The myth of the rope around the high priest’s ankle.

There is a commonly told story in Christendom that is usually told to make a point about the holiness of God. Pastors would say that once a year on the day of Atonement, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies in the temple to make sacrifices.  It was said that he would wear bells on his person, and would have a rope tied around his ankle. The idea is that if he had failed to purify himself and had even the slightest amount of sin left in him, or he did the sacrifice incorrectly, that God would strike him dead. If God did strike him dead, then the bells would stop tinkling and the other priests would pull his corpse out from behind the curtain with the rope.

It sounds like a nice story, except for one thing- It is a pure and utter fabrication. You can search the Bible, the Second Temple Jewish literature [the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha] the writings of Josephus, the Mishnah and Gemara, and the Midrashic commentaries of the rabbis, and nowhere in there will you find such an idea. So what is the origin for this oft attested myth? It would seem that the first traceable reference to this custom is in the Zohar, a thirteenth century mystical Jewish commentary on the Torah written by Moses de Leon. The Zohar is the basic text of Kaballah, the practice of Jewish mysticism.

Here’s the reference: “Rabbi Yitzchak said, A chain was tied to the feet of the High Priest, when he entered THE HOLY OF HOLIES, so that if he dies there they will take him out, SINCE IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THERE… Then there is joy among the higher and lower beings. If not, they were all in sorrow and all knew that their prayer was not accepted.”
Zohar Vol. 16 Emor, Section 34. Yom Kippur, Par. 251.

Nothing about the book should lend us to believe that this is a reliable and historical reality. This is not what we might call a legitimate source for deriving the truth about prehistoric Jewish customs, Furthermore, Leviticus 16 makes it clear that bells were not to even be worn in the Holy of Holies, only The Holy Place. For this reason, when the High priest enterd the Holy of Holies, he washed and wore special linen garments, not the ephod with bells. If there are no bells, there is no need for a rope. As it were, there is no written reference to this “rope” before 1250 AD. It is not biblical, historical, or even particularly ancient. If you want to teach about the rope around the ankle of the High Priest, you must do so with the awareness that such a practice was never referred to in any ancient source and that the first mention of it is in a mystical text written 2600 years after Leviticus 16 and a thousand  years after the  Temple was destroyed.

XXXchurch guy; a rebuttal to the Judas question

I was reading something from Dan Phillips when he linked to this article on the CNN belief blog. It is written by Craig Gross, who is a pastor and founder of xxxchurch.com [a provocatively named ministry whose purpose is to free people from various sexual addictions] I’ve decided to enclose the whole article, which I hope you read, and there are manifest issues with it that I think would be relevant to discern.

“I heard a news clip promoting my recent speaking engagement at a church, and they mentioned that I deal with some of “the greatest sinners of all time.” I thought to myself: Do I? Would people who are caught up in porn and sexual sin addictions consider themselves some of the greatest sinners of all time? Probably not.

Without a doubt, Judas, the biblical disciple of Jesus, is considered the greatest sinner of all time because of what he did to Jesus. Here is the passage from Luke 22:21-22. “Do you realize that the hand of the one who is betraying me is at this moment on this table? It’s true that the Son of Man is going down a path already marked out.” [The Message Bible]“

No surprises there. But for the one who turns him in – who turns traitor to the Son of Man – this is doomsday. Let me tell you a little bit about what the Bible says about Judas:

He was personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus.

He spent 3 1/2 years traveling with Jesus.

He saw all the miracles of Christ in person.

He watched as Christ healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons.

In terms of experience with Jesus, whatever you can say about Peter, James and John, you can say about Judas.

On top of all this, he handled the money, which is most of the time the most trusted one in the bunch. No one suspected that Judas would betray Jesus, which tells me he was a believer.

His life was changed.

He knew Jesus personally.

In a dark moment of his life, he made a mistake. A big one. He sold Jesus out for 30 silver coins or so. The moment he knew what he had done, he felt remorse, and he killed himself.

