Is it Idolatry or Passion?

Bible and hands

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted what the writer, Michael Gerson, believed was commonplace among Christians, that of bowing to the golden calf of the extreme political right. He made this claim in his article entitled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles.’

Because this accusation that Christians worship conservative politicians is common on the left, I have decided to respond to Gerson’s article. I do this both with the purpose of helping you defend your faith against such an allegation as well as a reminder of the importance of keeping your passion centered on Jesus and His Word.

Although I am not saying that Christians are immune to carrying their political support too far, I believe what Gerson regards as idolatry from his vantage point within the confines of Washington, D.C. is nothing more than passion for what we hold dear out here in the heartland. Let me explain.

The Danger of Identifying with a Political Movement

Although I disagree with almost all of what Michael Gerson wrote, he is correct about the dangers of Christians identifying too strongly with any political movement. This can lead to unwelcome results for us and if anything of what Gerson writes is true, he is correct in regard to this warning.

However, the believers I know do not fall into Gerson’s characterization as being “foot soldiers of Bannon;” the majority do not even know anything about him. In fact, many of these so called “foot soldiers” strongly dislike both Bannon and President Trump (although they could never have voted for Hilary Clinton because of her pro-abortion stand). The sharpest criticism I faced for my support of President Trump last year came from fellow believers, not from supporters of Hillary.

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

The numbers simply do not support Christians blindly adapting “Fox News values” (whatever that means) as Gerson claims. If one assumes that everyone who watches Fox News is a Christian (and such is definitely not the case), this would amount to about 3 percent of everyone who claims to be an evangelical. How can he claim we all receive our values from a source so very few of us even watch?

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

Instead, I see a passion to core beliefs, to Scripture, rather than any idolatry to a person or political movement.

Core Beliefs

We are not “panting and begging” to be part of someone else’s political movement as the writer asserts. That is patently absurd. For the vast majority us, we do “confidently and persistently” represent a core set of “distinctive beliefs” but not those Gerson describes. It’s Scripture; this is the basis for what we passionately believe and seek to uphold.

First in order of importance, for both those of us believers who like President Trump and for most of those who despise him, is the sanctity of life. Many of us turned against the Republican establishment when they refused to remove funding for Planned Parenthood from the budget after they gained a majority in the Senate. In spite of the proven allegations that Planned Parenthood actively harvested and sold body parts from the precious babies they murdered, the Republican leadership refused to take a stand against this organization and continued to fund them with our money.

If you want to know why so many people applauded when Bannon said “it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment,” that is it. This in no way signifies any blind allegiance to Bannon as the writer suggests, but rather a rejection of an establishment that blatantly betrayed the prolife values of those who voted for them. Because of this, I would have also cheered loudly when he said that.

The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Scripture teaches that life begins at conception and biblically based Christians have actively opposed abortion since the inception of the church. Followers of Christ rescued babies that were being aborted in the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the church. The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Human Dignity Does Not Equal the New World Order

I am confused by why Gerson believes that “economic nationalism” is contrary to our vision of “human dignity” and “social justice.” We strongly believe in legal immigration and in giving people an equal opportunity to come to America and prosper. Our views on immigration are totally consistent with what President Clinton repeatedly advocated when he was president. It’s the left that has changed their opinion of what “social justice” signifies in regard to immigration, not us. Is it a crime against “human dignity” to want to ensure that those coming to our nation do not drive trucks into large groups of pedestrians and bikers or attack people with a knife in a mall?

Gerson also appears to believe “social justice” can only be accomplished through a New World Order. Why else would he contrast “economic nationalism” with supporting “human dignity?”

Gerson fails to establish why this assertion is true. History has repeatedly shown that Socialism, the darling of the New World Order advocates, inflicts the most damage on “human dignity.” Venezuela provides a prime example of the tremendous suffering that results when Socialism is fully implemented.

Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s claim that the “religious right” has ties to “alt-right leaders” and flirts “with white identity politics” could not be further from the truth. The pastor of my church, on the Sunday after the violence in Charlottesville, angrily denounced and condemned white supremacy along with all forms of racism. Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s remarks here constitute a cheap shot at the Christian community and one for which he should be ashamed. His comments represent a blatantly false and worn out claim that no longer has any merit. He should be ashamed of himself for making this claim against us.

