zaterdag 5 december 2015

Walking in truth

When the Bible tells us that Christ is the way the truth and the life and that we ourselves should walk in truth it tells us that the only way to true deep happiness and fulfillment in God is by living authentic lives (3 John 1-8).

Living in truth, sincerity and godly integrity is extremely valuable and precious in Gods eyes and pleasing to Him. It is evidence of Christ-likeness and love for God. Those who love themselves in an unhealthy manner hate truth for truth topples human pride. Those who love God love truth. He is a "God of truth" as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy. Christ said, "I am the truth." Those who "walk in truth" seek to obey God’s Word without question and imitate the pattern of Christ’s life. Jesus Christ obediently served His Father even when it was hard to do so. There are no obstacles between God and those who live authentically and truthful. Just as Christ’s relationship with his Father there is an unbroken path of fellowship. Those "walking in truth" have no barriers between them and their neighbor. Truthful Christians are not vulnerable to criticism or crisis; they have Christ’s loving and graceful perspective of everything they encounter.

However, by nature all of us lie. The so-called people of the lie, people who live inauthentic lives are normal people like you and me. All of us are capable of lying in order to protect our reputation, preserve our fragile self-image or to achieve our goals. Lies come in many forms but the most common lies are direct falsehoods, half-truths and lies of omission. Some lies are direct and blatant falsehoods. They are a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. It may consist of saying something false or of giving people a false impression that we know is not true. Half-truths are partially true but mixed in with false information. A half-truth can also be truth misrepresented in such a way that the other does discover the full truth. Really half-truths are still full lies for the goal is to deceive the other. Doing so takes away that persons autonomy and free choice as we have deceived them. It is a sign of utter disrespect and lack of love. Lies of omission are just as deceptive. Lies of omission consist of deliberately hiding information from the other in order for them not to discover the full truth about something. Again we are making decisions for them instead of respecting their right to make their own choices based on the truth. All lies are ultimately self-serving rather than God-serving. They are controlling, degrading and demeaning, manipulative and are disrespectful. They are a clear sign of lack of love for God and others. Lies even show a lack of healthy love for self for ultimately the way of the lie will destroy us. Lies harm relationships even if the lies are never discovered by people. Not only do lies reflect a lack of respect to others, they also make us lose respect for ourselves.

In friendships and romantic relationships lies are detrimental. A close, safe and lasting romantic relationship is built on openness, intimacy and trust. Lies in any form undermine and eventually kill intimacy and love. Lies also drag us down with guilt and shame and cause anxiety as we fear being exposed.

The Bible reminds us that Satan is the father of lies and unless we fully repent and come clean we cannot escape his evil. If you are trapped in a web of lies remember you are hurting yourself and others and eventually end up all alone, separated from your (former) loved ones and from God. You may end up evil and bitter inside and blaming everyone, feeling you are a victim. Or you harden your heart and hide behind an air of self-righteousness or religiosity. But the truth remains, you live a lie. But you always had a chance to repent from the destructive way of the lie even if up to now you decided not to do so. Today on behalf of God I implore you to repent before it is too late. Decide not to go the way of those who are evil for the evil have no regard for the truth; they lie and live in a world of lies. They are masters of disguise and cloak themselves with masks of respectability, goodness and often piety but their hearts are not filled with love but with an insatiable desire to make other serve their demands. They use lies, deceit or force to impose their will upon others by overt or covert coercion. Do not go this way. Repent and remember that you can fool people but you can never deceive God. Unless you repent fully, you will end up suffering the same fate of the arch-liar. Repent before you reach the point of no return.

woensdag 18 februari 2015

Short articles

For (weekly) short articles see:

zaterdag 5 juli 2014

Part 10. Pneumatology: Predestination and the work of the Holy Spirit

Thoughts on predestination and the presence and work of the Holy Spirit on earth

‘For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son’

Romans 8:29

‘For He choose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus in accordance with His pleasure and will’

Ephesians 1:4-5

‘In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’

Ephesians 1:11

Free will advocates say that it is in every human beings power to freely choose to follow Christ and thus we are fully responsible for our choice to do so or not. They downplay the diagnosis of Paul in Romans 3:10-18 that human beings are totally depraved and none of them truly seeks God. However since our free will is not truly free due to the manipulative and coercive power of sin and evil in this world, how can we choose to follow Christ and be able to do so consistently? In contrast those who advocate determinism, such as the advocates of an extreme Calvinist* interpretation of predestination, emphasize that we have no free will. We are not only constantly influenced by environmental, psychological and spiritual forces in this world, but we are also blinded and depraved, spiritually death and lost in sin. Consequently, no human being is able to freely choose to become a follower of Christ and persist in doing so. Since not all human beings become genuine persistent followers of Christ they deduct that God only selects a few for salvation and eternal life and hands the rest of humanity over to damnation. It portrays a God who like an absolute monarch in His sovereignty chooses to save only some for salvation. Its advocates struggle to bring this view in agreement with the concept of Gods focus being on the whole world (see for example: Gen. 12:3; John 3:16) and Christ’s atoning sacrifice which scripture explicitly states is for the sins of the whole world (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 John 2:2). In addition they cannot properly explain people’s culpability in rejecting the gospel. After all, how can someone be culpable if he or she is so depraved, blinded and in spiritual bondage that he/she is unable to choose right?

