Church Is for the Church

What is a Sunday morning church service for? As Christians, we meet together on the first day of every week, the day of Christ’s resurrection. We sing songs, hear preaching, and (hopefully) take Communion. But why? What is the purpose and goal of this meeting?

To many people, our gathering together as the Church on Sunday is about evangelism, about reaching the lost. Contemporary, upbeat songs attract them, relevant preaching helps them see the usefulness of Christianity to their lives, and finally we invite them to make their professions of faith and perhaps join our church.

Let me be entirely clear from the outset: trying to reach the lost, or doing the things I just mentioned, is not at all bad. I could never say they are. Nonetheless, I believe that the outreach focus is not the right focus for our weekly meetings. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time and a place for everything, and, Biblically, our weekly gatherings as the Church are not, I am convinced, for evangelistic purposes, but for, well, the Church itself.

Scripturally, church (the weekly service) is for the Church (the people). It is not about reaching unbelievers, but about building up the Body of Christ. Honestly, it would be difficult to point to a particular proof text for this point, but that’s not because it’s unbiblical, but because it is the basic assumption of all the New Testament letters to the churches. Reading any of the letters makes this clear enough if you’re paying attention, but some passages that draw it into sharper focus might be 1 Corinthians 14, large portions of Ephesians, or the latter chapters of Hebrews.

Acts also shows this pattern. There are two parallel ministries in Acts: the evangelistic ministries which occurred out and about in society, and the gatherings of believers by themselves. There was public preaching to the crowds, and after and apart from that the believers gathered together devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

In fact, this verse I believe sums up how Church is meant to work. In order to become the people we need to be to reach the world for Christ from Monday to Saturday, we must participate in the right Body-building, sanctifying activities together on Sunday. We learn from the apostles’ teaching how to live the Christian life rightly, so that we please God and win people to the beauty of the Gospel life. In fellowship we encourage and assist one another as fellow believers to spur each other on to good works, to reassure doubts, to share burdens and joys, and to share insights and experiences with our common Savior. By the breaking of bread in Communion, we recall the sacrifice of Christ in the past, enjoy His sustaining power for us in the present, and train ourselves to live in anticipation of the resurrection life which we will share with Him in the future. Finally, our collective prayers invite God’s supernatural power and presence into our life together as the Body of Christ. 

These means of sanctification—preaching, fellowship, sacraments, and prayer—are the essential elements of our weekly gatherings as the Church, in addition to worship, and yet are explicitly believer-oriented. Only believers can “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching” in a productive and transformative way. Only believers can encourage one another with the Gospel, share burdens in Christ, and build each other up with their spiritual gifts. Only believers are permitted to take Communion and so feed on the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood given for us. Only believers have unfettered access to God’s throne of grace for prayer. And only believers know to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The point is fairly simple, then. Our meetings as the Church are meant to be by the Church for the Church. Unbelievers are, of course, welcome. They can come to hear the Gospel, which is always a good thing. We can love them and show them the life of Christ in its beauty. Yet the presence of unbelievers in our meetings is assumed in the New Testament to be occasional and potential rather than normal and intentional (see 1 Cor. 14:23). The basic and important pattern is the gathering of Christians to be Christians.

I again emphasize, though, that this is not at all to say anything against evangelistic outreach towards unbelievers. In fact, I would instead say that the church-for-Church model is an essential part of reaching unbelievers. By concentrating on the strengthening and renewing of our life in Christ together when we meet on Sundays, we can become more and more able to reach the world around us the rest of the week. This is, in fact, exactly what the earliest Christians historically did. They met together early Sunday morning before going to work (as Sunday was a workday for them) for the benefits I mentioned above, and then they set out on their weeks to be the best followers of Christ they could be in the sight of unbelievers. The Lord’s Day was a time to recharge together in the presence of the one Lord, so that by His Spirit they would be empowered to fulfill the Great Commission when they went their separate ways.

