Friday, September 30, 2011

Courageous Iranian Pastor Imprisoned for his faith should inspire us

I received this message in an email from an organization I subscribe to and I usually agree with their messages. This one I'm going to disagree with at least partly, so I'm not going to publish their information although I will quote from their letter:
This week, perhaps while you were in line getting coffee or enjoy any number of things we Americans have taken for granted, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani had the heart to stand up before an Islamic court in Iran and defend his Christian faith. Pastor Yousef was told to recant his faith. Pastor Yousef refused.
This is a courageous pastor who should be taken as a model for all of us. He has chosen Christ over his own life and we should pray above all that his faith would be strong and his courage not broken.
Pastor Yousef is now scheduled to be executed, as shariah law dictates he must be. The response from the Christian community online has been one mixed with revulsion and shock. Yet the governments of the world -- and even some major Christian denominations -- have been outrageously silent.
Why "revulsion and shock?" What does such a reaction tell us about "the Christian community?" Are we that unaware of the situation under Islam that any of it should surprise us? And aren't we by now only too conscious of the bizarre political correctness that has been intimidating the world into tolerating Islam? Yes, outrageously silent, but that shouldn't be any surprise either.
...In the Western tradition, “civis romanus sum” -- I am a Roman citizen -- used to be the three most terrifying words an ancient despot could hear. These words saved St. Paul from the judgment of an enraged centurion (Acts 22:27) as he demanded to be tried by a Roman court.

In fact, so severe was the punishment against those who violated the rights of Roman citizens, that Acts records the commander of the Roman garrison “was afraid, after he knew that he [Paul] was a Roman, and because he had bound him.” (Acts 22:29)
Of course pastor Yousef is an Iranian citizen and Roman concepts of law do not apply there; shariah law does. But they're working up to a point here so read on.
In later years, when Muslim caliphs attempted to levy taxes on the Christian holy sites, Byzantine emperors would disproportionately raise armies and invade Muslim lands. Horrified caliphs wisely reconsidered and discontinued the tax… until the Turks crippled Byzantium at Manzikert in 1071 and the Arabs broke the power of Crusading armies in the 14th century.

This tradition of protecting members of the body politic extended not only to Christian Byzantium, but by the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs, eclipsed in turn by the British Empire who made such a policy of protecting its citizens a hallmark of their Victorian-era world power.

The United States historically has insisted upon a similar tradition, whether it is protecting Americans against 19th century Barbary Pirates, to tackling Islamic terrorism in the modern day.

Today, the Pax Americana stands threatened by the powers of Islamic fanaticism among many others. For Christianity, the “body of Christ” remains threatened as it has been for centuries, and as Christ assured us it will be.

Yet the tyrannies of the world still prosper in the face of weakness. Why?

For those Christians living in America, we have the unique qualities of being both members of a great nation, as well as being believers in Christ. Christians around the world look to the wealth, prestige, and power of Christian Americans to come to the aid of Christians elsewhere -- no different than if a wasp stung your left hand, than one would expect the right hand would swat at the pain shared by all.

Christians in America need to be that right hand for Pastor Yousef.
But is this situation comparable to any of those this email is referring to? I don't think so. I think it is far more comparable to the situation in Jerusalem when the early church was being persecuted by the Jewish leaders for heresy and Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 6 and 7) There is a time to protect Christians from persecution with that kind of influence and force but sometimes you have to realize there may be more true fruit for the Christian cause if a person is martyred for the faith as was Stephen.

I'm NOT saying it's up to US to turn someone over to martyrdom, of COURSE we must pray for his deliverance, that IS our job, but what I'm trying to say is that maybe we need to have a bigger picture in mind while we're praying for him. Expand our prayers to include the possibility of martyrdom, pray for increased faith and knowledge of God's will, pray that he have the vision of Stephen, pray that he have the courage of John Bunyan in prison. Pray above all that God's will be done, which is of course how we are always to pray, but pray with the intention of knowing God's will better than we usually do, to know what would serve the cause of Christ in this situation, we need to pray for knowledge along those lines.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, wrote Tertullian, in a treatise arguing that Christians be delivered from the legal persecutions of his time, while making the point that their martyrdoms were not destroying the faith but causing it to grow. There is no formula in this for all times. Persecutions of Christians have been going on all over the world especially in the last few decades under Islam and there is no particular reason to think the result has been an increase in the numbers of Christians. It may be, I don't know.

