Monday, July 29, 2013

Are we a Jealous Saul or Loving Jonathan?

There should be no jealousy in love (1 Corinthians 13: 4, NASB), but God, the source and model of love, is a jealous God (Exodus 20: 5). Understanding love without jealousy and understanding the love of a jealous God is the theme of this blog.

To begin with, God cannot be understood through the human paradigm. God is not made in our image; it is we who are made in HIS image. We cannot err by bottling God into a limited human framework. Significantly, because God is perfect, HE is not deficient. So, God cannot be jealous as we are in general. Thus, jealousy should acquire a different meaning in God, and our jealousy should transform into godly love.

J.I Packer describes two types of jealousy among men – vicious and zealous.1 Vicious jealousy is a negative attribute. Vicious jealousy is associated with fear, loss, suspicion, anger, low self-esteem, uncertainty, inferiority, and mistrust. The common basal factor for a negative emotion is ‘deficiency.’ When we are deficient of something, we are jealous of something or someone. When the husband lacks trust in his wife, he is jealous of her. When a brother lacks security from his parents, he is jealous of his sister. The poor are jealous of the rich since they lack wealth. The common cause of vicious jealousy is deficiency of something in the subject of jealousy.

When we are urged to not be jealous or envious (1 Corinthians 13: 4), it implies that we should be filled with God. When God fills a man’s life, HE continually fills every void or every deficiency of man. So, man finds his security in God. This is a reason behind Christ’s teaching that loving God is fundamental to loving man. The first and the greatest commandment is to love God (Matthew 22: 36-38). This commandment is fundamental and foundational to loving our neighbor, which is the second greatest commandment. If man loves God, God will fill him, and he will love his fellow man without vicious jealousy (cf. 1 John 4: 7-21).

When man loves God, he remains in God, thereby finding satisfaction and contentment from God’s presence in his life. Thus, a godly man is not jealous. But not every jealous man is godless. Those who are jealous should primarily seek God’s presence in their life. When God fills that particular void in life, man remains sane to love his neighbor. Only God can eradicate jealousy. 

In other words, there is no enduring cure to jealousy if we seek a solution outside of God’s presence. Man could attempt to resolve jealousy in a surplus of variant means, but these solutions will not be holistic, but will be partial, leading to partial cure.

Perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4: 18a, NASB). When man loves God, he receives the blessing of being fearless under any circumstance. Lack of fear drives away jealousy.

In 1 Samuel 18, we observe King Saul’s jealousy of David, for people recognized David’s proficiency (v7). It became abundantly clear that the Lord was with David (v12, 28). The Bible ascribes two allied emotions to Saul – anger (v8) and fear (v12, 29). Because he was angry and fearful, Saul connived against David, which is another outcome of jealousy. Vicious jealousy is a dangerous beast, for it drives people to sin against God.

The Bible presents a contrast through the life of Jonathan – the son and legal heir of King Saul. Jonathan was fond of David although he knew that David was anointed by God to replace Saul as king (cf. 1 Samuel 16: 1). In other words, Jonathan had a good reason to be jealous of David, for the Lord chose David as king instead of him. Instead of being jealous, Jonathan loved David (1 Samuel 18: 1) and spoke well of him to his father (1 Samuel 19: 4-5; 20: 32).

For reasons best known to God, Jonathan’s life in God is greatly limited in the Bible. His brief account is terminated by his tragic death at the hands of the marauding Philistines (1 Samuel 31: 2). A short yet glorious life lived for God’s glory by loving without vicious jealousy.

Another aspect from Jonathan’s life is to be observed and followed. When Jonathan took David’s side, he intentionally went against his father’s will and pleasure. Saul desired to kill David, but Jonathan defended David in the presence of his father. Angry at Jonathan’s defense of David, Saul attempted to kill his own son. When the Bible mandates us to not be jealous, it exhorts us to stand for the truth, as Jonathan did. David was not at fault, but Saul certainly was, so Jonathan loved David and actively supported David even in the presence of his own father, and at a risk of being killed. If we stand for truth, love will defeat jealousy.

Man is viciously jealous if he lacks God in his life. Presence of God drives out fear and anger, which are allied emotions to jealousy. If we go through pangs of jealousy, we ought to actively seek God and plead for HIS presence in our life. God is the only cure for jealousy.  

How do we comprehend a jealous and a loving God? Love (positive emotion) and vicious jealousy (negative emotion) cannot coexist in God. As said before, we cannot comprehend God from human perspective. God is not made in our image.

