Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the World Vision Kerfuffle

You may have heard a little about World Vision's big announcement. The organization, known as a Christian humanitarian group which has contributed ridiculous amounts of aid to needy countries through the past several decades, announced that they will start hiring practicing homosexuals, as long as they're in relationships a state calls marriage and they consider themselves to be Christians.

The response from Christians has been swift and refreshingly lacking in 'nuance'. Some good responses have come from Kevin DeYoung, Al Mohler, Denny Burk, Russell Moore, Trevin Wax, and John Piper. I find little to nothing to disagree with in any of those, and commend them to you. Since there's no need for me to rehash their points, I'll just make a few corollaries and respond to some objections.

I would be more likely to support World Vision if they stopped claiming to be a Christian organization altogether.

This may require some explanation. I don't necessarily have a problem with a Christian donating to a charitable cause that's not explicitly Christian - research to cure a disease, feeding the poor, etc. If World Vision dropped pretense of Christian mission and just became about feeding the poor, digging wells, and all the other top-notch humanitarian work they do, they might be a secular charity worth considering donating to. Maybe, I guess, if you really want to.

But... they're not a secular group. They claim to be a Christian group, doing "kingdom work" for the spread of the gospel. Once you claim that, the question of what 'gospel' your missionaries actually teach is of paramount importance. Just as you'd be shocked to find your missionaries spreading the prosperity anti-gospel or Arianism, the faux-gospel espoused by World Vision leadership is appalling.

This announcement says that open defiance of Christ is totally fine (so long as Caesar says it's OK), Jesus is Lord only so long as He doesn't mess with your lust, repentance is unnecessary, and what is possibly the most obvious, clearest, least-contestable teaching of scripture is unclear and no big deal anyway. "Do whatever you want with Caesar's approval, and Jesus will honor you for it!" Is that the message you want proclaimed in the name of Christ? Better that they preach nothing.

But they're not a church! Without delving too deeply into the church vs parachurch question, I'll just say that if you're claiming to do 'kingdom work', it needs to align with the declared will of the King. If you teach that kingdom workers can openly rebel against the King - without fear of consequences, and even expecting a reward! - that's more than a tad problematic.

It reminds me of the annoying conversations about The Shack years ago. Someone would say how much the book was teaching him about God, you'd point out that what is was teaching was entirely false and extremely dangerous, and they'd inevitably counter with "It's just a novel, not a theological treatise!" But you said it's teaching you about God, so...

Similarly, you can't have it both ways with World Vision. Once they claim to do 'kingdom work', it's perfectly cromulent to ask whether their work aligns with the mission of the church. "We're not a church" is a worthless defense when you're claiming the work and blessing of the church.

What about James 1:26-27? The suggestion here is "they feed orphans and widows, so does it really matter..." And really, who could be against caring for the physical needs of the poor? The problem, of course, is that this passage is being isolated and forced to say something it doesn't say, and call into question what is clearly said elsewhere.

Is James really claiming that the only thing that matters is feeding/clothing/protecting orphans and widows? Is he suggesting that God will be thrilled if they are never called to repentance and faith, are never told of the forgiveness of sin which can only be found in Christ, and face eternal suffering, but they were well-fed while continuing in sinful rebellion on earth? Nowhere in scripture (including here!) does it ever suggest that our goal is to keep people well-fed and happy on their way to hell!

For example, how does this view square with Matthew 18:5-6? Imagine someone caring for an orphan, providing a home, food, clothing, medicine, etc, but also teaching him to worship Molech. What does Jesus think of that guy's "true religion"? So why shouldn't it matter that WV's official stance is that Jesus is not really lord, and will rubber-stamp whatever your heart desires?

Let's face it, Mormons can do some pretty sweet charity work. Muslims give alms. Atheists can act against their religion and care for the weak and oppressed. They can do this while rebelling against God and teaching others to do the same. And they will face the wrath of God for doing so.

What makes charity truly charitable is something only Christians can offer - forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. If the gospel is not faithfully proclaimed, the charity work is nice, but it's not "Kingdom Work". There's something a whole lot worse than dying - remaining dead in sin and facing judgment from He who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mat 10:28).

Benevolence ministry is both a means and a result of the church's mission (Mat 28:18-20), but it is not the mission. Our mandate is to make disciples, which only happens through gospel proclamation (Romans 10:14ff). To abandon gospel preaching is dereliction of duty. To substitute a false gospel is even worse. And God's wrath at false teachers won't be tempered by how much 'good' they did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The Christian view of our relation to scripture goes a little something like this. Because we are sinners, our faculties are corrupted and we by nature oppose the truth. Part of the sanctification process, whereby those who are born again are progressively transformed to maturity, conforming ever more into the image of Christ, is to have our mind set straight by God's word. We understand that God's word is true, and seek to understand what it truly says. Where we disagree with it, we know that we are wrong, and seek to change our minds, and ultimately our behaviors, to what scripture teaches. The truth of scripture molds what we think and guides what we feel, which determines how we will act. See Romans 12:2 or Colossians 1:9-10, for example.

The process of determining what scripture actually says is called exegesis, or drawing the meaning out of the text. What Christians strive to avoid is eisegesis, or reading presuppositions into the text. To name just one example, consider paedobaptists finding support in Acts 16:15; the idea that those baptized included unbelieving infants is supplied by the reader's theological system, not from the text itself. Examples abound and the temptation to slant a passage to meet your system is ever-present. The Christian must always fight this, and make every effort to let the text determine our thoughts and systems, not vice versa.

