A Call to Worship the Lord – Not Church

I love to read Brian LePort who blogs at Near Emmaus because he has a heart for the Lord in his writings.  However, today’s post provokes me to take exception because it extols church instead of Jesus.  He writes:

For those who are worshiping with others this morning, and for those who are not because you are experimenting with a “private religion”, let me share this thought from Eugene Peterson (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction , 175):

Among other things, Peterson says this:

“Membership in the church is a basic spiritual fact for those who confess Christ as Lord.”

By this logic, the Lordship of Jesus is denied and the kingdom of God is obscured.  Read the Sermon on the Mount and see that it is a call to personal morality, not churchgoing.  If gathering with the washed was what Jesus wanted to see, He would have extolled rather than excoriated the Pharisees.

Peterson also says:

“We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family.”

We produce righteous fruit if we walk in the light of the Lord and consider every human being as part of the family. However, if we separate ourselves to church and think that God’s family is a subset of the human race called church then we deny the full efficacy of His sacrifice (1 John 2:1-2) and make the mistake of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.

Jesus Christ is Lord over heaven and earth. May we all repent – today and every day – from our sins, that the judgments for them may not overtake us. The Lord wants righteousness from us, not churchgoing. This means purifying our hearts and truly living for Him instead of ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Related post:  We’ve Substituted Churchgoing for Righteousness

“Give Me Jesus” – for Ruth Graham

The lyrics evoke the Mary-Martha contrast of Luke 10:38-42.  Try to give this clip five undistracted minutes if you can.

I learned of this clip from Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.

The artist in the clip, Fernando Ortega, is worship leader for Anne Graham Lotz’s ministry, Give Me Jesus.  This seems to account for the Billy Graham family connection you see in the video.

You can find a simpler production of this song here.

One Million Martyrs for Christ in the Last Ten Years

On average, 270 people die every day for their faith in Christ.  This is according to “Status of Global Mission Report” published by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.  For more, see this post from Inside Catholic.  [Editorial note as of June 27, 1016: Sorry, but it appears the source page is no longer available.]

Thanks to eChurch Christian Blog from whom I first heard this sobering news.

The Septuagint Is Important

The Septuagint (often referred to as LXX) is a Greek translation of the Old Testament completed prior to the time of Christ.  While the Old Testament was originally written largely in Hebrew, the New Testament was written largely in Greek.  Furthermore, it appears that when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, it is often the Septuagint version that is being quoted.

Here’s a better, though still brief, rationale for why the Septuagint is important from Dr. William Varner and his DrIBEX ideas blog.  (Yesterday was International Septuagint Day.)

The Bible Literacy Project

The Bible Literacy Project sounds like a good idea to me.  The Bible used to be considered a literary as well as a spiritual treasure in our culture.  Today, it’s considered religious and therefore not suitable for public consumption.  If we return it to its literary status, it might regain its spiritual influence.  Who then cares about its religious influence?

This link comes courtesy of Joel Watts  at Unsettled Christianity.

Dialogue with Michael (re: Heaven and Hell)

This post is a continuation of an exchange that began as a comment on Everyone Is Going to Heaven at my blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.  Therefore, if you want to see how this dialogue began, you can go to this comment and work your way backwards through that thread.  However, assuming you just want to begin here, that is fine.

This dialogue is with Michael who writes the blog All About Gnosis and Sophia (Knowledge and Wisdom).  I’ve broken up his last message into bite-sized pieces to which I can respond.

Well, I did study Greek for a couple years.

That’s good.  You’re ahead of me.  Not knowing Greek I depend heavily on the quite literal New American Standard Bible (NASB) and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. 

And from my understanding, the root of the word Gehenna was exactly as you say. And from my studies, Sheol/Hades was where the dead awaited the general resurrection, and that even this had a barrier between the righteous and unrighteous, as in Lazarus and the rich man. This is often confused with heaven and hell/Gehenna, even though it is actually Sheol/Hades.

Yes, this is my understanding as well.

It is a spiritual place, kind of a waiting place for souls before they are raised in “new” bodies. So you are definitely right in making a distinction from Sheol/Hades and Gehenna. And you are also right about the roots of Gehenna, it was a Hebrew phrase that was simply transliterated into the Greek.

Glad we are on the same page regarding at least some of this terminology.

But what it is is not just outside of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, for that is temporary. But every time we see Gehenna mentioned, it is in reference to eternality, eternal fire and damnation, weeping and gnashing of teeth forever. So it cannot be merely just the place on earth outside the kingdom of God, it is the “place” “in” eternity apart from God and His Kingdom.

I think I can understand why you’d say that but it doesn’t seem necessary to read the New Testament that way.  For example, I take the word eternal to mean ongoing, constant, never-ending and I see that taking place on the earth.  I see no reason to postpone its meaning until some future date.  For Jesus it was imminent; for us it is reality. 

