Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

Do You Really Believe In Grace?

Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He and his wife had a pretty loud blow out – you know, one of those shouting matches for the ages – the type that all the neighbours heard. They’d known their neighbours for years. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.

We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service. We find that often people don’t take advantage of it because as one individual said, “I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.”

Both these incidents reveal an underlying condition in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our orthodoxy… in our outward confession. But I’m beginning to think we don’t actually believe it based on how we express it (or don’t) in our orthopraxy.

 I wonder if it’s because of our mistaken attempt at Christian chivalry. What I mean by that is what we think it means to live for Christ. We think that we’re protecting Jesus’ honour by how we live as in: If I look good, then Jesus looks good. So, we hate the thought of not looking good and when we don’t look like shiny specimens of Christendom, we look bad for Jesus and so failed (at least we think that). The problem with that mindset however, is that our life becomes all about performance.

And so, we put on our best Christian masks before heading out into our community of faith. Soon life experiences such as parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, working hard at making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour.

But this is a disastrous way to live or think because it always leads to hypocrisy. The simple fact is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the mask slips off of our growing noses. It’s our kids who see it right away. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a polished Christian spin to it.

And then we wonder why they don’t want to join us any more in our Christian fellowships. They certainly know that you, or they, are not exactly perfect and have made a mess of this Christian chivalry thing, maybe even feel that they (or you) have let Jesus down. The natural progression in this kind of thinking is that good church folks see this as failure.

We don’t support making Jesus look bad of course and so we must root out the bad apples in the bunch. After all, one bad apple will ruin the whole barrel. We might not say it, but the average Christian doesn’t feel supported in a community of faith when they do fail, so of course the last place they’d want to go to is a church.

Think about it. If we know we can’t begin to pretend things are together and church is the one place we’re supposed to look squeaky clean, then it’s probably just easier simply not to go because after all, it’s easier to keep the mess away from the holy gathering than it is to be as holy as we’re expected to be.

All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. Truth is, we’re not meant to be Jesus’s image protectors, he can handle his own image. Instead we need to remember that we are broken people, and he is our Saviour. In other words, I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good; rather, the truth is that I need to be honest about my massive spiritual need so that he can be seen and celebrated as all-sufficient. I don’t increase so he can increase; I decrease so he can increase(John 3:30).

 Imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.

Please don’t hear me say that that we are free to sin with abandon. Paul dealt with that pendulum swing in Romans, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Romans 6:1-2.

 So, no I’m not saying that we are freed up to sin, however we also need to realize that God is working in us, sanctifying us and we are a work in progress. It is what we do with those moments and how we receive others in spite of their shortcomings that make all the difference.

As an example. My friend and his wife who had that blow-up shouting match now have an amazing opportunity to be authentic witnesses for Christ – not by pretending they don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what they do with it. If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his neighbours. But if it’s about forgiveness, then he gets to model repentance, to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour.

Imagine also the difference this would make to those looking in, and for that matter those already ‘in’ who continually feel that they don’t measure up to our particular standard. The assumption stops being “We have to be good to come here,”and instead becomes “This place is for the messy – like each of us.”

Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance? Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, we can experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. It fosters a sincere attitude where we repent often, forgive freely and extend grace continuously.

I love what John Newton said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Living with this understanding, grace becomes not just an orthodoxy we know about in theory, but a deeply felt reality – a true orthopraxy that is expressed in the very being of who we are. Our testimonies are no longer, “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now my life is perfect.” Rather the testimonies become, “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to cleaning up. And in spite of the mess, Jesus came to me, stuck with me, and continues to be my everything.”

How To Be A Christian On Social Media

How sober minded, self controlled and Holy are we Christians – really? I know we think we are, but have we really asked that about ourselves? I bring this up because I have a social media account, actually more than one. Before you classify me as a social media ‘hater’, allow me to say that as much as I dislike aspects of the social media ‘habit’ we seem to be living in today, social media does allow for connections and updates that are not a possibility without it.

I also like using social media for teaching points and reminders of connections, among a host of other benefits, so it can be a useful tool if used responsibly. Whatever you might think about it though, it is a medium that isn’t going away any time soon so we should learn to use it.

In the end, you need to know that I’m not a social media ‘Debbie downer’. My point for bringing this up though is that while it can be a good medium, we should also be aware that it allows us all to peek into each other’s’ minds and sometimes what we discover (I’m speaking to the Christian remember), is a lack of sober minded thinking.

What I mean by that is that some, not necessarily the majority (though enough to alarm me) of the discussion I see happening in our social media platforms, conforms more to the world’s philosophy of thinking and less to a Christ centred outflow.

From my observation, a ‘Drunken Christian’ is a thing, and more prevalent than we might like to think. I’m not talking about drunk as in too much alcohol – though that can be a problem too – but rather drunken in the ‘not thinking rationally’ way.

Regarding my social media observations, I’m not going to give specific examples, instead I think that we should each of us consider our own hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?”and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?”

In the first century, Peter wasn’t dealing with social media, but he was dealing with social interactions just the same. In his first Epistle he said the following, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16

A few summers ago, I visited Canada’s wonderland with my family and of course had to try out a few of the rides. The Leviathan is a giant roller coaster that both of my boys wanted to try out. I had been on roller coasters before and so for the most part I knew what to expect.

But this would be their first time and so as a good dad would do in this situation I didn’t tell them a thing to help them prepare. I wanted to see how they’d react. As we got to the top of the first hill, just before the top, I made sure to look over at them as we crested the hill and began the plunge downward. It was amazing, the look on their faces that is. One of them saying over and over again “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh”the other’s eyes like saucers, holding on for dear life.

I’m ok knowing that you’ll probably never let me look after your kids. I’ve made peace with that. The point was that they weren’t prepared for what was coming and so were put into a bit of a panic.

