Written by T. M. Suffield |
Monday, October 3, 2022
We need God to unsettle us, to make us dissatisfied with anything but Jesus, and with anything but the age of come. This unsettled longing for an age to come is what the Bible calls joy. It, strangely enough, tends to make contented people, because God satisfies.
There is a gift from God that we do not want. If we’re honest with ourselves, I suspect there are many gifts from God that we don’t want. We enjoy both sin and comfort too much to value all of God’s gifts; we are indicted by our lacklustre enthusiasm for the things of God.
The gift I’d like to focus on is dissatisfaction. There is a spiritual gift of dissatisfaction. And in our comfortable, western, industrialised world we dearly need it.
There’s also something that looks like the spiritual gift of dissatisfaction but is actually the infernal curse of cynicism. I have this one in spades.
Let me flesh out what I mean: if we believe that our world is passing away, that it is in fact groaning in the birth pangs of a better world (Romans 8) then we should compare our lives, our churches, and our societies, with what we understand is coming.
If we believe that the old creation is gone and the new come in Christ’s resurrection (John 20-21), but that the kingdom—the new creation—is also not yet here; that we live in what theologians call realised eschatology and I call the Between, then we must expect to see partial fulfilments of what the world will be like after she is reborn in fire. And we must expect to not see total fulfilments of that pregnant promise.
There’s a sense in which a Christian’s life is orientated towards a future that we only see through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13). Or it’s supposed to be, anyway.
We also desire to see our hearts, our churches, and our cultures, changed and shaped in the direction of the Kingdom here and now before we die. That’s a good desire, and we should expect to see some fulfilments as the Spirit acts on us. As always, God changes churches by changing people. Typically I think he also changes cultures by changing churches—in Leithart’s language “the heavenly city resurrects the cities of men.”
These are good desires. It is good to ask what God requires of us in order to do as we ask. I think there are two criteria for a move of God, one for us and one for him. The requirement that sits with us is found in the logic of baptism in the Spirit. In John 7 Jesus gives one requirement for us to be changed: thirst.
In other words, we must want it. Want requires a precondition: dissatisfaction.
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By Mike Riccardi — 1 month ago
Boundless compassion—rooted not in any sentimentalism, but in his own blood-stained cross—that ought to make us want to root out every vestige of remaining sin in our lives. We can’t live in the sin he died to free us from. We must be driven, by his own loveliness, to make war on our sin.
While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.“ And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.Luke 5:12-13 (NASB95)
The vile skin disease of leprosy was designed by God to be a picture or a parable of human sin. John MacArthur calls it an “irresistible analogy” of sin. The leprosy of sin has infected all mankind to the core of our being. All our faculties—our minds, our hearts, our wills, our consciences—have all been diseased by spiritual leprosy. Because of that, we all stand in need of cleansing from that great fountain that is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must come to him alone for cleansing, and we must come to him in precisely the way that this leper comes.
Consider five observations from the scene in Luke 5.
1. The Sinner’s Contamination
A leper, unclean and potentially dangerous to others, had long been commanded to live in isolation according to the law. Because of that, a leper was often a stranger to the comforts and pleasures of any sort of companionship. In some cases, he would struggle to remember what it felt like to touch another human being. The man in Luke 5 who approached Jesus would have been an outcast, a castaway. Not only was leprosy defiling and isolating, it was also eminently shameful. A leper’s uncleanness became his identity, as he was required to cry, “Unclean!” signaling his uncleanness to any passersby.
As we consider the awful corruption of leprosy, we must see ourselves in this leper. How appropriate is the picture leprosy is of the corruption of sin that afflicts each one of us by nature. Like leprosy, sin is defiling. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Like leprosy, sin’s defilement is totalizing. Our entire constitution is infected with sin. Like leprosy, sin isolates. It makes man unfit for fellowship with God. If physical uncleanness couldn’t dwell alongside the manifestation of God’s presence and people in Israel, how much more does our spiritual uncleanness alienate us from the very presence of God himself?