However, in my humble opinion both views are lacking from a Biblical point of view for they take insufficient notion of the wonderful enabling work of the Holy Spirit in this world. He has not just been poured out on believers but upon all flesh as part of the judgment of God in the last days (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21). The focus of His convicting work is the whole world and not a select group of individuals (John 16:8-11). Yes, it is true that no human being in his or her state of depravity is truly able to become a genuine follower of Christ. It requires spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit and starts with an inner awareness of sin, righteousness and the judgment of God. It is the Holy Spirit of God who enables every human being in spite of their depravity to turn to Christ through His convicting power, particularly as the gospel is preached. Those who accept the Gospel and become followers of Christ therefore have done so not on the basis of human wisdom or outward demonstrations of Gods miraculous power, but because of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Those who reject the Gospel have hardened their hearts against the Holy Spirit and if they persist in doing so have sinned against the Holy Spirit and are condemned. The preaching of the gospel together with the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole world is therefore part of the judgment of God actively taking place. He does not force the whole world to make the right choice, He simply enables them to do so, for those who do not harden their hearts it means salvation and attaining the destination intended for them by God from eternity past. For those who persist in hardening their hearts it means that their sins will make them fall sort of the glory of God, the wonderful destination He prepared for them. For them there is nothing left but eternal damnation. The convicting work of the Holy Spirit means that there is no excuse left for those who choose darkness above light, it means they are fully culpable for they had been enabled to choose what is right but persisted in hardening their hearts. For those who persist in following their old selfish and self-centered way of life above that of being an obedient disciple of Christ is no hope left. Outward religious activity, respectability, status and esteem in the eyes of their fellow humans will in this respect make no difference at all for God sees all and knows what is in our hearts. Either you follow the lead of the Holy Spirit who wants you to continually regard Christ as your legitimate Lord to whom you ought to submit everything in your life in obedience; or you will still remain the lord of your life, living life as you prefer, making your own decisions as to what you see fit. Such people may still be very religious but in truth live without much consideration of what is the will of God, except the occasional concession in order to appease God or the religious community. Such a way of life is folly for God cannot be fooled. He knows who are truly His. So today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Repent and follow the Spirit’s lead to an obedient life following Christ as Lord.

* Although John Calvin spawned the doctrines of providence and predestination based on his understanding of divine sovereignty he was not as rigid as some of those who came after him and in the spirit of the enlightenment were inclined to project the concept of the world as a closed system of cause and effect upon spiritual mattters and hence were much more mechanical and deterministic in their views on predestination. Calvin’s doctrine of providence is straightforward. “All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God.” Therefore, “nothing happens but what [God] has knowingly and willingly decreed.” This excludes “fortune and chance.” (Institutes 1.16.2-3.8).  Calvin observed that although the Gospel is preached it is not accepted by all. From this he then concluded that: “all are called to repentance and faith,” but “the spirit of repentance and faith is not given to all (Institutes 3.22.10). Calvin did not allow for the possibility that a sovereign God could instead of saving people by decree have chosen to enable every human being to make a free choice to either harden their hearts to Him or to follow the Spirit’s lead. Instead Calvin concluded that people are either  “predestined to life or to death” (Institutes 3.21.5).

maandag 7 april 2014

Part 9. Sanctification

Sanctification is the spiritual growth process whereby someone is changed by Christ from glory-to-glory. It is the result of the inner transformative working of the Holy Spirit who is ever present in the life of the true believers as an eternal source of love. This love is fed by springs of living water from the heart of God in which there is an ocean of love. In as much as God accepts every sinner who submits to His Lordship and turns to Him for salvation exactly as they are (just as the prodigal son who returned to the Father in rags) it is not the intention of the Father for His children to remain in spiritual rags.  He has predestined them, meaning that He has set a destination for them: Being innocent, holy and Christ-like (Ephesians 1:3-6). In a way God progressively restores in us the innocence which we as humanity lost in Eden when sin entered creation. This process, however, is not an automatic process to which we passively submit. No, God is humble and gentle and does never impose on us. Neither is it attained by strenuous adherence to religious rules, laws and requirements drawn up by other humans. God simply invites us to live in His love for ourselves and other human beings and to rely on Him to enable us. He has made the transforming power of His love for us and all humanity available in our hearts. It has been poured out through the Holy Spirit and readily available for us if we are truly His children by putting our faith in Christ (Romans 5:1-11). However, just as with the salvation in Christ which God has made available to all humanity, it is imparted only if we accept it by faith and surrender ourselves to it. God never imposes salvation, nor does He impose sanctification, He simply invites us through His word. This means we must soak in His word, particularly the teachings of Christ. Next it is up to us to choose to either harden our hearts or to surrender to the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit who points us at Christ and His invitation to follow in our inner being. In John 15 Jesus repeatedly calls us to abide in Him, to abide in His love and tells us that this is the only way we can bear the fruit of love, which is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). He invites, He does not force, but if we take time regularly to sit at His feet and learn from Him and soak up His love for us and all humanity, then we will bear fruit. It is as the story of Martha and Mary. Both were in the presence of Christ, but while Martha was very busy in accordance with the social demands of her society, but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus in order to learn from Him. Martha was still ''in control'', she decided what needed to be done, but Mary surrendered her control and submitted in love to Christ in order to learn from Him. Let us beware of allowing the demands of this world to press us in its mold and rather allow Christ to transform us into His image. The world demands, society demands, people demands, our own flesh demands....but Christ gently invites us: Abide in me....Come and drink al who are thirsty.....Learn from me for I am gentle and humble.

