Monthly Archives: November 2013

Assimilation: Assimilation Under Ezra

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.

After the death of Solomon the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Both Kingdoms quickly apostatized from God’s revealed Word and were ultimately dealt with by means of the judgment of deportation to a foreign land. The Northern Kingdom was exiled to Assyria in approximately 700 BC (II Kings 17:6). The Southern Kingdom was exiled to Babylon under the rule of Nebuchadnezzer in approximately 600 BC (II Kings 24:25).

During the period of the Babylonian exile the dominant prophet to the people of God was Jeremiah. He prophesied to the Church in the Old Testament for a period of 70 years, throughout the Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 25:12). The period of captivity came to an end by means of the Decree of King Cyrus (a Persian King, the Persians having supplanted the kingdom of the Babylonians) that was declared in 538 BC. Under the terms of his decree, the exiled Jews were permitted to return to their original homelands. Some Jews were happy staying where they were, but a small band set out to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple of God.

The Temple (a significantly less splendid version of it when compared to the Temple of Solomon) was rebuilt and dedicated in 516 BC. In 444 BC Nehemiah presided over the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Ezra was sent by the Persian King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem in 458 BC. Ezra was returning to the Promised Land as a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). Ezra the priest was given broad authority by King Artaxerxes to collect taxes from the “provinces beyond the River” (Ezra 7:21) in order to fund the Temple sacrifice and to appoint magistrates and judges to judge the people according to the Law of God. Indeed, Ezra had the full power of the sword to enforce the Law of God in the land to the point of the use of the death penalty (Ezra 7:26).

Ezra was dismayed upon his arrival in Jerusalem when he discovered that “the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:1). Ezra ran straight into the problem of assimilation, in this case with the “Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.” The primary evidence of the assimilation of the Jews into the indigenous culture was the fact that “they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:2). Ezra bemoaned the fact that the Israelite leaders, who should have been preventing intermarrying, were “foremost in this unfaithfulness” (Ezra 9:2).

The response of Ezra the priest to this assimilation was “I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled.” (Ezra 9:3) Ezra had the eyes to see the assimilation of the Jewish people. The people did not see their assimilation. The leaders did not see their assimilation. It took a man “skilled in the Law of Moses” to see what was going on. This dramatically illustrates that during periods of time of biblical illiteracy, it is virtually impossible for Christians to become aware of their own assimilation. Unless a Christian is steeped in the Word of God, it is highly unlikely he will ever avoid the sin of assimilation. It takes an expert in the Law of God to point out the assimilation of God’s people to an indigenous culture.

Assimilation: Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.

Evangelicalism in the United States no longer worships and serves the God of the Bible. For the most part, American Christianity has created an idolatrous god that allows believers the opportunity to feel good about themselves by pretending to be Christians while at the same time being fully assimilated into American culture.

Such a sweeping introductory statement as the one made above will be met with guffaws of derision and contempt by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in Evangelicalism. That, however, does not make the assertion untrue. In this essay I will dramatically illustrate how the god of evangelical Christianity is a figment of the many fruitful imaginations of leading evangelicals. In addition, I will prove that the Church in the United States has essentially assumed the role of the false prophet in the Book of Revelation in that it is the handmaiden to the United States Government. I will also show that the dominant presupposition among evangelicals, that the Church is under the covenantal blessing of God, is false. In reality, the Church in America is more akin to the Church in Laodicea in that we “say that we are rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” and we “do not know that we are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Rev 3: 17)

The Church has had to deal with the sin of assimilation throughout her lifetime. With the exception of some short periods of time when the Church was obedient and blessed by God, most of the history of the Church reads like a litany of apostasy from biblical truth. The arrogant assumption of modern believers that we are somehow obedient and blessed is difficult to see from the nature of the Church in the United States today. The Church today has assimilated to the culture of the United States and the culture of the United States is statist. Statism, or the belief that the State has all of the attributes of deity, is the real national religion of the United States. The State is a legitimate, God-ordained institution. However, the government of the United States has rejected the principles of form and function found in the Bible and replaced them with a counterfeit set of rules designed to bring about the inevitable religion of statism. The fact that the Church has been assimilated by the State is what will be proven in this essay. Before looking at the modern Church it is worthwhile to spend some time considering a biblical example of assimilation to the local culture.

