CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW
BELIEFS & BLOGS

Bible Q & A
Christian Freedom
Christian Unity
Essential Christianity
Expectations
False Teaching
Scotus Marriage Ruling
Sexual Purity

Theological Triage


Essential Christianity

Four Guiding Principles

(1)    GRACE ALONE

We are saved by “grace,” that is, the unmerited and undeserved love of God for us.  No one deserves to be saved and no one can merit being saved.  Further, being spiritually dead, (Ephesians 2:1), unbelievers are powerless to cooperate in their salvation (Romans 8:7) (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Thus salvation is entirely God’s doing He alone brings us to faith, and thus no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).

(2)    SCRIPTURE ALONE

The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word (2 Timothy 3:16) (2 Peter 1:21) (1 Corinthians 2:13). It is the sole rule and norm for Christian teaching.   It should be taken literally unless obvious rhetorical considerations dictate otherwise (metaphors, similes, hyperboles, allegories, etc.)

(3)    FAITH ALONE

People are saved, not by works nor by faith and works, but by faith in Christ alone. (Romans 3:28) (Ephesians 2:8,9)

(4)  JESUS ALONE

By His perfect life, fulfilling heaven’s entrance requirement of perfection on our behalf, and by His sacrificial death on a cross, Jesus earned for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  All who trust in Jesus alone receive the benefits of what He has done for them. (John 1:12) (John 3:16-18) (John 14:6) (Acts 4:12) (Galatians 3:26) (1 John 2:23) (1 John 4:15) (1 John 5:1).


 Other Biblical Truths

                 Jesus Christ is according to His divine nature, God (John 1:1-3) (John 20:28) (Romans 9:5) (Hebrews 1:8) (Titus 2:11-13), and according to His human nature received through the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26,27), the Son of God (Galatians 4:4,5) (John 3:16). He died on a cross to pay for our sins, rose from the grave, (1 Thessalonians 4:14) and is coming again (Matthew 24:30) (Acts 1:11).

         The only true God is the Triune God.  He is by nature, three persons (Matthew 28:19), and yet one God (Deuteronomy 4:35,39) (Deuteronomy 6:40) (John 10:30).

            The appropriate gratitude responses of those who believe is: (a) to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), (b) to love God (Matthew 22:37) by striving to know and obey His will (John 14:15) as revealed in the Scriptures (Matthew 7:24-27) (John 13:17), (c) to love all others (Matthew 5:43-48) (Matthew 22:39) by doing deeds of kindness (1 John 3:18), (d) to serve God (Romans 7:4) (Ephesians 2:10) (2 Corinthians 5:15), (e) to weekly and publicly assemble for worship (Exodus 20:8-11) (Leviticus 23:3) (Leviticus 26:2), (f) to grow in graciousness (kindness) and knowledge of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13) (2 Peter 3:18), to become more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18), and (g) to share Jesus with others (Matthew 5:14-16) (1 Peter 2:9) (1 Peter 3:18).  

Keys To a Blessed Life

               (1)  BELIEVING 

Absolutely nothing is more important than BELIEVING in Jesus Christ, for how we respond to Him has eternal consequences (John 3:16-18).  Anything else we do is, by comparison, temporary and as such, is of much less significance.  “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Jesus said. (Luke 9:25) (Luke 12:16-21).  BELIEVING in Christ then is the first and most important key to a joyful life in the here and the hereafter.  It is not, however, a guarantee of blessings beyond forgiveness and eternal life.  For while salvation comes from BELIEVING, blessings such as peace and joy come, first of all, from…

(2) KNOWING

…God’s will.  KNOWING is essential to living a blessed life, for it is the first step to obedience, and obedience to the will of God leads to blessings. But KNOWING must be accompanied with PUTTING INTO PRACTICE what we come to KNOW through our study of God’s Word.  Put another way, BLESSINGS come from also…

(3) DOING  

…God’s will.  This, Jesus said, is the mark of true “wisdom” (Matthew 7:24-27).  “Now that you KNOW these things,” He added, “you will be blessed if you DO them” (John 13:17).

