Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Preaching of John Calvin

Students of the Calvinistic Reformation often remember the prolific writing skills Calvin exemplified in his famous Institutes on the Christian Religion. But what did his preaching consist of? What hope and intention did Calvin have with his preaching? How did he view the oral Word as opposed to the written Word? What style and structure did he use in the pulpit? How did he use law and gospel in the sermon? I will seek to give an overview of what John Calvin’s preaching consisted of. Finally, I will proceed to see what kind of legacy Calvin left in the area of preaching.

Calvin’s conversion in 1533 came at a time when biblical preaching was sorely needed. Preachers were not great scholars or good communicators and the standards were low. The Roman Catholic Church had starved the people of the Word of God and the knowledge of Christ. Calvin sought to change this by combining great scholarship and good communication in order to change people’s hearts and minds for Christ. Soon after Calvin’s conversion to the Reformation, Calvin began preaching. W. Stanford Reid, editor of John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World (1982), wrote, “Calvin had apparently begun preaching very soon after his conversion, for there is a tradition that he used to preach in some of the churches in or near Bourges when he was a student. On his return to Geneva in 1541, preaching became one of his chief occupations, as he occupied the pulpit of St. Pierre not only on Sundays, but also as often as three times during the week.” Indeed, preaching both in the pulpit and the classroom, became a primary way in which Calvin’s ideas were communicated and reform was brought about in Geneva and beyond.

Sermon Preparation

Calvin preached and taught often during each week. But what did Calvin’s sermon preparation consist of? Calvin prepared by working with the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. If he was preaching from an Old Testament passage he would translate it into French. For him, working from the original languages was important so that the meaning of the text would not be lost. However, there is no record that he ever used a Greek or Hebrew word from the pulpit. It was important to Calvin that the hearers of his message receive the same message the biblical author intended for his original recipients. When he preached on a New Testament passage, he simply had the Greek New Testament before him in the pulpit. In this regard, one can only be amazed at his familiarity with biblical Greek.

The context of the biblical passage was also important for Calvin. Calvin did not want to get the wrong meaning from a biblical text. He wrote, “When passages of Scripture are seized upon thoughtlessly and the context is ignored, it should not surprise us that mistakes arise everywhere.” In this way he was no modern day fundamentalist. He saw the human side of Scripture and knew that context must be studied diligently. Calvin used history, geography, and philology, and one also finds that Calvin used the tradition of interpretation available to him. We can see that he was influenced by John Chrysostom, and most of all by Augustine of Hippo. Since Calvin was so effective at using the available resources in studying the meaning of a passage, some in over-exaggeration have hailed him as the “exegete of the Reformation.”

Prior to formally preaching sermons, Calvin spent hour upon hour studying and pondering the meaning of a passage. If Calvin had already studied a passage and wrote on it in a commentary, he would employ that commentary for his sermon preparation. The purpose for reading the Scriptures was always to get meaning and was never a casual endeavor. Calvin wrote very few of his sermons being confident in the knowledge that he attained through his research and study. When he got into the pulpit he worked from memory. The reason we have some of his sermons today is because a certain Raguenier of Bar-sur-Seine, a French refugee, wrote down Calvin’s sermons during the second Geneva period (1541-1564). In 1557 Calvin’s sermons were printed and soon after were translated into various vernacular languages. Although Calvin did not write his sermons, he did not get into the pulpit without a plan. He wrote,

“If I come here without carefully pondering how I must apply the Holy Scripture to the edification of the people – well, then I should be a cock-sure charlatan and God would put me to confusion in my audaciousness.”

Reid writes, “His usual practice seems to have been to spend considerable time thinking about the meaning of his text. Then he would go into the pulpit prepared to give a homily on a passage of from five to fifteen or twenty verses.”

