Matthew 18:19 and Prayer

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer (1508)

If a group of believers pray’s for someone to be healed of an illness, and that person dies of that illness, then how are we to take Matthew 18:19?

This question was posed to me a couple years ago. My first thought was that person, if a believer, would be immediately healed upon their death when they leave their body. Also in their glorified bodies after their resurrection they will experience no more pain and sickness. This was my first thought. And while true, I didn’t take the context of the verse into consideration. Rather, I didn’t take the time to study the context.

Matthew 18:19 says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

At first glance this passage seems pretty up front. That whatever two or more believers ask of God, He will do. So if several Christians gather to pray for someone’s physical healing, we can be confident that God will heal them. Some would even say that God is “obligated” to do what’s being prayed for. That’s what many of us hear all the time anyway, especially in America.

This belief seems to be validated when we look at the verse immediately before and the verse immediately after. Verse 18 reads, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.

So now we seem to have a good formula for healing in Jesus’ own words. 1) Two or three gather making Christ present, 2) touch and agree, 3) bind and loose [binding sickness or demons and releasing blessing and healing, etc] 4) God will do it.

Sounds pretty cut and dry. But, what about the last part of the question posed at the beginning. “…the person dies…” One could take this sad result several ways:

  1. Someone praying or the one being prayed for didn’t have enough faith (Jesus did just say in chapter 17 that the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon because of their lack of faith).
  2. Or, there was unrepentant sin in someone’s life. John 9:31 says that God does not listen to sinners but those that do His will.
  3. Or, it just wasn’t God’s will at that moment to heal that person (2 Corinthians 12:8). But God is true to His word, so why would there be a promise if God would only keep it sometimes?

So what are we to make of this passage?

In one of my earlier blogs on how to understand the Bible, I mention that we must read scripture in its correct context. Picking a verse out of context can, and often does, lead someone to believe something that was not intended. So let’s apply Matthew 18:18-20 to its proper context.

The words of Jesus beginning with verse 12:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Here we have Jesus speaking of what we call “church discipline”. He begins first by speaking about a lost sheep which is, in this case, a brother in sin. Another brother should try to correct the wayward believer in private. If he doesn’t listen then one or two more should try. The reference Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” To call a brother out on his sinning there needed to be at least 2 witnesses. And these witnesses would work to restore their brother. If that doesn’t work, then the brother is to be brought before the assembly for the sole purpose of restoration from his sin. If after all that, he refuses to give up his sin then he is to be treated as though he is no brother at all. This is also referenced in 1 Timothy 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.


So what does the “binding and loosing” mean and what does Jesus mean when He says He is “there in the midst of them”?

A couple chapters before, Jesus tells Peter, ” ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.‘ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Here we see Jesus establishing His church. His corporate body of believers which at that time consisted of Jews.

Another step of interpreting a text is understanding how the original hearers or readers would have understood the words. For example, in John 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have understood what being born again meant because he was a teacher of the law, we should ask ourselves where in the Old Testament would he have understood being “born again” to be referenced. The answer is Ezekiel 36:25-27.

So how would the Jews have understood “binding and loosing”? Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 18 states, “…these, in the common speech of the Jews, at that time, signified to prohibit and permit; to teach or declare a thing to be unlawful was to bind; to be lawful, was to loose.” So once again we see a certain judicial understanding to what this passage in Matthew means.

Henry continues, “When ministers preach pardon and peace to the penitent, wrath and the curse to the impenitent, in Christ’s name, they act then pursuant to this authority of binding and loosing. The key of discipline,which is but the application of the former to particular persons, upon a right estimate of their characters and actions. It is not legislative power that is hereby conferred, but judicial; the judge doth not make the law, but only declares what is law, and upon an impartial enquiry into the merits of the cause, gives sentence accordingly.

One reference for binding and loosing is found in the Gospel of John. After Jesus resurrection, He reminds His apostles of their authority. In chapter 20, verse 23, we read, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Sound doctrine and strict disciple are the two ways church leaders remit and retain sin:

  • “By sound doctrine. They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it; so shall their doom be.
  • By a strict discipline, applying the general rule of the gospel to particular persons. “Whom you admit into communion with you, according to the rules of the gospel, God will admit into communion with himself; and whom you cast out of communion as impenitent, and obstinate in scandalous and infectious sins, shall be bound over to the righteous judgment of God.’ ” (Henry)

So we see from reading in context what Matthew 18:19 is really about.

So am I saying that we shouldn’t pray for healing or anything else? Not at all. I’m also not saying that gathering together to pray for someone is unbiblical. What I am saying is that whether one lonely believer is praying or 100 are praying together, God hears. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Jesus even mentions how someone was healed through faith of just one person (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19).

On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes God chooses not to heal. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The context here is Paul telling the Corinthians how he could boast because of his visions of heaven but he chooses not to be a “fool.” Rather, He thanks God for his infirmaries because they keep him humble. Therefore, his boasting will only ever be in Christ. Even though he prayed three times for God resolve this issue, God chose not to. In choosing to say no to Paul’s prayer, God granted Paul the greater benefit of understanding the greater depth of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

Then why should we pray? First, because we are commanded to do so. Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:1 are among the many commands that we have from God to pray.