(4) REPENTING

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we can not perfectly do the will of God (1 John 1:8).  For that reason, it’s critically important that we repent (Mark 6:12) when we discover we are out of God’s will.  To repent means to have “a change of mind” and “a change of heart” once we realize that we have veered from His plan as revealed in His Word.  Doing so prepares one to be cleansed of their sin, which in fact occurs when we, as Christians, take the next step of…   

(5) CONFESSING

…that sin.  When we do, our heavenly Father promises to forgive and forget our sin.  It’s as if, we had never done it (Psalm 103:12) (Jeremiah 31:31) (1 John 1:9).  

 

Christian Unity

United we stand, divided we fall!  That universal truth was written by Aesop, a 7th century B.C. Greek slave.  It applies to families, governments, and nearly all institutions.  Thankfully, it does not apply to the Christ's church in that--it will never fall.  Jesus clearly said, "...The gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18).  It may, however, flounder. At present, the Christian church appears so divided to unbelievers they don't  know who or what to believe, which causes many of them to believe none of us.  The point?  Our collective witness for Christ has been compromised by our emphasis on what divides us than on what unites us. 

Clearly, this is displeasing to our heavenly Father Who wants us to be united!  Jesus said, "I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You--May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23).  Inspired by the Spirit, the apostle Paul echoed that plea when he wrote: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). 

Early attempts at Christian unity were dismal failures, and rightly so.  Realizing that we could never totally agree doctrinally, the liberal National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches sought a unity apart from the Word of God.  As long as one named the name of Jesus, members could believe or deny whatever they chose, even to the point of denying salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6).

This question remains: given our doctrinal differences, can we make a united stand for Christ as He bids us to do?  The answer is a qualified--"Yes!"  Certainly Bible-believing Christians, who neither add (new doctrine) to the Scripture nor subtract from it (Deuteronomy 4:2) (Revelation 22:18,19) by denying its inerrancy (Psalm 119:160) (1 Corinthians 2:13) (2 Timothy 3:16) (2 Peter 1:16) can and must stand united!  The question is--HOW?  The answer may be found in five principles which, when followed, will render Bible-believing Christians as united as we could ever be.

First, we must recognize that unity is possible!  Our God never asks anything of us that we cannot do.

Second, the unity we seek must be based, not apart from, but on the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Paul wrote that we are to grow "...Until we are reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:13).

Third, we must recognize that perfect doctrinal unity on earth is not possible.  Nor did our heavenly Father expect we would ever achieve it.  Speaking of our inability to totally comprehend His Word, God said through Paul: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then (when we are in heaven) we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, then (again, when I am in heaven) I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Paul was also moved to write: "I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval" (1 Corinthians 11:18).

Fourth, we must give up the idea that the unity God seeks must be 100% in line with our own denomination's understanding of the Word of God.  Christians who sincerely and honestly approach the Bible as God's final, inspired and inerrant Word tend to agree 80 to 90% of the time.  While it is important that we share our understanding of the Word of God, to make a united stand, again--we must nonetheless give up the idea that others will ever be in total agreement with our own denomination.

Fifth, we must realize that we will not all practice our Christian faith in the same way, and that's fine.  It is not reason to divide us.  As long as our faith is based on the Word of God, we are free to express it in any manner that is edifying to us (Romans 14).

So--can be be united?  Absolutely, but only if we make the effort!  Apart from our salvation, all blessings, including unity, come from two things: knowing then doing what the Word of God says.  "Now that you know these things," Jesus said, "you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:17).  The question is--will we do them?

 

False Teaching

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when many will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).

“…There will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).

“Dear friends, do not believe every (human) spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1).

These inspired passages were expressed by the apostles; Paul, Peter and John.  At the Spirit’s nudging, each was made aware that Satan would waste no time in an attempt to deceive God’s people.  The deception began as the ink was drying on the parchment.  Sadly, it continues today. 

