SSM round-up

by Jesse Johnson

“Yesterday I wrote about three obvious questions from the recent scrap about gay marriage. Today’s post is for those that have been sleeping for the past week and missed the controversy all together.  If you suffer from gay-marriage-controversy overload, you may have missed the newest twists and turns, which is a shame because you missed some really good writing.  Today I want to give a round-up of what others have written, and direct you to some of the better posts on this issue.

But first a little history: in the past few months gay “marriage” has been legalized in 17 states. Most of these saw marriage legalized by judges, and a few saw the turn at the ballot box. Since then there has been a tidal wave of additional lawsuits in the remaining 33 states that ban it. Every indicator is that those bans will fall as well.

In the meantime, some same-sex couples have sued bakers, photographers, and florists who have declined to provide their services to gay weddings. Denny Burk has a powerful articledetailing one of those examples.  The gist is that the florist served a couple she knew to be homosexual for almost ten years, and she considered them to be her friends. They then asked her business to provide flowers for their wedding, she refused, and was reported to the state, who filed suit against her (I wrote about these cases here).

This took gay marriage to whole new level. No longer is it something that can simply be recognized by the state, but it has morphed rapidly into something that every citizen could be force to actively approve of.  When a Christian DJ, pastor, baker, florist, or photographer refuses to service a same-sex ceremony, they fall on the wrong side of the law.

Tweet from Kevin DeYoung @RevKevDeYoung: “Marie Antoinette to French peasants: “Let them eat cake.” U.S. courts to Christian bakers: “Let them eat cake….or else.””

Some states (including Arizona and Kansas) proposed legislation that would specifically allow Christian business owners to decline service to same-sex marriage ceremonies without running afoul of the law. A good summary of what these proposals would/would not do is found at Christian Post. But these proposed laws were attacked, and eventually were discarded after a tsunami of public opposition. Ironically, some of that opposition was led by Christian columnists, such as Kirstin Powers (USA Today, who compared them to Jim Crow laws) and Jonathan Merritt (Daily Beast, who called these business leaders hypocrites for providing service to people on their second marriages). Together, their main point was essentially a WWJD kind of argument, and they suggested that Jesus the carpenter would have built the stage for a same-sex wedding, had he only been offered the job.

As for a response, I strongly suggest you read Al Mohler who systematically dismantled Powers’ and Merritt’s columns. Douglas Wilson offered his response as well (“Put an egg in their shoe” which is well worth reading for the way he interacts with Romans 1, and also for this sentence: “ I don’t know much about Merritt, but what I have seen seems to indicate someone who is being wafted along by the breezes emanating from the Zeitgeist Wind Farm, which is a bad metaphor because that’s not how wind farms work.”).

Meanwhile, Russell Moore responded to the accusation that it is hypocritical for Christians not to endorse same-sex ceremonies if they would sell their wares to a person on their second marriage.

Telling in most of the articles that compared Christians to racists is that the authors generally missed the distinction between denying service to a person because they are gay, and declining to use their business to promote a same-sex ceremony. I have not heard of any Christian arguing that others should not serve homosexuals (despite the hysteria on the issue), but instead have only heard of Christians arguing that they should not be forced by the government to make cakes for gay marriages. It is a distinction lost on Powers and Merritt, but strangely enough, one that was grasped by what is certainly the best secular post on this issue (here, at The Atlantic; I really recommend you read this, although you do have to get through the author saying, “You might not believe this, but I actually know a few Christians who are not bigots!” Yeah? Well I actually know an Atlantic columnist that isn’t condescending, but I digress).

Finally, if you are going to only read one of these posts, I suggest this one: The Institute on Religion and Democracy has a staff editorial (“Jonathan Merritt, Christian Artistic Expression and the Preferential Option for Caesar”). They summarize this issue quite well, and show the folly of asking the government to compel people’s consciences at the expense of religious freedom. It really is a must read.

Where does this leave us?

Eric Teetsel at the Manhattan Declaration gives a ten-minute crash course in why Christians should care about these issues. But ultimately we are seeing Romans 1 validated and vindicated  right before us.  In a culture ruled by homosexuality and idolatry, it is not enough to simply do evil, but it has to be celebrated and affirmed as moral good. And not being satisfied with the freedom to practice evil, those who are on this road insist that their own evil must be applauded by others. If you refuse… well, as Eric Erickson wrote almost one year ago, “you will be made to care.” Or, as the prophet of our day has said:

Tweet from Church Curmudgeon @ChrchCurmudgeon: “Coexist. Or else.””

-Jesse Johnson, 02-27-14, http://thecripplegate.com/ssm-round-up/

 

3 Questions About the Gay Marriage Controversy

by Jesse Johnson

“Plodding through the news this week has been an attempt in both Arizona and Kansas to pass laws that specifically protect business owners from being forced to sell their services to celebrate gay “marriage” ceremonies.

Some Christians have quickly distanced themselves from these laws (Andy Stanley, Jonathan Merritt, Kirstin Powers), while the media has shown that, as a general rule, it lacks even a rudimentary understanding of what is at stake here. The net result is that anyone who doesn’t have a firm grasp on the Bible’s teaching about this issue is being swept up in the tide of public opinion. So swift is the tide that even the senators who voted for the law in Arizona a few weeks ago are now publically renouncing their “yes” vote and asking the governor to veto it.
There are really three practical questions for Christians to wrestle through here:

1. Should Christians in any business decline to serve homosexual customers?

The answer is obviously “no,” and even more telling is that I’m not aware of any case where that has happened. I don’t know of a single example where a Christian McDonald’s manager has refused to serve homosexuals, or a Christian car dealer has declined to sell cars to the LGBT community. In all the coverage of these bills there has not been one reported either. This is telling, especially when it is contrasted with people (like Merritt or Powers) who make it seem like Christians are really just looking for ways to close their doors to immoral customers.

