The Offensive Side Of Love

Love and truthNo sane person takes pleasure in offending others. And no  sane person relishes the backlash from people they offend. We want to keep all our relationships amicable, and Scripture enjoins us to do just that whenever we possibly can (Romans 12:18).  People,  quite reasonably, expect Christians to behave lovingly, displaying gentleness and humility…and they readily point out our hypocrisy when we fail to do so.

To our shame, sometimes their accusations are valid. Sometimes our sinful, obnoxious behavior reflects anything but the fruit of the Spirit, exposing our stubborn determination to revert to our carnal natures (Galatians 5:19-23). In Romans 2:17-24, as a matter of fact, the apostle Paul says point-blank that non-Christians use our hypocrisy as a justification for slandering God’s character. So we absolutely need to behave in ways that demonstrate the Lord’s love.

His love, however, doesn’t always fall in line with the world’s concept of love. In 21st Century America, “love” requires an uncritical endorsement of any lifestyle (except one that favors Christian morality, of course). In particular, “love” rejects Christian ideas concerning sexual conduct, demanding that society approves of any consensual relationship. The post-modern person shakes a fist at anyone who dares to suggest that God intended sex to be enjoyed only within the context of marriage between one man and one woman.

21st Century “love” also insists on subjective worldviews rather than believing in objective and absolute truth. The idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven has no place in post-modern thought. Indeed, all talk of sin, judgment and the wrath of God contradicts the contemporary concept of a “loving” God.

Contrast the world’s definition of “love” with the Bible’s best known description:

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~~1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

At first glance, this passage seems innocuous enough, but then verse 6 messes it all up by introducing the unwelcome ideas of morality and truth. Both these ideas imply standards that determine morality and truth. And that implication, because it draws on the rest of  Scripture to establish and explain these standards, shows a side of love that offends 21st Century understanding.

Christians want, more than anything else, to display all aspects of our wonderful Lord to a world that desperately needs His love. But part of displaying His love requires us to also uphold aspects of truth that the world (including people who falsely profess to be Christians) find offensive. We don’t enjoy offending people, and we hopefully take care not to offend by being hypocritical sinners. Yet love commands that we compassionately tell God’s truth, even when it it hurts.

Perfectly Sufficient

This past  winter, John and I listened online to Pyromaniac’s Sufficient Fire Conference, followed by The Shepherds Conference 2015 Inerrancy Summit a few weeks later. I came Cross and Bible 2away  from those two events with a sense of awe that God has given us His very words (2 Timothy 3:16)! Developing a greater understanding that the words of  Scripture are His own breath has revolutionized my approach to my daily Bible reading by filling me with greater anticipation of hearing from Him.

Few people in evangelical circles admit to questioning the Bible’s inerrancy, although some go to enormous lengths to explain away certain teachings like gender roles and the sinful nature of homosexuality. Therefore, unless I address either of those hot-button topics (which I intend to do frequently), I can be reasonably confident that my evangelical readers affirm that Scripture contains no mistakes.

Sadly, however, evangelicals show less assurance in Scripture’s sufficiency, as evidenced by their fascination with various extra-biblical trends. This blog will challenge such matters as Charismatic teaching, psychology, pragmatism and other evangelical fads that subtly undermine Scripture’s sufficient nature. Why? Because God’s Word needs no augmentation.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, ~~2 Peter 1:3 (ESV)

Where does the knowledge of God come from, if not from the Bible? Any other source lacks authority.  Consequently, the Bible that gives us  knowledge of His  nature, His priorities, His perspectives and His  dealings with  men, gives us everything necessary to live in ways that honor Him. He doesn’t need supplementation from our puny human devises, nor do we need Him to “speak” to us apart from His Word.

The conferences John and I listened to during the winter helped me to cherish God’s Word. In it, I find the inexhaustible treasure of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, and how He calls me to reflect Him to a lost world. The psalmist said it best:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward. ~~Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)

I desire the reward  of keeping these precious words that proceed from God’s own breath, and I don’t want the so-called wisdom of men to tarnish  them. If “the law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7), I want to resist anything that might compromise it. By God’s grace, I  hope to inspire others to  join me in resting in its perfect sufficiency.