The believers I know value human dignity and strongly uphold the Judeo-Christian belief in the “inherent value and dignity of every life.” This is the reason we so passionately oppose abortion, which constitutes nothing less than murder of the innocent.

The fact that we pursue a different approach to protecting the “dignity of every life” does not mean this goal is any less important to us. Gerson condemns us without understanding our point of view.

The Common Good

Gerson upholds the “common good” as the ultimate standard. What does his use of this phrase signify? Is it not another way of saying that right and wrong are determined by the needs of the moment or by common consensus? But who determines the “common good?”

The Nazis convinced millions of Germans in the last century that the “common good” signified the elimination of all Jews. Can we trust any system of ethics that relies on the “common good?” The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter. Should others condemn Christians because we rely on the changeless Judeo-Christian values of Scripture rather than ever-changing standards put forward as the “common good?”

The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter.

Gerson claimed that the Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare failed because the party could not show why it was in the interest of the “common good” to do so. Really? Is it in the public interest to impose penalties on people who cannot afford to pay ridiculously high premiums for their health insurance, which in some cases have doubled in spite of sky high deductibles?

I also question Gerson’s reference to Jesus as a “globalist.” Why did he say that? Is he suggesting that Jesus would somehow support the New World Order he seems to advocate?

Yes, Jesus commanded His followers to take the Gospel to all nations. He did this on the basis of His authority as God so that all people would hear the good news of salvation. He sent out His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to a world perishing in its sins and subject to God’s wrath unless they repent. I believe it is a huge leap to go from that to claiming that Jesus is a globalist in the modern usage of this term.

Gerson’s identification of Christians as the foot soldiers of Steve Bannon could not be further from the truth. It’s a faulty attempt to identify all followers of Jesus based on the actions and beliefs of a tiny group at a conference who may or may not even represent true believers of Jesus. And, who says that applauding for a speaker equals idolatry to him?

Yes, there is a danger in believers identifying themselves closely with any political movement and we must be wary of this. Loving and serving Jesus while upholding the truths of Scripture is our first priority as we take the Gospel to a perishing world.

As followers of Christ, we seek to provide relief to the suffering and persecuted throughout the world through such organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse that spends $800 million each year in this regard. The believers I know also contribute much personally to help those around them as well as to organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse. We care very much about the hurting in this world and seek to uphold human dignity whenever we can.

We will not escape criticism for our beliefs; this is a given. All we can do is uphold the timeless truths of Scripture, express our enduring beliefs in the most loving way possible, and reach out to those in need around us with the good news that a far better day that is coming in which justice and righteousness will reign supreme as Jesus rules over the nations of the world.

Jesus and His words must always be the basis for our passion. If this is mistaken for idolatry then so be it. We will follow Jesus.

 

When Jesus Speaks . . . .

Bible Pic2
Jesus still speaks to us today!

Do you remember the EF Hutton commercials from several decades ago? In the midst of a loud and boisterous party someone uttered these words, “EF Hutton says. . . .” Instantly the noisy room became quiet as everyone leaned toward the person speaking to hear the latest investment advice from the corporate giant.

The commercials no longer appear on our television screen. As the result of a check kiting scandal, EF Hutton dissolved into other companies and no longer exists.

Jesus and His words, however, endure. In Matthew 24:35 He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Can you imagine any other man or woman making such an incredibly bold and hefty claim? His resurrection proves that this is not the ranting of a lunatic, but the very words of God in the flesh! The words of our Lord will endure forever and ever! That’s what He said.

In terms of relative value, can you see how the words of Jesus exceed anything else we might hear? I am not doubting the value of sound investment advice, but there’s eternal value in listening when Jesus speaks. His words impart life.

In recent posts, I have examined how the words of Jesus authenticate the book of Genesis as well as the entire Old Testament. What about the New Testament, you might ask? Did our Savior give us any indication as to how He intended to continue speaking to His followers after He ascended back to heaven? Yes, He did!

