Last week saw the release of the first trailer for Noah - a film, based on the very same Bible story, starring Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins and a ton of CGI effects. It's due in the cinemas in March and it will without a doubt provoke a “flood” of internet debate. “Water” lot of fun that will be. Ahem, sorry for the puns I'll stop now.
I can already see how this is going to pan out. The charismatic church will embrace the film with open arms, arrange church trips to go see it and delight in the fact that we can at last pretend to be “relevant” and maybe even “cool” (as though Christianity could ever be cool). The broader evangelical church will probably recognise some of the problems with the film but will likely go watch it anyway as it's only a bit of “harmless entertainment”. This film could well become a staple for evangelistic film nights everywhere, for which I am tempted to deeply apologise for. In contrast, the Reformed church will largely produce thoughtful, intelligent, discerning articles about the movie and whether Christians should support or avoid it but there will be some more angry rant pieces as well. Oh yes, and the media will highlight any number of whacko fringe groups reacting against the Noah movie as though it's the biggest sin of mankind since the fall. Any intelligent discourse will be drowned out (this pun was unintentional, I promise!) and the general message that all Christians are either a) hypocritical or b) crazy will be safely maintained.
Ok, this is a very cynical response to the whole affair and I would love to be proved wrong about it. I would also like to put out my thoughts now, before the debate probably begins. Obviously, having only seen the trailer I'm not working from a position of full information so these are just early thoughts. But what I've seen is enough to raise some concerns; as such I have ten questions I want to ask.
There must be many who, secretly or not so secretly, despise the church for the fact that in the year 2013 large sections of the church still teach that allowing women or practising homosexual ministers is wrong and against God's will. Fortunately, our standard is not what society may think of us but rather the word of God as our 'supreme rule of faith'. Still, even accepting this there are disagreements within the church over these two issues.
Recently, I was pondering the biblical case (or lack thereof) for practising homosexual ministers and it suddenly occurred to me that I'd thought about these issues before in another debate within the church, this time on women ministers. It is interesting to reflect on the extent to which those arguing for the acceptance of women ministers and those arguing for the acceptance of practising homosexual ministers use much the same type of arguments for making their case.
One argument involves the Christian teaching on gender and the other the Christian teaching on sexuality. Any attempt to make a biblical case for them involves explaining away explicit bible verses to the contrary. This does not automatically make the ideas wrong – there are parts of the Bible which are no longer applicable today (the Old Testament sacrifice system or civil laws for Israel for example). But it's important to note that to faithfully argue against what the Bible says on a matter must involve using another part of Scripture that overrides the other. For example, the New Testament authors are quite clear that because Jesus implemented a new covenant the old order of things passed away. Hence we have a biblical reason to not obey another part of the Bible.
Over the past year I've said a fair bit about the Church of Scotland, most of it critical, (check out here and here) and I'm afraid that trend is only going to continue. It's not that I have a grudge against them or anything, in fact, I was converted under the preaching of a Church of Scotland minister and there are many faithful godly men working away in the national church. But their faithfulness, especially in this matter, is inconsistent.
For those of you who don't know the Church of Scotland is meeting tomorrow (May 18th) in order to vote on whether or not practising homosexual ministers should be allowed. The debate is split between conservative evangelicals who argue that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and the church should not give way to the cultural trend. And on the other side are the liberals who argue we should ignore the Bible, or rather, 'interpret the Bible in a modern framework'. As you can guess from my sarcasm I'm siding with the biblical view, we have no other authority, society can say what it likes, we must stand on the Word of God or we will fall.
Yet with all the discussion happening two things have vexed me. The first is that there seems to be no recognition that the Church of Scotland has brought this on their own heads. As the Bible says: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6v7). In this case, the evangelical members of the CoS are reaping the fruits of allowing liberalism within the church to grow. The Bible has a clear command on the issue of necessary separation:
Today an interesting link cropped up in my newsfeed on Facebook. It was a short blog post on the website for Central church detailing a story of a student and a recent encouragement she had. It's probably best to quickly read the post here; should only take a few minutes...
