Judging the wolves

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). He never told us to judge ourselves by our fruits. If we want to know whether or not we are saved from evil and promised a place in heaven, we look to the Word of God. We trust what God has said there about our forgiveness and our place in his kingdom. We turn to the Church—the people of God gathered around God’s Word—and to the special blessings of the Church for confidence that we are the people of God, redeemed from all sin and evil, and guaranteed eternal life in a new creation.

We do not judge ourselves, but we do judge others. Especially those who claim to be prophets and teachers must be judged so we will be safe from false prophets and lying teachers. The best way to judge such a teacher is to compare the teacher’s words to God’s Word. If their teachings differ from the Bible, they are to be corrected; if they refuse correction, they are to be ignored. (Under the Law of Moses, they were to be executed.) Another way to assess the fruits of a preacher or teacher is consider their lives. I Timothy 3:1-7 describes the qualities that the leader of a congregation must have. Fourteen qualities are listed. While I do not want to comment upon all fourteen, several are worthy of special mention.

“Above reproach”—no one but Jesus is without sin, but not all sins are equal in this world. All sins equally separate sinners from God, and all sins are forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, but in other ways some sins are worse than others. A leader who does not abuse authority can be considered beyond reproach. One who uses authority over others to take advantage of them does not belong among the leaders of the Church. The Church’s leaders are to be servants rather than lords.

“The husband of one wife”—aside from excluding polygamy, this qualification has generated controversy. Can the leader of a congregation remarry if his wife dies? What if the marriage ends in divorce, but it was entirely the fault of the wife? I am uncertain of the answer in these cases, but in other matters I am certain. A church leader who commits adultery, or one who abuses women or children, cannot remain in leadership or return to leadership. The sinner might repent, confess, and be forgiven, but even being forgiven that former leader cannot return to leadership. The harm he has done to others is too great to ignore, even under forgiveness.

“Not a drunkard”—sad to say, many Christian leaders buckle under stress and turn to alcohol or other addictive substances or behaviors rather than finding their strength in the Lord. While a person is under the power of an addiction, that person cannot lead others. Following recovery, including repentance and confession, I believe such a person can return to leadership in the Church.

“Not violent, but gentle; not quarrelsome”—how many prominent leaders in the Church do these words disqualify? When a person is causing fights and schisms in the Church, either by beginning such fights or by entering them as a participant rather than working as a peacemaker, that person should not be entrusted with a position of leadership. In this case, also, recovery, including repentance and confession, can be considered grounds for returning to leadership.

“Not a lover of money”—anyone who considers wealth to be proof of genuine faith and Christian living is unworthy of leadership in the Church. Anyone who teaches others to believe the same is unworthy of leadership in the Church. Some Christians are obsessed with money and worldly property. They have turned their backs upon God and upon treasures in heaven to claim as much wealth as they can seize on earth. Worse, they are using God’s name to gather such wealth. If they persist in this error, they face serious judgment on the Last Day. Meanwhile, those who will not be corrected should be ignored.

Many famous and prominent leaders in the contemporary Church fail to show these qualities. They are not fit to lead God’s people. So long as they persist in their errors, they should be regarded as ravenous wolves. Every Christian is advised to flee from such wolves and to seek protection from Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. J.

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“Your body is a temple of God”–part one

At times Christians say that we should take care of our bodies because they are God’s temples. Now, I am entirely in favor of maintaining our health. That is good stewardship of part of God’s creation. (See note #1, below.) But describing our bodies as God’s temples is a mistake—one which muddles what the apostle Paul wrote. It combines two or more references into a single thought that Paul did not intend.

Paul used the word “temple” in seven places among his epistles (counting multiple uses in the same sentence as one place). Only once does he refer to the actual building in Jerusalem (I Corinthians 9:13). Another time he refers to pagan temples (I Corinthians 8:10). In the remaining five places, Paul uses the word “temple” figuratively to speak about something else. These instances are worth analyzing one by one.

I Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For the temple is holy, and you are that temple.” In every case, the word “you” in these verses is plural. If your Bible does not point that out in a footnote, and if you are unable to read the New Testament in Greek, then check out a King James translation. The translators used “ye”—the plural for you at that time. (See note #2, below.) The Christian Church, together, is one temple. Moreover, Paul is writing about Christian unity in this chapter, not about physical health.

I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” This verse comes closer to saying that each of us is a temple of God, but Paul specifies in this case “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of God does dwell within a Christian, granting saving faith and perseverance and guiding the Christian in doing good works. The topic of this part of Paul’s letter, though is sexual morality. He stresses that visiting a prostitute is a sin against God, especially against God the Holy Spirit. In ancient Greece, as in Canaan, prostitution was part of the pagan religion. Visiting a prostitute was an act of pagan worship. Therefore, it was wrong for a Christian to visit a prostitute. By extension, a preacher might use these two verses to talk about diet and exercise or other bodily matters, but that preaching goes beyond what Paul intended in these verses.

II Corinthians 6:16: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” Once again, the temple of God is the Christian Church. The pronoun is plural—we, not thou—but the temple is one temple. Together, we are all the temple of God.

Ephesians 2:19-22: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Here Paul expands a simple figure of speech into an entire parable or allegory. Unmistakably, though, he is telling many Christians that together they are one temple.

II Thessalonians 2:3-4: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that Day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Some people treat the temple in this verse as a physical structure. (See note #3, below.). When we apply Paul’s thoughts about the temple of God in his letters to the Corinthians and Ephesians, we see that the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) will be found among God’s people, not actively opposed to the visible Church. Hitler and Stalin were not fulfillments of Paul’s prophecy, nor would Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton qualify as the man of lawlessness. That false leader will draw God’s flock astray by false teaching inside the Church—taking his seat in the temple of God.

Having established the teaching that the temple of God, according to Paul, is the whole Christian Church, I will next explain what it means for the Church to be the temple of God. J.

  1. Stewardship is a technical term describing the way Christians take care of God’s property. It sometimes becomes confused with fundraising for the church, but stewardship involves far more. Adam and Eve were placed in charge of the planet. Their descendants are still in charge of taking care of the planet. Stewardship means meeting our worldly responsibilities—paying our taxes, for example. It includes caring for our families. Yes, taking care of our own health is also part of faithful stewardship. We can do far more to serve God and help our neighbors when we are healthy than when we are sick or out of shape.
  2. English has changed since the time the Bible was first translated into English and Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. Like many other languages, English had one word for addressing a single person (thee and thou) and another for addressing more than one person (ye and you). That has probably fallen out of use because of the egalitarian nature of American and British society in modern times. You see, in English of that time, as in other languages, people would use the plural pronoun to speak to royalty or to other people of importance. I suspect the origin of that custom is the Holy Trinity. When God spoke to himself, he used the plural (“Let us make man in our image,” for example.), and some ancient rulers may have started imitating the Lord to emphasize their own importance and authority. That last part is mere speculation, but the elimination of “thee and thou” means that we use the same pronoun no matter who we are addressing and how important that person is.
  3. Of course some Christians believe that this verse must be read literally and will be fulfilled literally. They anticipate that the Day of the Lord cannot arrive until a third temple has been built in Jerusalem for the man of lawlessness to defile. These becomes part of an elaborate narrative based on a few verses of Scripture taken out of context—but that can be the topic of another post.

Christ in Genesis: the Bride

Isaac is a picture of Christ in at least three ways. His birth was promised in advance, just as Moses and the prophets promised the coming of Christ. Isaac’s birth to ninety-year-old Sarah was a miracle, just as Christ’s birth to the virgin Mary was a miracle. Isaac’s father was willing to sacrifice him for the good of the world, just as God the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son for the good of the world. It stands to reason, then, that the bride of Isaac should in some way resemble the Bride of Christ, the Holy Christian Church.

Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son Isaac and bring her to him. So also God sent prophets to prepare the way of the Lord, so that believers in the coming Savior were rescued by the same faith in Jesus that rescues Christians today. The apostles were sent to make disciples of all nations, and missionaries are still sent into the world, so that the Church will consist of people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help. Those who preach and proclaim God’s Word do not save sinners by their own words of persuasion. Only Jesus saves sinners; only the Holy Spirit creates saving faith through God’s Word. The servant brings the message, but only God can provide the answer.

God answers the servant’s prayer “before he had finished speaking” (Genesis 24:15). The timeless God knows what we need and what we will pray. He wants us to pray, to keep in touch with him, but he generously provides for us—even more than what we ask—because of his love for us. Missionaries sometimes find that people who never heard of Jesus or the Christian Church are somehow prepared for the message, coming to faith as soon as they learn of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s servant places jewelry from Abraham upon Rebekah before he speaks to her about marrying Isaac. The members of the Christian Church are not saved from sin and evil by the good things they do for God; they are saved by the good things Jesus has done for them. We bring nothing of our own to be accepted by Jesus as his people; we bring only the works Jesus has done for us—his obedience to his Father’s will, his sacrifice on the cross as a Ransom for us, and his victorious resurrection from the dead, defeating all God’s enemies on our behalf.

Rebekah is offered no choice whether or not to be married to Isaac. The servant describes his message from Abraham, Laban and Bethuel declare that “the thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken” (Genesis 24:50-51).

Yet after she has been claimed as Isaac’s bride, she is given a choice whether she will linger in her old way of life for several days or whether she will leave immediately with Abraham’s servant to be brought to Isaac. We cannot choose to come to faith, for we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:1-2). God made us alive, giving us faith—much as the command of Jesus made Lazarus alive and able to walk out of his tomb (John 11:43-44). Being made alive, we can linger in our old sinful ways or live in the new life provided by God’s Gospel. The prophets and apostles frequently urge people not to linger in the darkness but to walk in the light. People who are alive have freedom to make good choices or bad choices. People who are dead have no freedom.

Rebekah chooses to travel immediately to her husband, not to linger in her old way of life. So also the Bride of Christ comes to him, to the husband who “might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Once again, Christians do not sanctify themselves for Jesus; they are sanctified by the work of Jesus, done on their behalf.

Before they left her home and her family, Abraham’s servant “brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah” (Genesis 24:53). When they approached Abraham’s home and Rebekah first saw Isaac from a distance, “she took her veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:65). She came to her husband in clothing that he and his father had already provided to her. As God cast away the fig-leaf clothing Adam and Eve had made and provided suitable clothing for them, so the Church and its members come to Christ clothed in the righteousness he has provided us. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Clothed in his righteousness, we are his Church. Today we are still engaged to Christ, waiting for the Bridegroom to come in all his splendor to bring us to his mansion. Already, though, we belong to him, chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) to be his people forever.

Happy Reformation Day

On Halloween, 1517, Martin Luther changed the world.

Actually, that’s a pretty silly sentence. World-changing powers do not rely upon one person or one event (aside from the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ). What Luther did on October 31, 1517, was one step in the reformation of the Christian Church in western Europe, a reformation that would have enormous consequences in the Americas, in Africa, and in many parts of Asia and of the Pacific Ocean lands. His action that day was a response to a long-standing misunderstanding in European Christianity about God’s forgiveness. To explain that misunderstanding–involving repentance, penance, purgatory, and indulgences–would stretch this post far beyond one thousand words.

But Luther wanted to talk about forgiveness. As a university professor and an Augustinian monk, Luther wanted to bring about a debate among the scholars of the Church. He wrote ninety-five sentences (usually called “theses”) and posted them on the chapel door of the University of Wittenberg, where Luther taught theology. The ensuing discussion would bring about Luther’s excommunication (kicking him out of the Roman Catholic Church–in the opinion of the Roman Catholics, denying that Luther was a Christian) and his condemnation as a heretic and an outlaw. Those who agreed with Luther–labeled “Lutherans,” although Luther preferred the label “evangelical”–had sufficient strength in numbers and in political power, to survive these accusations of heresy. They presented a description and defense of their beliefs to the Emperor, Charles V, in 1530. Over the next century they survived two major wars which ended in treaties which allowed them to remain in the Empire (although, once again, the details of these wars and these treaties would stretch this post to unwieldly length).