I believe we could do well to relearn this approach in modern times. It seems to be more Biblical, and have been more historically effective at producing active Christians, than seeker-sensitive or evangelistic approaches. And in fact, it stands as a challenge to us all specifically in evangelism. It’s harder to be a witness for Christ in our actual, daily lives and reach unbelievers there than to round them up for a Sunday preacher, after all. Maybe if we try we’ll find that the hard way is, as usual, the better.

“Christianity Isn’t a Religion” Is a Liberal Thing to Say

“Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship!” How many times have you heard that before? If you’ve moved in many of the same circles that I have, then you’re probably pretty familiar with it. I’ve argued against this line before, pointing out that a religion is simply a set of beliefs in some kind of higher power, and of course Christianity is that (though also far more). But there is another danger of this way of thinking that has come to mind, and I would to point it out briefly.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there began the rise of German liberal theology. With science exploding, standards of living rising like the tide, and the world all around seeming to swing towards progress, humanity came to think pretty highly of itself. A belief in unaided human reason as the final arbiter of truth and falsehood, combined with a skepticism about the authority of traditions in such an age of novelty, led many people to question the truth of Christianity’s basic claims. Was Jesus real? Was He actually like the Bible says He was? Can we trust the Gospels? Do we really know anything about Jesus?

These problems led certain pastors, theologians, and churches to turn away from traditional beliefs about the truthfulness of Christian doctrine. Instead of a Jesus who really lived, died, and rose, and a real authoritative body of teaching about Him in the Scriptures, the focus became all about the individual experience of faith. Who knew who Jesus really was, what He really did, and whether He is truly God in some way? What mattered was how people felt about Him. Faith was something which happened inside, changing the person and their relationship to the world around them in positive ways, ways which were expressed in religious terms about Jesus. Ultimately, the religious experience of faith was supposed to be the point of Christianity.

Now, all of my evangelical Protestant friends out there who use the slogan “relationship not religion” wouldn’t agree with this. They wouldn’t do like the German liberals and deny Jesus’ deity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. all in favor of a faith experience. But, there is one crucial similarity. The say that Christianity is a relationship instead of a religion betrays the same basic concern: what really matters is the individual experience of faith.

This is a serious problem. The “relationship not religion” attitude often pushes doctrine, the Church, sacrament, and other “religious” things to the side, instead making “experiencing God” in some subjective way the focus. It sounds, and often acts, as though your relationship with Christ doesn’t really need to involve right knowledge of Him, or fellowship and cooperative ministry with His people, or regular, tangible reminders of our union with Him. All it really needs is the right worship music, devotionals, and preaching to make you feel the love of Jesus in your heart. 

Essentially, this is the same goal as theological liberalism. Experience faith and love, which will help make you a better person, too. Good theology, a community of believers, and regular reenactments of what Jesus has done for us in fellowship are all nice things, but what really counts? Faith itself. Believing in something better, something divine, that changes you for the better.

The real danger of all this is taking the focus away from God to self. Instead of focusing on who Jesus is, what He has done for me, and what He is calling me to do in response, the “relationship not religion” line necessarily moves the focus to how I feel about Jesus, how authentic my faith is, and what about my life is being changed by it. These things matter, but not as the focus. My feelings, faith, and transformed life must be the free flowing result of letting Jesus be my all-in-all, not the all-in-all on their own.

Remembering that Christianity is a religion helps guard against this. Christianity as a religion is decidedly not about myself, but about the One whom this religion worships and follows. Being part of a religion with a Church means not doing it alone and for myself, but only as part of a larger community under the same Lord with the same mission. Having religious doctrine says that I can’t just make Jesus into my own image, but instead must allow myself to be corrected by the truth He has revealed. The religious sacraments mean that I am forced as often as I partake to face the reality to which they point, unable to continually put it all on the back burner without condemning myself.

So please, let’s bury the whole “Christianity isn’t a religion” thing. We’re not German liberals, and don’t need to be like them. There is more to Jesus than personal faith. We must recognize the larger picture and live it out.

