Thursday, September 29, 2011

THE UNANSWERABLE VERSE?

"On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.." -(Genesis 15:18 ESV)

According to one recent anonymous comment on a previous article where we explored the identity of Israel in Scripture, this passage in Genesis 15:18 is "the verse replacement theology cannot answer."

[Note: "Replacement Theology" is the term used by Zionists and Dispensationalists to refer to the teaching that true Israel is anyone who is in Christ. To me the term is inaccurate because nothing is being replaced here, only fulfilled.]

Of course, I couldn't take this comment without providing a response. So, let's look at what the Scriptures say about this passage and how we should understand it in light of what the Apostles taught in the New Testament.

The great confidence my anonymous friend has in this Genesis passage comes from the assumption that it is plain as day that God (in this scripture) is making a promise to every Jewish person on the face of the planet. You can almost hear my friend-with-no-name saying, "See? It says right there, 'to your offspring' and he's talking to Abraham, so God's promise was made to all of the children of Abraham. I rest my case."

And, I will agree, it really does appear to be a slam-dunk, doesn't it? Gee. Sure does. But, let us not forget that it is never a good idea to take one single verse of scripture to build a case for doctrine or belief. Right? We need to look at what the whole scripture says about this, not just the New Covenant scriptures, but also what is reinforced (or contradicted) in the Old Covenant scriptures. So, why don't we do that?

I'll start with an OT reference and then move to what I believe to be the real interpretation of this concept found in the teachings of Paul, the Apostle.

First, the OT reference (which I have mentioned on this blog before), is Psalm 50:7 -
"Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God."

Here, God speaks to Israel. Look at what He says to them:

"But to the wicked God says: "What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you." (v.16)

God calls Israel "wicked". Are they all wicked? No, not all of them, only those who are worshipping idols and disobeying His word. So, all of Israel is not automatically blessed. This reminds us (or it should, anyway) of the passage where Paul teaches us that circumcision of the flesh means nothing, only circumcision of the heart.

"For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." - Romans 2:28-29

"For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." - 1 Cor. 7:19

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." - Galatians 5:6

Please keep in mind that when Paul talks about circumcision, he is not only speaking of a medical procedure. Not at all. He is referring specifically to a Jewish, racial identity. His point, over and over again, is that being Jewish by race or culture counts for nothing.

Now, here's the real clincher, (at least for me), when it comes to the question of the Genesis passage above. Is God's promise to a race of people? Or is God's promise to those who are in Christ? Here's what Paul says,

"Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring [seed]. It does not say, “And to offsprings [seeds],” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring [seed],” who is Christ." - Galatians 3:16

I don't think I'll need to break out the flannelgraphs on this one. It could not be more clear that Paul believed that the promises made to Abraham were not made to every single descendant of Abraham (other translations render the word "seeds"), but the promises made to Abraham were to his seed (singular)...and who is that one? (Say it with me class) - Jesus.

So, if we are in Christ, then we are Abraham's offspring too? And we're also heirs according to the promise? Let's see...

"And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." - Galatians 3:29

Whoa. There ya go.

If we are Christ's then we are the offspring of Abraham - the very one's to whom the promises were made. Or, more accurately, the promises were made to Jesus. If we are in Christ, then we also are partakers of that promise.

Just to drive this nail all the way home before I conclude, let's look at what Jesus says about the "seed of Abraham", shall we?

In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is going back and forth with the Pharisees who claimed to be the offspring (or seed) of Abrahm. Here is what Jesus says in response to their claim:

"I know that you are offspring [seed] of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children [seed], you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did." - John 8:37-40


So, although they claimed to be the "seed of Abraham", Jesus made the point that although they were descended from Abraham, they were not doing the works of Abraham. What are the works of Abraham? For what is Abraham known? Obeying the word of the Lord. So, only those who truly love and obey God are considered to be the true seed of Abraham of "Israel".

To recap, there is only one Israel of God and that is composed only of those who believe God and accept His Son as Lord and Messiah. Anyone who rejects Christ as Messiah is lost, is outside of the Israel of God and is - according again to scripture - anti-Christ.

Again, I want to emphasize here that this teaching is totally based on scriptural evidence and not my own opinion. Like Paul, I pray that all the Jews would turn to Christ and be saved. Thankfully, many Jews do see Jesus as the promised Messiah. We should pray for those who do not do so yet. God loves them, and all the nations of the Earth, with an amazing love and His desire is that none should perish but that all should come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Messiah.

-kg

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Israel is the Bride and We are Israel

At the top of my previous article, "Here Comes the Bride?" I mentioned that some who deny that the Church is the Bride believe that the Bride of the Lamb is actually Israel, and I couldn't agree more.

So, where I agree that the identity of the Bride of Christ is Israel, where I disagree is who Israel is according to the Scriptures.

"...but Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation. You shall not be ashamed or disgraced forever and ever.” (Isaiah 45: 17)


“All Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26)


In Jeremiah 31:31, the prophet says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

In the upper room, before his crucifixion, Jesus held up the cup and declared,

"...this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

To whom did he proclaim this covenant? To his disciples who were truly “the house of Israel” because their hearts were circumcised according to the Spirit and not to the flesh (except for Judas, of course).

Paul’s argument is that the true Israel is a remnant of people, not the entire Jewish nation or race. In fact, this is why he proclaims,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

As I've mentioned before, it is quite telling in this passage that Paul doesn't say that there are now "Jews AND Greeks", he says that now, in Christ, and in the Body of Christ, those identities are forfeit. We are now "one in Christ Jesus."