Calvin’s Intention and Hope

Calvin’s ultimate hope for his preaching was that it would change people’s lives, and that they would learn to trust in and walk in fear of God. When he pondered passages during sermon preparation his question was: “How is this profitable to the congregation.” His desire was that his hearers would benefit from his preaching and be edified. He wanted them to know God’s Word so he made it a point to not give people what their itching ears wanted to hear. He did not seek to compromise with the ways of the world, or to be a people-pleaser from the pulpit. His hope was that hearts and minds would be changed by the Holy Spirit. T.L.H Parker, author of Calvin’s Preaching (1992), and a pioneer in the study of Calvin’s preaching, says that Calvin’s hope was that his sermons would change the way people think and behave. Calvin thought that if Christ did not impact people here and now, the cross would remain something of the past, and then there would be no gospel. He hoped that the law of God would be written on his hearers’ hearts so that they would live the way God wanted them to live.

Calvin also hoped that through his preaching, people would be lead into that particular book he was expounding upon. Parker writes, “Calvin believed in the universal relevance of Holy Scripture. There was not a man, woman, or child in the congregation to whom each book and each passage did not apply. It was just a question of trying his best to bring it home to them.” Calvin’s hope was that people would be transformed by Scripture so that they would think and act biblically. He believed that the closer one was to the Scriptures the closer one was to God, and through the transformation process, God would reveal the meaning of Scripture to the person more and more.

The Oral Word of God

Calvin believed the preached Word was an instrument of grace. Thomas Davis, who presented a paper at the 12th Colloquium of the Calvin Studies Society at Union Seminary in Richmond (1999), wrote concerning Calvin’s view of preaching:
“Preaching is the instrument God uses to span time and space and to bring Christians, Christ, and cross together. Preaching is the bridge between the work of the cross and the grace of God experienced in the present. This is one of many attributes the preaching and sacraments share with one another: grace is offered in the here and the now through the instruments God has chose to present and to make present the new life in Christ.”

This may come as a surprise to Lutherans, but Calvin, unlike Bullinger and Zwingli, also believed that the preached Word was the Word of God. Here he was in agreement with Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. Calvin believed that the transcendent God was brought to his hearers through the proclamation of the Word of God. As long as the preacher did not invent anything of his own, the message was the Word of God. Since Calvin had such a high view of the preaching office he believed the teaching had to be pure and could not come from the world, or dreams, or reveries. If it were from man’s own imagination, Calvin believed the Spirit would not work. Since Calvin believed the Word of God was dispensed through the mouth of the preacher, he did not believe the preacher should attempt to create a following. He did not want his hearers to follow him, but he wanted his hearers to follow God’s Word. This view of Calvin is captured in a sermon he gave on 1 Timothy 3:2:

“For St. Paul does not mean that one should just make a parade here or that a man should show off so that everyone applauds him and says, ‘Oh! Well spoken! Oh! What a breadth of learning! Oh! What a subtle mind!’ All that is beside the point…When a man has climbed up into the pulpit, is it so that he may be seen from afar, and that he may be preeminent? Not at all. It is that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man. And he does us that favor of presenting himself here and wishes a mortal man to be his messenger.”

Calvin further expounds upon his view that the preacher’s word was the Word of God when he wrote:

“It is said that the ministers are sent to enlighten the blind, to deliver the captives, to forgive sins, to convert hearts. What! These are things which belong to God alone…For there is nothing more properly his own than to pardon sins; he also reserves to himself the converting of the heart. Now, nevertheless it is the case that he imparts all these qualification to those whom he appoints to convey his Word and declares to them that he does not separate himself from them, but rather shows them he uses them as his hands and his instruments.”

Further evidence that Calvin believed the oral word was the Word of God comes from his sermons on Romans 10. One quote will suffice:

“The Word, accordingly, is required for a true knowledge of God. But it is the preached Word alone which Paul has described, for this is the normal mode which the Lord has appointed for imparting His Word.”

Although the preached Word was the Word of God, it was normed by the written Word of God. Again, Calvin is in agreement with the Lutheran Reformation. Parker writes concerning this concept in Calvin’s preaching, “Scripture is definitive and sovereign; preaching must be derivative and subordinate….Scripture does not have to conform to preaching; preaching must conform to Scripture.”