Lately I've been more aware of a special class of eisegesis. These presuppositions are not a result of coherent thought, but pure emoting, so I call it "emotegesis". When you emotegete, all scriptural interpretation is subject to how it makes you feel - and if the plain meaning makes you feel bad enough, the text is pretty much thrown out completely. There's really no limit to how far a passage can be twisted, or how utterly scripture can be ignored, in service of what you just want it to say.

A typical conversation with someone emotegeting goes something like this.
You: The Bible clearly says [clear teaching]
Emotegete: Yeah, but I want this, and I feel that, and it just can't be wrong.
You: Well, QED, I guess.

Some prominent examples of emotegesis include...

Female pastors. Sure, scripture may be perfectly clear on this. But I really wanna be a pastor, and I feel called to it, and I'd be really good at it, and it's just not fair, so... Then you might get something about kephale meaning "source" and not "head" (as though that makes it less convincing somehow??) and garbage about gender roles being a result of the Fall, or how we just know better now. But ultimately it will come back to "I really really want it, and I can't possibly be wrong".

Homosexuals. The next time you meet someone who thinks God is OK with homosexuality based on textual studies alone, and not because (a) he is subject to homosexual desires himself or (b) someone close to him is a homosexual and so it just can't be wrong, it will be the first time in human history.

Charismatics. Scripture says X about the revelatory/attesting gifts. Their experience is Y. At this point you can either say "Well, Y is not the actual gift", or just redefine scripture to make it include Y. Which do you think will win out, almost every time? (See for example the DA Carson quote here, and his laughable solution here - and note that this is often considered the best defense of modern tongues!)

We are much better off when our feelings are subject to God's Word, and we don't pretend it's the other way around.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Guilt By Association - False Prophets

Scripture contains several tests for prophets in passages such as Deuteronomy 13 and 18, and Jeremiah 14. The people were to evaluate the prophecy for accuracy (did it come true?) and fidelity (was he directing them to false gods?), as well as the character of the prophet (would he speak presumptuously in God's name, while contemptuously disregarding previous revelation?). Any prophet who failed these tests was to be rejected, the evil purged from their midst.

As Michael Beasley points out, the part that is easy to miss is that these tests were for the people every bit as much as for the prophet, if not more so. "For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut 13:3b). Will they love God enough to purge the evil and follow Him wholeheartedly, or will they despise God and allow the false prophet to remain and lead people astray?

"In the end, fallible prophecy relabels false prophecy under the pretense of a genuine gift. By redefining prophecy as that which includes both truth and error, one must wonder how any of this communicates the supremacy of Christ and the New Covenant in His blood. In all of this, a very crucial message begins to emerge: those who declare themselves to be a prophet of God are making an extremely serious claim. Not only was it important that such a claimant be evaluated via God's prescribed tests, but the congregation was to be tested by means of their action or inaction. In the case of their inaction, they were counted as accomplices of the false prophets, worthy of the anathema of God."
From The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism by Michael Beasley, Kindle location 653

The test is no less relevant for us today. There is no shortage of false prophets today, people claiming "thus saith the Lord" when the Lord most definitely hath not saith. Do we love God enough to purge them from our midst (via excommunication and warning the flock), or do we allow their false prophecy to metastasize and lead people astray?

Make no mistake - if we do nothing and let them stay, we invite the judgment due to them onto our own heads. God has made it clear that He enforces guilt by association. If we choose to allow the continued presence and influence of those God says to remove and silence, we become accomplices and share in their wickedness. But if we love God, we will purge false prophets from the church.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Magnet of God's Word

Our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He takes His revelation very seriously. Throughout history, God's prophetic revelation has been central to this precious matter of revealing the glory of Christ. Additionally, God's gift of prophetic revelation has been central to the salvation, sanctification, and confirmation of His people within this fallen world. Those who cherish and obey His word reveal themselves to be His children, but those who pursue other voices reveal a different spiritual pedigree. In this sense, God's word is like a magnet; it draws and attracts God's children, while repelling those who are not His. It is in this sense that God's word supplies a crucial, polarizing test among those who claim to be the followers of God.

(From The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy", by Michael Beasley; Kindle location 476-485)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Apostasy and the Church

The book of Hebrews contains what is probably the most-quoted exhortation to church membership:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Familiar verses, no doubt. But did you ever notice the reason for this exhortation? The verses that follow explain why it is so vital to meet together and encourage each other. Why is being part of a church such an urgent need?

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:23-31)

Meet together, because apostasy is horrible. Encourage one another, because the judgment brought on by apostasy is too terrifying for words.

This is not the only place in Hebrews where this pattern is seen. The same thing is clearly taught in 3:12-19, and 12:15-17 strongly suggests it as well. We are to watch out for each other, exhort each other, do everything possible to keep each other out of sin and strong in the faith, because God will judge the unrepentant apostate with the eternal fires of hell.

If you separate yourself from Christ's people, ultimate apostasy will not be far behind.

If you claim to be Christ's, yet are not part of a church, you are a liar and a fool playing a fool's game. Get in a church - a real church - now. Before it's too late, and you find that, like Esau, you have become so hardened you are incapable of repentance.