vrijdag 21 juni 2013

Part 8. Prophecy, proclamation and divine guidance in Gods Church

More about prophecy, proclamation and divine guidance in Gods Church

But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Numbers 11:29
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Acts 2:16-18

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1 Cor. 14:5

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
1 Cor. 14:23

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,
1 Cor. 14:24

For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
1 Cor. 14:31

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
1 Cor. 14:39


It has always been God’s deepest desire to have a close relationship with people characterized by mutual love, respect and care.  It involves commitment, trust and open communication. Unfortunately due to humankind's fall into sin this relationship has been affected to the point that even if we are reconciled to God and back into a close relationship with Him through faith in Christ and His gospel, we still hear, see, understand and experience God incompletely. In the words of Paul  in 1 Cor. 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  At present we only know and understand in part as the effects of the fall are still present in our lives, hearts and minds and even as believers we struggle with our old self (Romans 7:14-25; Gal. 5:16-21). As a result it is possible to confess the one moment that Jesus is Lord and the next moment speak words inspired by Satan as happened to Peter (Matthew 16:16, 23).   

Therefore as a community of believers we are told not to reject prophesy but to test everything and hold on to what is good but avoid even that which appears evil (1 Thes. 5:20-22).  

It has always been Gods desire as expressed in the words of Moses in Numbers 11:29 and repeated by Joel in Joel 2:28 that all of Gods people would be prophets. That is that all would speak Gods truth on God's behalf in a godly manner (love, respect, humility) to Gods people and to a world in need.  

It is for this very reason that Jesus, the embodiment of Gods Word, told His disciples that we should go into all the world and make disciples of all nations....teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20).  Through the Holy Spirit we have been made into a community of prophets who share the teachings of Christ with the world, that is the message of Pentecost as Peter explains in Acts 2:16-18.   

Now our prophesying might simply be a matter of forth-telling the gospel and the teachings of Christ, or it may be helping people to apply these in their day-to-day lives, communities and nations. Since Christ is the full revelation of the Divine Being, certainly forth-telling about Him and His teachings is our primary task, hence the strong emphasis on us being witnesses in word and deed of Christ. The Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of prophecy makes us witnesses of Christ.  It is also written that the Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 19:10). Consequently any word spoken or written in God's name which us points at Christ and His teachings or helps us to apply it in our specific situation and context is a genuine prophetic word. Anything that does not point at Christ or His teachings does not help us to have a closer walk with Him and should be rejected as unnecessary and if it contradicts Christ and His teachings it is false. As Paul states in 2 Cor. 10:5 we capture every thought and make it submit, obedient to Christ.  He is our focus as the initiator and the perfecter of our faith.

God through His Spirit works in many different ways in different people so we can never make our personal experience the yardstick by which we measure and judge something as of God or not. We must judge according to the guidelines of Scripture interpreted from a Chrito-centric perspective as He and His teachings are the core of our faith and testimony to the world (Matt. 28:19-20). However, both biblical and church history demonstrates that normally God works normally in our lives and context as we study his word and teach, preach and proclaim it, share it in our counseling and our normal interaction in the family of believers. However God in His sovereignty may also provide us with visions, dreams and revelations which are specific for our time and situation in order to provide more specific or detailed direction. We may think of Philip who was told to go to a specific location and share the gospel with the Ethiopian he met there (Acts 8:26-31). We may think of Ananias whom God spoke to in a vision (Acts 9:10-19), of Agabus whom through the Holy Spirit was informed of Paul’s impending imprisonment (Acts 21:10) or of Paul whom God spoke to in a dream (Acts 16:6-10).  However, as exciting as such happenings may be, they should never become our primary focus or desire. The issue is not whether the natural or supernatural way in which God chooses to work; after all not the method of relaying the message but from whom the message comes and the content of the message is what is important. Our primary focus should be Christ and His teachings. Our desire should be to take Him and His teachings seriously, applying them to our lives and become more like Him and to invite, encourage and help others achieve the same.  As prophets our primary prophetic task is bearing the testimony of Christ in word, deed, thought and behavior.