Authority: Conclusion

This is the last of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Ignorance of the biblical doctrine of authority has cast a pall over the Church.  Well meaning and well intentioned Christians have marched off to do battle with the secular humanist state with total ignorance of the nature of the battle they are going to fight.  To make matters worse, they have gone off to battle without their armor and without their swords.  The next thing they know they find themselves covenantally linked to the enemy by means of a sworn oath in which they have promised to do the exact opposite of what they originally intended.  It is inevitable that the result will be total failure.

Ignorance of the doctrine of authority has resulted in sin against women in the Church.  Either they have been sinfully ordained to offices they are forbidden to hold, or they have been excluded from offices they are permitted to hold.

The presupposition of the contractual nature of the Church and the State has brought about tremendous disorder and confusion in both of those institutions.  Individuals, who have no authority, are running around acting as if they did.  The representative authorities in those institutions are fearful for their jobs so they remain quiet.  The inmates are running the asylum.

To even bring up the doctrine of authority will result in howls of derision.  Nothing that has been argued in this essay could possibly be true.  It is too radical, too utopian, too unrealistic to ever be adopted as a true doctrine.  The applications of the doctrine of authority assault the very foundations of much Christian interaction with the world.  The changes that are required are too sweeping and would cause too much hardship on too many believers.  So I have been told.

The loss of the biblical doctrine of authority makes it difficult to see the Church today as genuine.  Indeed, we have lost the doctrine of authority.   Throughout most of her history, the Church had understood and lived by this biblical doctrine.   We need to repent of our ignorance.  We need to repent of our immoral covenantal links to the world.  We need to repent of our commitment to democracy, both inside and outside the Church.  We need to repent of our craving for false miracles.    We need to repent of our deification of Satan.

Our refusal to adopt the biblical doctrine of authority necessarily leads to many theological and practical disasters.  Several of these spiritual disasters are examined in detail in the essays that follow.

Authority: Satan’s Power Today

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Once again, because of the delusional presuppositions of the heretical eschatology of Dispensationalism, the Evangelical is rendered incapable of recognizing the source of satanic power in the world today.  Revelation 13: 1-12 is the description of the power and authority of Satan in today’s world.  Satan has been bound.  He is being plundered.  He has been cast into the abyss.  However, in the present age, he too has delegated his authority to another.

Revelation 12 describes the epic battle between the Church and the Dragon.  Everybody agrees that the Dragon is Satan.  Satan has been thrown down from heaven (12:9) and he seeks to persecute the Church of the Lord Jesus (12:13).  However, his authority has been stripped from him and he has been cast into the abyss.   What does he do?  Chapter 13 describes the appearance of the “beast”.  Everybody agrees that the “beast” is some form of the State.  I am not going to get into an eschatological debate.  As an amillennialist I believe that the “beast” is the State throughout the Church age.  What is important to notice is the exchange between the Dragon  and the Beast.  13:2 says this in reference to the beast, “And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.”  Verse 13:7 goes on to say, “And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.”

It could not be any more clear that the power and authority of Satan has been delegated to the modern State, in all of it’s godless permutations.  The battle in the post-apostolic period is the battle between the Church and the State.  The State attacks the Church by writing documents to govern itself that obviate the Word of God at every point of contact.  The State attacks the Church outwardly in many countries in the world today.  The State, in cooperation with the False Prophet (a false religion that aligns itself with the State), work together in order to persecute the truth and true believers in the Living God.

What an amazingly bitter ironic twist exists in Evangelicalism today.  Due to a total ignorance of genuine biblical eschatology, the evangelical Church has aligned herself with the State in an egregious unholy alliance (See “Assimilation”).  As a result of that alliance, the evangelical Church is actually persecuting the true Church in this land.  Meanwhile, charismatic Evangelicals run willy-nilly around their homes and churches casting pseudo-demons out of everything and everybody they encounter.  This situation would be funny if it was not so sad.

Follow the authority.  Satan assumed authority over the earth when Adam fell.  Jesus took back authority over the earth with His death and resurrection.  Satan, as he was being bound, transferred his authority to the State.  Jesus gave all authority to the Church to call the elect from all nations.  Now the two authorities in the Church and the State are fighting it out.  The battle is a spiritual one.  Jesus told us that we would be persecuted by the Beast and the False Prophet.  That is happening and should not surprise us.  What is surprising is how many professing believers have decided to align with the Beast and the False Prophet.  Nevertheless, final authority rests in God and God alone.  When Jesus returns he will cast the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet into the Lake of Fire and that will be the end of them.  If you are an Evangelical, open your eyes to these truths before it is too late.