Peter in the passage I shared, is telling us to get prepared. Why? Because of what he was giving us a heads-up about in verse 6. That we will suffer various trials for the name of Christ. He then goes on to tell us what to do. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – Vs.13 In other words, keep yourself mentally fit and morally sober to fight the fight of hope.

What comes out of 1 Peter, and the whole New Testament for that matter, is that the Christian life is supposed to be a lifelived inGod. We are supposed to be constantly aware of God, constantly submitted to God, constantly trusting in God, constantly guided by God and constantly hoping in God.

What amazes me is that when I look into the culture around us today however, the alarming reality is the complete insignificance of God. Christ doesn’t play into our culture except to be used as a swear word. And so, our culture has proven itself to be Christ-less which equals hope-less. Sadly, much too often we see (usually in the social media realm) the Christian world acting out or speaking up the same way as our none Christian neighbour.

In comparison, when we look into the Word we see that the most amazing and striking thing is that God is everything. Hope and holiness come only through a Christ-filled life. And we can’t live both lives – Sundays Christ-filled and then Monday’s to Saturday’s Christ-less. In person Christ-like and on social media culture-like. We have a choice to make. It’s one or the other. Either we live a Christ-less life or we live a Christ-filled life. Since we are called to be Holy the choice is clear. There is no halfway. It’s like a woman who says “I’m kinda pregnant”You either are or you’re not.

So, if you want to live a Christ-less life that’s easy – live for yourself, just be honest about it. But if you want to live a Christ-filled life then there are some choices that need to be made.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:13

Peter says that we need to prepare our minds for action, to fasten our seatbelts because it’s gonna be a wild ride. The picture we have here is of men girding up the loins of their minds. Very picturesque. In the East, men wore long flowing robes which slowed them down from moving too quickly. Around their waist they would wear a wide belt and when action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up into the belt in order to give them freedom of movement.

The modern-day equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket. Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavour.

Never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; don’t become complacent. Don’t be lazy. We need to think things out and think them through. And he says to be sober minded, which means that we need to be rational in our thinking. Don’t allow yourself to become intoxicated with intoxicating thoughts, don’t get caught up in the bling. Be sober-minded, mentally alert, self-controlled.

When someone is drunk, not sober, they don’t make the wisest of choices – relationships and otherwise. A few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and I noticed a very crude, cartoonish, and ugly tattoo on his forearm.

I asked him about it and he told me hated it. He then shared with me the story. He isn’t a follower of Christ yet and so doesn’t make the same life choices I do, in this case the over drinking part. He had gone out drinking with a few friends and, let me say that he tends to drink much more than is recommended.

His dad had been in the navy and he wanted to do something to honour him, which is kinda ironic since his dad hates tattoos. I personally don’t have an issue with getting inked, though I do recommend to first ‘think through’ what you’re getting. (Check out my blog post on tattoos if you want to know more about my thoughts on the matter). In his case though, there wasn’t a lot of thought put into his adventure and he ended up getting the stupidest and ugliest one you could imagine.

In his mind and in his state of intoxication – not being sober, he got carried away with what he thought was the ‘next’ exciting thing to do. He wasn’t at that moment self-controlled in his mind. And now he has a daily reminder of that soberless choice on a daily basis.

It’s no different as Disciples of Christ in the spiritual realm. If we’re not self-controlled in our minds we can get carried away with the next sudden exciting thing, even if it’s a worldly philosophy that’s opposed to a Christ-like philosophy. Sometimes even getting so intoxicated with the newest craze in the Christian scene we think that it’s the most incredible thing ever, though it may be taking our minds off of Jesus.

Peter is saying to them, and to us, to keep the balance as Disciples who know what we believe, so that when weconsider our hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?” and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?” Others can answer with confidence that yes, they see sober mindedness and Christlikeness, and as a result God is reflected throughout our world.

What Bible Translation Should We Use?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

A question asked of me quite often is about which bible translation is best. The common question of which Bible translation to use is very important because it concerns the most important words ever spoken, the words of God the Creator. So, you want to make sure the version you use reproduces in your own language what God actually said.

Before I get to my thoughts on that however, I’d like to address another question which also comes up on occasion and relates to the same the question. “Is the King James Version (or Authorized version), the only true translation for the English-speaking world?”

I don’t personally have an issue with the King James Version, but I do have an issue with the “King James only” or the “KJ only” approach which suggests that the English translation of 1611 is inspired of God. Especially when statements are made such as in the October, 1978 issue of “Bible Believers Bulletin,” by Peter Ruckman “. . . the Holy Ghost, who honoured the English text above any Greek or Hebrew text. . .”

By this he meant that the KJV translators were guided more accurately in their translation by the Holy Spirit than were those men who copied the original manuscripts.

There is in fact a growing literature crusade which claims that “God wrote only one Bible.” By one Bible, they mean the King James Version Bible written in 1611. They conclude that the King James Version is the only English version which faithfully preserves the original writings. I find that troubling for a number of reasons but for sake of space I’ll only share my issue with the “Textus Receptus” claim.

Textus Receptus

One of the concerns brought up by the KJ only camp concerns 1 John 5:7-8. The claim is made that it was a part of the Textus Receptus manuscript (claiming that this is the only accurate manuscript) and should, therefore, be included in all translations – and where it’s not indicates that that particular version is in error. Of course, it’s found in the KJV and not in most others seemingly boosting the position for the “KJV only” advocates.

A major problem with this whole issue is that the term, “textus receptus” is often misunderstood and misused.

The Trinitarian Bible Society exists for the purpose of circulating uncorrupted versions of the Word of God (namely KJV). Terrence H. Brown, the TBS secretary, makes this honest admission.

“One problem is that many people use the term ‘textus receptus’ without defining it, and give the impression that this received text is available somewhere in a single manuscript or printed copy, but this is not the case. No copy, written or printed, was called the ‘textus receptus’ until the Elzevirs used this description in the preface to their addition in 1633. It should therefore be understood that the King James Version translators, who published their work in 1611, did not use an addition of the Greek text actually known by this name.”

