Fact or Fiction

It started innocently enough.  Caleb Kaltenbach went to a local Costco store.  His wife had taken a picture of a jacket she liked there and he wanted to get it for her.  On his way out of the store he stopped to look at books in the book section of the store.  He noticed a Bible that was for sale and was labeled “Fiction.”  All the Bibles were labeled that way.

     Caleb is a pastor and thought it was a little amusing, and then thought this might be a great illustration to highlight what people think about the Bible.  So Caleb snapped a picture of the Bible labeled “Fiction” and posted it on his Facebook and Twitter pages.  Those pictures created more than some dialogue on the authenticity of the Bible; it created a media maelstrom that drew the national spotlight on what could more aptly be described as a clerical error, but some claimed was an attack on the validity of the Bible.

     The fundamentalists Christians called for boycotts of Costco, others asked how Christ would respond, some wondered what the hoopla was all about, and the atheists were having a wonderful time of making fun of the reaction by various Christian groups and organizations.  Some conservative politicians used this to blast Costco’s supposed liberal policies.  Caleb never meant for this to happen.

     “To me, most of the groups missed the main point of the issue; is the Bible fiction or is it true?” Caleb said.  He went on to say, “it was never my intention to crusade against Costco or their CEO.”  Costco’s CEO is actually a devout Catholic.  “I am not on the cultural warfare path by any means” explained Caleb.  When reporters and members of the press began asking for interviews Caleb tried to answer their questions honestly and repeatedly said, “I do not think Costco did this intentionally.  I don’t believe there’s an evil mastermind genius working at Costco to undermine the authority of Scripture.”

     Caleb may not believe that, but those who think there is a demon under every rock trying to destroy us would disagree.  For Christians, who are supposed to exhibit the kind of love that “does not take into account a wrong suffered (1 Corinthians 13:5),” there were many who seemed to be wearing a chip on their shoulder and were too quick to whine and start criticizing.  But the issue is real regardless of a clerical mislabel or what people think about Costco.  Caleb was right to pose the question, “is the Bible fiction or is it true?”

     There are some who say the Bible is nothing more than a collection of stories meant to suggest certain moral perspectives, like Aesop’s Fables or Greek mythology.  They dismiss the historical authenticity of the Bible, and that does undermine the authority of the Scriptures.  If the Bible is just a collection of moral allegories it is just one view among many, and is no better than any other moral claim. 

     But the historicity of the Bible is not so easily dismissed.  It records places and peoples many of which can be independently corroborated as being undeniably part of the human story.  The Bible talks about Egypt and Pharaoh, and the Babylonian empire.  These are not fabled lands imagined by some ancient poet, and their inhabitants are not mythological apparitions.  They existed in the time and space continuum we know as human history.

     But again, the Bible claims to be more than an account of human events.  It also claims to be a revelation of God’s divine nature and holy will.  And there’s the rub.  It is more than a fable, more than just a collection of historical events, it claims to reveal a righteous God who expects and demands moral purity, a purity we are incapable of apart from the regeneration of the Spirit of God.

     All Caleb was attempting to do was to take an insignificant mistake and use it as a springboard to discuss an issue of greater significance.  So, the question is not what do you think about Costco?  It is, what do you think about the Bible?  What do you think about Jesus?  Are the Scriptures fact or fiction?  The answers to these questions have eternal significance.

Thanksgiving

There are a host of Scriptures that enjoin us to give thanks to God.  In the midst of prayer, when we are often inclined to ask God for things, we should always be mindful of what He has already accomplished for us, what He is doing on our behalf, and what He has promised in the future lest we seem ungrateful.  In the midst of an ungrateful culture possessed with a sense of entitlement, bound by materialism, and blinded by hedonism, the Christian should be distinguished by an “attitude of gratitude.”  For the Christian, thanksgiving should not be celebrated just one day out of the year; our daily lives should be characterized by “thanksliving.”