As a pastor, my concern is for those in certain denominations who, like most Christians today, have little knowledge of Scripture and who, as a result, are totally unaware that they are, to varying degrees, being mislead.  My concern is also for young people who have been indoctrinated with false teaching from the start of their young Christian lives.  Understandably, they have no clue that some of what they have been taught as truth, is in reality, a lie.  This is the motivation behind this brief essay on false teaching.  I have no intention of listing particular groups that are toying with or are steeped in false teachings, but rather to explain what false teaching is.  My hope is that by so doing, those who are being mislead will see it for themselves and begin searching for a denomination or congregation that faithfully strives to adhere to God’s inspired, inerrant Word!

 So…what IS false teaching?  And…who are the false teachers?

 WHAT A FALSE TEACHER IS NOT

FIRST…as used in the New Testament, a false teacher is NOT a teacher of another world religion or of any of the hundreds of religious cultic groups who claim no allegiance to Jesus.  To be sure what they teach is, for the most part, false.  But when the Bible speaks of false teachers, it’s referring to those who claim to be Christian and yet to varying degrees, have departed from the teachings of historic, Biblical Christianity.

SECOND…ordinarily, a false teacher is NOT  a lay person; it’s a “teacher” or, in other words, one who leads.  He, or she, could be a pastor, a missionary, an evangelist, an elder, a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, etc.  Throughout the remainder of this essay, we will refer to them simply as, “leaders.”   But clearly, those who follow or ascribe to their teachings are NOT false teachers for they are not leaders; they are the misled. 

THIRD…a false teacher is NOT necessarily a leader of another Christian denomination, congregation, or group, just because their understanding of lesser essential doctrines differs from that of our own denomination, congregation or group.  Provided they believe the Bible to be inspired and inerrant, and provided they are striving to faithfully teach it, they should no more be considered false teachers than our leaders should be regarded as such by them.  Scripture clearly states that when is comes to less essential doctrines, 100% agreement among Christians, while desirable, is not possible.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then (when we are in heaven) we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, then (again, when I am in heaven) I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Paul was also moved to write: “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.   No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” (1 Corinthians 11:18).

WHAT THEN IS A FALSE TEACHER?  

 A false teacher is a religious leader who professes Christian faith while, at the same time, ADDING to or SUBTRACTING from God’s Word (ie., from the Old and New Testaments) or who teaches others to follow the teachings of another who has, at a earlier time, added to or subtracted from God’s Word.

 To better understand the significance of this warning, we must remember that God revealed His Word through the Old Testament prophets, His Son, and the first century apostles.  The doctrines they gave us form the very foundation of the Christian faith.  In writing to the Ephesians, Paul clearly states that our faith is “…Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone...” (Ephesians 2:19-21).               

By the 5th century B.C., the foundational doctrines of the Old Testament had been laid.  From then on, it was considered a closed book.  The closing of the New Testament began approximately 500 years later following the death of John in the 90's A.D.  By the 4th century A.D. the New Testament was considered closed when the church merely ratified the books which, for the most part, had already been accepted as God's final New Testament revelation.

From then on, no new doctrines were to be tolerated, and no one was to subtract from God’s established Word by denying those doctrines already revealed in the Old and New Testaments.   Any who dared to either add or subtract, would be guilty of a grievous sin for which there would be dire consequences.  

“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32)

“Every Word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Do not add to His words or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar? (Proverbs 30:5,6)

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book; If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18,19).

THOSE WHO SUBTRACT FROM GOD'S WORD

These are professing Christian leaders who do not accept the inerrancy of Scripture who, as a result, deny essential doctrines of the Christian faith and teach others to do the same.  By so doing, they  “subtract” from God’s Word; it’s as if the passages they deny didn’t even exist.  They are rightly called—false teachers.  We see them in the majority of liberal Christian denominations and in larger ancillary groups of which many are a part, such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.  Rather than recognize and deal with false teaching, they dismiss it.  Several of these denominations even ordain pastors who reject the most basic of Christian doctrines.  No doubt, Jesus would say to them what He said of the Christians in Thyatira:  “…I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants…” (Revelation 2:20).                

THOSE WHO ADD TO GOD’S WORD

These are leaders who profess to be Christian who have added to, or teach others to follow the teachings of others who have added to God’s once-revealed Word.  Following are some of the marks of a false teacher who has added to God’s Word.