Understanding this, it is very interesting that when explored further, the passage from 1 John 5, is found to be absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these four (which are dated very, very late) contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Further to that, the passage is quoted by none of the Greek fathers, who, if they had known it, would certainly have used it in the trinitarian controversies of the early centuries. As well, the passage is actually absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions and is quoted for the first in time not in a Bible text but in a Latin treatise about the Bible in the 4th Century A.D.

Its inclusion in the Textus Receptus seems to have come through the pen of Erasmus. When charged by Stunica, Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing those words, but that if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained it, he would include it in a future edition.

The one manuscript that was later presented to Erasmus in substantiation of the inclusion of that verse has now been identified as a Greek manuscript written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar who took the words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus then inserted the passage in his third edition of 1522 but indicated in a lengthy footnote his own personal suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared in order to refute him.

What I find curious is that the KJ Only movement claims its loyalty to be to the Textus Receptus. However, upon further examination, it can be seen that KJ Only advocates are not loyal to the Textus Receptus, but rather only to the KJV itself. The New Testament of the New King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus, just as the KJV is. Yet, KJV Only advocates label the NKJV just as heretical as they do the NIV, NAS, etc.

I think it’s important to remember that the Old and New Testaments were not originally written in the English language. They were first written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. We should also remember that God never promised the perfect preservation of the originals, but he did promise to preserve their content. They are preserved within the body of currently existing manuscripts, and so where there are textual variations they are almost always incidental and do not significantly affect the sense of what Scripture is saying.

As a matter of fact, once the easily solved variants are removed, 99.9 percent of what is in our various translations can be confirmed without question. It is usually easy to identify the cause behind a textual variant because the Greek New Testament has been preserved in far more existing manuscripts than any other piece of ancient literature. In actuality, we are faced with, “an embarrassment of riches.”

We should also recognize that when the Bible is translated for the first time into a new language today, it is translated into the language that culture speaks and writes today, not the way they spoke and wrote 400 years ago. The same should be true in English. The Bible was written in the common, ordinary language of the people at that time.

Bible translations today should be the same. That is why Bible translations must be updated and revised as languages develop and change. The KJ Only movement is very English-focused in its thinking. Why should people who read English be forced to read the Bible in outdated/archaic English, while people of all other languages can read the Bible in modern/current forms of their languages?

Our loyalties shouldn’t be to the KJV, but rather to the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Only the original languages are the Word of God as he inspired it. A translation is only an attempt to take what is said in one language and communicate it in another. The modern translations are superb in taking the meaning of the original languages and communicating it in a way that we can understand in English.

The question remains, which is the best translation (or version) to use? To help us navigate to a place of confident understanding, I believe it helps to know that behind each version is a fundamental philosophy of Bible translation.

 How Do We Choose?

You can separate modern Bible translations into two basic groups – formal equivalency and dynamic equivalency. Formal equivalency attempts a word for word rendition, providing as literal a translation as possible. Dynamic equivalency is more like a paraphrase, trying to convey ideas thought by thought.

Since no one language corresponds perfectly to any other language, every translation involves some degree of interpretation. A translation based on formal equivalency has a low degree of interpretation; translators are trying to convey the meaning of each particular word. When faced with a choice between readability and accuracy, formal equivalency translators are willing to sacrifice readability for the sake of accuracy.

By its very nature, a translation based on dynamic equivalency requires a high degree of interpretation. The goal of dynamic equivalency is to make the Bible readable, conveying an idea-for-idea rendering of the original. That means someone must first decide what idea is being communicated, which is the very act of interpretation. How the translators view Scripture becomes extremely important in the final product.

Therefore, it’s vital that you find a translation that represents what the Holy Spirit actually said as faithfully as possible. We want to read what the author intended us to read, which is what the Holy Spirit originally inspired.

The most popular dynamic-equivalency translations, which dominate the evangelical world, are the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), The Message (MSG), The Living Bible (TLB), the Good News Bible (GNB), and the New Living Translation (NLT). Of those, the NIV is the most reliable.

The NIV was completed in 1978. Its translators did not attempt to translate strictly word for word but aimed more for equivalent ideas. As a result, the NIV doesn’t follow the exact wording of the original Greek and Hebrew texts as closely as the King James Version and New American Standard Bible versions do. Nevertheless, it can be considered a faithful translation of the original texts, and its lucid readability makes it quite popular, especially for devotional reading.

The four most popular formal equivalency translations in English are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

The KJV is the oldest of the four and continues to be the favorite of many. It is known as the Authorized Version of 1611 because King James I approved the project to create an authoritative English Bible. Although it contains many obsolete words (some of which have changed in meaning), many people appreciate its dignity and majesty. The NKJV is a similar translation, taken from the same group of ancient manuscripts, that simply updates the archaic language of the KJV.

The NASB, completed in 1971 and updated in 1995, is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is a literal translation from the Hebrew and Greek languages that incorporates the scholarship of several centuries of textual criticism conducted since the original KJV. It quickly became a favorite translation for serious Bible study.

The ESV (the one I use most often) is the most recent translation, which stands firmly in the formal equivalency tradition. It is a very solid translation in updated language that aims to reproduce the beauty of the KJV. The result is one of the most poetic and beautifully structured versions that maintains a high degree of accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

Which version is the best to use? Ultimately, that choice is up to you. Each of the formal-equivalency versions has strengths and weaknesses, but they are all reliable translations of the Bible. If you want to read a dynamic-equivalency translation, the NIV is the most reliable.

Ideally, as a serious student of Scripture, you should become familiar enough with concordances, word-study aids, and conservative commentaries so that even without a thorough knowledge of the original languages, you can explore the nuances of meaning that arise out of the original texts.

Can A Follower Of Jesus Be Homophobic?

A common accusation thrown at the (conservative) Christian community is that we are homophobic. Is that true? Are Christians really homophobic?