2. Should Christian business owners use their business to celebrate or advance gay marriage ceremonies?

The answer here is likewise “no.” And that is where the current debate comes in. When a wedding photographer in New Mexico refused to shoot a gay marriage, she was sued, and lost. When an Oregon baker refused to make personalized wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, the state ordered the business to close.

But I also grant that there is a lot of gray area here. The biblical principle in play is that believers should not “approve” of gay marriage (Rom 1:32 ). But what is “approving” of a wedding? Certainly attending one is approving of it. But what if you own a light business, and they want to rent lights from you? Is that approving? It seems clear cut if you are photographer or pastor or DJ—those are three people whose participation requires celebratory conduct—that selling your services to a ceremony would require celebrating it. But what if you are just renting out chairs?

This is why those decisions are best left to individual conscience. If you are a believer, don’t violate your conscience. It really is that simple.

3. Should Christians push for laws granting us the right to refuse to sell services to gay weddings?

Well, it would be nice for those laws to exist (and even nicer if they were unnecessary to begin with). But I honestly can’t see how they would make any difference to anyone’s actions. Christians should not violate their conscience by going against God’s word—and it doesn’t really matter if its legal or not. I also can’t help but lament the legal fool-hardiness of these laws. If one of them does become law—which is looking very unlikely—it would obviously be struck down by a court in a matter of weeks. This past summer the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage should be defined by the states, and only a few months later federal judges began striking down state marriage laws. In New Mexico, the Supreme Court there granted that the laws protecting religious freedom and laws banning discrimination against homosexuals were contradictory, but they then ruled that where they contradict that the anti-discrimination laws should be followed. Nobody can really think that this new legislation would last at all. People are showing an alarming naiveté in thinking that these laws would last.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that as this culture continues to attack God’s word, it will turn on God’s people. And when that happens, persecution comes. When persecution comes, it will not do any good to look for laws to justify your conduct. If you are not rooted on God’s word, then you will be swept away with the tides of public opinion.”

-Jesse Johnson, 02-26-14, http://thecripplegate.com/3_questions_gay_marriage/

40 Reasons for Church

church

By Jesse Johnson

“Is it possible to live a faithful Christian life without being a faithful part of a local church? I’ve heard many people make the argument that it is indeed possible—especially if there are no good churches around. I disagree.

At the bare minimum, there are forty different commands in the New Testament to live life in some sense with other believers. While certainly it is possible to do some of these with Christians in general, the weight of this list should convince you of the necessity of having on going relationships with other believers.

And those relationships are only strengthened by the fellowship of the local church. In fact, I submit that some of this list is simply impossible to obey if you do not have the kind of ongoing  and ever increasing fellowship with other believers that only comes through ministry in a local church:

  1. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24)
  2. Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
  3. Build up one another (1 Thess 5:11)
  4. Be of the same mind as one another (Romans 12:1315:5)
  5. Comfort one another in the face of death (1 Thess 4:18)
  6. Employ your spiritual gifts in serving one another (1 Peter 4:10)
  7. Pray for one another (James 5:16)
  8. Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
  9. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
  10. Encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11)
  11. Greet one another (2 Cor 13:12)
  12. Don’t become boastful in challenging one another (Gal 5:26)
  13. Be kind to one another (Eph 4:32)
  14. Abound in love for one another (1 Peter 1:22)
  15. Live in peace with one another (1 Thess 5:13)
  16. Love one another (2 John 5)
  17. Fervently love one another (1 Peter 1:22)
  18. Have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
  19. Don’t judge one another (Romans 14:13)
  20. Take communion (the Lord’s Table) with one another (1 Cor 11:33)
  21. Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
  22. Regard one another as more important than yourself (Phil 2:3)
  23. Bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  24. Admonish one another (Rom 15:14)
  25. Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  26. Do not lie to one another (Col 3:9)
  27. Bear with one another (Col 3:13)
  28. Forgive one another (Col 3:13)
  29. Teach and admonish one another (Rom 15:14)
  30. Care for one another (1 Cor 12:25)
  31. Cloth yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
  32. Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  33. Do not complain against one another (James 5:9)
  34. Show forbearance to one another (Eph 4:2)
  35. Speak to one anther in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19)
  36. Give preference to one another (Rom 12:10)
  37. Don’t bite and devour one another (Gal 5:15)
  38. Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21
  39. Seek the good of one another (1 Thess 5:15)
  40. Don’t forsake assembling with one another (Heb 10:25)

That last one brings the whole list full circle. If being a Christian means nothing more than making a decision about Jesus Christ,than none of this matters. But if being a Christian means stepping into a life altering world, where God desires your sanctification and gives you the means to grow and the commands to follow, then it is simply impossible to do that outside of the context of a local church.”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/40-reasons-to-be-part-of-a-local-church/

3 lessons from Brainerd’s death

Brainerd sick horse

By Jesse Johnson

“David Brainerd died 265 years ago. [October 9th] was the anniversary of his home going.

Brainerd’s life ended when he was only 29 years old. He was not exactly famous when he died; he was expelled from Yale for declaring that an empty chair had more evidence of grace than the seminary president (the original Clint Eastwood!), and then spent the rest of his life serving the Lord in anonymity among the Indians.

Because he did not have a seminary degree, Brainerd refused to pastor a church. In the 1700’s a pastor was expected to have been to seminary, and despite the fact that some churches wanted him, Brainerd was reluctant to participate in what he viewed as the downgrade of the pastoral office by pastoring without a degree. Instead, he learned Indian dialects, translated a few Psalms into one language, and planted a “Christian community” in another.

He literally rode himself to death.