Style and Structure

In the late Middle Ages, there was little continuity in a series of sermons. One Sunday a preacher would preach on the Gospel of John, and then another Sunday on Deuteronomy. Calvin did not think this was the most helpful way to communicate the meaning of Scripture to his people. He also saw the lectionary as an unnecessary human innovation. His desire was to create continuity in instruction and application in his sermons. His method was to go book by book, and verse by verse through whole books of Scripture. He felt that this would give more permanence to the hearers from week to week and they could focus on one author, and one historical setting. In his first sermon on a book, he would simply preach on the historical setting and the entire theme of the book. With regard to book by book preaching, Calvin was going back to the early patristic tradition post-Nicea. Most notable among post-Nicene book by book preachers were Augustine of Hippo and John Chrysostom. Calvin had access to Augustine’s sermons on the Psalms, and Gospel of John, as well as Chrysostom’s sermons on almost all the books of the New Testament. Sometimes for six months or one year, he would preach on books written by one biblical author. He wanted authors of the Scriptures to be understood in all their depth and brevity. Since Calvin was an expository preacher, the text determined the direction of the sermon. Parker writes of Calvin, “The form of the preaching is determined by the movement of the text. The preacher does not so much move forward form point to point as be borne onwards by the movement of his author’s thought.”

So if Calvin preached verse by verse, and book by book, how long did he preach on any given Sunday? The answer is that Calvin normally preached for one hour. In this regard he preached for less time than John Chrysostom who preached for two hours. His preaching consisted of a running commentary on a biblical book emphasizing application to the people’s lives. Calvin preached on New Testament books on Sunday mornings and afternoons, and Old Testament books during the week.

For Calvin, preaching was teaching and teaching was preaching. In the light of the fact that he was preaching to many misinformed Catholics, his task was to re-educate them. Davis writes concerning Calvin’s teaching method, “Preaching has, thus, a didactic function: the congregation leaves worship knowing more about Gods’ word than when they entered.” This was more then just a cognitive exercise for Calvin. His preaching skills persuaded people as he moved from doctrine to application to his hearer’s lives.

The usual form of Calvin’s sermons was to 1) expound upon what he had said in a previous sermon, 2) expound upon the meaning of the passage (textual exposition), 3) and apply that passage to his hearers lives (hearer application). The function of his sermons were that the people would know God more (teaching) and would be inspired to live lives in accordance with His will (sanctification).

Contextualizing Preaching

Since Calvin was such an educated man, how did he communicate God’s message to his people? Calvin often taught using figurative expressions and metaphors. In this regard, Calvin wrote,

“Although a figurative expression is not so distinct, it gives a more elegant and significant expression than if the thing were said simply, and without figure. Hence figures are called the eyes of speech, not that they explain the matter more easily than simple ordinary language, but because they attract attention by their elegance and arouse the mind by their luster, and by their lively similitude better penetrate the soul.”

Calvin thought the language of metaphor would better penetrate the hearts and minds of his hearers. Davis writes of Calvin, “It is the language of metaphors that moves hearts, and Calvin states how he is willing to sacrifice some exactness of definition, inherent in the use of metaphor in order to find that persuasive metaphor that impresses upon the heart the meaning of Scripture.”

What about words in Scripture that his hearers were unfamiliar with? Calvin did not shy away from using terms like “justification,” “grace,” or “faith,” but expounded upon their meaning. When there was a theological term that came outside the Bible like “Trinity,” Calvin would often expound on the meaning using metaphor. Concerning the two natures of Christ, Calvin said:

“So then, let us note well that this word ‘manifested’ conjoins the two natures in such a way that we have to know Jesus Christ, not at all as double, but as one only, although he has two natures. We have two eyes in our head and each eye can have its own partial sight. But when we are looking at something, if our two eyes are directed at what you will, our vision, which of itself is separated, is co-coordinated and united to focus entirely on the object which is set before us….Just as we have two yes in our head, there are in Jesus Christ two different natures.”