Often, we Christians are tagged homophobic because we identify homosexual behaviour as sin. But the fact is that the term homophobic is in reality a term often used by homosexual supporters to deflect genuine criticisms. Without question, there are people who have sadly developed an irrational hate of homosexuals and who are prepared to use violent actions to inflict suffering upon someone who identifies as gay.

“We Christians have sinned
in at least two major ways
when it comes to reaching the
LGBTQ community”


However, the problem is that much too often the homophobic label is placed on anyone & everyone who opposes homosexuality as a legitimate option for humanity. As a result, any Christian who is convicted in their heart that homosexuality is an unnatural sin is associated with violent lunatics who hate for hatred’s sake.

Having said that, there is still a homophobic stigma that we wear. And I believe we have that stigma in part because we Christians have sinned in at least two major ways when it comes to reaching those in the LGBTQ community.

On the one hand, some have laid aside God’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin in a misguided attempt to show God’s love. But love stripped of truth is not love – its deceit.

   “Truth stripped of
compassion is not love
     – its hypocrisy”


The other way we have sinned as a Christian community has been a neglected compassion or even a condescending attitude toward the LGBTQ community while feeling ‘righteous’ in our conviction as we hide behind ‘truth’. But truth stripped of compassion is not love – its hypocrisy.

Does this mean that we can’t or shouldn’t answer the arguments presented by the LGBTQ community to save us from the homophobic label? Should we just smile, nod politely and ‘live and let live’ to keep the peace? I believe that we must absolutely answer away! How else will the truth be made known? But remember that we must speak the truth in love. 

Discussion Points

There are many arguments and discussion points that are brought up in the media. For sake of time and space I’ll only share a couple of the bible’s responses below. After all, the purpose of this post isn’t to answer all the questions but to foster conversation and discovery. My hope is that this will only be a starting point for all of us to dig deeper, ask more questions and discover what other things God may have to say about this subject.

I was in a conversation recently with a friend who said, “Jesus didn’t speak about homosexuality, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.”

On the surface this may sound plausible; however, the problem with this argument is that this is an argument from silence. The fact is that silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

Should kidnapping be allowable too? After all Jesus never said that kidnapping was a sin, yet I’m sure that all of us would agree that stealing children is wrong.

It’s true that Jesus didn’t address homosexuality directly, but he did speak clearly about sexuality in general, specifically addressing and defining marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 & Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 & Genesis 2:24 to explain it. 

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6

Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together.

If Jesus had believed in a broader definition of marriage, then here was his opportunity to present it. Yet he didn’t. Rather he was solidly affirming the male – female relationship as it had been established with the very first couple, Adam & Eve.

Another argument I have often been presented with is about the fact that we no longer follow the OT laws such as eating certain types of food, or having tattoos, or wearing clothes with mixed material. The argument is that if that’s the case then why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

When we take a serious look at the context of those passages being disputed, we discover that some of those laws dealt with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship. The important piece to understand is that these restrictions mentioned aren’t moral laws, rather they are purity laws or restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship.

Add to that, we don’t see the continuation of these purity laws into the NT era and in fact see that God declared the OT rules of clean versus unclean as null and void when the Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29).

However, it is different when it comes to sins such as drunkenness, greed, homosexuality, gluttony, idolatry, etc., because with these sins we find that every single OT and NT text that mentions them mentions them negatively. This shows a continuity of thought and practice which spans OT to NT in belief and practice.

“The good news for a gay man or woman
is the same good news for a straight man or woman.
Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is”


Back to the original thought. Can a follower of Jesus be homophobic? Fact is a Christian following the teachings of Jesus Christ can’t be homophobic, even while having one fear regarding homosexuals. The Christian should have the fear that anyone practising a homosexual lifestyle (along with anyone living in disobedience to God) will suffer eternally if they decide to reject the only means of salvation – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The good news for a gay man or woman is the same good news for a straight man or woman. Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is, and thankfully Jesus has an answer for that.

“… do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Can I Love Jesus And Not Love The Church?

Over the years I have heard the following sentiment being expressed. “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church” or “Church folks are just too messy or too hard to deal with.” …or something else along those lines. “I can go it alone”, is the meaning behind their words.

But Paul suggests that it’s a lie to think that anyone could go it alone – “Just me and Jesus” and have the kind of firm, living faith in Christ that is able to resist the enemy. We must gather together in our pursuit of Jesus and his vision for us if we can expect any success. Alone, we are all too vulnerable to discouragement and prone to the believable, but deceptive arguments thrown our way and easy pickings for that lion called the devil.

 “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, inwhom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” – Colossians 2:1-5

Being knit together in love speaks to three things… A united community, an authentic community and a loving community.

A United Community

All through the New Testament there is this plea for Christian unity, but its more than a plea; it’s really a declaration that no man or woman can live the Christian life unless in his or her personal relationships he or she is at unity with his or her fellows; and that the Church cannot be truly Christ-like if there are divisions within it.

So, when we hear in verse 2 Paul’s urging to being knit together in love, we know he is echoing Jesus’ words along with other scripture. Paul is saying in essence, “join hands together.”

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link and to make the rest of what I’m about to tell you work, we need unity first. James McDonald uses a phrase that is appropriate in this context: In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Love.

When we look at God we see that he values loyalty and harmony in our relationships. He hates those who sow discord among brothers. “God hates… one who sows discord among brethren.” – Proverbs 6:19

If that be the case, I think it behooves us as his image bearers to strive for unity with the brethren. However, unity won’t last if it’s not authentic.

An Authentic Community

What is authentic community?
Authentic Community has three components: :

  • Communal past
  • Communal proximity
  • Communal potential

A communal past helps to establish a sense of identity and belonging. Communal proximity allows a particular group to be with one another over time to creating meaningful connections. Communal potential allows for a sense that we’re all going in the same direction.