Crisscrossing the New England woods, he spent himself out discipling the Indian converts to Christ. In the 1700’s the United States was a backwoods, forgotten, and remote place. It was far removed from the world’s limelight, and Brainerd removed himself further still. When he died in Jonathan Edward’s parsonage, Brainerd had a handful of disciples, and fewer friends. Outside of the Edward’s home, those who knew him were skeptical of him.

But inside the Edwards’ home, his life had eternal implications. God used his diary (published posthumously) to spark a new wave of missionary fervor. Edward’s daughter Jeshua fell in love with Brainerd, and they perhaps even married. She caught his tuberculosis, and died a few months after he did.

Yet the most direct impact of his life is seen in Edwards himself. When the church in North Hampton voted Edwards out, he had to leave his parsonage—as well as his daughter’s grave—behind. Already regarded as the foremost theologian of his day, and already famous for his notable preaching, Edwards could have gone to London, or Boston, Oxford or Yale. Instead, he followed Brainerd’s example, and went to serve among the Indians.

Yesterday I marked the anniversary of his death by reading a biography of Brainerd by John Piper.Then I crossed a busy street to Starbucks. There was a traffic accident—nobody was seriously hurt, and the police arrived in 5 minutes. I chose from the three different kinds of coffee, then prepared for a staff meeting—I get to work along side eleven other pastors, all of us paid generously by our congregation.

I answered email, and watched a DVD with Wyane Grudem, Al Mohler, and Voddie Bauchum on marriage. The whole time, I had a sort of surreal felling. I kept trying to imagine what life for Edwards was like before Brainerd knocked on his door, entered his life, then left the world bringing his daughter with him.

I realize that through the providence of God, my feet are not in the Americas of the 1700’s. I can imagine all I want, but I have no idea what life was like then. I have DVD’s with leading theologians at my fingertips, while Brainerd clutched only a diary and a Bible, so he wouldn’t weigh down his horse.

At the end of the day, these are my lessons from Brainerd’s example. They are the best I can do, removed from his life by 265 years.

1) In the earthly sense, we simply don’t suffer like Brainerd/Edwards, et. al. The sacrifices pastors made then were simply different than now. My greatest trial yesterday was that my car’s battery died. I could have walked to church and instead a neighbor gave me a ride. That is not quite suffering for Jesus.

2) We are not sinning by not suffering. It’s not my fault that I live in 2012 and not 1747. It’s not my fault that my congregation loves me, while Brainerd was expelled. It is not a sin to not suffer. I feel willing to suffer, but I know it is easy to feel that way when the sky is clear. God’s providence has placed me in a country with blessings like Starbucks, police, and a plurality of pastors. My ministry mirrors Brainerd’s gospel, but not his afflictions.

3) Even the slightest complaining from me is totally and wholly out of bounds. Brainerd left Yale for Indians and death. Edwards left a thriving ministry for suffering on the frontier. The Apostle Peter left everything in this world to follow the Lord. As John Piper writes, “Jesus was not impressed with Peter’s sacrifice.” Our Lord left heaven to come to earth—and he did so without complaining. We can bite our tongues when we make 21st century kinds of sacrifices, and we can be thankful for the era of human history in which we live.”

-Jesse Johnson,  http://thecripplegate.com/3-lessons-from-brainerds-death/

Chick-fil-A Day!

eat more chicken

by Jesse Johnson

“Today is Chick-Fil-A appreciation day. Organized by Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas), the event is intended to show public support and appreciation for the restaurant chain’s founder, who has been vilified because of his support for the institution of marriage. On Facebook, nearly 4 million people have been invited to participate in this day, a small indication that the event has resonated with the Christian community [Edit: we have readers in over 200 countries, only one of which has Chick-Fil-A; if you want to figure out what this debate is all about, check out Al Mohler here].

The hullabaloo concerning chicken sandwiches is simply one manifestation of the larger culture war being waged over the redefinition of marriage. If marriage is a word, how is that word defined? By common usage, history, or popular vote? Using any of those three definitions, it would exclusively include heterosexual relationships, but many courts have ruled that none of those methods are valid. So what is an alternative way to define marriage? In a statement that says as much about capitalism as it does about culture, it seems to have come down to likes on a fast food chains’ Facebook page.

Should Christians care about Chick-Fil-A day? Why is this such a big deal? Here are four thoughts on how the world’s tastiest chicken matters:

1) This controversy has grown because, as Voddie Baucham wrote last week, gay is not the new Black. In the language of the debate about Proposition 8 in California, our President’s speech announcing his “evolving” view on marriage, and in many articles in the news, the angst over marriage is compared to the angst concerning integrated schools fifty years ago. Those who think that marriage is only for heterosexual couples are portrayed as if they were using the same arguments used against the desegregation of schools. This is a civil rights issue, we are told, and thus should not be subject to the democratic process. If you define marriage with a biblical standard, you are a bigot and your views are anathema to the current culture.

Yet the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha shows it is not homosexuals who are being discriminated against, but Christians. After voting on the definition of marriage (in California, for just one example), courts found that because the motivating factor behind the passing of Proposition 8 was religious, it was thus invalid. Christians (and Mormons, Catholics, et. al.) don’t get their votes counted. If you have a Christian view of marriage, and you own a business, then your business faces additional roadblocks when it wants to expand. Mayors in Boston and Chicago—hardly irrelevant cities, and hardly the discriminatory South—recently said that businesses owned by those with Christian values are not welcome in their jurisdictions. How should we respond to this? Well choosing a day to eat at Chick-Fil-A is one answer, but I can’t help but feel it is woefully inadequate.

2) Christians should expect to be persecuted. Jesus said that, and it also happens to be true. In our country, martyrdom is not the reality. Instead, we should expect to have our values mocked by the culture, and we should expect to have our commitment to those values tested. The bottom line is that the mayors of Chicago and Boston are correct: Christian values should not fit in. We should feel out-of-place in this world. If the thrust of that persecution is an extended zoning process to open up a restaurant run on moral principles, we should consider ourselves lucky.