Authority: A History of Satan

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Satan is a being created by God.  That should be all that needs to be said.  God created Satan.  Satan is not co-eternal with God.  Satan is not equal in power and authority to God.  Satan was created as an angelic being who, like Adam, decided that he wanted to be like God and fell.  Satan fell from heaven to earth (Revelation 8:10) and he took one third of the angelic beings, now demons, with him (Revelation 12:4).

After being cast down to the earth Satan was given the authority to torment the citizens of earth with possession, destruction and death (Revelation 9: 1-11).  As such, he is described as the prince and ruler of this world.  During his unholy reign as prince of the world he worked mightily to deceive the nations with spiritual untruth.  Also during his reign he entered into the courtroom of heaven in order to bring accusations against the elect people of God.  Job is perhaps the best example of this reality

Nevertheless, Satan was and is still subject to the decree of Almighty God.  He was not able to torment Job without the expressed permission (this does not imply that God has a “permissive will”, rather it is an anthropomorphism) of God.  Indeed, Satan was used by God as an instrument of His judgment upon the reprobate and His discipline of the elect.  Satan was created as the greatest and most powerful of the angelic beings, but that should never be confused with attributes of deity.

The Binding of Satan

A doctrine that is totally ignored by Evangelicals today is the binding of Satan.  The earthly ministry of Jesus had a dramatic impact upon the authority and power of Satan.  At Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem He states, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out.”  (John 12: 31).  Matthew 12 records the story of the demon possessed man who was blind and dumb.  After casting out the demon and healing the man Jesus was accused of doing so by the power and authority of Satan.  In response to that accusation Jesus utters these words, “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man?”  Cleary, the authoritative activities of Jesus are serving to bind the power and authority of the “strong man” Satan.

Revelation 20: 1-3 succinctly describes the binding of Satan.  Most Evangelicals are unable to understand this simple passage because they begin with the erroneous presupposition that Revelation 20 is speaking about some future millennial kingdom where Jesus will reign literally on earth (see the heresy of Dispensationalism in “Evangelical Heresies”).  The ministry of Jesus at His first coming had the effect of binding Satan and putting him into the “abyss”.  This was done so that he might no longer “deceive the nations”.  As a result, he is no longer able to possess people.  His power and authority have been dramatically reduced.  Revelation 12: 10 summarizes this event when it says, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.”  Satan has been permanently cast out of heaven and into the abyss.  From there he is no longer able to torment the citizens of the earth.

(Revelation 20:3 speaks of his being “released from prison for a short time” at the end of the present age.  Since this is not an essay on eschatology, I am not dealing with that future reality here.  It is sufficient to say that Satan will be given back some or all of his original authority over the earth at the time of the final consummation.  That period, however, will be short lived and brought to an immediate end by the final glorious appearance of the Lord Jesus.)

As a direct result of Satan being bound, several things follow.  First, there is no such thing as demon possession.  If a genuine example of demon possession exists, it is proof positive that Satan has been released from his prison and Jesus will be returning shortly.  Otherwise, we are not to expect that men will experience demon possession.  I realize that this is difficult for Evangelicals to accept.  This is due, in part, to the fact that they do not understand the nature of the cessation of the charismata.  Demon possession was something that existed primarily to give opportunity for Jesus and His apostles to demonstrate their authority.  Just as other miraculous activities were accomplished by the hands of the apostles in order to attest to their God given authority, so also was the case for demon possession.

When Jesus sent out the seventy on their first missionary mission, they returned to Him marveling that they had the authority to cast out demons.  Luke 10: 18-19 records Jesus’ words to them when they returned to Him:  “I was watching Satan fall from heaven light lightning.  Behold I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you.”  Casting out demons was not an activity that the seventy performed primarily to make the demon possessed feel better.  The primary purpose for exorcism was to attest to the authority of the one performing the exorcism.  The many examples of exorcism in the New Testament, we are told by Jesus, existed for the purpose of dramatically illustrating that Satan was being cast down from heaven to the abyss so that he might no longer have authority over the earth.