Think this through please; our sadness in life implies a loss of something. I am sad if I am sick (I have lost my health). I am sad if I lose my wallet. I am sad if I am late for an engagement (I have lost my credibility). This is sadness in human beings. On the contrary, when God is sad, it does not mean that HE has lost something. A perfect and eternal being cannot lose anything. Losing anything entails imperfection. Then how do we understand God’s sadness? God is not sad because HE has lost something; God is sad because we have lost something.

Packer states that zealous jealousy seeks to protect a love relationship or to avenge the broken, and attributes this jealousy to that of God’s (cf. Numbers 5: 11-31; Proverbs 6: 34).  Jealousy mentioned in Numbers 5 punishes an adulterer (v20-22, 27, 31) but releases the innocent (v19, 28). Similarly, God’s jealousy punishes an adulterous creation, who seeks Satan. The essence of Packer’s description of godly jealousy is in his quote of John Calvin, “As the purer and chaster a husband is, the more grievously he is offended when he sees his wife inclining to a rival…” Jealousy and punishment intensifies when the accuser (husband or God) is purer in his character. God, the purest of all beings, is jealous when his creation discards HIM to the one who destroys them – the Satan.

The Thomist thought is that love causes jealousy – love of that which cannot be shared or simultaneously possessed causes envy / jealousy.3 When God is jealous, HE asserts that HE cannot share us with any entity that opposes HIM, namely Satan. But when man refuses to believe in God, the jealous and just God lovingly respects man’s decision and allows him to have his way. A jealous God cannot share his creation with an opposing entity, but the same God who is jealous is also loving and just, thus in HIS love and justice, HE allows the unbelieving man to discard HIM. Thus, God’s love and justice allows the unbelieving man to depart from HIS holy presence. 

Packer advises that God’s jealousy requires us to be zealous for God (love HIM and HIS commands).4 Jonathan’s zeal for God was displayed through godly love devoid of vicious jealousy. You and I are called to be the Jonathan of today, and by the grace of God, we shall. Amen.

1 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p153-154.
2 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p155.
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Human Life as a Journey to God, p207.
4 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p156.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Impatient Love is Impotent

God Almighty is all-powerful and all-knowledgeable. HE can do anything HE can and possesses the sum total of all knowledge there ever was and ever will be. But I am awestricken whenever I think how God patiently waits for man to believe, love, and coexist with HIM.

God does overwhelm people through visions, revelations and dreams (e.g. Conversion of Saul to Paul). HE can do what and how HE wants, for what HE does is always just. Finite man ought to concede this facet to the infinite God, for justice is omnipresent in God. 

Let us examine how love is often expressed in human relationships. If the spouse has things done his/her way, love abounds. If things are not done his/her way, love demands. If demands are unmet, love is polluted. Similarly, if a child pleases the parent through appreciable acts, the parent showers the child with love and its most befitting tangible and intangible expressions. Contrarily, if the child fails to satisfy parent’s expectations, parental love demands. If demands are unmet, love is polluted. Often, pollution of love entails anger. This anger could be tied with frustration, where one seeks control to motivate the other to love him.

Yes, more often in relationships, we seek control to love one another. If we assume to know the right, that knowledge often desires worship of self, and claims that the other should concede (what they believe as right), prostrate and love us. This is love in our parlance. Sadly, this is love in its superfluous mediocrity - an impotent love.

God knows the best and the right. Why then is HE patient in HIS love for man? Why does the Bible attribute patience as the first component of love (1 Corinthians 13: 4)? The Bible mandates patience upon the believer, for patience is love’s primary component. But wait! Man’s patience contains an attribute that is nonexistent in God’s patience. The patience of man includes ‘hope’ or ‘expectation;’ ‘hope’ is an attribute that is nonexistent in God’s patience.  God cannot hope, for omniscience excludes hope. Thus, patience in God gains a modified meaning. Allow me to elaborate.

Patience is exhibited during situations of adversities – delay, pain, provocation, misfortune etc. In adversity, one patiently hopes for the situation to heal / be favorable. 

For instance, a child may patiently wait for a gift, but in the mind of the child there is a hope that the gift is imminent. Another instance is when I am patiently waiting for a bus that is delayed. I hope the bus will arrive sooner than later. I am unsure when and if the bus would arrive, but I hope for its arrival. Hope overwhelms uncertainty, but lacks practical knowledge. The bus may or may not arrive soon; hence I am unsure of the practical knowledge of the timing of the bus’ arrival. Thus, practical knowledge is absent in hope.

