...and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23).

An online interactive spiritual publication for the strengthening and building up of the Kingdom.

02 September 2010

The Unholy Trinity

For some time now we have heard dire warnings about the "faith crisis" in America. Even though our country continues to grow in population, church membership and attendance, on the whole, remains flat or in decline. Warnings are sounded about the dangers that come from so many atheists and others in our society who seek to denigrate God and anyone who would believe in Him.

While it is true that there are such people out there, their numbers are few-- around 2 to 9% of the population. Others may believe in God but not in Christ or Christianity and have hard feelings against Christianity and/or Christians. Yet such people are not that much more populous-- no more than 20% of the population.

Statistics reveal that about 82% or so of Americans believe not only in God but also that Jesus is His Son. Slightly fewer (78%) agree with the premise that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not the picture that is normally presented about America; then again, we should remember that it is conflict and sensational claims that sell books and get promoted on television and in movies, and therefore we should not be surprised that the reality does not seem to be as dire as the promoted story.

Nevertheless, the statistics should give us pause. If over three-quarters of Americans believe in Jesus and even the resurrection, where are they? Many, no doubt, are active in denominations and their assemblies. But that still leaves plenty of people who believe and yet are not affiliated with any church and/or infrequently, if ever, attend any assemblies of churches. Considering the message of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture, how can this be? What leads to so many people professing the faith without abiding by its substance?

At least part of the reason can be found in what we will deem the "unholy trinity." The unholy trinity represents the combination of three pernicious doctrines that have, at some level, led to the spiritual inertia and malaise that affects America today. These doctrines are faith only, ecumenism, and "once saved, always saved."

The first doctrine is faith only. "Faith only" comes about during the Reformation as a distortion of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith. Paul did teach that since everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23), no man is able to be justified before God based on his works, merit, or attempts to keep law (Romans 1:18-3:21). Man cannot atone for his own sin. Nevertheless, Paul demonstrated that the proper response of faith in God in Christ demanded obedience to the truth (Romans 1:5, 2:5-11, 6:1-23); the Reformers distorted this into the doctrine of faith only, excluding any concept of works or obedience as necessary for salvation. According to the doctrines of faith only, God is the only Actor: He provides the means of salvation in Christ, He provides believers with faith, He compels them toward righteousness through the Spirit, and so on and so forth. It is an understandable reaction against the excesses of Roman Catholicism but is a distortion of the Gospel message, and flatly contradicted by Acts 2:36-38, Romans 1:5, 6:1-23, 1 Peter 1:22, and a host of other passages.

These days people hear preachers from Protestant and Evangelical churches in churches and on television telling them that all they need to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. A suggested "sinner's prayer" is often given that "converts" can pray and thus "accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior" and "accept Jesus into their hearts." Sure, most of these preachers will suggest, perhaps even strongly, that believers need to live like Christ did, avoiding sin and clinging to the good, but they would never make it an imperative. To make becoming Christlike an imperative would be adding "works" to Christ's "finished work."

People get this message from friends and neighbors, past church experiences, or through television or other media. This "cheap grace" is very enticing and seductive-- all you need to do is believe! Accept the premise that Jesus is the Christ and Lord and you will be saved! That's all you need to do! Many prove willing to do that-- but nothing more. There is no real incentive toward growth and development as disciples of Christ because it is not made strictly necessary. No wonder, then, that people can profess Jesus Christ and yet never darken the door of any church building or actively grow in their belief system-- they do not have to! After all, if all you need to do is believe that Jesus is the Christ, why bother with anything else in Christianity?

We then come to ecumenism. There are two strands to ecumenism: "general" ecumenism and Evangelical ecumenism. The latter seems to have come first. In the wake of the "Second Great Awakening" in nineteenth-century America, while doctrinal differences remained among groups like the Methodists, the Holiness churches, the Baptists, and the like, they began to develop an uneasy peace with each other. They would present their versions of truth without necessarily condemning one another to hell, yet most remained uneasy with Roman Catholicism and the "mainline Protestant" denominations.

Around a hundred years ago the "general" ecumenical movement began to pick up steam as different "Christian" denominations wanted to work out whatever differences they could and to work together according to their understanding of Jesus' petitions in John 17:20-23.

The ecumenical movement has powered through the twentieth and early twenty-first century with great steam. Now most denominations agree that the doctrinal disputations among them involve matters of "liberty," and thus they are free to "agree to disagree," while they are in agreement on "essential" matters. It is too bad that the definitions of "liberty" and "essential matters" are not based on God's definitions (cf. Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:6-9). Nevertheless, since most denominations are "on board," the voices proclaiming the need to follow the One True Faith are fewer and denigrated as divisive, contrary to the spirit of unity, and cantankerous.

This ecumenical movement has led to greater "acceptance" and "tolerance" of members of churches of Christ. The number believing we are some kind of "cult" has diminished; many books now speak of churches of Christ as part of this "greater church" despite its distinctive doctrines. Nevertheless, ecumenical forces work to negate the call for the restoration of New Testament Christianity and the appeal to be of the same mind and judgment based in the Scriptures.

Most people who believe do not know much about ecumenism or the ecumenical movement but they certainly believe that "we are all the same." Under ecumenism, the difference between churches of Christ, Baptist churches, the Roman Catholic church, and other churches is akin to the differences between the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, and the church in Jerusalem. Each denomination has its distinctive heritage that has "value" in the "greater church," according to this viewpoint. In such a climate, one can hear the message that, say, faith alone is not according to Scripture, and yet remain free to "agree to disagree." Evangelistic efforts are thus directed toward unbelievers, "cultists," or members of other religions; it is seen as bad form to proselytize members of other denominations.

We should not wonder, therefore, why it is difficult to gain an audience about the importance of following God according to the New Testament. If all churches are the same, after all, why does anyone need to truly investigate New Testament Christianity?

The final dogma in this unholy trinity is "once saved, always saved." This doctrine derives directly from faith only, as its adherents often promote: if you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to lose it.

In reality, "once saved, always saved" is an offshoot of the Calvinist system. In Calvinism, the idea of the perseverance of the saints follows logically from its earlier principles: man's sin and inability to seek God on his own (total depravity), God thus specifically chooses whom He will save (unconditional election), the chosen ones will come to faith (irresistible grace), and they are the select few (limited atonement). Thus, the particular chosen ones will be saved no matter what (perseverance of the saints). Calvinism has a ready answer for any who fall into sin and depart from the faith: they were never really part of the elect.

Many evangelical preachers in the nineteenth century objected to the heart of the Calvinist system (unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement), but firmly preached its bookends (total depravity, perseverance of the saints). Thus we have the modern Evangelical synthesis: man is sinful by himself. He must hear God's message, and accept Jesus into his heart through the "sinner's prayer." Once he has been saved there is nothing he can do to lose his salvation. Some will go so far as to say that people who become agnostic or atheist, explicitly rejecting and insulting Jesus, will still be saved if they believed in Him when they were younger!

"Once saved, always saved" is a theologically half-baked argument based on faulty premises. This is evident if an adherent is questioned about what will happen to a Christian mentioned above or who is caught in some other gross sin without repentance. All kinds of answers are given, and all the answers cheapen the idea of "salvation" terribly. "Once saved, always saved" is powerfully refuted by Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among other passages. We must add that "if saved, barely saved" is no better a doctrine than its contrast-- believers can have assurance in their standing before God, but only when they are seeking to walk as Christ walked and to do His commandments (1 John 1:5-5:21).

If "faith only" is a seductive and enticing doctrine, how much more the idea of "once saved, always saved!" It is a powerful narcotic-- no matter what you do or what happens to you, you will be saved. This doctrine is greatly cherished by its adherents, and the truth of the matter is a bitter pill to swallow in comparison.

Many people hear about "once saved, always saved" through preachers on television or in churches, from friends, or in the media. It sounds quite alluring and satisfies the carnal, worldly mind. All you need to do is believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and no matter what happens, you will be saved! How great is that!

"Once saved, always saved" is a powerful disincentive for true faith and discipleship. Why follow the moral guidelines of Christianity if you are saved no matter what? Why bother getting up on Sunday mornings, or why bother sitting in a stuffy auditorium when you can be elsewhere, if you are saved regardless? Why bother investing any effort into faith or Christianity when you are saved whether you do or whether you do not?

As bad as each element of the unholy trinity is, when we put all three together, we truly have a Satanically designed monster. We find that people believe that they all they need to do is believe to be saved, and then they are saved no matter what. Furthermore, since all Christians are the same, your difference in opinion will barely impact their belief system. What can we say? If we emphasize what God in Christ teaches about baptism and obedience (cf. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-23), we will hear the dogmas of faith only and how we cannot work for our salvation. If we proclaim the distinctive truths of the New Testament church and the need to teach the first century Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), we will hear that we are all the same, an influence from ecumenism. If we warn about the condemnation coming to those who prove disobedient to God (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), we are told that once a person is saved, they are saved no matter what.