We should also pray because it works. When we pray according to God’s will He hears us. The Bible is full of examples when God’s people prayed and God answered. In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah was in deep, emotional prayer by herself. She was praying for a child. God listened and blessed her with the son that would become the great prophet Samuel. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him. An angel appeared and freed Peter from his chains. Afterwards, Peter went to the house where the saints had gathered and were praying. There they were still praying when he shows up. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much. (James 5:16)

For more information on prayer, check out Focus on the Family‘s articles on the subject here.

We must also remember that sometimes we don’t see the results of our praying. As stated in Hebrews 11, some people pass on to glory before they see the results of the fruit of their faith.

Lastly, as I stated at the beginning of this blog that healing actually will come to those who place their faith in Christ. That is a promise. By His stripes we are healed. Whether in this life or in the next.

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P.S.: All that being said, there is a power in Christian unity. We are the body and when the body joins together, we become a more complete picture of Jesus. All of us as different parts working and praying together, and building each other up.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Jonah prophesied and it did not come true?

Jonah
Jonah and the whale (Jonah 2:11) by Matthaeus Merian I (1630)

I was doing some reading in a new book my wife got me which gives background information about every book in the Bible as well as the Apocrypha. Despite a wealth of interesting and be it “sound” information, are some things which I found a little less than accurate. One of these things is that it states there was only one prophecy in Jonah and it didn’t come true.

So lets take a look at this prophecy.

Jonah 3:4 says Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Another translation is: On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

So what’s the issue? Nineveh was never destroyed because the people repented and turned from their evil ways.

Well, having a prophet of God get a prophecy wrong would essentially mean God misspoke, or at the very least, Jonah did which would mean the Bible was possibly wrong in relaying God’s intent which comes with a whole new set of issues.

Well, it turns out the original word in Hebrew for overthrown is “haphak” and it can also mean “to turn, turn around, to change and transform”.

So amazingly, because of the Hebrew language and God’s Omniscience, God used Jonah in a way I never even realized. The overthrowing of Nineveh by their destruction turned into the transforming of the city by turning from their sin!!!

It’s astounding how this one word “haphak”, and this one prophecy, could mean two seperate options at the same time which were dependent on the reaction of a city to God’s prophet. The more I learn about the God we serve, the more I am amazed and the more I fall in love with His heart for us.

If you too want to learn more about the God of the Bible, email us at Theologetics3.15@gmail.com

-Clark Campbell
Theologetics.org

“…One less god…”?

pantheon
The Pantheon, a temple in Rome dedicated to “every god”, completed in 128 A.D.

There’s a popular quote by atheist Steven F. Roberts that many nonbelievers cite or paraphrase when debating Christians that says, “I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer God than you do.”

The atheist is saying that since we Christians don’t believe in Baal, Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Quetzalcoatl, or any other god other than the God of the Bible, then we assume the same lack of belief system. They just take it one deity further.

So what’s the difference ?

Well it doesn’t take much to realize that this argument is constructed in a way to throw the believer off guard. Let’s look at the two members of the argument. An atheist and a theist. The word atheist comes from the Greek atheos.  The prefix a meaning “without” and theos meaning “god”. In other words atheism is the belief that there is no god or gods. No Supreme Ruler whatsoever. The atheist’s worldview is completely shrouded and perceived in the material realm. That anything outside it is pure speculation and unprovable (or not proven yet).

However, for the theist (Christian in our case) the material realm is just another dimension of reality. For us there is also the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is, in fact, the truest reality because it existed first. God is spirit (John 4:24) and He created all that exists (Genesis 1, John 1:3) in the spiritual and material world.

Now let me point out that Christians during the 1st century were called atheists because they rejected the pantheon of greco-roman gods of the surrounding culture. This was also because the Christians of the day had no temple, priest, or sacrifice, as Romans would have recognized. Yet, believers in Christ saw Jesus as the temple. He is the only way to the Holy of Holies. Believers in Christ saw Him as priest because He is the Ultimate High Priest. Believers in Christ saw Jesus as the sacrifice because of the work He accomplished on the cross. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God and no sacrifice is needed after Him. (John 1:29; Hebrews 4:14; 10:10-11, 19-20)

After the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church there was no “physical” representation of their God like the Romans had. The Romans had statues and Caesar.  If you didn’t worship as they worshipped and whom they worshipped then you worshipped nothing. Therefore, the term atheist was applied to early Christians out of ignorance and out of insult.

