Hall of Silence

A quiet place to reflect on God, His Word, and His Church

Category: Doctrine

Category Errors

Thayer:

The word evangelism is a transliteration of euangelizesthai, which is a verb meaning “to proclaim the gospel” (the gospel being euangelion). Where no proclamation has taken place, there has been no evangelism. Where something other than the biblical gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.

Good deeds, hard work, dedication, honesty, and kindness are all good things, but they are not evangelism. These other good things may help prepare people to hear the word of salvation (Titus 2:9-10), but until that word has been spoken we have not evangelized.

A farmer needs to prepare his ground. If it is new ground he clears it of trees, rocks, and other obstructions. The ground must then be plowed and harrowed. But the job is not done until he has planted the seed. No matter how well he has plowed, the farmer has no hope of a harvest until he has planted the seed. Likewise, until the gospel word has been presented, the church has no hope of a harvest of souls.

I suspect that the main reason why Christians try to redefine every conceivable act of Christianity as evangelism is due to the fact that a lot of Christians believe in the Satanic doctrine of equality. Consequently, everyone is expected to be an evangelist. Since not everyone actually goes out and literally proclaims the good news of Christ, it stands to reason that many Christians are failing in their supposed duty to evangelize. The problem is that it doesn’t really make sense to condemn otherwise good people for not being active proclaimers and thus it is necessary to redefine Bible words so that everyone can be considered to have done their evangelistic duty.
Consider, however, Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12:27-31:

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Just as not all are called to be apostles, teachers, prophets, miracle-workers and healers, so too is it the case that not everyone is called to be an evangelist. We are not equal to one another (at least in this life), and therefore it is perfectly fine if not every last Christian is an evangelist or evangelizes. Not everyone is called to do that. And that’s just fine.

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Matthew 5 and Pornography

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

Matthew 5:27-30

[Note:  this post is a thought experiment.  The arguments made in this post should not be considered advocacy.]

Christ’s condemnation of lust in this context is predicated on its pathology, in that it leads to adultery.  He does not say that it was sinful to lust after a woman, save insofar as it was covetous to do so.  Furthermore, his prescriptive remedy is conditional (“if your right eye causes you to sin…”), which implies that it is not the looking that is sinful, though it can result in sin.  Thus, his disciples should guard against lust because of where it can lead.

Not only that, he specifically targets adultery as the reason to avoid lust, and not the more general term “fornication.”  Since adultery implies that at least one of the participants is married, there is the potential for covetousness in the act of lust.  If the one doing the lusting is married, then one’s lust is definitely covetous since the object of one’s lust cannot rightfully belong to the one doing the lusting. Conversely, if the one doing the lusting is lusting after one who is married, then this also conveys an element of covetousness since the object of one’s lust does cannot rightfully belong to the one doing the lusting.

That aside, the broader issue regarding pornography is the matter at hand.  Since lust is not condemned as inherently sinful (only as leading to sin), the question then becomes:  would lust be sinful if it could not lead to sin?  For example, if one were to lust after the images of a dead porn star, would this be wrong since there is no way that the one doing the lusting could ever commit adultery with the object of one’s lust?  Additionally, if there is no practical way to act on lust (i.e. one would never have access to the object of one’s lust), can lust be considered sinful since there is no way to act on it?

Some might object to lust on the general grounds that it leads to an increased tendency to commit adultery in general.  This objection is not particularly relevant, though, since Christ makes it clear that lust after a specific woman leads to committing adultery with that specific woman in one’s heart.  While general lust might be condemned under the auspices of leading to a general tendency to commit adultery, specific lust should not be condemned for leading to a general tendency to commit adultery because that pathology does not necessarily follow.

When all is considered, citing Matthew 5 to condemn pornography is not an air-tight argument since Christ’s condemnation of lusting after a woman is predicated on its specific pathology.  It is thus tricky to base a general condemnation on a specific claim.  However, there are plenty of good arguments against pornography, particularly those that are based on a theological perspective derived from nature or a theological perspective based on ideal relationships.  Thus, it might be better to base an argument against pornography on a more theologically sound argument instead of trying to find things in God’s word that aren’t actually there.

Second Service

A while back, the preacher of the congregation I attend was asked about the scripturality of eliminating evening services.  It seems that the person asking the question had heard of several nearby churches cancelling evening services because attendance was generally and relatively low, and thus wanted to know if this was a good, bad, or morally neutral.  The preacher, to his credit, noted that such a decision is not inherently sinful or unscriptural.  However, he still decried the various churches’ decision to cancel evening services on the grounds that worship services are always a chance to learn and be encouraged, and that we should thus take advantage of every last one of them.  I wondered if there were any others who thought this way, and if they wouldn’t mind answering a few objections.