Because Of Truth

Whether or not I suffered abuse when Charismatic churches tried to heal me remains a secondary issue in my estimation. Truthfully, I’d never really thought of any episodes as abusive except for the Pentecostal preacher during my high school days whBible Masko determined that my Cerebral Palsy resulted from demon possession because “only Satan could make something this ugly.” (I can laugh at his stupidity now.)

But I didn’t turn away from Charismatic theology because of all the efforts to heal me. I turned away because neither its teachings nor its practices line up with Scripture.

I don’t have time today to demonstrate how Charismatic theology violates God’s Word. Actually, it would take a large number of posts to fully make my case. I do want to discuss some of its  departures from sound doctrine in future posts, particularly in light of  how it has influenced the evangelical church at large. But today, let me focus on the broader idea that Christians must shape theology on the basis of Scripture, not spiritual experience. I didn’t reject Charismatic teaching because I had a few negative experiences. I rejected it out of a commitment to truth.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. ~~John 4:24 (ESV)

If we evaluate the Bible through the grid of personal experience, we can make it say pretty much anything we want it to say. In so doing, we unwittingly replace the Lord’s authority with our own. I don’t believe my friends in Charismatic churches consciously make this exchange, but they certainly do make it. With patience and humility, we need to encourage them to think in accord with sound doctrine, not because their teaching hurts people, but because we love truth.

What I Need To Know

My pastors couldn’t understand my rejection of Charismatic theology, despite their professed willingness to let  me “agree to disagree.” Most of the time, we did manage to maintain a peaceful coexistence…probably because I was on staff with the ex-gay ministry associated with the church, so going to a different church would have been awkward. So we made it work. In later years, I stayed because, with my disability, I wanted the security of long-established friendships.Biblical Unity

On occasion, however, that peaceful coexistence hit a bump when I’d question a prophecy or stay home from a service that I knew included heavy instances of Charismatic experiences. Once a year, a guest speaker with the “gift of prophecy” conducted a Sunday evening meeting, during which people were “slain in the Spirit,” and my conscience forbade me to participate. The poor pastors admired my integrity, and yet my conviction that the  speaker’s ministry violated Scripture frustrated them.

One pastor, who had been less sympathetic toward Charismatic teaching when I first started questioning its validity, tried to convince me that the speaker ministered by the Holy Spirit’s power. “He told me things about myself that only God and I knew.”

“You mean, like a psychic?” I asked.

My question ended the conversation, though I seriously doubt my pastor reflected on it. Indeed, when I embraced Charismatic thought (as I did for the first 20 years of my Christian life), I also ignored similarities between “words from the Lord” and the occult practices I’d flirted with prior to my salvation. I understood his discomfort at my inquiry.

Yet the personal prophecies I witnessed during my Charismatic days were nothing other than cheap psychic fortune-telling. Personal prophecies in the Bible, by contrast, always had a broader purpose of preparing Israel for God’s judgment or equipping the early Christians (who didn’t yet have the New Testament) to establish the church. They had little to do with giving average Christians glimpses into their individual futures, and everything to do with furthering God’s kingdom.

My journey away from Charismatic teaching and practices disappointed my pastors and bewildered many of my friends and co-workers. But 25 years later, I find myself resting on the sufficiency of Scripture in order to hear from the Lord.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2  Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

I praise the Lord daily for His Word, through which His Holy Spirit speaks to me. Through its pages, He may not give me the psychic-like information that my friends got from the annual guest speaker, but He does  reveal Christ. And I need nothing further.

For The Record

Headstick June 2011 001At present, I use the free version of WordPress to produce this blog. I anticipate upgrading to the premium version within the next few months, but right now I don’t feel quite ready to take that step.

Free blogs, of course, must draw money for the company that provides the software, and WordPress generates revenue by selling advertizing. This morning, my fellow blogger Michelle Lesley (http://michellelesleybooks.com/) posted about concerns that her readers have voiced about inappropriate ads they saw on her blog. In an effort to be preemptive regarding possible offensive ads here, I’d like to quote a portion of what she wrote:

I want to assure you that I had no knowledge that these ads were appearing, as I cannot see them from my end. I also have no control over which ads are placed on my site.