As I wait patiently in hope for the bus to arrive soon, and if it arrives later than the time I had hoped, I’d be disappointed. If it fails to arrive altogether, I would be frustrated. There is always an outcome to patience. Patience is fulfilled when the bus arrives or when the child gets his gift. When the desired goal is achieved, patience will be non-existent. Patience can be filled with disappointment upon delay - in receiving the gift or for the bus to arrive. Patience is frustrated, when the gift is not received by the child, or when one misses an important engagement due to the bus’ delay. Thus, patience can result in one of the following - joy upon fulfillment, disappointment upon delay, or frustration upon denial of that which is expected.

God’s patience has no fulfillment, disappointment, or frustration. These emotions do not exist in God. Foreknowledge, or in a broader sense, omniscience, excludes fulfillment, disappointment and the likes. Let us dig deeper.

Going back to the instance of the delayed bus, when I observe such a delay, I call my friend - the bus driver, who informs that the bus would be indefinitely delayed due to clogged traffic. The moment I possess this knowledge, the aspect of hope departs from my mind. I no longer patiently hope for the bus to arrive, but I am certain that it would not. So I find an alternate action, which is to walk home in frustration. Thus, when knowledge replaces hope, patience becomes virtually nonexistent. Hence, in God, hope and the consequent disappointment is nonexistent, for HE is omniscient. 

God’s patience excludes fulfillment, hope, disappointment and the likes. When God loves, HE loves patiently knowing with certainty if man would love HIM or not. God’s patient love provides, provides and provides – to even those whom HE knows will never believe or love HIM, or that the believing man will always fall short of HIS glory. God does not find an alternate action when man fails HIM. But HE continues the act of providing immensely. Can you comprehend the magnificent facet of God’s love? God loves, knowing that man will relentlessly fall short of HIM. HE neither hopes nor is HE disappointed.

This is the love we ought to exhibit. Our love should be without hope or disappointment. I am neither advocating stoicism (or other similar –isms), nor am I advocating that a christian should not expect to be fulfilled or be filled with hope or get disappointed. I believe that fulfillment, hope and disappointment should not pollute our neighborly / godly love. 

When you and I talk about loving each other as God loves us, we ought to love, by providing their necessities and in some instances their extravagances too, albeit disloyalty and hatred. Love is patient, and patient love is potent!

But belief is a condition to God’s love. I have drifted through this subject in my previous blog. If man does not believe in God, he misses out on the best part of God’s love i.e. eternity. It is only man’s belief in God that will enable him to experience the unmitigated expressions of God’s love.

When one lovingly gives and gives himself sacrificially to another, and if the other refuses to believe in the source of love, I believe that the giver’s ‘giving’, would decrease or amend at a certain time. But when belief is truthfully and rightfully placed on the source of love, the giving of the giver exceeds all expectations for love to flourish. This is the conditional nature of love and patience.

In other words, the Bible states that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13: 5, NIV). However, we see a reality of hell in the Bible (my friends from the christian universalistic persuasion would disagree with me, but we can agree to disagree). Hell is where the account of wrongs (due to unbelief in God) is considered and respectfully rewarded, for only belief in Christ saves man from his sins. Thus, in case of unbelief, love recognizes the extent of evil or the record of wrongs, and patience becomes virtually nonexistent. Love and patience are finite / limited in unbelief.

Having said this, we can emulate God’s love, by HIS power and grace, by being patient with each other. Since the believer in Christ is growing in Christlikeness, we can pray to love each other potently as God in Christ loves each of us. May we, by the power of God, destroy the impotency in our love and love each other with the potent love of our Almighty God. May God grant us this blessing.

I am drifting through the subject of love, so in my next blog I will endeavor to dig into the subject of jealousy in love. The Bible says that love is not jealous (1 Corinthians 13: 4, NASB), but God, the source and the model of love, is a jealous God (Exodus 20: 5). Comprehending this apparent contradiction would be the theme of my next blog. Please uphold me in your prayers. Amen. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

God’s Love is NOT Unconditional!

Jim Palmer said, “God’s Love is not a spigot that turns off and on based on how correct your theology is, how religious you are, or how far you've progressed on your growth journey. God IS Love, which means that at every moment God’s Love is the underlying, unchanging and fundamental reality. It does not fluctuate. It cannot be earned or lost. It is never threatened. God's Love is available to all people, all the time, everywhere, without condition...” (emphasis mine). I agree with Jim, but my understanding from the Bible is that God’s love is perspectively unconditional. In other words, God’s love is not totally unconditional. Let me attempt to submit my understanding here.