In such a climate the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is left unheeded because it represents an entirely different picture of faith and reality than is presented by the unholy trinity, and one fraught with far more uncertainty and challenge. The idea of mandated obedience is strange for the one accepting faith only. The importance of distinctive doctrines seems foreign to the one raised in ecumenism. Concern about the condemnation of Christians is strange to one believing in once saved, always saved. It is a lot easier to believe that we are saved by faith only, that all Christians are the same, and that we will be saved no matter what. These doctrines are much more comforting and much less controversial.

And that is exactly what Satan, the god of this world, intends (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has blinded the eyes of millions in America and around the world. This is the environment in which we must continue to preach the Gospel from of old. Faith alone never has saved and never will save (James 2:14-26); yet faith alone sounds great and makes fewer demands than obedience. Much of the New Testament-- especially Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 2-3-- are nonsensical if all churches are the same and doctrine does not really matter; yet ecumenism will remain popular as long as "tolerance" is the name of the game. Far too many who accepted "once saved, always saved" will learn too late that doing the will of the Father was also necessary (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); yet it remains a powerful narcotic and a most wonderful lie.

The truth is comparatively more bitter, more challenging, and more controversial. No one has ever been saved by a lie, and that will prove true on the day of Judgment. We must accept and proclaim the truth because it is true, and because God will lead those who live according to the truth in love to eternity in the Kingdom of Christ (2 Peter 1:11, 2 John 1:5-6)!

Perhaps it is clearer now why so many millions believe and yet do not practice Christianity. The unholy trinity provides all kinds of disincentives to believe and accept God's truths. Nevertheless, let us stand firm in God's truth despite its challenges and proclaim them to all in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry
September 2010

02 August 2010

Institutional Skepticism

Currently, the amount of institutional skepticism in our country seems to be increasing. Politically, citizens are highly skeptical of government. There seems to be a major disconnect between politicians and citizens. Citizens feel as if their voices are ignored by the government. Religiously, there are almost daily news stories about the Catholic church's involvement in the cover-up of pedophile priests. The result has been an increasing skepticism of the institution of the Catholic church. Financially, Wall Street is despised. Wall Street has been largely to blame for our country's current economic conditions. People have become extremely distrustful of the financial sector.

One by-product of institutional skepticism has been its negative impact on religion. Religious institutions are viewed through the same cultural lens as governmental and financial institutions. They are big, powerful, corrupt, and mysterious. This negative view of religion has contributed to an increasing number of people claiming to be "spiritual" as opposed to "religious." Being religious carries the connotation of involvement with a religious institution. Someone who is considered to be spiritual has little or no involvement with religious institutions. Most polls have found about thirty-three percent of Americans describe themselves as spiritual. Using current statistics, some have predicted there will be a higher percentage of people classifying themselves as spiritual-Americans than those classifying themselves as Christian-Americans by 2050.

Incidentally, readers may be skeptical of this statistic; however, this attitude presents a challenge for members of the Lord’s church. God has placed the responsibility of evangelizing the lost to Christians (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4). The goal of evangelism, teaching the Gospel, is to persuade people to become members of the church. Why? Paul wrote of the church,
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).

Following the end of the world and the final judgment, the church is going to be the single group saved from eternal damnation.

Certainly, there is a need for people to become spiritually minded. Paul instructed us to place our affection on spiritual matters (Colossians 3:1-3). We must be spiritually centered people for our worship to praise God (John 4:24). However, we cannot be spiritually minded as God considers this mindset without being members of the Lord's church. We need the church for our eternal salvation. Without the church, we will be lost.

As members of the Lord's church on earth, we are expected to come together to worship and work together. When this gathering occurs, a local congregation or group of the Lord’s people is formed. God has given this group structure. It is comprised of elders, deacons, preachers, and teachers (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Ephesians 4:11). Collectively, the group worships and works together. We cannot absence ourselves from this unit and be accepted before God. We cannot defend our absence by declaring we are spiritual, not religious.

Much of the religious climate of our country deemphasizes the church. Generally, there the problem does not rest with what is taught. The problem rests with what is not taught and not said. Teaching and preaching focuses on how to solve the problems of life: how Jesus can make us happy. Our self-centered culture is highly reflected in the content of our teaching and preaching. When was the last time you spoke about the church to someone? When was the last time you listened to a sermon explaining the church and its purpose in eternal redemption? Paul described the church as being God's way of expressing His eternal wisdom and forethought to humanity:
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:9-11).
How can any honestly believe they can be saved without the church? How dare any undermine its paramount spiritual significance.

Unfortunately, in some regards, the institutional skepticism is warranted. Local churches have had problems with corruption of its members and leadership over the years. However, this corruption is not a reflection of the divinely established, God ordained institution: the church. Corruption is a reflection of sinful human beings. Christians, members of the church, are fallible. We can acknowledge our own fallibility. However, God expects us to keep ourselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22). If each member of the church does this, the church will collectively become pure.

As members of the church, we have our work cut out for us. There are a number of obstacles we must help people overcome to obey the Gospel. Institutional skepticism is just another of these obstacles. People must be made aware of what the Bible teaches about the necessity of the church. Let us all do our part to persuade others to become members of the church. God will give the increase.

David Flatt
August 2010

24 July 2010

BR: "America's God" by Mark Noll

For those who would like to know more about the development of the theology of the United States of America, I recommend this book heartily. It is extremely eye-opening.

America's God portrays the development of American theology from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, the great formative period that has led to so much of the current American religious landscape.

The story begins with the state of American religion in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, demonstrating how American Christianity had not essentially changed much from European Christianity. One important facet from this period is to note the Puritans of Massachusetts, and particularly their nation-covenant theology, the idea that as God covenanted with the nation Israel, so He was now in covenant with the entire people. Jonathan Edwards was part of a great change in the Puritan belief system, closing the communion to professing Christians as opposed to leaving it open to the community, representing a shift away from that nation-covenant system to a more "evangelical," belief-based system.

The next phase of the narrative-- the eighteenth century-- tells the simultaneous stories of the decline in American religion, with the advancement of Universalism especially among the elite that would comprise the "founding fathers," along with the beginnings of the vast "evangelical" movement that would eventually explode in the antebellum nineteenth century. This, of course, is the critical period that is so highly contested today, for the "intent of the founding fathers" is a great motivator in many a discussion about the future of America.

What is of greater interest, at least in the history of theology, is the working out of the peculiarities of the American Christianity that developed at the end of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. The peculiarity was based on the general tenets of common-sense moral reasoning, picked up from the Scottish school, the acceptance and promulgation of republicanism and its language, and distrust of any inherited authority save the Bible. These ideas-- which seem so normative now in Christianity-- were really revolutionary. It was not believed by anyone, really, before the 1760s that Christians could live in a republican society. Even after the Reformation the majority of "churches" maintained hierarchial structures that kept the Bible and its interpretation in the hands of the elites. "Liberty," "freedom," "virtue," and many other terms had entirely different meanings than they do now.

Against all odds, the United States experiment was working, and the first half of the nineteenth century saw the explosion of evangelicalism and conversion. Various denominations set out to convert the country, and were largely successful in their efforts. The revivals and meetings of this period led to thousands of conversions to various denominations.

Noll then spends much time examining two particular groups-- the Calvinists and the Methodists-- and their developments and changes throughout the period between 1790 and 1860. In regards to the Calvinists, a clear progression away from the Westminster confessions and the inherited Augustinian system is perceived, all aiming towards conformity to the values of commonsense moral reasoning and the freedom of will. The Methodists provide an interesting story, beginning with an intense drive to evangelize, remaining essentially apolitical and conversion-centered, and then a period of entrenchment and conformity to the republican language of America and American denominational systems of seminaries, publications, and development in theology.

The final part of the book examines the Civil War and how it represented the crisis of American theology. Based on the above tendencies, most American religious groups were united in a "literal, Reformed hermeneutic," taking the Bible for exactly what it said and believing all of it to be relevant to the modern day. When the matter of slavery is brought forth in this system, conflict was almost impossible to avoid: it was certainly Biblically justifiable, and therefore according to the hermeneutic of the day was a necessity. Those who opposed slavery, while holding some form of "moral high ground," could not, with the current Biblical hermeneutic, provide a truly Biblical argument against the practice. Therefore the matter was resolved with bullets, and led to the belief fragmentation that continues on.

Noll also noted how Lincoln, despite not being one of the educated theological elite of the day, brought forth the most profound theological reflections on the Civil War, far more developed than the majority of the theologically trained citizens of the day. What perhaps would be more astounding to us was the nature of his reflections-- the idea that maybe America is not the chosen land of the chosen people, and perhaps God is not on one side or the other side of the Civil War conflict. With these observations Lincoln was able to transcend the North/South perspective difference that led to such sectarianism in not only politics but also religion.

