This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel

I customarily write about current issues from a biblical perspective.  I do so because so often the Christian viewpoint in our culture is either ignored by the media and others, or misrepresented.  I occasionally write about someone whose life is an inspirational example of what it means to be a Christian, and I sometimes write about doctrinal issues.

     I want to preface this article with some comments on hermeneutics, that branch of theology that addresses the principles of biblical interpretation.  I have said experience alone is a poor hermeneutic.  Scripture defines Christian experience; our experience does not define Christian doctrine.  I have also said lack of experience is a poor hermeneutic.  Just because I have not experienced something declared in Scripture does not mean it did not happen, or will not happen again.

     Forty years ago I was a member of Allandale Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.  It was my home church, a Southern Baptist Church.  At that time Southern Baptist churches were embroiled in the charismatic controversy.  I recall the sharp differences of opinion on both sides of the issue, and witnessed some mean-spirited things said and done on both sides.

     I remember reading what a number of leading Southern Baptist scholars had written on the subject.  They all agreed that the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in chapter 12 of First Corinthians were not for today, but not a single one agreed on what the gifts of the Spirit were.  I thought at that time their disharmony indicated they did not know what these gifts were, and if they did not know what they were, how could they now say what they are not?

     This launched a personal search for the truth on this issue and today I embrace a Pentecostal theology.  I know the term Pentecostal carries a lot of baggage with it, most of which I do not wish to claim, and certainly do not want to carry, but it comes with the territory.

     I am attending seminary online, and currently taking Church History I.  In our readings this past week we learned how the canon of Scripture was recognized by the church and completed.  Our readings said that Pentecostals had “tendencies to emphasize the ongoing nature of prophecy,” and rejected the notion of a completed canon.

     I willingly admit my ignorance far outweighs my knowledge, but I am not aware of a single credible Pentecostal scholar who believes the canon of Scriptures is not complete and sealed.  The gift of prophecy we read about in First Corinthians chapters 12 through 14, is something distinct from the process of inspiration that produced the completed canon.  The gift of prophecy, as I understand it, is not equal to, or in completion with the completed cannon, but rather a prophetic utterance that is judged by its agreement with Scripture.  I will share a personal anecdote I hope will clarify.

     Years ago a friend of mine was led to assist a missionary in Puerto Rico for a year.  Paul, Gene and I were young married men with families and we shared a call to the ministry.  We had a final get together before their leaving.  When we arrived at the cookout God told me to tell Sharon, Paul’s wife, “Your children are going to be alright.”  I resisted telling her this because it did not make sense, the children appeared to be fine. But the Spirit of God was insistent.

     So I said to Sharon, “God has told me to tell you, your children are going to be alright.”  Sharon burst into tears.  She said that when Paul had decided to go to Puerto Rico she had started researching the island country to gain a better understanding of its cultural background.  She discovered Voodoo was still a commonly practiced folk religion in Puerto Rico.  From that time she had recurring nightmares with Satan telling her he was going to kill her children.  Not wanting her fears to influence Paul’s decision or cause him concern, she had kept this constant torment to herself.  When I spoke, she was both edified and consoled (1 Corinthians 14:3), and her fear relieved.  They served in Puerto Rico and returned with the children healthy and safe.

     Obviously this story is not an attempt to augment the canon, but it does show that the story of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is not finished, and will not be until Christ returns.  It is reminiscent of examples we see in the Scriptures like Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:9-10).  “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel,” Acts 2:16.

The Expendables

This article was published last year, but since January 22, 2014, is the forty-first anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, I thought it appropriate to visit this issue again.  It is estimated that more than fifty-five million babies had been aborted since Roe was decided.  This figure is more than nine times the number of Jewish men, women and children that died in the Nazi-inspired Holocaust.  This is why some refer to abortion as the American Holocaust.

     The basic philosophy underlining the Court’s decision is the fetus is not legally considered a person until birth and as a result lacks legal protection under the U. S. Constitution.  Advances in medical science have made huge strides in neo-natal care challenging the limits of ex utero viability, and the advent of sonograms have put a decidedly human face on the developing baby in the womb.  For these reasons, the incidence of abortion is on the decline, and Roe may be facing its demise.  But a new threat looms.