I am not here to debate theology. The facts are the facts. I don’t think Judas was “The Mole,” like the reality show character who’s there to sabotage the game from the beginning. I think he made a mistake and now has gone down as committing the biggest sin of all time.

Judas heard every message, saw every miracle, and still screwed up.

Recently, I asked on my Facebook page: “Is Judas in heaven or hell?”

The first response was:

Judas is in hell today. He has been there for 2,000 years and he will be there forever.

There is a button on Facebook that I have started to love. It is called “unfriend.” I won’t unfriend you because you believe differently than I do, I just don’t need more theologians as my friends on Facebook who speak with such confidence when it comes to someone’s place in eternity.

A debate continues on my Facebook wall. I love how everyone is so convinced they know whether Judas is in heaven or hell.

I don’t know who gets in, actually. Do I believe in heaven and hell? Yes. I believe one is dark and one is light, and they both last forever.

What is interesting to me is that in the upper room where Jesus and his disciples shared their last supper together, the 12 disciples all talked about how they were so great. Peter left the room and denied Jesus three times.  Judas left the room and sold Jesus out for 30 coins.

One committed suicide, and one went on to build the church as we know it today. Both Peter and Judas committed the same sin. They both denied Jesus. But why do most people think one goes to heaven and one goes to hell?

This is not the debate Christians need to be engaged in. We don’t know. Instead of wasting our time on these types of arguments inside our little Christian world, maybe we should look inside ourselves this Easter.

It is easier to debate these issues and make speculations about others than it is to actually look at ourselves in the mirror. It is always easier to think someone else is worse off then we are.

But maybe as we approach Easter, we can be reminded that for Christians, the cross and the grave should silence all of these debates. We all fall short and deserve death, but because of what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago, we are able to have life. And I believe that where you end up, God only knows.”

I think Pastor Craig is right in that this debate is not one that should be high on our priorities list. I certainly don’t think it’s particularly important. And yet I think the substance of the arguments he makes are worth discussing and debating. This is because using the bible rightly matters, no matter who is using it or how they are using them. The question of whether Judas is in hell or not is NOT the issue. The issue is “what is Pastor Craig doing with the Bible to support his contention one way or another?” I’ll tell you what I see. I see bad logic, non sequitors, biblical inconsistencies, irrelevant biblical argumentation, and someone who thinks it’s acceptable to leave out key passages from the bible when he wants to make a point that can only be made if you leave out those key passages. For that reason, I think it would be beneficial to sort these things out.

1.  “In terms of experience with Jesus, whatever you can say about Peter, James and John, you can say about Judas.”

This is not true. There were certain events that Judas did not experience, chief among them would be the transfiguration as relayed in Mark 9 and Luke 9. That is kind of a big deal, and so it would not be accurate to say that John and Judas shared the same experiences. Similar, yes, but seeing Christ with face unveiled and in his full glory, talking with Elijah and Moses, and then having God from heaven audibly speaking to them, that is a significant experience that Judas did not share. For that reasons, and others, it would not be accurate to say “In terms of experience with Jesus, whatever you can say about Peter, James and John, you can say about Judas”

2. On top of all this, he handled the money, which is most of the time the most trusted one in the bunch.

Scripture also recounts that “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. [John 12;4-6] I wonder in retrospect how they knew he was a thief. Was it assumed after the fact? Did they talk amongst themselves about how much was being put in vs being taken out? I would imagine that sustained thievery and lack of repentance about that fact would not be indicative of the heart of a true believer. The fact that someone was trusted, does not mean they are trustworthy. This whole money thing goes to his next argument though, which is really quite astonishing.

3. “No one suspected that Judas would betray Jesus, which tells me he was a believer.”

Stop and think about that for a second. Isn’t that a completely fallacious reasoning? Isn’t it shameful at how uncritical this argument is considered and thought out? Stated another way, his argument is “everyone thought that Judas was a believer, which means he must have been one,” Since when is the ability to pretend to be a believer a sign that you are one? Since when is proficiency in deceptive a sign of salvation? There is so much that is said about false teachers and men who enter the church disguised as ravenous wolves who deceive people, and so forth, that I hope it would be clear that his argument holds no weight whatsoever, and is more than a bit silly. While we’re here, I find it interesting and telling that  Judas always called Jesus “teacher” and that  he never called Jesus “Lord” or “Master” as the other apostles did. Furthermore, we see Judas mentioned 30 times  in the Gospels, almost all reference Judas in a negative light [and NONE in a positive light].