Of course, the certainty of opposition and persecution does not mean that those who overtly oppose God’s holiness are justified. In this way, Chick-Fil-A day gets us back to Gospel 101: the world is filled with those who oppose the chicken sandwich because they oppose God. They will be judged by God. God has made a way of escape from that judgment. Our job is to identify those are who are living apart from God and in rejection to the gospel, and bring them the good news.

3) Being caught in a debate about waffle fries can be distracting to the task at hand. Obviously there is nothing wrong with supporting Christian-owned businesses, especially those that are being ostracized by the government for the faith of their owners. In that sense, Chick-Fil-A day is a great idea. Go for it. You need fuel for your body to get the strength to glorify God with your day, so why not Chick-Fil-A?

Chick-fil-A Sandwich.jpgBut the tendency with these kind of Christian culture wars is for Christians to completely lose the ability to differentiate between what is important and what is inconsequential. Time and energy can be spent advancing secondary and tertiary causes, and the net result is often unconnected to the advance of the kingdom. If a greater number of people eat at Chick-Fil-A today than kiss there on Friday, the gospel does not win. If more people protest on Friday than spend there today, the gospel does not lose. There are two ways the gospel suffers on Chick-Fil-A day: if people think that supporting Christian values is the same as evangelism, or if people think that protecting marriage is the same as advancing the gospel.

4) If restaurant franchises have become a proxy front in the broader culture war, Christians should not fall into the same trap. We should have thoughtful explanations for what marriage is and why it matters. We should be able to make careful and explicit connections from God’s created order to the gospel, and we should be ready to engage with non-believers thoughtfully and biblically concerning divine truths. This requires discipline and biblical literacy, and quite frankly eating chicken is simply easier.

Where does that leave us? Hey, we have to eat somewhere today, so it may as well be at a Chick-Fil-A. But let’s not fool ourselves. Each of us will probably have multiple conversations today that have the possibility to matter in someone’s life in a way that your lunchtime food choice simply doesn’t. So, invite your friends, eat chicken, and support Christian values. But don’t be fooled into thinking that what you say is less important than the restaurant in which you say it.”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/4-thoughts-on-chick-fil-a-day/

What Does the New Testament Say About Babies Who Die?

QuestionGuy

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday we saw 16 verses in the OT that address the issue of what happens to little children who die. I hope you saw that the OT lays the groundwork for a category distinction: there are two kinds of sinners who die. There are those who die because of their sin nature, namely infants. And there are those who die because they love sin, and actively embrace it; namely, adults. This distinction is important to grasp because the NT does not reestablish it from the ground up but rather Jesus and Paul both teach in such a way that the distinction is reinforced.

Again, if any of these verses trouble you, simply skip them, and let the weight of the full list be enough to convince you. The numbering picks up where yesterday left off.

17) Jesus blessed little children. There are no examples of Jesus blessing anyone who was in open rebellion to God. Again, much like Jonah 4, Jeremiah 19, 1 Kings 11, this (at the very least) creates a category distinction between sinful adults in rebellion against God, and the childlike innocence of children (Matt 18:3-5).

18) In Matthew 18, Jesus not only blesses the children, but uses them as an earthly analogy of childlike faith. He says that “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child– this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Everyone is free to debate what exactly Jesus means here, and there are Christian answers all over the spectrum. But at the very least, Jesus has to be implying that children in their current state would go to heaven if they died. Consider this statement: “my car is as fast as a cheetah, and unless your car is like a cheetah too, it can never be fast.” Everyone can debate what it means to be fast, or how fast my car really is, or if your car even should be fast. But the entire analogy would break down if cheetahs were not indeed fast to begin with. That is the assumption that makes the analogy make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying Matthew 18, it only makes sense if the destination of children who die is an enviable one.

19) Romans 5:13-14 makes the category distinction between those who sin like Adam (adults) and those who sin because of the imputation of Adam’s sin (infants). In making this distinction, Paul is carefully showing how death can reign even over those who don’t sin like Adam. He is repeating the theological distinctions made in Duet 1:39, 24:16, Jer 19:4 and Jonah 4:11, and lending theological support to the understanding that infants will not be punished in hell for their sins. (John Piper explains why it is best to understand Romans 5:13-14 as reference to infant death in Counted Righteous in Christ, 95-100).

20) That category distinction (between those who sin willingly and those who are born with a sin nature) is further strengthened by Paul’s introduction of those who sin by searing their conscience, and how that sin is seen in idolatry and sexual immorality—both sins that infants are incapable of. Because that passage sets the stage for understanding the soteriology of Romans, it is significant for this discussion that out of the gate, Paul frames the conversation in terms that exclude infants, and then seals that exclusion explicitly inRomans 5:13-14.

21) Jesus also validates this category distinction when he declares that there are people who die “in their sins” (John 8:24). Everyone who dies, dies because they are sinners by nature. If infants weren’t sinners by nature, they wouldn’t die! But there is a particular class of sinners—namely cognizant adults—that actively reject God. Those ones not only die, but they “die in their sins” because of their unbelief.

22) John 3 furthers this category distinction by teaching that “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). This simply does not describe infants who die, and the proximity to judgment passages (vv 18-19) validates this distinction.

23) Jesus lays claim in a particular way to the concept that children have a unique relationship to the Father. He declares that we should watch out for “children” in the faith, and it is best to see that admonition as applying to immature believers, rather than to actual children. But the analogy only works if actual immature children are to be the recipients of special care from people and God both. As MacArthur wrote, “No parent with six children is going to discover one of them missing and callously say ‘oh well, we still have five more’.” The analogy makes sense only if children are under God’s care in a special way.