Why did Luther choose to post his ninety-five sentences on Halloween? All Hallows Eve came just before All Saints’ Day, a day when many people would visit the chapel in Wittenberg to view the relics collected by the Elector, Frederick of Saxony. Viewing these holy items (which were said to include a twig from the burning bush wherein God spoke to Moses, a scrap from the clothes in which the newborn Jesus was swaddled and a wisp of straw from the manger, thirty-five fragments of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and one of the nails which held him to the cross, a thumb of Saint Anne the mother of Mary, a tooth of Saint Jerome, and numerous parts of other saints and mementos of other Biblical events) was said to reduce the time a Christian would spend in purgatory before rising to Paradise. Luther’s challenge to the system of penance and indulgences was timed to gather much attention to his ninety-five sentences for debate.

Luther began, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ he willed that the entire life of believers was to be one of repentance.” Luther thus distinguished between true repentance and acts of penance. Luther assumed that the pope, Leo X, would be shocked by the outrageous claims of the sellers of indulgences. Yet Luther’s sentences involved further shocking remarks, such as Number 82: “Why does the pope not empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there” rather than “for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”

Western European Christianity was ready for these kinds of challenges. Growing nationalism caused resentment against the political claims of the pope and of the Holy Roman Emperor. Preachers who were Biblically illiterate left their hearers hungry for the truth of God’s Word. Then as now, many Christians resented the appearance that the Christian Church was focused more on money and on political power than on rescuing sinners, healing broken lives, and establishing a genuine connection between God and his people. Luther cared little for the political implications of his sentences. He deeply cared about sinners who were being pushed away from God’s grace by the Church rather than reconciled to God through the Gospel.

Luther himself had faced turmoil in his earlier years. He hated God, thinking of God as a cruel judge who wanted to torture sinners and who demanded good deeds to pay for sins. Luther became an Augustinian monk because of his fear of God’s judgment and his hope to perform enough good deeds to please God. His superior in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz, encouraged Luther to believe the Bible’s message of God’s love and mercy. Staupitz wanted Luther to find comfort in the promise of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Knowing that we learn best the things we need to know by teaching others, Staupitz arranged for Luther to teach classes on the Bible. Had Staupitz been more open about his convictions, today there would be Staupitzian congregations instead of Lutheran congregations. Yet Staupitz was content to deal one-on-one with desperate men like Martin Luther. Luther was bold enough to challenge the authorities and the system for the good of the Church and for its eventual reformation.

Luther could have been killed for his beliefs. Other men were killed for preaching the same message they had learned from Luther. But Luther lived until 1546. He married a former nun, and they had six children. Luther wrote hymns that are still sung today, and he wrote teaching materials for children and for adults that are still used today. He wrote many significant theological essays during his career, and the notes of his university students have been preserved and published, as well as many of Luther’s sermons. Even though Luther is best remembered for ninety-five sentences, his bold action one Halloween pales in comparison to Luther’s entire contribution to Christianity. J.

My best friend’s rotten wife

I have a very good friend, the best friend I could ever have. I like him very much; in fact, I owe everything I have to him. I want to spend more time with him, but I’ve got a problem. I don’t get along with his wife.

My friend is great, but sometimes I cannot stand his wife. My friend tells me, though, that I have to take them as a team. If I want to be with him, I also have to be with her. I know that my friend likes me, but I’m not sure about his wife. Sometimes she ignores me, and sometimes she is even mean to me. She has many moods—she can be angry and accusing, she can be dry and boring, and she can be sappy and sentimental. Sometimes she tries to dress up and look awesomely beautiful and impressive, but other times it does not seem as though she cares how she appears.