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Polycarp is brought before the Roman governor for trial. The governor has the intention of making Polycarp betray his Christian brethren. Polycarp must say, “Away with the atheists” or else be condemned. He looks around at “the crowd of lawless heathen”(the pagan Romans) and says “Away with the atheists” flipping the name on to his accusers. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:2)

But, let’s be reminded. Atheists reject all gods. They reject false gods and the true God, Yahweh. They don’t just reject one more god than Christians. They reject THE God. The only true and living God. Even though God has made Himself plainly evident through His creation, atheists won’t come to the knowledge of the truth. (Romans 19:21)

However…

Atheists might reject the notion of gods as supernatural, ethereal beings, but they still have gods. We all serve something or someone. We all worship something or someone. Whether it be ourselves, pleasure, fortune, fame, other people, hobbies, pets, nature, gods made of wood or gold, or the God of the Bible; something gets our worship whether we choose to accept the notion or not.

This brings us to the first two commandments:

1)You shall have no other gods before Me [Yahweh]
2)You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. (Exodus 20:3-4a)

If we have broken these commandments, and we all have if God is not who we worship, then we make ourselves idolaters. Anything other than God that gets our worship has become an idol. These are Paul’s words in Philippians 3:18-19

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

If this is true of you today, please understand that God wants to be the object of your worship. He knows that anything else that competes for your attention above Him is a false god. He knows that no other god can bring you true joy and fulfillment. Anything else is an imitation and will never come close to the perfect love, holiness, and eternality of God. Don’t be blinded by passion for the things of the world. Things will break. Trends will fade. This world and everything in it will pass away. God and His Word are forever. And don’t place any person above God. Human beings are imperfect and all have fallen far short of God’s glory. But, God is not man that He should lie or change His mind. Nor will He ever leave us or forsake us. So, give your worship to God and to God alone because He alone is worthy.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Homosexuality from Multiple Perspectives

Destruction of Sodom
The Destruction of the Cities of the Plain (Lot and his daughters running for cover in foreground. Mezzotint with etching, c.1830s.) ~ by James G S Lucas

So the LGBTQ movement is something that is becoming more and more common and personally affects Christians more than ever before, quite clearly because of the acceptance of the movement in mainstream media.

I have recently wrote about the importance of loving everyone regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc. which can be found HERE but the definition of what that love looks like is very much debated among Christians and everyone else.

As such, I thought it may be helpful for some Christian’s and non-Christians alike for us to outline what we believe at Theologetics.org and why we believe it.

Let’s start by looking at what is at stake. For someone who identifies as being gay or a lesbian, if Christians take a stance against same-sex attraction and these Christians are wrong about it being a sin, the individuals that embrace same-sex attraction will rightly feel ostracized and hurt because what they are identifying as is the same thing many Christians would wrongly be calling a sin. But if Christians stand against homosexuality because it really is something that is wrong, something God condemns, and something that is a hurtful lifestyle, then Christians that lovingly condemn the sin are showing true love to the sinner.

As Christians, it is important for us to realize how deep this goes, many if not all people that embrace same-sex attraction are not just lightly making the decision one day to like the same sex, they had been feeling an attraction for a long time.

Lets take a brief look at the attraction itself. Often it is believed this attraction is something people are born with. While there is not much evidence for that stance, the truth is it really doesn’t matter from a Christian perspective. Some people are born with a disposition for the abuse of alcohol or drugs but that doesn’t make that desire healthy or right. So I would caution Christians or secularists that take a side of the issue using the logic that it is or is not in the genes since the Bible clearly states that we all have sinned and have a sin nature, so genes are not a good measuring stick for this issue or any other for that matter.

So to the Christians reading this I say please be kind, gentle, loving and patient when dealing with this issue as those who are lost need to see Jesus in you more often than hearing about what the Bible says is wrong. Remember, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Proverbs 15:1

So now, let’s take a quick look at the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t address the issue of homosexuality much but when it does it is clearly condemned as being sin. For the purpose of keeping this blog short I won’t go into the meanings of the verses about homosexuality but for someone that questions what the Bible really says about it being sin, you can find some information on it HERE. Basically there are several ways the Bible is read and how it is read depends on the reader.

In my opinion, the four basic types of Bible readers are:
1. Non-Christians
2. Cultural Christians
3. Non-Fundamentalist Christians
4. Fundamentalist Christians

Non-Christians consider the Bible to be either just another book of many, that it is out-dated or maybe even that it is a bad book. They may believe it has some good ideas or no good ideas but definitely not a book that has any authority over how people should live their lives. As these beliefs are unfounded, it would take at least another separate blog to begin to explain the reasons why but some information about the authority of Scripture can be found as a PDF HERE.

In reality, a Cultural Christian is someone that really follows culture over the Bible regardless if it aligns with the Bible or not. They don’t really read the Bible that often and usually don’t care to either. They may consider themselves a Christian because their parents are Christian, or they were baptized as a child, or something to that effect. A Cultural Christian says one thing and does something else. This is hypocrisy. It is illogical to say you believe something or identify as something but live as though you do not. In reality, many Christians have areas in their lives that they may say they believe what the Bible says but live as though they do not believe it. All who say they follow Christ should examine their hearts in any area of life and truly compare it with what the Bible says regarding that area.

Non-Fundamentalist Christians are among varying denominations and individuals that generally don’t believe in the complete authority of the Bible. They may believe that the Bible is either only partly inspired by God or not at all, or that the inspired word of God has been changed and not to be taken literally today. Similar to Cultural Christians, a Non-Fundamentalist’s belief is also illogical, let me explain.