The second thing that follows from the binding of Satan is that he is no longer the “deceiver of the nations”.  In the Old Covenant the nations were in darkness.  They had little or no hope.  If a person was to be saved, he had to come out of darkness and join himself to Israel.  Satan was the prince of the nations and those who lived there were in utter torment.  With the coming of Jesus, however, all things changed.  Jesus came to take back the nations for Himself.  After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives the words of the Great Commission to his apostles when He says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth…”  This is a vitally important statement that is frequently glossed over.  Jesus has taken back His authority on earth.  Satan is no longer the one who has authority over the earth.  Jesus has taken it back and, quite importantly, delegated that authority to His apostles.  He continues by saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”  Do you see the importance of that commission?  Jesus has delegated His authority to His Church and commanded Her to go unto “all the nations”.  These are the same nations that used to be under the authority of Satan.  But, Jesus has bound the strong man and is now plundering his house, by means of the missionary activity of His Church.

Authority: The Authority of Satan

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Evangelicals today are practicing Deists.  That is, they believe in two equally powerful deities who are fighting over the authoritative control of the earth.  Those two deities are the God of the Bible and Satan.  In evangelical practical theology, man, fully equipped with free-will, is listening to the sales pitch of both God and Satan and then deciding which spiritual future he wants to purchase.   Satan tempts us with powerful inducements to the fleeting pleasures of sin.  God begs, cajoles and pleads with us to follow Him because His Son loves us so much.  Lest what I just wrote be considered a gross exaggeration, let’s take a moment to look at the three “omnis” of God’s incommunicable attributes and compare them to the power and authority usually attributed to Satan.  Those “omnis” are omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence.

Psalm 139:7 says, “Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Thy presence?”  The answer to the rhetorical question asked by David is “nowhere”.  God is everywhere, all the time.  There is no place a person can go and not have God present.  Of course, God is spirit, so He is spiritually present everywhere.  The ridiculous story about the Soviet cosmonaut who announced, upon his arrival in outer space, that he could not see God so God must not exist, does not negate the reality of  His spiritual omnipresence.

What about Satan?  If we only listen to the televangelists, we would be soon convinced that Satan is lurking behind every bush, just waiting for the opportunity to possess every believer.  Sometimes it is not Satan who is ready to pounce.  Televangelists also give credit to the hoards of demons who are responsible for practically every sinful thought or impulse that exists in the mind of a believer.  Indeed, among charismatic believers, the ancient rite of exorcism is regularly practiced in order to remove the demons from the wayward Christian who has stumbled into lust, greed and avarice.

I believe it is entirely fair to say that Evangelicals believe that Satan and his demons are omnipresent.  Many believers talk about encounters with Satan or his minions on a daily basis.  If our experience is normative for the entire Church universal, then it must be the case that Satan is omnipresent.  There are simply too many believers around the world, all of whom are allegedly experiencing daily attacks from Satan.  The only way that could possibly be true is if Satan is everywhere.  And it is not only the superstitious charismatic believer who is prone to this absurd idea.  Sadly, the omnipresence of Satan has dominated the thoughts of many brilliant theologians throughout the history of the Church.

Martin Luther describes his life as an almost daily battle against the devil.  He literally believed that the devil would come to him and torment him on a regular basis.  John Calvin, in his Institutes, routinely writes about how Satan is wandering around Geneva seeking trouble.  Even the venerable D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had this to say (in his sermons on Psalm 73 recorded in “Faith on Trial”) about the omnipresence of Satan, “And we must not forget the subtlety of Satan.  He comes as a would be friend….You know that I am not speaking theoretically.  We all know something of this; if we do not, we are not Christian.  This is the kind of thing to which God’s people are subjected.  Because they are God’s people the devil makes a special target of them and seizes every opportunity to get them down.”

Do you understand what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has said?  If you have not personally had an encounter with the devil, you are not a Christian!  How many millions of Christians are there in the world at any given time?  How is Satan able to get around to all of them on a regular basis?  Even if he has several legions of demons at his disposal, how are they able to get around to all believers on a regular basis?  Clearly it is impossible.  The only solution to this demonic dilemma is if Satan is omnipresent.

In evangelical practical theology Satan is also omniscient.  It is amazing how Evangelicals testify to how Satan knows exactly the right time to come to them in temptation.  Somehow he is never off in his timing.  How does he know this?  Not only is his timing perfect, the methodology by which he wages war against the believer is also perfect.  He always knows the exact right thing to tempt the believer with.  He wastes no effort.  At the right time and in the right place he brings a temptation that results in evil fruit to the praise of his kingdom.