If I give a gift to my friend, I know he is going to share it with his wife. He cannot seem to stop himself. His wife is the one who reminds me how much I owe my friend. She is always prepared to take the money I give to my friend and spend it on herself. In fact, I think she’s using him. He does not go a moment of any day without loving her, but sometimes she seems to forget that he even exists.

I’d like to spend time with my friend when his wife is not around, but he won’t let that happen. Whenever the two of us are together, she has to be there too. My friend expects me to accept her, even with all her faults, if I want to be with him.

My friend is Jesus of Nazareth, and his bride is the Holy Christian Church. I love Jesus, but I don’t always love the Church. Jesus is sinless and perfect, but the Church is filled with sinners. Jesus loves me and gave himself for me, but I don’t always feel loved when I am with the Church. If I could have Jesus as my friend without the Church, I think that would make me happy, but Jesus does not give me that option. He loves the Church, and he expects me to be with her if I want to be with him.

Jesus is not blind to the faults of his Church. Yet he loves the Church and willingly serves the Church. More than that, he forgives the Church and forgives every sinner in the Church. Sometimes I struggle to understand his love and his forgiveness, but they should make me happy. After all, if Jesus can love the Church and forgive it, in spite of all its flaws and imperfections, then I know that he loves me and forgives me too.

J.  (first published May 10, 2015)

Cleansing the Temple

Some years ago I was watching the movie Jesus Christ, Superstar on television after the children had gone to bed. One young daughter left her bedroom for some reason and happened to see a scene from the movie through the doorway—it was the scene in which Jesus violently disrupts the buying and selling that is taking place in the Temple. My daughter recognized that the actor in the movie was representing Jesus, but she was not familiar with this event as described in the Bible. The anger and violence with which Jesus confronted the misuse of God’s Temple puzzled and frightened her.

According to Mark, this cleansing of the Temple happened on Monday of Holy Week, the day after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Matthew and Luke both describe the two events without transition, but neither of them says they took place on the same day; John does not mention this cleansing of the Temple, but he includes a similar event near the beginning of his account of the Gospel. Jesus was passionate about the Temple. It provided God’s people a place to have access to God. Animals were sacrificed there as an offering to atone for sin, though they were only pictures of the ultimate Offering that would atone for sin. Prayers were said in and around the Temple. As Jesus pointed out on that Monday, God’s house was intended to be a house of prayer.

Jesus then added that the buyers and sellers had made the Temple a den of thieves. I have not been able to verify this account, but I have read that when people brought their animals to the Temple for the sacrifice, they were told that their animals were flawed and unacceptable for sacrifice to the Lord. The buyers offered to purchase the flawed lamb or goat or bull from the worshipers and sell them a proper animal for sacrifice (at a higher price, of course). After the sale, the flawed animal was taken to a pen elsewhere on Temple property until it was sold to another worshiper in a similar way.

In the same way, the money-changers were cheating the people. The priests of the Temple said that Roman money was no good in God’s house. The money-changers offered to exchange the temple shekel for Roman coins. The exchange rate was not favorable for the worshipers. Of course the money-changers and even the priests had no difficulty spending Roman coins in the marketplace. When they asked Jesus, during Holy Week, about paying taxes to Rome and he asked them to show him a Roman coin, they had no trouble finding one to show him, even though that money was supposedly no good in God’s house.

Even today enemies of the Church accuse Christians of hypocrisy and greed. Unfortunately, they often find enough examples to prove their point. Jesus does not want his people to be known for their sins. He has paid a great price to take away their sins. Jesus still wants his house to be a house of prayer and a place where people may approach the Lord to receive his grace, his forgiveness, and his love. Therefore Jesus still fumes when he sees his Temple distracted by worldly things to the point that they no longer proclaim the message God has given them to share.

The wrath of God is real, as I had the opportunity to explain to my daughter that night years ago. God’s wrath at sin is not confined to the Old Testament; Jesus himself strikes out at sinful injustice and the way some people take advantage of others in the name of the Lord. If we are like Jesus, we will oppose evil wherever we find it. We will seek to make God’s house a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. But we will also make God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the center of our message to a sinful and needy world. J.

Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?

One day last week one of my coworkers asked me if it is possible that Donald Trump is the Antichrist. Her question was no idle jest. She knows that I have theological training, and she is concerned seeing Trump attracting such great fervor in so many people. She wanted seriously to know if there is any danger that the man, Donald Trump, who could become President of the United States next January may be the Antichrist.

I gave her a short answer, but I will expand here upon what I told her. To know whether or not Donald Trump is the Antichrist, we must compare Trump to the description of the Antichrist in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, calls the Antichrist “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15). Paul calls him “the man of lawlessness… who opposed and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us…” (I John 2: 18-19), and, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (I John 4:3). In the book of Revelation John describes the Antichrist as a beast that rises out of the sea, is given power by the dragon (Satan), is worshiped by the world, makes war on the saints, and speaks blasphemies against God and against all who dwell with God in heaven (Revelation 13:1-10).

Although it is tempting to try to match these descriptions of the Antichrist to Donald Trump, a bit more research makes the connection unlikely. The “abomination of desolation” is more than a powerful insult; it is a technical phrase from the book of Daniel that refers to false religion being imported into God’s Temple. Some of the kings of Judah brought false gods into the Temple, with the final result of the Babylon siege to Jerusalem which brought about the destruction of the first Temple. Antiochus IV, who called himself Epiphanes (implying that he was a god in human form), placed his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem; but Antiochus himself was humbled and destroyed, and the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The trial and condemnation of Jesus in the Temple might be considered abomination of desolation; other crimes were committed in the Temple in the following years, and that Temple was destroyed by the Romans forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since that time the Temple has not been rebuilt. Some Christians believe that the Antichrist cannot do all that is said of him until another Temple has been built. They overlook the fact that Paul—who said that the Antichrist would take his seat in the Temple of God—also wrote, “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s Temple (singular) and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16), and , “we are the Temple of the living God” II Corinthians 6:16), and also, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The Temple, then, is the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Christian Church. In this Temple the Antichrist will arise and claim authority. (“They went out from us, but they were not of us.”) In this Temple the Antichrist will claim the authority that belongs only to God, demanding the worship of all people and making war on the true believers in Christ. After all, in Greek, the prefix “anti-“ means not just “opposed to” but also “in the place of.” The Antichrist is a phony Christ, a replacement Christ, one who tries to remove Jesus from the lives of Christians and tries to take the place of Jesus in their lives.

Even as John wrote, there were many antichrists. Since that time many more have arisen, deceiving people by the dozens and sometimes by the hundreds. Jim Jones and David Koresh are antichrists of recent memory. The Antichrist, Paul’s man of lawlessness and the beast of Revelation, will deceive people by the millions. That spirit of deceit, rising from within the Church but denying Christ, was in the world when John wrote and is still in the world today.

Donald Trump claims no special authority from the Church. He might appear to want to be worshiped—his opponents might even say that he thinks that he is God—but his focus is on political power, not on spiritual power. He seeks to live in the White House; he would not say, as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I can think of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but fear that he will become the Antichrist is not among those reasons. Should he prevail in the Republican primaries and then be elected President in November, it will mean changes and adjustments for some people—probably for a lot of people—but it won’t be the end of the world. That end is coming, but not because of Donald Trump. J.

 

Stupid sheep and stupid shepherds

In the new creation, teachers and pastors will not be needed. Jeremiah says, “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:34). Viewing the same new creation, John reported that he saw no temple, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). In this present world, the Church needs teachers and preachers and places to meet, because the darkness of the world and the darkness of every human heart requires the Light of God’s Word to be aimed and directed into the lives of his people.

The Christian Church is the Bride of Christ, but it consists of sinners. Leaders and followers are equally likely to sin, falling short of the glory of God. Pastors can sometimes be arrogant, overbearing, and stubbornly wrong. Members of a congregation can be self-centered, rebellious, and disrespectful toward their leaders. Trouble is brewing whenever a person says, “This is my church,” because the Church belongs to Jesus Christ and not to any member or leader in the church.

