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Written by: C. W. Booth

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Old Wives’ Tales--Say What?

At the mutual age of twelve years old my school buddy and I were talking in the street when a clap of thunder rattled the nearby windows. He said, “Oh, two clouds bumped together.” Startled, I replied, “No, clouds are just water. Thunder is caused by the rapid heating of the air from a static electricity discharge of lightning” (ummmm…those who knew me will tell you I really did talk like that…sigh…).

“My mom told me that thunder is two clouds bumping together!” I again replied, “No, it’s not. She’s wrong.” He belligerently yelled back, “You take that back! Mom! Mom!” The interaction ended abruptly, which was for the best as I had newspapers to deliver and a storm was coming.

Scriptures tell us there are two kinds of teachings: “sound doctrine” which nourishes our faith, and “fables fit only for old women” (1 Timothy 4:6-7). These “old wives’ tales” are theories of the world developed by well meaning people through their casual observation of the world. These theories take shape around what is seen and around what happens to fit what we think we already know about the world. In short, old wives’ tales are untested assumptions and conclusions based on non-rigorous and undisciplined off-hand accumulated experience. Since they are often wrong, like the assumption about thunder, and are frequently passed along by our mothers, they are called fables and old wives’ tales.

Sound doctrine is the teaching of Scripture based on scientific, disciplined, and diligent study of the Bible. Assumptions are eschewed, as are shallow surface meanings that gain their power from unstudied assumptions that arise from near-mindless reading the text of the Bible. Both methods, diligent study versus casual assumptions, both rely on observation, but that is where the favorable comparison ends.

Fables develop because the observer takes everything at face value and does not test assumptions or facts to see if they are consistent and valid. Fable-makers assume they have within themselves all the faculties needed to draw a true conclusion without further research. One who studies will rely on cross-checking assumptions in other Scripture passages, in lexicons, dictionaries, history books, and via linguistic diagramming techniques before declaring it to be fact.

Fables are easy to generate. Sound doctrine is hard work. Fables are usually imaginative, fun, formulaic, feelings or prosperity based, and altogether useless for spiritual growth. Sound doctrine is insightful, meaningful, and causes one to grow in the knowledge of God, and consequently, in genuine faith.

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; (1 Timothy 4:6-7)

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You are invited to leave your favorite theological fable (or old wives’ tale) and why you have come to understand it is a fable.

Addendum by Booth

Examples of two contemporary theological fables that have gained wide acceptance in the church: 1) God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy, 2) God wants everyone to make the pursuit of their own happiness their highest priority.

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[Note: The above essay was originally posted as a blog. As such, it was open to public commentary. Below are select comments from the public and by the author which are considered helpful in bringing comprehension to the topic or in advancing the dialogue.]

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Pulbic Comment 1:

Fable: God would rather have people be coldly anti-Jesus than be a luke-warm Christian.

Pulbic Comment 2:

A cricket on the hearth brings good luck. I always liked Jiminy (sp?) in fact it's because of him I learned how to spell encyclopedia. I miss him. Did someone step on him?

Booth’s response to Commenter 2

You bring up an interesting point. All superstitions are actually spiritual fables, including those events or happenstances that allegedly bring good luck (blessings from the Lord?) and bad luck (cursings).

I know I have written on signs and omens previously, but maybe I need to take a look at curses (bad luck, spell casting, voodoo, witchcraft) and their relationship to Christians.






Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Breaking a Curse: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Christian

On a television show called Seinfeld, a passé sitcom, one of the characters is placed under a curse by an offended acquaintance. The curse calls for the Kramer character to die a premature death. Kramer invokes every ploy, good luck charm, and superstition he can think of to have the curse lifted.

Outside of sitcoms, are curses real? Can one human impose on another human a supernatural punishment of early death, ill health, bad luck, an eternity in Hell, or ongoing demonic oppression? Do houses become cursed because they are built over or close to American Indian burial grounds? Are inanimate objects, like dolls, ever imbued with the curse of a living evil soul?

Can curses become generational, that is, passed from a family to its progeny? Must curses be lifted by ceremony, incantation, good magic, or some other mechanism? What should be done if someone finds out another person has "cursed" them? What does the Bible teach about curses?

To read the rest of this article click on this link: "http://thefaithfulword.org/curses.html"

If you have comments to make after reading the entire article, please post them here.






Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Single Purpose Church

Over the years I have read numerous books on the purpose of the church. The best of these books and articles recognized the biblical mandate that church is to be the womb that trains and equips all ages of believers for all the many ministries ordained by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Even a cursory reading of Ephesians 4 and 1 Timothy 4 leaves the impression that the purpose of being a church is for the equipping of every saint for every aspect of life.

The worst books and teachers see the church as having but one purpose. That single purpose is almost always said to be evangelism. However, the biblical evidence indicates that evangelism is not the mission of the corporate church. The corporate church is a training organization. By contrast to what the organization does, it is the people, individuals who have been trained, that minister, heal, give, encourage, and also evangelize. The purpose of the church is to train and care for the saints who end up doing a diversity of different good works and ministries, only one of which is evangelism.

Contemplate what Jesus told the apostles in Matthew 28. Make disciples, baptize them, then teach them everything that Christ ever taught to the apostles during the three years He was their earthly Rabbi. Evangelism is not the mission of the church, making and training disciples is.

When a church misunderstands the mission of the church the first thing that happens seems to be a weakening on training the saints for all areas of life. Instead of “wasting time” on training every saint how to live and how to study the Bible, that “wasted time” being better spent evangelizing, it becomes more pragmatic to resort to formulas and programs.

  • Do you want to know how to raise children? Then follow this book’s formula for child discipline and stop wasting time and get out their and evangelize.
  • Do you want to know how to strengthen your personal relationships with the in-laws? Why? They’re just a distraction to getting out there and evangelizing--they’ll understand if they’re even remotely spiritual.
  • Do you want to know how to study the Bible? What’s to know, every passage is a metaphor or an allusion to evangelism.

As a result, Bible study becomes evangelism studies or outreach studies, pulpit preaching is shallow instead of expositional, and teachers always find a way to make the lesson be about evangelism. Worse, seminary training for all the pastors and teachers in the church is dismissed as overkill, and in the latest stages, seminary education for anyone is outright discouraged.

The second thing that happens is the judging. How many people did you talk to this week? How many people did you bring in to the church? Why are you wasting time on the counseling ministry, it is not helping the purpose of evangelism? Why are you teaching that class in hermeneutics, it’s diverting everyone’s attention away from evangelism? Do you own a television; doesn’t it take time away from your evangelism efforts?

The third and final stage of the downward slide of the single purpose church is the abusive control exercised by leadership. They begin to marshal everyone to conform to their numeric goals and their formulas of behavior to achieve that goal. Their goals and projects become the law, a form of legalism around which everything else draws its value.

How a family spends its time becomes subject to scrutiny by the leaders if the family does not seem to be participating enough in the evangelism projects. Leadership will counsel that marriage choices must serve the church’s mission of evangelism. Higher education is not a valued goal because it does not serve the mission of evangelism, so only the most unspiritual will pursue it. Personal relationships are programmed not to be nurturing but to be shallow and temporary; just sufficiently engaging as to allow a gospel presentation to be delivered. Every church member’s spiritual gift somehow comes out to be evangelist, missionary, or one who serves or supports the missionaries.

Ultimately, the spirituality of every member is measured by everyone else in the church, and always and only in terms of evangelism. Yet, the Scriptures inform that spirituality is only measurable by the individual (1 Corinthians 4:3-4), and only then in terms of personal holiness and personal obedience to the entirety of the Law of Christ.

An unbalanced church, particularly one heavily weighted to the single purpose of evangelism, quickly becomes abusive and judgmental. While evangelism is a good and necessary practice, and must be trained in the local church, it is not the mission of the church.

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[Note: The above essay was originally posted as a blog. As such, it was open to public commentary. Below are select comments from the public and by the author which are considered helpful in bringing comprehension to the topic or in advancing the dialogue.]

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Pulbic Comment 1:

Whoa! This church you describe is a total mess! Judgmentalism, shallowness in relationships, neglecting young Christians, brainwashing children, discouraging those who study to show themselves approved unto God, basing a relationship with God purely on works (evangelism), and doing all for the sake of accumulating statistics.

