translation to Matthew 18, you will notice that there is no verse 11, it simply goes from verse 10 to 12. You will also notice that every modern translation provides footnotes where verse 11 should be. Most translations will indicate that due to a lack of manuscript accuracy, these verses have been removed. The verses are missing because they were most likely not included in the original writing at all, which is demonstrated by textual criticism with updated manuscripts. The verses are still included in the KJV because it is still built on an outdated manuscript system.

Be not afraid, there is no coverup or theological conspiracy to undermine the accuracy of the Bible. On the contrary, the men and women who sit on translation committees for the majority of modern translations are godly, wise, and Bible-loving people that want to translate the Bible into vernacular English in the most faithful way possible. So for those questioning whether or not you should be using the ESV or NIV, you can have all confidence that God’s word is being preserved and sustained through the diligent and faithful work of translators in the 21st century.

Bible, Catechism

Question #1: What is our only hope in life and death?

July 21, 2020

Question #1 – What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

The authors of the New City Catechism began where the Hidelberg Catechism starts, asking us the most fundamental question (rivaling the Westminster Shorter Catechism #1) that a person can ask of themselves. Every person, regardless of what they believe in, has some form of hope in life. For some, hope is found in romantic love, in finding and keeping the perfect mate; for others, hope is found in financial security; still, for others, hope is found in a life full of relationships. Hope is found everywhere, but the question remains, is it hope that will endure for both life and death?

Many people hope in their fitness, checkbooks, relationships, or status in their circle of influence, but will that really endure through the ebbs and flows that come in between life and death? Can these things sustain the both the heights of joy and pits of despair that happen in the normal course of a human life? Even more than that, will these things provide hope for death? As Americans, we have pushed death so far outside the main conversation that many of us do not know how to handle death when it comes knocking on our door.

Many of us never stop to ponder the significance of death and whether or not anything happens to us after death. We are content to live in the present, enjoying and delighting in the pleasures of modern life. Yet, as Christians, we implore you to consider that consideration of death is one of the most important things you could do. The majority of the objects that we place our hope in will not sustain us through death.

the Bible and the catechism instructs us that our hope is not found in our fitness, success, pedigree, or relationships; in fact, it is not found in us at Allee. Notice how it begins: that we are not our own. In an era and culture where we are constantly told to make something of ourselves, demonstrate our greatness, and show forth our success, the catechism breathes life in a culture of discouragement and disappointment. I’m not my own. I do not have to validate myself. I do not have to prove myself. Someone has done that for me.

The hope that Christianity offers is that I am not my own but I belong to someone else, and not someone that is my equal, someone that is far superior. I belong, both in body and soul, in life and death, to God himself. The Creator of the universe not only knows about me, he knows me intimately and has bonded himself to me. Therefore, whatever happens in life, I can be confidently hopeful that I am safe in the hands of the God who sustains and rules all things.

What can compete with that kind of hope? If my hope is in my financial success, that can wiped out in the blink of an eye. If my hope is in my spouse, my life can changed by one quick phone call, informing me that they were killed in a car accident. If my hope is in my children, they will soon disappoint and in some cases, betray me. Everything that you can hope in outside of God is built on shifting sand. God is inviting you to build your life upon the most solid of all foundations: the person and work of Jesus himself.

Reflection Questions

  1. Our words mean little unless action follows. What do you functionally put your hope in? Where do you spend your time, money, energy, resources?
  2. What one burden can you bring to your only hope in life and death today?

Family Reflection

  1. What does it mean to hope in something?
  2. Have you ever hoped to get something and it didn’t come true?
  3. What do you think it means that God is our hope?

Bible, Catechism, Ministry

Introducing The New City Catechism

July 15, 2020

In my last post, I wrote about the dwindling popularity of using catechism’s as one of the main forms of discipleship. In order for you to understand why I am writing these posts, please read my previous post first. In order to put into practice what I preach, I want to use this blog as a means of communicating the importance of catechism’s while also using it as a platform to disciple my church (Coram Deo) in The New City Catechism. This post will serve as an introduction to the latest catechism that can be utilized for the entire family.

First, what is The New City Catechism? The New City Catechism was created by Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Keller wanted to compile a modern day catechism that still contained biblically rich doctrine with updated language. For those familiar with historic catechisms, some of the question and answers in this latest version will be familiar to you. Keller adapted 52 questions and answers from historic Reformed catechism, such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Catechisms.

HOW DO YOU USE THE NEW CITY CATECHISM?

The makers of The New City Catechism not only updated the vernacular they used in the catechism, they updated the medium by which we use the catechism as well. The catechism is now adapted to modern life with a beautiful iPhone and Android app that can be used on-the-go or in family worship in the evening. For those who prefer a hardcopy, a catechism and devotional can be purchased online for a small price.

