How much $$ should Christians give?

Since tithing was meant to end with the Old Covenant, should Christians give to their local church, and if so, how much should they give?

Should Christians give to their local church?

Yes! We are told in Galatians 6:6 that “the one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher.” We have a moral obligation to support financially those people or institutions that are feeding us spiritually. This doesn’t mean that we should only give to people or institutions from whom we receive a benefit. For example, giving to missionaries or to charitable organization such as Compassion International are ways we can be good stewards of the money that God has entrusted to us.

How much should we give?

The Old Covenant required simple percentages. *Jews knew how much was required. The New Covenant has no set percentages; however, the Bible does give us guidelines:

  • We should give proportionately. The more God has prospered us, the more we should give. (1 Cor 16:2)
  • We should give cheerfully. We are not under compulsion but our love for God and for others should cause us to give cheerfully rather than reluctantly. (2 Cor 9:7)
  • We should give as we are able. When we can, we should give to Christian brothers and sisters who are in need and when we are in need, they should return the favor. (2 Cor 8:14)
  • We should give in ways that do not draw attention to ourselves. (Mat 6:2)

Here’s a question that may help you determine how much you should give to your local church: How much are you willing to pay at a restaurant for a meal?

My budget doesn’t allow me to take my family out very often (there are 7 of us), but we do go out occasionally, so I have a pretty good idea how much it costs to feed my family. And I do feel that the teaching and encouragement my family receives on Sunday (and mid-week for the kids) is more valuable than the food we eat when we go out.

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*Israelites under the Old Covenant gave between 20-30% in tithes; however, their giving was typically in the form of livestock and crops. Since they lived under a theocracy, their tithes were used to support the priests as well as the government.

For more information, click here: http://www.gci.org/law/tithing

Theophany? Christophany? Other?

When we read in the Old Testament that certain people “saw” God, are we to apply a literal meaning? (Gen 18:1-33, 32:28-30, Ex 13:21-22, 24:9-11, Judg 13:21-22, Isa 6:1, etc.)

Were these cases of mistaken identity? Were these true Theophanies (God manifesting himself in a physical form) or Christophanies (pre-incarnate appearances of Christ)? Were the writers merely using figurative language?

Let’s take a look at the verses referenced above:

In Genesis 18:1-33 we are told that Yahweh appeared to Abraham but the account tells us it was 3 men who approached him. Some believe that these were mortal men sent by God, and Abraham talked to them but he also had a conversation with God whose voice he heard from heaven. Others say that although the text says “three men,” it was actually a visitation from three angels (and a separate conversation with God). Another popular view is that it was two angels and God, or the son of God. This view finds support in v22 which says the men left and went toward Sodom but Abraham remained standing before Yahweh and twelve verses later we are told that two angels enter Sodom.

In Genesis 32 we are told that Jacob wrestled with a man. But in v28 the man tells him he has struggled with God (Elohim) and with men. And in v30 Jacob said, “I have seen God (Elohim) face to face.”

In Exodus 13 we are told that Yahweh went ahead of the Israelites–a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

Later, in Exodus 24, we are told that Moses and 73 others were invited by God to come up to him and in v9 we are told they went up and saw God (Elohim) and under his feet they saw a pavement of sapphire.

In Judges 13 we are told that a man with the appearance of an angel (identified as the Angel of the Yahweh) appeared to Manoah’s wife (Sampson’s mother). Since Manoah did not see him the first time he visited, Manoah asked Yahweh to send him again. God (Elohim) listened to Manoah and sent him again. After talking to Manoah, the Angel of Yahweh departed in the flames of the fire that Manoah had built which caused husband and wife to fall on their faces and say, “We’re going to die because we have seen God (Elohim)!”

In Isaiah 6:1 Isaiah wrote that he saw God (Adonai) sitting on a throne with a robe that filled the temple. He also saw Seraphim standing above.

So what do we do with these passages since the Bible tells us that God is spirit and cannot be seen? (John 4:24, John 1:18, John 6:46, 1 Tim 1:17) And in Exodus, God told Moses that no one could see him and live? (Ex 33:20)

Well, we can say that these were Theophanies or Christophanies. These seem like easy explanations, but they also seem to have little biblical support.