If I were to believe the Bible is only partially inspired by God, and that some of it are men’s ideas added in, I would have no way of knowing what to really believe is true or not and thus, it would not make sense to put any faith in the Bible at all. The same logic applies if I were to believe the Bible were originally 100% God’s inspired words but that it has since been changed.

Similarly, if I were to believe the Bible was written completely by men, not inspired by God at all, it would have no authority and would just be another book among millions, so calling myself a Christian would really be pointless as all other ideas, religions, and philosophies would have equal merit and truth. (That’s not to say other non-Christian sources of information don not have some truth to them, just that the Bible is the only ancient manuscript that can be shown to be without error in it’s original manuscripts, and divinely inspired with hundreds of fulfilled prophecies. Again, some information about the authority of Scripture can be found as a PDF HERE and other good places to start would be books by Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, and Dan Story)

Which leads to the last type of Bible reader; the Fundamentalist Christian. Fundamentalist Christians believe the Bible is completely inspired by God. They look at context when interpreting the Bible and take it to be literal when the language is not poetic or allegorical. If you claim to be a Christian, this is the most logical way to read the Bible. If you are not a Christian, there are many reasons why you should look into what the Bible really says, specifically about Jesus, and the historical, archeological, theological, and simply logical reasons why the Bible is the inspired Word of God which any of the previously mentioned links and authors are great places to start.

So, if the Bible is completely inspired by God (which the evidence is well in favor of it being so) and the passages that discuss homosexuality are examined in context and taken literally (the most logical way to read and interpret the Bible), homosexuality is clearly found to be a sin. 

Anytime anyone chooses sin, they are saying to God that they want to do things their way instead of God’s way. Anytime we try and do things our way leads to pain, sickness, destruction, and death. Being a sin, homosexuality is destructive to those who practice it and thus, the most loving thing Christians can do is lovingly stand against the sin while being loving and like Christ to those who embrace same-sex attraction. This is our stance. I hope this was helpful for those who read it, at least in understanding where many Christians and Christian organizations are coming from when they say they will not compromise on Scripture when it comes to these specific issues of homosexuality.

By Clark Campbell
Theologetics.org

So You Have Gay Friends and Think You Are a Christian?

Jesus and Peter
Treasures of the Bible (Jesus’ Ministry) — Jesus, Walking on the Water, Rescues Peter

A friend of mine recently couldn’t find his youngest boy. He and his wife looked all over their house and once they realized he really wasn’t there, they called the police. This father assumed (and hoped) his son went to a friend’s house without telling them and he planned on yelling at his son and even spanking him on the spot for wandering off when he found him. After an hour of scouring the neighborhood, an hour that felt like an eternity, he finally found him at a neighbor’s house. But in that moment, he couldn’t yell, he couldn’t spank his son like he planned on doing, all he could do was hold him in his arms because he was safe.

He said that he got just a small glimpse of what God feels when one of his lost children is found. That he was shocked that he didn’t react the way he had planned and that his heart was so full of gratitude that the only thing that came out of him was love for his lost son.

Jesus came to this earth to get back what was most precious to God; his lost children.

“his lost children”

But who are his lost children? Who are the ones that are SO precious to God that he would send his only begotten Son to die a horrific death in OUR place just to reconcile us, to save us? Who are the ones that have God’s love, his affection, his heart?

The answer… We ALL are!

Every.

Last.

One of us.

It doesn’t matter what you have done. God loves you. It doesn’t matter what mistakes you have made. God wants you. Not everyone will accept this gift and many will choose to live eternally apart from God and stay lost but regardless, God loves all of us!

So when some in the body of Christ elevate certain sins over others, namely homosexuality, and don’t reach out to those individuals in love because of that sin, they are not only making a mistake but committing sins (plural) themselves.

The sin of hypocrisy. The sin of arrogance. The sin of selfishness…

So if you have gay friends and think you are a Christian, you are truly living like Christ. If you are trying to be a light to those who are lost, you are living the way Christ called all of us to live. We are called to be in the world and not of it. I think the Church focuses on the second half of that verse a little too much sometimes, “not of it.”

Sometimes while trying not to be of the world we forget to be in it.

Don’t get me wrong, we cannot condone sin in any form. Being gay is clearly a sin and should not be celebrated (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:26-28). But those who struggle in that area should be loved, should be befriended and shown that they are important to God. Let them see God in you, not God’s judgment through you, after all, there is not one of us who does not struggle in some area. As I see it, Jesus treated the lost this way, never condoning sin but always loving the sinner. He was the most critical of the religious of His time; the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the religious leaders… Jesus called them “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27) meaning they were hypocrites, self-centered and missing the point of true love. They focused on the law too much and did not love people.

The law is important but it never supersedes God’s love. Love fulfills the law. Like many things in life, you cannot have one or the other, there needs to be a balance of the two. But it seems to me more and more “Christians” in our day are known by the law, not by the love. Again, not to say one replaces the other, just that Jesus was known by His love and I really believe we should too.