4. Judas heard every message, saw every miracle, and still screwed up…Peter left the room and denied Jesus three times.  Judas left the room and sold Jesus out for 30 coins. One committed suicide, and one went on to build the church as we know it today. Both Peter and Judas committed the same sin. They both denied Jesus. But why do most people think one goes to heaven and one goes to hell?”

There is where things get real and the dishonesty becomes apparent. Pastor Craig cherry-picks some passages while omitting others in order to forge his hypothesis of implication. He has his hypothesis, that Judas and Peter are essentially the same who each made similar mistakes, and then selectively weaves a simplified, incomplete, emotionally driven narrative in place of a well rounded, complete, biblical narrative. For example, I think it might be worth noting that Jesus says a fair amount about Judas and that what he says has consequences, repercussions, and sheds light on the fate of Judas. Pastor Craigasks “why do most people think one goes to heaven and one goes to hell?

There are many, many reasons

In John 6 Jesus asks the question to his close disciples about their leaving him like the others disciples. But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil? “He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve (John 6:68-71.) That might have something to do with it.

In Matthew 26:23-24  we see Jesus talking “He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

In John 17:9-12, Jesus is praying for his disciples, and he says  “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you, Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one,  even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

In Luke 22:3 we read of the supposed believer “Then  Satan  entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.”

Perhaps his Bible does not have those verses, but his seems clear that their inclusion blows his earlier thoughts out of the water. I’ll take those over “people thought he was a believer, that’s good enough for me!” Of course there is much more that could be said about this. Yes, Peter denied Christ three times, but was not a part of the betrayal that handed Him over to the Jewish leaders. Yet, even knowing that Peter would do this, Jesus prayed for Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” [Luke 22:31-32]. Jesus prayed no such prayer for Judas.In one man, Satan asks Jesus permisson to sift, in the other man, Satan enters in without asking and possesses him. That’s a bit different

In terms of witnessing the miracles, we see that many people witnessed the miracles, and did not believe that Jesus was God. In terms of Judas being able to do miracles, I would say that Judas offers us a perfect example of those claiming to do miracles in Christ’s name and where Jesus turns to them saying he never knew them.

In terms of remorse ” Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  [Matthew 27:3-4]  Judas felt “remorse” but remorse is NOT the same as repentance. Judas confessed his sins to other men, but we have no record of him confessing his sins to the Lord.

As it were, I hope its evident that the problems are manifest. Do I believe Judas is in hell? I would certainly hope that he isnt, but when we look at the whole of the biblical narrative concernning Judas, I think Matthew 26, John 6, Luke 22 and John 17  are clear. For this reason, the fate of Judas is clear.

But again, that is not the point. The point is that we ought not to let people get away with using the Bible so poorly and carelessly. We need to check their verses [and versions!],  think through their argumerntation, see what they are holding back, what they are neglecting to tell us, and what they are leaving out. Once we assemble the missing pieces then we are able to finish the puzzle and engage in robust, thoughtful dialogue. Not before.


Miracles Are Insufficient To Bring About Belief

 

There is a dishonest refrain that is spoken when the atheistic/secular humanist is confronted with the possibility of miracles and how that might relate to their own personal salvation. They’ll offer up thousands of variations on the same basic idea. While it may be helpful to list a few of them, they all come down to the same basic premise “If God exists, let him show me a miracle, then I’ll believe.” These people will protest that if they were ever faced with a legitimate supernatural experience, a legitimate miracle, then on the basis of seeing that that they would then bow the knee and believe.  They reiterate that they are opened minded enough so that when they do see these supernatural events, they possess the ability and the intellectual honesty to shrug off their disbelief and accept God as existing. They believe it to be a simple thing- just show them supernatural evidence, and on that basis they will discard their worldview and will confess Christ as Lord.