I know a preacher who was given advice about preaching from two members of his congregation in the same week. Both advisors were active members, attending services every Sunday, serving as officers of the congregation, and generously supporting the church with their offerings. The first said, “Pastor, every week you tell us what we are doing wrong in our lives. Don’t you think for one sermon you could tell us what we are doing right and help us feel better about ourselves?” The second said, “Pastor, every week you talk about forgiveness. Don’t you think once in a while you could use the sermon to tell us how to live our lives?” Jesus preached the message, “Repent and believe the Gospel,” but evidently after two thousand years the sheep are hungry for greener pastures.

On another occasion, this preacher was told by a Sunday School teacher that the congregation’s policy of solving disputes by the Bible was unfair. “You’ve been to school and studied the Bible, so you have an unfair advantage,” she told him. When he asked what else should be considered when solving a dispute, she replied, “Well, let’s start with my feelings.”

Preachers can be wrong, and tragic things happen when a flock of believers follows a wandering shepherd down the wrong paths. Often, though, the sheep grumble and complain and resist the guidance of their shepherd when he is faithfully leading them on paths chosen for them by the Good Shepherd. When the children of Israel grumbled against Moses, the Lord responded with miraculous punishments. No doubt many preachers today would delight to see the earth swallow certain complaining sheep along with their houses and their families. When pastors pray those Psalms that call for vengeance upon enemies—and when they are picturing the members of their flock while they pray those Psalms—the Church is in need of healing.

Jesus is the Healer needed by the Church. He strengthens preachers and guides them in calling for repentance, promising forgiveness, and trusting the Bible to reveal all truth that is needed in the congregation. Through the work of faithful preachers, he reaches into the lives of his people, helping them to love one another and to forgive one another rather than dividing the Church through stubborn disputes and arguments. Preachers and members together need to remember that the church does not belong to them. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. He has claimed the Church for himself, washing away all its impurities and bringing it into his Kingdom.

If only we could see the Church that Jesus sees, a radiant Bride ready for her wedding day. Only then will the present sufferings of the Church fade into insignificance when compared to the glory that will be revealed. J.

Twelve drummers drumming

With the setting of the sun and the observance of Twelfth Night, the season of Christmas comes to an end. During this time we have celebrated the birth of our Savior, we have started a new year, and we have considered some of the saints who the Lord has blessed and through whom he has blessed his Church. I hope that my tour with you of the twelve days of Christmas has been helpful and meaningful for you. If you have never observed these twelve days before, I urge you to consider doing so next winter. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! J.

Coming soon: Seven Mysteries of the Christian Faith

Several years ago I started writing a book to be called Seven Mysteries of the Christian Faith. My notes for that book are probably in a box somewhere in the house, although any actual writing I accomplished was on a computer that no longer works.

This summer I decided to make a fresh start on Seven Mysteries, and on Saturday I typed the last word of the first draft. Obviously, like any book, this one will need several corrections and revisions before it is ready to be published. I have decided, though, as I do the initial clean-up of the work, to post Seven Mysteries in several installments during the next four weeks. I would appreciate any reactions and suggestions. I’m not inviting endless debates on the theological statements in the book, with which you may or may not agree. But if something I wrote needs additional clarification or support, or if something is confusing to you and needs to be rewritten, by all means make a comment and let me know what needs to be improved.

I have not decided yet whether I will take this to a publisher, use a self-publishing resource, or just set it aside on a new WordPress blog. Whichever I do, some of the following statements need to be made, and for this second-draft version I am making them here:

• Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

• No republication of any section of Seven Mysteries of the Christian Church in any form is permitted without express permission from the author.

• Any reader is free to disagree with any statement in this book, provided that such disagreement, if expressed, is worded in courteous and gentle language.

• Your mileage may vary.

• Offer good only on weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

• No names have been changed, because only One is innocent. (Credit to Isaac Air Freight for that one.)

• Not available in stores.

J.