The post provides an excellent example of two of the main errors of the charismatic movement. In saying this, I don't want to be too harsh on Bethany Frank, she is only recording an event as she has been taught to think of it. Nor do I want to detract too much from what is an overly 'cute' but nevertheless broadly encouraging story of God's care for his people.
Talking about the ordinary gifts of the Spirit using the language of the extraordinary gifts
This will require some explanation. I use the term ordinary and extraordinary in their theological sense to talk about the difference between the 'general' gifts of the Holy Spirit (giving, hospitality, preaching, etc) and the 'extra special' gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing. I also want to affirm that the ordinary gifts are just as supernatural as the extraordinary and all gifts stem from God's gracious care for his people.
An hour from now I may lose my life wrestling with an escaped bear. I know, it sounds unlikely (I’d win for starters), but bear with me in my point. As human beings we experience the now and can remember (to some degree) the past but we are always blind to the future. After all, the future is very resistant to prediction. The twists and turns of our lives make complex patterns that we can never fully follow, predict or anticipate. For Christians, as we deal with the ups and downs of life, we face an added layer of struggle which is the battle between sight and faith.
We all know this fight well. Something bad happens and sight, that is our immediate experience of the event, says: “I can see no good in this.” while faith quotes Romans 8 v 28 and says: “ALL THINGS FOR GOOD!” Faith being unnatural to us, we will by default place greater store on sight. It is an interesting condition: being limited finite creatures unable to see how the future will pan out, we place greater trust in our own limitations than we do in God. Oh the folly of unbelief!
For what we are prone to forgetting is that faith is always the wisest option, it presents to us the most accurate picture of what is going on, it presents to us certainty while sight presents to us mere predictions of uncertainty.
In the book of Hebrews faith is described in the following way: ““Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is a sure and certain thing! While sight is not so sure and most definitely not certain.
In many ways I would love to be able to support theistic evolution for it would allow me to say that God is creator and yet still maintain my intellectual credibility in the eyes of the world. It would sidestep a debate that often gets bogged down in insults, anger and misunderstandings and it would avoid arguments that can often detract from talking about other issues of greater importance. If there is one view that I hold that will regularly result in insults (from both non-Christians and, tragically, Christians) then its being a six day creation literalist.
But my own 'intellectual credibility' forbids me from taking that path. It boils down to a simple question of ultimate authority: is it man's reason, as found in 'science'; or is it God, as found in his Word? Given that, as I will explain, theistic evolution is not supported by the Bible, how then can I accept the ideas of men above God? That is why my argument against theistic evolution is theological not scientific - the Bible is our ultimate authority on this matter.
At its essence I see the creation/evolution debate as no more than a choice between God's description of events or man's description. It would be foolish to accept man's opinion of creation above the Creator's opinion on creation!
This is hardly an unusual position to be in. Academic thought and biblical thinking have often battled with each other in various fields. After all, the resurrection is a subject where we happily reject the notion that it is a scientific impossibility and accept the truth of the Bible on the subject. The point is, being scorned for truth is not surprising, the world scorns us for the truth that homosexuality is a sin, abortion is murder and Sunday is the Lord's day. Why should we be concerned when a similar thing happens with creation?
As we venture into this debate let us bear in minds the words of Jesus: "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." (Matthew 5 v 11 - 12)
Edited last paragraph because I didn't realise women priests were already allowed by the CoE. Terms like bishops and priests confuse us reformed folk!
A year or so ago I was having a discussion with a friend about girls and I passed on a particular pearl of wisdom (not my own): “Sympathy not solutions.” To my concern the expression on my friend’s face furrowed into a confused frown so I expanded my explanation saying that when a woman comes to you with a problem unless they specifically ask for help all they want is sympathy whereas for men we expect and give solutions. I could see the cogs turning in his mind as he assimilated this information before with a great cry of frustration he said: “But that’s not logical!” My reply was a wry laugh. The point of my hopefully amusing anecdote is that men and women are different. It may seem a pretty obvious observation, akin to the observation of Newton that apples fall to the ground, but it is a truth that I feel is often forgotten. For instance, I bet some people reading this will immediately assume that by different I meant ‘inferior’ or that my story somehow is meant to reflect badly on women (when frankly it says more about men’s inability to cope with anyone more emotionally complex than a teaspoon). The reason I mention this is because of the recent decision by the Church of England not to allow women ministers, well, it was more that not enough people agreed that they should allow them. In particular I write because of the reaction I observed on Facebook to this decision.