The above does not really do much justice for Noll's magisterial work, but it represents a very short synopsis of the story presented. It is a very engaging and profitable read.

Based on my reading, I would like to offer the following thoughts.

1. Religion and perspective. Noll does an excellent job of contextualizing American religion into the American culture of the day, and demonstrates well how religion both shaped the culture and was shaped by the culture.

One major problem of religion, especially in America, is when religion and perspective get confused. The Bible was not revealed only to Americans. Many of the attitudes and perspectives we hold are not from the Bible but from the social milieu into which we were born.

Noll's best example of this was the race question. Although in sermon after sermon before the Civil War, many evangelists spoke of the "inferiority of the black people," no one actually defended this concept Biblically. The race question drove the slavery issue, yet no perspicacious pro-slavery, or even anti-slavery, advocate, ever questioned this belief or its foundation. What society determined, religion justified, and the results were terrible and abhorrent.

2. The "literal, Reformed" hermeneutic. Perhaps one of the greatest fallacies-- and one that proved fatal-- of American religion of the nineteenth century was the excessive literalism and application of the Bible. It was reasoned that since the Patriarchs owned slaves and Leviticus legislated slavery, slavery was not only acceptable but was pleasing to God. Such attitudes led many to look toward the "spirit" of the Bible to get away from slavery, and has probably in large part led to the modern attitude of "spirit" to the detriment of truth. The problem is not really with interpreting the Bible literally for the most part, but more with the application of the interpretations. First and foremost, the New Testament demonstrates that the old covenant has been superceded by the new (Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 2:14-17, Hebrews 7-9), and so therefore what the Patriarchs did or what Leviticus said is not bound upon Christians. Secondly, distance must always be preserved between the text and the reader, made necessary by the fact that the New Testament was written to first century congregations. This separation should not lead us to forsake the practices commanded of Christians, but should help us to recognize that certain social paradigms of the first century need not be replicated in the twenty-first. The New Testament presents an apoliticial and asocial message: it does not call for political or social change, but that all people in whatever circumstance they find themselves in should seek the spiritual kingdom. Therefore, the Biblical acceptance of the Roman slave system is more about not violating social norms than it is about establishing how later societies should be run. It is one thing to say that the Bible shows that there can be masters and slaves; it is entirely another thing to say that the Bible commands, or that God desires, such systems.

This should be a warning to all Christians to not be so excessive in interpretation that one is found advocating something that God is not concerned about in the least, or saying that God desires something that God merely accepts as existing. It is tragic that the result of the problems with this particular hermeneutic has led many to go the other way and not respect the authority of the Scriptures, yet the abuses of the previous system cannot go overlooked.

3. Covenant. A major theme of American religious consciousness in the discussed period, as it is even now, is the idea of America as the Promised Land and its people as God's chosen people. This concept began with the Puritans and their nation-covenant theology, and while in practice it did not continue, as an ideology it is still pervasive.

This belief system is based on a far-too-close parallel with Israel of old, and, in truth, America probably parallels Israel's history far too closely. Regardless, Christ on the cross negated this system and the physical covenant system. The new covenant is a spiritual covenant with spiritual people toward spiritual ends. The greatest fault in denominationalism through the millennia has been the physicalizing of the covenant based on the previous covenant with Israel.

The New Testament is clear: Christians are members of a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36, Colossians 1:3), and Christians are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). There is no hint of any nation covenant or any particular nation being God's people from the New Testament, yet plenty of lands and countries have claimed as much.

Lincoln's ideas were more toward the truth: America is not the Promised Land, and Americans are not God's chosen people. Yes, many Americans seek the promised land of Heaven, and many Americans are God's chosen people, but not because they are Americans in America. It is because they are Christians obeying their Lord and seeking His promise.

America could use the humility inherent in recognizing that it's not inherently a promised land or a chosen people. We can only hope denominations begin to make that clear.

4. American Language and Christian language. Another matter of great consequence has been the appropriation of American language in Christian theology. In America, the parallel between the two is assumed and not greatly questioned, and this has led to what is, in the end, an unholy synthesis.

Before America, "freedom" in Christianity was spoken of in terms of "freedom from", as it ought to be. In the New Testament, Christians are not set free to license. Christians are set free from death, from sin, from the Law of Moses, from bondage. Romans 6 presents the truth of the matter succinctly: Christianity allows one to be freed from the shackles of sin to serve righteousness. It is not a license to do whatever, but freedom from evil.

America, however, defined "freedom" in terms of license. The Revolution was fought in the spirit of Lockean and Enlightenment concepts of freedom, virtue, and liberty. Freedom from British oppression was gained by blood; freedom was enshrined in the founding documents of the nation. In America, you were free to do as you pleased as long as it did not injure any person or the state. This concept of freedom entered into Christianity, and voila: we now have plenty of denominations advocating the American concept of freedom in religious matters and act as if they are using Biblical language. "Freedom" certainly is a concept in the New Testament; whether "freedom" there is as Americans have defined the term is far more debatable.

Similar things are true with "liberty," which in America is fought for and highly prized, yet in Christianity is to be sacrificed at a whim for the unity in the faith (Romans 15:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:1-4). To fight for a liberty is honorable in America; in Christianity, it is deplored as selfishness.

We must always be concerned about our language to make sure that we do not corrupt the truth of God based on our societal values.

It is not my intent to make America look bad or act as if our freedoms in this country are evil; far from it. Nor is it my desire to make it seem as if America hopelessly corrupted religion; again, far from it. If you take the long view, looking over the entire history of Christianity, America in many ways allowed for Christianity to return to its original state, since for the first time in over 1500 years the state did not impose one denominational concept upon all the people, and Christianity could get away from the hierarchialized, world-conforming forms it had taken for the majority of the medieval and early modern periods. Christianity again could be a politically and earthly disinterested group of spiritual people striving for Heaven by obeying their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, as with all societies, America and its freedom poses certain stumbling-blocks that are unique to its experience. While we ought to be thankful for the benefits our country provides us, we ought not be so naive or delusional to think that American cultural and social beliefs are precisely like New Testament beliefs. America's God can help us see what is culture from what is religion in America, and can assist us in holding fast to the latter while being wary of the former.

Ethan R. Longhenry
May 2007

BR: "The Rapture Exposed" by Barbara Rossing

When reality is not good enough- or not persuasive enough- realistic fiction will often be used to convince people of a position. This tendency has worked wonders for those who espouse premillennialism with the Left Behind series written by LaHaye and Jenkins. The premillennialists have certainly seemed to gain a major victory with those books over the past few years, and even though they loosely claim to be fiction, not a few have followed after the premillennial view on account of the influence of these books. Even those who are not convinced are asking many questions because of the contents of these books, and often these people receive entirely unsatisfactory answers and therefore buy in to the premillennial view of Revelation and other texts.

In this climate it is good to see challenging responses to this premillennialist trend, and Barbara Rossing's The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation in many ways does a great service in combating the spread of premillennialism.

While I have many disagreements with some of what the author has said, and such will be discussed later, I am pleased to report how she has done very well at refuting many of the claims of the premillennialists and has done well to expose premillennialism for the recent fabrication that it is. She spends the first couple of chapters speaking about the dangerous consequences of premillennialism and its origins. She demonstrates clearly how premillennialism is not two millennia old but two centuries old- originating in the thought patterns of John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren and receiving popularity from the Scofield Bible. Far from being a harmless oddity, premillennialism is also exposed for how it has governed American foreign policy in the highly factious area of Israel, has led to apathetic attitudes toward maintenance of the environment, and, most importantly, has posited a return of Christ that is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the presentation of Jesus Christ throughout the rest of the New Testament.

She spends those chapters and the next two chapters analyzing the Biblical claims of the premillennial position. She rightly demonstrates how the idea of the rapture, time gaps in the prophecies of Daniel, and the seven-year tribulation are not present in the Scriptures, and also demonstrates how the hodgepodge interpretive methodology of the premillennialists is inherently flawed.

While those refutations are well and good, perhaps the best thing about Barbara Rossing's work is how she does not just show why premillennialism is false but also presents an alternative view of Revelation that is, on the whole, more consistent with the rest of the New Testament than the standard premillennial view, as she does in the rest of the book. As opposed to wrenching the book of Revelation out of the first century Asia Minor context in which it was written, as premillennialists are wont to do, Rossing firmly keeps the context in view and posits how John presents a message of hope to the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor in the late first century. Furthermore, Rossing demonstrates the limited view of the nature of prophecy as believed by premillennialists- prophecy is not a fixed view of what must come, but a warning to repent so that what is prophesied will not come upon the people. She uses the persuasive example of Jonah, who prophesied a message that did not come to pass because of the repentance of the Assyrians; I would add also the prophesyings of Paul in Acts 27. When the purpose of the book of Revelation is considered- to encourage the saints of Asia Minor in the late first century- and the understanding of the nature and purpose of John's vision as just explained are combined, it becomes extremely clear why premillennialism is a dangerous fallacy.