5 Myths about End Times

Recently I’ve seen more Christians than usual warning about the imminent end. Perhaps in light of recent political events, an expectation/desire for Jesus to return has increased beyond the everyday. This has reminded me of several misconceptions people have about that time, the eschaton, so I figured I’d throw together this list of 5 popular end times myths.

  1. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters are signs that Jesus is just about to return. This is a common misconception, based on Mark 13:7-8 and the parallel verses. But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in those verse. He tells the disciples “don’t panic” when you hear of such things. These must come, but “the end won’t follow immediately” (literally “the end not yet”). Instead, they must endure for quite some time, for this is only “the first of the birth pangs” and in the mean time they will need to “watch out” for persecution.
  2. Babylon the Great is America/Islam/[insert modern power here]. In Revelation 17-18, John gives a dramatic description of a great city, called Babylon, which has fallen to ruin. Many popular prophecy teachers like to associate this with America, Islam, or some other modern power perceived as a threat or wicked group. Yet the original historical context clearly identifies this as Rome. Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), and had by John’s time seven notable kings (17:9-10). The empire relied heavily on puppet kings in the provinces (17:7,12). For John’s original audience, nothing would have sounded more like a “great city that rules over the kings of the world” than Rome (17:18). Like the Old Testament prophets, John prophesied God’s judgment on a wicked nation oppressing His people.
  3. The last days are just starting, about to start, or recently began. Biblically, the “last days” doesn’t just refer to the very end, the time of the Tribulation and return of Jesus. The last days began with Jesus, when He through His life, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years. (See Acts 2:14-21, Heb. 1:2, Jas. 5:3, 1 Pet. 1:20.)
  4. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all or mostly about the end times. Despite the common opinion, Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the Mount of Olives after He cleansed the Temple wasn’t mainly (or some people would say at all, but I’m not 100% sure about that) about the Tribulation and His future return. Instead, the primary point was the judgment about to come on Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70. Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:20-24 make this point the most clear. Jesus treated the impending fall of Jerusalem as an event of major theological significance, the last of God’s repeated judgments on His wayward people. He constantly warned them to repent or they would be desolated by Rome, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the other prophets of old warned about other kingdoms. When Jerusalem fell national Israel would fall apart, and only the new Israel of Jesus followers would continue in God’s purpose for election.
  5. Jesus’s return will mean the end of space, time, matter, and planet earth. As I have argued in previous posts, the universe is not to be permanently destroyed any more than our bodies are to die forever. Just as we will die, when Jesus returns the world will be burned up, but this is not a permanent end. God will redeem His creation through the Spirit (see Rom. 8:19-22), and it will become a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1), just as we have become a new man/new creation (cf. Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17). There is no Biblical evidence that it will be timeless, or simply spiritual, or non-physical, or that the earth will be gone forever. We’re not simply going to heaven forever; heaven is coming to us and recreating our world.

Heaven Is a Myth. Kind Of.

“So now he’s saying heaven is a myth. What has gotten into Caleb’s brain today?” This is may be something like the reaction you had to the title of this post. And that’s probably justified. I’ve already pulled pretty well the same stunt with I Don’t Believe in Hell a while back. It’s just that heaven and hell are such deliciously popular topics that such titles always attract attention.

Anyway, what am I actually saying this time? Well, first off I’m certainly not saying that there is no such thing as heaven. That would be Biblically absurd. When I say “heaven is a myth” I mean specifically the popular conceptions of heaven that dominate books and movies, whether Christian or not. There is certainly a real heaven, but it’s not what most people imagine it is, and that is the message I mean to get across in this post.

Define “Heaven”, Please

What’s wrong with the common perceptions of heaven? Part of the problem is the lack of precision. People use the word “heaven” to refer to God’s presence, the place believers go after death, and the future state elaborated in Revelation 21-22. Because many Christians use the same word for all of these places, the differences get muddled to create a strange, murky, and unbiblical mix. My goal here is to distinguish between the different things and clarify the Biblical vision of heaven.