In the question, ‘is God’s love totally unconditional?’ the term ‘unconditional’ refers to the absence of limiting conditions. Does God love HIS people without any limiting conditions?

This subject is important to our life. Christian literature, on the subject of God’s love, teaches that God’s love is unconditional; hence man’s love for his fellow beings ought to be unconditional too. This being a fact, we need to understand the scope of God’s love, so to love each other similarly. The Bible mandates us to love each other as Christ loved us (John 15: 12). If Christ’s love for man is unconditional, then our love for each other should strictly follow Christ’s paradigm.

If love is totally unconditional, should we love evil? The Bible teaches that sincere love hates evil (Romans 12: 9, NIV). Because the Bible is replete with situations where God hated evil (Psalm 5:5, 11: 5; Proverbs 6: 16-19; Hosea 9: 15), there is the much needed consistency between Christ’s love and the Bible’s mandate for Christ’s disciple to hate evil. So, we conclude that as Christ hated evil, we ought to hate evil. We should hate Satan - the evil one. In other words, one cannot love evil and still love God, for God and evil are mutually opposing entities. Thus, hating evil / sin is a condition to sincere love.

When a condition to love is mandated, we infer that neither God’s love nor man’s, is totally unconditional. The Bible states that God loves good & evil, and righteous & unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5: 45). But HIS love for the unrighteous and the evil is only to offer their earthly provisions. Thus God’s love for the unrighteous and evil is within the perspective of their earthly living.

The unrepentant and unbelieving unrighteous man will remain in a perpetual state of evil, and so will not taste God’s provision of heaven (cf. John 3: 16 et al.). The Bible states that only the pure can ascend the eternal dwelling place of the Lord (Psalm 24: 3). Since all men are inherently evil (Job 15: 14; Proverbs 20: 9; Romans 3: 10), none can claim purity to gain heaven. To overcome this predicament, the perfect and sinless Christ sacrificed HIMSELF for the sake of the sinful mankind, so only those who BELIEVE in Christ would gain eternal life. Belief in God is mandatory to receiving the eternal benefits of God’s love. Thus, we observe another condition to God’s love, namely belief in HIM.

Although God loves men unconditionally that HE sacrificed HIMSELF to save them of their sins, God requires that man believe HIM, so to receive and enjoy HIS eternal provision of love. Without belief in God, man cannot receive all the benefits of God’s love, he can only receive some.

The Bible applies God’s love for man to the human marriage paradigm. The marriage between a man and a woman is analogous to the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is analogous to the husband, and the church is analogous to the wife (Ephesians 5: 22-33).

Let’s pause for a moment to think through the starting point for the relationship between Christ and HIS body – the church. The church is a congregation of believers of the Lord - those who believe in Christ. If a man disbelieves in Christ, he is not part of the church. Hence, “belief” is a mandatory condition or the starting point in the relationship between Christ and HIS church.

The theology of God’s love is when man believes in God, he receives the benefits of both temporal (the needs of this world) and eternal provision (eternal coexistence with God in heaven) of God’s love for him. When man refuses to believe in God, he receives only the temporal provision of God’s love for him; he does not receive the eternal provision.

Significantly, when man believes in God, he begins to coexist with HIM (or remain in HIM – John 15). When man refuses to believe in God, he cannot coexist with HIM.

Thus the corollaries of ‘belief in man’s love for God’ are:

(1) Man cannot coexist with God without believing in HIM – belief in God is mandatory for coexistence with HIM.

(2) Without belief in God, man cannot receive the unmitigated expressions (temporal and eternal) of God’s love.

Applying this theology into the marriage paradigm fetches us similar conclusions to assert the importance of belief in a marriage to open the floodgates of love:

(1) If the partners of christian marriage believe in each other, their coexistence would be abundantly fruitful and peaceful. If one or both the partners of a marriage covenant fail to believe / trust each other, the marriage would crumble – coexistence of the partners will cease at a point in time, unless there is a divine intervention to effect a transformation – to reclaim the lost belief.

(2) If belief is existent in marriage, the partners would enjoy the total love of each other, and the unmitigated expressions of their love. If unbelief is existent in a marriage, then love, at best, would be partial. Half-baked love is a painfully conditional love, so love need not exist in a marriage where one partner does not believe the other.

Finally, I submit that God’s love is unconditional from God’s perspective, for HE has done everything, through the one-time sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, for a man to love, enjoy and live with HIM forever.