In this, they are arrogantly mistaken. They think too highly of themselves and give themselves far too much credit in terms of understanding their psyche and their ability to theoretically respond to a theoretical miracle. As it were, they think they are better than the people in Jesus’ day, when in reality they are not. Because here’s the thing- what was the response to the miracles of Jesus in his lifetime? Unlike modern day charlatans who claim they heal thousands in third world countries but don’t dare step foot in hospitals in North America, Jesus had a very public ministry where miracles were commonplace. These weren’t the bad backs and leg-lengthening tricks that are exemplified by modern faith healers, but rather great, grand-scale miracles that people did not deny. Healing  lepers, paralytics, and blind men women and children. Restoring withered limbs, healing the deaf, mute, and those who were on their deathbed. In fact, we see Jesus going all over the countryside and healing everyone who came to him. Thousands upon thousands of people. We see him feeding the 20,000 people with the bread and the fishes, and see him on at least three occasions rising people from the dead. These miracles were not disputed. No one denied they happened. The issue was not whether or not they were legit, but rather whether Satan himself was helping Jesus do them.

And yet the response of those who were firsthand witnesses and recipients of the miraculous was not faith in Christ or obedience to him. Tens upon thousands were impacted by him and his miracles- possibly even a hundred thousand, and what is the end result? A crowd shouting “crucify him” and only 120 believers holed up in the upper room after his death. Despite a three year public ministry where his miracles were undisputed by even his enemies, he ends up alone and abandoned by those who witnessed the miracles, and still chose to reject him. Some did believe and were faithful, yes. I don’t believe that the miracles of Christ had no impact whatsoever, because they did. They were used to validate the message of Christ- the gospel. But in terms of their ability to produce conversions and penitent hearts- scripturally we see that this was never the case.

So then the question- do you really think the secular humanists will believe if only they are privy to a miracle? No. Scriptures says that they are spiritually dead, slaves to sin and children of wrath. Don’t let these people fool you who say that a miracle from God will make them believe in God. They already believe in God- they are just suppressing the truth about God in unrighteousness. For this reason, seeing a miracle won’t do anything for them. They won’t believe because of that. Seeing a miracle will not crush their  worldview or shatter their atheism wholescale. The author of their salvation is not themselves on the basis on their perceived ability to independently turn to God after viewing and judging a miracle as legitimate- rather the author of their salvation is God, who is also the finisher and perfecter of their faith. They will believe because God calls them and draws them and gives them faith, not because of miracles.

When people say “All I need is a miracle and then I’ll believe” they are lying to you and to themselves. They don’t understand how their spirit and soul works in relation to God. They think themselves neutral moral agents who are perfectly free to come to faith on the basis of their own will through whatever catalyst they deem acceptable- in this case miracles. But that is not the case. Humanity has not changed much over thousands of years. The heart is still wicked, disbelief still present, and rebellion still prevalent. People don’t need miracles now to believe. That won’t help them. They need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then they will believe.

Sermon Review. Alliance Church. April 11. 2011. Bonnie Hodge

The above sermon was preached by [pastrix?] Bonnie Hodge of the Alliance Church. The central text used is 1 Kings 19, with the main purpose of the sermon being to laud the presence of God and teach the importance of being in the presence of God, which is accomplished by listening to God.

To this end, a fair amount of time is spent emphasizing the import of being solitary in the presence of God. We are constantly bombarded with distractions and amusements and therefore we need to begin the habit of taking time to excise those things from our life and spend time alone with God, apart from our kids, music, spouse, etc. She says “There are times in our lives when God has called us to be in his presence, and in those times we have a choice to make; we can brush it off and say “oh, I don’t have time” or “there’s too many things to do” ,or we can actually step up to a mountain, or step to a valley, or step to a desert place, and say “Ok God, I’m in your presence. What is it you would like me to hear, how is my relationship with you?” [Note.  I have no idea what any of that means.]

Bonnie gives us a bit of context for her bible verse, and then quotes 1 Kings 19:8-13a “So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.”