In this regard, Calvin was able to adapt himself to his congregation. He realized what kind of knowledge they had and adapted himself to them. Often after driving home the meaning of a particular point, he would bring up possible objections and respond to them. Sometimes they would even be objections from real people, sometimes even heretics. In this way, Calvin used the art of persuasion quite well from the pulpit. He taught using figurative expressions, and responded to objections. His rhetorical genius were evident in his preaching.

Calvin’s Use of Law and Gospel

While this section will hardly be exhaustive, it is necessary to our understanding of Calvin’s preaching. The 3rd use of the law dominated Calvin’s preaching. In this regard he differed from the Lutheran Reformation. Due to the stubborness of Agricola, the Lutherans were debating whether or not there was a 3rd use of the law. There was no such debate in the Calvinistic Reformation. In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 5:17, he wrote,

“With respect to doctrine we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law; for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable as the justice of God, which it embraced, it is constant and uniform.”

For Calvin “Christ is said to be that of a ‘faithful interpreter’ of the law.” In the law, Calvin believed God set forth a standard for all mankind: “In the Law of God a perfect standard of all righteousness is presented to us which with good reason can be called the eternal will of the Lord.”

J. T. McNeil, who edited an edition of Calvin’s Institutes in 1960, identified three referents of the term “law” in Calvin: “1] The whole religion of Moses, 2] the special revelation of the moral law to the chosen people, e.g., chiefly the Decalogue and Jesus’ summary, or 3] various bodies of civil, judicial, and ceremonial statutes.” In this regard we can see that Calvin did not believe that the laws of Moses were abolished and saw a continuity between the old and new covenants. He did not believe that God abandoned the law in the New Testament, but simply that its form or administration differed. Therefore he believed that the substance of the covenants and laws remained the same, only the administration of the covenants changed. For example, when commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Calvin wrote, “It [The new covenant] being new, no doubt refers to what they call the form…but the substance remains the same. By substance I understand the doctrine; for God in the Gospel brings forward nothing but what the Law contains.”

Since Calvin believed there was a continuity of substance between the old and new covenants, he also did not see law and gospel as opposed to each other. In fact, he held that the law and gospel contained the same substance as well, but only their form or administration differed. That Calvin did not see law and gospel as opposed to each other is evident in his preface to his commentary on Isaiah where he writes, “The law consists chiefly of three parts: first, the doctrine of life; second threatening and promises; third; the covenant of grace, which being founded on Christ, contains within itself all the special promises.” As we can see there is a twofold meaning for the term law. The first is God’s will for one’s life, and the second is God’s promises. But these are not opposed to each other. For Calvin, the law contained promises. Calvin also did not have a consistent use for the term gospel. In the broad sense the gospel contained the law, but in the narrow sense it only contained the promises through Christ. With this understanding of law and gospel, it is no wonder why the 3rd use of the law dominated Calvin’s preaching.

The Christocentricity of the Sermon

Calvin did believe that his preaching should be centered on Christ. In his commentary on John 5:39, Calvin said, “The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them.” However, this is not the same as the Lutheran understanding of a Christ-centered reading of Scripture or preaching. Calvin believed that Christ was at the center of the Christian life with promises of grace, but also as Teacher. Therefore, a Christ centered sermon was not limited to promises of grace in the narrow sense. Parker writes concerning Calvin, “The Teacher of the Old Testament Church is the same Christ as the Teacher of the New Testament Church.” When preaching on Matthew 28:1-10, Calvin said, “His will is to have a common life with us, and that what He has may be ours, even that He wishes to dwell in us, not in imagination, but in fact.” One can see here that the emphasis is not on Christ “for us,” but Christ “in us.”