In our sin, we have belittled His glory. We have preferred filth over beauty. Nobody should want anything to do with us, least of all the thrice Holy God of the universe. We are outcasts, fit only for the depths of hell itself. If we had any sense of ourselves at all, we would cry out in grief over our betrayal and for mercy from Him who we betrayed.
2. The Sinner’s Contrition
We can do nothing to rid leprosy from our bodies. Still less can our filthy rags rid the sinfulness from our souls. But the leper in Luke 5 sees Jesus. And when he saw him, verse 12 says, “He fell on his face and implored him.”
This is total brokenness, total humiliation. This man knows who he is. He knows he is undeserving, and so he takes the posture of humility, of reverence, even of worship, as he says in the next word, “Lord.” This man does not try to soft-sell his condition. He doesn’t say “Yes, sure. I’ve got a little leprosy, but on the whole, I think I’m a pretty healthy person.” We certainly hear much of that mindset today as sinners flatter and deceive themselves, convinced their sinfulness isn’t as foul and vile as the Bible says it is.
The leper comes in full confession and acknowledgment of his uncleanness, just as the truly repentant sinner must come to Christ, not making excuses for his sin, but openly confessing that he is totally corrupted, recognizing that he has no hope for forgiveness apart from the mercy of God. And so he falls down, bowed in abject humility, and begs God for undeserved grace.
3. The Sinner’s Confidence
But in one sense, this is not supposed to happen. According to the law of Moses, this leper shouldn’t be approaching anyone, let alone a rabbi. What drives his holy recklessness? Consider the sinners’ confidence. Verse 12, “He fell on his face and implored him saying, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
By Aaron Vriesman — 10 months ago
One third of the Calvin University faculty signed a statement opposing the Human Sexuality Report. All One Body has released a series of talking head videos of therapists, social scientists and pastors discrediting the Human Sexuality Report. Synod 2022 meets June 10-16 at Calvin University and will likely be monumental. The Abide Project’s stated goal is to adopt the Human Sexuality Report and hold all church leaders to the historic biblical view of sexuality.
The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), a 200,000-member denomination in the United States and Canada, now has a renewal movement named the Abide Project.
Organized in 2021, the Abide Project seeks “to uphold the historic, beautiful, Biblical understanding of human sexuality in doctrine, discipleship, and discipline” in the CRC.
Once forbidding movies, card-playing and dancing, the CRC has drifted leftward in recent generations. Across the past decade, the push for full inclusion of LGBTQ members has gained momentum and prompted the organization of the Abide Project.
The focal point of contention is a report adopted in 1973 by synod (the CRC’s annual assembly and highest body of authority). The report says believers with same-sex attractions are to be fully accepted in the church, but declares homosexuality to be “a condition of disordered sexuality” and “Homosexualism – as explicit homosexual practice – must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.” This has been the official position of the CRC since 1973.
At Synod 2011, an overture asking to reexamine the CRC position on homosexuality was voted down. The overture came from Classis Grand Rapids East, the regional body of churches surrounding the CRC headquarters as well as the denomination’s educational institutions in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Shortly after Synod 2011 voted down the Grand Rapids East overture, a group called All One Body emerged to promote full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the CRC.
All One Body hosted events at Classis Grand Rapids East congregations. Speakers called into question the CRC position on homosexuality. Professors presented on new scientific findings. Ex-members identifying as LGBTQ spoke about the hurt-feelings over the 1973 position.
As national polls tipped in favor of homosexuality and same-sex marriage became legal in more locations, another regional group of churches (Classis Zeeland) asked Synod 2013 for guidance on how to apply the 1973 stance on homosexuality in the changing society. Some synod delegates seized the opportunity to amend the request for guidance into reconsidering the whole topic from scratch. However, amendments from the floor were defeated. A committee was tasked to give guidance on applying the current stance. But when members were chosen to fill the committee, the vast majority were pastors and scholars with an LGBTQ-inclusivist view.