Another option is to say that Jacob and Sampson’s parents were either mistaken when they said they saw God or that they were not referring to Yahweh since the title “Elohim” is also used to refer to angels and even men. And we can say that the Israelites only saw a manifestation of God in the pillars of cloud and fire, not God himself. We can also say that Abraham’s visitors were men or angels. But although we are told Moses and the group of 73 saw Elohim, the context seems to clearly identify this title with Yahweh. And although the passage from Isaiah reads like a vision expressed in poetry, he seems to be clearly referring to Yahweh as well. So what do we do with these passages?

I don’t know :)

Are we a soul with a body?

C.S. Lewis wrote, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Is this true?

N.T Wright says it isn’t and asserts that this kind of dualistic thinking, which is so prevalent within Christianity, comes from Gnosticism and not from scripture.

He argues that the Old and New Testament writers never speak of souls being immortal. He says we are all psychikos, merely human / mortal. Humans are bodies (soma) animated by souls (psyche).

Wright contrasts this with the pneumatikos person–the body animated by God’s Spirit, i.e. the immortal human. The Spirit of Christ indwells the Christian in this life giving us a foretaste of the post-resurrection self.

So what happens at death?

Wright points out that the Bible has little to say about the intermediate state. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in Paradise. The apostle Paul says to be absent from the body is to be with the Messiah, which he says is “far better”; however, he describes this state as being “naked,” which he regards as undesirable. He says the desire of the believer is to be clothed with an immortal body from God at Christ’s return. (2 Cor 5:1-8). Paul also refers to believers who have died as “those who sleep” (1 Thes 4:13).

Wright describes this intermediate state as a time of restful, conscious existence in the presence of the Lord, while awaiting resurrection.

Is Wright right?

Maybe, maybe not. Like he said, the Bible doesn’t give us a clear picture; however, his view does seem to align with the Hebrew perception of personhood (nephesh hayyah). In addition his view of death and the intermediate state appears similar to views expressed by various Old Testament writers (1 Kgs 1:21, Job 14:12, Ps 13:3, Dan 12:2).

Spiritual bullying

Bullying is an ugly thing on the playground or in the hallways of our schools, but it is even uglier when done by adults in the church.

Below are three verses commonly misused by legalists to guilt or shame fellow believers into conformity:

1) 1 Thess 5:22 KJV – “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Misinterpretation = Never do anything that doesn’t look churchy e.g. riding a Harley, wearing a black leather jacket, owning a gun, etc.

Actual meaning = The verse actually says to abstain from every form/kind of evil. (The King James translation confuses the issue.) The context is about prophetic words. Paul says don’t just blow off prophesy but instead test it. After testing it, hold on to what is good, but have nothing to do with prophesies that are evil.

2) 1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV – “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Misinterpretation = “Never do anything that annoys / upsets / shocks / or causes others to gossip”

Actual meaning = When you are around believers who are weak (lack an understanding of what is true), you should not do what they think is wrong, even though you know it is ok, because your actions could encourage them to do what they believe is wrong.

3) Rom 14:23b ESV – “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Misinterpretation = “You should only listen to Christian music, watch Christian television, read Christian books, etc., because that which is secular is sinful.”

Actual meaning = If you do something that you believe is wrong, then you have sinned regardless of whether or not the action was in fact immoral. This is why we are instructed repeatedly in the Bible to live with a clear conscience.

Stand firm and don’t give in to spiritual bullies! (Galatians 5:1)

Was God’s Law Written on Adam & Eve’s Hearts?

Many Bible teachers will say that “God’s law written on our hearts” simply means “the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.” And many Bible teachers will say there was nothing magical about the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I think many Bible teachers may be wrong.

Here’s an idea I’m pondering that seems to make a lot of sense:

God created humans with consciences so they would know right from wrong. The first two humans had consciences but they knew very little of God’s moral law.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was a magical tree (like the tree of life) and it gave them knowledge they did not previously have. When they ate the fruit from this tree, their eyes were opened and they knew God’s law. They immediately saw that they were naked and they were ashamed. They weren’t ashamed of the sight of their bodies, and they weren’t ashamed of their partners seeing their bodies, but the knowledge that naked bodies could be used in the future in shameful ways caused them to feel shame. They knew their nakedness would result in sin if not covered up. (There are numerous references in the law forbidding the uncovering of a relative’s nakedness.)

Adam and Eve would have passed their new-found knowledge on to the next generation, and they to the next generation, and so on (Genesis 26:5, Exodus 16:28). However, since humans found that God’s law brought conviction of sin, they ignored it or replaced it with their “morality” and failed to pass it on in its entirety. This is why God wrote the law on stone tablets and had Moses record the law for the Hebrews after bringing them out of Egypt (approximately 2500 years after revealing it to the first humans in the garden).