You say that in Jesus meant only salvation on earth, but how does this make sense? Given the context, I personally do not see how what He says can be interpreted in that way. Would you mind explaining how the context requires us to take it in the sense that you do?

I’m not saying the kingdom of God only applies to the earth.  It applies to all creation.  However, the reason Jesus spent so much time teaching about the kingdom of God – and it was, of course, the main subject of His teaching ministry – is because of our need to learn how to seek it, find it, and live within it while we are here on earth.  We do not need a Bible to teach us how to live in heaven; we need the Bible to teach us how to live on earth.  Whatever teaching we need in heaven will be given to us when we get there. 

You’ll note that there was no teaching in the Old Testament about how to live in Sheol.  Neither does the New Testament teach us how to live in heaven.

If we say that all of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God is about how we should live in heaven, then we make a great deal of the word of God of no effect.  That’s not a good thing.

Also, I think your notion of judgment is off a little. If there is judgment, there is a punishment involved that is handed out to the judged. What punishment is there on earth is there for those that, according to you, are living in judgment?

As I mentioned, see Deuteronomy 28 for a summary of the curses that come on the disobedient.  It was from this catalog that judgments were applied, for example, to Israel when first the Northern Kingdom and later the Southern Kingdom were destroyed.  The Lamentations of Jeremiah, for example, were in response to the curse that Israel had brought upon itself, the wrath of God that had been poured out, the indignation of God that God’s chosen people had to experience.

It seems that Jesus cleared up the idea that God inflicts harm and such upon evil people as their punishment, the story of Job does the same.

I don’t pretend to understand everything God does and I certainly don’t pronounce what is God’s judgment on a person versus what is not.  However, that wrath comes as a consequence of sin is a thoroughly biblical principle even though I see very few people today espousing it. 

What I mean here is not to say that it never happens like that, but that that is not the norm.

I not only think it’s the norm, I think it’s constant, ongoing, and never-ending.  In other words, it’s eternal.

As for repentance, what about those who never repent? On what grounds do they get into heaven? 

As it says in Romans 6:7, “he who has died is freed from sin.”  When a person dies, the blinders come off.  Of course, it’s then too late for them to improve their life on earth.  For this reason, they will experience regret and there will be judgment in heaven, too – though of a different nature than that experienced on earth.

What if they don’t want to be there?

I literally cannot conceive of a person in heaven not wanting to be there.  The world is full of temptation.  No one sins without help.  That is why people are prone to evil.  In heaven there will be no temptation.

The latter is a hypothetical that has to be answered by a universalist. For some more thoughts here, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Heaven and Hell.

I’m not sure what you want me to see in this article.

Finally, of course people don’t shout that everybody who is not a Christian is going to Hell, that would be counter-productive to the Gospel, for that is not the Good News. The Good News is that you can be saved from what we deserve, which is Hell, I think you would agree here. Also, it is unfortunate that many Christians have succumbed to the world and blend in so easily as to hardly tell a difference. Along with that, many churches try to be politically correct as well as not just tolerant of other beliefs (which means to disagree yet allow for the existence of opposing beliefs) but to accept other beliefs as just as good. Given this, churches are often not as biblical as they should be, which I am sure is one of your criticisms of them. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any out there. And if it is your argument that because nobody endorses the view of Hell that I do out loud, or that not enough do, that is fallacious reasoning. It has no bearing on the truth value of the proposition, whether it is held, endorsed, or taught.

You are quite right that the fact that few churches, pastors, and theologians today warn about an afterlife of hell does not have any bearing on whether such teaching is biblical or not.  My point is, given their behavior, to question whether they themselves believe in it.  After all, if you really thought that the majority of the human race, including many people you know, were going to have an afterlife of never-ending physical and psychological torture you would set aside all other interests in order to warn them.  You wouldn’t talk about the Super Bowl, you would wouldn’t read the newspaper, you would have movie night.  All other interests but warning people about hell would subside as meaningless in the light of a potential infinity of pain. 

In closing, I have taught on Preterism at church for our youth group, as well as the other parousia positions like Future Preterism, Historical Preterism(you), Partial vs. Full Preterism, along with Millenialism, Amillenialism, Premillenialism, and Post-Millenialism. So the views themselves are not new to me.

Then you probably know more about the details of these various positions than I do.  As I mentioned, I have not spent much time studying these different points of view though I am aware of them.

However, that preterism was the dominant view of the early church was not something I found in my research.

I wasn’t meaning to suggest that.  Rather, I was making the point that Premillennialism and Dispensationalism, which together account for almost all of the “last days” hysteria that humanity has seen, is a fairly recent phenomenon in church history (generally, the 18th Century to today).  To find this sort of expectation in an imminent return of Christ prior to that you have to go back to the New Testament church itself.  There indeed, there was the expectation that Christ’s return would be in their generation.  Subsequent to that generation, the expectation lapsed into relative dormancy until the more recent times that I have mentioned. 