The best way to utilize The New City Catechism is dividing each question and answer into one week, which will allow you to complete the entire catechism in one year. For families, I recommend having daily family worship, where you go over one question each week. For those with small children, there are songs attached to each question which will help the titles ones memorize the content.

WHO IS THE CATECHISM FOR?

Perhaps you have been a Christian for over thirty years, do you really need to learn the catechism? I would, without hesitation, ask you to pick up the catechism and memorize! It will only add fuel to your soul about the life-saving truths of Jesus that you have treasured for thirty years.

Perhaps you are a new Christian and are looking for answers to some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. There is not a better place to start. For two thousands years, the church has used catechesis to instruct and educate new disciples of Christ in the fundamentals of the faith. For others, maybe you have lead someone to Christ recently and are looking for material to train them—this would be an excellent resource to utilize for this process.

Others of you perhaps are not even Christians and simply want to explore the Christian faith. While the catechism is not designed to give you thorough answers to all of your questions, it will give you a basic understanding of what we believe and what values we hold to.

AN INVITATION TO LEARN

Will you accept the invitation to learn? Will you accept the invitation to disciple and educate your children in the faith that you love? Will you sacrifice your comfort and time to learn about the precious truths of God’s word? Consider picking up your phone, downloading the app, or ordering the book online, and discover the ancient catechisms that Christians have been using for hundreds of years.

Bible, Ministry

The Importance of Catechesis in the Modern Church

July 14, 2020

It is a cold, chilly evening in November, your family has just finished dinner and you are setting up for family worship. You have your Bibles in hands, alongside a catechism that is providing foundational truths for your families’ spiritual growth. Everything is set, except one person is missing: your pastor. After a few minutes, your pastor arrives at the door, sits down, and begins to talk to your family about the importance of the Christian faith. He does this through a variety of ways: prayer, Scripture reading, and through catechesis. He invites you and your children to recite the weekly question and answers from this week’s study. You end with a corporate song of the doxology and praying for one another.

For many modern Christians, this scene is completely foreign, perhaps even strange to the way that we conduct discipleship in our churches. Discipleship is a program, a Bible study, an event I attend; catechesis is outdated, foreign, and inefficient. Yet, for hundreds, dare I say, thousands of years, pastors instructed their people in the fundamentals of the faith through catechesis. At the present moment, the practice of memorizing a catechism for discipleship purposes is completely lost on generations of modern Christians.

The early church thought it critical to educate its new members in the doctrines of the faith, as is evidenced by the use of the Didache in the late 1st century. The Didache (greek for “The Teaching”) which describes the early Christian ethics, practices, and order. It instructed Christians on prayer, fasting, baptism, communion, and a host of other Christian practices. The new converts to Christianity needed to know what was distinct about their new life in Christ. Since the writing of the Didache, thousands of pastors and theologians have written and adapted catechism’s for their modern day in order to instruct and educate God’s people for God’s mission. Yet, in the last hundred years or so, this ancient and wise practice has somehow been lost.

However lost at the present moment, current pastors and theologians are attempting to revitalize catechesis in the church today. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, adapted many of the historic, reformed catechisms and modernized the language, resulting in The New City Catechism. With such a historic, reliable tool at our disposal, Christians in the 21st century would be unwise not to learn the core Christian doctrines and practices through this excellent resource.

What if reinventing the wheel of discipleship for new Christians, our children, and even ourselves, we attended to the historic route of catechesis. For some, catechism may seem rote, dull, and boring; what is the benefit of memorizing answers to spiritual questions? In so many facets of our life, we are comfortable with routine, yet when it comes to spiritually, we gawk at the idea. My prayer and hope is that you my give catechesis a chance, and you may discover that through the routine of memorizing simple question and answers, God will shape and mold your heart into the image of His beloved Son.

Bible, Ministry

Digital Church Is A Poor Replacement

June 11, 2020

When Covid-19 hit the United States early in 2020, many churches around the country were in panic mode. How would they gather? How would they sing and celebrate? How would they take the sacraments? How would they hear the word of God preached? Thankfully, as the church has always done, many churches throughout our country improvised in order that the church may be fed and equipped to live a life on mission in a broken world. As some Covid-19 restrictions are starting to lift, many pastors are facing a potentially fatal problem: will they want to come back? While many people have missed physically worshipping with God’s people, others have found it quite enjoyable to stay at home to not fight their kids and worship in their pajamas.

