Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
In the 1100s, in an effort to protect travelers going from northern Spain over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Dogs of God, Reston, 50), a military force known as the hermandads (“the brotherhood”) was organized. Soon, these vigilantes spread across Spain and offered themselves as protectors of roads and merchants. Eventually appointed as a national police force who could collect taxes and prevent insurrection in every municipality, they would go on to exterminate untold numbers of Muslims, Jews, and other “enemies of the state” during the Middle Ages. Reston mentions an unsettling “right” granted to the hermandads in the 15th Century, during the famous reign of Isabella and Ferdinand. He writes, “In a curious turnabout, executions took place first, and trials were held afterwards” (51).
Given our country’s constitutional concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” this practice seems both backward and barbaric. How useful is a trial to present facts about a case after the defendant has been executed? What if the deceased was found innocent? What if there was no proof of guilt? Of course, the “facts” of every case incredibly supported the punitive action that preceded it.
While we may find such a practice appalling, how often do we do the same with our tongues? Through rash anger, reckless gossip, and rabid prejudice, we can serve as judge, jury, and executioner of the reputation and actions of another. How often do we jump to conclusions and assassinate another’s character, but later revelations prove our actions both premature and unjustifiable? Unfortunately, the damage having been done, nothing done by way of reparation can fully undo the effects upon the victim.
What we need to see is the spiritual danger we face who “execute” before “trial.” Solomon wrote, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). A few verses later, he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (21a). That New Testament “wisdom writer,” James, adds, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (3:8-10).
Be very careful! Even when we think we have the facts about another, let us post a guard outside the door of our lips (cf. Ps. 141:3). Better to deliberate and reserve judgment than to execute before the trial has been held!
It is of no little concern to me that men who are supposed to be gospel preachers, many of them men tainted by a corrupted higher education at denominational theology schools, have a poor opinion of the doctrine of inspiration. Like little hungry lambs, these men are led by their “scholarly” shepherds who are eager to bring them to the poisoned waters of the “Q” theory and the documentary hypothesis. They consume the rancid food of deutero-Isaiah and trito-Isaiah.
Their erudite educators push them to believe extrabiblical theories rather than internal claims. Where they get their sermon material and on what they preach would be quite interesting to know, and to what authority they appeal even more so. What does it take to simply accept that the Bible is completely, inerrantly, and plenarily from God through inspired men?
A Belief In A Personal God, Able And Willing To Communicate With Man. If we can accept that the Creator God continues to care and be interested in us and what becomes of us, can we also trust that His love would lead Him to accurately, honestly communicate His will–a will He would accurately supervise from beginning to completion and preserve through the process of transmission through the ages?
A Belief In Divine Omnipotence. Is God powerful enough to give us the Word as the Bible claims and is He loving enough and of character sufficient to let the Bible be what it claims to be? Could He provide for us in the 21st century His complete will? Do we have trouble with the idea that God is able to breathe out His Word to and through men and then preserve it for all time?
A Belief That The Bible’s Claims Take Precedence Over Man’s Criticisms. Humanistic thought is quick to accept man’s opinions and conclusions over what the Bible simply says. What qualifies any man to do that? Are we better off to accept the claims made by the most tested, assaulted, yet exonerated book of all times, which, when followed, leads man to the greatest and highest life, or the claims made by men, which repeatedly prove to lead man to emptiness, misery, and hopelessness?
It is frustrating to hear arrogant, though feeble, frail, finite, and flawed men taking cheap shots at scripture, undermining the divine inspiration of the Bible. Herein lies a very critical rub. John 12:48 says the words of Christ will one day judge us. Revelation 20:12 speaks of the books and the book of life being opened, judging mankind.
What will be the standard of judgment? The words of Q, deutero, and JEDP? It just does not make sense, and swallowing such a low view of inspiration will undermine the faith of many. May we have the humility and trust to accept the Bible at face value, believing it to be what our capable God claims that it is!
Today, one of the most famous preachers of modern times died just short of his 100th birthday. Not only did he achieve longevity, his name was almost synonymous with American religion in the 20th Century. He reached hundreds of millions of people through live crusades, radio, and television. He was regularly listed as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.” His website claimed that he preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history (info via FoxNews.com). His influence on society is unmistakeable.
However, this much loved and now much lamented man used the weight of his name and influence to oppose something which Scripture seems very clearly to teach. In the answer section of his website, he addresses the question, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” While answering that he believed it to be important and that he had done it himself, he also said, “If baptism were a requirement for salvation, we would certainly say that.” His answer makes clear that one becomes a saved convert before baptism, the thief on the cross being used as proof of that claim. Many of those who left comments under his answer shows how deeply influential and popular his teaching on this was.