24) People from every tribe, language, nation and ethnicity will be in heaven (Rev 5:10). Because so many languages and tribes have died out, this is only feasible through the salvation of infants. By the way, this is certainly given as a powerful claim to the glory of God’s saving nature.

25) All judgment passages in the Bible make clear that people go to hell for their active sin. This is especially clear in the description of hell in Revelation 21:8. People go to hell for what they have done, and this truth would be incomprehensible if infants were sent there.

26) The lists that are found in judgment passages are sins that infants lack the ability to commit. Jesus gives his list in Matt 15:19-20: “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Let me ask this question: which category of sins best describe the way infants sin? Do they murder and lust, or do they eat with unwashed hands?

At the end of this list, two things should be crystal clear. First, the Bible makes a category distinction between those who sin willingly (adults) and those who sin by their nature (infants). Adults can discern between right and wrong, and they love the wrong. They rebel against God despite natural revelation, and they will be judged for their works. Infants have a sin nature (that is why some of them die), but they do not sin IN THE SAME WAY as adults.

Second: with the exception of Job 3, there are not any passages that say “infants go to heaven when they die.” However, given the category distinction just made, it is obvious that every single time the Bible mentions infants who die, there is some indication that they receive mercy. It is not like there are six verses that talk about them going to heaven, and six that imply hell, and we are left to wrestle through. Every single verse that mentions this offers hope of heaven, and the cumulative weight should be overwhelming. There are other theological truths we agree to that are developed from way fewer references than this. Thus, the case for infant salvation is unassailable, as there are literally no verses that teach the contrary.

Today, the deal for the comment thread is this: in order to comment, you have to have read all three posts (part 1part 2).”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-nt-answers/

What Does the Old Testament say about Babies Who Die?

question-mark3a

by Jesse Johnson

“There is a tendency to think that the Bible is silent about the issue of what happens to infants who die. However, there are at least 26 different passages that address this issue. In all of them, the implication is that infants who die are returned to the Lord.

Yesterday I talked about the need for confidence in dealing with this issue. So as you go through this list, don’t get caught up on one or two particular ones if you disagree. Simply skip those, and let the weight of the others give you confidence. Today we will look at the OT, and tomorrow the NT:

1) Infants belong to God in a special and particular way. In Ezekiel, God describes the slaughter of children born into pagan families as a slaughter of “my children” (Ezek 16:21). This expression of ownership by God over children born into idol worshiping families is stark, and implies God’s care for those children in a personal way.

2) God describes children as “having no knowledge of good and evil” (Deut 1:39). They have a sin nature, but they sin in the way that gravity works: they are pulled down. They do not sin in the way that adults do: adults love sin. Children default to sin, while adults run there.

3) God refers to Gentile children as unable to discern the difference between right and wrong (Jonah 4:11). Children are born with a sin nature, and even babies love to sin. But they do so without appreciating why they are doing it. Adults sin because they discern what truth is, and have a disdain for it. Infants sin because they are unable to discern. There is a difference.

4) God refers to children in pagan families who are murdered as “innocents” (Jer 19:4). Obviously this does not mean that they were born without a sin nature, but simply that they had a certain degree of moral innocence. God does not throw around the term “innocent” loosely (nor does he send “innocent” people to hell).

5) God regards infants as victims of the fallen world. This is the example in Ezek 16:4, which is clearly an allegory, but an allegory that only makes sense if children are innocent victims.

6) When God punished the entire nation of Israel for their disobedience in the wilderness, he only took the lives of those who were of fighting age or older (Deut 1:39). This shows that the culpability of those under fighting age is different than the adults, and that accordingly they should not be punished as adults are. If they didn’t deserve to die in the wilderness, they certainly didn’t deserve to go to hell.

7) Babies will not be punished in hell for the sins of their parents—even of Adam.Deuteronomy 24:16 explains that God will not punish children for what their parents did. That does not mean that there are no consequences for sin—a parent who lives a sin filled life will reap the consequences of that life, and one of those consequences is that the children will be raised apart from the knowledge of God. But that is the consequence of sin, and is manifestly different than God judicially punishing someone for sins they did not commit. The consequence of Adam’s sin is that we all are born with a sin nature, but not that God will send us all to hell irrespective of our own actions (more on this one tomorrow when we look at NT judgment passages).

8) This same truth is repeated in Ezekiel 18:20. There, God expressly says that while death is the consequence of a sin nature, God does not execute a second death a person because of his parent’s sin.

9) When God’s prophet told King Jeroboam that his entire family line would be killed, he expanded on this category distinction. He said that all of Jeroboam’s relatives would be punished by a humiliating burial (or lack thereof), but that there was an exception for Jeroboam’s infant son. He would be buried, and people would mourn, “because in him there is found something good toward Yahweh, God of Israel” (1 Kings 14:13). It is not that the infant was crawling around chewing down the high places, but rather that his sin was by his nature, not by his willful rebellion. He was an “innocent” infant, to borrow Jeremiah’s language, and so he will still die, but will be spared the judicial punishment reserved for those who willingly revolted against God. Again, notice that in both this passage and in Jeremiah 19, God uses positive moral terms to apply to infants who die—“innocent” and “good.” Those are moral terms that God does not use willy-nilly.

10) God created all people personally, and designed them to glorify him forever—either by justly suffering in hell, or by giving glory to them in heaven (Ps 139:13-15Rom 9:224). If infants who died were sent to hell, they would not be suffering justly, as they did not sin in a willful way. In other words, the very justification for hell (namely, and expression of God’s justice) is thwarted if infants go there.

11) Job was a righteous man (Job 2:9), but he suffered tremendously. Job knew what the afterlife was like—after all, it was Job who wrote:

I know my redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, I will see God in my flesh. I will look at him myself, my eyes will look at him, and not as I look at a stranger. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Yet Job also wished that he would have been still-born. He says in Job 3:11-15 that he honestly thought that his life would be easier had he died in the womb. He is not some gothic poet, but is a godly man, who understand the afterlife, the reality of hell, and the need for a redeemer.