So while some celebrate the LGBTQ community and others treat them like they are committing the unforgivable sin, we should open our arms, our hearts, and our homes to EVERYONE in love to show them that they are cherished by us and subsequently, by God. Just maybe that will make the difference in their lives and help open their eyes.

By Clark Campbell
Theologetics.org

 

Go and Make Disciples, Not Just Converts

image
Farewell Discourse from the Maesta by Duccio (1308-1311)

 

At any given Sunday service, youth retreat, children’s church, Christian concert, etc, there is typically what is known in American Christianity as an “altar call.” It is usually an invitation of those who want to make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Savior and those who already are Christians but want to rededicate their lives to Him. Some attribute the popularity of alter calls to Billy Graham and his popular crusades. While there is no direct biblical reference to alter calls, I cannot speak negatively of them. Many have come to Christ by the way of altar calls.

I want to talk about what happens after the altar call. I think we falter when we see altar calls as a litmus test of how well a ministry or sermon or gathering is going. We like seeing crowds come to the front. We like knowing that (x) amount of people filled out commitment cards. But there is a danger of a false sense of accomplishment here.

How many of these decisions to come forward were caused by family or peer pressure? How many of these decisions to come forward were based on emotions being drawn by the worship leader? What happens after the music stops? Are these conversions genuine? I’m sure millions are. But, who seeks to pour into spiritual growth afterwards?

In what is known as The Great Commission found in Matthew chapter 28, Jesus commands “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  While making converts is vital to the growth of the Church, there has to be a continuous maturing of the believer after that. Otherwise you’re left with large amounts of spiritual infants who, often by no fault of their own, haven’t moved from milk to meat. They were simply a face in a crowd. While the angels were rejoicing at their salvation the elders bragged about the number of hands that were raised.

If a man has been working at a job for 20 years and showed very little knowledge or skill in his work, you might believe something to be very wrong, either with him or the training program. If a man is a Christian for 20 years and can’t name something elementary like the four Gospels and shows very little spiritual fruit, we should be wondering what went wrong. He is spiritually a 20 year old infant.

Wikipedia defines a disciple as a “student”. Merriam Webster defines a disciple as “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a famous person.” In traditional Chinese, the disciple was a person “who believes in the ideas and principles of someone famous and tries to live the way they do or did.” In the original Greek of Matthew 28, disciple (didaskalos) is a pupil of a master or teacher. The root Latin word that we get disciple from (discipulus) actually means “scholar”.

As we can see the meaning of disciple is far from someone who stays in spiritual infancy. A disciple should be steadily growing in knowledge and holiness. While the Holy Spirit has His part to play, so do other believers. When Jesus called out Lazarus from the dead, he left it up to his family and friends to make sure he didn’t stay in his grave clothes. In other words when we are saved from our spiritually dead selves, it is the responsibility of those who have been waiting and praying over us to help us look like the spiritually awake individuals that we become. This is one reason being an active member of local church is so vital.

I know of many churches that don’t just leave the new believer alone after their conversion. Many send mail, call, or even visit to help ensure the believer is growing. Many churches have discipleship programs where the new believer or even the 20 year old infant can learn to grow in Christ. There are missionaries who don’t just leave the people they find with a new faith but actually ensure the natives they converted learn and grow to become new pastors and teachers. These are the churches and believers that are fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to make disciples.

If you are a new believer or believer who realizes that you haven’t been growing since you got saved, then my advice is to surround yourself with believers who are maturing spiritually. Find a church that encourages Bible reading and group study. And make the time often to study for yourself.

Helping believers grow in knowledge is one of our goals here at Theologetics.org. Every believer must also mature in spiritual fruit. It is our prayer that reading this will cause us to evaluate ourselves and motivate growth in both aspects of your Christian walk.

Applicable verses:
Matthew 28:19
Hosea 4:6
Psalm 1:1-3
2 Peter 1:5-6
2 Peter 3:18
2 Corinthians 13:5
Colossians 1:10
Ephesians 4:15
Galatians 5:22-23
Titus 2:1-8
Hebrews 5:12

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Thoughts, Prayers, Amens and Lies

Praying-Child
Jacques Hnizdovsky (1915-1985) Praying Child Notecard

I had a discussion about prayer with a few individuals online that brought up some interesting ideas, this is just part of that conversation. It all started when this statement was made:

Person A “Any of us who tweet or post “prayers” for people in tragedy and do not follow through on them are in sin. Any of us who merely tweet or post “thoughts” going out to people in tragedy are painfully mistaken. And any of us who broadly dismiss the honest prayers for people in tragedy are tragically blind to true power.”

Now this first statement seemed pretty straight forward to me and a rather truthful statement as well but the conversation that ensued brought up some interesting questions about prayer.

Person BJust making the statement “you are in my prayers” requires the conscious thought in reference and affirmation [of] a higher power and if sincere IS in essence ……a prayer

So as I see it, here is the “theory” being presented for lack of a better word;

A Christian’s thought is a prayer.

