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Tearing Down Idols Around Us

“And you were not to make a covenant with those who dwell in this land; its altars you shall pull down. But you have not listened to my voice; what is this that you have done?”

(Judges 2:2)

I fear that we have lived in a pluralistic society too long to really understand the fullness of this statement. Certainly, as Christians, we can understand the prohibition about making covenants with those who are pagans, but what of the language of tearing down the idols of the pagans?

Of late there has been a great deal of discussion in the news about how the Islamic State, as it conquers new regions in the Middle East, has been tearing down “cultural artifacts.” Now, certainly I am not in sympathy with the wicked Islamists who are doing such things…particularly as they slaughter innocents in the name of their false god, but I raise the question simply to point out that in their eyes, they are destroying reminders of paganism from which they hope to purge the land. Is this not exactly what the Israelites were called upon to do?

Now, we have already explored the notion of MårDj (charam — verse 17) and should remind ourselves that Joshua’s invasion of Canaan was meant as a picture of God’s final judgement in the end of days. In those days, before the coming of Christ, God used his people as a witness against the pagans of the land. In these last days, after the coming of Christ, God speaks through his Son and the Son will be the one who executes judgment upon the wicked as he subjects all things to himself. Thus, while governments are given the power of the sword to execute justice, we are not given the power of the sword to execute vengeance or to purge the culture of the wicked. This is why you do not see Christians committing the kinds of crimes that you see being committed in the name of Allah today. Indeed, our weapons of warfare, as Christians, are spiritual in nature because our true enemy is spiritual as well.

At the same time, as Christians, we are called to destroy every argument and tear down every lofty opinion that is raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Sounds a lot like this passage, doesn’t it? In fact, when you pair this passage with Paul’s language of not being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14), we have, in essence, everything for which the people are being condemned by the Angel of Yahweh. How little times change…

Today, when we look at idols (whether they are made from stone or metal or whether they are made out of ideologies), we tend to see them as things to be preserved as cultural artifacts. And while cultural artifacts they may be, what happens when the society becomes inundated with such artifacts? And what happens when the Christian church becomes rather illiterate as to what the Bible teaches as truth and error? What happens? Sadly, the answer can be found by looking out of the window at the culture around us. Because we have not faithfully pursued truth ourselves, we have not faithfully taught that truth to our children. And because we have not faithfully taught Truth to our children, they are being seduced by the Pied Pipers of this world.

What is the result? Faith is and has been minimized. People typically see faith as that which carries them through difficult times only and they forget that while faith will carry you through difficult times, faith is meant to guide the entirety of your life and pursuits. The institutional church is treated much like a kind of club that one might participate in and Sunday worship is seen as optional if it fits into the busy schedule of athletic events and school activities that are “required” if one is going to be socially “well-rounded.” Kids are taught that their social lives, too, are more significant than their family lives. And we can go on and on. And it all stems back to the fact that we have been too lenient in the way we have handled false ideas and in the way we have taught our children the truth.

So, what shall we do? To begin with, we can do much like the people did when they received this judgment from the Angel of Yahweh…we can genuinely lament the hole we have allowed ourselves to fall into. But there is more…and it is what the people failed to do in the verses that followed in the book of Judges. They failed to repair the problem by teaching their children Truth. We know that because the next generation falls away. We need to be proactive with our kids that they know truth from error more clearly than we have ever thought possible. And to do that effectively, we who are adults, need to pursue Truth with a renewed vigor that is fueled by the grief over the wickedness of our land and the fear of our children falling repeatedly into the errors that the Israelites so quickly fell into in the book of Judges. And we can work to tear down the ideological ideals that stand against the knowledge of God — things like secular humanism, false spirituality, mysticism, situational ethics, pluralism, and the modern versions of gnosticism and sophism that have crept into the church. And in doing these things through a repentant spirit, we need too to pray that God would use us as a spiritual sledgehammer in this world to tear down the influence of those teaching error.

Am I Missing Something?

Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.

It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:

 

1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.

Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.

One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.

Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

 

2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”

As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!

This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.

When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?

 

3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.

And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?

Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.

 

The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.

 

Unequal Yoking

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest in his household who ruled over all which were before him, ‘Please put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear before Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites with whom I dwell. You must go to my relatives that are in my land and take a wife for my son, Isaac.”

(Genesis 24:2-4)

 

It seems that people tend to dwell on the practice of setting one’s hand on the thigh (or loins) of another to swear an oath, a practice, it seems that was rather distinct to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 47:29). Traditionally, Jewish commentators have held that the significance of the placement is related to the covenantal sign of circumcision given by God to all who would serve him. Christian commentators have also cited the significance of the loins as the place from which descendants come, again, tying the act to God’s promise.

Yet, the statement that is far more important is that which follows: Abraham does not want Isaac to take a wife from amongst the Canaanites. Here, Abraham surely must be remembering the terrible effect on the life of Lot and his family as a result of Lot’s action in taking a Sodomite wife. How typical it is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the unbeliever drags the believer down, not the other way around. The Apostle Paul also builds on this idea, applying it to Christians:

“You must not be unequally yoked with those who do not believe; for what participation does righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

(2 Corinthians 6:14)

Paul is using the Old Testament prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10) to illustrate the effect of mismated people within marriage, implying to some degree that believers and unbelievers are different species (children of light and children of the devil!). In addition, when God formed Eve from the rib of Adam, he formed her to be his helpmate. The task given to Adam was obedience (you shall not eat…) and worship in his work (you shall work and keep this garden). Thus the wife’s primary task is to assist her husband in his worship of God in all he does. How can she do so if she is a pagan and not committed to the One True God of Heaven and Earth? How can a believing wife help a pagan husband to worship God when his heart is already committed to serving the works of his hands? How important it is that we be equally yoked together.

Thus, as Abraham has come to the point where he is too old for the task of traveling and finding a wife for his son, he entrusts this task to his eldest and most trusted servant — the steward over his household. Go back to my homeland and find a wife for Isaac. There is an interesting implication being made here, though God has made the Covenant with Abraham, it seems that those from whom he descended are not so idolatrous that they do not know of the God of creation. I would not venture to call them believers as there still are idols as part of their cultural worship, but they are not as “lost” as are the Canaanites that surround where Abraham has chosen to dwell. We must be careful not to push this inference too far, but there is significance in the idea that the children of Abraham’s brother are oriented in such a way that they will follow Yahweh’s call and serve him in covenantal fellowship.

Beloved, the account of Abraham’s life is coming to a close (though he will take another wife) and this is the one last covenantal task that he has left to perform. How alien it is to us in the west who are used to choosing our own spouses to see this action taking place. For most of the world through most of history, men and women’s weddings were arranged by their parents or by their guardians. In that context, you did not marry because you fell in love, but you fell in love because you were married. How, in today’s world of convenience marriages and divorces, we can learn a great deal from those who have gone before us and chosen the act of love because marriage was a life and death covenantal arrangement.