What about the condition of love to hate evil? There is no evil in God, so God and Satan are opposing entities. God only proposes good to all, but Satan disposes good to propose evil to all. Hence, God and Satan mutually exclude each other. If we are with God, we cannot be with Satan, and vice versa. Hence, hating evil / sin need not be construed as a condition but as a voluntary abandonment of evil, which is nonexistent in God and detested by HIM.

Is belief in God a condition to love God? Yes, belief in God is a condition to love God totally and to coexist with HIM unto eternity. One cannot escape this fact. Without believing God, man cannot love HIM. A wife cannot love her husband if she does not believe him and vice versa. If belief is mandatory to love, then for man to receive the unmitigated expressions of God’s love, is conditional upon his belief in God. Thus, God’s love is NOT unconditional from man’s perspective. (Man cannot love and eternally coexist with God without belief in HIM.)

In a friendly relationship, love can exist without or with partial existence of belief. But this love, at best, will only be superficial. Deep and long lasting friendships / relationships will only be a reality if there is strong mutual belief. Conversely, if belief in a relationship takes a beating, then the relationship is bound to dilute or crumble.

Thus, love is dependent on belief. Love cannot exist independent of belief. The greater the belief, the greater the love, and vice versa.

I pray that you and I will believe in the one God who gave us life through Jesus Christ to live with HIM unto eternity and love HIM with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. I also pray that in our human relationships, we will do our best, by the power of the blessed Holy Spirit, to believe our spouse /neighbor, so to establish strong and healthy relationships where godly love will reign supreme. Amen. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dirty Church

The church is to be a beautiful community that worships the only living God, nurtures the seeker with the truth, fellowships in the loving community of saints, and encourages the brokenhearted with Christ’s love. In other words, the church looks ‘upward’ in worship, ‘inward’ to edify, and ‘outward’ to serve those in need.

However, the church, from Christ’s time on earth, has been losing these components slowly yet steadily (cf. Mark 11: 15-17). A church can profess her allegiance to the Lord Jesus, yet be corrupt in her core values and expressions. In other words, the church, from the surface, could seem adherent to the biblical teachings, but avoid being truthful, loving and gracious, and thus corrupt.

When resolving a situation, the church could opt to enforce law or grace. Here is a rather dense situation to highlight the church’s corruption. A church rejects the marriage proposal of a couple because one partner has had multiple divorces. Not only is the church ungracious, but she could be successful in driving away the couple from her precincts. While rejecting the proposal, the church may have even cited a few scripture passages (e.g. Malachi 2: 16). But is this the only viable or the most biblical option for the church? If you say yes, please allow me to contradict you.

I submit that the church should have married this couple, of course, with bible-centered pre-marital counseling. If this couple were married, it is possible that this marriage would survive and the past sins of divorce, repented. By rejecting the marriage proposal, the church eliminated a magnificent opportunity for the person to repent and establish a family. More importantly, the church may have even driven these two away from Christianity. (You could argue that the multiple divorcée, as in the past, would reject/divorce this partner as well. This, however, is an ‘argument from ignorance’ i.e., one cannot predict if that marriage would result in divorce.)

Now then, why should the church not be radically gracious in solemnizing such a marriage? The church may have either rejected this proposal to avoid unnecessary criticism (for the leadership to have their job intact) or because she is profusely legalistic (so to abandon grace into oblivion). In both these instances, the church abandons the minority. This is in total contradiction to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. (If the church leadership claims ignorance on this matter, then they are inadequate for leadership.)

It is good to err on the side of grace, than on the side of law. But only strong and courageous leaders (Joshua 1: 9) would dare to err on the side of grace. The selfishly fearful, corrupt and theologically impotent leaders would cite the law to evade being gracious. They defy the Lord’s act of running after that one lost sheep, leaving the ninety-nine. Losing one sheep is insignificant to these leaders. They satisfy the majority, even at the cost of one sheep and the gospel! The Lord is the epitome of grace (John 1: 14-17); when the church adheres to the law and abandons grace, the church becomes corrupt.

The first entity to take responsibility for the church’s corruption is her leadership. Christ showed the way for mankind to follow. Similarly the church leadership ought to be role models for the flock to follow the Lord. If the leadership is legalistic, the essence of the church would be legalistic.

However, it could be healthier to have a legalistic leader than a weak leader. If the leadership is weak, then the church would travel the way of the powerful group in the church, and the powerful, if biblically correct, will remove the weak leader (so to resolve the problem). If the weak leadership remains, the church is bound to be sold to the devil in one form or another. If leaders are ruled by fear, they will inevitably succumb to the temptations of the evil one.