(1) They follow and teach the doctrines of a self-proclaimed prophet or prophetess who has added new doctrines not found in the once-revealed Old and New Testaments, and/or teach new understandings of old doctrines never accepted by the Christian church at large.  In almost all cases, these so-called prophets and prophetess have arisen in the late 19th century A.D., some 2400-plus years after the closing of the Old Testament Canon and approximately 1600 years after the closing of the New Testament Canon.

 (2) Often, they have new “Scriptures” given them by their prophet or prophetess.  In most cases, they believe their post-canonical “Scriptures” to be more reliable than the either the Old or New Testament.

 (3) Usually, though not always, they teach that theirs is the only true religion and those who do not embrace it are in the end, lost.

(4) They deny Christianity’s key doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus alone.  Instead, while often denying it, they believe certain works must be added to faith for one to be saved.

 Scripture teaches just the opposite:  “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 2:28).

 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Even so, there are those who teach that faith in Jesus alone is not sufficient.  They insist that certain works are also necessary.  These works may include food requirements, worshiping on a particular day, or as mentioned earlier, simply being a member of their group.  As we have seen in the above passages, Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is by faith alone.  Scripture also speaks of the abrogation of Old Testament food requirements:

FOODS
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him”
(Romans 14:1-3).

 “‘Are you so dull?’ He (Jesus) asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean?  For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body. (In saying this, Jesus declared all food ‘clean).’” (Mark 7:18,19).

 WORSHIP DAYS
Some believe that Christians worshiped on the 7th Day (Saturday) up until the 4th century A.D. when a pope changed the day of worship to Sunday.  The truth is, most Christians were beginning to worship on Sunday, no doubt, for two reasons.  First, Sunday was considered a very special day for it was on this day that our Lord Jesus rose from the grave.  Secondly, most of the early Christians embraced the apostles' teachings that any day is an appropriate day to worship the Lord.  But even then, as now, some still believed that Saturday was the only appropriate day to worship.  Paul addressed this misunderstanding in his letter to the Christians in Rome, Colossi and Galatia: 

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.  Each one should be convinced in his own mind…He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:5,6).

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come (ie., symbolic); the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16,17)

“You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:10)

 Further evidence of the practice of worshiping on Sunday from the latter half of the first century on is hinted at in the following verses:

“On the first day of the week (Sunday) we came together to break bread (Holy Communion)… (Acts 20:7).

“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:2). 

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  On the Lord’s Day (Sunday) I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:9-11).

 Apart from the implication of Scripture, history also shows that, for the most part, early Christians were worshiping on Sunday and felt themselves free to eat all foods, as long as doing so didn’t cause another to stumble in the faith.  Further, Scripture clearly warns of the seriousness of adding even a single work to salvation.  Speaking to Christians in Galatia who were beginning to add the necessity of circumcision to faith in Christ, the apostle Paul gives the following stern warning:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"  Lest anyone fail to see the seriousness of adding works to faith, Paul repeated his dire warning, saying: "As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:6-9). *(See the role of works below)

 WHAT SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DO?

If you believe your leader(s) is teaching falsely, the first thing you should do is—PRAY!  Under no circumstances should you share your conviction with others.  Instead, you should personally go to your leader, one on one, and respectfully discuss your concern.  “If a brother sin,” Jesus said, “ go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15-NAS).  It could be that you are wrong, or that you have misunderstood, in which case, the congregation will not be divided by, what would in reality be, a false accusation.

But what if, you believe, your leader insists on teaching falsely, what then?  Again, Jesus tells us what to do.  “…If he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed” (Matthew18:16-NAS).  In other words, select two or three members whom you know share your concern.  Again, your goal should be to stop what you believe to be false teaching while keeping the knowledge of your concern to as few people as possible.

What if even after that, your leader persists in teaching falsely?  In such a case, Jesus said: “…Tell it to the church…” (Matthew 18:17-NAS).  That is, tell it to the lay leaders, the elders of the church.  If clearly shown that the leader’s teaching is indeed false, and the leader refuses to repent, the elders should then lead the congregation in removing him.