I should point out that I think its fascinating that she only quotes the first half of verse 13, and not the second half. I have a theory of why this is, but I will get into that later. In any case, there are three things she wishes to communicate. 1] Being in the presence of God when he calls you. 2] Hearing God’s voice. 3] Once you hear his voice, what you ought to do.

She makes the case that God wants to spend time with us, and that “We talk about Jesus being in our heart, Jesus being in our spirit. That’s a way to describe how close that relationship with God should be. It should be so intertwined that there is no point of our lives that we walk out of the presence of God. It should be so engaged that every part of our decision making prioritizing process should be intertwined with God, that we continually walk in his presence.”  I don’t mean to be critical at this point, but am I the only one who is distressed and dismayed at the command to always walk in the presence of God in the way it is being described?  It sounds exhausting. Perhaps being in the presence of God is a matter of degrees, but I will straight up say that I cannot bear the weight of that load- not even for a minute. I’m not even sure it is achievable, or that such a situation as described is desireable.

She says that being alone with God is the key to not being burned out, and that when you get bored/ not excited with life- then that is a sign that you need to get into the presence of God. She continues to tell some of the back-story of Elijah, and says that Elijah was depressed because he wasn’t walking in the presence of God. She offers Jesus as an example of someone who stepped back and sought isolation and time with God. [Time in desert, after his cousin John had been killed, after feeding the 20,000, after the sermon on the mount, etc] She builds her case quite well that Jesus did spend time by himself- and then she says that to follow Jesus’ example we need to be in the presence of God, to look upon the face of the Father [historically a very dangerous thing] and allow him to look upon our heart. [I don't know what that means]

Bonnie says that “We are created by God in His image and there is something in the very depths of our spirit that yearns to be connected with our creator God. It yearns. It isn’t just a little thing, especially once you become a Christian, especially once you are connected to that throne of God, that very throne of God to be in his presence.” I would suggest that it is a myth that we have a God shaped hole, and that there is something in the very depths of our spirit that yearns to be connected with our creator God. That is not true. Instead we see a wealth of biblical evidence to show that unregenerate people are hostile to God and are not seeking him, but rather are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. [Romans 1:18-20] Furthermore we see that

  • Romans 3:10-11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
  • Romans 8:7-8: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
  • Ephesians 2:1-3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
  • Titus 3:3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

She says that “We cannot separate our own thoughts, when we are in the presence of God, with what Gods thoughts are.” [Again, I have no idea what the means, especially in context.] But her Bible verses comes to a head when they are tied in with her thesis. At this point I must say that her use of 1 Kings 19, quite frankly, is inexcusable. She says that God spoke to people in earthquakes, wind, fires and audibly, but it’s in the quietness and silence where we REALLY hear from God. Really? Does that make any sort of sense? What biblical passages support this? She says that the only way to hear that quiet voice is if you yourself are being quiet, which is consistent, I suppose, with her previous comments. I can see it now.  Rid yourself of the distractions so you can hear God. He’s going to whisper, hiss, cluck his tongue and mutter to us only when our spirits are as quiet as mice, so make sure there’s no faucets dripping or clocks ticking, or else you might miss it.

Here’s the deal. In the context of that very verse, both before and after, God is speaking to Elijah in a very loud, audible voice. Right? All throughout this chapter God is speaking to Elijah as a man would speak a friend- in a direct, audible way. We see in the later part of verse 13b she didn’t quote that God was doing that very thing. And yet there’s no one saying that that is how God speaks to us today- that we should wait and be silent so we can hear an audible voice out of nowhere start talking to us. No, rather they ignore all the verses which are directly before and directly after with God speaking to the man out loud, and focus in on the still small voice.

As it relates to God speaking and communicating to us, if you want to hijack a principle or whatever from this chapter, why on earth isn’t the takeaway that God speaks to us out loud? That’s what’s God’s doing here. In the verse before, and the verse afterward, God is talking to him and straight up asks him “What are you doing here, Elijah?” You can’t get any clearer than that. If you’re trying to peg some spiritual act as normative, why go for the obscure line in an obscure passage that was spoken to a single, unique man thousands of years ago? And why use the “still small voice” as the main way God speaks to us, when throughout this chapter and the next God is speaking to the prophet clearly and directly in an audible voice, which leaves no room for error or confusion?