Although we belong to a prophetic community and part of a royal priesthood, a people belonging to god, this should not make us proud and incorrigible. The truth is that on this side of eternity our spiritual hearing and vision is impaired, let alone our ability to correctly interpret and communicate!!! In the words of Paul our prophesying is imperfect as we do not yet see face to face. We see, but we see as in a (dim) mirror (1 Cor. 13:9-13). Yes, some may be spiritually more mature as their spiritual faculties have been trained over many years by living close with the Lord (Hebrew 5:14). Such people have to some extent acquired the mind of Christ as they have internalized His Law and seek to live by it consistently. However, even then each one of us will at times err as we will remain imperfect human beings and will in unguarded moments remain susceptible to the influence of our own flesh, the world and at times even the devil. Therefore, whether a message communicated in God's name is done by a respected professor in Theology in a university setting, or by a well-known pastor in a church, or by a gifted charismatic speaker, or whether it comes to us in an exciting and impressive supernatural manner: Every message must be tested using the standards of Holy Scripture. By the end of the day it is far less relevant who the messenger is, or how excitingly it gets delivered, than what the actual content of the message is, and whom it really is from. Even if we are convinced it comes from God we must take heed that how we interpret it accurately reflects what He wants to communicate to us.   

How do we perform the test? The most important test is based on the immutability of Christ who does not contradict Himself and is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrew 13:8). This means that He will not communicate anything to us that is in contradiction with the example He set for us and all that He has taught us.  This test actually dates back to Moses and was applied to all those who claimed to be prophets throughout the ages (Deut. 18:18-22).  If a prophet gives specific directions which do not contradict Christ and His teachings and these directions agree with what Christ demands from us as recorded in Scripture, we should follow these directions.  

If a prophet gives specific directions that are not explicitly demanded from us in Holy Scripture but may be a special task for us, the biblical principle that decisions should be made on the basis of two or three reliable witnesses should be applied (Deut. 17:6; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).  Our God is a loving and caring God and He knows that we do not always properly understand the directions He is giving us so He will certainly provide confirmation if He requires something specific from us.  Now in some cases as in the case of Philip who is told to go to a certain road and speak to a certain person we may not have the opportunity to have something confirmed by fellow servants of God. However, if it is not a life and death matter we can in faith step out and follow whatever guidance we feel God is giving us and trust God that along the way He will either confirm that this was from Him or lovingly correct us. Philip went and met the Ethiopian and so the circumstances confirmed it was indeed God who had spoken to Him (Acts 8:26-31). However, we also see at times that God stops us from even doing something that normally would have been good and right but for His own reasons He considers it not the right time, or because He has other priorities just as Paul and his companions were prevented from preaching the word in the province of Asia (Acts 16:6).

In some cases we may find that what we thought was Gods guidance is not confirmed and that we may have been mistaken and yet even then God will be pleased for at least you have shown your willingness to serve and obey Him. Of course sometimes things do not come true because the outcome did not just depend on your obedience only but also on the co-operation of other people. However, you do not need to try to justify yourself with all kinds of explanations why your prophecy or what you felt as guidance did not (yet) come true. This shows it is still too much about you and not about Christ. Besides, how do you know for sure you were right about the issue of the timing? To insist that you are always accurate in hearing gods voice contradicts Scripture and is a matter of pride. You will not always be right as our prophesying is imperfect so it is much better to admit in humility that you may have been wrong about the issue or the timing but that you trust God to use everything and turn it for the good of those who love Him just as He promised in Romans 8:28. Even if in some cases you are proved to be right later, why should that be important either? Is is that you want people to put their trust in you? Is it that you like a sense of power and influence so people obey all that you say? Is it that you haven't found your self-worth and confidence in belonging to Christ and His Kingdom that you are still trying to be something in the eyes of man? Let go it, find your value in Him and How He thinks of you. It is time to grow up in Christ, learn to follow and trust Him and instead of making people follow us we should help them follow Christ and put their trust in Him alone!!! Strife to be a faithful and humble witness of what it means to follow Christ in your day-to-day life.  This actually includes a humble attitude and the admission that only God is infallible, but you are not! Even if you are striving with all your might to live right it is not your reputation in the eyes of other people which should be your concern, but your reputation with God and His reputation among His people: He deserves all glory and praise, lets not even try and divert even the smallest amount to ourselves. 

The above principles do not just apply to prophecy and hearing Gods voice or sensing His guidance but to anything we say or do in the name of Christ. We must do so with humility, accepting the fact that like Peter we can also at times be misled (Matthew 16:16-23). Therefore we must humbly subject our words and actions to testing by other faithful servants of Christ in the light of Gods word (1 Thes. 5:20-22).

Of course it may be hard to admit mistakes out of fear of being labeled a false prophet. However, the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet is not the absence of error. David is called a prophet by Christ and yet we know that he made his share of mistakes and even committed some serious sins too. The difference is in the heart. David was a man after God's heart for He loved God and loved God's people and longed to serve God and Gods people faithfully and therefore he was humble enough to allow himself to be corrected by his fellow prophet Nathan.  A false prophet in contrast mainly loves him/herself and is not driven by a desire to serve God and Gods people faithfully but by self-serving motives.  Sometimes the motive may be as simple as financial gain or the desire to exercise control and influence over people. In some cases wrong motivation may be so subtle that even the false prophet is hardly aware of how he or she is being misled. For example deep down they may be very insecure individuals with a fragile self-image and they may use spiritual gifts to prop up their self-image. Others may deep down feel like they are failures and that no-one will respect them unless they perform well in a spiritual career. Again others have attachment issues due to lack of sufficient nurturing and love in their upbringing and so they fear to be abandoned or rejected. They may choose a spiritual career so that people may like them and accept them. Sometimes false prophets can be, or appear to be very genuine. Also what they preach, teach and predict can be exciting and exhilarating and much more pleasing to the ear than what a true prophet proclaims as we read about in Jeremiah 23. False prophets will often justify behavior and attitudes which contradict Gods word and the example set by Christ. If they are called to account for what they have spoken or done they usually take it very personal and behave very hurt no matter how kindly and lovingly we address the matter. They will be defensive and may even mount a very personalized counter-attack. Such response serve to demonstrate that it is about them and not about Christ and His glory. Such people are divisive and serve their own appetites. They need to be warned once or twice and otherwise asked to leave the congregation until they have truly repented (Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11).