It’s widely known that God promised to save Israel in the Old Testament scriptures. But most Jews today are not followers of Christ, so does that mean that this an unfulfilled promise?

According to the Apostle Paul, the true identity of “Israel” is not made up of national, ethnic Jews, nor did God promise that He would save all those who were born of Abraham. Instead, God's plan and promise was always that He would save those who receive the Messiah (either Jew or Gentile). Those people are truly “Israel”.

How do we know this? Because in Romans 9:6 Paul says,

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed.”

Failed? How so? He's referring to the claim that God's promises had failed because not "all Israel" had been saved according to the Old Covenant. Paul goes to to say,

“...not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”
 God made promises to Israel, but not everyone who is Jewish by blood will automatically receive the promised salvation. As Paul has already said, in Romans 2:28-29:

“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

So, who is truly a “Jew” or “Israel” according to the Word of God? Is it anyone born from Jewish blood? Or is it only the one who is circumcised of the heart and in Christ?

Clearly, Paul is adamant that the only true “Israel” are those who are in Christ and who accept the Messiah as Lord and Savior.

Of course, this should come as no surprise because Paul also says in Romans 9,

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

Therefore, not everyone who is Jewish is really “Israel." Only those who are in Christ, the Chosen One, are the Chosen of God.

“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29)


Therefore, the Israel of God is the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of the Lamb.

Thoughts?

-kg

Monday, September 26, 2011

Here Comes The Bride?

It may come as a shock to many of you, but there are many Christians today who flatly deny that the Bride of Christ is the Church. Some of them argue that the Bride of Christ is Israel (which to them are the Jews rather the Church), and still others outright admit that they're not sure who the Bride is, only that it simply cannot be the Church. (And they have their reasons).

I first came across this unusual objection to the idea of the Bride of Christ being the church about a year ago when I published an article here called "A Profound Mystery" which elaborated on the identity of the Church as the Bride, the Body and the Temple. A friend responded to that email and challenged the idea that the Bride was the Church. We went back and forth via email for about a week and in the end neither of us had convinced the other, and so we agreed to disagree and let it go.

But today on Twitter I posted something about the Church being the Bride and here again someone else chimed in and challenged this idea that the Bride of Christ is the Church. I was flabbergasted. Until today, I had assumed that only a few isolated people doubted this teaching, but now I realize that it's quite pervasive, and so I'd like to address this idea here. Comments are more than welcome.

First, let me lay a case for the Bride of Christ being the Church before I attempt to refute the naysayers.

THE CHURCH AS THE BRIDE
Throughout the Scriptures, beginning in the Old Testament, the idea of the Bride is one of the most common terms used by God to describe His people. These references are largely found in the Song of Solomon, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and 2 Samuel.

Of course, this practice continues into the New Testament as well.

I'll start with one of the lesser known arguments for the Church as the Bride of Christ before I move on to the more common scriptures that are usually debated.

THE CITY THAT IS THE CHURCH
In Galatians, Paul uses the illustration of Hagar and Sarah as two types of mothers; one a slave and one free. In Gal.4:26 Paul says,

"But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother."

Notice here that Paul refers to "the Jerusalem above" and says that she is "our mother." By this he means to imply that we are children of the free woman and the heirs of Abraham's promise.

Now, let's look at what the author of Hebrews has to say on this subject.

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly (ekklesia) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven..." -Hebrews 12:22-23

Here, we see that "Mount Zion," "the city of the living God," and "the heavenly Jerusalem" are equated with "the assembly (ekklesia) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." The Church is equated with Mount Zion, the city of the living God and the Heavenly Jerusalem. Got it? Now, let's read Revelation 21:

"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Revelation 21:2

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God," - Revelation 21:9-10

So, according to the Scriptures, we (the Church) are children of the Jerusalem above, and that Jerusalem above is the city of the living God, the assembly (ekklesia) of the firtborn, and that city is the Bride of the Lamb.

THE CHURCH AS WIFE
Now, most of you already know about Ephesians 5:25-33. Here, Paul uses an illustration from marriage to teach us something astounding about Jesus and about our identity as the Bride of Christ. I've edited the text to highlight the main thoughts:

"...just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." - Eph 5:25-27

"'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church." - Eph 5:31-32


Because this passage is so often used to counsel men and women in regards to the marriage relationship, I have removed those references so that we can see what Paul says he is actually talking about: "Christ and the church".

Let me admit here that those who deny the Bride of Christ as Church doctrine really hate this passage most of all. Many say that this is only meant as a metaphor, and therefore we shouldn't use this to teach people that the Church IS the Bride of Christ. Of course, one could argue that if Paul didn't want us to be confused about the identity of the Bride he probably shouldn't have used such an explicit metaphor - and he also probably shouldn't have applied this metaphor as a basis for the way husbands and wives should love one another and become "one flesh" in the same way that the Church is "one flesh" with Christ.

Paul also quotes from Genesis chapter 2 in this passage and this reminds us of how God put Adam to sleep and made a woman for him because "God saw that it was not good for man to be alone". Notice it was God's idea, not Adam's, for man to have a wife. Somehow this reference points to God's plan for the Church. As Paul reminds us - "For this reason" the man is to "leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh". This is where Paul pauses and remarks that "this is a profound mystery". Why? Because he is not talking about Adam and Eve now. He's not talking about Christian marriage between a man and a woman. No, he is talking about Jesus and the Church "becoming one flesh".

If we are not "one flesh" with Christ in the same way that a husband and wife are "one flesh", then why use this metaphor of marriage? Why refer to Genesis 2?