If someone has a prayer request and you say to them “You are in my prayers”, because you think it, agree with what they are saying, and have a relationship with God, because God knows your thoughts, you in essence just prayed. Let us continue…

Me “Person B, your statement is an interesting one, at first thought I’ll admit it sounded like a cop-out to actually taking the time to say a specific prayer but when I thought about it, I’m wondering if there could be a little something to that statement…

Person A “Not sure that I agree with that person B. Tacitly referring to a higher power and affirming the existence of a higher power is not in essence communicating with that higher power. Prayer is directed to God. Telling someone “you are in my prayers” is directed toward that person. Also, what is the content of this “prayer” when you say “you are in my prayers”? It seems rather vacuous. In other words, when you say “you are in my prayers”, what are you actually praying for or about on behalf of that person?

Person BIf a person is in your thoughts even and you have a personal relationship with God – any conscious thought of that person while thinking of God would be as sincere and direct a petition to God as any plastic prayer one could muster.

One could go to church and pray every prayer in the book standing or kneeling or arms raised….it matters not.

I would say the almighty needs not for you to do that. Your own relationship with God and your conscious and heartfelt sincere thought is enough. …”

Person A “…When you say “my prayers are with you,” there is no specific petition attached to that, and that is directed at the person and not to God. Prayers can be communicated all sorts of ways, but there must actually be a communication, which implies specific content. So, I’m not sure in what sense simply saying it makes it true…

So, what is being presented now is that saying you will pray for someone is not a prayer because prayer is a conversation between you and God, but that conversation has not happened yet when you simply tell someone you will pray for them. A valid point.

Person BDo you believe God knows your intent? God has grasp of your conscience? God is aware of your conscious and subconscious? That God knows exactly what you are thinking?

Person AIf you do not actually pray, did you have intent to pray?

Person BI agree that if you say that (with intent to pray) and never pray- you’re right (right about not praying being a sin). However if you have a conscious contact with God- and you tell someone you will keep them in your prayers- God can take it from there- you just prayed.

MeThe one point that has not been specifically brought up is that the Bible, and Jesus Himself, commands us to pray specific prayers beyond just agreeing with others needs. The agreement is basically the amen part of the prayer. I personally think that person B is onto something if the comment to someone’s request for prayer was “amen” because that implies “I hear your need, I agree with you and stand with you and believe God’s will will be done.” But if someone were to say “I’m praying” since the Bible is clear on what prayer is, that person should actually take the time to say a prayer.

A few more things were said but one last statement stood out to me:

Person BIf God already knows your specific content whether it be verbalized or not- what need there be for an Amen. God already knows you are in agreement. God already knows if you’re NOT in agreement!!

So one last point I would like to make is that by this logic, one could argue that prayer is not needed at all. If God knows all and is all powerful, then who are we to think that making requests to God in prayer will make any difference?

Well, the problem with this line of thinking is that, like I brought up in the conversation, the Bible and Jesus Himself commands us to pray. Prayer is for our benefit not Gods and is specifically defined. Prayer allows us to grow closer to God, and while God is unchanging by nature with His immutability and impassibility, we can change, so the outcome of a situation can change because we pray.

An example of this is in Genesis 6:6

“And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Did God make a mistake in making men on the earth? Did he change his mind about his creation? If he was grieved in his heart, does that mean he has changing emotions the same way we have changing emotions?

No. No. And no.

The simple answer is that God does not change, we do. God is holy and we are not. When sin enters the picture, God must act, he is unchanging in this way. So the same principle can be applied to prayer. While we cannot change God’s mind, I believe prayer can move God to act in ways we cannot fully understand and no matter what, prayer lets us become more intimate with the one who made us, we can draw closer to him through our prayers. Who wouldn’t want that?

By Clark Campbell with quotes from a random online conversation
Theologetics.org

Option c: The Time-Salvation Paradox

Calvin-and-Arminius
Portraits of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius

There is one aspect about God and our understanding of Him that I felt compelled to write about. This one area has divided Christians for centuries, and that is the subject of God’s sovereignty in relation to man’s free will.

Now, I know this is a topic which has been perpetually argued, but it is because of this fact that I had felt so passionate about the subject. I would love to end the debate, although I am not that naive to think that the argument I am about to outline could do so but it is my hope that it might possibly provide Christians who take a strong stance for Calvinism or Arminianism a more common ground and that is Option c.

To preface the argument, there are two reasons I think it is so important that Christians (notably Christian apologists) come to some agreement on the subject of God’s will and man’s will.

The first reason, is that when skeptics see how different Christians, churches, and denominations disagree and possibly even argue about God’s omnipotence, it builds a wall instead of providing a door.

The second reason, is that if the subject comes up when witnessing to someone who has doubts about how God’s will and man’s will can be understood, I feel taking a strong stance for Calvinism or Arminianism has the potential to hurt one’s witness, allow me to explain this:

For the Calvinist, “IF” he is wrong about the elect and we do have free will when it comes to choosing Christ, this can cause people to reject Christ when presented this view because they may feel their decision doesn’t matter when really it does (remember this is “IF” the Calvinist is wrong, similar reasoning is used in Pascal’s Wager).