The elaborate description of Jesus cleansing the temple in Mark 11: 15-17 presents an instance of a ‘dirty church.’ The Lord’s house was transformed into a house of business instead of a house of prayer. The Lord cleansed the temple by driving out the offenders (15). Wait! Did HE really drive them out? I don’t think so! Verse 17 fascinates me, for the Lord taught ‘them’ the true intent of the church. ‘Them’ refers to those who abused the temple precincts and the spectators. Hence the Lord not only cleansed HIS house off its filth, but taught the abusers the truth. Isn’t this what today’s church leaders ought to do and isn’t this where they fail?

We take pride in proclaiming the church as a congregation of sinners, and truly so. Sin is inevitable in the congregation of sinners. When sin is encountered, the sinful act should be eliminated by the power of God, and the sinful actor cleansed by the Word of God. 

Today’s church seems more intent on driving out the sinners; not the sinners who sin against God, but those who disagree with the leadership. The formula of today’s church seems to be if-you-don’t-agree-to-my-agenda-you-will-be-fired. Thus, instead of church multiplication, church division seems to be the order of the day. Where is the fault? It’s obviously in the insecure arms of the weak leadership.

I am part of a ‘facebook prayer group’ of a certain church. One day, I realized I wasn’t a part of that prayer group. Upon digging for clarity, I discovered that the church leadership had me removed from that group, because my blogs seemed to implicate that church. Thus far, I have not received a response as to what unholy or unbiblical content from my blog merited such an ungracious decision. If I am a sinner, where is the teaching to correct me? If there is no teaching, does it imply I am correct? If I am correct, why should I be removed? Or am I a terrible sinner beyond correction? This is not a personal rant, but an illustration of what I see as a failure of the church.

The church seeks easy, or evil, solutions today. Quite a few AGM’s (Annual General Meeting) of the contemporary church present a sad yet hilarious scene. The powerful oppress the powerless and the seemingly-more-spiritual oppress their brothers and sisters. If you speak the truth, you are mandated to shut up. Is this the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Laugh-out-Loud! It is the case of weak and unbiblical leadership. Weak leadership manifests in several ways. You are fired if you disagree; you are disciplined if you speak the truth. Both situations were a reality in the life of Martin Luther and many others who stood firm for truth. Welcome to the dirty church.

George Barna and Frank Viola expressed this sentiment as they dedicated their book, “To our forgotten brothers and sisters throughout the ages who courageously stepped outside the safe bounds of institutional Christianity at the risk of life and limb. You faithfully carried the torch, endured persecution, forfeited reputation, lost family, suffered torture, and spilled your blood to preserve the primitive testimony that Jesus Christ is Head of His church. And that every believer is a priest .a minister ... and a functioning member of God's house. This book is dedicated to you.” 1 Weakness hides behind law, discards grace and Christ out of the church. The church then is sold to the devil.

I think it was Malcolm Muggeridge who ridiculed the church to say, “they have taken that which belongs to the soul and institutionalized it.” Do you belong to a dirty church that destroys a soul, or do you belong to a grace-abounding, Christ-filled, Spirit-anointed church?

You can for all you want shout at the top of your voice that you are anointed. But if you discard grace from your life, you are discarding Christ. If you are abandoning Christ from your life, are you a true disciple of the Lord Jesus? You need to answer these questions as much as I need to. Amen.

1 George Barna and Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, 2007. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Understanding Catholics and their Critics

I will dive a little deeper into the Catholic rationale behind their contentious practices and highlight a few of the prevalent contentious practices of the non-Catholics that negate their seemingly superior theological advantage.

Catholic theologians, I believe, didn’t innovate random practices contrary to the Bible, but have read the Bible and subsequently implemented and supported these practices according to their interpretations. The essence of many of these contentious practices is to draw closer to Christ. The ‘means’ may be faulty but not the ‘end.’ The same applies to the contentious practices of the non-Catholic churches.

For example, the Catholic and the non-Catholic understanding of ‘grace’ is quite different. A non-Catholic would define ‘grace’ as God’s goodness towards those who deserve punishment. In other words, grace is “unmerited favor” that is freely given, never obligated, and cannot be earned. The only human attitude that is appropriate to receiving such a grace is ‘faith.’ 1

Now examine ‘grace’ within the Catholic comprehension. “The meaning of the word grace is primarily favor: but it is used especially of that act of favor by which God finally salvages his creation from man’s mismanagement and salvages it through men” (emphasis mine).2 The phrase ‘God finally salvages his creation from man’s mismanagement,’ emphasizes God’s act, but in the next few words it emphasizes man’s role while stating ‘and salvages it through men.’