     It is of interest to note that the word “holiday” is derived etymologically from the term “Holy Day.”  The annual feasts celebrated by Judaism were memorials recognizing the intervention of God in significant events throughout its history making them “Holy Days.”

     As a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we use the term “holiday” to describe events in our nation’s history.  Of the ten legally recognized federal holidays in the United States, eight are considered secular and only two have clear religious history, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The eight secular holidays memorialize important events in our nation’s history.  They have served to shape our national identity, and since history is “His story” they play an important role in reminding our nation of the sovereign hand of God in shaping our national destiny and role in the history of mankind.  So in a sense they are “holidays.”

     But Christmas and Thanksgiving are ostensibly religious holidays.  Christmas is observed by many countries around the world, but Thanksgiving, as observed here in the U.S., is distinctively American.  It memorializes a time of feasting and celebration inaugurated by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony who had survived their first year in the New World amid harsh conditions and hostile weather.  It was a time when thanks were given to God for a bountiful harvest that ensured their continued survival.  Thanksgiving in America has religious roots.

     Today Thanksgiving means many things to many people.  For most it will be a day away from work, and a time spent with family and friends.  Even the poorest among us will dine on a feast and eat enough to feed a third world family for a week.  Then there is the entertainment.  There will be parades to watch, and football games galore for our viewing pleasure.  The Friday after Thanksgiving will kick off the Christmas holiday shopping season, and that will be something retailers are thankful for.

     It is the blessings of God and the affluence they impart, which also bring the very distractions that may cause us to forget the Author of those blessings.  The very things we enjoy this time of the year could also become the very things that draw our attention away from recognizing and thanking the God who provides them.  This is the reason some observers have said the holiday has become increasingly secular.  Traditionally it was a time to be thankful to God for a bountiful harvest, but it appears to many to have moved away from its religious roots.

     As our society over the years has gravitated to urban areas; we have increasingly been isolated from the rural way of life.  Most do not grow their own vegetables, raise livestock, or engage in any kind of activities that would be associated with farm life.  For most people turkey hunting means picking out the best Butterball turkey left in the meat department at their grocery store.  There is a disconnect between our daily lives and the way of life that provides us with the necessary nourishment needed to sustain life.

     Here’s a news flash.  We are just as dependent today on twelve inches of fertile topsoil, and the right amount of rain at the right time as our Pilgrim forefathers were.  We may be able to fertilize the soil, and irrigate our crops today in ways that were unthinkable then, but it does not take much thought to realize there are a host of climatic circumstances and crop conditions that must happen in concert to produce the bounty we still depend on.  And many of those circumstances and conditions are beyond our control.

     This is not a time to be arrogant or ungrateful, it is a time to give thanks to a benevolent God from whom all blessings flow.  Enjoy Thanksgiving, but take time to thank the One who makes it all possible.

The Family Tree

There is an interest in our ancestry that has been fueled by the internet’s ability to do quick and yet comprehensive research into our pasts.  To be sure it would be interesting to discover if there was someone in our lineage who was famous, influential, or made a significant mark on history.  We think it would be a comfort to know if anyone was great in our genealogy.  I suppose we all have a natural curiosity about who we may be related to.

     Of course, you never know what may be hiding under those unturned rocks of yesteryear.  People do not brag if they discover great-granddaddy was hung for being a horse thief or great-great-grandma was a madam of a brothel.  Sometimes our past is like a Clint Eastwood movie, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

     Family certainly plays a major role at influencing us as we are nurtured in the home.  When you consider the home life of your parents, and their parents, we are in some measure a composite of the past practices, in belief and behavior of our families.

     This is the point being made by Moses when he warns that God will visit “the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” Exodus 34:7.  Moses is not saying children will be held accountable for their parents’ iniquities.  His words are a caution to parents that their pattern of belief and behavior will influence successive generations.  If those patterns are sinful it will adversely affect their children who adopt the same practices.

     This is clearly the case because Ezekiel says,“The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself” Ezekiel 18:20.  The prophet Ezekiel makes the point that we each are responsible for our own sins and not those of a family member from the past or even the present.