It is a standard practice in evangelism to inform a new believer that he will soon be experiencing a demonic/Satanic attack.  We tell the new believer that Satan is outraged by his profession of faith and to be prepared to withstand the onslaughts of the devil as he comes to try and take his possession back.  Now, how does Satan know who has recently believed?  How does Satan know when a person has been converted?  How is he able to rush all around the earth with perfect knowledge of who is recently converted so he might torment them?  Does all of this not clearly require omniscience?

We are told that Satan knows everything.  Satan does know some things.  He knew of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of His elect through the sacrifice of His Son.  He knew of his own future.  He knew he would be thrown out of heaven for disobedience.  He knew the Son would come to “bruise his head”.  He knows that his future is the lake of fire.  Many of these things are revealed in Scripture and are knowable.  Nevertheless, how is it possible for the devil to know when and where I was going to repent?  How is it possible to know when and where I will be sure to fall into a particular temptation?  How is it possible for Satan to know who are elect and who are reprobate?  How is it possible for Satan to know anything about the secret decree of God?  From the way Evangelicals talk today it is necessary that we conclude that Satan knows these things because he is omniscient.

Technically it is not correct to say that Evangelicals believe that Satan is omnipotent.  It is not possible to have two omnipotent beings.  It is correct to say that Evangelicals are deists in that they speak as if God and Satan are two equal beings who are almost omnipotent.  There is plenty of heresy to go around.

If Satan has the ability to be everywhere at the same time and to know everything that is going on, then he is obviously omnipotent.  If he has access to the eternal secret decree of the Triune God and if he is able to thwart that decree (as is generally believed by Evangelicals, if they believe in the decree of God at all), then he must be omnipotent.  One of the characteristics of an omnipotent being is that it has the ability to put thoughts into the minds of less powerful created beings.  The entire doctrine of the eternal decree of God is predicated upon his directing the way of all mankind by means of His ability to put thoughts into the minds of men at the subconscious level.  Sadly, this power is also attributed to Satan.  Here is what Lloyd-Jones continues on to say in his exposition of Psalm 73:

At this point I would stress that to be tempted in that way is not sin.  We must be clear about this.  That such thoughts are put to us, and insinuated into our minds, does not mean that we are guilty of sin.  Here again is something which is of fundamental importance in the whole matter of spiritual warfare.  We must learn to draw a distinction between being tempted and sinning.  You cannot control the thoughts that are put into your mind by the devil.  He puts them there….The Lord Jesus Himself was tempted.  The devil put thoughts into His mind.  But He did not sin, because He rejected them.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones is a marvelous teacher who is correct 99% of the time but he is dead wrong here.  He not only asserts that the devil implants thoughts into the minds of man, he goes on to say that the devil had sufficient power and authority to implant thoughts into the mind of Jesus Himself.  That is impossible, unless he is omnipotent.  I have to believe that Dr. Lloyd-Jones was just being sloppy in his thinking here.  The ability to place a thought into the subconscious mind of a man or the Lord Jesus Himself requires omnipotence.  The Bible speaks frequently about how God implants his secret will into the minds of men.  Nehemiah 2:12 (in which Nehemiah is speaking of his own experience), says, “And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me.  I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem…”   Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and He delights in his way.”  Never is the ability to implant a thought into the mind of man attributed to Satan.   Nevertheless, many, if not most, Evangelicals today believe that Satan does just that with them on a regular basis.  Indeed, Satan has been elevated to the status of deity.  Does this make sense?

Adoption at What Cost?

I have been loosely following two families who are in the middle of the adoption process. Both sagas contain nuggets of joy and boxes full of disappointment. The other day, Tim Challies sent me to an article that addresses some of the recent criticism of evangelical involvement in international adoptions. All of this has got me wondering: What is adoption actually costing us?

One of the families I have been following has been forced to spend every dollar they have and borrow additional large sums, and now they are seeking to raise even more money in order to see the adoption actually happen. This is not the cost to which I am referring. If people want to spend all of their money in order to adopt a child, they are free to do so. If other people want to give all of their money to the family trying to adopt, they are free to do so. People’s money is theirs, and they have the right to do with it as the wish (so long as they are acting morally) without facing criticism. The cost to which I am referring is the cost paid by the church.