Moreover, please read these words, “…there occurs a distinction between two so-called effects of grace: it works in us to justify or vindicate or redeem, and it works with us to reward our cooperation. For grace is a gift to our cooperation so to speak…” (emphasis mine).3 The emphasis that God’s grace works ‘in us’ implies God’s act, whereas ‘with us’ implies man’s role in appropriating God’s grace. So grace is not merely a gift from God, it is a gift to our cooperation. This emphasizes man’s role. Thus the Catholic hermeneutics of the Bible causes ‘salvation by works’ theology. However the Catholic theologians do emphasize grace as a free gift as well. Please read the footnote for relevant quotations.

Therefore, it is my belief that the Catholic theology should not be ridiculed at the applicational realm of its contentious practices; instead it should be debated at the exegetical realm of its Biblical hermeneutics.

On a different note, one could argue that the theology of the ‘Christian Universalists’ are a similar outcome of a faulty biblical interpretation. On the contrary, I believe that the christian universalists are a product of an eisegetical interpretation of the Bible. ‘Eisegesis’ or ‘to eisegete’ is to express the interpreter’s own ideas – thoughts that are not present in the text.4 Therefore, it would be even (un)fair to term the christian universalists as a cult, but the Catholics cannot be grouped as a cult. If you ask me whether christian universalists would go to heaven despite their false understanding, I would respond in the affirmative. (By the way, the Catholic leaders are guilty of universalistic teaching as well).

When non-Catholic christians slam their Catholic brothers and sisters, it is the case of “pot calling kettle black.” There are contentious practices within the non-Catholic church, and one should acknowledge that. Moreover, when we denounce or throw mud at another, we not only get our hands dirty but are losing ground from beneath our feet.5

Here is an introductory bird’s-eye view of a few similarities in the contentious practices existing in both the Catholic and the non-Catholic churches.

Contentious Catholic Practice / Teaching
Scriptural Violation
Equivalent Contentious Non-Catholic Practice / Teaching
Salvation – Baptismal and Sacramental
Ephesians 2: 8-10; Titus 3: 5
Baptismal salvation & Gift based (Tongues, Prophecy etc)
Baptism mandated
Romans 10: 13
Baptism mandated
Worshiping Mary & Saints
Exodus 20: 3; John 14: 6
Worshiping gifted people – divine healers, preachers, pastors etc.
Praying through some “supposedly-righteous” people
Idol Worship
Exodus 20: 4-6
Idols worship: Building, Images of cross, Bible

Priesthood – distinction
Ephesians 2: 8-10; John 1: 12; Romans 3: 20

John 13: 14; 1 Peter 2:9
Speaking in tongues, prophesying, school for “signs and wonders”  etc.
Similar practice exists

If the Catholic church teaches only a baptized believer will be saved, then some non-Catholic denominations are guilty of the same practice. If baptism is mandatory for salvation, then let us not scream about being saved by grace alone. If we are only saved by grace through faith, then baptism isn’t a factor in our salvation.

If the Catholic church teaches that Mary and the saints ought to be worshipped, then the non-Catholics worship gifted people in Christendom. These gifted people may be divine healers, powerful preachers, pastors etc.

There is a distinction between respect and worship. To respect is to esteem or honor. To worship is to respect, honor and, more importantly, to submit - all our faculties to the object of worship. It is admirable to respect people, but we ought to be diligent while integrating everything that is poured into our domain. The thoughts, words and deeds of man should be examined in the light of God’s Word. We ought to submit to God and worship HIM alone. When we agree with man’s perspective, our conscious submission or worship is only to God, and not man, who is merely the channel of God. From this perspective, no human being is infallible, neither the Pastor nor the Pope!

If Catholics are guilty of idolatry, the non-Catholics are also equally guilty. Buildings, images of cross and bible verses, and even the Bible are idolized. The Bible by our side will not heal us (nor would the image of cross). These objects do not make one a disciple of the Lord. The Bible does no magic by its mere presence. The word of God when believed, read, integrated and spoken, keeps evil out and brings healing (cf. Matthew 4: 4, 7, 10).

If a Catholic is to practice his Sacraments (sacred signs), then there are innovative ‘Sacraments’ from the non-Catholic church. Some non-Catholic churches insist on speaking in tongues or the ability to prophecy or heal. There are schools that apparently impart these gifts. To the best of my knowledge, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, given by God as HE pleases and chooses. I am unsure how man can supersede God in imparting these gifts. (A counter argument would be that God gifted that man the gift of gift-impartation, but anything taken to the realm of subjective will suffer the lack of objective verification, hence disputable.)