     Two professors, Francesca Minerva at the University of Melbourne and Oxford University and Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan, published a paper two years ago in the Journal of Medical Ethics promoting “after-birth abortion.”  Among the many arguments put forth by Minerva and Giubilini are “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons” and “killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be… including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

     You read that right.  While the authors make a strong argument for the killing of a newborn with a birth defect, they also make it quite clear it should be permissible to kill a healthy newborn if “the well-being of the family is at risk.”  Since a newborn is not “morally relevant” and the newborn cannot “be said to have aims,” it is not an “actual person” and has no right to life.  If you think this is an isolated opinion, keep reading.

     Consider Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University who has said “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person.”  He is essentially in agreement with Minerva and Giubilini.  But this is the same Peter Singer who in an article entitled Heavy Petting advocated sex with animals is ethically permissible as long as it was mutually enjoyed and consensual (I know what you are thinking, but that is his position).  I know there is a difference between abortion and bestiality.  I only mention Singer’s views on bestiality to show you where his ethical mindset is.

     The fact that Minerva and Giubilini’s article appeared in an “international peer-reviewed journal” is of some concern.  It is indicative of an apparent ongoing debate among medical professionals, and the publishers considered it a worthy topic for public discussion.  Infanticide, killing infants, had been practiced in ancient times.  Until the recent publication, I thought infanticide was a matter from the dark and ancient past.  But the issue has resurfaced and is evidently being given serious consideration among some supposed “ethicists.”  An issue I thought had been relegated to a more benighted period of human history has been reborn and reached the light of day.

     Early in the debate about abortion opponents argued that legalizing the practice would place our nation on a “slippery slope” of moral decay taking us in a direction and at a speed we would not be able to control.  We are no longer on that slippery slope.  These “professors of ethics” are suggesting we take a flying leap from the brink of common decency and human dignity into a free fall in an immoral abyss.

     In Psalm 139:16 we read, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”  I see two important truths here.  Life is sacred because it is a gift from God, and life is precious because it is measured.  I once thought that those who held a different perspective did not believe in God.  I now think I may be wrong; they may believe in God, they just think they are Him.

     I guess I always knew there were those who viewed human life in such cold, utilitarian terms.  But, I never thought such views would be given a public hearing, or serious consideration.  I never thought newborns would be considered expendables.

I Wish I Had A Ticket

Ken Ham President of Answers in Genesis is slated to debate Bill Nye host of the popular TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy on the matter of “Is creation a viable option of origins?” on February 4, 2014, at 7 PM.  Ham is also the founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, which will host the event in its 900 seat Legacy Hall.  Tickets sold out within two minutes of being released.

     It has been said, “The first casualty in war is the truth.”  This is because when a nation goes to war against another nation it employs propaganda to inspire or convince its citizenry of its decision, and to support that decision with their lives if necessary.

     Truth is also the first casualty in a war of words.  That is what a debate is.  In the pursuit of victory truth is often mortally wounded and as the debate rages truth slowly bleeds to death.  Also the push to win a debate can turn mean-spirited, and that is not a Christian attitude.  This is why I generally do not care for debates, they tend to generate a lot of heat but little light.

     There are other concerns.  Reading the transcript of Clarence Darrow’s cross examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial was an eye-opener.  As Bryan thumped the Bible and ridiculed evolution he came across as arrogant and ignorant.  Hubris is not one of the fruits of the Spirit, a Christian should not be characterized by his arrogance.  Such an attitude does not serve the cause of Christ well.  Next, if as believers we hold there is no contradiction between true faith and true science, we need to be prepared to give intelligent answers to the legitimate questions of science.  When debating many believers act like Bryan.

     So this debate has generated an interest in me.  I want to see how Ken Ham treats Bill Nye when they meet.  Will he be courteous and fair to Nye?  Will he treat Nye respectfully?  I think this will be more important than how Ham addresses the subject of the debate.  But, I am also interested in how Ham will treat the subject matter.  Will he make a sound argument for creation?  Will he represent his fellow believers well?

     I am also interested in how Bill Nye treats this subject.  Will he be honest?

     Science consists of gathering data through observation of natural phenomena or observation and recording results of experimentation in a controlled environment such as a laboratory.  At its essence, science is observation.  Observation reveals facts and scientists speculate on what the facts mean and this gives rise to theories.  There is a huge gap between what science observes and what science speculates.