Fortunately, most churches do not stress evangelism to those extremes. Some churches barely even acknowledge the need to share their faith with those they minister to. It always happens, though, that a church develops a "personality" and is stronger in one area than another. The church is Christ's church, and it is important that we always look to Him as the Head. We are fallible, He is not. The church is made up of believers...each one a child of God. What He has begun in them, He will continue to perfect until we all come into the likeness of Christ. The local church should be the place that nurtures that growth - you are right about that, but the Holy Spirit is the One who works within that church to do His good will.






Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Was Jesus Trying To Teach? -- The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Common Knowledge Is Sometimes Not Knowledge

Everyone seems to think they know what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about and what it means. That the parable is so famous and so widely recognized is a very good thing. But is everyone correct? Do they really know what they think they know about the parable? Here is a set of self-assessment questions:

  1. Was the main point of the parable that people should do good works of charity? (T or F)
  2. Was the original ultimate purpose of the story to describe what a neighbor was? (T or F)
  3. Is the story secretly an allegory predicting that Jesus would be a sacrifice for humanity? (T or F)
  4. Essay question: in 30 words describe how the parable answers the question asked by the lawyer about how to acquire eternal life.

For some it will comes as a surprise that the correct answers for questions 1 through 3 are “false.” But, more importantly than answering quiz questions is that one can correctly answer the last question and apply Jesus’ words to eternal life. Just how is it that the story of the Good Samaritan answers the question, “How may I attain eternal life?”

A Story Within a Story

The parable of the Good Samaritan is actually a fictional story inside a factual story. Luke was recounting the life of the historical Jesus. One of the stories he told about Jesus was when a lawyer solicited from Jesus the secret of obtaining eternal life. After interacting with the lawyer for a while, Jesus delivered the tale of the Good Samaritan, thus, presenting a fictional story within the bigger story of the Lawyer and Jesus.

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And [the lawyer] answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'”

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And [the lawyer] said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:25-37)

It is not possible to understand the fictional story, the parable, of the Good Samaritan without first understanding the story of the Lawyer and Jesus. The bigger factual story is what gives the fiction its meaning.

The Main Question: How Does One Secure Eternal Life?

When the lawyer, an expert in the Old Testament “Law,” asked this young upstart Rabbi how to secure eternal life, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?,” Jesus did not provide the most direct answer. First He asked the lawyer how he thought one could lock-in eternal life. The lawyer provided an interesting answer: love God and love your neighbor. In fact, Jesus affirmed that the lawyer had answered correctly! “You have answered correctly, do this and live.”

Jesus called “love God and love your neighbor” the two greatest commandments of all (Matthew 22:38-40). Moreover, Jesus said the entire Law was dependent on those two commandments. In other words, without those two commandments as the basic foundation, there was no Law. Similarly, Paul called love the “summation of the whole Law” (Romans 13:9).

As it is the starting point, ending point, meaning, intent, and summation of the entire Law it is important to know what “love” means. Love means never doing any deed that performs wrong against, or harms, anyone else (Romans 13:10). Love means doing only good to another, even to an enemy (Luke 6:35, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Therefore, to love God perfectly means to never sin against God, for to sin is to do a wrong against God. Doing a wrong against another person, such as God, is not to love them. Love never does wrong against another.

To love a fellow human perfectly means only doing good to them and never harming them. That means only doing good to them and for them even when they have declared themselves to be your enemies.

When Jesus told the lawyer that if he loves God and loves others then he will live eternally, He meant it. And if the lawyer had been able to honestly say back, “Yes, that is what I have always done.” then there would have been no parable spoken because the lawyer would have been affirming that he was the first man to ever keep the entire Law and so the first to have earned eternal life.

However, the lawyer knew he failed the test. He had not perfectly loved his neighbors. So he said, “Who is my neighbor?” He did this trying to justify his sinful conduct toward other people. It is rather a hopeless situation trying to justify your sins to the perfect Messiah, the holy Creator. Still, the lawyer tried.

No one need justify their deeds to God when their deeds have been righteous. So, by attempting to justify himself the lawyer was admitting he had not loved others as perfectly as the Law required. So the lawyer challenged the Law so as to justify himself.

The lawyer knew that it required perfect love for God and perfect love toward other people to gain eternal life. Imperfect love fails to attain to eternal life. The lawyer knew this so he tried to “justify himself” by disputing what the meaning of the word “neighbor” was in the Law. Again, not the best strategy when the Law-giver is the one with whom you are debating the meaning of the words used in the Law. To answer the lawyer’s self-justification Jesus told the parable.