Jesus Speaks Through the Gospels

In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Here we have Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would supernaturally aid the memory of the disciples regarding what Jesus taught them during His ministry. Let’s look at how this played out.

It began with the devotion of the church to the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42). This no doubt included the words of Jesus and all He did in their presence. For an unspecified length of time they remained together in Jerusalem proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, telling people about His life and teachings, and through the Holy Spirit gaining a greater understanding of the Gospel they preached.

As they realized that Jesus was not returning immediately, they wrote done the words and actions of the Savior they had witnessed.

Matthew wrote his Gospel to show his fellow Jews how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of their long awaited Messiah. Mark wrote down the Holy Spirit aided memories of Peter and perhaps added some of the things he personally witnessed during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem.

Luke was not an apostle, but wrote his Gospel based on eyewitness accounts including that of Mary herself as we see in his story of Jesus’ birth. I favor the idea of one of my professors at Talbot Seminary who believes Luke did his research during the two years that Paul was in prison in Caesarea. He used that time to consult with the apostles in Jerusalem and others who had witnessed the life of Jesus. The Holy Spirit guided Luke as he talked with the many eyewitnesses of the Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Later, John wrote his Gospel to persuade people to believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God in the flesh. We can imagine that as he looked at the other three Gospels, the Holy Spirit reminded him of several incidents they did not include and prompted him to add his perspective to what they did include in their  accounts.

Jesus Speaks Through His Apostles

The Lord also spoke concerning the rest of the New Testament that the apostles would start writing about twenty years after His resurrection. In John 16:12-13 he said this, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

At the time, Jesus’ disciples had trouble grasping His predictions regarding His death and resurrection. How could they possibly have understood the deeper meaning of the cross or the truths regarding justification by faith? They could not possibly have grasped the teachings of Paul in the book of Romans, but later as they came to grips with how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament and what the cross meant regarding their salvation, they were ready for the Spirit to reveal Jesus’ additional words to His followers concerning the wonderful truths of the Gospel and also of His return to take us home to be with Him.

As time went by, the church recognized the writings of the apostles as God’s Word. Peter, before he died, referred to the letters of Paul as “Scripture” (see 2 Pet. 3:15-16). It was never a matter of people at a later date deciding what should be included in the New Testament but rather of the early church recognizing from the beginning the continuing revelation of Jesus through His apostles.

Jesus Still Speaks Today

From Genesis to Revelation, it’s all God’s Word to us in written form. The New Testament does not contradict the Old Testament, but shows the fulfillment and coherent progression of God’s revelation to us. Everything the apostles later wrote fits perfectly with what Jesus taught during His ministry; it all points to Jesus as ultimate sacrifice for our sin, the author and finisher of our salvation, and His glorious return to earth someday. Rather than contradict His teachings, the New Testament gives us further insight and clarity to what He began to reveal about Himself, salvation, and eternity.

The manuscript evidence for the Bible surpasses that of any ten books from antiquity and it isn’t even close.

Much, much more could be written regarding the integrity of Scripture, the authenticity of what we have today because of the manuscripts, and the Bible’s own internal witness to itself as the Word of God. The manuscript evidence for the Bible surpasses that of any ten books from antiquity and it isn’t even close.

Many might regard me as foolish for believing that all of the Old and New Testament is the inspired Word of God and without error in the original manuscripts. Maybe even some reading this post believe it’s absurd to trust the words of Scripture. However, I’m just basing my beliefs on the words of my Savior and Lord. How can I doubt the words of Jesus, the One upon whom I depend to take me to paradise someday?

EF Hutton fell into disgrace and no longer speaks.  Jesus, however, still speaks to us through His eternal Word. Hebrews 1:1-2 says this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Through the words of the New Testament, Jesus still speaks to us today!

Are you still listening? Is the Holy Spirit making His Word come alive in your heart?

A Trust that Cannot Be Broken

Unbreakable_words_we_can_trust

 

What causes you to trust the words of another person? Your answer no doubt includes the previous trustworthiness of that individual. Has he or she told the truth in the past? Does he or she have experience or expertise in what they are saying to you? Many considerations go into believing the assertions of someone you know even if you are not conscious of them.