SOME OBJECTIONS

THE BRIDE MAKES HERSELF READY?
I've found several arguments against the idea of the Church as the Bride and I'll try to address some (but not all) here.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." - Revelation 19:7

Some who disagree with this doctrine try to say that the Church cannot be the Bride because, in this verse, the Bride must "make herself ready" and since Christians are all saved by Grace this cannot be talking about the Church.

To quote one source:

This requires "works" to be done by the Christian to get ready. The word says that we are already made righteous, and are already sanctified. So then, the church, in God's eyes, is already ready. Rev 19:7 can't be refering to the church. It has to be something else.

Really? Is there some other class of people who WILL be saved by "making themselves ready"? Or maybe you're misreading this passage?

First of all, the passage says that the Bride has made herself ready but does that mean that the Bride has made herself righteous? Is it possible to "make (yourself) ready" by simply obeying all that Christ has commanded in humble obedience? Is it possible to be "made ready" by receiving the free gift of God's saving grace? I would argue that this passage is not about salvation, it's about the Bridegroom coming to take his Bride.

A BRIDE ISN'T A MEMBER OF THE FAMILY BY GRACE?
Another argument against the Bridehood of the Church is:

"A bride can only become a member of a famly by the law. Christians are made members of the body of Christ by grace through faith (a gift) and not made a member of the household of faith through the law (works)."

Taking this same logic, one could easily argue that the Church cannot be a son of God because a son cannot be "one flesh" with his father. (That would be gross, and illegal in 49 States). But these illustrations are not meant to be encompass all facets of the analogy. They are limited in some respects, but true in others.

It's also wrong-headed to say that because the Church is a Temple, it cannot embody the qualities of a Son; and if the Church is a Body, it cannot share the same qualities found in a temple of living stones. Pointing out the differences in these terms does not qualify as refuting them.

YOU CAN'T MARRY A CITY
Some have argued that the Church cannot be the Bride because the Bride is a city and Jesus can't marry a city. Really? What about Isaiah 62?

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
(Isaiah 62:4 ESV)


Apparently, God has no problem with the idea of marrying a city or a land. In fact, it's something He told us He would do a long time ago.

I've got more to say on this topic but let's save some of this for another post, or perhaps any comments or questions.

-kg

Saturday, September 24, 2011

PACIFIST FIGHT CLUB - JANUARY 2012



PACIFIST FIGHT CLUB
We will fight for peace, but we will do no violence

THE RULES:
The first rule of Pacifist Fight Club is, you do not talk about Pacifist Fight Club.
The second rule is, you must move from talk to action.
The third rule is, you must love all people, at all times.
The fourth rule is, you must engage in a fight to the death daily as you struggle against your own apathy, selfishness, prejudice and pride.
The fifth rule is, you must do violence only to the status quo of your life.

OUR TOPICS
Non-violence
Solidarity with the poor
Immigration reform
Loving God
Loving others

OUR POTENTIAL FIGHTERS
Brandt Russo
Chase Andre
Thomas Crisp
Keith Giles

Fighters enter the ring in January of 2012.

More info to come.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CHURCH HISTORY 101 - QUOTES OF PEACE

Quotes from first and second century Christian writers about the continuing posture of non-violence in the early Church following the age of the Apostles:

"The Lord, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." —Tertullian from "On Idolatry"

"Christians could never slay their enemies. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength." —Origen Contra Celsius Book VII

"Wherever arms have glittered, they must be banished and exterminated from thence."
—Lactantius’ Divine Institutes IV

"As simple and quiet sisters, peace and love require no arms. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained." —Clement of Alexandria Chapter 12 of Book 1

"Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence."
—Clement of Alexandria

"I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command... Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it."
—Tatian’s Address to the Greeks

"We who formerly used to murder one another now refrain from even making war upon our enemies."
—The First Apology of Justin Martyr

"Whatever Christians would not wish others to do to them, they do not to others. And they comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies. Through love towards their oppressors, they persuade them to become Christians."
—The Apology of Aristides

"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God."
—Hippolytus of Rome

"There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished."
—Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians

"The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: "For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will instruct many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to make war." These people formed their swords and war lances into plowshares,” that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting, so when they are struck, they offer also the other cheek."
—Irenaeus

"We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. As a result, an ungrateful world is now enjoying–and for a long period has enjoyed–a benefit from Christ. For by his means, the rage of savage ferocity has been softened and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow creature. In fact, if all men without exception…would lend an ear for a while to his salutary and peaceful rules,…the whole world would be living in the most peaceful tranquility. The world would have turned the use of steel into more peaceful uses and would unite together in blessed harmony."
—Arnobius

"Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service."
—Disputation of Archelaus and Manes

"We have rejected such spectacles as the Coliseum. How then, when we do not even look on killing lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?"
—Athenagoras of Athens’ A Plea for the Christians

**
NOTE: This post originally appeared here in July, 2009.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

JESUS: THE PRINCE OF PEACE (Part 4 of 4)

By definition, we who call ourselves "Christians" should be followers of Jesus. Our Lord is known as the Prince of Peace. We are commanded to "Love one another" and to be known for our love. Jesus pronounced a blessing to those who would be peace makers saying, "Blessed are the peace makers for they shall inherit the Earth."

Yet, somehow, we who are called by His Name are not known for our great love. We are not known for our expertise on the ways of peace. Even though we are given the ministry of reconciliation, we are not the ones people come to when they hope to resolve conflict and experience peace in their lives.

What has happened?