Sometimes the false prophets may have established self-affirming and self-validating religious and/or ecclesiastical structures which have a semblance of respectability and reliability but ultimately are based on human traditions rather than Christ and His teaching. We see this among the pharisees in the time of the New Testament and throughout history in all kinds of human constructs, whether intellectual, legal or institutional constructs.

In all cases we must also be self-critical and do not act on impulses that reflect self-interest or the interest of certain groups and parties in society. If there is even the slightest possibility that you might be influenced by your own wishes and desires or by those of others and wait until God confirms through reliable witnesses.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, be eager to prophecy because in Christ you are a prophet, priest and king, with the high calling to share the testimony of Christ in word, deed, thought and behavior. And secondly, after careful and humble testing, lovingly obey any specific instructions whenever you are convinced in your heart that it is the Lord who has provided these.

maandag 27 mei 2013

Part 7. The Church

The Church
The Church of Christ consists of all who are genuinely born again by the Spirit of God when they heard and believed the word of truth about Christ and His gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14). Being born again by the Holy Spirit they were baptised into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), receiving a New Inner nature, namely Christ in them, the Hope of Glory. It is rooted in Him that His streams of living water can flow from within them, namely the Love of Christ towards one-another and the world in need.  As long as they remain in Him, that is in His truth and love, they will bear much fruit (John 15:1-17). This fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit consists of self-giving love (as further explained by 1 Cor. 13), and is accompanied by joy, peace-making, words and acts of kindness, of goodness, as well as faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (particularly keeping the old-self, our flesh under control (Gal. 5:16-21) through the Holy Spirit, in whom we find our new-self, our new nature created in Christ Jesus. 

Local fellowships
Prompted by love the family members of the Church of Christ exhibit a natural desire to want to fellowship together and assist, encourage, help, teach, exhort and serve one-another so that together we can better serve our Lord, particularly in working with Him in His mission to the world.  These fellowships are visible local representations of the worldwide and eternal Body of Christ.  These fellowships can be as small as 2 or 3 with Christ in their midst (Matthew 18:20), or number many thousands.  In His teachings Christ never prescribed a certain format of how we should fellowship which implies that there is freedom in such matters.  Also the apostles do not prescribe one standard format of how we should fellowship. In the New Testament we find all kinds of forms of fellowship from worship in a national temple to street meetings, lecture halls and home churches.  The same applies to church leadership. In different times and contexts different models are applicable. For example when the apostle Paul talks to Titus he seems to put him in control of all the churches in Crete with the mandate to appoint local fellowship leaders in every town (Titus 1:5), which implies a rather hierarchical structure. However, the Jerusalem church had a leadership formed by a council of twelve apostles (Acts 6:1-4).  Again we find house-churches in Rome led by a few leaders (Rom. 16:3-5). However, regardless of the model we deem appropriate in our context, the aim remains the same: To equip the saints for service so that the body of Christ may be built up and together we grow in Christ, becoming more like Him (Eph. 4:12-13).  When together we become more like Him by being rooted in His Love, we get a better understanding of His enormous love (Eph. 3:14-19) and are then also able to serve Him better in the great commission to go and make all nations into His disciples.
Every single one of Christ’s disciples is entrusted with resources by God, these may be material or immaterial sources. They include finances, possessions, abilities, intellectual resources, emotional resources, supernatural gifts and so on which enable us to serve God by serving and helping Gods people and in reaching out to the world. There are various lists of gifts and abilities that God entrusts to His people in Scripture which indicates that these lists are not exhaustive and many more can be added. What is important to keep in mind is that whatever God has entrusted to us, it being spiritual or unspiritual depends on the Spirit in which we exercise these gifts.  Is it in the Spirit of Christ, in His Spirit of Love for God and for our fellow humans, or is it from a different motivation? Even the preaching and teaching of scripture done out of a different spirit than that of Christ makes it an unspiritual affair. Truth without love is very dangerous and damaging! The same applies to any other so-called spiritual activity. It is only spiritual if inspired and executed in the Love of Christ, only then it will be good for edification, exhortation, comfort and correction. It is only when we communicate the truth in Love that we grow up in Christ and are held together firmly (Eph. 4:15-16).

zaterdag 15 december 2012

Part 6. Marriage, Headship, sexuality and divorce

Marriage, Headship and Divorce

The fact that in the New Testament we find prophetesses and other women involved in Christian ministry shows that women can be involved in Christian ministry. Even the fact that eldership in the New Testament churches was exclusively for men does not mean that having women as elders is forbidden. Again here the overarching philosophy by which we have to live and act even in the church is the Law of Christ. It does not violate the law of Christ to have women as elders in a culture where this is acceptable. However, to impose women elders in a culture where this is a very senstive issue and would bring unnecessary division in the church would be a violation of the Law of Christ.   