     When our forefathers migrated to this country they came for a host of reasons.  Some cam to make their fortunes, others in search of a piece of land they could call their own, and still others to worship as they believed.  While I recognize those early migrants came for many different reasons, the influence of the Christian faith on those settlers cannot be denied.

     Our country was founded in the midst of a Christian consensus and our forefathers had come to enjoy the freedom to worship as they pleased.  This truth can most clearly be seen in that document we call the supreme law of our nation, the Constitution of the United States.  When those representatives of our fledgling nation wanted to insure personal liberties free from government interference they adopted the first ten amendments to the Constitution known collectively as the Bill of Rights. 

     The First Amendment was considered to be a cornerstone for the other nine.  The first words to the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  It is known as the Establishment Clause.  I think that it is significant that when the United States Congress sought to protect individual freedoms, they sought to protect the freedom of worship first.

     It is well documented that our nation’s history and traditions were founded within a commonly held Christian worldview.  Christianity has had a profound influence in our history and our culture.  For good or ill, our nation is still considered a Christian nation by other countries.  Some may even think they are Christians merely because they are born in America.

     Just as we do not inherit, and are thus responsible, for the faults of our ancestors, neither did we inherit their faith.  While God does have children, it has been said He does not have any grandchildren.  Each generation is confronted with the claims of Christ, and each generation must decide for themselves if they are willing to commit their lives to Him in faith.  No one can trust Christ for you.  Each of us must decide whether to trust Jesus with our sins and our lives or not.

     Being born in America does not make anyone a Christian any more than being born in a hospital makes one a doctor.  It is not important which branch you are in the family tree; it makes an eternal difference whether you are a member of the family of God.

Legislative Prayer

The town council of Greece, New York, opens their meeting with prayer.  Because most of the religious leaders in the town are Christian the opening prayers have been predominantly Christian.  Two of Greece’s residents objected to the practice and filed suit.  The case has meandered its way through the appellate system and has now made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Those nine black robed justices will now ponder what, if any, role prayer will play in a legislative meeting.

     I could write a treatise on the role that the prayers of Christians have played in the founding of our nation and the Christian consensus that birthed those prayers.  But I think a history lesson is of little concern in our nation’s rush to self-destruction, or the intolerance of their professed tolerance.  These truths will be immolated on the altar of relevance as the current court struggles with appeasing those of every religious persuasion.  The recent discussions indicate the court’s dilemma over determining what could be considered a “non-sectarian” prayer.

     Justice Samuel Alito asked attorney Douglas Laycock, “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus…Wiccans, Bah’ai.”  Chief Justice John Roberts chimed in, “And atheists,” to which Justice Antonin Scalia added, “What about devil worshippers?”

     The Bible tells a story in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John about a man who is born blind and is healed by Jesus.  The Jewish religious leaders feel threatened that Jesus may cause them to lose their place of influence and position of authority and try to get the man to denounce Jesus.  They question Jesus’ authority saying, “we do not know where He is from.”

     The man who was once blind seems to see a number of things more clearly when he replies, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.”  To the man who can now see, the test of effective prayer is seen in its answer.  He goes on to point out, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him…If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

     Just weeks ago I wrote an article entitled A History Lesson.  It seems appropriate to remind ourselves again that when the original thirteen colonies succeeded in defeating what was the greatest military power on the face of the earth at that time, Great Britain, we were close to never becoming a nation united.  It was the man who history claims was a deist, Benjamin Franklin, who did what deists are not supposed to do; he requested the intervention of God.

     Franklin said, “I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one of our clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

     Given the historical context of Franklin’s request it is fair to say it was Christian clergymen that were called upon, not atheists, Muslim, Buddhists, or Hindu.  It was this gathering at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that forged the document that would later become the supreme law of our nation, the Constitution of the United States.  The first Ten Amendments to the Constitution known collectively as the Bill of Rights were soon added.