It was not always this way. In our New Testament we find a seamless flow of love from our Lord to His disciples and from his disciples to the world.

In fact, for roughly 300 years the followers of Jesus were models of peace. Even though they were hunted and beaten and pursued and persecuted and put to death by the sword and wild animal, they did not raise a hand in retaliation. They shared all that they had with anyone in need and gave up their own daily bread to feed the hungry in their midst. For 300 years they were people of peace and examples of love to everyone they met.

Imagine that. Imagine 300 years of Christian history where not one recorded instance of violence is found in the record books where a follower of Jesus took a sword to another person or raised his hands in violence.

Something happened to change our tune. Someone stepped in and rearranged the music, and the saddest thing is: We listened.

When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. and established himself as the "Pontifex Maximus" of the Church he effectively unraveled 300 years of Christian pacifism and ushered in a new era where Christianity would be re-defined as a belief system rather than as a way of life.

In 316, Constantine acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the validity of Donatism (a Christian sect). After ruling that the Donatists were heretical in their faith, Constantine led an army of Christians against the Donatist Christians. For the first time in Christian History, after 300 years of pacifism, a Christian took up a sword aganst another person - and those people were other followers of Jesus. *[See Reference below]

This radical shift created by Constantine set in motion a series of changes to the Christian faith that are still being felt to this day. While the early Christians peacefully opposed the Empire and lived a life of quiet subversion against the pattern of this world, the new Christians (under Constantine) became the tool of the Empire.

To this day the Christian faith remains the puppet of the Empire. In America, the Christian Church has alligned herself with the State and has adopted the party message, seeking to influence the world through political means rather than through the transformative power of the Gospel.

I've met Christians who cannot imagine their Christian faith apart from an allegiance to the Republican Party. I've spoken to Christians who feel that the use of deadly force against another person is not only acceptable, it would be endorsed by Jesus. I've debated Christians who support the use of torture against other human beings as long as it means we can sleep safe in our beds at night.

These views are not in line with the words of Jesus. We have to divorce our faith in Christ from such blind Nationalism and rediscover what it means to submit to Jesus as our Lord, placing Him on the throne of our hearts.

If our allegiance is to Christ, then we must take seriously his commands to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We must wrestle with these difficult issues of ethics and faith.

Our calling as followers of Jesus is not only to avoid violence, it is to take the initiative to show love to our enemies and to bless those who want to bring violence against us.

These are not political issues, these are personal issues. These are matters of personal faith and obedience to the words of Jesus.

Either we love Him and we believe His words to be true, or we must admit that we've found another way that is more attractive to us than the Way of Christ and embrace the American Dream. We cannot have it both ways.

My prayer is that Christians in America would rediscover their original DNA as peaceful, loving followers of Jesus and jettison the Nationalized Christianity that enslaves us to the Empire.

Let us place Jesus back on the Throne of our hearts, and crown him again as King of the Church. Let us pledge allegiance to Christ and to His Kingdom, not to any man-made creed or political system.

-kg
**
*REFERENCE:
"Irritated at the obstinacy of the Donatists in declining even yet to accept their defeat, Constantine now enforced the decision of the councils by the aid of the secular arm. The Donatists were proscribed, deprived of their churches, their property was confiscated, their bishops were exiled. When they still remained refractory Constantine sent an army, and for the first time in the world's history Christians slaughtered Christians. Fire and sword swept over the country. Such were the fruits of the alliance of Church and State." - Robinson Souttar; A Short History of Medieval People. From the Dawn of the Christian Era to the Fall of Constantinople, p. 227


**
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
- Jesus (Matthew 5:25-30)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

JESUS: THE PRINCE OF PEACE (Part 3 of 4)

HOW RELEVANT IS CHURCH HISTORY?
The behavior of the first and second century church is relevant because it shows us how the early Christians consistently carried out the practice of radical love and non-violent resistance to persecution and evil in their day. The practice of loving, non-violent behavior originated with Christ and continued under the Apostles. It endured for over 200 years as a defining mark of Christian faith and practice.

Non-violence wasn't an "error" that showed up after the new testament was written. It was not a new teaching that was introduced after the Apostolic Age. No, it was simply a continuation of practice from the founder of the movement. One of the premier characteristics of the church, which was founded on the teaching and example of Jesus, was love. And that love was expressed in humility and peaceful interaction with all men.

Jesus is our blueprint for life in the Kingdom of God. The early Christians understood this. They knew that they were held to a higher standard of love than anyone else on the planet. When Stephen is stoned to death for his faith in Christ, he doesn’t defend himself or retaliate, or even run away. Instead he stands his ground and forgives his killers, even as Jesus did, before giving up his life for Christ.

The New Testament is full of references, both from Jesus and from the Apostles, regarding the expectation of non-violence in response to persecution. Furthermore, we also know that hundreds of followers of Jesus also went to their deaths for their faith and they did not raise a hand in self-defense. They either ran away or they submitted to torture, crucifixion and death. Why? Because of the example of Jesus and out of obedience to His command to love our enemies and endure hardship and persecution.

For anyone serious about following Jesus and learning to be His disciple, non-violence is a critical element of obedience. Jesus set us an example and he expects us to follow it.

The Christian practice of radical non-violence flowed from the example of Jesus and his commands to his disciples regarding love for our enemies. This example and teaching was carried forward by the Apostles and it was further embodied by the early church for over 200 years.

As Shane Claiborne once remarked when asked if he was a Christian: “Go and ask my enemies, or the poor, or my neighbor and if they say I am a Christian then I suppose I’m a Christian.”