12) Job 3:16-19 is the most explicit passage in the Bible concerning the fate of infants who die. Job declares that dead infants go to a place where “There the wicked cease to make trouble, and there the weary find rest. The captives are completely at ease; they do not hear the voice of their oppressor. Both the small and the great are there, and the slave is set free from his master.”

Obviously Job is not describing hell, and his generic use of “infants” as well as “a stillborn child” implies that this is a statement with universal application. All infants who die or who are stillborn go to a place of rest, where there are kings, rich, poor, and the afflicted, and they are all free from torment. This is obviously not a description of hell.

13) Solomon makes a similar and explicit proclamation about the fate of dead infants. He expressly contrasts the fate of the wicked who labor in vain with a dead infant fathered by that wicked person. He concludes that it would be better to be the dead child, because he at least will go to a place of “rest” (Ecc 6:5). Solomon goes on to say that both the child and the father will die, but only the dead child will experience rest.

14) When David’s infant son was sick, David fasted and prayed frantically. When he died, David was at peace and worshiped. His attendants were shocked by this act of worship, and asked what could possibly provoke a loving father to worship at his child’s death. David’s response is well-known: “I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (2 Sam 12:23). This is not the despondent response of a mourning parent. It is the confident response of a man after God’s own heart.

By the way, the idea that David was worshiping because he too was one day going to die is so twisted and out of touch with reality that it is difficult to understand. Have you ever seen a parent respond to a child’s death with joy because, hey–after all–that parent is going to one day die too? Moreover, that kind of anti-supernaturalism requires us to believe that David (David!) did not understand the afterlife. Hardly.

David mourning Absalom

David mourning Absalom

15) Moreover, contrast his response to his infant son’s death—for which David was primarily responsible—with his response to his other sons’ death. When Absalom died, there was no death-bed conversion, and there was no mystery about his relationship with the Yahweh. David, who had done everything possible to spare Absalom’s life, was so despondent that Joab had to warn him that unless he changed his attitude, he risked a coup by the troops. Meanwhile, David was shrieking, “My son, Absalom! Absalom, my son, my son!” If David’s response to his infant’s death was simply “I’ll die too one day” then his response to Absalom’s death is incomprehensible.

16) Isaiah refers to an age where children learn “the difference between good and evil” (Isa 7:16). In other words, there is an age where children still sin, but not because of their knowledge of sin. At the very least, this lets us know that God views the sins of infants as coming from a form of innocence, rather than from a discernment of good and evil.

Tomorrow we will continue this list with a look at what the NT teaches about those who die in infancy.”

-Jesse Johnson,  http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-ot-answers/

Love Wins: One Year Later

by Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/love-wins-one-year-later/

It has been just 16 months since Rob Bell’s Love Wins was released. The book, which seeks to undermine the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment, was roundly rejected by evangelical leaders (see herehere, or here). But in college ministries across the country, it had the effect of introducing ambiguity where there was previously certainty.

Today, Rob Bell has left his church, and moved to Los Angeles where he is “working on other creative projects,” and thus proving Jesus’ words that wisdom is vindicated by her children. Those projects are as of yet undisclosed, but there are rumors of a TV show about his life.

As for the theology about eternal punishment, I don’t know of any churches that have changed their doctrinal statements as a result of Bell’s book. He may have introduced ambiguity into the hearts of Christians, but—as of now—it seems like the doctrine of eternal punishment withstood its latest attack.

It is helpful to remember why Christians believe in eternal punishment. I’m not talking about the theological reasons, of which there are many. I’m talking about the biblical reasons. This is a doctrine that is so horrible that nobody would accept it or teach it willingly. It takes more than deductive reasoning to get people to embrace the concept that the majority of people who have ever been born are now in hell, and that they will be there forever. As Robert Peterson in Hell on Trial points out, there are really two kinds of Christians: those that have entertained doubts about the eternal nature of hell, and those that have not seriously thought about the implications of the doctrine. Even Wyane Grudem points out that “if our hearts are not moved with deep sorrow when we contemplate this doctrine, then there is a serious deficiency in our spiritual and emotional sensibilities.”

Because of the reluctance with which most people hold this doctrine, it is not as if the arguments that are put forward in Bell’s book are going to be persuasive. If sound and biblical thinkers could be persuaded out of believing in hell, they would abandon the doctrine. Most people who hold to the doctrine do so not because they want to, but they have simply been overwhelmed by the biblical evidence. For me at least, this is how my thoughts go: “I don’t want to believe in hell, and I can’t imagine the horrors of it, and I can’t imagine how and why it would endure forever and ever, but the Bible is so clear that this is the case, and I am bound to believe what the Scripture teaches.”

What are the main Scripture passages that describe hell as eternal? This list is not comprehensive, but are the ones that I think are most clear:

• OT Prophecy: The most well known passage in the OT on hell is at the end of Isaiah. There, the prophet describes hell as being visible in the eternal state, and notes that “Their maggots will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind” (Isa 66:24). The context of this passage is important. Isaiah is describing how at salvation, the old is gone and the new will be there (Isa 65:17). In that place, where people dwell with God forever, the torment of hell will be real and ever present. Then, to seal this imagery, Jesus quotes these words in Mark 9:48, using the Greek word that indicates that this fire is indeed eternal. Daniel describes hell as eternal as well (Dan 12:2), and this is another verse that is repeated by Jesus.

• Jesus: Our savior describes the fire as hell as “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43). He describes hell as eternal when he explains that at final judgment he will say to those on their way to hell “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!” (Matt 25:41). Later he compares the eternality of hell to the eternality of heaven (Matt 25:46).