Sadly, many Christians are unaware of the detrimental effects of loosing their church family, at least physically loosing their church family. As we all know, digital connection is as real as porn is to sex—it offers the real experience but with significant shortcomings. As embodied souls, we need to be together. I need to hear your singing, I need to experience the dead silence of confession, I need to shaped alongside you by the word of God, I need to participate in the sacramental meal together—we need one another. Lest we forget, we are creatures who have bodies, senses, and experiential capacities.

While I want to extend an enormous amount of grace to Christians in this season, I also want to urge them to consider the necessity and importance of gathering together, even if it is inconvenient. It will always be easier to watch a service online, but will it be as profitable? Will it be as rich? Will it be as formational? Rather than let convenience drive our decisions, please allow the Scriptures to inform how we live, heeding the call of Hebrews 10:24-25, “[24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

In the moments of greatest tragedy and trial, the church has been a refuge for those who are hurting and broken. I long for the churches across the world to function in the same capacity, inviting the weary and downtrodden to find hope and encouragement in Jesus. In this season, please take all the steps that are necessary for your safety. At the same time, please consider taking all the spiritual steps necessary for you soul to thrive and flourish.

Bible, Culture

The Bible Is Not A Prop

June 3, 2020

The mingling of politicians and religion is always a recipe for impure motives and unclear intent. Is a man or woman (in this case, a politician) simply using religion (or elements of religion, such as the Bible, churches, etc) to garnish their political reputation or to gain a favor with a particular stream of voters. While it is always dangerous to speculate on motives, President Trump’s posturing before St. John’s Church with Bible in hand is an egregious use of the Bible and the God of the Bible. Lest we forget, God is after his own glory, rather than the aggrandizing of our faux-glory.

Rather than yielding the Bible as the word of life (Phil 2:16), Trump decided to pose for a photo-op right after dispersing innocent protestors with tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets. The irony, the ugly irony, is right before our face. As we come face-to-face with the Word himself, we discover that in this political stunt, our current President was not following alongside the path of Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, humbled himself. In a moment where the President could have spoken words of hope, encouragement, and courage to a nation suffering and aching with racial tension, he chose to further drive a wedge between our nation with the very thing that can bring us together: the peace and love of God found in the Scriptures. Make no mistake, God or the Bible cannot and will not be used as a prop for man’s ambition and glory—it always has and and always will be about the supremacy of God over all things.

Sadly, again, because politics and religion have become enmeshed in our country, Christians in our current era are enamored by a President who holds the Bible but sadly, in many cases, does not love the Bible or walk in accordance with the Bible. Growing up in conservative, evangelical churches the majority of my life, I have seen over time the real implications of John’s exhortation, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The danger before us is to wholeheartedly defend a political candidate as spiritually competent because they support our ethical and moral convictions. The threat is ever before us: will our allegiance belong to America or to Yahweh himself? This is not to say that we must pound Trump with our words, or to wish ill upon him, but it should make us speculate whether or not we have fallen into idolatry. We should love our country, pray for our leaders, and serve our nation with honor, but lest we forget who the true King is, we may easily find that America becomes our house of worship, not the temple of the Lord.

The Bible that Trump holds in his hand will not be used as a prop; it contains the story of the Triune God who rules and reigns over all things. Thankfully, in Christ, all who belong to God are now joint-heirs to the kingdom that is coming. As we celebrate and worship the slaughtered, risen, and victorious Lamb of God, may we remember that “one day America and all its presidents will be a footnote in history, but God’s kingdom will never end.”

Bible, Culture

Let Justice Roll Down Like A River

June 2, 2020

Growing up in southern New Mexico for the majority of my life, I did not have a concept of racism incarnated in my hometown. For the most part, Hispanics and Anglos mix well in the Southwest. With such a small African-American population, racism was something that existed in textbooks. It wasn’t until I moved to St. Louis, MO in 2015 that I experienced the overwhelming experience of racism between whites and blacks. My eyes were opened to the current oppression that happens in our country. The amount of injustice surrounding me daily was staggering. Yet, for the majority of evangelical pastors around me, the subject was “not central to the Gospel,” or “too political.”

A dramatic shift happened in 2019 when I read Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise—I suddenly became aware of the systematic, overt, and ongoing oppression of African-Americans, not simply from whites, but from white Christians and pastors. The Bible that I love and preach from was used as an instrument of torture for those whose skin color was darker than mine. The God of light could not love the darks, I guess. After I read Tisby’s work, I was angry—righteously angry.