[Note:  second services and evening services are used interchangeably throughout.]

How Did Second Services Come About?

This is, I believe, a very key question to ask since the answer is kind of interesting.  Prior to 1940, the standard practice of the church of Christ, and even among various denominations, was to meet once on Sunday morning.  There was no second or evening service, nor was there a mid-week Bible study.  People simply gathered together in worship one morning a week, and that was it.

When WWII happened, though, there was a tremendous push by the federal government to prepare for war, which meant that factories producing weapons, armor, ammunition, ships, tanks, and other martial products needed to be at full production.  This led to factories being in production mode twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even Sundays.  This provided a conflict for some Christians, who felt compelled to join in the rush to produce weapons for nationalist reasons, even if that meant missing worship.  To accommodate those whose loyalty to their earthly nation was greater than their loyalty to Christ’s spiritual kingdom, many churches offered evening services to those whose work schedule precluded from assembling with their brothers and sisters in the morning.  Thus, the practice of evening services was the result of excusing the sin of trying to serve both God and Mammon (and, even worse, prioritizing the latter over the former).  As such, those who defend the practice of second service should do so with the understanding that this practice was very much born in sin.

If A Second Service is so Valuable…

The original argument that the preacher made was that additional services are spiritually valuable.  I assume this is a tautology since I cannot readily think of any way of measuring this assertion, let alone testing or falsifying it.  However, this assertion does beg the question:  if a second service is so beneficial, why not have a third or fourth service?  Why not require that all Christians worship from 12:00:00 AM Sunday morning to 11:59:59 PM Sunday night?  Would not this arrangement be the most spiritually beneficial one?

Of course, these questions exist merely to point out an absurdity.  Namely, that the vast majority of people recognize the concept of diminishing returns.  Yes, worship is good and beneficial, but there comes a point where each additional minute spent worshiping starts to lose value, and may even turn negative, which is why no church has a twenty-four hour worship service on Sunday.  Having established that worship has diminishing returns, the next reasonable question to ask is:  how do we know that we don’t experience significantly diminishing returns during second service?  There is no way to quantitatively and empirically answer this question. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it.

Incidentally, I am familiar with a couple of congregations who cancelled their evening services.  Both congregations were happier, and said their morning worship felt more meaningful.  I do not have further data, but this anecdotal evidence suggests that the second service may not be as beneficial.

Are Human Beings Finite?

This is also another key question to ask, as its answer indicates that humans, being finite creatures, have a limited capacity for learning and encouragement.  Paul himself noted that much study (presumably of the Bible) was wearisome to the flesh.  Furthermore, it is tautological that there are limits to human emotion.  As such, it follows necessarily that there are limits to just how much a Christian can learn during worship, and how encouraged he can become.

Of course, this truism is borne out to some extent in the aforementioned thought experiment about diminishing returns.  There is nothing that so readily demonstrates man’s finite capacity as diminishing returns.  In keeping with this observation, then, that man is finite, the following question must be asked:  if man is finite in his capacity for learning and encouragement, why not try to maximize one’s feeling of encouragement and one’s learning in one service instead of two or more?

To put it another way, if worship is so encouraging, and such a good opportunity for learning, why can’t congregations reach their members’ capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  Does this inability to satiate men’s finite capacities suggest some sort of failure?  To state it yet another way, why is it that we don’t try to satiate men’s capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  And are we failing one another if we don’t?

Summary and Implications

As is clearly seen, the second service was sinful in its conception and initial practice.  It has been deified by some, but even its staunchest supporters will not agree to adding a third, fourth, or twenty-four service because they themselves recognize the diminishing value of additional meetings, even though they seem not to recognize man’s finite capacity for the benefits of worship.  Thus, the defenders of second service are put in the untenable position of hypocritically defending a practice born in evil.  Worse still, if they argue the spiritual primacy of having a second service, they are in effect condemning those Christians before them who never had an evening service.  Therefore, it should be clear that evening service is unnecessary at best and corrupting at worst.  Thus people should not only refrain from complaining or worrying about its demise, but should be actively encouraging it.

Must We Always Defend Truth?

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”  —I Peter 3:15

There seems to be considerable consensus among members of the church that we must always make a stand for the truth, no matter what.  The aforementioned verse certainly seems to validate this mindset.

However, there is a qualitative difference between being ready to give a defense and actually giving said defense.  It is akin to the difference between owning a fire extinguisher and using a fire extinguisher.  Obviously, you can’t use a fire extinguisher if you don’t have one, and likewise you cannot give a defense if you don’t have the ability.  Also, owning a fire extinguisher does not inherently necessitate using it; likewise, being able to give a defense of the hope that is in you does not necessitate doing so.