Calvin did, however, have an emphasis in his preaching on Christ as Savior in the narrow sense. For example Calvin said in a sermon on 2 Tim. 1:8-9 concerning gospel in the narrow sense, “If the gospel be not preached Jesus is, as it were, buried.” Calvin desired to present Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Davis wrote concerning this concept, “In preaching, Christ is present. That is the goal, that is the content, that is the raison’ d’etre of preaching. Everything else flows from recognition of this experience.” Davis also notes that Calvin often did present Christ’s perfect obedience, death, and resurrection for the sinner. He wrote concerning Calvin’s understanding of preaching, “Any preaching that does not present the drama of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from the perspective of his human life will not convey the heart of the Gospel.” For Calvin, the sermon was centered on Jesus Christ. However, sometimes when Calvin preached on the Old Testament Prophets he did not mention Jesus Christ.

The Legacy of John Calvin’s Preaching

What legacy did Calvin leave post-Reformation? After consulting several sources, my conclusion is that the verse by verse, book by book expository sermon with an emphasis on teaching and sanctification is the most long lasting legacy Calvin left after his death. At the Academy in Geneva, one finds that in the classroom the expository method with an emphasis on languages was central to a preacher’s education. Reid writes concerning Calvin’s influence, “The city’s [Geneva] population of around nine thousand was almost doubled by the number of refugees who had flocked there to obtain respite from persecution in their own countries.” These countries included people from Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, Germany, and England. And one can see that Calvin had an influence on important men that took his style of preaching back to their own countries.

One example was the Bishop in Hungary, Peter Melius. Melius published five volumes of sermons, but these are small in comparison to how many he actually preached. In his sermons, we can see Calvin’s theology and impact in his life. He said, “It is God’s counsel, God’s decree that in Hungary, in Debrecen the Word of God be preached. It is not by chance.” Kalman D. Toth, a retired Presbyterian minister in Ottawa, Ontario, writes concerning Calvin’s impact on Melius, “Melius’ volume on Colossians (1561) is verse-by-verse ‘expository preaching,’ in the style of the [Calvinistic] Reformation.” Many of his other sermons are expository in style and reflect a Calvinistic influence.

Another example of one who was influenced by the book by book expository method was John Knox who took Calvin’s method back to Scottland. Reid writes, “Richard Bannatyne, John Knox’s secretary, reports that as Knox lay on his deathbed, some of the sermons of ‘Messire Jean Calvin’ were read to him in French, which he understood very well.” In America today, the book by book expository method with an emphasis on teaching and sanctification is evident in the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Presbyterian Church in America. Further, the book by book expository method is rampant in Calvinistic Baptist churches in America even today.

In conclusion, we can see that Calvin had a high view of the Scriptures and preaching. His desire was that people would know God’s Word, so that their lives would be changed. He wanted people to know Christ, trust Him, and walk in fear of Him. Indeed, his desire was to write the law of God on his hearers’ hearts. He had a tremendous impact on Europe and later in America. In conclusion of this paper I will end with a quote from Reid:

“It was from this rather small city at the headwaters of the River Rhone – a city with little economic, political, or intellectual prestige – that Calvin exercised a wide influence over Western Europe’s religious Reformation, the effects of that movement still being felt to the present day. In the fifty-five years of his life he made an impact on his own age and succeeding ages, an impact equaled by very few in history.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

Facing the Giants (2006)