Because Jesus rose from the dead just as He said He would do, we know we can have absolute confidence in His words. We know His claims are true because of His resurrection. It follows that what He says about Scripture is of utmost importance and of necessity must be true. If Jesus is God as He claimed, how could He possibly be wrong in His opinion of the Old Testament?

Because Jesus rose from the dead just as He said He would do, we know we can have absolute confidence in all His claims.

Previously, we looked at Jesus assertions regarding the validity of Genesis. Now we will expand that assessment to the entire Old Testament.

“If You Believed Moses, You Would Believe Me”

Jesus always spoke with the utmost reverence for Scripture, which in His day consisted of what we know today as the Old Testament. He frequently quoted from it and repeatedly referred to its words as something that must be fulfilled (Matt. 22:29; 26:54; Luke 33:37; John 13:18). He criticized the religious people of His day for not knowing it, “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God’” (Matt. 22:29).

Jesus confirmed the authority of Scripture. In John 5:39-40 He said this to the Jews who by this time were seeking to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” A little later he added this, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

The tremendous respect of the Jewish religious leaders for Scripture was correct, but they did not fully believe what they read. If they had, they would have recognized Jesus as their long awaited Messiah.

 “Scripture Cannot be Broken”

In John 10:35 Jesus said this, “. . . and Scripture cannot be broken.” With these words, Jesus asserts that the words of the Old Testament are absolutely reliable and accurate. They cannot be found lacking in any way. They stand firm; they cannot be twisted to mean something else or neglected as having no value for us.

In Matthew 5:18 Jesus made this strong statement about the Law, which in His day could refer to the entire Old Testament as well as well as just to its first five books, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Scripture will more than pass the test of time; it will endure forever. Everything written on its pages must be fulfilled. Jesus regarded the Law as unbreakable truth that would stand forever.

This is bad news for us. If we cannot be loosed from the demands of the Law, we are in deep trouble. The good news, however, is that Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). He lived the morally perfect life we could never live and fulfilled all the other demands of the Law as well. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins to which all the sacrifices in the Law pointed. He took our place on the cross bearing the punishment of the Law for our sins.

No one else has ever claimed to do that for us. No one else could ever do that for us!

Because the Old Testament is God’s Word and as such “cannot be broken,” Jesus needed to fulfill its demands in our place, which He did. This is why Christ is the only way to eternal life as He claimed in John 14:6. Only He fulfilled all the demands of the Law in our place. No one else has ever claimed to do that for us. No one else could ever do that for us!

“Everything Written about Me . . . Must Be fulfilled”

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of Jesus talking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus shortly after His resurrection. I would love to know all the details of that conversation, but we are left with just a summary, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

It’s no wonder the hearts of the two listening burned within them as He spoke (24:32). What an amazing time it must have been to listen to Jesus spend perhaps an hour or two explaining how all of the Old Testament looked forward to His coming.

That evening, as He appeared to the rest of His disciples, He spoke these words, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Now we understand a little bit more about His respect for the Old Testament; it all spoke of Him. As such it tells us much about both His first and second coming!

To Sum Up

Just as with the book of Genesis, Jesus regarded the entire Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God. As such, it’s accuracy in its original manuscripts cannot be broken; it stands forever as the inerrant Word of God. Why am I so confident in Jesus’ evaluation of the Old Testament, you might ask?

First, I know the character and trustworthiness of my Savior. If He as the most loving and self-sacrificing person who had ever lived verifies the integrity and accuracy of the Old Testament, whom am I to question it? Secondly, Jesus said “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus did not come as an opposing view to the God of the Old Testament. He came to fully reveal Him to us. He is the Word of the everlasting God made flesh.  Thirdly, Jesus accurately predicted the timing of His resurrection from the dead. Has anyone else ever done that? I can trust His words.

Lastly, Jesus is my Savior. What does it say about my future hope if He as someone who claimed to be God was wrong about something as critical as Scripture or about anything for that matter? I trust his ability to take me from this life to forever.

Do you trust Jesus enough to agree with Him regarding the words of Scripture?