These very facts betray the problem with this sermon. Bonnie builds the sermon around that idea, with the key words being “I think…” There are these mystical overtones which suggest this idea that you can be alone with God and there is this whole interaction where the presence of God is somehow communicating all these things absent the word of God or absent any real prayer to God to reveal the application in life of the Word. Rather it’s all about “just being connected, just reveling in the presence.” It’s an ethereal, unfathomable, unattainable, misty idea without any concrete foundation, but rather relies on subjective, emotional, mystical state of mind. I’m not suggesting that God cannot speak to us at all, but rather that Bonnie hasn’t even come close to providing us with a biblical and logically orthodox foundation as to how this might come about and how it might transpire.

Listen, how about an alternative? Why not say something like,  “My beloved brothers and sisters. Christ is real and he has revealed himself in his sacred scriptures. Because of his wonderful grace he saved us while we were yet sinners, and out of abundance of love  and gratitude at his mercy, we ought to seek to know Him. [The more you impress upon their hearts how good God is, the more they will be drawn and driven to know him  as a response to their recognition of the glory and of God in salvation,  not because we don't want to be bored or have bad days] For this reason- let us pursue him. Let us learn everything we can about him. You don’t need to speak any magic incantations to hear from him. You don’t need to follow any prearranged formula or engage in any mystical mind-centering. Rather, because he has revealed himself in his word, and that word is trustworthy, let us read about him there, and pray that he might bind our consciences to scripture. Because the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, we are always in the presence of God, and let us recognize, appreciate, and celebrate that. Let us seek after his righteousness. Take some time to get away from the distractions so that you can quiet your heart and can reflect on the mercies of God, and so that armed with a bible you can partner with Christ in sanctification and cull away the evil thoughts and deeds inside of you as revealed by Scripture, and ask that the fruits of the spirit may be developed within you with greater consistency as you confess your sins and ask Christ to reveal himself to you more in the word”? Why not say something like that, instead of basing your sermon on a really poor understanding and misapplication  of 1 Kings 19?

All in all, not impressed, and to be frank a little bit angry. I believe that connecting people with God with a greater consistency, and I think it’s evident that Bonnie believes this too. That passion and zealousness to have people know God better and understand spiritual things deeper is evident, but the way she tried to do this was through mangling the scriptures and failing to rightly handle God’s word. It was inexcusable. It didn’t have to happen, and I am very disappointed.

The Anatomy of the Altar Call; Anonymity is Key.

The following may say more about where I was as a teen than any outstanding insight into the nature of evangelicalism; but that’s fine, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who went through or thought this.  Something that I noticed then, was that at the end of so many sermons there was almost always an extended altar call.

After the lights were sufficiently dimmed [for youth services anyway], and the pastor nodded to the piano player to start playing gentle music, these altar calls would almost invariably begin “With every head bowed, every eye closed, nobody looking around….no one watching you…eyes closed…..head bowed….”  [repeat as much as necessary-wait as long as necessary]. The pastor would consistently use those words, spoken in warm, soothing tones, and when the pastor on stage felt there was appropriate anonymity he would begin, “If something said here tonight resonated in your heart: that is the Holy Spirit, and tonight is your opportunity to meet with God”

This would go on until eventually the moment would come, “If you would like to give your heart and life to Jesus tonight, every head bowed, every eye closed, nobody looking around, then I would like to just invite you to raise your hand where you are sitting and say a prayer after me. If you don’t feel comfortable praying out loud, then just say the words in your heart”  There was no standing up, no walking to the front of the aisle. But rather a simple raising of the hand. This would continue for a few minutes accompanied by some music and “Thank you brother. Yes, I see that hand right there.  You’ve entered the kingdom tonight sister…”