Could our enemies affirm that we are followers of Christ? Would the poor in your community testify to your faith in Jesus? Would your neighbors on your street, or your co-workers bear witness to your Christ-like attitude?

What we do matters. How we live is critical. We are the Ambassadors of the Risen Lord. We are the Body of Christ, Incarnate on this Earth.

Let love be our tattoo.

Peace,
Keith
**

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

JESUS: THE PRINCE OF PEACE (Part 2 of 4)

One of the more creative arguments in favor of Christian violence has been the suggestion that the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion to the Christian faith is an indication that Christians accepted violence and even professional soldiers among their ranks. If there is any real instruction to be found here (in Acts 10) regarding the attitude of the early Christians towards violence it is mostly from silence. The point of the passage is that Cornelius, a Gentile, is miraculously converted to the faith in Christ as the Messiah. The inference in this passage is that Cornelius was a practicing Jew who cared for the poor and loved God. He did not, however, know about Jesus and it was only through an angelic vision that he was told how to seek out Peter in order to receive the Gospel and be saved.

The argument in support of Christians who practice violence seems to be that, since it says Cornelius was a Centurion then it must be an endorsement of his violent lifestyle. However, we do not know what happened to Cornelius after his conversion to Christ. Did he continue to serve the Roman Empire and engage in war? Maybe he did, we don't know. But even if he did the question remains: "Does the New Testament endorse such behavior in any way?" No, it doesn't. At least, not for a follower of Jesus.

We could ask, “Did Cornelius resign his commission in the Roman Army and face martyrdom?” Again, we just do not know. Although we do know that many other Roman soldiers who came to Christ did just that and were put to death for it, as in the example of Martin of Tours.

Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army under Constantine. After the Emperor “converted” to Christianity in 312 A.D. and began to re-define the faith it became acceptable in the church for followers of Jesus to define their faith by a set of beliefs rather than by a practice of values and principles embodied by Christ. As Christianity and the Empire became entangled, the line between following Jesus and being loyal to the State became blurred. Much like it is today.

One Roman soldier, Martin of Tours, upon converting to faith in Christ dared to defy the status quo. Even though it would have been completely acceptable to many within the State-sponsored Christian Church of his day and age, Martin instead took a bold step to follow Christ and not bow his knee to the Emperor. So, at a ceremony in which soldiers were given a monetary reward for their service, Martin of Tours stood up and explained to his commanding officer that he could no longer remain a soldier in the army of Rome, saying:

“Up to the present I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to become a soldier of God. Let the man who is to serve you receive your donation. I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”

For this act of disobedience, Martin was condemned and he volunteered to go to the front lines in the upcoming battle to show that he was not a coward, choosing to remain loyal to Jesus rather than to compromise his faith in submission to the State.

Did Cornelius do the same? We’re not sure. Perhaps yes, or maybe no. The point is that the scriptures do not tell us what Cornelius did after his conversion to faith in Christ. All we know is that Jesus clearly teaches us to love our enemies and to refrain from violence. What Cornelius did is less important to us than what Jesus expected, and of that we are well-informed and accountable.

At any rate, the story of Cornelius’ conversion is not meant to teach us anything about violence, it is meant to teach us how much God loves the Gentiles and how Peter was obedient to God and allowed them to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom and enter the Body of Christ.

[END PART 2]
**
-kg

NOTE: The previous version of this article erroneously mentioned that Martin of Tours was executed for defying the Roman Military. This mistake has been corrected. This series was originally published here in July of 2009.

Monday, September 19, 2011

JESUS: THE PRINCE OF PEACE (Part 1 of 4)

*Over the next few days I will be publishing a series of articles regarding the radical teachings of Jesus on love and non-violence. Some of these will also touch on the Americanized-Christianity heresy which continues to plague our nation.

**
One of the most difficult teachings of Jesus involves love. Thought at first his commands to “Love God” and “Love one another” seem simple to our ears, we soon discover that living these things out takes more out of us than we are prepared to give.

Lately I’ve been spending some time looking at the more radical teachings of Jesus regarding non-violence and how it informs our practice of the Christian faith.

If you only learn one thing from Jesus in the Gospels it’s that he expects his followers to be known as people who love with extravagance. Jesus teaches his disciples to not only love those who love them, but to also love even their enemies and to bless those who curse them.

Love, above all else, is the defining characteristic of a true follower of Jesus.

BUT WHAT ABOUT…?

Some Christians today flat out ignore the dozens of verses from the mouth of Jesus regarding love and the practice of peace and look instead at one or two verses to base their theology upon. This is largely endorsed by a certain segment of Christians who teach a decidedly Americanized form of Christianity, one fueled by politics and infused with an heretical twisting of the words of Jesus to conform to those of the Founding Fathers of our Nation. These America First Christians teach that the United States is God’s favored nation. They teach, either outright or by inference, that God loves America more than He loves the rest of the world and justify the use of force to advance American interests in the name of God and country. They even endorse torture and believe that Jesus would approve of it.

This is one of the main reasons I so vehemently oppose the politicized version of American Christianity. Because it distorts the pure Gospel of Jesus and attempts to mix such opposing ideas as “Take up your cross daily and die to yourself” with “The pursuit of happiness”.

Even more, this Americanized brand of Christianity aligns the Gospel with a specific political party and equates loyalty to one with righteousness and justification in the other. In many ways the two concepts are tightly intertwined and many cannot imagine following Jesus apart from pledging allegiance to the Party.