Pagans, from nations that had all but forgotten the law which was given to their ancient forefathers, still had consciences and basic knowledge of right and wrong. Romans 2:15 says although they did not have the law, they still had the “work of the law” written on their hearts as well as their consciences so on the day of judgment, they would be judged according to how they lived up to the knowledge they had.

Around 600 years before Christ, Jeremiah prophesied of a time when when God’s law would not just be known but would be obeyed. He said a new covenant would be made between God and men in which He would write his law on the hearts of his people. At that time he said people would know God but not because they were taught about him by a friend or neighbor. And he also said that at that time their sins would be forgiven.

We now live in this new covenant. Through the word of God who became flesh (and not through another set of stone tablets), we have come to know God in the person of Jesus. We have learned the law of God; it has once again been written on the hearts of men through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles (Acts 17:30).

Today, just as in the past (Psalm 40:8, Isaiah 51:7), those who know God’s moral law and live with a clear conscience in regards to this knowledge have the law written on their hearts.

In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve received the law after eating the forbidden fruit; later, the Hebrew people received the law again through the prophet Moses; but in the new–and superior–covenant, we have received the law from God in the flesh. And we have not only received the law, which makes us conscience of our sins, but when we place our faith in God, our sins will now be forgiven!

Inerrancy, Part 2

Is the Bible inerrant?

Fifty years ago almost every Christian denomination’s statement of faith said it was; however, today most only say that the original manuscripts were.

So what about the Bible you pick up at Barnes & Noble or download to your Kindle? Well, because of discrepancies in the ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew manuscripts, there are minor differences from version to version. For example, the King James which used the 15th century Textus Receptus as its source for the New Testament varies in many places from the NASB which is based on earlier manuscripts that were unknown of in the 17th century. Bible versions based on earlier manuscripts either bracket, footnote, or omit verses that show up in later manuscripts such as the Textus Receptus. (Similarly, the Septuagint differs from the Masoretic Text in places, which accounts for minor differences in Old Testament versions.) Are any of them inerrant? If so, which ones?

Most evangelical biblical scholars today prefer to speak of the Bible as infallible, claiming that it is infallible in all that it teaches regarding God and salvation. However since many consider the terms inerrant and infallible synonymous, there are some who avoid the confusion surrounding these terms and simply speak of the Bible as “inspired,” “authoritative,” “truthful,” and “trustworthy.”

To read my first post on inerrancy, click here: http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/2012/06/12/biblical-inerrancy-what-does-it-mean/

What if Satan were not a fallen angel?

What if Satan isn’t an angel? What if he never “fell” but was a murderer and has sinned “from the beginning” (John 8:44, 1 John 3:8)?

What if Satan was created as a tempter, and he not only succeeded in getting the first humans to sin but he also succeeded in getting many of the angels to sin (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:4, 9)?

What if God created Satan to be his adversary and enemy?

What if God’s plan from the beginning was to place his creatures in an environment where they would have to choose to either love him or to yield to the temptation to love his creation while rejecting him?

Q: What about the fact that all that God created was good?
A: It could be that as a part of God’s creation, Satan is “good” in that he fulfills his role as an adversarial tempter in God’s good plan.

Q: Doesn’t the Bible clearly say that Satan was an angel who rebelled?
A: See my earlier post: http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/2012/08/14/who-is-lucifer-2/

Q: If God created Satan to tempt, why will he cast him into the lake of fire for doing what he was created to do (Revelation 20:10)?
A: If Satan were a liar and murderer from the beginning and created to be such, it would be like creating a Frankenstein in a laboratory with the foreknowledge that this creature must be done away with after it has served its purpose because it is just too dangerous. If Satan were created to be both an adversary and an enemy, then God would not be casting him into the lake of fire for being a good and faithful servant. Instead God would be casting him into the lake of fire because there is no place for this evil adversarial tempter in the new earth.

Perhaps…
1. God will destroy Satan when he is through with him, i.e. burned up in the lake of fire.

or

2. Satan (and perhaps the demons) will torment rebellious humans in the lake of fire. I say “perhaps the demons” because I think it’s possible that Satan will torment both the demons and the humans. (Satan would basically keep doing what he’s been doing only without restrictions.)

Feel free to reject all of these speculations. Who knows, in a year or two I might reject them. : )