The same feelings resurfaced this past week in the horrific killing of George Floyd, a man created in the image of God. Any unjust death is lamentable, but this one was different; this caused anger, sorrow, and disgust. Sadly, the broader white church has since focused on the chaotic rioting (resulting in further injustice) than on the death of another African-American man (again, this is not to say that the chaotic rioting is correct, rather, it is to say that many of my conservative, white evangelical friends simply focus on that). For those of you who continue to downplay the racial tension present in our country, maybe you need to watch the murder of Floyd until you are uncomfortable, and then keep watching.

When we look at the end of history, we see a vision of heaven coming to earth where every tribe, tongue, and language will sing the glory and goodness of God. It will be a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic celebration of the Triune God. The church should be a picture of what that this celebration should look like. How long then will our churches herald, even if unintentionally, a covertly racist Christianity that furthers the oppression of African-Americans in our community. What if God was calling us not to cliche responses, nor to identity with a particular political party, but to champion the King from the Middle East who looks nothing like the predominant culture of Anglo-Evangelicals.

How then shall we live, if this is the case? First, we repent of our overt or covert racism that exists in our churches and in our hearts. Repentance may look upward and horizontal, meaning that we will confess to God that we have treated his image bearers with judgment and scorn, and that we will seek to repair relationships that have suffered because of our judgmental attitudes. But repentance does not end with an apology, it continues with action. We repent by taking action and fighting for justice, equality, and peace for our African-American brothers and sisters. A church that simply acknowledges wrong but does nothing to change is not repenting but simply is sorry they were caught. Something must change.

Second, we pray and plan for justice to roll down like a river, like Amos says (who, by the, way is not a lone-wolf in the call for justice in the world). We pray that God might come return to restore and renew all things, including, but not limited to, the racial issues that are prevalent throughout our world. But furthermore, we must plan to take action, to champion the marginalized and oppressed in our communities, and use our voice as a witness for those who have long been trampled over. In other words, we need to pray and plan in such a way that leads to restorative and uncomfortable progress in the area of racial reconciliation in our world.

The good news of the Gospel says that in Christ, all those who are enemies can become reconciled, for Christ, who is our peace, has broken down the walls of hostility (Ephesians 4:12). The sacrifice and resurrection of Christ enables you to find peace with God and therefore, peace with your fellow brothers and sisters in the world. Christian, in your attempts to herald this good news of Jesus, do not covertly erect a barrier that hinders your fellow image bearers from seeing, savoring, and delighting in the God of peace.

Bible, Ministry

Coronavirus and Christian Freedom

June 1, 2020

Division In The Church

The mood was tense—obviously the meeting was called to help reconcile a significant conflict that happened in the church. Like lines drawn in the sand, each party sat on their respective sides of the main isle. The words of God’s people were not in towards adoration towards their savior but in accusation against their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The battle ground was not over some important theological treatise or an immoral failing of a leader— it was over whether or not it was proper to eat meat. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul mediates the conflict: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. [3] Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Rom 14:2-3). 

It may sound silly that a congregation could be divided over what types of food they eat but the reality is that the modern church is facing a similar moment of division. Our battle is not concerning food but concerning the symbol of safety amidst a global pandemic: the mask. Pastors are recognizing that a few pieces of cloth could soon split their church if they do not deal with the issue with biblical wisdom and care. In this vein, I am thankful for Brett McCracken who wrote an excellent piece at The Gospel Coalition entitled “Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You.” My hope is that we may discover that the Bible actually has helpful wisdom on how to navigate such ethical grey matters.

The Gospel Allows Us To Yield

In Romans 14, Paul instructs all Christians, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). In this case, the one who is weak in faith is the one who has a soft conscience, believing that eating meat is personally wrong. How then should the church approach such a person? The people of God should welcome them because God in Christ has welcomed all of us (Rom 14:3). We stand united on every Lord’s Day not based upon our preferences or our worldly identities but upon the very fact that God has united us to Christ and therefore, we belong both to God and to one another. 

In a season of perpetual contradictory advice, let us not fall into the trap that what binds us together is our homogenous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There will be godly Christians who choose to wear masks, social distance for longer, and take an abundance of safety precautions; there will also be godly Christians who do the opposite. Let us live in light of Paul’s exhortation, “[6] The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [7] For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. [8] For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. [9] For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom 14:6-9). What binds us together is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and therefore, regardless of our opinions of how to handle this current crisis, we can stand united together in grace. 

We all have the opportunity to extend one another charity and grace in light of God’s constant extension of grace to us. We remember that Christ died and rose so that we who were his enemies might find forgiveness and life. In this complex season, let us not allow division to grow in our churches due to our personal preferences and convictions surrounding best practices. My hope and prayer, particularly for the people of Coram Deo, is that God may be shaping us into a people who are full of slow to speak, quick to listen, full of grace, and possess an abundance of patience for one another.