Not that Christians shouldn’t exercise their freedom to vote or to stand for justice, mind you. Those are wonderful opportunities and I applaud those who take the time to do their civic duty and participate in politics. There is a time and a place for this.

However, whenever we begin to place our allegiance to Christ beneath the shadow of a political party or system, we have jumped the tracks. Whenever we are more passionate about our candidates or our political issues than we are about the Gospel of the Kingdom, we are off base. Whenever we begin to judge someone’s salvation based on whether they vote the way we do, we are misguided. Whenever we find it impossible to imagine following Christ apart from being a good Republican or Democrat, we have another Jesus and we have embraced a false Gospel.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist or a Libertarian. If you cannot imagine following Jesus apart from participation in, and agreement with, your political views, you are not really following Jesus, you’re following a political system.

ONE BODY, ONE SPIRIT, ONE CHURCH

Most of our brothers and sisters in this world today are found in communist or socialist nations such as North Korea or China, or in continents such as Africa or Asia. If someone hears the Gospel in one of these nations and receives Christ as Lord and Savior, do they then also become a Republican at the same time? No, of course not. But if the majority of Christians in this World, who make up the largest segment of our Body, are not also Good Americans, or faithful Democrats or Republicans, then it must be possible for us to divorce our politics from our faith in Christ. Not only must it be possible, it must be accomplished in order for us to see clearly who our Lord is and what it means to fully die to ourselves and follow Him alone.

GO AND BUY A SWORD

Some have recently questioned me regarding whether or not Jesus really taught such a radical form of non-violence in the Gospels. They reference one verse where Jesus asked his disciples to go and buy a sword so that “this scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” – (See Luke 22:35-38). It’s easy to read this passage and simply conclude that it is an endorsement of violence in the name of self-defense. Yet, one must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man.

Is this passage an example of Jesus making an allowance for violence in the name of self-defense? Perhaps. Although two swords is hardly enough to protect 13 people. And furthermore, when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus and Peter responds as we might also have responded, Jesus rebukes him and offers another strong teaching on non-violence saying,

“Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” – Matthew 26: 52

One possible interpretation lies in the reference Jesus makes to a passage in Isaiah which he quotes in the same breath as he asks about swords. He then refers again to the fulfillment of scripture when Peter cuts off the soldiers ear saying:

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" – Matthew 26:53-54

Perhaps what we’re missing here is the necessity for the scriptures to be fulfilled in that Christ was treated as a criminal and “numbered with the transgressors”? This is a viable interpretation, especially in light of the response Jesus has to the act of violence itself and his constant statements that “the scriptures must be fulfilled” in this way.

[END OF PART 1]
-kg

Friday, September 16, 2011

Introduction to Alt Church - October 8th

On Saturday, Oct. 8th I will join Bill Faris (Vineyard at Home) and others as we gather for an Introduction to Alt Church (or, a day long conversation about organic church).

I'll be leading an hour long discussion entitled "Being Church: Finding Your Mission In Your Community" which will cover the concepts of "being church" versus "going to church", and how we as a body of believers can impact our actual neighbors, serve the poor and bring the Kingdom to our community by "being the church" right were are.

DETAILS:
Intro to Alt Church
Saturday, Oct 8th
9am to 3pm
COST: $10 at the door (Includes a light lunch)
*No child care provided

LOCATION:
Vineyard Anaheim
5340 East La Palma Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92807-2021

ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
Vineyard at Home is excited to announce a one day conference on House Church / Alternative Church to be held on Saturday, October 8th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The location for this event will be on the campus of the Anaheim Vineyard Church in Anaheim, California.

“Introduction to Alt-Church” will be an opportunity for you to learn about – and share about – simple churches, house churches, hybrid churches and other non-traditional church structures that focus on bringing the ministry of Jesus deeper into the lives of believers and deeper into the fabric of the neighborhood, nation, and world.

TOPIC COVERED:
* Leadership in the Alt-church milieu

* Biblical principles of Alt-church ministry

* Being Church in the Community

* and much, much more.

WHY THIS CONFERENCE?
Mainly, we just want to gather people who are interested in starting Alt-churches, joining them, learning about them and sharing about their experiences with them.

Let’s see what God will do!


TO REGISTER: Use the Facebook page to indicate that you're coming so we can plan lunch, etc.
FACEBOOK PAGE
HERE

Or, email Bill Faris at Bill@vcmn.org to let them know you're coming, or to get more info.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Starting with "What if...?"

It all started with "What if?"

About five years ago, my wife Wendy and I were part of a local church plant. We were serving the poor in our community and leading an exciting Kids Rock program that we loved every week. But God began calling us to plant a new church in Orange County.

At first, we thought it would be a traditional church like the one we were helping to launch, but over time we began to make our lists of what this new church would be like. We began to hear the Lord's voice leading us to make serving the poor a priority; about involving children in the service; about welcoming the poor to sit alongside us and to be more than an outreach but become our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Eventually I came across an article written by Ray Mayhew called "Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of American Christianity." I can't remember now where I found it, but that little 30 page PDF document rocked my world and it changed everything we thought we knew about Church.

Essentially, the article simply documented the high priority the early church placed on the poor. Starting with the book of Acts, the article quoted first and second century Church Fathers and referenced church history to reveal that God's heart for the poor was an essential ingredient for those who followed Jesus from day one.

In one section of the article I read about how one community of faith responded when a stranger showed up in the village just after they had distributed the weekly allotment of food to the needy. Rather than say, "Sorry friend, but we've got nothing to share with you right now" (which frankly is probably what I would have done), these dear followers of Jesus nearly fought one another to see which one of them would have the honor of fasting for one week in order to let the stranger eat their food, or sleep in their home.