Rossing also works with the details of the imagery along with parallels in the Old Testament prophets to present some viable views on what exactly John is talking about. John constantly uses language and imagery from the prophets of old, and his message against Rome is spoken in many of the same terms as Isaiah's against Assyria and Babylon. Rossing particularly focuses on John's reversal of the idea of nike, victory. The idea of victory and conquering by military prowess was deified in Rome, and Rossing explains how John uses the idea of victory to show how the victory will really be God's in the end. While Rome may vaunt in their current victories, God will be the end victor against Rome. Likewise, Rossing focuses on John's quick change in Revelation 5 from referring to Jesus as the Lion to Jesus as the Lamb, and how from then on Jesus is not portrayed as the Lion but the Lamb. The image of the Lamb as the powerful ruler of the universe overthrows normal conceptualizations of power, just as Jesus' teaching of the last being first overthrew standard conceptions of power in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 19:30). Overall, Rossing presents many views of Revelation that are more consistent with the New Testament and the first century Mediterranean world than what the premillennialists would posit.

Unfortunately, however, Rossing's strong disagreement with the premillennialist view has led her to go to the opposite extreme. Rossing stands in the liberal Protestant tradition, and such is made evident by many of her positions. In the first chapter she rejects any notion of the destruction of the world, emphasizing God's promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21, rejecting any harmonization of the two statements of God, first promising to not destroy the world and then qualifying it by saying "not to destroy with water" in Genesis 9:11, and casually dismissing any references to 2 Peter 3:9-10. The destruction of the earth and the transformation of mankind is made evidence from 2 Peter 3:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 15, and Rossing does not provide suitable evidence to lead to the conclusion that we should dismiss the fact that God qualifies the promise in Genesis 9:11 and also that 2 Peter 3:9-10 cannot mean what it says it means. Furthermore, while she does well in emphasizing and demonstrating the fact that Revelation is a vision when exegeting chapters 4 through 20, her approach suddenly becomes much more literal when speaking of chapters 21 and 22. Her belief of a "New Jerusalem" on earth, the idea that the end of time will see the renewal of the earth we are presently on, and that such will be our home (as it would seem from the Epilogue), run afoul of the vision of the Judgment and then Heavenward trip of the redeemed in Matthew 25:31-40 and the reward of Heaven waiting for us as indicated in 1 Peter 1:4. Rossing would do well to continue to see Revelation 21-22:6 as part of the visions that John saw, resist the temptation to interpret them on a more literal plane than the previous chapters, and to use the reference points of Revelation 21:2 and 21:9 which indicate that the vision of the new Jerusalem is indeed a picture of the Kingdom of God, the Bridegroom of Christ, manifested on earth as His church. The Bible makes it clear that while the creation is good, man has corrupted the earth, and the Kingdom of God cannot be established on the earth in any physical way (Romans 1-5, Colossians 1:13, John 18:36, Revelation 1:6).

Despite these difficulties, The Rapture Exposed does a good service in pointing out many of the problems with the premillennialist viewpoint and can be of some assistance in determining a more consistent and Biblical view of Revelation. It is unfortunate that Barbara Rossing's liberal Protestant heritage has led her to go toward the opposite extreme and deny the impending destruction of all matter and the glorification of the saints to Heaven. In the end, a great service has been done to counter the claims of premillennialism, but yet the Bible be true, and let us consider its message for us.

Ethan R. Longhenry
February 2007

Revelation and the Mark of the Beast

The book of Revelation and the imagery contained therein is a popular subject in our society, as it has been ever since John penned his visions. One of the most popular of the visions involve the "beast" and the "mark of the beast", concerning which there has been no end of speculation. The "mark of the beast" derives from Revelation 13:16-18:
And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead; and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six.
For two thousand years people have been trying to establish what the "mark of the beast" is. It has been almost universally interpreted to be something present in society, be it from the fifth century, fifteenth century, or now in the twenty-first century. Is this what John (or Jesus) intended with the Revelation?

There are some important things for us to establish. First of all, the "Antichrist" is never mentioned in the Revelation; the concept is imported from 1 John 2. He is also identified with the "son of perdition" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, never mind that the "mystery of lawlessness" was already at work in the first century (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Revelation is just that-- a revelation, a vision which John saw while "in the Spirit" (Revelation 1:10, 9:17). We do not doubt that John "literally" saw the images he describes; the question, however, is what the images represent.

In order to be good Bible students, we must first understand the context and purpose of anything written in the New Testament. We must establish who is writing, to whom they are writing, and the purpose of the writing.

This is as true with Romans and Hebrews as it is with the Revelation which John received. We see in Revelation 1:1, 4 that the author of the Revelation is John, and it represents the revelation that Jesus gave him. It is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. While there is some dispute over when it should be dated (whether before 70 or in the 90s), there is no doubt that it is written in the first century to first century Christians in Asia. The purpose of writing is first to send specific instructions to the churches (Revelation 2-3), and secondly to inform them about what will "shortly" take place, so that they may stand firm (Revelation 1:3, 19; Revelation 22:7, 20).

We can know for certain, therefore, that whatever the "mark of the beast" is, or whoever the "beast" represents, that it is directly relevant for the life of Christians in Asia in the first century. How can events in the twenty-first century be thus relevant to such persons? Why would God reveal a message to these Christians that would have nothing to do with them, or with anyone else in the first century, but would only be relevant to Christians almost two millennia later?

One could come up with many different possibilities for the "mark of the beast": something bearing Caesar's inscription and profession of godhood, a certificate indicating that someone sacrificed to the gods of Rome and cursed Christ, or something else involving Rome against Christians. The "beast" has been variously interpreted as any Roman emperor, Nero in particular, Diocletian, Julian the Apostate of the fourth century, the pope, and so on and so forth. Whatever the specifics, we can be confident that it involves the relationship between Christians of the day and Rome, the power that arose in persecution against them. There is no good interpretive basis to project the beast or his mark as a present-day phenomenon, as has been true for almost 1600 years.

Ethan R. Longhenry
October 2007

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus": A Review

Television these days thrives on sensationalism: if it gets ratings, it is good for business. Over the past few years, especially on channels formerly known for their integrity and commitment to the increase of knowledge, we have seen a trend of degeneration-- sensationalism and hype now trump truth and facts. No more do we see documentaries focusing on what can be known; instead, we see special after special based on fictional books like The da Vinci Code and radical theories presented by fringe individuals trying to make a name for themselves. Then along comes the new special by The Discovery Channel by famous filmmaker James Cameron along with Simcha Jacobovici entitled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus". We could only hope that the sensationalist trend would end; unfortunately, this television program only perpetuates it. When most of Biblical archaeology is even against the show, it should tell us something!

The television program makes the following assertion: a family tomb found south of Jerusalem in Talpiot in 1980 contained ten ossuaries, of which at least six have inscriptions. The inscriptions include "Jesus, son of Joseph," "Jose", "Maria", "Mariamne Mara", "Matthew," and "Judah son of Jesus". Since many of these names are parallel to names in the Gospel narratives, this could be the family tomb of Jesus. The hypothesis continues that the recently publicized "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" ossuary actually came from this tomb, being perhaps the one missing ossuary (10 were discovered, but only 9 cataloged), and based on ancient documents, Mariamne Mara actually refers to Mary Magdalene. The connection is then made between Jesus and Mary Magdalene as married with this Judah as the son. The hypothesis is bolstered by statistical analysis that would claim that there is either 1 in 600 or 1 in 30,000 chance that the tomb is not the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

As one can imagine, these are all stunning claims, and when presented by a scholar or two may gain great credibility in the public sphere. It is important, therefore, that we understand these claims and be able to provide a defense for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), giving an answer to people who may perhaps ask regarding its claims.

First and foremost is the idea that the family of Jesus would have a family tomb near Jerusalem. While it is conceded within the film that Joseph most likely died in Nazareth, no one ever questions the idea that Jesus' family would have a family tomb near Jerusalem. While it is true that Jesus died in Jerusalem according to the Gospel accounts, and that many of His family members were present in Jerusalem after His death (cf. Matthew 27, Acts 1:14). Nevertheless, Jesus' family was from Nazareth. If Jesus' family were to have a family tomb, would it not begin or at least include that of Joseph himself, and therefore be in Nazareth? Even if we were to posit a family tomb in Judea, would it not be in Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Joseph (Luke 2:4)? These possibilities are never raised or discussed at all.

Another question would involve whether Jesus' family would have the resources to have such a tomb. Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55); it is not likely that he or the family could afford such a luxury. This possibility is never raised or discussed at all.