The New Testament teaching on headship also needs to be studied from this perspective.  God's word is very clear: The husband is the head of the family just as Christ is the head of the church. It is not culture which determines the roles within the family but these roles are exemplified in Christ Himself and in His relationship with the church. The wife should therefore submit to the husband voluntarily and out of love just as the church submits to Christ voluntarily and out of love.  No amount of arguing, feminist theology or populist gender-war campaigning can change this truth. The truth of God's word has never been a matter of democracy. 

Before we talk more about submission lets stress that the Biblical ideal is equality: Honor God and submit to one-another (Ephesians 5:21). While children are told to honor their parents, implying a respectful obedient attitude of a dependant to his or her caregivers. However, husbands and wives are not told to honor the one-another but told to honor God by submitting to one-another. Submission is not subjugation but is in humility putting the other first.

In most societies, and certainly in the society Paul was addressing from the moment of birth, children are taught to defer to maternal authority. Since the first six years of a human beings life are the most formative years a result males are socialized to defer to the female authority and females are socialized to expect males to defer to them as the 'mother'. Therefore to stress the need for equality in the relationship Paul puts more emphasis on the need for women to submit as well to the husband as for her it would not be as natural to do so as that it would be for the husband. In some other extremely patriarchal societies today the opposite may be true. So in such a case we may have to stress more that husbands also need to submit and that there should be equality in the relationship.

As mentioned above submission is not the same as subjugation: It does not mean that one has to agree with everything the other demands or that one has to do everything our partner tells us to do. Submission of a husband to his wife means that he respects her in her role as the mother in the house and submission of the wife to the husband simply means that she shows respect for the fatherly and priestly leadership role God has entrusted to the man within the family. It does not mean a man is any more valuable or more important than a woman, it simply means that they have been given different roles. This division of roles goes back to Genesis where God puts Adam in charge as a servant-leader under God and provides a wife to support and help him. The wife is to submit to her husband in all things just as the Church is to submit to Christ in all things (Ephesians 5:24).  Now again this is qualified by other New Testament teaching, namely that it is more important to obey God than man. Practically this means that the woman only submits to her husband as long as this agrees with her obedience to God and the Law of Christ. 

Nevertheless the law of love demands that even if a husband is weak, struggling to live up to the biblical ideal, imperfect or even an unbeliever, the woman must seek to please God by trying to win her husband over through kindness, humility and respect for his leadership role.  If the husband is lacking in faith or anything, the wife should not rebel or abandon him or resort to manipulation or nagging, instead she should win him over by humility and positive Christ-likeness (1 Peter 3:1-4).  The (perceived) wrongs or inadequacies of one marriage partner is never an excuse for wrongdoing on the part of the other partner. Two wrongs never make a right, and we are each first and foremost accountable to God for obeying Him. Having said this, being submissive does not mean being a doormat, instead is about having a humble and respectful attitude.  By being humble and respectful to her husband a wife honors and glorifies God.  Humility and respect does not mean that the wife cannot disagree with her husband but the manner in which it is done should glorify God. The headship of the husband does not mean he should not allow his wife to take the lead, but he cannot abscond from his God given responsibility to still protect her (even against herself) and the children. He is still accountable to God to ensure that everything that happens in the family is brought under the headship of Christ and in agreement with His Law.

Believing husbands must put Christ first and seek to emulate Him. The self-understanding of Christ is 'I am gentle and humble of heart' and He adds 'learn from me' (Mt. 11:29; 1 Cor. 10:1).   Therefore, just as Christ is not dictatorial and aggressive in his headship of the church so the husband should not be dictatorial and aggressive in his headship of the family. He should instead emulate the self-giving, self-sacrificing loving nature of Christ (Eph. 5:21-33). A husband should be loving and gentle in the way he deals with his wife, even if she is nagging or rebellious, but without giving in to what is wrong (1 Peter 3:7).  A Christian wife should not abuse a gentle and kind Christ-like husband but equally treat him with gentleness, humility and respect in obedience to Christ.  As many males have learned to defer to maternal authority since childhood it can be very tempting for a woman to keep him in that position and treat him as a big child. However, doing so is not respectful and does not contribute to equality in the relationship. She will do better in being a true helpmate to her husband and help him become the confident Christ-like man and protective father he ought to be. She should not try to control everything as this shows a lack of faith in God and it harms her husband by keeping him small and subdued. So doing she would violate the Law of Christ.   

In several matriarchal/matri-linear societies around the world (now also increasingly in the West) it is common to come across husbands who are only the head of the family in name but not in reality. They are kept under tight control by their wives who use their sexuality as a means to control and manipulate their husbands. This scenario does not live up to the picture of Christ and His church as the ideal example to follow for us to live a happy married life. The wife should truly respect her husband in his God given leadership role out of reverence to Christ.