The reformation rebelled against the contentious practices of the Catholic church and empowered the ordinary christian to discern and apply the right and discard the wrong. Unfortunately, it is the “reformed church” (used generically, not denominationally) that is guilty of propagating the same contentious practice, even in a diluted form. I do see an application of this verse in the lives of the non-Catholic churches, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12: 47-48, NASB).

If christians from the catholic church are going to hell based on their contentious practices, then the christians from the much-knowing non-Catholic churches should also go to hell for practicing similar contentious practices. In a nutshell, the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith crumbles into dust.

It is not about which denomination is better or worse, it is all about sincerely loving Christ our Lord and obeying God’s Word. May the good Lord bless us with the much needed enlightenment of HIS Word to drive out the imperfection that plagues us, and lead us towards HIS perfect presence. Amen.

Notes and References:

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p 200-201.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Law & Grace, p 278. (Quote from ‘Introductory Comment’ of the editor, Timothy McDermott).

3Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Law & Grace, p 279. (Quote from ‘Introductory Comment’ of the editor, Timothy McDermott).


5 Ravi Zacharias’ statement

Quotes of Thomas Aquinas from Summa Theologiae:

Thomas Aquinas on Grace as a free & earned gift of God:

(ST: Summa Theologiae)

“Grace then is a disposition presupposed to instilled virtues as their origin and root. And since by grace we are reborn as sons of God, grace must modify our very nature in some way: it is presupposed to virtues, so affects what is presupposed to every ability of the soul, namely its nature.” ST, Law & Grace, 110.3

“Grace does five things: first it heals our soul, so that secondly we will to do good, thirdly actually do the good we will, fourthly persevere in doing good, and finally come to glory.” ST, Law & Grace, 111.3

“Only God can give grace, since it surpasses the abilities of any created nature, and shares in the nature of God.” ST, Law & Grace, 112.1.

“Grace is given to every man in the measure Christ gives it, for perfecting the saints and building up Christ’s body.” ST, Law & Grace, 111.4.

 “The end that grace moves towards is eternal life, and the movement develops by growth in charity and grace. So growth in grace can also be earned commensurately…So perseverance in glory (which is the end in question) can be earned. But perseverarance in grace throughout life cannot be earned, since it depends only on God’s movement, the source of all earning.” ST, Law & Grace, 114.8,9.

Thomas Aquinas on Sacraments with its focus in Christ:

“The Sacraments are signs of all three: commemorating Christ’s past sufferings, demonstrating the grace those sufferings are presently producing in us, and foretelling the future glory. Because a sacrament is a sign of the sanctifying cause as sanctifying, it must be a sign of the effect produced.” ST, Living in Christ, 60.3.

“The patriarchs were saved through faith in a Christ to come; we are saved through faith in a Christ who has already been born and suffered. Sacraments are signs expressing the faith by which we are saved, and it is right to have different signs for what is future, past or present.” ST, Living in Christ, 61.4

Thomas Aquinas on the need for Sacraments:

“You cant unite men in a religion unless they share visible symbols or sacraments keeping them together.” (Aquinas quoting St. Augustine, ST, Living in Christ, 61.1)

The fact that God after Christ’s coming instituted different Sacraments doesn’t show change in God; the earlier were suitable for prefiguring grace, the later showed grace present.” ST, Living in Christ, 61.4

Thomas Aquinas on Transubstantiation:

The conversion of bread into the body of Christ is similar in some ways both to creation and to natural change yet different in others. Common to all three is a certain order: after this, that. In creation after non-existence existence, in this sacrament after the substance of bread the body of Christ, in natural change after black white, or after air fire. (Aquinas’ Aristotelian basis for transubstantiation. ST, Living in Christ, 75:8)

“Whatever is true of natural change because of the shared subject must be denied of transubstantiation: we can say that what is white could be black but we cant say that what is non-existent could be existent or that what is bread could be the body of Christ. Nor can we properly say that existence is made out of non-existence of the body of Christ out of bread, nor that the bread will be the body or becomes the body, though because the properties do remain we use some of these ways of speaking in a sort of analogous way, not meaning by bread the substance of bread, but using it as a general term for what underlies the properties of bread , though that is at first bread could be the body of Christ because of the possibility of its conversion is not founded on some potentiality to become in the bread, but on a power to convert in the Creator.”  ST, Living in Christ, 75.8.