Furthermore, if Jesus was known to have a family tomb in the area of Jerusalem, why would we expect Joseph of Arimathea to obtain the body and feel the need to place the body in his own prepared tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)? If the family of Jesus had a tomb near Jerusalem, Joseph himself or His mother or some other person would likely obtain the body and place it within the family tomb. This possibility is never raised or discussed at all.

"Jesus, son of Joseph" itself is rather controversial. We know that Mary and the brothers of Jesus were believers (cf. Acts 1:14); if they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, they would know for certain that Jesus was not in truth the son of Joseph. The difficulty with considering Joseph the father of Jesus is also not raised or discussed at all.

Very early in the show, the possibility is raised that the story in Matthew 28:11-15 could actually be true:
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told unto the chief priests all the things that were come to pass. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money unto the soldiers, saying, "Say ye, 'His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.' And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care."
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day.
The idea is actually presented that the disciples took the body of Jesus and put it into His family tomb, and then claimed that He arose. The show would then claim that it is believable by "some Christians" that Jesus could have been resurrected and dispensed with His physical body at the ascension, and therefore the actual body could be buried and kept until now. A fantastic tale, to be certain, and one that strains belief! Are we to believe that twelve dispirited disciples somehow got beyond a Roman guard that knew that it would be put to death if it failed, took the body of Jesus, only to move it into another tomb? No discussion is given regarding the motive, and the fantastic claim is never defended. Regarding the ascension of Jesus, Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 51-54:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body...Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory."
If such is the resurrection for which we wait, would the resurrection of Jesus be any different? Shall we not expect that at the ascension, Jesus' mortality put on immortality, and the perishable imperishable?

Finally, if it were the family tomb of Jesus, we would expect to see Jesus' family members within it. This is the very claim explicated by the show itself, and the show even provides a list of who would be in it: Joseph and Mary; Jesus, His sisters Miriam and Salome (Matthew 13:56; names provided by tradition), His brothers James, Joseph (or Jose/Joses), Jude (or Judas), and Simon (cf. Matthew 13:55). Out of these eight persons, the tomb itself only would present three (Jesus, Jose, and Mary) and claims a fourth that was removed (James). Nothing is mentioned about the presence of the other four. Even if we were to assume that the sisters would be buried with any husbands that they would have, we still do not have any knowledge of where Jude and Simon are. On top of all this, there are additional ossuaries (bone boxes; in the first century, bodies decomposed and then their bones were collected in boxes called ossuaries) with names of Mariamne Mara and Matthew, names not explicitly in the family. Therefore, two people are missing and two more are added. While it could be assumed that the missing persons are part of the three or four uninscribed ossuaries, but this remains an assumption, along with the stated assumption that Matthew was part of the family, for which there is not a shred of evidence. The "resident scholar", James Tabor, tries to establish that since variants of the name Matthew are often present in the genealogy of Luke 3:23-28, it is "likely" that there would be a Matthew in the family sometime near Jesus. This is sheer assumption with no good evidence for it.

None of this takes into account that normally family tombs include ossuaries from multiple generations, and that it would be rather odd to find all these ossuaries involving only one or two. It is more likely that whatever this family is that the ossuaries are more spread out than the family of Jesus.

Much is made regarding statistics in the show, because the most significant historical argument against the show's hypothesis is the commonality of the names involved. Indeed, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and James are some of the most popular names in first century Judea. The show would try to posit, however, that all these names showing up in the same family tomb drastically increases the odds that it is the family of Jesus. The final numbers seem striking: 599 out of 600 chances, or 29,999 out of 30,000 chances, that the tomb is the family tomb of Jesus. These numbers, however, pose some problems. While the statistician did not take "Matthew" into account, he did not factor "Matthew" as a negative factor against the hypothesis. Furthermore, the odds are all based on Mariamne Mara being Mary Magdalene, and we will show below that the association is extremely overhyped. The statistician, in the show "The Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Review," himself admits that if Mariamne Mara is not Mary Magdalene, the odds are not nearly so stunning. The statistics, therefore, do not prove anything whatsoever.

One of the most controversial pieces of evidence in the film is the idea that Mariamne Mara is indeed Mary Magdalene and that the ossuaries show that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. The association between Mariamne Mara and Mary Magdalene is made on the basis of the Gnostic fourth-century document Acts of Philip, supposedly written by Mary Magdalene's brother, that explains how Mary Magdalene was a missionary. The hypothesis goes that since she was a missionary, and "Mara" can mean "Master" (somewhat equivalent to "Teacher"), the ossuary inscribed "Mariamne Mara" is of "Mary the Master," and therefore Mary Magdalene. First of all, this idea is based on an admittedly late document from a Gnostic source, and it is being used to make a story that no one in the ancient world would recognize. Gnostics rejected marriage and any form of sexuality; "orthodox Christianity" did not believe that Jesus was married to anyone. The evidence that has no credibility to begin with is being abused to suit twenty-first century sensationalist theology. Furthermore, Ben Witherington ("'The Jesus Tomb?' 'Titanic' Talpiot Tomb Theory Sunk From the Start", http://benwitherington.blogspot.com) asserts that "Mara" is an abbreviated form of "Martha," and posits that the ossuary held the bones of both a Mary and a Martha, which is a much more feasible and far less tenuous hypothesis than the many jumps necessary to make it from Mariamne Mara to Mary Magdalene.

The connection to Jesus in marriage comes from DNA testing done on physical material found in the "Jesus son of Joseph" and "Mariamne Mara" ossuaries. The mitochondrial DNA was found to be different; the conclusion made, therefore, is that this Jesus and Mariamne, since they were not related by blood but in a family tomb, were married. The show does not take into account the difficulty that lack of evidence is not evidence. Perhaps this "Mariamne Mara" was married to Jose, or to another occupant of the tomb? Perhaps she was the sister-in-law of this "Jesus son of Joseph", or perhaps an aunt or niece. These possibilities are not raised nor discussed.

Next we come to the missing ossuary. When the tomb was excavated in 1980, ten ossuaries were found, but only nine were cataloged. The hypothesis goes that the recently publicized ossuary saying "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" comes from this family tomb. The evidence given is that the patina (mineral deposits on the ossuaries) from the James ossuary and the Talpiot ossuaries match quite well over and against other ossuaries discovered in other areas. There are, however, significant problems with this hypothesis. Oded Golan, owner of the James ossuary, has claimed to have purchased it before 1980, the discovery of the family tomb. When the Talpiot tomb was found, 6 of the 10 ossuaries were claimed to be inscribed, and we have 6 inscribed ossuaries: the lost ossuary was one claimed to be uninscribed. Since the James ossuary not only has the inscription but also has rosettes carved upon it, it is hard to believe that two archaeologists would have missed all or part of these details! Beyond all of that, the ancient historian Eusebius claims that when James was stoned in Jerusalem, he "was buried on the spot, by the sanctuary, and his inscribed stone is still there by the sanctuary." (Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.18). This would mean that he was not buried in Talpiot nor in any family tomb anywhere, and further discredits the claim. These possibilities are not raised or discussed.

The final great claim of the show is that Jesus has a son-- the final inscribed ossuary reads "Judah son of Jesus". The show quickly moves to show why the New Testament would not name such a person on account of the risk of the child. The hypothesis is so bold as to claim that this child is the "beloved disciple" of John, left anonymous on account his close relation to Jesus. Such, supposedly, explains Jesus' comment on the cross:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, "Woman, behold thy son!" Then saith he to the disciple, "Behold, thy mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home (John 19:26-27).
The claim, then, is that Jesus is commissioning His own son to take care of his grandmother. The major difficulty with this view, of course, is that it is Biblically impossible. We know that Jesus ate the Last Supper with the twelve (Mark 14:17), and the "disciple whom Jesus loved" is present at that meal (John 13:23). Furthermore, this same disciple is the one concerning whom Peter asks Jesus in John 21:20, and in verse 24 "this disciple" is identified as the author of the book. In John 20:2, this "disciple whom Jesus loved" and Peter are the ones to whom Mary Magdalene comes to announce the empty tomb. We know from the Gospel texts that Jesus set James, John, and Peter aside as special among the twelve (cf. Matthew 17:1), and we see the close association of Peter and John after the resurrection (Acts 3:1). Based on all actual evidence, John, not some "Judah son of Jesus" seems to be the "beloved disciple".

Regardless, the entire claim is based on the house of cards built previously, and there is no evidence that indicates that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that they had a child named Judah.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus" is a fantastic piece of sensationalist hype, assumptions and hypotheses clothed in "science", and tenuous connections posited as fact. The show would posit a family tomb of Jesus, full of people found in the Gospel narratives; the actual evidence indicates that there is a fascinating tomb near Jerusalem of a regular family over many generations. The Talpiot tomb shows that sometime between 70 BCE and 70 CE there was a man named Jesus whose father was Joseph, and that he had a son named Judah. He had family members named Jose, Matthew, Mary, Miriamne, and Martha. This does not mean that he was Jesus of Nazareth; far from it. There is no reason to believe anything beyond what has been handed down in the Gospel accounts for two millennia: Jesus of Nazareth died, was buried, and was resurrected on the third day. His bones will not be found.