• NT Prophecy: The Apostle John describes the smoke of hell as ascending “forever and ever.” In that same passage (Rev 14:11) the smoke is explicitly connected to the torment of those suffering, and is then compared to the endurance of the saints. So the torments of hell last as long as the endurance of those who are saved. This imagery is repeated later—and applied to demons and the devil as well—in Rev 19:3 and 20:10. Later in Rev., it is clear that throughout the new heaven and new earth, there are those outside the city who are being punished by torment (eg. Rev 22:14), so that as long as heaven exists, this description stands.

At the very least, the Bible ties the duration of those that worship God to the duration of those that are punished in hell by God. It is not a happy truth, but it does continually provoke us to be more thankful for his grace and mercy, and that thankfulness will apparently grow even throughout eternity.

Was the American Revolution Sinful?

by Jesse Johnsonhttp://thecripplegate.com/was-the-american-revolution-sinful/

orriginal colonial flag

“The Bible is clear that Christians are not to rebel against their government, and that rebellion is sinful. The passage that speaks to this most clearly is Romans 13:1-7:

“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”

So where does that leave the American Revolution? After all, did our founding fathers not rebel against England? Granting that they did, does that mean that fighting for Independence from Britain was sinful?

I don’t think so. Here are three reasons why those fighting for independence were not engaged in the kind of sinful rebellion prohibited in Romans 13:

1) They were not rebelling against their government, but were submissive to their government. The war of independence was declared by the governments of the colonies. In most cases, these were elected governments, often with leaders appointed by England. It was these governments that declared the tax rates unjust, the forced conscription of sailors and theft of property as immoral and illegal, and these governments were the ones that raised an army to enforce the rule of law in the Americas.

Keep in mind that by the 1775, many of the colonists were fourth generation Americans. They had never been to England, and over the previous 100 years cultural and language differences had already developed. The colonies’ assemblies may have had pictures of the King on their walls, but the point is that those legislatures were duly constituted, and were the legitimate government in the Americas. When they declared independence, and rejected the legal prerogative of British Parliament to tax, it then became an American’s duty to obey their government. One could just as easily argue that it would have been a form of rebellion against government to refuse to support the revolution.

Moreover, it was the crown itself that had established these colonial governments. William Penn’s “holy experiment” was described by him as “self appointed government under the crown.” Thus, even the British crown recognized the legitimacy of the local governments, and expected British subjects to do the same.

2) The claim of authority of the Americas by England was arbitrary. If you were a fourth generation American, and had never been to England, a legitimate question to ask is: “Why is the British King my authority?” The British parliament claimed that they had the right to tax the citizens of the Americas. Why were the Indians not the governing authority? Why not the French? Why not the American governments? They all also claimed that same right.

In fact, this is precisely the issue that solidified George Washington’s understanding of British rule in the Americas. As an officer in the British military, Washington’s first mission was to tell a French military outpost in Ohio to disband and leave the area. The French claimed the area fell under their authority, and the Indians agreed with the French. The British claimed it was theirs, and their claim was in essence based on their maps, which simply extended the boarders of the colonies indefinitely to the West. Obviously this kind of claim is not a valid use of Biblical authority and does not compel submission.

colonies with lines

Simply because a government makes a map with you under their authority, does not then bind you under the obligation of Romans 13 to that government (remember how Iraq, after invading Kuwait, quickly published new maps showing Kuwait as a province of Iraq?). In the colonies, Americans were bound under the government that was constituted to collect taxes, pass laws, and enforce peace. By 1775, this was the colonies’ government, not the French, not the Indians, and not the British.

3) There is such a thing as just war. Since the receding of the flood, God had given governments the power to enforce laws and punish wrong doing (Gen 9:6). Since Babel, God has given the earth different governments as the nations spread out from one central point (Gen 11:8-9). Often those governments come in conflict with each other, and this conflict is a form of common grace. It is a check that God has given on evil, and a way of limiting any one man’s power. It is left for the anti-Christ to wield international power, and until then every time a government tries to expand her reach beyond her borders, that government is met with military resistance. When England tried to expand her influence not just to the shore of the Atlantic, but to the mid-Americas, conflict was guaranteed.

It was Calvin that wrote that a lawful magistrate could declare a legitimate government once the leadership of the existing government had given up its right to govern through wrong behavior. This is the difference between a sinful revolution and a just war. It is not individuals that decide they have had enough and rebel–that is unjust, sinful, and lawless. Rather, a just war is declared by a lawfully appointed government in response to a moral wrong imposed on others, and as an act of protection, under the banner of common grace.

Christians have a duty to honor the government. Even if it is unjust, unfair, and wicked, believers are still to submit. If Peter could command people to obey a Roman government martyring Christians for sport (1 Peter 2:13), modern-day believers can certainly submit to their God-ordained governmental authorities.

But that being said, they are compelled to obey the government they have now, not one from generations past, and not simply any claim made on them by any government anywhere in the world. They are called to obey and submit to the one that collects their taxes and enforces their laws, even when that government declares a war for independence.”

-Jesse Johnson

7 reasons movie illustrations are lame

by Jesse Johnson

“A good friend of mine recently asked me what I think of pastors using illustrations from movies in their sermons. My friend uses them because he thinks they are helpful in relating to a culture that increasingly has their world view formed through entertainment. In that sense I guess using an illustration from the cinema is a form of condesencion—God uses language to speak to us, we use stories from movies to speak to post-post-moderns.

But I don’t buy it. In my experience, illustrations sparked by the golden screen (or Netflix, or what have you) generally fail, and are almost always unhelpful. Here are seven reasons why:

1) They don’t communicate well. These kind of illustrations almost always go this way: “Ok, so I don’t know if you have seen the Avengers or not, but if you haven’t, Samuel L. Jackson is this one guy—I forget his name—and he is good, even though he is making the other people do things they don’t want to do. Anyway, he has this ledger, but it is not an actual ledger, it is just in his head. And some people have red in their ledger, because they have done bad things. And they need to do good things to get that red taken away. But Jesus, he takes our red away by being our red!” Or something.

