Doctrine matters. Doctrine can cause delight or be very damaging. And sadly, false doctrine is more common than many people realize.
It’s not just me that says deception and damaging doctrine is prevalent though. That’s what Scripture says (see Matt. 24:11, 24; Mk. 13:22; Acts 28:31). False teaching is not a small concern. There is false teaching that is the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Remember, as Ephesians 6:12 says, we are at war not with humans but with unseen spiritual powers. This is serious. Paul says this will happen in “later times.” That’s where we are now. We are in the last days, the days in between the Ascension and the Return of Jesus Christ.
It’s helpful here, however, to consider that not everything we disagree with is the “doctrine of demons.” So, it helpful for us to consider “theological triage.” There are some teachings that are especially connected to the good news of Jesus Christ and there are other things that are further down the list of importance.
There are some things that are absolutes, like the deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the authority of Scripture. There are, however, things that are less critical when it comes to theological triage. For example, what we believe about the end times is not as critical as what we believe about Jesus and how people are saved.Read More…
Questions, Concerns, and Cautions
Questions. The first question I think it is important to ask is, what should be our level of expectation regarding the gifts? Sometimes proponents of the continuation of the gifts reference John 14:12, in that passage Jesus said, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” Some take that verse to mean that we should expect more miraculous gifts of the Spirit than even seen through the ministry of Jesus.
What, however, are the works that Jesus is referring to? I tend to agree with William Hendriksen’s understanding. He says, as a result of Jesus’ “departure the disciples will perform not only the works which Jesus has been doing all along (miracles in the physical realm), but also even greater works than these, namely, miracles in the spiritual realm.”
I believe that instead of always expecting the miraculous or never expecting it, we should understand that the miraculous is still possible. The gifts have not ceased. However, that does not mean that every Sunday will be a recreation of Pentecost. I believe we see through Scripture and the history of the Church that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are still given, yet they are not normative, they are not always given or to the same degree.
We are not to expect Pentecost but we are to expectantly pursue the gifts in accordance with Scripture for the upbuilding of the church. In the last days in which we are in, the actual outpouring of the grace gifts will look different at different geographical locations as well as different times throughout history. This is to be expected because in the New Testament there was no equal distribution of grace gifts and God’s mighty acts by the Spirit have in no way been evenly disbursed over the course of redemptive history. The Spirit moves where He wills (John 3:8) but that does not in anyway preclude us from praying for His special empowering. All over Scripture, the Spirit empowered people in mighty ways, we are in no less need of that special empowering today. Although we cannot demand it and it does not seem to be normative.
Second, why do so many unhealthy teachings and experiences go on within some churches that believe in the continuation of the grace gifts? There are various ways to answer this question but briefly, I think the issue shows a need for biblical leadership. That is not to say that biblical leadership has always been lacking in these churches. Paul himself had to provide correction to the Corinthian church that was dealing with various issues. But, he did provide that leadership, he did provide correction. I think it is important to note that abuses seem to abound where there is need for biblical balance regardless of the doctrine. I think for example of hyper-Calvinism or the issue of having orthodoxy but not orthopraxy.
I appreciate this important advice from Carson:
When God graciously manifests himself in abnormal and even spectacular ways, the wisest step that the leaders participating in such a movement may take is to curb the excesses, focus attention on the center—on Christ, on loving discipleship, on self-sacrificing service and obedience, on God himself—and not on the phenomena themselves.
Third, is the popular “open but cautious” view of the gifts a biblically tenable one? I do not believe so. If the grace gifts are still given then Scripture exhorts us to “earnestly desire” them for the upbuilding of the body (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 39). If the Lord Jesus cares enough about His church to give gifts and Spirit-empowered abilities to serve people, should we not care enough about the church to use those gifts for that purpose? Are we okay with being merely open to these good gifts, and even cautious about them, when He has graciously given them for our corporate good? That option does not seem open to me (although I understand that it may take some time to study and pray over the topic). Though, this issue should never be one of contention or disunity.
Earnestly desiring the gifts of the Spirit for the upbuilding of the body should never be allowed to cause division in the body. The Spirit wants us to and works so that we “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). So, the gifts should never be pursued in a way that would cause disunity or disrepute.
Earnestly desiring the gifts of the Spirit for the upbuilding of the body should never be allowed to cause division in the body.Tweet
I do believer, however, if someone is “open but cautious” then they should study Scripture in depth on the topic. If they are cautious it is important that they be informed on what particularly they should be cautious about. If they are open they should know why and what they are open too. If they are open, they should earnestly desire the grace gifts and lead the church to be built up through the operation of the full range of the grace gifts of the Spirit. This is important, because if the nose is missing, where would be the sense of smell (See 1 Cor 12:12ff)? In the same way we want each part of our body functioning, we should want every grace gift functioning within the church body.
May we long to impart spiritual gifts to strengthen each other as Paul did (Rom 1:11). “If, as Paul puts it, God’s various gifts are given ‘for the common good’ and ‘for the building up of the church,’ then we should expect to flourish to the extent that we receive, steward, and enjoy them.” Thus, the “open but cautious” position is not, in my opinion, a biblical position. Though I believe it is appropriate to be “unsure but studying” even though I believe the correct view is “open and desirous.”