But sometimes it definitely is. Sometimes people of little faith or willingness to die are persecuted and their witness unfortunately doesn't count for much, but sometimes the willingness of Christians to die for the faith conveys more clearly than anything else that trust in Christ releases one from fear of death because He conquered death. And Christ Himself taught:
Jhn 12:24-25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

...Pray for Pastor Yousef.

Pray for his wife and two young children. Pray for those Iranian Christians who are serving the Great Commission to spread the message of Christ to the very ends of the world. Pray for all those Christians under persecution in China, Venezuela, the Middle East, Russia, Nigeria, Sudan, and for those struggling against the threat and impact of shariah law in their neighborhoods.

Pray the faith Pastor Yousef so fervently shares is lived not only in Iran, but fearlessly in places where the Christian faith is rarely tested… and therefore rarely tried.

Pray for an awakening of the Holy Spirit here in America, so that our faith may be worthy of the name Christian. Pray for us and our churches so that we may fearlessly live the Gospel. Pray for the restoration of all things to Christ. Above all, pray for the time when “I am a Christian” gives despots and dictators pause to consider the reaction of the Body of Christ.
Well, we should pray a lot of this of course, but what I'm trying to get at is that there's something wrong with the emphasis.

Here's the main point: In the case of Islam mere political intimidation isn't going to have lasting effects. Islam has immense satanic power behind it that enslaves its followers. Political clout may keep them at bay of course but is that our highest objective? Don't we want THEIR hearts and minds changed, don't we want them to see the glory of Christ in the fearlessness of His saints and be converted thereby? Political intimidation and influence WON'T SPREAD THE GOSPEL, it will at best protect those who are already Christians. It is commonly thought that the gospel spreads when Christianity is safe and more pastors can preach and so on, and there's some truth in that, but unfortunately it often doesn't spread as easily then at all, or a weaker version of it may spread easily, as so often happens in the west. The gospel goes out in its strongest converting power when it is preached under duress and received in an atmosphere of threat to one's life -- then the true power of Christ to save is grasped with the deep faith that comes with acceptance of dying for it. And political protection doesn't strengthen us but weaken us spiritually. Spiritual strength comes from utter helplessness as we put ourselves in the hands of Christ whether we live or die.

Yes, pray for pastor Yousef, that his faith not fail and that God's will be done. Pray that other Christians be inspired by his faith and fearlessness to give up their own freedom for Christ as he has done, and their lives if need be FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE UNDER THE SPELL OF ISLAM. Pray that many workers be sent into the harvest WILLING TO DIE TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL. We send out missionaries so protected by every worldly means these days it's a wonder if they accomplish anything. Power in the Christian life comes ONLY THROUGH dying.

But besides praying for this pastor in all the above ways we should also do what we can to PUBLICIZE his situation. PRAY FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT FOR THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST AND THE GLORY OF GOD IN HIS STORY.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I've posted a link to a radio interview of Robert Spencer by Brannon Howse on Rick Perry's pro-Islam stance among other things at my Too Late for America blog.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Don't tell me 9/11 was not God's judgment on America

September 11 is almost here again and its being the 10th anniversary there are more commemorative events than usual, as well as terrorist threats of course. Pray those are soundly quashed.

A sermon that was given the Sunday right after 9-11 in 2001 was aired on Christian radio this morning, among other things complaining about those who saw the attack as God's judgment on America. Since I'm one who sees it that way I just want to give a brief answer:
To say that it was God's judgment on AMERICA is NOT to say it was God's judgment on the victims that day.
I've always been careful to say this, and nobody else who called it God's judgment blamed the victims either, at least that I heard. That was made up by the preacher on the radio. As a matter of fact there were very very few who even saw the attack as God's judgment at the time, while most sermons seemed aimed at exonerating God from such a charge.

Some, including the radio preacher, also seemed determined to put it in the context of Jesus' teachings about disasters not implying some special judgment of their victims, and in relation to the victims themselves that is perfectly appropriate. The victims were not being judged, AMERICA was being judged. Or at least we can't KNOW if some of the victims were being judged or not. God deals with individuals individually. Some of the victims were His and went to be with Him. God takes us home according to His own counsel, it could be by a national disaster or it could be by any other means chosen by Him at any time also chosen by Him. There were many stories of miraculous rescues --God dealing with individuals individually.