First off, the word “heaven” itself in the Bible is never used for where people go when they die, nor does it ever refer to the new creation after Jesus returns. It is used primarily in three ways (note that I’m only referencing the New Testament to make things easier for me, but what I say can also be seen in the Old):

  • “Heaven” can refer to the sky and/or space, e.g. Matt. 3:16, 16:2, Mk. 7:34, Lk. 9:16, Acts 11:6, Jas. 5:18
  • “Heaven” can be used as a substitute for “God.” This is clearly seen in Matthew. Everywhere the other gospels say “kingdom of God” Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven.” 
  • Finally, “heaven” can refer to the place where God and His angels are, e.g. Matt. 5:16, 22:30, Mk. 11:26, John 1:51, Acts 7:55.

Search the Scriptures and see for yourself: never is the word “heaven” used in relation to where a human is, with precisely two exceptions. The first is that of Jesus, who is exalted in heaven at the right hand of God and intercedes for us there. The only other exception is Paul in a vision being caught up to the third heaven. But these exceptions prove the rule. Heaven is never mentioned as the destiny of the dead righteous.

There is a word used in Scripture for the place where the dead righteous are. This word is “paradise.” Jesus Himself used it to the thief on the cross, and it is one of two direct names for the place where dead believers are. The other reference is “Abraham’s bosom” in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. These two references to the dwelling of dead believers are the only ones which name the place, and neither uses the word “heaven.”

Is it semantics I’m playing here? Not merely. What we must learn to make sense of the Biblical teachings on heaven is to distinguish between the three places associated with our concept of heaven. I’ll give a basic overview of each here, and later I’ll give details on the Biblical case for each.

The Three Things People Like to Call “Heaven”

First, heaven is the space God created alongside “earth.” Our visible world is parallel to the world of heaven, and both were created by God in the beginning. Heaven is flooded with the glory and presence of God, and His will is always carried out there. Angels also dwell there. This world is not the purely spiritual presence of God, but a created space with its own created order which parallels ours. Heaven and earth are distinct, but together. They are separate, but right beside each other. They occasionally intersect and get messily involved with each other. God reigns in this heaven, Jesus’ physical human body is currently present there, and angels go to and fro between there and here to accomplish God’s purposes.

Next, paradise is where believers are after death. It is not equal to heaven, but is something else. For believers, it is a place of rest and comfort until the last day when we are to be resurrected. This is not likely to be a physical or material place, because it is neither in heaven nor earth and the people who dwell there are without bodies for the time being. It is a truly immaterial existence, without sight, touch, smell, or sound. There are no mansions, streets of gold, or anything which can be physically sensed there. Paradise has bliss for the righteous, a bliss that results from God’s caring embrace by the Spirit, but there is still a degree of discomfort because they are “naked” and lack their bodies. This place is ultimately temporary, an immaterial existence which will no longer be relevant in the resurrection.

Finally, the new creation (also called the new heavens and earth) is where believers are destined to live in eternity. This is a physical world birthed out of our current one, a recreation. Just like the Spirit radically healed and transformed us at our new birth to make us a new creation, so will He do to the entire world in the last day. Just like Jesus’ dead body was restored to life and made altogether fresh and new, so will the entire cosmos die in flame and be restored to a new and fuller glory in Christ. This will still be our physical universe, but fixed, renewed, and brought to its true destined purity. 

Obviously, by this point I’ve said a lot that you may not have heard before, and very well may prove controversial. So be it. But alas, I’m nearing a thousand words here, so it’s not the time to go on. I’ll continue this series. In my next post, I’ll start defending and building with Scripture what I’ve said about these three places. In the mean time, try reading the Bible with these thoughts in mind and see if it makes sense. You may be surprised.

Witness with Your Inside Voice

Have you ever heard of a BHAG? (That’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, if you don’t know.) What about the book Radical? Or can you imagine a college student dressing in funny blue pants and a massive afro wig? Whether you are familiar with all of these things or not, they represent a common thread in popular Christian thought, especially among rambunctious teenagers.