     Those early prayers must have been answered.  The reason we have an immigration problem is people come here seeking a better life.  Other nations send their brightest students to be educated here, and despite our financial problems other nations still consider the United States a good investment.  I guess those prayers Franklin asked for were answered.

     It is historically myopic and judicially asinine to deny the practice of Christian prayer before any legislative meeting, when the very document the Supreme Court of the United States is obligated to interpret, was predicated on the very same practice.  It is clear the founding fathers did not enact a prohibition of their own practice nor was that their intent.

     I think the Supreme Court needs to let the Establishment Clause do what it was meant to do, give people the freedom to exercise their religious views.  It is not the responsibility of the Supreme Court to determine what prayer should be or sound like.  There is no judicial dilemma; the Court has no obligation to restrict the practice of prayer.  If the citizens of Greece, New York, do not want their elected officials to have someone pray before a town council meeting, then vote them out.

Where is the Family Resemblance?

Paul said in First Corinthians 13:12, “we see in a mirror dimly.”  Paul is referencing the fact that there some things in this life that are difficult to understand.  Evidently, speaking in tongues is one of them.

     Thirty years ago the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement was in full swing and fraught with controversy.  The movement was schismatic causing division among a host of mainline denominations, and at that time was considered a threat to the church.  I think it was more of a threat to the status quo of the church than its demise, but that was not an accepted view by some then or now.

     The doctrine of cessationism, the teaching that the gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in First Corinthians chapter twelve ceased with the completion of the biblical canon, had fallen into desuetude because it was unconvincing.  For some reason pastor and author John MacArthur has decided to reignite the debate between cessationism and continualism, the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation in the church.

     MacArthur does so even when reputable reformed theologians like him do not embrace cessationism.  Matt Chandler believed in cessationism until he encountered the gifts of the Spirit on a mission trip to India.  Marc Driscoll believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation in the church and the venerable pastor John Piper does not think they have ceased to operate in the church either.

     So what has MacArthur all stirred up?  To be honest, I do not know, and do not care.  I care nothing for a silly insistence that the Spirit of God cannot do today what He did then in the early church.  I am not trying to be mean or disrespectful.  I just do not understand those who claim to be believe in the sovereignty of God, and in the next breath deny His ability to act sovereignly in accord with what He has declared in His Word and He has done historically.

     Biblical truth is derived from a proper interpretation of the Scriptures.  Hermeneutics is the area of theology devoted to the study of interpretive principles.  Understanding the historical and grammatical context of a passage of Scripture teaches us how we should live our lives.  I have said experience alone is a poor hermeneutic, but experience predicated on the practical application of the historical and grammatical context of Scripture is invaluable.

     When I took hermeneutics we were told one of the things we should try and determine in the Bible were those passages that were descriptive and those that were prescriptive, what the norm is and what the exception is.  We need to be careful here because that is a wide open door to subjectivism.

    The Bible in one respect is the story of God’s relationship with man, how that relationship was lost, and how God by His grace has sought to bring man back into a relationship with Him.  In short, the Bible is history and is by definition descriptive.  Does that mean we can ignore the examples in Scripture as being merely descriptive?

     Paul warns the Corinthians that those who perished in the wilderness for disobeying Moses were an example.  “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11).  If those who were faithless in following Moses were considered by Paul to be instructive examples of what we should not do, why would we think that the instructive example of those in the early church is something we can ignore and expect the same results?

     The book of Acts is a record of the early church.  The “acts” recorded in it are not the Acts of the Apostles; they are the acts of God’s Spirit (Acts 19:11).  It is a description of the moving and manifestations of the Spirit of God.  People got saved, healed and anointed with the Holy Spirit.  The first disciples waited ten days in the upper room praying for “what the Father had promised.”  That was the norm then.  The norm today is you cannot get people who claim to be Christians to pray for ten minutes.

     To claim the accounts in Acts are merely descriptive is to relegate them to mere history, when they are a history lesson.  Discounting the example of the early church fathers is probably why there is no “family resemblance” to those who were “first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).