We can't even speculate about the reasons in the case of the individuals. We can't know anything about that. The only thing to be done in relation to the victims is sympathize and offer help.

And on the tenth anniversary of the attack the most appropriate thing to do is sympathize and commiserate and bind up wounds.

If it weren't for that sermon I wouldn't say anything else.

But the same Jesus who admonished His followers not to think of the sufferings of indivicuals as God's judgments also made it clear that God was going to judge the nation of Israel -- not one stone of the temple left upon another -- which He did in 70 AD.

God was not necessarily judging the victims of 9-11 but was undoubtedly judging the nation. To understand how such a thing could have happened to America we have to recognize that God still deals with NATIONS as described in the Old Testament and we are admonished in the New Testament to learn such things from the Old.

And one last statement: The preacher on the radio mentioned that both Right and Left think it was judgment, the Right because of our sins according to the Bible -- that's my position -- and the Left because America deserves it, I suppose for our "meddling" in the Middle East? The Left always sides with America's enemies. That's not what I'm doing. Our enemies' reasons are not God's reasons. I'm looking at it from what I understand to be God's perspective, not our enemies' perspective. God uses our enemies to judge us, and then eventually they will also be judged.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Contending for the truth can become arrogant ignorant denunciation of true if errant Christians

Heidi Swander of Olive Tree Ministries wrote this timely article that came in this morning's email from that ministry.
At what point does a fellow Christian deserve to be ostracized for their perceived apostasy? Where do you draw the line regarding Christians you will and will not fellowship with? When has a spiritual leader made a definitive decline into error? Sorry, that's three questions. Well, think about them for a moment. They're important questions to answer.

While you're thinking, I will admit to you that I am weary of the spiritual immaturity of many "discerning" believers. I am tired of the circular firing squads that have been drafted that position Christians to repeatedly fire on each other. I'm worn out from bitter, caustic diatribes toward fellow believers who have not proved to be ambassadors of the enemy at all, but someone we have short-changed by not allowing discourse on their perceived error.

Don't get me wrong: There are plenty of times, in these last days, when we must "contend earnestly for the faith." But the wise man or woman must discern when to contend and when to counsel. Let me explain what God has been teaching me.
You can read the rest of the article at the link.

I say it's timely because I've very recently been pondering much the same problem in "discernment" ministries I keep tabs on, as recently as last night. The problem as she describes it is a lack of spiritual maturity that gives no grace to someone who has committed some infraction of doctrine according to the "discerner's" standards, even someone held in great esteem by much of the church for their Christian teaching and work.

In the last few months I've heard some of the best of the best denounced in terms that brand them as apostates just because of such an error, or even just on the "authority" of some other "ministry" whose facts have not been independently checked.

I cringe when I hear such revered leaders as theologian R C Sproul, pastor and teacher John MacArthur, or Bible teacher Kay Arthur, denounced in such terms for some infraction according to the ignorant "discerner." The list is much longer than those three but those three come to mind. But such greats as Luther and Calvin have also been treated to such denunciations, and the latest volley of imprudent excoriation I heard was blasted against that venerable church father, Augustine. I even prayed that the Lord would make such "discernment" teachers aware of their folly and this email from Olive Tree I regard as answer from the Lord since I have reason to believe it goes out to many of those teachers.

Clearly much of it comes from sheer ignorance. They know just about nothing about the history of the church or the rightful place of any of these names in the regard of the church, they trust in their own uneducated first impressions, they magnify their own sense of the truth and righteousness at the expense of Christians of far greater stature than themselves.

It's one thing to discover and lament a doctrinal flaw in a leader's thinking, it's another to let that discovery or opinion lead you to treat that person as no longer a Christian.

I'm only going to mention what I heard said against Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in the fourth century, although Heidi Swander is really only addressing attitudes toward one another in today's church. The principle is the same. Is Augustine really a Christian or not despite his doctrinal errors? I say he is. I say we'll find him among the Lord's company at the very end.

What I've learned about Augustine over my Christian life has been pretty well balanced, treating him as insightful but flawed. He's held up as a theologian whose teachings had a great deal to do with inspiring the Protestant Reformation, and yet he's also acknowledged to have promoted views that gave support to the later development of Roman Catholic errors.