     When it comes to the origin of life, that gap is about 3.5 billion years.  Scientists theorize life began 3.5 billion years ago and they have formulated several theories about the origin of life, but the whole scientific community is not in possession of a single observed fact about how life began.  They can only guess how life began because they did not observe how life began.  If you think that last sentence is an exaggeration, read on.

     The National Academy of Sciences is a group of about 2,100 scientists representing every major science discipline.  About two hundred of their number have received Nobel Prizes in their various fields of study.  They are often called upon to advise the Congress of the United States regarding technical or scientific issues affecting pending legislation.  They promote the teaching of evolution and oppose the teaching of creationism.

     In a publication entitled Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition (1999), page 7, we read, “Of course, even if a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago.”  This is a stunningly honest admission by a body of highly respected scientists.  Since the origin of life is an unobserved event shrouded in antiquity, they must admit they do not know what happened.  This same admission is repeated almost verbatim in a 2008 publication entitled Science, Evolution and Creationism, page 22.  Both publications can be viewed free of charge at the National Academies Press website.

     So, will Nye be honest about what science knows and what it does not know?  We’ll see come February 4.

     Though I typically shun debates, I would be willing to make an exception here.  I wish I had a ticket.

Some Thoughts on the Future

Having crossed the threshold of a new year I cannot think of anyone that would not like to know what the future holds.  Fortunetellers and palm readers are a testament to that truth, but they are both ungodly and untrustworthy.  The Bible is full of prophecy most of which has already been fulfilled.  Some have estimated ninety-five percent of biblical prophecies have been completed with about five percent remaining fulfillment.

     But that future five percent according to the Bible is at once clear in some points, and yet obscure in others.  Conflicting eschatologies lend cogent truth to that statement.  I have thought the intrinsic obscurity was intended by God to prevent any attempt to unscrupulously profit from such advance knowledge.  God gives us enough light about the future to let us know He is in control, but not enough light so that we attempt to control others.  God never intended for us to profit from a prophet.

     One of the points the Bible is very clear about regarding the future is there is coming a time of trouble to mankind that is unprecedented in the annals of human history, and one of the obscurities is the timetable of when the church will be raptured, either before, during, or after this time of trouble.  This may explain what I mean when I say the Scriptures are clear and yet obscure at the same time.  Some will find the uncertainties about the future disconcerting; I find it comforting that our Father has revealed enough in His Word for us to live optimistically by faith.

     While I am sharing on God’s perspective of the future, I thought I would comment on two words found in the Scriptures that give us some insight, foreknowledge and predestination.  Some say these two words when used in the Scriptures mean the same thing; that is semantically asinine.  Foreknowledge is a function of God’s omniscience, and predestination is a function of God’s omnipotence.  There are some things God foreknows and some things He predestines to occur.

     While I see them as two different functions with entirely different meanings, I do not believe that within the heart and mind of God they operate independently.  Let me explain with a biblical example.  I do not believe God predestined the fall of Adam and Eve, but I believe He foresaw it, and prepared a remedy by predestinating a Savior.  I believe the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary’s cross was in the heart and mind of God at creation.  The Father predestined a Savior because He foreknew our first parents would sin.

     Understanding this distinction between foreknowing something and predestinating something to happen is important in understanding biblical prophecy.  Prophecy is the product of one or both of these functions, and grasping that truth and applying it can make what God says about the future clearer.

     When His disciples asked Jesus about things to come (Matthew 24:3) He said there will be “wars and rumors of wars,” Matthew 24:6.  I do not believe God has predestined wars and the concomitant horrors associated with armed conflict, but He does know that when men turn from dependence on Him they will turn on one another in a struggle over control of available resources as the population grows and those resources dwindle.  Thomas Malthus said much the same thing.  God has not predetermined the troubles to come, but He has foreseen them, and has forewarned us. 

      The troubles ahead arise from the humanist view that man can solve his own problems; that man can eventually “save himself.”  God will allow mankind to pursue its own plans, but the political upheavals and cataclysmic events prophesied in the Scriptures will not occur because God has predestined them to, but because He will allow man to discover that apart from God man does not have the answers to solve society’s problems, nor can he even master the very environment in which he lives.  We cannot save ourselves from ourselves or anything else.

     So how can I remain optimistically in faith?  The righteous man “will not fear evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord,” Psalm 112:7.  The cliché is trite but true; I do not worry about what the future holds because I know Who holds the future.  Those believers who remain faithful will be labors in a great harvest of souls.