That is what we see in the early church. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” – Acts 4:23

 In Acts 1:14 we read that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” In chapter 2:46 it says, “day by day attending the temple together”.

Chapter 5:12 “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together.”

The effect of the persecution that was happening in Acts was to bind the members of the community together and in this case binding them together so that there was a common desire to pray. And this because they shared communal past, proximity and potential.

Finally, it is love that is the crucial component to unity. Paul includes it as a part of the instruction given. “being knit together in love…”

A Loving Community

With all the focus the world has on love we really do a poor job at living it out. I will love as long as I’m loved back. I’ll love as long as it’s on my terms. And when you don’t love back well I won’t either, I’ll love only if you love but I’ll sure hate if you hate.

But then Jesus comes along and says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – John 13:34-35

John believes it’s so important, this love each other thing, that he speaks with unmistakable definiteness and with almost frightening directness. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” – 1 John 3:14-15

And “If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar” – 1John 4:20

The simple fact is that love of God and love of man go hand in hand; the one can’t exist without the other. The simplest test of the reality of the Christianity of a man or a Church is whether or not it makes them love their fellow-men.

True love, as the bible teaches us, always involves sacrifice and it involves giving away of self, in spite of and even though you may not be able to love back and even if you hate, the power of God’s love loves through.

I think it’s good to recognize that we could be like Peter and offer words that affirm our love for God and our love for people, but if the people don’t have names, do we really love them? If we don’t love ‘authentically’ how can we show our love of God?

Granted, sometimes connecting in a community of believers feels like it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth. But Jesus whispers in the background, “If you love me, you’ll love them.”

Question we need to ask is, “Do I love Jesus?”

Is Easter Birthed Out Of Pagan Origins?

The other day I was having lunch with a good friend of mine. At one point the subject of Easter came up and he shared with me how he doesn’t believe we should celebrate it as Christians. Partly because it has ‘iffy’ pagan beginnings and partly because it has become less about Jesus’ resurrection and more to do with commercialism. Is he right? And if he is, should we then all cease to celebrate this Christian holiday?

Certainly, for some people in our culture, Easter Sunday is more about the Easter bunny, colourfully decorated Easter egg hunts and chocolate treats then it is about Jesus’ resurrection. Granted, most folks still know that Easter Sunday has ‘something’ to do with the resurrection of Jesus yet are unclear as to how that is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. That’s because there is no connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday.

The truth is, that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

Fast forward to today, our consumeristic culture can’t seem to help itself in trying to cash in on the gullibility of people to be parted with their money for none essential trinkets and sweets which focus on those eggs and bunnies. So, it seems that Easter might as well have pagan origins, since it has been almost completely commercialized – the world’s focus is on Easter eggs, Easter candy, and the Easter bunny and not on the resurrection. Does that mean we stop celebrating Easter? And what about the ‘iffy’ pagan origins?

Pagan origin theories

Some have made the claim that we get the name Easter from pagan sources, one being Ishtar an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was a part of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution.

A popular meme has been circulating the internet with these words superimposed over an image of Ishtar: “This is Ishtar: pronounced ‘Easter.’ Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.”

Here’s the thing, there is absolutely no conclusive connection between the pagan goddess Ishtar and the Christian celebration of Easter. Any theory that Easter is named after Ishtar is pure speculation. Added to that, there is also no proof that Ishtar was ever associated with eggs or rabbits as symbols. Truth be known – Ishtar’s sacred animal was actually a lion. Both lions and bunnies are fluffy and furry, but certainly not the same.

Another theory makes the claim that the name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe. According to this theory, Eastre was the “goddess of the east – from where the sun rises,” her symbol was the hare (a symbol of fertility), and a festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by the Saxons to honour her.

This theory on the origin of Easter is highly problematic however, because we have no hard evidence that such a goddess was ever worshiped by anyone, anywhere. In fact, the only mention of Eastre comes from a passing reference in the writings of the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and historian.

Bede wrote, “Eosturmononath has a name which is now translated as ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance” (source: De Temporum Ratione).

Other than this one source though, Eostre is not mentioned in any other ancient writing; no shrines have ever been found, no altars discovered, and nothing has ever been identified to document the worship of Eastre. So, it is quite possible that Bede simply extrapolated the name of the goddess from the name of the month.

Others contend that the word Easter ultimately derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak” in Spanish and Italian). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English.

In the end, even if it could be proved that the word Easter is etymologically related to the name of a pagan goddess such as Ishtar or Eostre, it would not change what the Easter holiday itself means to us. For that matter, I don’t think that it should go unnoticed that the word Wednesday comes from Woden’s Day in honour of the Norse god Woden or Odin – but we don’t fret about ‘that’ word’s pagan origin.

In the end, while the word Easter most likely comes from an old word for “east” or the name of a springtime month, we don’t have much evidence that suggests anything more. Assertions that Easter is pagan or that Christians have appropriated a goddess-holiday are untenable.

What Does Scripture Have to say?

Christians celebrate Easter as the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year because of the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I get that because of the commercialization and possible pagan origins of Easter, many churches prefer to call it “Resurrection Sunday.”

The rationale is that, the more we focus on Christ and his work on our behalf, the better. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, that without the resurrection of Christ our faith is futile. What more wonderful reason could we have to celebrate!

But, whether we call it “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday,” isn’t the important thing. What is important is the reason for our celebration, which is that Christ is alive, making it possible for us to have eternal life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

So, should we celebrate Easter or allow our children to go on Easter egg hunts? This is a question both parents and church leaders struggle with. Ultimately, I believe that it comes down to a matter of conscience as Paul speaks to in Romans. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5

There is nothing essentially evil about painting and hiding eggs and having children search for them. What is important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children can be taught to understand that the eggs are just a fun game. Parents and the church, however, do have a responsibility to teach the true meaning. In the end, participation in Easter egg hunts and other secular traditions must be left up to the discretion of parents.