There is an idea out there that as Christians we need to do big, bold things to be the “light of the world.” Popularly, BHAGs, Radical, and the silly stunt I pulled while a dual-enrolled student are all examples. We must always stand out and be ready to even do such things as stand up on a table in the mall and recite the Romans Road (something we may all applaud but feel guilty that we’d never do). After all, don’t such spectacular displays suit the urgency of evangelism, the need to spread the Good News to all people for their salvation?

The truth is, though, that while some people are called to be more showy witnesses (I mean, think about what the apostles did), the idea that we all should be so radical is quite foreign to Scripture. For my main support, I cite 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12.

But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.

I’d also reference something like 1 Timothy 2:2b-4, where Paul tells us to pray for authorities

so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The New Testament teaches that the Christian life, for the most part, should be fairly subdued. It does not need any flashy attempts at getting God glory or big plans to be radical and weird in obvious ways. Those things come from a good intention, but they are practically speaking often unhelpful to the kingdom of God, since the very spectacle intended to give them power can easily turn people off from the Christian life.

Really, when we look at what the Bible says to us, we do not see commands for most of us to emulate the witness of the apostles and evangelists, but to do like the texts I cited above say: to live quiet and respectable lives, maintaining a good reputation among people both inside and outside of the church. Why is this? This is the kind of life which gives our message of Christ credibility and attractiveness. As we see in places such as Titus 2:8, 1 Peter 2:12, and 1 Peter 3:15-16, our primary method for sharing Christ with the world is by living a life which can be respected, appreciated, and accessibly imitated by all people, so that they will not be scared away but see the true worth of Jesus.

Of course, this is not to say that our lives should just blend in with the world. Absolutely not! These verses I’ve mentioned all ring with another theme: to be holy, living a life of blamelessness, love, and integrity. Doing these things to a supernatural extent (by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, cf. Gal. 5:22-23) is what makes it possible for the Christian walk to not only be taken seriously by outsiders, but to actually be seen as a positive ideal, something worth becoming a part of. This is radical, but not in a showy or obvious way. It is radical in the way that the little details and contours of your life before the world, which you only explain by reference to Jesus in you, cause people to tilt their heads in wonder. This is a BHAG, but a subtle one which attracts people to Jesus Himself and not an event, personality, or church.

So what’s my ultimate point? The high calling of the Christian life for most believers (and this is a very high calling) is not to show off our Gospel or zeal in spectacular, radical, or jaw-dropping ways. Instead it is a calling to a quiet life, respected by all, and attractive by virtue of its purity and charity. In this way, people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. With this kind of life in mind, try reading the Beatitudes:

The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

(P.S. As always, I need to do a final clarification. I think there is a legitimate place for stuff like BHAGs, but I do not think that place is necessarily somewhere visible to all, but where the Father who sees in secret can reward you. Likewise, I do not at all have a problem with the kind of life David Platt teaches in Radical, but would advise that we do these radical things humbly and without show. If we are radical to be seen by others, which is too often the case, what will be our reward? But if we are closet radicals, our God gets the glory.)

May God Destroy You and Your Children

Isn’t the Bible so wonderful? Day after day, we are presented on Facebook with the many inspiring and heart-warming promises and truths from the Good Book. We all know them. We can be confident in all our pursuits since “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Never do we need to worry about the future, because Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you—this is the Lord’s declaration—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Yes indeed, we have many sweet hopes to cling to in the Bible. But not everything is quite like you’d think. Truthfully, most of the pretty little quotes we pull out of the Bible—especially the Old Testament—and put on pillows are arbitrarily ripped out of context. They sound nice, so we use them without paying any attention to the who, what, when, where, and why behind them. This, however, isn’t an entirely appropriate way to handle God’s written word.

To see what I mean, think about verses like these:

Let his children wander as beggars, searching for food far from their demolished homes. Let a creditor seize all he has; let strangers plunder what he has worked for.

Psalm 109:10-11

Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137:9

I will bring distress on mankind, and they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.