It is tragic that the claims of the Jews in the days of Matthew persevere to this day (Matthew 28:11-15). Nonetheless, we have seen that God is true, and men liars (Romans 3:4). We will not find Jesus in a box in Jerusalem; we will find Him coming from the heavens with the angels in judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Let us be prepared for that day!

Ethan R. Longhenry
March 2007

Walking Wisely

The New Testament is full of advice for the Christian to help him or her live a life pleasing to God. Christians are called upon to think in godly ways and to act accordingly (Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5), putting away the works of the flesh and striving to present the fruit of the Spirit for all to see (Galatians 5:17-24).

We do this primarily so that we may be found as obedient servants of God, seeking to walk in the same paths which Christ walked, "walking in the light" (1 John 1:5-2:6). Walking in the light also means that we are the light of the world, ambassadors of Christ wherever we may go (Matthew 5:13-16). Christ is not the only one watching how we live: the unbelievers around us are also watching. We recognize this in Peter's exhortation in 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
While we should never live and act just to be seen by other people as being religious (cf. Matthew 6:1-4), these Scriptures and others demonstrate how we need to be at least conscious of how we conduct ourselves among those who are without. Paul speaks of this most clearly in Colossians 4:5-6:
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one.
Are we "walking in wisdom" toward those who are without? Are we "redeeming" the little bit of time we have to influence them for good? Can it be said that our speech is always "seasoned" with salt, making the sharp sword of God's word most effective (Hebrews 4:12)? We should keep these things in mind in many contexts. Sometimes we have the tendency to "let down our guard" when we are among a group of mostly brethren, especially in our assemblies. While it is true that the assemblies are designed for the encouragement of the brethren (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25), we ought to make sure that we do not put stumbling blocks before any unbelievers or unconverted persons in our midst (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). When we make comments in Bible class, or preach a lesson, or even while we present announcements, do we think about how one who is not a Christian would interpret them? Can we communicate in such a way that gets the point across without being unduly offensive? We are charged to be at peace with all men as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). Yes, there are times when teaching the truth will cause offense to some people, but it is our responsibility to make sure that it is the truth, and not the way in which the truth is presented, that has caused the offense!

How do you conduct yourself when speaking or writing regarding the faith? We often consider 1 Peter 3:15 in such contexts, but do we consider the end of that verse?
But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ (1 Peter 3:15-16).
We are to defend the hope that is in us-- yet with meekness and fear (or gentleness and respect in other versions)! How we communicate the Gospel is just as important as communicating the actual Gospel! If we are defending the truth, but do so without gentleness and respect, we have defeated the Lord's cause. We must return to Paul's comment in Colossians 4:6 about speech "seasoned with salt." Too little salt leads to bland food; too much salt makes food intolerable. Likewise, when we speak with others about the faith, and it does not clearly communicate the truth of God, it is unproductive. If we speak with others about the faith, but our words are jarring, harsh, insulting, disrespectful, demeaning, and sanctimonious, they and the message behind it will be rejected regardless of its value. Consider a filet mignon that has been oversalted: trying to promote the precious Gospel of Christ without gentleness and respect s the same!

It is often said, "you only get one chance to make a first impression." We might be able to provide a thousand excuses for many of our miscues that we commit before unbelievers, but if we have not walked with wisdom toward them, we have not redeemed the time as we could have. We should keep watch regarding how we communicate-- in the spoken and written word, in actions, in deed-- in any context that even remotely involves those outside. We must consider how we speak and whether the production is as God-honoring as the message.

Let us be circumspect concerning our thoughts, words, and deeds, so that we may be the most effective ambassadors of Christ in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry
February 2008

The Church of Acts 2

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Thus we have the description of the early church in Jerusalem, a truly dynamic group that saw its numbers nearly double over a period of a few weeks, and eventually reach into the tens of thousands (cf. Acts 21:20). But how? Why do we not see the Gospel having the same attraction today as it did then?

Perhaps a good part of the difference may be found within the group in Jerusalem itself. Notice verse 42: they devoted themselves to the doctrines of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. We see here four avenues of the Christian path that are quite essential for growth: studying God's Word, associating with the saints, the Lord's Supper and/or hospitality with other saints, and communication with God.

Verse 46 provides more insight: they continued daily in the Temple, together and with one accord, and they also "broke bread" from house to house. They are also known for "praising God". But look here in verse 47: they had favor with all the people. Why was that?

Because the teachings of the Gospel were socially acceptable? Hardly; such teachings led to Jesus' recent crucifixion, and their promotion led the Apostles to be thrown before the Sanhedrin, and many other Christians into trouble with the authorities later (Acts 7-8:2). We have no reason to believe that the order from the life of Jesus in John 9:22: any who professes Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue and essentially ostracized from the Jewish nation. It wasn't because of social acceptability.

Because the teachings of the Gospel were easy for Jews? Again, hardly; Jesus demanded much more of them than did the Law (Matthew 5:20-48). Jesus demanded true adherence to the principles that God set down, not mere lip observance as so many Jews were wont to give. Commandments demanding such persons to "take up their cross and follow Him" and to "lose their lives for Him" (cf. Matthew 16:24-25) would be as challenging for them as anyone else. It was not because the teachings were easy.

The Gospel was not socially acceptable, nor was it any easier for Jews of the first century than anyone else. Why, then, did the church grow? How did it have favor with all the people? The answer, in reality, is reflected within the passage itself: the community which they developed. They were always together. They were sharing meals with simplicity and gladness of heart. They were in the Temple, learning of God and proclaiming what He had done. They were selling what they had so that all would have their needs met. And everyone around them saw such things and saw that it was something special, something worth one's participation.

As can be understood from 1 John 4:7-11, Christians, above all things, must be a peculiar people on account of their love for each other and for all men.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
We often talk about the "distinctives" of the faith, and when such a conversation takes place, various doctrinal matters get brought up. While we should certainly teach the truth, note how Paul says that without love, it simply doesn't matter. We can teach "the truth" day and night, but if we don't manifest love to each other and to those without, we won't get anywhere.

Love is to be the distinctive mark of the Christian and also the church, as seen in Acts 2. They loved each other in the faith, and they manifested that love by studying the truth of God together, associating with each other, breaking bread together, and praying together. And when other Jews saw this in the Temple, they were at least somewhat interested in the concept.

In a world where there are many who are interested in Jesus but not in "church", the best form of evangelism is a community of Christians truly serving God-- not just according to the external observances that are quantifiable, but also in heart and soul, and most especially in love. When a group of Christians have the love for the Lord, each other, and those without that they ought to have, there you will find a dynamic and growing church!

The fate of Jerusalem and Ephesus are before us: what shall we choose?

Ethan R. Longhenry
January 2008

Dating the Life of Jesus

The New Testament, while providing excellent accounts of events that occurred in the first century, notoriously does not provide many dates relative to the rest of history. Such an understanding is not strictly necessary; nevertheless, much can be gained, especially in terms of the history of the early church, if we consider what can be known regarding the chronology of the New Testament. Let us begin with the life of Jesus, upon which the rest of the chronology must be based.

We do have certain historical markers that can help us in our chronology. We know that Herod the Great died in the year 4 BCE (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.1, Wars of the Jews 1.33.8); therefore, Jesus' birth, the visit of the Magi, the flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem all date to the year 4 BCE or immediately earlier (cf. Matthew 1:18-2:23). Likewise, Luke tells us the following in Luke 3:1-2 and Luke 3:23:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
And Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli.
These pieces of information will be the most critical in determining our chronology, and we will return to them shortly.

As to the duration of Jesus' ministry, it would seem from the Gospel of John that Jesus' ministry encompassed three Passover festivals. These are recorded in John 2:13, John 6:4, and John 11:55:
And the passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Now the passover of the Jews was at hand: and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, to purify themselves.
As to this first Passover, we gain an idea of when it occurred by the comment made by the Jews against what Jesus had taught them:
The Jews therefore said, "Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?" (John 2:20).
Let us now consider all of this evidence to see if we can gain a picture of the chronology of the events at hand.

It seems clear enough that the Magi visited Jesus at some point well after His birth-- Mary is now in a house, and the star may have risen after His birth (cf. Matthew 2:2, 11). The death of Herod, moreover, occurs soon after he orders the death of the infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-15, 19). We can reasonably establish, then, that the visit of the Magi and the massacre in Bethlehem occurred in 4 BCE proper, and posit Jesus' birth as in 5 BCE. If this is the case, Jesus' visit to the Temple at age 12 in Luke 2:42-51 most likely occurred in 8 CE.