I believe in the vitality of the saying, “It’s never a matter of ‘who’s right,’ but ‘what’s right.’” Something is never right because I say it, some other preacher, or even the most famous preacher of the 20th Century says it. Something is right because Jesus and His apostles and prophets said it. Here is what they said:
I feel the loss of this renowned preacher is sad and tragic. I appreciate his vast influence and the way he tried to use that for good in so many regards. Yet, if the Bereans found it necessary to compare the great apostle Paul’s preaching and teaching with Scripture, any of us who preach and teach today should want people to do the same. That’s the only way we will be able to determine what’s right!
Steve Moore writes about Julio Diaz, a New York city social worker who would take the subway to the Bronx each night to eat dinner at his favorite diner. One evening, a teenager brandished a knife and attempted to rob him. Diaz handed over his wallet, but as the thief walked away he said to him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” This baffled the teen, and from there Diaz was able to talk him into eating dinner with him in the diner. The teen was struck by how so many knew him and greeted him. The bill came at the end of the dinner, and Diaz offered to buy if he could get his wallet back. Without thinking, the teen handed it back to him. Diaz gave him a $20 and asked only for the knife in return (Who Is My Neighbor?, 44-45). We would hope that this prompted the teen to reform his life and make something nobler of himself, but if he does not it will not be Diaz’s fault.
What would you do if you were in a predicament like that? Maybe you would fight back, and who knows how that would end. Maybe you would compliantly give the wallet and watch in silence as the thief left. Yet, notice how profoundly Julio Diaz impacted this young man by doing more than was expected. His victim was willing to give even more than was asked of him. The world cannot produce that kind of wisdom and street smarts.
Diaz took a page right out of the Divine playbook. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Mat. 5:38-42). What incredible wisdom! Such action melts hearts and gives people a glimpse of Divine thinking.
It’s not likely you’ll be robbed at gun or knife point today. However, somebody will mistreat you, speak evil about you, or otherwise hurt you–soon! What will you do in response? Why not pull a Diaz? Why not follow the guidance of the greatest sermon ever preached?
Occasionally, I run across someone whose sincerity and earnestness I do not doubt but whose manner and tack are incredibly brusque, confrontational, and antagonistic. These same ones seem to frame questions disingenuously, almost as if to entrap you with the information they think they already know or pin you to positions they already believe you take. They may be quick to want to ascertain whose side you are on or what your stand is, even in matters that can be terribly complex and not so easy to answer. Their seeming attitude toward others is that they are guilty until proven innocent or that the ones they are examining are innately unwilling to stand up for what they, the “examiner,” believe is the truth.
This same belligerent approach was often taken by the Jewish leaders during Jesus’ ministry. They would come up with a scenario for Him simply to entrap Him or try and use His words against Him. Even though Jesus always answered correctly and never sinned or took a “wrong position,” they eventually twisted His words as part of their ploy to have Him crucified.
Ironically, these would deem themselves God’s staunchest defenders of the faith. Yet, through deceit, manipulation, unrighteous judgment, and the like, they reflect worldliness and fleshly works which God addresses in scripture. In Galatians five, Paul calls such things as “contentions,” “outbursts of wrath,” “selfish ambitions,” and “dissensions” works of the flesh (20). In instructions on dealing with one another, Paul tells Ephesus that such things as “bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32).
There are brethren in Christ who have compromised God’s truth, and this has sadly occurred in every part of the country. That is not what is under consideration here. There are also some who are intent on redrawing smaller and smaller circles of fellowship all the time. They are using as criteria laws they have made and standards that are from themselves. No one can very easily or for very long stay inside their circle. But let us not be bullied or intimidated into thinking that something is wrong with us if we do not walk lockstep with the belligerent. Let us pray for them and continue to have the courage to speak what is truly truth in a way that is truly loving!
NOTE: SOME TIME AFTER THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN, THE RIDGEDALE CHURCH OF CHRIST FACEBOOK PAGE WAS HACKED. THE CONTENT THERE NOW CONSTITUTES AN 180-DEGREE TURN FROM WHAT THAT GOOD CONGREGATION BELIEVES. DON’T BE DUPED BY THIS PERSON WHO, IN EFFECT, IS COMPOUNDING THE PERSECUTION UPON RIDGEDALE FOR SIMPLY TRYING TO FOLLOW GOD’S WORD. –NEAL
In the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus wrote, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:12-13). Persecution takes many forms, but if you want to see one form of it simply go to Ridgedale’s Facebook page and look at the dozens of examples of tolerance from broad-minded people as they help that congregation face what the world thinks of them.