God's guidelines in the New Testament are an expression of His enormous love for us and they should be followed out of our love for Him and not out of a sense of duty or co-ercion. This does not mean that exceptions are not possible as long as the higher Law of Christ is not violated! Sometimes exceptional circumstances force us to settle for less than the biblical ideal. In fact sometimes love demands it: For example if a husband is incapacitated mentally, psychologically, physically the wife may have to take the lead in the family. Not as something to be followed as an example by everyone but as an exception. However, even in such cases she is to treat the husband respectfully and lovingly and not push him around or use him as a doormat. Other situations may occur during the prolonged absence of a husband, for example if he is away on an oil rig or as part of the crew on a ship. We should not condemn such women as not being submissive or as disobedient to their husbands. They are simply filling the gap in a less than ideal situation.  Nevertheless such a concession should not be used as an excuse for a husband to be negligent or irresponsible and put all or most of the responsibility of his household on the shoulders of his wife. A husband ought to love his wife and love does not do such a thing.

Human Sexuality

In the beginning God created man in his own image, male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27) and he told them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, ' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:20-25).

It is important to notice that the author of Genesis reminds us that God created humankind male and female and that both are image-bearers of God. By virtue of being both created in God’s image there is an inherent equality in value, importance and purpose. However, equality and value, importance and purpose does not mean equality in the functions and role they are given by God.  It is clear from the Genesis text that although God created all things good, including man, God concluded that in terms of the task God had given to the man, it is not good for him to be alone, he needs help. God then created the woman out of the man so that he had a helper and a companion.  The assistance the man needs from the woman is more than assistance in multiplication, the word ‘help-mate’ implies a lot more than that.  There is the important aspect of companionship and the important aspect of a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. This implies that the woman has the important task of assisting her husband to become independent from his parents, to learn to stand strong on his own with her help.  

One of the ways a woman helps her husband to leave his father and mother is through the very powerful means of sexual intimacy.  The author of Genesis describes this bond as becoming one flesh. It is a bond which is formed when a husband and wife choose to be exclusively vulnerable and naked before one-another. It suggests the formation of a strong emotional bond, strong enough for a man to leave his parental home.  Recent scientific studies have shown how during sexual activity the body produces bonding-hormones which help us bond to a partner and that sexual activity with different persons actually reduces our ability to bond emotionally.  This is not to say that God cannot heal our damaged bonding capacity but it does explain why in the beginning God created one woman for one man.  So while the Bible does not explicitly forbid polygamy, it does present one husband and one wife as the God created ideal.

We must keep in mind that Gd did not create everything for reasons of productivity but that He also provides everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17). This includes our sexuality! A whole book is provided in the Bible which celebrates the beauty of love, romance and sexuality, namely song-of-songs. Therefore Paul reminds those of us who are married to make our bodies available to our spouse, the wife's body belongs to the husband and the husband's body belongs to the wife (1 Cor. 7:3-4). Because our sexuality makes us very vulnerable it is not acceptable for married christians to withold sex from the other, either to punish or manipulate or even for a seemingly good reason, such a thing would be very unloving and also exposes people to temptation (1 Cor. 7:5).  

It therefore also follows that promiscuity and other forms of sexual abuse is out of bounds as it damages our bonding capacity for bonding with our marriage partners.  In the same way unfaithfulness in marriage damages ability to bond.  

Divorce and Sexual trauma

Unfortunately in this fallen world many men and women have been victims of sexual abuse and this has damaged their physical and emotional bonding capacity which affects their ability to maintain healthy relationships.  Those of us who have experienced sexual abuse should not underestimate its impact but seek healing in Christ. With the help of loving and supportive brothers and sisters in Christ we can find deliverance and healing by bringing into the light what was done in darkness. 

Often victims have internalized the evil of the perpetrators and spend a lot of energy trying to keep this evil under control as it is a source of feelings of self-hatred, self-loathing, feeling inadequate, feeling unworthy and so on.  However, if left un-dealt with sooner or later this evil will find a way to express itself in later crisis situations which function as triggers. The suppressed generalized hatred, resentment, aggression and rejection will sooner or later find a scapegoat and often this is someone close to us, someone we actually love.  

Other forms of trauma can have similar effects but early-childhood sexual trauma is perhaps the most devastating in its effect, especially if the perpetrators and by-standers were the very people who were supposed to protect him and her.  The capacity to trust, receive love and affection is often much reduced. 

When someone suddenly divorces his wife or her husband in a situation where there is clearly no adultery or gross neglect, violence or abuse, we should keep the above in mind and avoid communicating condemnation to either of the partners but carefully probe beneath the service. He or she may have walked around with terrible secrets and pain and is simply not (yet) able to be a marriage partner. However, Christ can bring healing if we allow Him access.

The above does not negate biblical teaching on divorce but it should make us cautious not to judge to quickly, let alone accuse, condemn and reject, this is not in agreement with the Law of Christ.
Divorce regulations

When Jesus states that one should not divorce his wife unless she has committed adultery (Matt. 5:32) He is addressing a specific issue in Israel which was very hot at the time and subject to lots of debate, namely that one could easily divorce a woman for no reason at all. Jesus, therefore, states that no-one should divorce his wife unless she committed adultery. He did not talk about cases where wives divorce their husbands or cases where both agree to divorce. 