Illustration of Perfect Love for a Neighbor

The Samaritan in the fictional story was Jesus’ way of demonstrating what perfect love acted like toward a hated neighbor. When Jesus told this story to the lawyer, the lawyer realized he could not attain eternal life because he had not loved his fellow neighbor perfectly, and certainly he had not loved his enemies with the same perfection that the Samaritan illustrated.

Worse, the lawyer already knew that he had also failed to love God perfectly. Without a doubt he knew that the Law said that no one loves God so perfectly as to always do good toward Him, “there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1, 3, 53:1, 3, Ecclesiastes 7:20).

So then, Jesus delivered the truth. Eternal life requires perfect love, perfect deeds, and perfect obedience to the Law. Through the parable He proved that no man is perfect in deed or love. Via the parable Jesus convicted everyone there of sin and put them on notice they all deserved Hell, not eternal life.

When Jesus told the people who had gathered to “go and do the same as the Samaritan,” He was charging them to stop sinning and to be perfectly good, to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Yet, He knew the heart of men and knew that all men have sin within (John 2:24-25). No man is perfect, though they must strive to be so, and all men need a saving sacrifice. All men need to place their faith in Jesus as the only valid sacrifice for sins if they expect to receive eternal life.

Allegorizing the Parable

But could the parable have also been an allegory about Jesus cleansing our wounds and paying for our debt of life, like the Samaritan did? It is more than simply unlikely, it would fight the convicting nature of the parable itself. When Jesus told the crowd to go and do what the Samaritan did, if the Samaritan was meant to allegorically represent Jesus sacrificially saving mankind, then Jesus would have been telling everyone to also become Messiahs and to die as sin sacrifices to take away the sins of humanity. Clearly this particular parable is not an allegory that teaches that Jesus is the Samaritan, for twisting it into such an allegory would ruin the genuine theme of the parable.

It is also hard to see how this story would allegorically picture a salvation sacrifice or experience. The injured Jew never did repent or express faith in or thanks to the Samaritan who rescued him. Neither did the Samaritan give his life in exchange for saving the life of the Jew. These damaging facts also militate against this having been meant as an allegory.

Further evidence that suggests the parable was never intended to be an allegory about Jesus as the Messiah is that Samaritans were not full blood Jews, but had intermarried with pagan nations. Scripture repeatedly states that the Messiah must be a Jew of the royal line of David, and it is unlikely that Jesus would have contradicted his own claim to being the Messiah by illustrating Himself as being not fully of the royal Davidic blood line.

Additionally, Jesus told the Samaritans that “salvation is from the Jews” and not from the Samaritans, for their worship was false, having embraced a god “which they did not know.” It seems beyond reason to think Jesus would have undermined His claim to true divinity and as the fulfillment of the Law by illustrating Himself as a worshipper of a false and unknown god.

Conclusion

The parable of the Good Samaritan was a direct answer to the question about whether good works can save a person. It illustrated what the actions of perfect love look like. By showing all the assembled Jews that they had not lived up to the standard of perfect love for God or perfect love for their neighbors and enemies, they had all condemned themselves and fell short of securing eternal life.

What does it take to be saved? Perfection, or rather, perfect love. But since all people sin, a perfect sacrifice to pay for that sin is needed. Jesus is that perfect sacrifice in whom faith must be placed.

Jesus demonstrated to everyone that they did not have perfect love for God and they did not have perfect love for their neighbors. The parable was not an allegory but a simple yet convicting illustration of God’s expectations for perfect actions. No one but the fictional Samaritan and the historical Jesus have ever behaved that righteously. And only Jesus ever gave up His life to save us from our imperfections and sins.

What must a person do to secure eternal life? If the person has not been, and cannot be, perfectly loving or sinless, doing no wrong to God or anyone else, then that person must call out to Jesus in faith to pay that debt of sinful imperfection.

Addendum

My wife, having read the first version of this essay, informed me she did not remember reading in the biblical text that the lawyer had tried to justify himself. To her mind, that is the key point that brought meaning to the parable. Therefore, I have edited the essay and added the actual story of the Lawyer and Jesus to help make it easier to recall that the lawyer was trying to justify himself. Thanks to my wife for her input.


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