Zephaniah 1:17

Indeed, I am about to send snakes among you, poisonous vipers that cannot be charmed. They will bite you. This is the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 8:17

You will eat your children, the flesh of your sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you. The most sensitive and refined man among you will look grudgingly at his brother, the wife he embraces, and the rest of his children, refusing to share with any of them his children’s flesh that he will eat because he has nothing left during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you in all your towns.

Deuteronomy 28:53-55

None of these have quite the same inspirational quality, do they? They’re actually a bit scary and difficult. But without context, there’s no less reason to think that these apply to us than that the happy stuff does. What, after all, makes Jeremiah 8:17 different from Jeremiah 29:11?

So what? Are we, again especially with the Old Testament, forbidden from quoting anything to encourage? Clearly not. Paul does this himself on multiple occasions. But if we can do encouraging quotes rightly, how do we do so?

Basically, the key word is context. We have to pay attention to the who, what, when, where, and why. To make my point simple, I’ll just dive into two examples.

First, an example of my scary verses. Deuteronomy 28:53-55 speaks of God sending such a harsh judgment that people in their distress will resort to eating their own children, and even then not sharing any with others. So what’s the context? Can this be applied to us? In the passage’s original place in Deuteronomy, God is declaring the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant to Israel. If they obeyed His laws, they would receive many blessings. If they disobeyed, they would receive many curses, including this one. Of course, we modern Gentile believers are not under the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant in Christ (Heb. 9:15). There are no curses in the New Covenant (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 3:13). This means this passage clearly is not about us.

There is, however, a twist. Even though this passage does not directly apply to us, such a harsh judgment does reveal the intensity and severity of God’s condemnation against sin. How serious must disobedience be if God even punished Israel by letting their enemies terrorize them so much that they ate their children? And if God would provide such a punishment to those who received only types and shadows, how much greater will those who refuse the fully revealed salvation of God’s only Son be punished (cf. Heb. 2:2-3)? Moreover, if Jesus bore the full wrath of God for our sin, how much of a sacrifice must that have been! So even though this passage isn’t directly about us, there are applications which affect us.

Now for an example of thinking context through for the happy verses. I’ll take Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…” What was the original context of this verse? Jeremiah was writing a letter to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. In verse 10, he told them that God promised to bring them back to Israel after 70 years. The good plans involved Israel’s return to the promised land. God’s judgment, the Exile, was not His last word, because His plans were for their good. Again, then, we run into a verse which is not directly about us. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to and for exiled Jews in Babylon to reassure them of God’s promise to bring them back to Israel. We are obviously not in the same situation, so this verse is not about us.

Even still, there is clearly a way that this verse can be applied to us. We who are the Church are the true Israel, according to the New Testament. We are not at home in this broken age; we are exiles waiting for our restoration when God makes the New Heavens and New Earth. And God has promised to do this, to bring us safely home to the recreation of the new age. He will indeed resurrect us just as He did His beloved Son, who brought the beginning of the kingdom to the world. Like the exiled Jews, God is promising to bring us safely home. For “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Therefore Jeremiah 29:11 can actually be applied to us as well, just in a secondary way.

Hopefully these two examples are helpful. The Bible is filled with texts which were written neither to us nor about us, but all of them were still written for our benefit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When we look at the Scriptures, we must be discerning, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Many verses are not directly to us, but they do have wider applications which affect us. This is especially the case when looking at the Old Testament. Only context (both the immediate context and the context within the whole story of the Bible) can tell us exactly what is for, about, or to us. So let’s keep that in mind, that we may be approved by God.

5 Lies, Christians, and Fries

I am wrong. On what? Many things, I imagine. And so are you. Your neighbors, as well. We all get things wrong, being finite and sin-impaired people. Fortunately, the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ has provided a path to true knowledge, which sometimes must correct our mistakes. Most of what He has to say to us is found in the Bible, written by the apostles and the prophets.

The irony of this revelation is that even the divine revelation itself can be affected by our broken minds, and so there are many misconceptions, bad ideas, and even what might be called “lies” that arise about what it teaches. Here, then, are five popular falsehoods about Christianity I’ve heard repeated and grow very weary of.