Now, there will inevitably be times when we must give an answer for the hope that is in us.  Religious challenges are more common that minor house fires, after all.  But must we always defend the truth?

Consider Christ’s words:  “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  This is a moral imperative, and the meaning is readily discerned:  do not share the goodness of God with those who will either fail to appreciate it or actively work against it.

God understands that his human servants have a limited amount of resources at their disposal, including the most valuable resource of all: time.  God does not expect his servants to waste their time defending giving an answer to those who are not honestly interested in the answer.  How could a God that wishes the whole world to be saved prefer that his servants to evangelize the determined lost instead of those who are honestly seeking the truth?

There are certain reasons for defending the truth that are noble; leading others to a knowledge of the truth is certainly among them.  There will undoubtedly be some people who genuinely want to know the truth and—hopefully from observing our conduct—will come to us asking to more about what we believe and why.  We should be both willing and able to give an answer for the hope that is in us to these sorts of people.

However, there is one occurrence of giving an answer that is problematic:  defending the truth to show people that we defend the truth.  There is no point to doing this, as this is nothing more than status-seeking.  People won’t judge us in the final day, so defending our faith in God to them is pointless, especially since there are not seeking the truth.  God already knows our hearts, so he doesn’t need us to defend the truth to the dishonest and uninterested to know that we are willing to do so.

Further, in keeping with Christ’s commands to not cast our pearls before swine, there will be occasions when defending the truth is pointless, and therefore we will have an obligation to occasionally abstain from defending the truth.  Our time and energy can be better spent doing other things for the cause of Christ and in defense of our faith in God.

Now, it is important to note that this command requires that we use judgment.  It is up to us to determine if the person who is asking for a reason for the hope that is in us is genuine and sincere in their search for the truth.  We must consider the question and answer accordingly.  We must also examine our own motives, to ensure that we are genuinely attempting to lead others to the truth, instead of simply demonstrating our won righteousness and faithfulness.

In sum, we must always be willing and able to defend our faith, but we must also exercise judgment and discretion when doing so.  We are forbidden from wasting our time with the spurious, rebellious, and dishonest.  Ultimately, our duty is to be ready for battle, as it were, but not to rush into battle blindly or foolishly.  We are called to defend our faith, and we are called to do so prudently.

Lot’s Wife and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Recently, there has been a big to-do from Mac Deaver and others regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism.  The theory is that when one is immersed in water for the remission of sins, one is also immersed in the Holy Spirit simultaneously.  The latter half of the assertion is not stated explicitly anywhere in scriptures, and the examples of Holy Spirit baptism are not consistent with this assertion (timewise, at least).  However, this does not invalidate the assertion.  To understand why, consider the following argument:

Let us suppose that I theorize that Lot’s Wife’s name was “Laura.”  Does the Bible tell me that Lot’s Wife’s name was Laura?  No.  Does the Bible tell me that Lot’s Wife’s name was not Laura? No.   Is the Bible’s silence on the matter proof that Lot’s Wife did not have a name at all?  Such an assumption would be absurd.  The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible is silent on the matter of the name of Lot’s wife. As such, it would be wrong to claim that her name is “Laura,” and it would be just as wrong to claim that her name was not “Laura.”  The silence of the scriptures on this matter proves nothing.

Let us now suppose that I theorize that Holy Spirit baptism occurs simultaneously with water baptism, and causes me to be born of the spirit.  Does the Bible tell me this happens?  No. Does the Bible tell me this doesn’t happen?  No.  Is the Bible’s silence on this matter proof that this is beyond the realm of possibility?  Such a question is absurd.  The Bible’s silence proves nothing conclusively.  It is possible that Holy Spirit baptism occurs simultaneously with water baptism; it also possible that Holy Spirit baptism does not occur simultaneously with water baptism.  We simply do not know.

We are commanded to speak as the oracles of God.  If God is silent on a matter, we must be as well.  We understand this principle when it comes to Lot’s Wife, which is why brethren have never written a lengthy book theorizing about her name.  Why can’t we make the same application to Holy Spirit baptism?

Doctrine and Theology

Ever wonder where self-contradicting doctrine comes from?  It comes from not understanding God.

There is a general tendency for students of God’s word to spend time studying the finer, esoteric points of doctrine, usually in the guise of pursuing truth.  While it is true that one can find truth in the gritty details of Biblical doctrine, it is still easy to get sucked in to believing a self-contradictory doctrine if one does not see the big picture before delving into doctrinal details.