In other words Protestant leaders have taken what is of value in Augustine and have for the most part not fallen for his errors. But ignorant arrogant "discerners" with no knowledge whatever of Augustine except some quotes they recently heard attributed to him that they disagree with, no sense whatever of the historical place of Augustine, or of the circumstances which shaped his theology, speak of him as of the devil himself. Although I happen to agree that Augustine was very very wrong about, for instance, the identity of the angels who procreated with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 -- in fact I strongly agree with this "discerner" in this case and regard it as a very important point the church should be studying in the last days -- and Augustine's view does happen to be an interpretation is still accepted even among Protestants, and promoted by Calvin as well, sad to say, yet I cringe at the arrogant posturing ignorance of a denouncer of one of the best known fathers of the church as far more offensive than even Augustine's grossest errors. And it's a barrier to getting the teaching about Genesis 6 taken seriously by more Christians too.*

How ironic that he accuses Augustine and Calvin of attitudes that he himself is committing, pride, excessive trust in his own understanding and so on. If he thinks he is above being seduced by his own flesh or the wiles of the devil, above ever teaching anything that might mislead, unaware of the shoulders he himself stands on for his own doctrinal understanding, let him think again. He'd deny he has any such attitudes, but clearly he simply hasn't subjected himself to very rigorous self-examination.

He also falsely accuses those who refer to themselves as "Augustinians" or "Calvinists" of buying into everything said by those men and of "trusting in man instead of in God." He doesn't even have a clue what a person means by identifying as a "Calvinist" for instance, he just freely makes it up as he goes along, it MUST mean we're blindly following a man and not God. He's outraged at a false teaching and he's going to tar everything and everyone who ever got anything good out of the teacher with that error, deserved or not. And I don't think I've ever heard this particular "discerner" recognize, correct or apologize for any error of his own. He just thinks he's being misunderstood or persecuted when anyone objects, just goes into a litany of his good intentions and how no he isn't saying this or that. (Don't know how many times I've heard him say Hey it's not that I think I'm Mr. Perfect and the like, but again, how he acts doesn't quite fit his disclaimer.)

Augustine's writings are so voluminous it's possible nobody has ever read all of them and many Christians know next to nothing about him. Some of us may know about his conversion experience in which God used the voice of a small child playing a game to bring him to Christ, we may have read his Confessions, his autobiography which became the model for autobiographies ever since, we may have read his City of God in which he presents the enduring world of the spirit over the world of the flesh, of which Wikipedia says:

Augustine is the most influential Father of the Church in the West and through Western Christianity The City of God profoundly shaped Western civilization.
All of that is valuable despite his support of Roman Catholic errors, and Augustine's teachings were part of what inspired Luther toward his rejection of those very errors. Calvin too made use of some of Augustine's theology. It was a theology supportive of the Reformation's theology of salvation by grace through faith and dependence on God BEFORE Roman Catholicism had grown into what it later became.

Just because the Roman church has taken possession of him and calls him a good Roman Catholic does NOT mean he was himself a Roman Catholic in the sense someone like Aquinas was. The Roman church also took possession of Ireland's patron saint Patrick, although Patrick himself never had anything to do with Romanism. It's a big mistake to take what Catholic historians have to say about him as if it were THE truth.

Augustine is rightly considered one of the early fathers who belongs to the true church DESPITE the parts of his teachings that veer over to the superstitious errors of Romanism. One of my big problems with Augustine is that he spiritualizes the first part of Genesis. He apparently made plenty of errors of that kind although he ALSO developed enough of a theology of grace to inspire the Protestant Reformation.

Who of us is perfect? We have to be able to tell when a professed Christian has truly gone off into apostasy -- there are plenty of those these days -- oh, PLENTY! -- and one of my own discouraging discoveries has been how many true Christians don't have the discernment to reject them but even embrace them. But there are plenty of true Christians who make some theological errors that are far from the level of apostasy, who should not be denounced the way I've heard so many denounced recently by certain teachers out of profound ignorance, and yes, out of what Heidi Swander calls spiritual immaturity.

I recommend reading Heidi Swander's article all the way through.

* It is sort of sadly interesting regarding Augustine's interpretation of the events of Genesis 6 that he made the comment I quoted in the previous post about trusting in yourself over God if you don't believe the gospels as written. Perhaps he simply makes an exception in the case of Genesis 6, as the discerner I'm talking about here reports him (or was it Calvin) as saying the idea that angels copulated with human women is simply false due to its own intrinsic absurdity, which certainly is a case of imposing his own prejudice on the scripture rather than accepting it as written.