  1. All sins are equal. This is an especially irritating lie. Jesus himself is the one I can think of most immediately speaking of people having greater or lesser sin (John 19:11), and greater or lesser condemnation (Matt 11:21-22). In fact, on this matter I can speak with certainty that the Bible says just the opposite. Everything in Scripture shows that some sins are worth greater punishment than other sins are (Luke 12:46-48). The greatest of these is quite obviously the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29). If Scripture were not clear enough, we intuitively recognize the absurdity of all sins being equal if we take it to its natural conclusion. If all sins are equal then the five-year-old who take a candy bar out of the cabinet when he is not supposed to is just as guilty for that action as a man who molests him later that night. God is too just in scripture for such nonsense.
  2. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Eh, this is just a silly gimmick. The Bible only mentions “religion” only a few times, and the two New Testament instances off the top of my head say that what we believe is a mysterious religion (1 Tim. 3:16) and that caring for the needy is true religion (James 1:27). The dictionary definition of a religion is simply a system of beliefs usually including recognition and worship of some kind of supernatural power, such as a personal God. Surely we as Christians believe in and worship God! Usually, the point made here is more of an issue of law and grace, or faith and works, but nowhere does Scripture categorize religion with law and works, and relationship with grace and faith. In fact, such Christians rituals as baptism and Communion are altogether characteristic of religion.
  3. My faith is just between me and God. A great number of people imagine that their salvation and sanctification is just a matter to keep to themselves. It’s none of anyone else’s business, right? Not according to Scripture. As John Piper quipped about salvation, “Eternal security is a community project.” The author of Hebrews forbids us to neglect meeting together. Scripture speaks to, of, and for the church, the called out people God, and rarely to individuals. Most of the times the Bible says “you,” it’s plural, not singular. We are constantly commanded to love, edify, help, and encourage each other (Phil. 2:1-4). We are also given the more difficult responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and even judging each other (2 Tim. 4:2, Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-13). We are community of faith. Jesus did not die for you apart from dying for us.
  4. Christians should never judge anyone, especially about their salvationUnlike many of these other lies, this one has a Scriptural basis. Matthew 7:1 says not to judge unless you want to be judged. “Case closed!” some people would insist. But as reading to verse 7 makes clear, the prohibition is truly against hypocritical judgment, and once we confront our own faults we are ready to help (in gentleness and love) rebuke our brother. Other texts clearly demand we judge within the church against false teachers (1 John 4:1), between believers and unbelievers in the church (1 Cor. 5:12), and among the believers (1 Cor. 6:1-8). And judgment which is made rightly, not by appearances, is commended (John 7:24). What is key is that all judgment is done with love, wisdom, patience, and faithfulness to Scripture. Judgement that is hypocritical, hateful, prideful, unbiblical, or based on appearances is repeatedly and harshly condemned.
  5. Our great hope is to one day leave the earth and go be with Jesus. For some reason, this is a popular falsehood. So many of us imagine that what we are promised for hope in the Gospel is that we can die and go to heaven, escaping the wiles of this earth, and so live forever with Jesus in the sky. Except this is a radically non-Christian conception of heaven. Our hope as Christians is inherited from the Jews, and their hope was physical resurrection at the end of the age (Daniel 12:2). We will not float around as spirits in an immaterial glory (indeed, being without the body is considered by Paul nakedness in 2 Cor. 5:4), but instead God is working to renew all creation (Isa. 65:17-25, Rev. 21, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 3:13), and one day will complete the act by raising our physical bodies (1 Cor. 6:14, John 6:54, 1 Thess. 4:14). Jesus will reign there physically as King (Isa. 2:4, Ezek. 34:23-24, Matt. 19:28). What God has planned for us is to live on Earth 2.0 with glorified, imperishable bodies, not to escape this world for an ethereal vacation.

Any more obvious, popular bad ideas you can think of in Christianity? Comment about them!