On the other hand, a skeptic may argue against an Arminian’s views stating those views place God in a position of diminished authority, which causes logical inconsistencies with the Christian’s beliefs of God. So what I suggest is the third option which is my argument, so let’s examine Option c and what I like to call the Time-Salvation Paradox.

In my studies and thoughts about salvation, human will, and God’s transcendence, I have realized I was limiting God by thinking that what God has decreed is in the past. For example–when God chose the elect. And as it turns out, this is a very important detail with some surprising consequences. The idea occurred to me one day after reading this passage in the Bible:

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day
is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
2 Peter 3:8

This is not a verse one typically sees referenced when God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is argued, but stick with me. The one conclusion that I have come to is that the only people who choose God are the ones He elects, but God only elects those who choose Him. This statement alone may not sound logical but the reasoning behind it however, I believe, makes all the difference.

Option-c-

If you take into account the fact that God did choose those He elected before the foundations of the earth, and since God exists outside of time, what has happened with God may not have happened yet with us. To say that it did would mean that God is subject to the same confines and laws of time as we are. Because God is outside of time, what has already happened, (i.e. His choosing the elect) can be said to have not yet happened until we choose God (illustrated in the symbol above).

What I like about this stance is that it focuses on what God can do instead of what God cannot do. Calvinism says that God cannot make man with free will because that would compromise His authority. Arminianism says that God cannot choose people unto salvation because that would compromise His love and justice. Option c says that God can do both of those things, the paradox, if it can even be called that, is understanding how.

Again, God exists outside of our laws of time and space, and thus, outside of our understanding. God’s “time” is not faster or slower than ours, it is nonexistent as He is the creator of it and not bound by it. This is a foundational Christian belief about God, so with that in mind…

A summary of the argument is as follows:

Time-Salvation-Paradox 1.36.13 AM

God is spirit and He is eternal. God exists outside of time.

Man is physical and he is temporal. Man exists inside of time.

Because God exists outside of the laws of time, a moment that has already happened to man could be said to be happening right now with God.

But because man is temporal, a moment that has happened inside of time has already happened and will not happen again with man.

Also, since God exists outside of time, a moment that has not yet happened to man could be said to have already happened with God.

Similarly, consider how God had chosen the elect outside of time before the foundations of the Earth were even set. (Eph 1:4)

Because man is temporal, a moment that has not yet happened inside of time has not yet happened with man. (1 Cor 7:18, 20, 22, & 24)

And because man exists inside of time, man has not yet been chosen inside of time until the moment he chooses God. (1 Tim 6:12 & 1 Pet 5:10)

So it can be demonstrated that people who do not choose God are personally responsible for their choice for eternity, while people who do choose God do so because they were called by God.

This is because everyone has a God given ability to choose God inside of time, while God has chosen the elect outside of time.

So, brothers and sisters, I hope at the very least this argument has brought you another way to look at God’s sovereignty in conjunction with man’s will. Whatever view you feel fits God’s Word and His character best, let it unify us as the Body of Christ. We are not labeled Calvinists, Arminians or a combination of the two; we are Christians, “Little Christs” saved and loved by God. Let our views bring us together for the sole purpose of glorifying God and spreading the Good News. As long as we are doing that, what else could possibly matter?

By Clark Campbell
This blog was written from multiple papers on our List of Theologetics Papers page posted here and here.

Omitted verses. Omitted message?

king_james
King James I of England and VI of Scotland
by John Smith, after Sir Anthony van Dyck
mezzotint, 1721 (1617)

One common objection to newer Bible translations like the NIV is that some verses appear to be missing. And when compared to the King James Bible, there are missing verses. One such list that I saw on social media stated the following verses were missing from modern translations.

Screenshot_2015-05-18-12-44-46

Now, my purpose here is not to argue if the verses are omitted in the original manuscripts or even why they are omitted in modern translations (Biblical scholars have agreed that newer translations have omitted many verses that the KJV included because older and more reliable manuscripts that have been found after the KJV was written do not have these verses. http://www.gotquestions.org/missing-verses.html). I also do not intend to recommend one version over another. My reason for writing is to dispute the claim that modern Bible translations purposefully omitted the messages these passages would have otherwise conveyed. In fact, often the same phrase is found and included elsewhere in the Bible.

So let’s put these verses to the test. For this blog I will be comparing the King James version to the New International version. The verses in italics are omitted from the NIV but included in the KJV. The bold verses are included in the NIV.

Luke 17:36 (omitted)
Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Matthew 24:40 (included)
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

Luke 23:17 (omitted)
For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.
Matthew 27:15 (included)
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.
(Also included are Mark 15:6 and John 18:39)

Acts 8:37 (omitted)
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
(This verse is an area of contention because of the obvious Christian doctrine; particularly believing that Jesus is the Son of God. However:)
Romans 10:9 (included)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
(Also included Acts 16:31, John 5:18, 1 John 4:15, 5:5) Jesus is also called “Son of God” numerous times in the NIV: Matt. 14:33, 16:16, 27:43, 22:54, Mark 1:1, 3:11, 15:39, Luke 1:32 & 35, John 1:49, 11:27, 19:7, Acts 9:20, Romans 1:4, 2 Cor. 1:19, 1 John 4:15, among many others.