Concerns and Cautions. The Apostle Paul has some good words for us, both groups. He says earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39). And he also says all things must be done in a proper and in an orderly manner (v. 40). He says I will pray with my spirit, I will sing with my spirit (v. 15). And he says, I will pray with my mind, I will sing with my mind (v. 15). Whatever our view on the continuation of the gifts, our churches should not be able to be labeled either “charismaniacs” or “the frozen chosen.” Because God is not a God of confusion (v. 33) but He is a God of new and exciting life and there is reason for us to respond to Him with visible affection. May we, both of us, worship the LORD, as He deserves, in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
I believe there is a danger of emotionalism on one side and of distain for emotion on the other. The renowned philosopher, theologian, and pastor Jonathan Edwards said, “there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.” Emotions are not bad in and of themselves but emotions must be guided by Scripture and governed by the self-control of the Spirit. Jay Adams has said,
There are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.
It is also important that we realize that worship is to be a response to revelation, the glory and goodness of God, and not mere hype, lighting, and musical mood. When we respond with the correct emotions to God’s revelation it honors Him. There is a time to “rend our hearts,” for instance (Joel 2:13). As William Wilberforce said, “Scripture speaks with praise of the lively exercise of the passions towards their legitimate object.”
The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), is a denomination that has a history of reckoning with this important and controversial topic, and they have wisely said, “in all periods of highly emotional religious issues, excesses are inevitable.” The C&MA knows about both the “blessings and the mischief of the [charismatic] movement.” Though it is true that mischief and even grave harm is done by those who teach falsely and wrongly emphasis certain gifts at the expense of others, it does not mean that the gifts themselves are bad. The apostle Paul himself showed that “the correct treatment for abuse is not disuse, but proper use.”
As the C&MA states, “we must… remember that our ‘comfort zone’ is not the same as spiritual discernment, and at times even a gift manifested in love may make those ignorant of it uncomfortable. Therefore, patient teaching on the gifts and their manifestations is a necessity.” Further, we must work very hard to distinguish between a work of the Spirit and what is merely a work of man or even Satan.
Jonathan Edwards gives five evidences of a work of the Holy Spirit that we would be wise to consider. First, the Spirit will work in such a way as to exalt Christ (1 Cor 12:3). Second, the Spirit will work against Satan and his work. Third, the Spirit will cause people to have a greater regard for Scripture and will establish them in God’s truth. Fourth, the Spirit will lead people in truth and convince them of what is true. Fifth, the Spirit will cause people to love God and man. Further, Edwards says,
The surest character of true divine supernatural love—distinguishing it from counterfeits that arise from a natural self-love—is, that the Christian virtue of humility shines in it; that which above all others renounces, abases, and annihilates what we term self… Love and humility are two things the most contrary to the spirit of the devil, of any thing in the world; for the character of that evil spirit, above all things, consists in pride and malice.
The Spirit’s work in us, whatever form that work takes, should not produce pride but humility. Also, the fruits of the Spirit should always accompany the gifts of the Spirit to a high degree (Gal 5:22-23).
It is also very important that we understand, as Jonathan Edwards says, “A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.” Thus, Allen Ross is correct in saying, “It is presumptuous for anyone to say that others do not have the joy of the Spirit if they do not dance and shout in a certain way… [or] have particular spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit works differently in people.”
As a last caution, it is important to hear from Cecil M. Robeck in his book The Azusa Street Mission and Revival. He says, “As a church historian, I have… come to realize that revival is not the normal state of affairs, nor is it intended to be so. Those of us who appreciate the role that revival plays often miss this.” Robeck compares revival to smelling salts. Smelling salts have their purpose. They revive people and bring them back to consciousness. But they are not for everyday life. “Imagine a roomful of people convinced that they need to keep on inhaling smelling salts in order to keep on living.”Read More…
I recently read Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue. Kreeft is a Roman Catholic philosopher, theologian, apologist, and a prolific author. He is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College.
Here are some quotes from Back to Virtue that stuck out to me:
“We control nature, but we cannot or will not control ourselves. Self-control is ‘out’ exactly when nature control is ‘in’, that is, exactly when self-control is most needed” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 23).
“Nothing is so surely and quickly dated as the up-to-date” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 63).
“It is hard to be totally courageous without hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope that your story ends in anything other than worms and decay” (Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 72).
“The only way to ‘the imitation of Christ’ is the incorporation into Christ” (Ibid., 84).
“There are only two kinds of people: fools, who think they are wise, and the wise, who know they are fools” (Ibid., 99).
“Humility is thinking less about yourself, not thinking less of yourself” (Ibid., 100).
“God has more power in one breath of his spirit than all the winds of war, all the nuclear bombs, all the energy of all the suns in all the galaxies, all the fury of Hell itself” (Ibid., 105).
“We can possess only what is less than ourselves, things, objects… We are possessed by what is greater than ourselves—God and his attributes, Truth, Goodness, Beauty. This alone can make us happy, can satisfy the restless heart, can fill the infinite, God-shaped hole at the center of our being” (Ibid., 112).
“The beatitude does not say merely: ‘Blessed are the peace-lovers,’ but something rarer: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’” (Ibid., 146).
“There is only one thing that never gets boring: God… Modern man has… sorrow about God, because God is dead to him. He is the cosmic orphan. Nothing can take the place of his dead Father; all idols fail, and bore” (Ibid., 157).
“God’s single solution to all our problems is Jesus Christ” (Ibid., 172).
“An absolute being, an absolute motive, and an absolute hope can alone generate an absolute passion. God, love and Heaven are the three greatest sources of passion possible” (Ibid., 192).
I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.
Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.
The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.
As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4). With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.
In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.” And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).
Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”
We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.
More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:
“The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”
The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”
It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.
One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.
Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.
So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…
1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)
Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story, being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.
Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.Read More…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 cf. 24:9, 13; John 15:18-21; Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:10; Heb. 3:6).Read More…