The next date we are given is in regards to the beginning of John's ministry, and Luke mentions many individuals. Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea at the time; he was appointed to that position in 26 CE and was removed ten years later. Both Herod and Philip reigned from the death of their father in 4 BCE until after the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Annas and Caiaphas represented the high priesthood from 6 - 36 CE. Lysanias is known from inscriptional evidence from one of his freedman: "for the salvation of the Lord's Imperial by a freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch" (Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, 4521, quoted in Merill Tenney, Exploring New Testament Culture, 158). The "Lord's Imperial" is a technical title referring jointly to Tiberius and his mother Livia. Since Livia died in 29 CE, we know that this inscription must date between 14-29 CE, which corresponds to the time-frame at hand.

The main piece of chronological evidence in Luke 3:1 is that John's ministry begins in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius began to reign jointly with Augustus in 13 CE and independently beginning in August 14; that would make his fifteenth year either 27 or 28 CE. There is also a tradition in the eastern Mediterranean of fixing the reigns of monarchs by the "royal year" that began in September or October: in this reckoning, year one of Tiberius would have been August-September 14, and therefore the fifteenth year of Tiberius would have begun in September 27 (Tenney, 159). 27 represents a good correlation with Luke's statement that Jesus began when He was "about thirty years of age". In 27 He would have been about 32; any later and Luke's statement begins to strain credibility. Likewise, during the first Passover of Jesus' ministry, the Jews assert that the Temple has been being built for 46 years (John 2:20). Since it is recorded that Herod began the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign (ca. 20-19 BCE; Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.1-3); 46 years from this is about 26 or 27 CE.

We can make the following reconstructed chronology, then, from the above evidence:
  • 5 BCE: Birth of Jesus
  • 4 BCE: Magi, Bethlehem massacre, death of Herod the Great
  • 8 CE: Jesus at 12 in the Temple
  • 27 CE: Beginning of John's ministry, early events in Jesus' ministry
  • 28 CE: First Passover (John 2:26), imprisonment of John, beginning of Jesus' independent ministry
  • 29 CE: Second Passover, feeding of 5,000 (John 6:4)
  • 30 CE: Third Passover: crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus
Jesus, then, before the resurrection, lived for about 35 years, and the concluding events of His ministry on earth were most likely in the year 30 CE. This corresponds well with the evidence from the development of the early church.

We must stress again that this chronology is based upon all available evidence and is historically likely, but not historically or Biblically certain. Nevertheless, we can take this information and use it to the profit of our consideration of the life of Jesus.

Ethan R. Longhenry
July 2007

Adversities: Drugs

Mankind has received great blessings and yet also great consternation with the use of drugs. Many drugs are beneficial, saving the lives of millions of people, yet many millions of people are led to miserable lives because of drug abuse. Families are shattered, women are abused, both physically and sexually, and lives are even lost because of the abuse of drugs, some that are considered legal in our society, and others that are still illegal. What, then, should a Christian do about drugs and their use and abuse? Let us examine the different types of drugs available and how the Christian ought to respond to any offers they may receive to try some.

1. "Recreational" Drugs. I am here defining "recreational" drugs as the types that are used generally for recreational purpose, minus alcohol, which will be discussed below. Some of these "recreational" drugs include marijuana, LSD, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamines, and there are many others. The vast majority of these drugs are considered illegal even by our own government.

Drugs such as these ought never even be named amongst the brethren, for not only do they violate the commands to preserve the body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), but even run afoul of the laws of the government, which the Christian is commanded to obey in Romans 13:1-5:
Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same: for he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
None of these drugs have proven definitively to bring any form of benefit to the body, but all of them do harm the body, causing excessive loss of brain cells and with many, the weakening of the respiratory system. The use of these drugs has no good purpose, and the Christian ought to stay far away from them.

2. Alcoholic beverages. In the United States, alcoholic beverages are legal, although there are age limits (21 in most states) and alcohol limits for drivers (.08 in most states). The consumption of alcohol may be legal, but often the effects are painful: many of the sexual assaults that are committed in America are alcohol-related in some ways, spouse and child abuse, both physical and sexual, are also often alcohol-related, and hundreds if not thousands are killed every year because of accidents involving a drunk driver. Alcohol for many is also very addictive, and the financial, emotional, and even physical consequences of alcoholism are appalling: families are destroyed beyond repair because of alcoholism, and cirrhosis of the liver is common among alcoholics (and even those who may not be addicted).

The problems that alcohol bring are not new to the world, but are even present in Biblical times. Many sins have been committed with wine as a reason (Noah's uncovering in Genesis 9:21, the incest of Lot's daughters in Genesis 19:33-35), and Solomon speaks of wine (the most often consumed form of alcohol) in negative ways in Proverbs 20:1 and Proverbs 23:30-32:
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; And whosoever erreth thereby is not wise.

They that tarry long at the wine; They that go to seek out mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, When it sparkleth in the cup, When it goeth down smoothly: At the last it biteth like a serpent, And stingeth like an adder.
The New Testament also is full of warnings about wine and other alcoholic beverages: deacons are not to drink much of it (1 Timothy 3:8), and drunkenness is condemned as a deed of the flesh in Galatians 5:21. Paul commands us in Romans 13:13:
Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy.
It is argued by many that these verses do not prohibit the use of alcohol altogether, but only the excessive consumption thereof. Such argument is beyond the scope of this article, but it must be noted that even if we were to accept the moderate consumption of alcohol on the basis of the time of Christ, we would be forced to dispense with the alcoholic beverages of today: the Roman world did not drink wine as it is sold today, at full strength, but diluted it significantly. The alcoholic content in a glass of wine that would have been drunk in the time of Christ was negligible, and in no way compares to the alcoholic content of one glass today. Further, there is no need for the consumption of alcohol like there would have been in ancient times, where alcohol was effective at killing the germs present in their water. We can drink many beverages without alcohol and also without fear of germs, and because of the ease in which alcohol can be abused, it is best for the Christian to leave it alone, conforming to the message of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (Note: the Greek word translated as "form" is also translated as "appearance" in many versions):
abstain from every form of evil.
While some good may exist from moderate consumption of wine, the same benefit may be gained from unfermented grape juice and with alternative methods, leaving the Christian no good reason to consume alcohol. It is best to take the advice of Solomon and avoid alcohol as much as possible.

3. Tobacco. The use of tobacco, either smoked or by chewing, is common in America, despite the constant warnings over the past 10-15 years about the health risks caused by its use. Tobacco is legal in the United States, and represents a very wealthy business.

The appeal of tobacco is in the nicotine contained therein; it is this nicotine that is addictive, and the reason why people continue to smoke/chew for many years. There is no evidence that anything in tobacco or nicotine provides health benefits; in fact, only negatives can come from using tobacco: smoking has been directly linked to asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer, and chewing leads to infected gums and cancers of the mouth. Even if one does not feel these consequences of tobacco use, they still suffer from yellowed teeth and a pervasive stench of smoke or chew that does not conform to the cleanliness that should be the mark of a Christian (Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5). Therefore, having seen that much is to be lost and nothing is to be gained from the use of tobacco, do you think that using it conforms to the message of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20?
Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.
5. Medical Drugs. By medical drugs, I refer to those drugs both available over-the-counter and those available only by prescription. Most all of these drugs have proven medical benefits, and ought to be used when health problems arise. As with all drugs, however, these medical drugs can be abused, and some of them can prove just as deadly as so-called "recreational" drugs when they are abused. The Christian ought to obey the orders of the doctors and pharmacists when it comes to the use of medical drugs, so that he may be restored to his health without causing harm to his body.

Having seen many of these drugs and the problems they cause, one might wonder why anyone would be induced to use them in the first place. Unfortunately, many people are easily pressured into using drugs, and they then find themselves addicted to them. Others do so in order to "fit in" with a group of friends, or to put forth an appearance. Some do it simply to gain the pleasures derived from doing so-- why would anyone in their right mind set out to drink alcoholic beverages, for instance, in great quantity, when their taste is less than pleasing, in order to get drunk, when more often than not they know that they will be vomiting the next morning? Why would anyone do such a thing, and, more importantly, why would anyone do it again after it happened the first time? The only answer that can be given is that they have given themselves over to the pleasures that supposedly derive from being drunk or being high or whatever they are doing. This type of attitude and activity is exactly what Peter says we ought no longer do in 1 Peter 4:3-4:
For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.
Even though the pressure placed upon you may be strong, if you have named Christ as your Savior and desire to please Him, recognize that the use of drugs (save for medical purposes) ends in great wickedness and unrighteousness, causing great harm physically, emotionally, and spiritually to yourself and those around you. Be strong in the Lord, and endeavor to preserve and keep your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, recognizing that you are not owned by yourself but Christ. Avoid those things that derive no benefit but bring only misery and despair.