Regardless of where the name Easter came from, or what the world has done to commercialize an ancient experience, Easter itself is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical doctrine of the Christian faith. When we celebrate, we are making a statement declaring definitively that Jesus conquered death and the grave, proving to be the world’s Saviour from sin and death. “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16

Worship Is So Much More Than Music

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘worship’? Most people think music, usually done at a ‘praise & worship service’ or singing loudly along with a ‘worship’ cd playing in our car. Those aren’t necessarily wrong, and in fact can be quite wonderful if the worship is sincere. But I would propose that worship is much more than that and goes beyond music, by, like a lot. Worship is much more than a great song sung on a Sunday morning.

The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipeor ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word ‘ship’ in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.

So worth-ship is the quality of having worth or of being worthy. When we worship, we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. So, when we speak, declare, or sing, about how good and powerful and worthy God is – we are worshipping.

This is a purpose for which we are called: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” – 1 Peter 2:9.

We receive absolutely everything from God… but the one thing we get to give back to him as our gift is worship. That is one of the job descriptions of a Christian. We are called for the purpose of praising and worshiping God. We should declare that God is worthy, worth more than everything else put together.

God wants worship not only verbally, but also in our hearts. He wants our worship to be sincere – he wants to be the most important thing in our lives, that we are truly submissive to him. He wants our worship to affect our behaviour. In other words, our worship needs to result in a response.

The best thing that has ever happened to us is that we have God in our lives and the best thing that’s happened to us this week is that we have God in our lives. In short, we have reason to celebrate all the time and in every place. Even Paul and Silas sang praises while shackled in prison.

They did something that should be quite natural for a spirit filled believer especially when with another believer. It is natural that we praise God when we gather together, when we speak to one another about the best thing that’s ever happened to us – not the situation itself, but the fact that God is with us in the situation. In other words, we really should be worshipping all the time, and that means then that worship definitely needs to be a priority when we gather together as the church.

Having said that, we need to understand that corporate worship is not about a great sing along on Sunday mornings. So then if that’s not it, what does corporate worship look like? Is there a method to the madness? What is my role as a part of the ‘crowd’?

The following are five aspects of corporate worship to consider every time we meet together.

Gather

Simply by gathering, we are showing that God has worth. Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be present in a special way. When we gather, we gather in the presence of God. As the Old Testament says, we appear before the Lord. It’s like an ancient throne room, and we are invited to be with him. In our worship services, we want God to be present.

We specifically ask him to be present. He promises to be present. And if we are sincere about this, we should expect him to be present. And when we sing in God’s presence, we are singing to him. It’s not just a song about God — it is a song to God. These are words spoken to him. Many of the psalms, hymns and other spiritual songs we sing are often prayers set to music. He is the audience; we are the participants. That’s so cool.

Music

Throughout the years our music has come from a rich & wide variety of styles. Some songs express positive emotions, such as adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confidence, faith, joy or excitement. We should always be happy that God is in our life. Even when we have trials, we are to rejoice. The psalms tell us to come before him and rejoice, to praise the Lord, to sing a new song unto the Lord.

That means then that our joy in him should spill over into praises. In fact, our worship should be dominated by praise. But joy is not the only legitimate emotion we can have with God. The psalms also have prayers of confession and supplication. Some of our songs are more meditative than celebrative. Some ask questions, some express sorrow, or anguish or fear. All of these are legitimate emotions we can sing about.

Prayer

Our times of worship need to comprise prayer. This includes praise, petitions and confession. We join in the prayer not as spectators, but as participants. When we say “amen,” we are saying, that’s my prayer, too. When we express our dependence on God, when we give all our requests to him, it shows his worth. When we want to be in his presence, it shows that he is good. When we confess our sins to him, it shows his greatness.

When we give him thanks and praise, it exalts him and glorifies him. We worship when we participate in prayer together. Worshiping God through prayer brings us closer to him. It changes us. It changes our lives. It changes our circumstances. It gives us peace. It gives us joy. It strengthens us. It builds our faith. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” – James 4:8 NLT

Preaching

Yes, you see it correctly, preaching is a part of worship. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that preaching alone can be used by God, just as a a worship service with music alone can be amazing, but together in their proper places, worship can be explosive. The sermon is a communication of God’s word to us. It explains to us what God’s will is for our life. We expect God to speak to us through his Word and we listen for what God is telling us. God’s truth affects our lives and our hearts. It affects real life, and it demands a heartfelt response.

The sermon should therefore appeal to our mind and to our emotions. In the sermon, we are not just an audience – we should also be participants. We should actively think about the Scriptures, think about the sermon, think about what it means in our lives. This isn’t just information about God — it is information about how God wants to change our lives.

This means then that a part of our worship, a part of our respectful response to God is listening for what he wants to teach us and how he wants to change us. We have to listen with the expectation that the sermon contains something God wants to tell us. It may be different for you than it is for me. The point is that we have to participate in the listening. Just as we participate in the music, and as we participate in prayer, we should participate in the sermon, too.

Response

Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24

Worship is much more than an emotional connection. We worship in spirit and truth – it’s a both/and. As we listen, we should be ready to respond to the message we hear in the preaching (truth), and the message we have discerned in our prayers (spirit), and the message we have experienced in the song (spirit & truth). The response can come in many different forms, depending on the message we have heard.

One way to respond is to do what God is telling us to do. Some people are doing this by serving in various capacities within the church. Others respond with service outside of the church, and some may respond by telling others how good and great God is – worshiping him by doing the priestly duty of sharing the good news of salvation – and hopefully all these responses will be common.

Why Democracy Is A Poor Choice For Church Governance

It has been argued that democracy functions most effectively in a Christian culture. However, democracy is not necessarily a Christian form of government. There is no necessary aspect of democracy that absolutely requires a Christian worldview. For that matter, Christianity itself does not mandate democracy or any other form of earthly government. Democracy can exist apart from a Christian worldview. Even still, it’s been a pretty good system for the time it has existed.