The committee of nine divided along ideological lines, producing majority and minority reports. The inclusivist 7-person majority report’s advice stretched the CRC stance on homosexuality as far as possible. The 44-page report made passing references to only four Scripture verses, frequently stressed the complexity of these issues and contained thinly veiled disparagements of the 1973 position. Dividing marriage into civil and religious unions, the majority report said ministers could perform same-sex civil ceremonies as long as the ceremonies were not religious.
By Scott D. MacDonald — 4 months ago
Written by Scott D. MacDonald |
Friday, August 19, 2022
People in the church who dabble with witchdoctors and occultism are ultimately deceived; they find no true, lasting solution. “To believe ‘Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa’ is to believe a lie. We must choose to trust and wait on God in every circumstance, and His Word must be our final authority as we encounter conflict with our African traditional proverbs and beliefs.”40 Jesus alone is our savior, and as Paul demonstrates in Philippi, the Christ did not come to work with the ng’anga. He came to set us free.
Syncretism—the blending of two or more religious paradigms—threatens Christian witness around the world. And the church in Africa continues to struggle with the popularity of local religious practices. In many locales, the ng’anga (an African religious diviner) prominently features in the lives of many church-going people. In response, Paul’s mission to Philippi, recounted in Acts 16:16–18, provides needed clarity concerning Christianity’s relationship to other religious powers and to syncretism. This article outlines the religious backdrop of Philippi, Paul’s missionary method in the Greek religious context, and the consequences that arise from Paul’s exorcism of the πύθων. In sum, Paul’s reaction to the divining spirit of Philippi leaves no room for syncretistic behavior among Christians today. Accommodation and any reliance upon other religious powers compromises the quality of the gospel and the reputation of the savior.
As servants of Christ deliver the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection both near and far, ancient spiritual actors and religious competitors abound. In sub-Saharan Africa, every other urban street corner bears a sign promoting the abilities of some traditional power man from a rural or distant location, a place with charms difficult to undo by an average local witchdoctor.1 Even in supposedly secular cities in other parts of the world, vestiges of ancient paganism remain as astrologers and diviners offer their services in the public sphere without shame. Spiritual power is seemingly never beyond a human’s reach.
Depending on our cultural upbringing, such spiritual resources are our first or last resource in a time of need—an accepted and trusted form of support or a desperation-induced “last ditch” option. Occult practitioners claim to provide the knowledge we need, repair the relationships we crave, hinder the people we hate, and empower the economic endeavors on which we rely. They are the so-called “way-makers” and “problem-solvers” of the spiritually attuned.
How should the Christian relate to the ng’anga (i.e., the sangoma, the witchdoctor)?2 Sadly, the testimony from too many Christians in many places is mixed. In a moment of need, one might recite the Bemba proverb “Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa,” meaning “Charms are mixed with God for them to work.”3 Believers may easily justify a quick visit to the witchdoctor or use charms if they believe that God works in and through them!
Martin Mwamba, a pastor and talk show host with Faith Radio in Kitwe, Zambia, recounts an experience:
One day a woman texted me during the program. She said she had been working, and after retiring she had gotten her pension money, and now when going back home she was robbed. She continued, “I will take off my church uniform as a Christian and go kuli shi in’anga (‘to the witchdoctor’) and bewitch them.” Then her question was, “Is it right for a Christian to visit the witchdoctor?” The phone response from other listeners was interesting and shocking. Some suggested that she should go because God takes too much time to respond, and others said it was fine because witchdoctors give fast solutions, adding that they (witchdoctors) are also used by the same God.4
Hearing this kind of urgency-based decision making, Mwamba’s assertion is reasonable: “Even people in churches today in Africa would prefer to consult diviners and witchdoctors … to receive a quick solution to their daily problems.”5 After all, no one wants to wait for God!6
Occultists easily capture Christian customers. Surprisingly enough, many “witchdoctor shrines” are veritable havens of Christian objects like Bibles and practices like singing praise songs.7 And witchdoctors readily play along with the cultural idea that God empowers their work, offering to pray to God for effectiveness with charms and reciting a Scripture verse or two.8 Confusion abounds, and Christians readily step into the confusion by seeking their desired results despite the syncretism.