Now this is where I have to confess something; I rarely had my head bowed or my eyes closed.  I had more than a few experiences where I looked around wondering exactly who the pastor was thanking until I figured it out: sometimes he was thanking more people than could be noticed with every head bowed, every eye closed, and nobody looking around! Sometimes I could not see a single person as my eyes scanned sanctuary, and yet invariably I would hear “I see that hand. Yes… thank you. Yes I see that one too. Amen…Yes,  I see that one in the back”. This was probably to encourage the congregation in some way, and yet while we would get a dozen “I see those hands” per month, the church never seemed to grow…

I could discuss that last point ad nauseum, but what I wanted to focus on was the sheer anonymity that these pastors provided any potential convert. Everything was geared towards making the altar call as comfortable as possible, as socially un-awkward as possible, and as emotionally stirring as possible. Its not enough that they don’t explain what “asking Jesus into your heart means”, but there seems to be this desire to set the mood and make all variables and conditions as inoffensive and as conducive to this sort of tug-string conversion as possible. It certainly set a precedent that the inception of ones spiritual birth was surrounded by an almost shame-like quality. Not something for the whole church to be aware of and celebrate and commit to keeping accountable, but rather a hidden, solitary affair. Its essentially a dirty little secret. No one looking at you. No one watching you. Cloaked in invisibility. When called, raise the tips of your fingers just past your head so that your neighbor won’t be startled by the rustling of your arm and your elbow locking as it fully extends, lest he be tempted to look at you and actually observe your confession of faith.

This seems like a far cry from how Jesus did it, where in the former there is no conception of calling people publically so that the body can support them publically. If Jesus were to do one, it would probably be more of the “with every head unbowed and every eye open and looking around” variety. Though by no means a great parallel, I think we see more or less see this in the call to the first Apostles. “And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.” [Mark 1:16-20]

What do you think? Anyone else experience this? Why do you think this is seemingly the norm, instead of the exception?

Great Os Guinness Quote

“Christians simply haven’t developed Christian tools of analysis to examine culture properly. Or rather, the tools the church once had have grown rusty or been mislaid. What often happens is that Christians wake up to some incident or issue and suddenly realize they need to analyze what’s going on. Then, having no tools of their own, they lean across and borrow the tools nearest them.

They don’t realize that, in their haste, they are borrowing not an isolated tool but a whole philosophical toolbox laden with tools which have their own particular bias to every problem (a Trojan horse in the toolbox, if you like). The toolbox may be Freudian, Hindu or Marxist. Occasionally, the toolbox is right-wing; more often today it is liberal or left-wing (the former mainly in North America, the latter mainly in Europe). Rarely – and this is all that matters to us – is it consistently or coherently Christian.

When Christians use tools for analysis (or bandy certain terms of description) which have non-Christian assumptions embedded within them, these tools (and terms) eventually act back on them like wearing someone else’s glasses or walking in someone else’s shoes. The tools shape the user. Their recent failure to think critically about culture has made Christians uniquely susceptible to this.”

- Os Guinness

Sermon Review. FBC. Pastor Brent Carter. The Fallout of Genesis

I’ve decided to stop doing such lengthy summaries of the sermons I’m reviewing, and instead simply give my thoughts and assume that the person has listened to it. I used to summarize at great lengths so that people would know that I have actually listened to the sermon, almost always twice, but due to time constraints it seems best that I summarize as I go and offer thoughts and reflections in manner.

Pastor Brent begins by talking about different frustrations that we have, and that even in the smallest frustrations we see the impact of the fall around us. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. Romans 8:22″. He states that the singular sin of Adam fractured this world. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

We are told that we live in a world that is under the ongoing impact of sin. It impacted all of creation and not just Adam and Eve. It is postulated that if we could clearly see the connection of sin to disaster for example, then we would always believe God and obey God. But somehow we don’t see the connection, because we are blind to these things and as a result we live in the disconnect from sin to our lives. He states that the impact of sin was punishment, and then proceeds to unpack Genesis 3 for us.

Pastor Brent states that Satan desires to take what is good and pervert it for sinful purposes, and for this reasons and others there will be a perpetual struggled between Satan and mankind. Even those who don’t believe in him are impacted by him. He talks about the two ditches that Christians can fall in regarding Satan, either not caring at all or caring too much. C.S. Lewis put it this way “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe,and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight.”