The comments made by my non-Christian friends did not bother me too much for this is a question of Scripture and theology and the unspiritual man cannot understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2 v 14). But it was the reaction of my Christian friends that saddened me for many were expressing disappointment that such a decision had been made. So I write this letter because the love of Christ compels me to and because I know we all share a desire to love God with all our heart, soul and mind; that we want to obey him in every aspect of our life because as Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14v15) and that we hold Scripture to be the Word of God, inspired and our final authority on all matters of religion.
Picture the scene: you’re in the front line of a vast army, all around you men mutter to themselves, prayers, words, devotions, anything. In the distance you see another army so large as to dwarf yours. It’s coming closer, soon you can pick out the individual faces of the men opposing you, you feel a bead of sweat trail down your back, you stamp your feet into the hard ground, you feel the men around you shift and move, the call goes out! SWORDS! All around you men unsheathe their weapons, metal flashes in the sunlight, swords are pointed towards the enemy, you see a similar array of deadly weaponry being carried in your enemies’ hands. You swallow nervously and reach for your sword. It’s not there. You’ve gone and left it at camp. You’re a wally. A first class, top notch, imbecilic wally. You flush in painful embarrassment. You’ve made the most basic mistake possible. The only consolation you have is that you’re not going to live with the shame for much longer. In fact you’re not going to live for much longer.
Ladies and Gentlemen: that wally was me. What an irrevocable fool I was! There was standing on the front line without a bally sword to wield.
Er, you’ve not been in any battle
Wrong, I was and still am. You see the whole of humanity is engaged in a spiritual war where there are only two sides: Christians and everybody else. Christians have Jesus Christ as their Leader, their Lord and Saviour. Everybody else has the Devil as their slave master.
So I was on the front line of a spiritual battle. I was up against the forces of darkness. Quite literally. The unseen spiritual realties are just as real as the seen physical realities.
Right, so what’s this about a sword?
All Christians need one. To both defend themselves and attack back at the enemy. By our sword we live or die.
So all Christians need to buy a sword?
Nope, well maybe, but in all likelihood they already have a sword. They’re just not using it.
Look, I don’t have a sword.
“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ephesians 6 v 17
As Christians our sword is the Word of God. The Bible.
What’s so important about the Bible?
Everything! It is the foundation stone of our faith, the cornerstone of our salvation, by it Christians grow spiritually. That is why leaving my sword, leaving my Bible behind was so stupid. Christians need to read the Bible and they need to do it regularly. In past years I haven’t: I’ve gone days, weeks without reading it. I’ve been too ‘busy’, I’ve ‘forgotten’, it just wasn’t a priority for me.
Because the Bible is God’s Word! His direct and holy revelation of himself. You see, Christians live in a world of lies and deceit. Overtime we can come to start believing in these lies and falsehood. We can become down and discouraged. Yet everytime we read the Bible it sweeps these lies from our minds. The absolute truth of the Bible is the only effective way to combat the lies of this world. And we need to remind ourselves of the Truth constantly because we are being reminded of the lies just as constantly.
As Jesus says:
"It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Matthew 4 v 4
When Jesus spoke those words do you know what happened? The Devil fled! God’s word causes the Devil to flee from us! In the same way that not eating would mean we starve; not reading the Bible means our spiritual life is starved. We become led astray, we become weak and helpless. Our souls don’t burn as brightly.
I know this to be true! For all of 3rd, 4th, 5th and most of 6th year at school I rarely read my Bible, I rarely prayed and I suffered for it. Looking back on it now I can’t believe how low my spiritual life was. What’s worse was that I was blind to my own inadequacy. I was blind to my own failure. But in the mercy of God I was challenged. I was on a weekend away with the CU and each talk the guy made hit home with painful, shameful accuracy. When I returned home I made sure that reading the Bible was my top priority. And God kept me reading it!