As my wife and I marveled over these testimonies of faith and charity, we started to ask ourselves, "What if our new church family shared all their money with the poor like this?" The more we considered this, the more we knew that the Church that God was calling us to plant should give 100 percent of our offering to help the poor in our community. There was no question.

Our hearts began to beat faster as we imagined a church like this. I tried to picture the conversations I'd have as I explained to people that our church didn't spend one penny on salaries or utilities, or anything other than the poor. I couldn't wait to get started, actually.

But then one evening, as Wendy and I were talking about the new church I asked, "How are we going to pull this off?" We both sat there for a second or two, and then Wendy looked at me and said, "We're talking about a house church."

I knew she was right. I searched her eyes for a glimmer of resignation or defeat, but all I saw reflecting back at me was joy. "Yeah," I said. "I think you're right."

And that was it. We both knew that God was calling us to start a house church, but we didn't know (yet) how to pay our bills and support our family. Only that I would find a job in the workforce and our yet-unformed church family would meet in our home.

That little "What if?" started the ball rolling. I had no idea just how long it would take for me to find full-time employment outside the church (about a year), and I had no clue that in between our "Yes" to God and our first day of house church we'd have to endure so much pain, condemnation, uncertainty, and self-doubt. But now, five years later, I can honestly say that it is still the best thing I've ever done with the word "Church" on it.

-kg

Monday, September 12, 2011

Love: How much is too much?

As we’ve been in the process of helping and serving the homeless here in Orange County, my wife and I, and our house church family, have encountered more than a few challenges.

Sometimes people get concerned that we are doing too much to help people. Some suggest that it would be better for us to allow people to “hit bottom” and sleep in homeless shelters so that they will be more motivated to change their own lot in life. Others feel that we are enabling them to remain in their condition by propping them up from the outside without addressing their internal sin issues more directly. Still others are not comfortable with our helping them in more practical ways because by helping them we might somehow be showing approval to their questionable lifestyles (i.e. – having children out of wedlock, using drugs, abusing alcohol, etc.).

None of these concerns are taken lightly. In fact, over the years, my wife and I have withheld assistance from people who did not take the proper steps towards escaping their condition – whether that be homelessness, or addictions – and we’ve also questioned ourselves at times about whether helping someone does more harm than good.

For example, when the scripture says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17), maybe the question is really about what the real “need” is. Someone might tell you that their “need” is for $100 to cover their rent. But maybe their real “need” is for someone to help them understand how to budget their money so that they can pay their own rent?

Hopefully I can think out loud here and invite you and others to weigh in on this discussion, because it’s something I’m currently still debating with myself, and because I freely admit that I do not know exactly what I am doing all the time.

My reaction at first was to say that most of these people are not followers of Christ, and so I cannot withhold kindness to them based on their sinful behaviors. After all, doesn’t Jesus urge us to be like God and to show mercy to the “just and the unjust” as God does? (see Matthew 5:44-45)

Secondly, my own spiritual calling and gifting is largely in the area of hospitality and service. Showing practical kindness and serving others is how I communicate the Gospel of Jesus to people. I’m not likely to take 45 minutes to attempt to convince someone to agree with me that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. I am not an evangelist in this sense of the word. However, I do feel that I communicate the truth and the power of the Gospel message by doing acts of service and showing mercy to people in my path. For me, this IS evangelism. It is an apologetic that no one can argue with or disagree with (except perhaps for overly judgmental evangelicals who might say that I am a horrible witness).

So, I’m not very comfortable with the idea of imposing my will onto people by threatening to withhold the grace of God to them if they do not take the steps that I want them to take. For example, it has been suggested that our house church family not help people with addictions unless they agree to attend at least one AA meeting a week and find a job. At first blush this seems more than reasonable. They need jobs and so what’s the harm in adding an incentive? They need to break their cycle of addiction, so what’s wrong with saying that we won’t take care of them if they won’t take care of themselves?

Over the weekend, I spent some time listening to college students share their experiences getting to know the homeless at Isaiah House in Santa Ana. As we shared, the idea of imposing our will on them “for their own good” was brought up. I was reminded of a similar conversation I had regarding church discipline in the house church. In that context, I argued for the power of love and relationship to generate the necessary repentance rather than incorporating an external (or internal) authority structure to threaten people to act righteously. This is still my conviction, and now suddenly I could see how my desire to impose my will upon this homeless family – even though it was for their own good – was the equivalent of “bringing in the Bishop” to address ethical or theological errors in the Body. It seemed inconsistent to argue for the power of love and relationships in one context and to deny it in another.

I caught myself saying, in the discussion on Sunday afternoon at Isaiah House, that it’s better to speak to people out of a sincere love for them; out of relationship; to let people know that because we love them we wish they wouldn’t smoke, or take drugs, or remain homeless. I argued that it was more effective than withholding basic necessities from people as a way to gain leverage over them and coerce them into changing their behavior. Suddenly my theoretical discussion was reflected back at me and I realized that I was in the process of trying to apply pressure to these homeless people in just the same way.

Later this week I sat and talked with my friend Thomas Crisp (a professor of Philosophy at Biola) about this same issue. He agreed that it was an abuse of our authority to treat other human beings this way. In fact, he appealed to the exact same premise found in Dallas Willard’s book, “The Divine Conspiracy” as an example. Our interaction with others should be out of sincere love for them, not tainted with manipulation – even if we think we know what’s best for the person.