Clearly, our Lord Jesus commends congregations that deal with, rather than  dismiss false teaching.  To the congregation in Ephesus He said: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, have found them false” (Revelation 2:2-NIV). 

Unfortunately, most congregations today do not faithfully follow our Lord’s guidance in the area of church discipline.  In such a case, a Christian has no alternative but to remove himself and his family from the church.  Remaining would not only subject oneself and ones family to false teaching, it would lend support to the ministry of that false teacher.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John wrote: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 1:9-11). 

It is my earnest prayer that all who read this essay will take it to heart.  Too often, and too easily, we tend to hear God’s Word while failing to apply it.  To that, I close with these words of James, the half-brother of Jesus. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he wrote: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says” (James 1:22). 

 Should you be in a denomination, a congregation or a group led by a false teacher, I leave you with these words—WILL YOU DO IT?  

 

*THE ROLE OF WORKS
The saying: "We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone" is attributed to Martin Luther.  His point was this: while good works have nothing to do with salvation, they accompany it as surely as heat and light accompany fire.  You simply can't have one without the other.  But clearly, the heat and light are but byproducts of fire.  So also, good works are a byproduct of true faith, and--we are to grow in them (Sanctification).  But again, Scripture clearly states that they play no role in our salvation.  (Romans 2:28) (Ephesians 2:8,9) 

 

A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity

NOTE: The following commentary is not ours.  It was written by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, jr., ninth President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which, under his leadership, has become one of the largest seminaries in the world. Dr. Mohler's evangelical commentaries may be viewed at his website: www.albertmohler.com

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In every generation, the church is commanded to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." That is no easy task, and it is complicated by the multiple attacks upon Christian truth that mark our contemporary age. Assaults upon the Christian faith are no longer directed only at isolated doctrines. The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack by those who would subvert Christianity's theological integrity.

Today's Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God's truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.

A trip to the local hospital Emergency Room some years ago alerted me to an intellectual tool that is most helpful in fulfilling our theological responsibility. In recent years, emergency medical personnel have practiced a discipline known as triage--a process that allows trained personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urgency. Given the chaos of an Emergency Room reception area, someone must be armed with the medical expertise to make an immediate determination of medical priority. Which patients should be rushed into surgery? Which patients can wait for a less urgent examination? Medical personnel cannot flinch from asking these questions, and from taking responsibility to give the patients with the most critical needs top priority in terms of treatment.

The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means "to sort." Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.

A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world's framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

In the earliest centuries of the Christian movement, heretics directed their most dangerous attacks upon the church's understanding of who Jesus is, and in what sense He is the very Son of God. Other crucial debates concerned the question of how the Son is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The earliest creeds and councils of the church were, in essence, emergency measures taken to protect the central core of Christian doctrine. At historic turning-points such as the councils at Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, orthodoxy was vindicated and heresy was condemned--and these councils dealt with doctrines of unquestionable first-order importance. Christianity stands or falls on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God.

The church quickly moved to affirm that the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ are absolutely necessary to the Christian faith. Any denial of what has become known as Nicaean-Chalcedonian Christology is, by definition, condemned as a heresy. The essential truths of the incarnation include the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who deny these revealed truths are, by definition, not Christians.

The same is true with the doctrine of the Trinity. The early church clarified and codified its understanding of the one true and living God by affirming the full deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--while insisting that the Bible reveals one God in three persons.

In addition to the Christological and Trinitarian doctrines, the doctrine of justification by faith must also be included among these first-order truths. Without this doctrine, we are left with a denial of the Gospel itself, and salvation is transformed into some structure of human righteousness. The truthfulness and authority of the Holy Scriptures must also rank as a first-order doctrine, for without an affirmation of the Bible as the very Word of God, we are left without any adequate authority for distinguishing truth from error.

These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.

The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.

Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.

Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy. A church either will recognize infant baptism, or it will not. That choice immediately creates a second-order conflict with those who take the other position by conviction.

In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue. Again, a church or denomination either will ordain women to the pastorate, or it will not. Second-order issues resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for these issues frame our understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God.

Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.

A structure of theological triage does not imply that Christians may take any biblical truth with less than full seriousness. We are charged to embrace and to teach the comprehensive truthfulness of the Christian faith as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. There are no insignificant doctrines revealed in the Bible, but there is an essential foundation of truth that undergirds the entire system of biblical truth.

This structure of theological triage may also help to explain how confusion can often occur in the midst of doctrinal debate. If the relative urgency of these truths is not taken into account, the debate can quickly become unhelpful. The error of theological liberalism is evident in a basic disrespect for biblical authority and the church's treasury of truth. The mark of true liberalism is the refusal to admit that first-order theological issues even exist. Liberals treat first-order doctrines as if they were merely third-order in importance, and doctrinal ambiguity is the inevitable result.

Fundamentalism, on the other hand, tends toward the opposite error. The misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines. Thus, third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance, and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided.

Living in an age of widespread doctrinal denial and intense theological confusion, thinking Christians must rise to the challenge of Christian maturity, even in the midst of a theological emergency. We must sort the issues with a trained mind and a humble heart, in order to protect what the Apostle Paul called the "treasure" that has been entrusted to us. Given the urgency of this challenge, a lesson from the Emergency Room just might help.

Christian Freedom

Regarding the "manufactured" controversy over the Gay Right/Christian freedom controversy, every Christian I know--as well as every Christian business I am aware of--is respectful toward same-sex couples and would gladly serve them.

Unfortunately, small groups of intolerant gay-rights activists have purposely "set-up" a few Christian businesses demanding--not that they be served, which they most certainly would be--but that committed Christian owners of those businesses participate in certain activities that go against their conscience.  They have crossed a line, one protected by the First Amendment of our constitution.

Tolerance is a two-way street, or at least--it should be.  Christians, while being respectful of others and denying service to no one, also have every right, even responsibility, to not participate in certain activities that go against their conscience.  Paul bid Timothy to hold on to "a good conscience," warning him that some who hadn't "...suffered shipwreck with regard to their faith..." (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

Shame on the media for failing (refusing) to see that the sincere, heartfelt views of everyone--including Christians--should be respected.  And shame on those hypocritical CEO's of WALMART and APPLE and the other companies who criticized states that have signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Who is the greater offender?  A small town baker or owner of a pizza business who would serve anyone but not go against his conscience, or these companies that amass fortunes doing business with countries where they outlaw, even punish gays.

 

Sexual Purity

Sex is, without a doubt, one of life’s more powerful forces.  Probably expressed, it is a tremendous blessing to a relationship, one to be enjoyed.  Unfortunately, it can be abused, which is increasingly the case in today’s American culture, as well as the world over.  And sadly, Christians are as guilty as non-Christians. 

For that reason, many will find this essay uncomfortable.  If so, a good thing to remember is that what you will be reading comes from a God who loves you more than you could possibly know.  His greatest desire for you is that you live with Him forever.  He also desires that your brief stay on earth be one of joy and peace.  Jesus said, “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

 That joy, however, is ultimately dashed when people use sex in  ways God never intended.  And for those who think our culture has always been as it is today, they need only look at the statistics.

THE STATISTICS

In the 1950’s, relatively few couples lived together before marriage.  9 out of 10 waited.  Today, it’s 1 out of 3. 

 From 1960 to 1965, 43% of all white women were virgins.  Between 1980 and 1985, that number plummeted to…14%.  

Today, by age 18, 70% of Americans have had sex outside marriage.  93% of adults between 18 and 23, who are in a romantic relationship, are having sex.  And those who profess faith aren’t doing much better.  80% of them are having sex before marriage.

 And with this increased promiscuity, come consequences.  One of them is…sexually transmitted diseases. 

 STD’s

Today, roughly 25% of girls 15 to 25 have venereal warts (HPV).  Transmission is not prevented by condoms.  HPV is a pre-cursor to cervical cancer.  And this virus is permanent.  Another related consequence is…

SUICIDE

Teenage girls who have sex before marriage are two times more likely to commit suicide than girls who practice abstinence.  It’s even worse for the boys.  Sexually active adolescent boys are seven times more likely to commit suicide that their counterparts. 