I have contacted Word Press about the ads. This is the response they sent me:

“We endeavour to make sure that no inappropriate ads are shown, but occasionally some do make it through. If you or any of your visitors see inappropriate ads, we ask that you (or they) take a screenshot of the ad and forward it to us at wordads@wordpress.com.”

Since I am unable to see the ads, I would be most grateful if you would alert Word Press in this way whenever you see an ad that’s inappropriate.

I would appreciate the same assistance from my readers until I take the plunge of upgrading. Like Michelle, I desire for my  blog to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, reflecting His holiness. Please understand, therefore, that any ads you  may see don’t mean that I recommend the product or approve of how an ad communicates its message.

On a similar vein, you may have noticed two distinct blogrolls on my sidebar. The first blogroll, Discernment Blogs links to blogs which I believe provide sound doctrinal content. Of course these blogs (just like my blog) are authored by fallible men and women, all of whom readily admit their sinfulness. Each of them (as do I) would urge you to examine their posts against Scripture. In admitting the imperfections in these blogs, however, I also believe they present God’s Word as accurately as a human being can. I therefore endorse them with gratitude for the way the Lord uses them to teach me more about Him.

The second blogroll, Blogs By Friends, showcases blogs by ladies I know either personally or online. Whether they write about the Lord or about other topics, I always look forward to their posts, and think  my readers might be interested in them. I may not agree with everything they say, but I value their perspectives and treasure their friendships.

With these clarifications explained, I plan to resume my normal course of blogging next time. Isn’t it good, though, to know where we stand?

Looking At The Cross

I knew, as my friend explained the good news that Jesus died to take the punishment for my sins, that I owed Him my life. She didn’t tell me how great my  debt was; she didn’t need to tell me.

As I saw the pardon Jesus extended to me by dying as my substitute, I could see both His love and my inability to merit His favor. I also saw that I couldn’t do anything to impress Him, yet He wanted every part of me for His own. Surveying His cross 44 years later still humbles me…and still claims every part of me.

Displacing God’s Word

This morning, as I proceeded through my daily Bible reading, I noticed how the opening nine verses of Matthew 15 apply to many 21st Century churches.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (ESV)

Trashed BibleHow many man-made traditions supplant, or cause us to reinterpret, God’s Word in our present day  churches? When I read this passage today, my mind immediately went to the pragmatic seeker-sensitive movement, which uses the Bible as a springboard to address “felt needs” or to further the leadership’s agenda rather than to simply preach the Word in accordance with the command in 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

Indeed, pragmatic churches often host “non-threatening” activities such as game nights or movie nights, always in the name of “friendship evangelism. They operate on the premise that we attract people to the Gospel by demonstrating that we are “just like them.” But, although I agree that Christians must show genuine love to unbelievers rather than treating them as mere “prospects,” evangelism  mandates that we expose people to the Gospel. That exposure necessitates the use of Scripture (Romans 10:17). Certainly, our behavior must back up what we say about the Gospel,  but let’s never confuse Christian conduct with the Gospel itself.

Additionally, pragmatic churches love devising “strategies” (better termed as gimmicks, in my opinion) for attracting their desired demographic group. Specifically, they want young people with good earning potential. Again, attracting such people, as they see it, requires minimizing doctrinal instruction in favor of shorter, more practical and entertaining motivational speeches. Theologically rich hymns are eclipsed by either hypnotic songs emphasizing emotions or rock music that showcases the Praise Group. But all this clever methodology ignores the simple ministry of God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 4:2).

I write from personal experience, and therefore I’ve seen many instances of Scripture taking a back seat to pragmatism. Sadly, the churches that succumb to such marketing techniques miss the joy of simply preaching God’s Word and watching the Holy Spirit draw people through it. By replacing Christ’s command to teach His doctrine (Matthew 28:19-20) with the methods of the world, they only prove how far their hearts stray from Him.