Ethan R. Longhenry
May 2007

Judging Righteous Judgment

As Christians, we often have difficulties in regards to particular matters and whether they are sin or not. There are many things that most will admit present difficulties, but the Bible may not spell out whether it is to be considered sin or no. When it comes to these matters, there are some who approach some matters of sin not explicitly revealed in the Scriptures as if it were explicitly revealed in the Scriptures, and there are others who approach matters of sin not explicitly revealed in the Scriptures as somehow less sin or matters concerning which we have no right to condemn as sin.

What should we do when it comes to matters that God has not specifically justified or condemned? We get an indication of God's intention for us in Galatians 5:16-24:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.
If we fall into the trap of thinking of such things in terms of strict "legalism," attempting to establish as law that it is definitively wrong or that it cannot be condemned, misses Paul's point entirely. Paul's point is evident in verse 24: Christians have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. "Drawing lines" is entirely against the point here.

Human beings like lines. Lines mean that it can be known just how far one can go before getting in trouble. How often do human beings "ride the line", so to speak, in their actions and behaviors? Everyone knows that there could be circumstances beyond our control (or within our control) that will lead us to cross the line, but that still does not make us think that we should stop doing so. In such circumstances, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the failure.

As long as we look at these matters in strict terms of line drawing we will not get to that which Paul intends. As Christians we are called upon to make judgments, and to make righteous judgments based upon the Scriptures (cf. Hebrews 5:14). Paul provides a very clear means by which we can ascertain what is right from what is wrong: the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

If something correlates to "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, [or] orgies," we are to avoid them. We have crucified these desires with Christ.

If something manifests "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," then it is well and good for us to do them. We are to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, dancing is not mentioned as sinful in the Scriptures. But when you consider what goes on in dancing, and you see on one side that there is "impurity" and "sensuality", and on the other side you see "goodness" and "self-control", on which side does dancing, particularly the young adult kind, fall? It is "like" sensuality, and therefore is just as much a work of the flesh as sensuality or sexual immorality.

"But you're adding to the Scriptures!" No, we are not. We are making righteous judgment based upon the information provided in the Scriptures. We know well enough what correlates with what. We know perfectly well that while the fruit of the Spirit is a complete list, the works of the flesh are left open-- the last one is "things like these," which shows that God has not revealed specifically every little thing that is sinful.

Gambling is another matter not mentioned in the Scriptures specifically. We see on one side "idolatry" (covetousness so defined in Colossians 3:5) and "rivalries" and "dissensions", and on the other side "peace" and "goodness" and "self-control". Honestly-- to which does gambling concord? Is the impulse behind gambling holy or carnal? We all know what the answer really is, and yet there is always this impulse to justify our own behavior or the behavior we see in others. This can even work with drinking, a matter that is often contentious. While we understand that in the ancient world there were few options beyond wine if one wanted to have a healthy liquid, we do not have that problem today. Today, which is "drinking" more like? "Drunkenness" or "peace...self-control"? If you never drink, you can never get drunk!

Why is it that we want to argue and debate the minutiae of these issues? Because people want to do these things. But if we have crucified the flesh with its passions, why do we seek to justify some of the things the flesh wants to do? What "holy" impulse compels school dances? What godly influence leads to one gambling? What holiness and righteousness can come from drinking?

None, none, and none.

Those who are in Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions. Those in the world constantly draw and re-draw lines to justify their behavior.

What will we do?

Ethan R. Longhenry
May 2007

Dances and the Teenage Christian

We are again in the midst of the spring season, and all kinds of teenagers around the country are getting ready for their school prom. School dances, particularly homecoming and prom, have become American rites of passage for teenagers, and represent a particularly difficult choice for teenagers who strive to obey Christ. Should the teenage Christian have anything to do with such school dances? Let us search the Scriptures and make righteous judgment.

The Scriptures do not speak much of dancing; Jesus uses the idea a couple of times in metaphors in His preaching, but the Scriptures never come out and authorize or condemn dancing. We know, however, that the Scriptures are complete and equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We also know that if we are going to be good and mature Christians, we must train our powers of discernment through constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). Therefore, while the Scriptures may not speak explicitly about dancing, we can surely establish what we ought to do based upon its principles.

Perhaps the best place to seek such advice is within the listing of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-23:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

The third "work of the flesh" listed is "lasciviousness." Lasciviousness is not a word we use often in modern English; Webster defines the term as:
1. Looseness; irregular indulgence of animal desires; wantonness; lustfulness.
2. Tendency to excite lust, and promote irregular indulgences.

Lascivious behavior, then, is full of lust and tends to excite lust.

We must consider "lasciviousness" in particular because of the purpose of dancing and especially in its modern forms. It is a biological given that teenagers start to become interested in teenagers of the opposite gender in sexual ways, and societies tend to provide teenagers opportunities to interact with other teenagers to see how they all "measure up". In America, this tends to be done by school dances; in Africa, there will often be tribal get-togethers with ritual dancing. According to biologists, dancing is important to this process because it allows a prospective partner to judge the physical strength, fitness, and physique so as to decide whether they want to help pass on such a one's genes. Dancing, then, has always involved the movement of the body so as to render one attractive to the opposite gender. Dancing is therefore a biological impulse to lead to the fulfillment of other biological impulses; in short, dancing exists to promote lust and desire.

While previous generations had dances that were perhaps more "modest" according to modern standards, all stops have been pulled out in school dances today. At school dances across the country, what is being left to the imagination? When such dancing is referred to as "bump 'n grind," what do we think is going on? In large part, modern dancing involves sex-like acts done by (at least somewhat) clothed people while music is playing. If the music was not playing, and the dancers were still dancing in the same way, what would you be thinking that such persons were doing?

The conclusion is hard to avoid: teenage dancing, especially modern teenage dancing, is designed to incite lust. Such dancing can be rightly judged as lascivious behavior, and therefore a work of the flesh akin to Galatians 5:19-21. Consider Paul's warning in verse 21: those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom!

It is recognized that many teenagers have a hard time understanding this conclusion. Many do not see how dancing is lascivious behavior. They think of such dancing in innocent terms. While it is praiseworthy that so many teenagers are innocent in their understanding, for it means that their eyes have not yet been opened, such does not justify the behavior! Eve, before she ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, did not know that she was naked-- she was innocent in terms of lust and shame (Genesis 2:25). Once she ate of that fruit, however, she knew that she was naked and was no longer innocent of lust and shame and felt compelled to cover herself (Genesis 3:7-10). Teenagers, especially those who are sexually pure as they ought to be, are in many ways innocent like Eve. But once the eyes are opened to sex and sexuality, suddenly dancing and what it represents become very clear, just as the nakedness of Eve became clear to her. While many teenagers have difficulties understanding how school dances are lascivious, most twenty-somethings who are married begin to clearly understand how school dances were and are lascivious! We hope and pray that the innocence of teenagers will not compel them to be deceived and do what they ought not!

Many teenagers resent having rules made for them and want to be able to make their own decisions; this is an understandable desire considering that stage of life. Unfortunately, despite their profession of having all knowledge, teenagers often do not fully understand the risks involved in many forms of behavior and are thus hindered from making righteous decisions. Please consider this and be honest: why do you want to go to a school dance, if you desire to? Is your desire based upon a holy impulse, on a study of God's Word, or based on your own desire? From where does this desire come?

It is very easy to determine whether something is good to do: compare it to the fruit of the Spirit: "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Does the school dance and its activities correlate with any of these? On the other hand, we have made a strong case that school dances promote lust, the definition of "lasciviousness," which is condemned as a work of the flesh. Remember that Galatians 5:21 establishes that "things like these" are also works of the flesh. Consider Galatians 5:24:
And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.
Is this true of you, Christian teenager? Have you crucified the flesh with its lusts? There is no comfort in trying to say that since the Bible does not explicitly condemn dancing that you should go: the Bible is not about telling you every little thing that you cannot do, but provides the way you ought to go and gives you the tools to make the right decision (Hebrews 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). All the tools at your disposal lead to one conclusion, and one conclusion only.

If your parents have established that you cannot go, then to go is sin (Ephesians 6:1-4). If your parents have given you the opportunity to make your own decision, consider what has been said, and realize that you will stand in judgment for your decision (Romans 14:11-12). You can associate with your classmates at other opportunities. You can engage in alternatives to dances that do not promote lascivious behavior. The only reason that you "have" to go to the prom, or to homecoming, is that you are willing to be led by your fleshly desires and submit to them, when instead you ought to crucify them in Christ.

It is not an easy decision, and it is hard to see all of your friends participate while you do not. Remember, however, that your eternal reward in Heaven will far surpass the difficulty you experience (2 Corinthians 4:17). Judge righteously!

Ethan R. Longhenry
April 2007