And then there’s…abortion.

ABORTION

In 1996 in the United States alone, 1.37 million babies were aborted.   That’s an average of 3,700 babies a day.  Worldwide, an average of 115,000 were killed daily for a total of 42 million.  And the reason behind the vast majority of those abortions was not rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.  According to an Alan Guttmacher Institute study, 98% of abortions were elective, done for socio-economic reasons.

STD’S, SUICIDE, ABORTIONS…these are but three of the direct results of using sex in ways God never intended.  The Biblical term for that is…sexual immorality.  

SEXUAL IMMORALITY

That we be spared these consequences, God says: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  For…“The body is not meant for sexual immorality…(1 Corinthians 6:13).  And to all, but especially to those who trust in Jesus, God says:  “…Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…” (Ephesians 5:3).

But…what is sexual immorality?  For either the majority of people the world over don’t know, or worse—they don’t care.  For the answer we turn to Greek, the original language of the New Testament.  There we discover that the Greek word, translated “sexual immorality,” is—porneia.

And Porneia, or sexual immorality, is first of all, fornication.  The dictionary definition is: voluntary sexual intercourse between an unmarried man and woman.”

Porneia, or sexual immorality, is also adultery.  It’s defined as  voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman not his wife, or between a married woman and a man who is not her husband.”

“Lastly, porneia, or sexual immorality, is homosexuality, which is  sexual relations with another of the same sex.

That raises a critically important question:  just how serious is sexual immorality.  The answer?  For those who unrepentantly,  persist in it, it is in a word—VERY!  “…Do not be deceived,” wrote the apostle Paul. “Neither the sexual immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Another equally important question: If one has in the past or is presently guilty of sexual immorality, what should they do….?  The answer is—REPENT and BELIEVE!

That is, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior.  For in His love for you, He came into this world to pay for our sins.  All of our sins, including the sin of sexual immorality.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of this 700 before Jesus was born. 

“…He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…and by His wounds we are healed”  (Isaiah 53:5).

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5,6).

 “…For the transgression of my people He was stricken” (Isaiah 53:8)

 “He will bear their iniquities…” (Isaiah 53:11).

“…For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

 So if in the past you have, or in the present are practicing sexual immorality—repent and believe in Jesus.  He will forgive.  “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 10:43).  Not only that, as a repentant believer, you will receive eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

From that point forward, in gratitude, strive to know and do the will of God, repenting and confessing when you fail.  And remember who you are!  Through your faith in Christ, you have  become a child of God.  He is your heavenly Father.  His desire for you is not only that you live with Him forever, and that you have a joyful life…He desires that you become more and more like His Son, your Brother, Jesus, and…like Him.  He hopes to see within you…a family resemblance.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil”
(Ephesians 5:15).  For “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). And “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). Finally, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us race with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).  AMEN!

Expectations

                Does it bother you when the ACLU brings law suits against schools and cities if they do not remove all references to Christianity?

                Does it upset you when you hear the Bill Mahr's of this world mock Christians and Christianity?

                Does it irritate you to see educators, close-minded scientists, and uninformed journalists treat Christians as backward and unintelligent
                because we question manmade global warming, reject the theory of evolution, believe the Bible to be inspired, and that Jesus is the only
                way to heaven?

                Does it anger you to see those in high positions give contraceptives to our children without our permission, or point them to an abortion
                clinic without our consent?    

                Does it frustrate you when you see liberal politicians violate the First Amendment as they attempt to force Christian institutions to do
                things contrary to their religious convictions?  

                And...does it infuriate you when you hear of radical Muslims crucifying and beheading Christians...even little children?   

                I know your answer.  It's the same as mine.  But Christ calls us to love them nonetheless. The question is...how do we love those who
                dislike us and would, if they could, silence us?

                Here's two things that might help.  First...we could realize that God is not calling us to LIKE them.  He calling us to LOVE them.
                There's a big difference.  To LOVE them means to befriend them with acts of kindness in the hope of winning them to Christ.