Many did think Jesus would return within their generation, maybe even Paul for a time. But as people began to die and stuff, they realized that they must have been wrong.

I can’t imagine such a thing.  By that, I mean that I cannot conceive of Jesus and His apostles being wrong about something they had been so specific and adamant about.  From one end of the New Testament to the other, the coming of the Lord is deemed to be an imminent event, to occur before the generation of Jesus’ contemporaries had completely expired.  It was not a minor issue for them, nor should it be for us.  If they were wrong, we would have to say they are false prophets. 

Certainly you have seen people in our age – cults, they are usually called – who proclaim that “the end is about to occur.”  Such cults lose all credibility when the prophesied time comes and goes with no bang.  The judgment of humanity can’t be any different for Jesus and the apostles. 

The good news is that there were not wrong.  They were absolutely right about everything that they said.  They were not false prophets – they were true! 

The majority of early church fathers, according the stuff I read up on, believed that the general resurrection would occur at the second coming, the judgment would follow that, and then the “New Heaven/New Earth.”

The new heaven and earth came with the Second Coming.  It was that new creation that did away with Sheol and changed the destination of the dead from Sheol to Heaven.

I listen to early church fathers and care about what they say.  But their words cannot be put on a par with those of Jesus and the apostles.  It is the Bible that must prevail – not the opinions of subsequent generations.

This is not Full Preterism as you endorse.

As I mentioned, I am not fully schooled in Preterism and all its forms.  I was only using the term in its general meaning, and not endorsing any particular school of thought.

They seemed to think that He had not come back yet, though some thought that they were indeed in the “end times” based upon Jesus prediction about the destruction of the Temple, but many of the other things that were supposed to pass didn’t/haven’t.

Again, it’s inconceivable to me that some of what Jesus prophesied did not occur when He was clear that all these things would occur in that generation (Matthew 24:34), and the apostles corroborated this point with many references – most notably some of the epistles which indicated that they had, by the time those epistles were written,  “come down to the wire.”

Along these lines, and you may discuss it elsewhere and if so you could point me to it, Paul addresses the question of what will happen to the dead when Jesus returns. The worry here seems to be that the bodies may be beyond repair for a resurrection due to deterioration. Paul assures them saying that the dead will rise first after the Lord returns accompanied by a loud voice and the trumpet of the archangel, and only after that will those who are still living be called to meet them in the clouds.

Yes, I deal with 1 Corinthians 15 in The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

First, this is evidence for the belief that Paul recognized that Jesus was not coming ASAP since he was addressing what would happened to the dead in Christ.

I don’t see anything in 1 Corinthians 15 that indicates Paul is changing his view of when the resurrection was coming.  We who have lived subsequent to the apostolic generation have divided up the coming of the Lord into many separate events, but we have done so without warrant.  Paul and the other apostles saw the coming of the Lord as imminent as they did the resurrection of the dead…because the two events were one and the same event (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). 

Second, it seems to be in opposition to Preterism in that the Second Coming always seems to be talked of as if there will be great fanfare, and that all will see Him coming on the clouds and it will be glaringly obvious. If His return was glaringly obvious, why is Full Preterism such a minority view? 

There was indeed fanfare of the greatest and highest order – in the spiritual dimension.  Spiritual things are greater than physical things, and therefore the spiritual Second Coming of Jesus Christ was greater than a physical coming would have been.

Not to mention, there is no literature in the late first, early second centuries endorsing the idea that Christ had returned. If they didn’t know/think that He had at that time, why should we?

I have not had the time nor the resources to make a detailed investigation of that period, so I am not prepared to agree that “no literature exists” which supports this point.  If we are to believe the apostles, much of the church leadership was corrupt that the end of the New Testament age and they would certainly not have been as sensitive to a spiritual Second Coming.  Even if, however, no literature could be found, it would not prove that the Lord did not return then as He said, nor would it even prove that no one at the time believed it.  It would only prove we’d have no record of people on earth attesting to it.

I do think church history since, at least up until the time that Dispensationalism gained sway, attached much more prophetic significance to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that Christianity at large does today – a point which your statement seems to obscure (even if it was not intended to do so). 

The view that He was coming back that early was mostly abandoned even by the time the Gospel of John was written it seems.

It does not seem so to me.  In fact, I see the hope in Christ’s coming again quite vibrant in verse like John 14:3 (“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself”) and John 21:22 (“If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”).

It’s true that John doesn’t repeat the Olivet Discourse which was so prominent in the synoptics, but then John’s purpose was largely to present a different kind of gospel that did not merely repeat the others.  Assuming that He also wrote the epistles of John and the book of Revelation, his narrative is quite consistent – and no one could be more insistent on the imminent return of the Lord that the one who wrote “Children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18) and the fivefold exclamation of a right-on-the-verge return in Revelation 22.

Michael, if you want to continue the dialogue, just reply here and we’ll continue exchanging thoughts.