Syncretism is the “blending of one idea, practice, or attitude with another. Traditionally among Christians it has been used of the replacement or dilution of the essential truths of the gospel through the incorporation of non-Christian elements.”9 The ng’anga has played a central role in the African’s religious life throughout Africans’ collective memories. Despite Christianity’s inroads throughout Africa over the past century, the role and importance of the ng’anga has not evaporated. Many Christians sadly still find a need for them, and witchdoctors adjust and modify their practices to suit the Christian environment. Syncretism, the blending of African and Christian religious concepts, persists.
The irony is that many pulpits resound with sermons against syncretism. Preachers unflinchingly expound Jesus’s statement from John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” “Jesus alone” is declared, yet the cultural norm remains firm: witchdoctors have a place in the life of Christians.
Many an African Christian still feels the draw of the ng’anga. The appeal of animism is not unique to Africa. While the African Christian visits the ng’anga, a European Christian convert dabbles in astrology, and an American teenager consults a Ouija board. The pull of spiritual knowledge and power is strong in Africa, but do not think that the rest of the world is immune! Thus, syncretism arises in every culture where Christianity enters, and “church history is filled with the struggle against syncretism from political, social, religious, and economic sources.”10 And the best response to our syncretistic attachments is a fidelity to Scripture, which both rebukes and affirms aspects of our church traditions and cultural norms.
One underutilized text in countering syncretism is Acts 16:16–18. Luke records the following account from the second missionary journey:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.11
While we could look to other missional encounters with spiritual power persons throughout Acts (e.g., Simon the Sorcerer, Elymus, the Sons of Sceva), the Philippian confrontation serves as an example to Christians throughout the world today. We must reject all forms of syncretism. Our missional testimony to non-Christians only heightens this necessity.
1. The Background of Acts 16:16–18
As we consider Acts 16:16–18, let us first locate where this episode occurs in Paul’s missional endeavors. Between leaving Antioch in Acts 15:36 and returning in 18:22, Paul’s work broke considerable new ground as the Lord turned the missionary team toward Greece.12 “Following his vision at Troas (Acts 16:8–10), the apostle Paul started the first church in ancient Greece at Philippi (c. AD 49–50, Acts 16:11–40).”13 Like Paul’s earlier ministry, which led to a confrontation with the sorcerer Elymus on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6–12), this journey involves another spiritual challenge in the city of Philippi.
Lest we mistakenly brand Paul as a troublemaker, Paul’s missionary method does not call for the immediate confrontation of any religious figures in a particular region. On Cyprus, Barnabas and Paul are not looking for Elymus. Instead, they proclaim the word of God to those who wish to hear it, such as Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). In Philippi, again, Paul’s priority is preaching, even after his initial meeting with the slave girl (Acts 16:16–18)! Creating religious conflict (which would ultimately result in his imprisonment) and exorcising a πύθων are not Paul’s primary objectives. Only when the situation proves intolerable, hindering his proclamation ministry in a new mission field, does Paul confront the slave girl and the spirit within her.
The Greek religious context is evident upon Paul and Silas’s entry into Philippi. As the slave girl attaches herself to their ministry, it is as if the current religious powers greet Paul at the gate and refuse to let go. While a casual reader of an English translation (e.g., “a spirit of divination” in the ESV, “a spirit by which she predicted the future” in the CSB) might mentally divorce this spirit-inhabited girl from the broader religious climate, the Greek text πνεῦμα πύθωνα at least indirectly ties the girl and her owners to the Greek oracular system.14 Keener explains that this spirit is “the same sort of spirit that stood behind the most famous of all Greek oracles, the Delphic oracle of Apollo whose priestess was called a pythoness.”15 And Herodotus confirms that oracles, inspired by a πύθων, were not limited to Delphi.16