It takes a lot of work to even communicate an illustration from a movie clearly. The pastor has to tell a story that was conveyed visually, bring the audience up to speed on something they may or may not have seen to begin with, and then clearly draw out his point—which more than likely was not the point of original scene anyway.

It is difficult to do because a movie conveys its message visually, and over time. There are medium issues here. For a pastor to bring his people into the movie, they have to tell the plot verbally. This takes a while, is generally confusing, and unnecessarily complicated. Ultimately, even if it is told well, it is a long walk for a short drink of water.

2) People haven’t seen the movie. No matter what the movie is, there are people who haven’t seen it that are in your audience. Just because all of your friends have seen Avengers, and other Christian bloggers have declared it the best movie ever, and you have seen it three times, does not mean that all of your listeners have.

Even movies that are cultural icons have this same problem. As inconceivable as it is, there may be people listening to you that have not seen Star Wars. If you are a college pastor, you could have international students in your congregation. They didn’t grow up with HBO, and they definitely didn’t grow up with ubiquitous presence of The Christmas Story on TV. So if you use an illustration from a movie, you have to either lose some of your audience, or waste so much time in your sermon telling the story, that the whole illustration is burdensome. You have 40 minutes; do you really want to waste five of them describing some scene from a movie that probably doesn’t even help your sermon that much?

3) People have seen the movie. And when you start down the movie illustration road, for everyone in the congregation who has seen it, they are immediately critiquing your version of events. Was Samuel L. Jackson really good? Why did he lie to get others to do his bidding? Didn’t he make the Black Widow do bad things to begin with? How come she has red in her ledger, if she was made to do that interrogation anyway?

So you lose/bore the people who haven’t seen the movie, and the ones who have simply spend then next few minutes thinking of all the ways you are wrong. For movie nerds, they get offended, and immediately start wondering what else you are messing up in your sermon. You thought the point about getting red out of your ledger was cool, and that it would illuminate your point. In reality, a handful of people will agree with you, others probably made the connection without your illustration anyway, and the rest of the audience is just wondering why we’ve spent the last four minutes talking about superheroes.

4) Biblical principles in movies are a one-way street. Entertainment, movies, literature, etc., all have value and moral intelligibility as they correspond to a biblical word view. The Bible does not derive its value and moral intelligibility by corresponding to movies. In other words, this is a one-way street, and using movie illustrations in sermons is not going with the flow of traffic.

In evaluating the themes of movies, it is helpful to compare them to events in the Bible. In understanding the word view and implications of a film, obviously applying Scripture and seeing how the two correlate is essential. The Word of God is a flashlight and it illuminates the moral content of every story, even those told in 3-D. To use stories from movies to illustrate passages in the Bible is to hold the flash light backwards. Even if the light is on, and even if it is bright enough, its not going to help you see what you are looking for. The concept of the ledger from Avengers is cool because it relates to a biblical world view. But the concepts of atonement and imputation are not illuminated by comparing them cinematic superhero ledgers.

5) I also have fundamentalist issues with movies in sermons. I eschew the idea of worldly entertainment creeping into the church. I loathe the notion that the church needs producers to make God’s plot really come together. Our people live in an entertainment-driven, visually stimulating world. They are surrounded by movies, art, videos, and a 24-hour news cycle. The church on the Lord’s Day should be an island from that. It should be the place where their instruments are calibrated, and their compass aligns to True North. We should be a refuge from the world, and not act as if we need to borrow the world to make our point.

But my fundamentalism keeps going: when you use a movie illustration, you are unknowingly harnessing yourself to the moral baggage which that movie brings. Take The Christmas Story. You have only seen the TV version (and that—if you are 35-years-old, times seven viewings per Christmas—245 times). It is clean. So you use an illustration from it (materialism never delivers; remember that one time when Ralphie really, really wanted some kind of decoder ring? And he wasn’t happy when he got it?…). But you don’t realize that the actual version of the movie, the version people rent, actually has offensive language all over it. They cleaned that out for TV. And now, on the Lord’s Day, you are using an illustration from a movie that has troublesome language in it, and people in your congregation think that you must approve of that language. You probably let your kids use it too.  Finally, you also have offended not only those people, but the parents who are sitting there with their kids, who do not let their kids watch that movie. And you did all this so that you can make a lame point about materialism?

6) Using movie illustrations fosters biblical illiteracy. Instead of telling the story from Avengers to illustrate the concept of a ledger, how about a story from Kings? Or 2 Samuel? Is there a king, or maybe a general, who did bad things in his life, and who needed to make up for them before he died? Is there a captain who had red in his ledger who had others with enough merit to spare ransom him out of the penalty he deserved? Then use those illustrations instead.

7)  No, these objections don’t apply to literature. This may seem incongruous, but these same objections are not necessarily true of illustrations from literature. While certainly they can apply, often/occasionally it is helpful to illustrate points by using scenes from books, history, Shakespeare, the news, your life, etc. With movies, you are describing a visual scene verbally. With other illustrations, you are describing a written scene (or a scene from real life). That is easier to do with clarity. People don’t critique your description of the scene, because if you describe it with the same words used in the book, you are creating the same picture that was in their mind when they read it. And literature illustrations don’t cater to the lowest-common-cultural-denominator. Using an illustration from the book Braveheart avoids offending parents who don’t let their kids watch R-rated movies, while still letting you feel cool.

Just don’t say, “Mel Gibson, I mean William Wallace…”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/7-reasons-movie-illustrations-are-lame/