The apostle Paul in applying the law of Christ says that Christians should not divorce but if someone’s unbelieving partner decides to divorce one must not oppose it, but one should not take the initiative to do so (1 Cor. 7:10-16).  If an unbeliever decides to leave then the believer is not bound and free to remarry. I understand believer here as someone who consistently walks in the way of Christ and not just someone who confesses to be a believer but is full of sin, disobedience, un-forgiveness, hate and bitterness. Such a person may have an outward religious appearance of being a believer but his or her actions show that this is not the case. 

Some of the instructions of Paul in 1 Cor. 7 are open to interpretation but it seems that Paul seems to allow also for exceptional situations where even genuine believers may get to a point that they cannot resolve issues between the two of them. These may together decide to separate (have a time out) in order to deal with issues on their own. They should not use this as an opportunity to re-marry but stay separate until ready to reconcile.  

We must also consider as unbelievers those men and women who claim to be believers but by deliberate and consistent disobedience to God’s instructions demonstrate that their faith is not genuine.  This would include men or women who systematically and consistently physically or verbally abuse their partners or their children as well as those who persist in deliberate disobedience to God’s word.  We may also think of those who insist on divorcing their partners for other reasons than adultery or gross abuse. However, we must keep in mind that in some cases deeper issues need to be addressed (abuse/trauma) and we should never be quick to judge or make decisions in these matters. The Bible also considers those who refuse to provide for their relatives in need, and especially for members of their household, as having denied the faith and as worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8). 

In doubt about such matters we should leave judgment and arbitration to mature leaders in Gods church who have consistently demonstrated that they are full of the Holy Spirit by living  a life of love and compassion for God and their fellow humans. These have the right to judge in accordance with the Law of Christ and forgive, or hold guilty. They may after careful investigation and after repeated attempts to foster repentance and reconciliation decide to hold someone bound and accountable, or to declare someone innocent and free (Matt. 18:15-20).

Among Gods people we may also encounter those who have divorced their partners for the wrong reasons and have later married someone else so that reconciliation with their former partner has become impossible. Such people are not to be excluded from Christian fellowship if they have acknowledged their wrongs and have repented. Divorce as sad and painful as it is for all concerned is not an unforgivable sin! 


The issue of homosexuality has become a hotly debated issue in most of Western Europe and North America and because we live in a global village it also affects the rest of the world. Just as in every other issue we have discussed so far we must avoid allowing emotions taking the upper hand and look at the issues at hand from the perspective of Christ and His teachings.  To start with I want to make a distinction between homophilia and homosexuality. Etymologically, 'homophile' is derived from two Greek words - 'homo', meaning 'the same', and 'philos', meaning 'friend'.  In the Greek 'eros' is used to signify 'sexual love', so for our discussion homo-philos/homophilia should be taken to signify non-sexual brotherly love between people belonging to the same gender.  In the Bible we find several examples of homophilia, we can think of the close friendship between David and Jonathan or between Jesus and John.  Hetero-philia in contrast refers to non-sexual brotherly love for someone of the opposite gender. The majority of people are both homophiliacs and heterophiliacs, not to be confused with being bi-sexual which refers to someone indulging in both hetero and homosexual acts. Some people have very strong feelings of homophilia and less or no feelings of heterophilia. This can have biological or psychological causes, but may also be culturally conditioned or simply be a matter of choice and personal preference. Studies have shown that homosexuality occurs more where women and men are kept separate as in some repressive cultures or in prisons or in the army. It also is more common in matriarchal societies where the role of the man/father is not clear and males are treated like irresponsible adult children. As Christians, regardless of how strong our feelings may be, we have the responsibility to act in brotherly love towards every human being regardless of sexual orientation..

Homosexuality is a very different issue from homophilia as it refers to sexual or romantic acts or feelings, or thoughts between humans of the same sex. While the Bible nowhere condemns homophilia, it does condemn homosexual acts, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Homosexual acts are a violation of the Law of Christ as from the beginning of the created order it has always been God’s intention that sexuality is something to be enjoyed between a husband and his own wife; and between a woman and her own husband. They are to be united sexually as one-flesh which is meant to be so much more than just mutual physical pleasure and include deep and increasing emotional bonding. A life-enhancing and life-giving union of souls, just as the church is meant to live in life-giving union with Christ.  Scripture therefore teaches it is good for very man to have his own wife and vice versa. Our biological make up also testifies to the intention of our Creator for men and women to be united sexually.  Any sexual act outside the bonds of marriage is in violation of the created order and as such violates the Law of Christ.  Any sexual act outside the bonds of marriage is in fact sexual exploitation of the human body.  Now notice that the Bible does not tell us that homosexual acts are worse than any other sin, or that those who commit such acts are worse sinners than we are.  Such sentiments violate the Law of Christ! Nevertheless the Bible warns us in love that sexual sin violates our bodies and as such the consequences of sexual sin might be worse than with some other sins.