In the article referenced above, evangelical readers are told to not give up on adoption and that if they don’t feel called to adoption, then they should support someone who is. This statement is an echo of a common belief within evangelicalism, the belief that there is something inherently Christian about adoption and that evangelicals and their churches should be supporting and or operating orphanages for all kinds of people all around the world. Whenever I ask those who hold this belief for its biblical support, they inevitably point me to James 1:27, which says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (NASB). The word “to visit” is said to mean “to look after,” so the argument is that all Christians are to look after orphans by either adopting them or supporting families who will adopt them or supporting or running orphanages.

This leads to a series of follow up questions. How do I know if I am one of the people who is supposed adopt? If I am supposed to adopt, how many orphans do I have to adopt? If I am one who only has to provide support, how much support do I have to provide? Do I have to write a check to cover all the needs of all the orphans in the world? If I do that, I won’t be able to meet the needs of any widows. Am I supposed to meet an equal number of widows’ needs as orphans’ needs? Maybe I only have to meet one need of one orphan and one widow? But what if I meet two needs of one orphan and no widows? Is that good enough?

Do you see the problem here? Jesus tells me that if I love him, I will obey his commandments (John 14:15). I love Jesus, and I want to obey his commandments, but I don’t know how to obey this one. Do you see the predicament in which I find myself? I need to know how many needs of how many orphans and widows I am required to meet. Otherwise, I am left with the dreadful fear that I have fallen short and am living in direct disobedience to what Christ commands, and I am terrified that he will tell me on the last day to depart from him. I know Jesus does not want me to live in this kind of fear, so there must be a way to define exactly what is required in James 1:27.

Indeed, there is a way to define it precisely. The context of the first chapter of James is about relations between different groups of people within the church; and verse 27 is simply echoing what God has always told his people, namely, that they are obligated to provide for the physical needs of the orphan and the widow and everyone else in the church who cannot, for whatever reason, provide for themselves. This command is given to the church collectively. Therefore, every local congregation is always required to meet all of the physical needs of every orphan and widow within the congregation. Anything less than this is unacceptable. Yet, how many evangelical churches actually do this today? Does your church have a list of widows who have a right to financial provisions from the church? Have you ever even heard of a church that has such a list? When a man is laid off from work, does the church make sure his bills get paid from the church budget, or is he sent to the government unemployment line? If a child in the church is tragically orphaned, does the church simply notify the next of kin and provide grief counseling, or does the church ensure that the child’s future is secure and see that he continues to receive proper training in righteousness so that he will learn to obey all that Christ has commanded?

This is the cost to which I am referring. When we herald the adoption of orphans who come from unbelieving families as a fulfillment of James 1:27, we rob some of God’s people of their rights, and we deceive the church into thinking it is obeying Christ’s commands while it actually ignores the needs of its people. This cost is too high of a price to pay. If Christians want to adopt orphans from unbelieving families, they are certainly free to do so. But the church’s responsibility is to its own people. To neglect God’s people is a terrible thing to do. Christ closely associates himself with his people, even the orphan and the widow (i.e. the least of them). When they are neglected, Christ is neglected, and the church ought not be in the business of neglecting Christ.

Authority: Authority and Miracles

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

While we continue to examine the doctrine of authority it is important to see how it relates to another immensely popular part of the Christian life.  The doctrine of authority speaks directly to the doctrine of miracles.  Unfortunately, the connection between authority and allegedly miraculous activity is rarely, if ever, made by today’s Evangelical.  I would strongly recommend that B.B. Warfield’s “Counterfeit Miracles” be a part of every Christian’s library.  Buy it and read it.  Warfield conclusively proves (and I presuppose here) that miraculous (or “charismatic”) activity ceased with the end of the apostolic age and the close of the canon of Scripture.  (I will go into more detail about the “cessation of the charismata” in the essay entitled “Evangelical Heresies”.)  For our purposes here, the connection between authority and miracles needs to be understood.

It is a sickening thing to watch modern health and prosperity preachers rail on and on about the miracles they are supposedly able to perform for anyone who is foolish enough to send them money.  These charlatans cash in on the doctrinal ignorance and personal desperation of the masses of people who are looking for an easy escape from life’s hardships.  Make no mistake about it, all of their alleged miracles are counterfeit!  The only thing that is miraculous about what the televangelists are able to do is how they can continue to fleece the personally desperate and doctrinally ignorant of their money.  We need to understand a bit about miracles before we examine their connection to authority.

