Add That One to the List Also

December 15, 2013
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Suicide is often a topic that gets asked of pastors because the world and the church have, in my view, taken about the same stance on it. And I find that stance to be hopelessly wrong and misleading. If suicide is committed successfully, where does that person spend eternity?

On one side of that coin, if the person’s an unbeliever before taking the steps of suicide, I believe we have every right biblically to say that person will spend eternity in hell. They died separated from God, so they shall live forever the same way.

On that other side of the coin rests uncertainty to an extent. Can a Christian commit suicide? Even if there’s evidence of being saved, does that one final selfish act of sin condemn him to hell manifesting he was never saved? What assurance must we dole out or refrain from giving to those who personally know someone who’s gone this route? And the many more questions that could be conjured up. It’s important that we get the first question right before branching out to those others.

For many years the Church has counted suicide an act of ongoing sin. It’s almost as if suicide is evidence of a person practicing sin. Well, that would only be true if said person had attempted suicide more than once. Not to be crass, but there are myriads of folks who ‘do it’ right the first time so it’s hard to fathom calling it a continual practice. Therefore, the apostle John’s words in his epistles are not helpful to solving this.

But where John comes up short, we normally fall back on either Paul or Peter. (One of these days we’ll fall back on Luke.)

Who shall separate the redeemed from the redeemer? Paul asks this question of his Roman brothers and sisters. And while being faced with this question, we must ask this of ourselves. I dare to say that as Paul riddles off things that absolutely cannot separate us from Christ that our very question is answered. But I fear that for whatever reason unbeknownst to me, that suicide has been removed from the list.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Where in this litany can suicide be either joined to or kept from this list? Suicide could be forced persecution. Suicide can be done by sword. Suicide can be done under distress. Suicide is definitely death. And yet Paul says none of these things “will be able to separate us” from our redeemer.

So the assurance we can give to members of the body as well as outsiders is this: your salvific state before suicide is what matters. It’s extremely sad when pastors of short ministry tenures or members seen in good graces commit suicide; but their position before Christ doesn’t change because they committed a sin. Why not? Because a sin committed by a saved sinner doesn’t condemn the saved person to hell. If that were the case, then surely Paul would’ve mentioned so when discussing the believers partaking in Communion in an unholy manner before God killed them. But we don’t see that expressed to us, and that’s because Christians can’t lose their salvation.

This issue is bigger than just the final act. For those who says suicide sends the once-saved person to hell is ultimately saying they were a liar, the truth wasn’t in them, Jesus didn’t cover all their sins, and this one sinful act is the only capable act possible to send the once-thought saved person to hell. May it never be! We must account for other doctrines and balance out our theology while wading through tough terrains such as this one. The cross that Jesus died upon saves to the uttermost, and within that caveat rest suicide.


Prophecy is An Old and New Thing

December 7, 2013
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Prophecy is one of those words that upon hearing you’re immediately taken to some relic picture in your mind. It’s a picture of an old man predicting future events that will come to pass. Normally he’s the only person who’s able to predict events in that town. That guy is the man of God who’s held to the biblical standards we find in Deut 13 and 18. Those two chapters seem to be the starting and stopping points for cessationists once spiritual gifts are discussed.  But the fact that it’s the stopping point is a serious problem.

As I once stood on the side of cessationism and have since moved to continuationism’s side, I constantly have to remind myself that bible revelation is progressive first, and we need to arrive at a biblical theology of these topics and doctrines second. All of this has to be done in a fair and honest way, which means we must be willing to step outside our comfort zone and circles of friends to engage in a sincere study. With that said, let’s dig into the topic of prophecy as it relates to the spiritual gifts.

Typically the refrain “NT prophecy was just for the apostolic foundation of the Church” is often hurled at continuationists left and right. And they are absolutely right. God used NT apostles in a way he hasn’t since. Why do I say that? Because they spoke many, many things that were never recorded, yet their writings were recorded and accepted as infallible. That’s nothing to sneeze at and simply move past. OT prophets said things that ultimately equated as being Scripture. Deuteronomy 13 and 18 gave Israel means to judge the spoken content of prophets and means to deal with those who spoke falsehood in the name of God. The major and minor prophets never had to prove themselves before they spoke; they simply spoke what God told them and waited for it to happen to serve as validation. How freeing is that!

But we must not forget this – these prophets stood up and spoke up claiming to hear from God. Then what they said was weighed and judged mainly by waiting to see what they predicted actually happened. That means some folks had to wait seconds, hours, days, or longer in order to see if that prophet was telling the truth or not. And every time that prophet spoke as one who heard from God, their words were weighed. It just so happens that God used certain men to speak for him to disobedient Israel to repent at various times and in various places. Let us not forget that God even used Balaam, a known proto-TBN prophet to accomplish a divine will.