Any other reasons why?
YES! The Bible allows us to glimpse the glory of God, it reveals his character, it reveals his will, it sings his praises, it tells of his grace, love and wrath. It contains a thousand promises from God to us today. It is always up to date, it is always relevant, it is always scientifically accurate. It sets down God’s law, it tells of the glorious salvation that all men need, the Word is Jesus and Jesus is the Word. When we read God’s Word we are reading God himself!
It is used to bring people into the Kingdom of God, it judges the wicked, makes humble the proud, it saves lives, it saves sinners. It enlightens, encourages, challenges, builds up, tears down, it is in places beautiful, it can be terrible, it is the absolute truth in this lying world. It is more powerful than any nuclear weapon, it can withstand any attack, it is the best selling book on this planet, it outsells Richard Dawkins, it is the Christian’s comfort, our compass through life, it contains everything we need to know, it will never go out of fashion.
It is perfect, holy, all powerful, all knowing, all loving, all just, all glorious, in short the Word of God represents the very God that wrote it!
After all, why do I quote it so often? Because it is God’s word. My posts are only accurate in so far as they are aligned with God’s word. The minute I stray from the truth of the Bible is the minute in which I could fall into error.
What benefits does Bible reading bring?
As Psalm 1 says:
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.”
Psalm 1 v 2 – 3
Here the law of the Lord is just another name for the Word of God. As Christians our delight should be in the Word of God. For when we read it and mediate on it we prosper. Fact.
What other benefits does reading the Bible bring?
In the same way that prayer is a two way conversation between man and God so is the Bible a two way conversation between God and us. Reading the Bible is not a passive experience. It speaks not just to our minds but directly to our souls. The Holy Spirit with Christians confirms the truths of the Bible and applies them to our lives. As we read the Bible God speaks to us!
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”
2 Timothy 3 v 16
God-breathed! God permeates the entire Bible. All of it useful. All of it helpful. All of necessary to get anywhere in the Christian life.
But more than that: reading the Bible refreshes the spirit. If God in his mercy hadn’t revealed my depths of folly in not reading the Bible then I would have never discovered the encouragement of Psalm 91, I would never have fully appreciated Romans, I would never have been challenged by Timothy, learned from the life of David, had my views corrected on the power of grace! If I hadn’t started reading the Bible in earnest I shudder to think what I would be like now.
I find reading the Bible hard
Join the club; there are times when it seems like the last thing I want to do in the world. My advice to you is to get into the habit of reading the Bible regularly. Bible takes top priority, set aside a time each day when you WILL read the Bible. Personally I read it over and just after Breakfast (and when I’m blogging!). I do this because I have breakfast everyday so I read the Bible everyday. Obviously you’re life is different from mine – the key thing is to make sure that nothing else gets in the way of reading the Bible.
Isn’t reading the Bible everyday legalistic
No, it’s just wise. Sure, reading the Bible everyday won’t make you more saved than you already are. But it will make you grow spiritually; you will grow in righteousness for God’s word has God’s power in it. A power to transform our lives: to break down our masks, to uncover our sin and force us into repentance. And to build us up, to teach us God’s ways, to bring into the light what would otherwise be dark.
I find the Bible hard to understand in places
Yes, the Bible contains difficult passages, Revelation for example but the truth is we have been given the Holy Spirit – God in our hearts. Through the Holy Spirit we can reach a level of understanding we alone would never reach. We’ll never fully understand the Bible but this shouldn’t surprise us we can’t fully understand God.
Yet in saying all this the most important truths of the Bible are simple to understand. We’re sinners, we need a Saviour, Jesus’ death on the cross provided that salvation. Oh yes, and as Christians we NEED to read the Bible.
You can be a Christian and not read the Bible but you’ll be like the man who forgot his sword – dead. We’re in a battle people! The forces of darkness would just love to get their hands on a weaponless Christian. If we don’t have the Word of God how can we fight the Devil? How can we resist lies? How can we grow closer to God? If we aren’t reading the Bible we’re useless. As the Children’s song went:
“Read your Bible and pray everyday and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
It really is that simple.
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