The "discerner" however went on to accuse him of adding to scripture and deserving the curse of being eliminated from the Book of Life, which is REALLY not fair. Wrong interpretations of scripture are NOT the same thing as adding to scripture.

Save that accusation for the heretics who DID tamper with scripture in the early centuries and produced the Alexandrian Greek texts --or if you are a Westcott and Hort fan, then it is the Textus Receptus that was so altered, and all its manipulators, which according to the logic of W and H's theory involved an entire convention of the greatest names of the early church getting together specifically for that purpose, who are of course all going to hell. Sometimes people just don't think THROUGH their invented scenarios.

Anyway, if everybody who misinterpreted scripture based on his own personal biases were guilty of adding to scripture just about nobody could be saved. It's always disappointing to discover people doing this but I suppose any of us is subject to it and must be very careful for that reason.

I'm aware of some instances off the top of my head: I just happened to hear a discussion on Christian radio about the various views of wine in scripture which included the common idea that Jesus didn't REALLY drink wine, although scripture says He did, and that whenever wine is mentioned in the Bible it REALLY means extremely watered-down wine although there isn't the slightest clue in scripture itself that that is the case -- and these manipulations of scripture come from Fundamentalists who have their own axe to grind against alcohol. Apparently it was one of these fundamentalists who got the entire Christian church to use grape juice instead of wine, within the last hundred years or so. Welch was his name, of Welch's Grape Juice fame.

Are they all going to hell for their refusal to take scripture at its word?

I ran across quite a collection of rather agonized attempts to avoid coming to the obvious conclusion that Paul in 1 Cor 11:2-16 is saying women must put something over their heads during worship, that was extremely disappointing as I saw one otherwise justly highly esteemed preacher after another go to such lengths.

The idea that Paul meant long hair is really just stupid, excuse me but it is, it shows a bizarre inability to read in context and a strange lack of appreciation of the mind of Paul. The average Christian might not deserve to be called stupid for this misreading (though since we all have the Holy Spirit there's something wrong there too) but their leaders should have corrected them as they aren't stupid, but they go ahead and confirm this utterly ridiculous misreading.

The passage has its knotty points to unravel but the overall message is NOT that hard to figure out in itself. There is really no excuse. The early churches got it although many of them also found ways of not quite obeying it completely, according to Tertullian, yet the churches ALL obeyed it more or less down to the middle of the 20th century. NOBODY interpreted it as requiring long hair. The reference to long hair was recognized as the mere example Paul offered as one of his arguments.

Worse than that, however, is the contingent that understands that Paul IS calling for a covering to be put over the head, but, based on absolutely nothing in the text, and certainly based on nothing we could ever suspect of the apostle Paul in general, they decide it's really a culture-bound matter that applied only to Paul's own time and not to us. It REALLY means, according to them, that women are simply to dress in a sex-appropriate way. BALDERDASH! Paul is emphasizing the physical HEAD as the whole point of all his arguments and it takes some kind of self-delusion to ignore his obvious meaning!

(My study of all this is far more temperate, I don't erupt like this there if you'd like to go read my blog Hidden Glory and follow the argument in some detail).

I have to suspect this latter group of being motivated by a fear of the opinions in the church, a sort of feminist backlash. They all show a nervousness about the topic in one way or another and a few of them admit to that nervousness, just as the preacher who discussed the meaning of wine in the Bible also did. Rubbing your congregation the wrong way is NOT a fun experience. But it's sad that so many end up compromising the word for such a reason.

That's at least as bad as Augustine or Calvin's refusal to believe that angels copulated with women, simply on the basis of their idea that such a thing is simply absurd, although scripture unambiguously SAYS that is what happened.

Are they all going to hell for adding to scripture?

Oh and here's another one. Well, it's not exactly a case of misreading the Bible, but it is a case of insisting on a false view of history because you don't like the implications of the true history: This is the case of the King-James-Only people who claim that the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures known as the Septuagint was actually produced some centuries after Christ, rather than what is generally known about it, that it was produced some centuries BEFORE Christ and is most likely the scripture quoted by Him and His disciples.

May the Lord forgive us all for such indulgences of the carnal nature.