                Now, that's not easy, but...it can be done if, secondly, we stop EXPECTING them to believe as we believe or think as we do. The
                truth is...they can't.  Paul spoke of that.  He wrote, "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to
                God’s law,
nor can it do so.”
(Romans 8:7). 

                That's because unbelievers are captives of Satan and there's nothing they can do to free themselves.  Only WE can do that by sharing
                the Gospel with them.  Paul spoke of that when he said that we should love them "...in the hope that God will grant them repentance
                leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will com to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken
                them captive to do his will"
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)


                So...if we want to love our enemies and share the Gospel with them, we'd do well to stop EXPECTING them to like us or to think as
                we do.  EXPECTING that will only cause us to resent them, for...               

 

      EXPECTATIONS ARE
PRE-MEDITATED RESENTMENTS!

And

RESENTMENTS MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO LOVE OTHERS

                For these reasons, while I'm aware that oftentimes unbelievers do right, I no longer EXPECT them to.

                This may come as a shock, but while I expect NOTHING of unbelievers, I expect LITTLE of Christians...of us.  For even though we               
                CAN do right, often times—WE do not.
 Expecting otherwise can lead to resentment, for while we are saved through our faith in Jesus,
                we are all flawed.
  Even the apostle Paul admitted his shortcomings when he said,“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do
                I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
  For I do not do the good
                I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
 (Romans 7:15-25).

                So, rather than to allow ourselves to resent unbelievers, or even believers, EXPECT NOTHING of unbelievers and LITTLE of believers. 
                That way, we will find it much easier to be kind and compassionate to all, and to love them. For again…

 EXPECTATIONS ARE
PRE-MEDITATED RESENTMENTS!

And

RESENTMENTS MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO LOVE  OTHERS

 

topSCOTUS MARRIAGE RULING 

LCMS President Harrison says U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong on marriage ruling.

Harrison says U.S. Supreme Court
got it wrong on marriage ruling 

                A one-person majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong--again.  Some 40 years ago, a similarly activist court legalized the killing
                of children in the womb. That decision has to date left a wake of some 55 million Americans dead.  Today, the Court has imposed same-
|               sex marriage  upon the whole nation in a similar fashion.  Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law.  Now shall come the time
                of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage (Matthew 19:3-6), and indeed, a time of testing
                much more intense than what followed Roe v. Wade.
               
                Like Roe v. Wade, this decision will be followed by a rash of lawsuits.  Through coercive litigation, governments and popular culture
                continue to make the central post-modern value of sexual freedom override "the free exercise of religion" enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

                During the darkest days of Germany, a faithful Lutheran presciently described how governments lose their claims to legitimate authority
                according to Romans 13.

                The Caesar cult in its manifold forms, the deification of the state, is one great form of the defection from the [true] idea of the state.
                There are also other possibilities of such defection.  The government can forget and neglect its tasks.  When it no longer distinguishes
                between right and wrong, when its courts are no longer government by the strict desire for justice, but by special interests, when govern-
                ment no longer has the courage to exercise its law, fails to exercise its duties, undermines its own legal order, when it weakens through
                its family law parental authority and the estate of marriage, then it ceases to be governing authority.

                Raising such a question can lead to heavy conflicts of conscience.  But it is fundamentally conceivable, and it has time and again become
                a reality in history, that a governing authority has ceased to be governing authority.  In such a case there may indeed exist a submission
                to a superior power. But the duty of obedience against this power no longer exists [Hermann Sasse, "What Is the State?" (1932)].

                As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws.  We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and
                equal value of all people.  We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference.  We recognize that, under
                the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff).  We confess
                that the "blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all our sins" (1 John 1:7).  We confess that God's divine law of marriage
                and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all.  It is a "righteous-
                ness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Romans 3:22).

                However, even as we struggle as a church to come to a unified response to this blatant rejection of the entire history of humankind and
                its practice of marriage, "We shall obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:9).  Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a
                state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to
                reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God's blessing of marriage.  And
                we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.

                God help us.  Amen.

                Pastor Matthew C. Harrison     
                                      

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