Studying the big picture is called theology.  Theology means the study of God, and refers to the process wherein one comes to a better understanding of God and his nature.  This is not always easy to do, as it requires prolonged rational abstract thought, as well as a broad Biblical perspective.  God is likely totally incomprehensible to man, although that does not mean that man cannot come to understand some aspects of God’s nature.

Anyhow, the theological approach to Biblical interpretation and doctrine, though difficult, provides a more consistent framework for doctrinal interpretation as it necessarily gives one a broad-based view of the Bible.  As such, one must always find balance in interpreting individual commands and tenets in order to avoid taking a position that contradicts another position.

But beyond this, all doctrine is derived from theology anyway.  People who take the approach that God will make an exception for them (say, because their heart is in the right place) are basically saying that God is a respecter of persons.  Those who spend much time trying to regulate how church treasury funds are used are basically saying that God is both materialistic and an accountant.  (It is amazing how some brethren spend more time talking about the Lord’s money than the Lord does.)  But, at any rate, doctrine and theology go hand in hand.  If your doctrine is self-contradicting than it is likely that your theology is wrong.

In sum, theology is the big picture and doctrine is simply the details of the aforementioned big picture.  There is thus no point in quibbling over details if we don’t understand the big picture.

Drugs and the Church

Virtually every member of the Church of Christ that I have met believes that using drugs is sinful.  Most of the arguments they offer to prove this have serious flaws.  Here’s a list of many anti-drug arguments are bad.

Bad theology:  Some Christians argue that drugs are inherently immoral. However, God created everything, and everything he created was “good” (cf. Gen. 1 and 2).  Now, certain synthetic drugs would be excluded from this theological consideration, but organic drugs like tobacco and marijuana were most certainly created by God, and therefore have his stamp of approval.  This does not mean that God expects man to get high, but the claim that drug use is wrong because drugs are inherently immoral is simply absurd.

Double Standards Regarding Drug Use: Some Christians disapprove of certain drugs because they are illegal (think LSD, Marijuana, Ecstasy, etc.).  However, these same Christians readily approve prescription drugs simply because the government has approved of their (limited) usage.  That the government approves of one drug but bans another is not proof of the morality or immorality of using any given drug.  The government is not the arbiter of morality, God is.  As such, the ultimate standard for the morality of using a given drug is not the government but God.

Bad Terminology:  Some Christians argue that drugs are wrong because they are mind-altering.  There is simply no way to prove this, except tautologically. Even then, any given tautology could only apply to the one asserting it.

Bad Science:  Some Christians recognize that a more-provable assertion is that drugs are brain-altering.  This assertion is predicated on a false assumption.  Namely, that the brain is a static organ.  Neurological research indicates that the brain is very much a dynamic organ (cf. The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge), changing its structure on a daily basis.  Its function also varies second-to-second.  This means that the assertion is based on the assumption that there is a “normal” (or static) state of the brain that drug use causes deviation from.  There is absolutely no evidence for this view.  In fact, most evidence suggests the exact opposite.

Double Standards Regarding Drug Effects:  Some Christians argue that drugs have a measurable impact on brain function, by the way they stimulate the brain.  This argument is hypocritical in a variety of ways.  First, all stimuli have a measurable impact on the brain (eating food produces a sort of high, drinking a soft drink produces a sort of high, standing in sunshine produces a sort of high, etc.).  Second, some drugs impact the brain in the same way certain God-approved activities do. For example, ingesting crack is neurologically identical to having sex.  Are these same Christians now going to condemn any and all forms of sex because it has a measurable impact on brain function?

Bad Statistics:  Some Christians claim that drug usage is a gateway to other sins (e.g. smoking pot leads people to participate in crimes unrelated to drug use, like theft).  A simple statistical analysis shows this claim to be false, for it is reported that around 41% of adult Americans have tried pot.  Yet, less than 22% of all adult Americans have committed some sort of crime.  For those who are bad at math, 22 is less than 41.  This means that, at best, there is a slightly better than 50% chance that a drug user will also be a criminal.  50-50 odds just aren’t that good.  Thus, there is minimal positive correlation between drug use and other crime, and so this assertion is also false.

Term Conflation– Many Christians have a tendency to treat all drugs the same.  However, there is simply too broad a range of drugs to lump them all together.  Hallucinogens are different from depressants, from stimulants, from amphetamines, etc.  Not only that, they also fail to consider the difference between organic and synthetic drugs.  Different drugs have different purposes and uses, and these need to be considered when addressing the issue of drugs.

When all is said and done, it appears that many in the church have failed to think through this issue as they ought.  This failure to consider the issue of drug use has led to sloppy thinking, sloppy argumentation, and bad doctrine.  We need to do better.