First, miracles occur with relative infrequency throughout history.  This comes as a complete surprise to Evangelicals who have been taught to believe that miracles happen several times per day to every believer on the face of the earth.  The whole of Scripture history encompasses about 4000 years, with an additional 2000 years since the close of the canon.  During that 4000 year period of scriptural history, the total number of miracles performed is very small when compared to the number of years, or days, when miracles could have taken place.  Long periods of time passed with absolutely no miraculous activity whatsoever.  The period of time between the testaments (about 400 years) had no verifiable miraculous activity.  The conception, expounded by today’s false preachers, that miraculous activity is normative in the life of all true believers throughout the history of the Church is clearly erroneous.  Most of God’s people lived their entire lives without ever witnessing a genuine biblical miracle.

Second, miracles were never primarily performed to make God’s people more healthy, wealthy, or wise.  The primary purpose for a miracle will be explained in a moment.  For now, consider the fact that prosperity preachers are totally wrong when they assert that God wants to perform miracles to feed the flesh of His people.  That conception of miracles is utter nonsense.  God promises that the lives of His followers will be harder, not easier, when they seek to obey His will.  Jesus warned His followers that they would lose everything and suffer hardship, not experience financial prosperity, when they took up their crosses and followed Him.  Jesus told the apostle Paul that he would have to suffer greatly on His behalf throughout his ministry.  A Christian today should not have the expectation that God is going to feed his flesh by means of miraculous deliverances from poverty and disease.  Death and disease are the necessary consequences of our sin.  Death and disease will continue to reign in our mortal bodies until Jesus returns to conqueror them at the time of His final coming and our bodily resurrections.

Third, Jesus rebuked the people for their craving for miracles and would often perform them as an act of judgment against them.  John 4:48 records where Jesus said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”  Matthew 12:39 records Jesus as saying, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet…”  Indeed, just a few days earlier Jesus had reproached the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, two cities in which He had performed magnificent miracles, that “…if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.”  Clearly Jesus is telling them that the miracles He had performed on their behalf were going to serve as witnesses against them in a time of future judgment.

Miracles are Signs Attesting to Authority

The word most frequently translated as “miracle” in the New Testament literally means “attesting sign”.  The fact that a miracle is a sign is easy to understand.  However, what is the miracle attesting to?  The answer to that question is authority.  A miracle attests to the God given authority of the person who is performing it.  The primary purpose of a miracle is to get the attention of the people for the purpose of dramatically illustrating that the person performing the miracle has the authority of God and is there to bring the revelation of God’s will to them.  All of the other “benefits” of miraculous activity are secondary to this primary purpose.

Throughout scriptural history God has sent His prophets to reveal His will to His people.  The job of the prophet has always been to deliver the revelation of God to His people.  In order to dramatically obtain the attention of the people, the ability to perform miracles was also given to the prophets.  Given the sinfulness of human nature, the people would frequently focus upon the miraculous activity and ignore the message.  That reality was true of the Jews while they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  They remembered all the miracles that took place but they just couldn’t seem to remember that God’s law prohibited the practice of idolatry.   The tendency to remember the miraculous and forget the message was also the primary reason Jesus rebuked the people of His time for “craving” miracles while they ignored the message that He was preaching.  In the New Testament, the apostles were empowered to perform miracles (at Pentecost) in order to attest to their authority as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They were not given power to perform miracles in order to start a healing ministry, or to raise funds for evangelism, or to help the people who were physically or emotionally hurting.  The miracles they would perform (such as the execution of Ananias and Sapphira) were designed to get the attention of the people so the people would listen to the message of repentance from dead works they were about to preach.

When Paul had to defend his apostleship to the Corinthians, he says this, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”  (II Cor 12:12) The “signs of a true apostle” were miracles.  The miracles that Paul performed were not designed to make his listeners feel better about themselves.  The miracles that Paul performed were designed to attest to the authority that God had given him to preach to the Gentiles the Gospel of Christ.  Furthermore, the miracles themselves were not the focus of Paul’s ministry.  It is incomprehensible that Paul would approve of a dog and pony show showcasing his ability to do miracles as a means of raising funds or preaching an evangelistic sermon.  It is impossible to believe that any apostle would ever have made the performance of miracles into the center of any of their preaching services.  The miracles they performed attested to their authority as apostles.  That served as an executive order to those present that God was in the house and it was time to listen to what He had to say, through His designated representatives.