The question I wish to ask us to consider is not about the idea of democracy as a form of societal governance, but rather about believing that democracy has a place within church governance. Because we live in a somewhat free and democratic society, there is an underlying belief that democracy is God ordained as the one, the only, and best way to operate in the church community too. But is it?

The Baptist Faith and Message, the confessional document of the Southern Baptist Convention, contains the following statement on the function of the church (Section VI, The Church): “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic process.”

That’s a clear statement, if there ever is one, of their understanding of church governance. It’s a position that says that that the church is designed by God to function by majority rule through the voting of members of the congregation. As the phrase “democratic process” implies, each member in good standing has equal input in decision making.

Congregational voting – the biblical model for church function or not?

In answering that question, one must distinguish between a consensus and a vote. It is clear that Scripture encourages a consensus among church members and we are commanded to have one mind.

Paul says, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents.” – Philippians 1:27-28

So, it seems that having one mind is the standard for God’s church, but notice it nowhere says that we are to get really good at the voting processes.

In the New Testament, we see this pattern worked out in the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 6, when men were selected for the distribution of food to the Hellenistic widows at the recommendation of the apostles, it says, “And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” – Acts 6:5 (emphasis added).

This passage clearly indicates that there was a consensus because obviously a choice was made. What the passage does not mention is whether or not a vote was taken in order to make that choice. What we do know, is that the action was not initiated by the congregation but was initiated by the Apostles, who incidentally, were men who held their positions without any human vote having taken place.

Many of my friends in congregational churches (I pastor in one) tend to assume a vote was the means to reaching the consensus in Acts 6, but I really don’t think that this assumption holds up well under scrutiny. Think about times when voting has taken place – anywhere, and you’ll realize that votes never produce consensus.

That’s because a congregational vote is a choice of “yes” or “no” to a proposal that has been made. That proposal may not address the concerns of many in the congregation, so in casting a vote, the voter is sometimes forced to simply choose the lesser of two offensive options and will not be satisfied with any outcome. When the church’s vote is not unanimous, congregational voting may well create disharmony rather than consensus.

Consensus is far more likely to be reached through good communication between leaders and the congregation, especially without Roberts Rules of Order interfering with open discussion, and without limiting the content of the discussion to a single motion or the duration of the discussion to a single meeting. If a statement finds approval with an entire congregation, the leaders and the people will know it without a democratic process.

The truth is that voting and certainly the democratic process was not a part of the cultures of the Old or the New Testament and was not imposed on those cultures by commands of Scripture, as a good many other concepts were. It’s safe to say that the ‘democratic’ process comes from western tradition, not from Scripture.

In fact, I can’t find anywhere in scriptures where the church, the local Body or for that matter any other Body should be a democracy. If anything, the scriptures display a Theocracy with Jesus by the Holy Spirit as the head for the glory of God the father.

Are There Dangers That Democracy Brings?

A danger that democracy brings to the life of a congregation is the frequent error of a majority focus. Throughout history, it’s demonstrated that the majority is often horribly wrong. Look no further than Nazi Germany, or even the movement to popularize homosexuality, abortion, or a myriad of other social and spiritual ills we face in Canada today.

In Exodus 32 the people took a popular vote which led Aaron to acquiesce to the popular consensus: so, he gave them a golden calf. In 1 Samuel the popular choice was to appoint a king over Israel, so God gave them one: Saul. Throughout Scripture, the popular ‘way’ was often a sinful one. That’s why God so frequently sent prophets to hold his people accountable. Without strong, godly leadership, they were like sheep without a shepherd. There seems to be a tendency for people to be led astray in large groups.

What Is The Biblical Model of Leadership?

The biblical model for leadership and decision making within God’s church involves qualified and tested leaders making decisions on behalf of the body. This does not take place without the body’s involvement, but it does take place without granting equal power to those who have not been biblically qualified as elders. First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are clear regarding qualifications and duties of these leaders. If equal input is given to those who haven’t been biblically qualified, the church in question is simply rejecting God’s commands regarding the function of his church.

The reason that voting is absent in Scripture may well be that voting itself is in conflict with the God-given structure for the church. Hebrews 13:17 commands, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” A vote that would remove decision-making responsibility from qualified leaders is in direct opposition to the command of this text.

Democracy can’t bear the test of a careful study of Scripture. It is a system which stands in opposition to God’s design regarding church leadership and church function. As such, it is a concept that can be gently laid aside by the believer who is willing to test everything by the Word and to adjust his or her life accordingly.

Christian – Choose The Right Side Of History

We all make choices every day. Some are life changing and some are so miniscule as to make no seeming difference in our lives. Either way making choices is a big part of our lives and very important. Do I choose to stop at the stop sign and look both ways before proceeding? Do I choose to brush my teeth in the morning before going out in public? Do I choose to respond in a loving manner or a nasty manner when someone crosses me?

Choices are not only important for me but choices affect other people. I remember Nick (not his real name). He was 18 at the time and had endured a life of terrible abuse at the hands of the person he should have been able to trust the most… his father. I had just gotten to know him only months after he had stood atop the fourth floor of a parking garage, determined to take his life by throwing himself backwards. He chose to die, but ended up making the choice for his family to now take care of a quadriplegic.

Certain choices I make cause others to make choices as a result. If I choose to play my trumpet outside on my neighbours front lawn at one in the morning, they could choose to respond… somehow.

Not making choices also affects others as well. Have you ever stood 4 deep in a line up at McDonalds and when it finally comes to the person in front of you, they act as though they have never been there before? Like as though McDonald’s has changed its menu in any great way since the last time they were there. They’ve been standing in line with the menu fully out displayed – in case they needed a reminder – and they still can’t seem to make a choice in a reasonable amount of time.

All choice consists of is the mental process of judging the merits of a few options and then selecting one or more of those options. Big Mac and a Large fry, done! I’m so glad I have a choice to use the self-serve kiosk nowadays.