Then we flip to the New Testament. Peter helps us understand that the Holy Spirit moved and spoke through the apostles and friends of apostles in 2 Peter 1:20-21. It’s helpful to pay attention to how Peter phrases prophecy:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

It’s also key to remember that everything we read in Acts isn’t recorded. Peter and John said a ton and none of it was recorded as prophetic word. Here I’d like to quote Sam Storms:

In his book Strange Fire, John MacArthur takes up the cessationist argument in this regard. In one place he asks: “If the Spirit were still giving divine revelation, why wouldn’t we collect and add those words to our Bibles?” [emphasis mine] But this is a sword on which MacArthur himself (as well as Doug Wilson) must fall. After all, he himself believes that the Spirit was giving divine revelation to the men and women, young and old, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18). MacArthur believes that the Spirit was giving divine revelation to the four daughters of Philip, all of whom prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). MacArthur believes that the Spirit was giving divine revelation to the disciples of John the Baptist who prophesied (Acts 19:1-7). And MacArthur believes the Spirit was giving divine revelation to Christians in the churches in Rome (Rom. 12), Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14), Ephesus (Eph. 4:11ff.; 1 Tim. 1:18), and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:19-22), and undoubtedly in every other church throughout the ancient world. So why, may I ask, didn’t Paul and Luke and John and others “collect and add those words” to canonical Scripture? Why is it that, aside from the two recorded prophecies of Agabus (Acts 11:27-30 and 21:10-12; have I overlooked any others?) we do not possess so much as a single, solitary syllable from all those alleged “Scripture-quality” and divinely inspired words?

Then we move to the new thing that happens in the last days based in local churches all over as justified men and women are invested with the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. This move is key because we see the office of prophet closing as the gift of prophecy is given over and over again to believers all over the world. No longer is simple to relegate prophecy to a select group of men. It’s now in both genders and it’s spreading. “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” 1 Cor 11:4-5. With this new move in the last days we see women prophesying. Now many of my cessationists brethren normally don’t account for Philip’s four daughters who are described as prophetess, but they are must account for this.

In addition to the spiritual gift of prophecy being given to believers all over the world, there looms this question of believer’s prophecies being on par with infallible Scripture. Where does this argument come from? Could it be perhaps from some divine knowledge that all OT prophets recorded everything said, or that all the NT apostles prophecy was recorded, or that those many accounts in the book of Acts were recorded for us? But we see that isn’t the case so that shouldn’t be their reasoning. Perhaps it’s the Deuteronomy chapters that cause us to think twice about this spiritual gift being genuine and continuing. But we must consider what those chapters say before assuming our favorite pastor is right on either side.

Paul tells the Corinthian, Roman, and Thessalonica church explicitly that prophecy is going on there. Keep in mind Paul’s saying this by letter which means he’s not present. There’s no other apostle on the scene when his letter arrives. He’s addressing a covenant group of believers without a NT apostle there to prophecy. This means the NT apostle prophesying church missionary and planter Paul affirms that NT prophecy is genuinely occurring in these churches. Paul tells the Thessalonian church something that Moses told Israel in the OT – weigh the prophecies you hear. It’s here we see the continuity, and it’s here we’ll see the discontinuity.

Prophecy as described in the New Testament is best defined in 1 Corinthians 14. Here are a few things Paul says about prophecy in that chapter: “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation; the one who prophesies builds up the church; Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy; The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” These are clear indications by Paul that prophecy has a prominent place in the last days NT church.

Then we see Paul instruct the church how to allow for prophecy to work as believers worship corporately. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” This may seem and sound foreign to you in your worship context, but we must remember this was brand new for the Corinthians also. They had no bounds or parameters until Paul helped set them. Now we too have those same boundaries. But how on bloody earth can we trust these prophecies?

Did you notice that Paul never told the Corinthians nor Thessalonians to completely consider these prophecies hogwash because the canon is closed, no more revelation is being given, and these men and women speaking aren’t even apostles? It’s funny how we read these texts and if we aren’t careful we’ll overlook infallible scripture as we navigate through arguments to prove our own points! May humbleness come over us all. But back to the point, Paul tells them, and us by extension, that only a certain number of people are to speak and what they say is to be weighed by the congregation. Paul then adds onto that with his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Let them speak, weigh it, keep what’s good, throw out what’s evil. This is something new. Something we never read in the OT and Israel never heard.

From these two texts, continuationists can make the argument that New Testament prophecy in the last days is not on par with OT prophecy, NT prophecy that was written down, nor Scripture. Now this is where folks begin to scratch their heads and understandably so. When you’re told over and over again that prophecy must be written down and be totally consistent with Scripture, you tend to discount if not downright reject the other side’s view. The only problem is that we don’t get that line of thinking from the Bible, but from one-sided preachers. We haven’t allowed progressive revelation to shape our doctrines and thinking.

The spiritual gift of prophecy is the NT prophecy in the last days. It’s a gift given to men and women who are redeemed, justified, and adopted into the covenant community of God’s people known as the Church. This prophecy occurs within corporate worship meetings. We are commanded to not despise prophecies nor quench the Spirit’s doing. We are commanded to let 2 or 3 speak in the worship meetings. We are commanded to weigh all that is said. We are commanded to keep and apply what is good, right, and true. We are commanded to stay away from and get rid of what is evil. By this command it’s crystal clear to see why NT prophecy in the last days is not and cannot be infallible. Paul supposes that it will have error in it. Paul supposes that someone with this spiritual gift will say something that we must not believe. Paul supposes that we all be discerning during these last days.

Now I think it’s totally understandable to see how prophecy of old is not the same as prophecy of new. More importantly, we see how the doctrine of prophecy progresses through from Genesis to Revelation, so that now we’re aware of this spiritual gift bringing about infallible revelations from redeemed men and women. Prophecy must continue as long as the Church continues and Christ hasn’t returned for his bride. “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Until then we can be assured that prophecies will be infallible and must be weighed. And this is to happen in our worship services.

Let the reader understand, he who has an ear.