A dearth of understanding of the tie between miracles and representative authority has brought us to the point where the charismatic heresy runs rampant in the Church (more on that in “Evangelical Heresies”).  As a result, individual believers in the Church remain in a perpetually infantile spiritual state.  They crave the milk of miracles and gag on the meat of biblical preaching.  Reprehensibly, there are plenty of false preachers who are quick to capitalize on this reality and make very nice incomes consuming the flesh of God’s people.  I do not expect the false prophets to repent.  They have way too much to gain financially.  I do expect true elders to repent.  True elders need to repent of their cowardice, evidenced by their  refusal to discipline these false prophets out of the Church.

A common type of miracle that is recorded in the New Testament is the casting out of demons from individuals.  When Jesus commissioned the seventy to go out and preach the Gospel of His Kingdom, they returned to Him marveling that they had been given authority over the demons.  That raises an interesting question and introduces the last topic we have to discuss in our consideration of the doctrine of authority.

Authority: Church Government

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

The doctrine of authority has a far-reaching impact upon the form of church government also.  In the exact same was that biblical authority is in direct contradiction to democracy, it is likewise in direct contradiction to congregational government.  Democracy and congregationalism are two sides of the same coin.  In congregationalism it is presupposed that original authority in the church is vested in the individual members.  The individual members also utilize the process of the vote in order to transfer that authority upward in the election of officers in the church.  The officers can be removed when the individual members decide to take their authority back.  In all cases, the majority of the congregation reigns supreme.

Likewise, it is not a coincidence that congregationalism has flourished in states that adopted the democratic form of government.  Throughout most of church history congregationalism was nonexistent.  Although Baptists like to argue that the apostolic church was congregational and that that form of government was lost during the period of the dominance of the Church of Rome, there is no biblical basis for their claim.

There are not a lot of texts in the Bible that address the question of the form of church government.  In those that do, there is no question but that the form of government was Presbyterianism.  Presbyterianism is simply understood as the rule of a group of elders, the church equivalent of oligarchy in the State.  When issues needed to be considered by the early church, the elders from a particular region would gather together to discuss them.  There are no examples of gatherings of members to determine anything. The word that was used for a group of elders was ‘presbytery’.  When Paul would plant a new church one of the first things that he would do was appoint elders for the church who were automatically deemed members of the presbytery.    There are no examples of the congregation electing their elders.  Theological decisions, like the example of the Jerusalem Council, were made by the elders and imposed upon the members.  The members were expected to submit or be subject to discipline.  There are no examples of theological decisions being made by the members and then imposed upon the leaders.  There are certainly no examples of discipline being exercised upon the leaders by the individual members.

A Baptist will search the Bible in vain for examples where the members of the congregation imposed their will upon the leaders of the church by means of a vote.  Voting does not exist.  It is not found anywhere in the Bible because the Bible never recognizes the idea of original authority being vested in the individual.   There is simply no need for a vote.   In congregationalism however, the vote truly is a form of power.  Many a good pastor has been run from office by the personal vendetta of some disgruntled member.  Conversely, many a bad pastor has been allowed to stay in office because of the power of a bloc of voters to retain him.  Grassroots political action is seen at its worst in congregational churches.

Just as the State rarely remains in the functional form of democracy, congregational churches rarely remain in the functional form of congregationalism.  It is inevitable that a strong personality, or a dominant small group of like-minded people,  will come to dominate in a congregational church.  Sometimes this is the Pastor, who will rule the church with an iron hand.  Sometimes it is an influential Deacon and his followers who will also rule the church with an iron hand.  Baptists are notorious for church splits between warring parties within the church who are fighting for control.

Elders are to be appointed by other elders.  Elders are to be ordained by other elders.  Elders are to supervise one another.  Elders are the ones who are best qualified to determine who is an elder.  Elders are the recipients of original authority from Jesus.  A group of elders allows for the strong possibility that one person will not rise to power and become a tyrant.  All systems of government are prone to abuse, given the nature of sinful man.  But the Presbyterian system is least likely to fall into the pitfalls of politics and most likely to allow a church to properly preach the Gospel.  The biblical doctrine of authority makes it impossible for congregationalism to be correct.