An article by Kevin Hardy in today’s Times Free Press online (http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2013/aug/21/repent-or-leave/), which reflects some basic ignorance of what the Bible teaches about church discipline, unleashed a firestorm of hateful response by readers who are on Facebook and who in turn posted their remarks on the aforementioned page. My prediction is that things will get worse before they get better for the good people at Ridgedale. Understanding that we do not have all the facts of the case and would not expect a person in the world to give them to us, what we should do is focus on what is alleged. A professed lesbian’s family that attended Ridgedale was approached by church leaders after the woman’s mother publicly supported her daughter as she sought same-sex benefits from the city of Collegedale. As the family’s support of their daughter was public, the church felt compelled by scriptural mandate to ask the family to repent or be subject to church discipline. The family publicly made their exit and a congregational matter is now being splashed across news outlets. But, why is this congregation facing such an outcry and disapproval? The answer will differ from individual to individual, but here are some broad reasons evidenced from people’s responses.
Ridgedale is getting slammed because of the cultural sickness of subjectivity. One woman writes, “I think the decision makers of this church will one day pay for their sins…” Another woman writes, “I think the Cooper’s will be far better off without a church who punish’s them for not turning their back on their child….” Another puts it, “In my world, my God accepts, doesn’t judge and loves all his children!” Still another says, “Wow! I guess we know different Gods. My God offers unconditional love and tells me not to judge others….” (misspellings and grammatical errors made by the original writers). Others’ subjectivity is more subtly expressed, but here is the common thread. People think they get to co-opt God and make Him over in their image.
Ridgedale is getting slammed because of society’s warped view of tolerance. Certainly, so many who commented on that page are not tolerant of anyone who interprets Scripture literally. They are not tolerant of this congregation’s autonomy. They are not tolerant of the view that homosexuality is a sin. It is abundantly clear from the comments. You will read such slurs as “bigot,” “hoping the church burns in hell,” “Scumbag Church,” “group of horrible people,” and more. This is dripping with irony.
Ridgedale is getting slammed because the average person does not know the Bible. People speak of God loving unconditionally, Jesus accepting everyone, and that one’s sexuality does not matter. There is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord in our land (cf. Amos 8:11). Such lack of knowledge will destroy a people (Hosea 4:6). God’s unconditional love does not mean unconditional acceptance if someone lives in rebellion to His will. Jesus will not accept everyone. To the majority, He will say, “Depart from Me” (see Mat. 7:13-14, 21-23). Apparently, one’s sexuality does matter (see 1 Cor. 6:9-11). But people are grossly uninformed about the only book that reveals the heart and mind of God.
Please pray for Ridgedale. Encourage them and show them love. The detractors are popular and validated by a world separated from God. Let us have the courage to stand by God’s people who are willing to stand up for His will.
What a sad story emerged from Campbellton, New Brunswick, last week. Two little boys were spending the night at a friend’s house. The friend’s father, Jean-Claude Savoie, owns an exotic pet store and was apparently keeping a 14-foot-long African rock python in his home. During the night, while the boys slept, the python got loose from his glass enclosure, crawled through the ventilation system, and landed in the living room where the boys slept. It was then that, incredibly, he took the lives of the boys. Reports indicate the children had been to Savoie’s farm earlier in the day and had played with llamas, goats, horses and dogs, but had not bathed. Officials speculate that the python probably mistook the boys for prey, thanks to their scent. The parents must be grief-stricken and the snake-owner devastated (via http://www.cbsnews.com).
Perhaps what makes this so tragic is that it involves something physical, that can be seen or at least visualized. Yet, an infinite number of times over daily, a greater tragedy is occurring. Children are being assaulted by “that serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). But because his deadly work is done upon souls and not bodies, it is so easy to ignore. Children are placed by their parents into circumstances that expose them to this dangerous predator with seemingly little thought to the consequences. Parents allow the “scent” of the world to be left upon their children, allowing them to see and hear worldliness, become comfortable with it, and do nothing to be cleansed from it. God has made moms and dads the guardians of their children’s lives, whether it is their entertainment, friends and associations, activities, education, or the like. We are responsible for guiding them toward truth and away from error.
Do we ever, rather than taking that stewardship seriously, become lax and careless? We sing, “This world is not my home,” but are we helping to make our precious heritage cozy in its arms? May we all resolve to protect our children from the “evil one,” appreciating the gravity of what is at stake.