Certainly, we treat our children this way don’t we? Yes, but I think in the case of a parent to a child it’s appropriate to set expectations on proper behavior and to impose punishments when disobedience occurs. But this is between a parent and a child, not between one brother to another. I mean, for me to exalt myself over another human being outside my actual family (as if I were their father) is insulting and presumptuous. Maybe even sinful?

For someone in the Body of Christ, authority rests on Jesus and the Spirit of God and the Scriptures, not on me or any other authority figure. Outside the Church it should still be the Word of God and the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin – not you or I. And to be more blunt, what these people need more than a job and more than to be legally married, and more than to be free from their addiction, is Jesus. Only Jesus can change their hearts and only Jesus can convict them of sin and give them a real hope to escape their situation.

So, for me, by showing love for people in practical ways – even in the midst of their sin – we ARE showing them Christ. We are bringing the Word of God and the Spirit of God to them as we continue in relationship with them, as we pray for them, and meet with them, and even as we model right behavior for them.

As we serve people in this way, many of them have made comments to us about the difference our service and mercy and kindness has made in their lives. Even seeing how people love one another, how husbands treat their wives in our fellowship, how children are given a voice, how the poor worship alongside the rich, has challenged them to be more understanding and patient and loving of one another. So, we’re not at the finish line yet, but we have cleared several hurdles in our lane so far.

To be fair, I can understand when someone says that they’re not comfortable helping people who are living in sin. Those are all pretty huge issues for me. Do we, as a church, send the wrong message to people when we bless them in practical ways, even when we know that the entire relationship is outside of God’s perfect will?

If we are called to show extravagant love to those on the edges of society like this, we will have to continually confront these issues and answer these challenging questions. To be honest, anytime you buy a cheeseburger for a homeless person you – potentially – enable that person to spend the $5 they would’ve spent on food to buy alcohol or drugs. So, maybe you should just never help anyone ever again because potentially your help – even a cold cup of water in Jesus’ name – could result in further sinful behaviors.

Maybe it seems I’ve already made up my mind about this, but let me assure you I have not. I am still wrestling with this question. For now, I am inclined to continue to love and serve whoever Jesus puts in our path. Right now I’m leaning towards showing the unconditional love and praying for God to work on their hearts, but even as I write this article I am still not 100% sure.

What do you think?

-kg

Sunday, September 11, 2011

TIME TO SAY "I LOVE YOU"

On September 11th, 2001, the victims of the attack had precious seconds to call one person they loved and say goodbye, or ask forgiveness, or let them know just how much they cared for them. And then it was goodbye.

Who would you make that call to? What would you say to them?

As we remember the tragedy of 9/11 today, I encourage all of us to take the time to put ourselves in the shoes of those who lost their lives that fateful day. Find your cell phone. Call that one person. Make sure they know how much you love them. Make sure they know you're sorry what you did, or what you said.

And when you say 'goodbye' at the end of that call, rejoice that for you it is not goodbye forever. You are still alive. You can even make another call or two before this day is over.

This is your opportunity to heal; to forgive; to love; to live.

-kg

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

IF CHURCH ISN'T IMPORTANT...



A friend of mine sent me this Church sign. He found it misguided and sad.

My question in response to this sign is, "If church buildings are so important, why are so many of them empty?"

Or maybe, "Why are so many of their members empty?"

My friend who sent me this photo is a senior pastor of a traditional church in the South. He and I spoke over the phone recently and he shared his personal struggle with me as he wrestles with the tension between Church as a business and Church as Jesus intended.

My friend loves his church, the people, so much that he's ready to lay everything down - his career as a full-time pastor - in order to demonstrate to his brothers and sisters that THEY are called to be priests and not depend on him for everything.

On Saturday I spoke to another senior pastor in California who finds himself in the same position. He and his wife are now fully convinced that the traditional church system is not what Jesus intended His Bride to become, and now they're struggling with how to transition out of the pulpit and into the neighborhood.

The challenges for these two pastors is very real. How do they care for their church family in this process? How do they provide financially for their own family? What will Church look like in their community? How will God lead them next?

As I listen to these brothers share their heart with me over the phone, I can only encourage them that the same God who is calling them out into this wilderness will also provide for them once they take their first steps.

There are no easy answers. This is real life. The bills are real. The spiritual battle is real. The opposition to this path is very, very real. But, as someone who walked away from all of this and searched for full-time employment for over a year, I can say now that it is possible, and most of all, that it is very, very much worth the struggle.

Pray for these two men today, and for their families. Pray for their church families too as they confront the reality of "being the Church" themselves rather than remaining spectators on the pew.

Going back to the sign at the top of this article, the answer of course is that Church is very, very important. The Church is a living temple made up of living stones who are being built together by Christ Jesus as they daily offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and who minister to one another and encourage and teach and edify one another daily.

The Church is what Jesus the Messiah died and rose again to breathe life into. The Church is the Body of Christ, as long as Christ is the head and as long as the people themselves operate as an interconnected organism in love for one another, and for Christ who is their life.

The question is not whether or not Church is important - it is. The real question is "What is the Church?" and how you answer that question - and how you live out that answer - is what matters most.

Where you meet (in a building, a house, under a tree) doesn't matter so much as what happens when you come together as a Body. Is any one of you exalted over all the rest, or is Christ Jesus the actual Head of the Body? Is every member free to function according to their gifting? Is everyone (women, children, elderly) treated and loved equally?

Church is a "Who" not a "What". It's not a meeting you attend once a week. It's not a performance. It's a family, an organism, a Body, and a Bride.

-kg