Choices are important, but it seems as if most people meander through life as though they weren’t when it comes to the choices that matter the most – the ones that relate to eternity. It’s interesting to me how the average person puts an amazing amount of planning and strategic thought into their next weekend camping trip and barely give eternity a passing glance. So, while we do understand that making choices is probably important, we sometimes need to be reminded to make the right choices.

While growing up my father continually challenged me to make right choices and as a dad I do the same with my kids, understanding that I can’t force them to choose well. Our heavenly father won’t force us to make right choices either, but he presents us with the choices of a lifetime, such as to follow Jesus or treat him as a curiosity, to live in obedience and be a part of his plan or choose to live the Christian life by osmosis and miss out on the abundant life promised.

“Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that He was doing, they came to Him. And He told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him because of the crowd, lest they crush Him, for He had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around Him to touch Him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they fell down before Him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And He strictly ordered them not to make Him known.” – Mark 3:7-12

 

The people’s choice resulted in a broken relationship with God and so ended up on the wrong side of history

This is a period of time in which there is no medical care, and no real healing by the medical arts. This is a difficult world; life expectancy is short. The people came from all over the countryside because they heard of all that he was doing.

No one denies the miracles, they all affirm the miracles. No one denies that he had power over the kingdom of darkness, over the agents of hell and still they reject Jesus. Interesting…

No one tries to dismiss Jesus as a fraud ever, no one, not even any of their leaders. His miracles are daily and they’re public. They are undeniable testimony and evidence of his deity, yet in the end they will scream for his blood and say, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”

And so, the people make the choice to reject him because they want the miracles, never the gospel. They choose to see Jesus as a provider of needs rather than the Lord of their lives. Instead of “Dying to Know Him”, it’s more likely they’d ‘kill’ to get something from him.

They thought that they were on the right side of history and that Jesus’ way was the wrong choice, that his movement would soon be forgotten. They were so comfortable in the place where they were that they made their choice thinking  their way was the right and better one, and though it was the popular choice, it cost – big time. They lost their chance to be restored to God in a right relationship and ended up on the wrong side of history.

 

The Disciple’s choice resulted in a renewed relationship, ending up on the right side of history

 After a while Jesus goes up a mountainside away from the crowds choosing to take with him just those who are his closest followers. Here’s the interesting part of the choices made that day. First off Jesus’ choice of such a motley crew and then secondly the choice of the disciples to accept Jesus’ offer.

We get a bit of insight into what Jesus’ plan was and why he chose such ordinary guys from Paul. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18-20

God never does things by guess and by golly. He chose on purpose the lowest of the low, the foolish and the weak, the lowest of this world, the no-births, the insignificants, those who others don’t even notice.

As far as the world was concerned, these twelve followers of Jesus’ didn’t even exist. They certainly didn’t matter to the religious establishment of Israel. In fact, the elite looked at them and said, “What in the world is this, these untrained, uneducated, unskilled people from Galilee?” And the only explanation they could give for what power they had was that they had been with Jesus. That was always going to be the explanation. They were never the explanation, Jesus was always the explanation.

We’re not the explanation – ever, Jesus is always the explanation. Truth is that you could never find the secret formula to what’s going on in the Kingdom by looking at the people. You have to look at the power and that comes from Jesus. However, the thing we can do is choose to get to know Jesus so much, so intimately, that the power flows through us.

How do we do this? By surrendering every part of our life to God, to the Holy Spirit’s power to change us. The Disciples made their choice, choosing to surrender… everything, including their personal agendas, their very lives to make Jesus known. And God used them to turn the world upside down and changed history. They were among those who ended up on the right side of history.

 

What side of history will you find yourself? 

How about us? What choices do we make? We live in a pretty dark world right now. Shootings in high schools, gunmen hiding in hotel rooms killing people on the streets, wars and rumours of wars, changing environments, sexual abuses and political unrest… I could go on but I think we all get it. Life isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.

It also is becoming increasingly clear that the ‘popular’ direction of culture goes against the way of Jesus. In view of this, do we allow ourselves to follow the status quo, or get filled with anxiety or anger or fear? And do we play the blame game? “It’s the millennials fault”, or “It’s the government’s fault”, or “If everyone else just smartened up”. But have we thought about the choices we, ourselves make about our stand for Jesus?

Would be accused of being sold out for him like the disciples were or are we so focused on our next ‘camping trip’ or making sure we plan to get out and watch that next blockbuster movie, or plan for the upcoming hockey tournament or family event, wrapping ourselves up so much so that we don’t give eternal choices more than a passing thought?

I am in no way condemning a hockey tournament, or a good movie or a family potluck… I for one, am planning on seeing the Black Panther on the big screen and as for potluck – sign me up, but I guess I’m wondering if we’re more like the folks in Jesus day looking for and believing that Jesus is more about comfort and what I can get out of him and less concerned about being sold out for him, especially if it’s unpopular.

We have a choice to make. Will it be like the nation of Israel who rejected the messiah after he had been revealed to them, choosing rather to see Jesus simply as someone or something to satisfy their own wants, desires and needs? Or will your choice be on the right side of history and like the disciples choose to Go… every day and in every way, forgoing comforts, popularity and even great plans – giving their very lives – dramatically different than their neighbours?

The world is claiming that it is ‘they’ who are on the right side of history. There are comments being made that say that we are out of step and that Jesus’ way is becoming obsolete. Christians are called homophobic, unscientific, old fashioned, bigots and backward thinkers. Be that as it may, I believe that we are in a day and a time where God’s people must forgo our ‘comforts’ and make a choice about what side of history to be on.

We need to take a deep look at our lives and ask whether or not we are living in such a way and making choices that cause us to be accused of being with Jesus. Are our  lives so dramatically different than the world around us that people can’t help but see that we’ve been with him?

The question we must ask ourselves is whether we’re too comfortable with where we are or will we make the right choices – living dramatically different than the world around us?