Pastor Brent then does a straightforward job of unpacking Genesis 3. He mentions that Genesis 3:16 is about husbands ruling over their wives, and then does the leg work to point to 1 Timothy 2 “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” He says that this is in full effect today, and while I would have liked him to go a bit more in depth into this, I was grateful that he did not shirk away from the potential hardships and offense of the text,

He then spends time speaking of the hostility and effects of the curse on men and women of Adams sin, and the speaks of the prophetic protoevangelium [Literally "First Gospel"] whereas the head of the serpent would be crushed by the Messiah, the offspring from the woman, and now that prophecy plays out. Because he takes a very literal approach to the first few chapters of Genesis, it would have been intriguing for him to talk about the role that the protoevangelium has in pointing to the authenticity and import of Genesis. We know that all prophecy is given from God, and so how that fact plays into the truth and veracity of Genesis would be fascinating.

In any case, he takes a literal approach to Genesis 1-3, which I am grateful for.Interestingly enough, the vast majority of the Churches in the city speak of Genesis as being a literal account, which is a bit unusual because it is not an especially popular opinion- as evidenced by the fact that less than 6% of Christian seminaries hold to a formal, literal creation/ young earth beliefs. As it were, he speaks of man hiding from God in their sin and trying to cover ourselves in things that cannot conceal our nakedness before the Lord.

Pastor Brent states that the ultimate tree of life is Calvary- is the Cross. This is where it was made possible to reverse the impact of sin for men who would have faith in God’s provision. Christ suffered but rose from the grave to the dismay of the enemy of souls. The everlasting life that that once existed was the one which was forfeited by Adam and Eve, and is now offered to us by Jesus Christ. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (Revelation 21:4-6 ESV)

The Pastor closes with “If you’re here today and you have not tasted of the water of life, have not recognized that without the covering of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ, you are under the condemnation of Jesus Christ.  Like Adam and Eve you will be banished from God for eternity. If you don’t have rest in your soul, lack of assurance, trying to hide from God and hoping it will work out- it won’t. The only possible remedy for your sin is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.”

And there it is. I consider this to be a very good sermon. Bible verses were not taken out of context, the Gospel was present, and the whole sermon had a very pastoral and authoritative ring to it. It is a sharp contrast to a review I will be posting in a day or two, which is everything but. All in all, very fine and personally edifying.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded


O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down
Now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners gain
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain
Lo, here I fall my Savior, this I deserve Thy place
Look on me with Thy favor, assist me with Thy grace

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend
For this, Thy dying sorrow thy pity without end
Oh make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, never out live my love to Thee
Lord, let me never, never out live my love to Thee

REFLECTIONS

Originally from a Latin poem “Salve mundi salutare” and attributed to  Arnulf von Loewen  [1146–1240], “O Sacred Head” is one of seven sections to be used for meditation during Holy Week. Each section focuses on one aspect of Christ’s dying body. Paul Gerhardt translated the seventh section “Salve caput cruentaturn”, which addresses Christ’s head, into German  in 1656. The hymn was first translated into English in 1752 by John Gambold [1711-1771], an Anglican vicar.  His translation begins, “O Head so full of bruises.” In 1830 a new translation of the hymn was made by an American Presbyterian minister James W. Alexander [ 1804-1859]. Alexander’s translation, beginning “O sacred head, now wounded,”

As it were, I love this hymn for its ancient history as well as the language, which is deeply devotional in nature. The text makes a very personal application of Christ’s atoning death  and confesses our gratitude and commitment to Christ. Wonderfully theological and precise, I love the line “Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain”. There is a weight and gravitas that is self evident and which self-exists as part of the lyrical makeup, and while this song and songs of similar caliber have all but vanished from the modern evangelical praise and worship landscape, I look forward to the day when they are brought back.

In the case of this particular version of the hymn, it was sung by Serri Youngward on her Sons and Daughters CD, which can be found here