Matthew 18:11 (omitted)
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
Luke 19:10 (included)
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Matthew 23:14 (omitted)
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Luke 20:47 (included)
They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.
(Also Mark 12:40)

Mark 7:16 (omitted)
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
(A common phrase that’s included at Mark 4:9, 23; Matthew 11:15; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17; 3:6, 13, 22)

Mark 11:26 (omitted)
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:15 (included)
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
(Also Matthew 18:35)

Matthew 17:21 (omitted)
However this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting
(Mark also chronicles this account yet Mark says Jesus only mentioned prayer.)
Mark 9:29 (included)
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 15:28 (omitted)
And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
Luke 22:37 (included)
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’…

Mark 9:44 and Mark 9:46 (both say the same thing and are omitted)
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Mark 9:48 (included)
where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

Romans 16:24 (omitted)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 3:18 (included)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
(Also similar phrasing in 2 Corinthians 13:14, Revelation 22:21, and Philippians 4:23)

And for good measure, a verse not on that original list:
Colossians 1:14
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
The underlined portion is missing in modern translations. Does that mean modern versions maliciously leave out the importance of Jesus’ blood? No. We find the same message (with Christ’s blood included) in other passages of newer translations.
Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
(Also Romans 3:25, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelations 1:5)

The following verses were also included on the list but none of these verses change the message that writer was conveying if they are not included:

John 5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
Acts 15:34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.
Acts 24:7 But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of your hands.
Acts 28:29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves

So, while some may hold a sense of allegiance to the KJV, the “missing” verses in other modern translations is due to evidence and archaeological discoveries which not only make the newer translations likely closer to the original manuscripts but it clearly doesn’t take away from theological meaning and message of Scripture! This is not to put down the KJV which is a great translation and has accomplished much for God’s kingdom but as believers, we must remember that God’s Word is perfect in it’s original form. There are good translations and there are better translations. Some versions convey certain passages better while others do a better job with other passages.

For information on picking out the best translation for you click here.

By Derrick Stokes and Clark Campbell
Theologetics.org

What is MOST Important to God?

michelangelo-buonarroti-creation-of-adam
Detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 of Sistine Chapel ceiling.

To start, let’s define the terms.

Definition of most:
Greatest in amount or degree.

Definition of important:
Strongly effecting the course of events or the nature of things

So with God, what specific thing strongly effects the course of events or the nature of all things in the greatest amount or degree?

To me, three answers seem to stand out; there is love, there is free will, and there is holiness.

John 3:16-18
16 “For God so loved* the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes** in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned*** already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

*We know love is important to God because He died to redeem us so we might be saved from sin.

**We know free will is important to God because He gives us the opportunity to choose His Son, to choose to spend eternity with Him, and this is evident even from the beginning when God created man and woman in the garden of Eden.

***And we know that holiness is important to God because those who do not choose to believe in Jesus don’t just get a free pass, but condemn themselves to an eternity apart from God.

In contrast, we know it cannot be any of the three by themselves because the others clearly exist, as this is evident throughout all of the Bible.

What does this mean for us?

Well, with all the beliefs in theology, there seems to be 3 levels of importance.

A. Matters of Salvation – How one is saved, the most important. Jesus is God in the flesh. It is only through belief in Him that you can be saved. This is not by works but by faith.

B. Matters of Witnessing – Effecting salvation of others, second most important. Some beliefs can affect your witness to the lost and possibly the salvation of others. Such beliefs include the authority of Scripture, the role of Christians as missionaries, views on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, etc…

C. All Other Beliefs – The least important. These are the denominational differences that seem to divide believers but are really trivial beliefs; the proper way to baptize, types of acceptable music, religious traditions, etc…

Other theological stances on certain issues may inadvertently lead to violating A or B, for example: condoning homosexuality, gay marriage, or theistic evolution may seem innocent enough but by doing so, one would have to compromise on what Scripture says about those issues and could thus compromise the authority of Scripture leading to that person’s effectiveness in witnessing.

Also, taking something that falls under C too far could effect one’s witness, for example: if believers fight and argue about religious traditions instead of agreeing to disagree and acknowledge that traditions don’t save people, only Jesus does – that can tarnish the view of the Body of Christ for those who observe this division.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, because we can deduce that love, free will, and holiness are so important to God, we know that each person is first solely responsible for his/her salvation. After that, we all share a responsibility to present ourselves worthy to be called followers of Christ and to bring the good news to the lost. And lastly, anything else we believe should be laid aside and not cause contention among one another. Let us strive to build each other up and spread the Gospel to all.

For further insight on love click here
For further insight on free will click here and here and here
For further insight on holiness click here

By Clark Campbell
Theologetics.org