Interestingly enough, after I posted my last blog entry titled, Prosperity Gospel, I went and saw the movie, Facing the Giants (2006). I had no idea it would have prosperity theology as its main theme. The movie is about a head football coach at a private high school who begins the movie in a pretty discouraging situation. He and his wife have been trying to achieve pregnancy for four years but to no avail. He finally goes to the doctor to see if he is the problem, and it turns out that he is. On top of this, his football program is going down the drain. They start the season horribly, losing to the worst team in their division. And to make matters worse, the athletic directors, parents, and even assistant football coach want to get rid of him. The head football coach discovers this one night as he walks by a room at the school where they are all meeting and talking about how to fire him. Other things that are going wrong in the head football coach’s life are that his car is old and not working well, finances are tight, and there is a dead rat somewhere in his house that is causing his home to smell. After coming across the meeting of people who were trying to fire him, he comes home and shares everything with his wife and they both weep bitterly. They asked God where He was. Their finances were tight, his job was on the line, they were not getting pregnant, and he felt like a failure. At this point, the movie goes in another direction. The head football coach and his wife get on their knees and pray. He gets into the Scriptures to get his heart and mind renewed so that he can face this tough time in his life with courage and hope. After his loss against the worst team in the division, he shouted at his team, “If you are not here to win football games then what are you here for!?” Now after reading the Scriptures he has a shift in his heart and mind. Football is not about winning, it is about honoring God. If we win or not, we still are called to honor God. He makes God the object of faith rather than football. The head football coach goes to school with a new outlook and shares this God centered vision with His team. In response, his student athletes begin to honor God by playing and practicing with confidence. Instead of coming with bad attitudes and expecting to lose, they begin to play and practice courageously and manifest maturity. They begin to be better students in the classroom, and learn how to honor their parents. After this shift in the team’s outlook on football, everything becomes better. Relationships change at school and at home. The head football coach gets a pay increase. After restoring a relationship between one of his football players and his father, the father buys the head football coach a new Ford F-150. At the house, he finds the rat that was stinking up the place, and with his pay raise he is able to buy his wife jewelry. And most importantly they go on to win the state championship with a small team. And to top everything off, his wife becomes pregnant. The synopsis of the movie is: Put God first in your life and He will bless you.

Positive Elements

The movie did a good job depicting the reality of trouble when it showed the couple crying and the head football coach asking God where He was. The theme of turning to God in prayer during times like this was also depicted well. God is the one we are called to go to, not only in times of trouble but at all times, since He is the living water that can quench our thirst. The power of prayer was also portrayed very well as the people of God at a Christian school prayed that God would bless them and He did. He gave them a community of families that were having broken relationships restored, and a football team victory on the field. The greatest miracle of all was the 51 yard field goal by a teenage rookie kicker, and of course the pregnancy after thinking there was no hope. Towards the end of the movie the developed theme was “anything is possible with God. Serve God and let Him take care of the rest.” The power of a trusting and hopeful faith in the movie was a living description of the faith Jesus calls his followers to have in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

The best part about the movie was the way in which the head football coach’s outlook changed. In the beginning he thought winning was everything. After having his heart and mind renewed through the Word and prayer, he realized that God is first and football is second. The movie, Friday Night Lights (2005), depicted the opposite. Football was depicted as an idol in that movie. Indeed, football can become an obsession in our own lives. In Facing the Giants, the head football coach’s outlook changed and football was put into its proper place. The results of being living witnesses to the gospel in relationship with parents, and as students was depicted well. Further, the living voice of God’s Word was made present on campus. One day after bible class, a public school transfer who had a broken relationship with his father was brought to repentance and faith. The same student had his relationship with his father restored. That same day, students who were mistreating each other, were brought to tears and confessed their sins to each other. Relationships were restored; the community of Christians on campus was renewed.

Negative Elements

The main theme of the movie was: Put God first in your life and everything will go well. This is what Lutherans call a theology of glory. And I have to tip my hats to the producers; they depicted their theology of glory quite well. After putting God first, the head football coach got a new car, a raise, a state football championship, and even found the rat that was stinking up the house! The theme was: Put God first, and in all ways and in all things, God will bless you. Too often Christianity is sold in this way. Christian broadcasters often shout, “If you give your life to Jesus your life will be so much happier and your life will become better.” Fulfilling your dreams, maximizing your potential, and prospering all have one thing in common: They are focused on the things of the earth. If Christians in this life put God first, they may not get a pay raise at their job. They may get fired for being a living witness to the gospel. There are Christian football coaches who do put God first in their work, but they do not win state championships using teenage rookies to kick 51 yard field goals. Further, if you put God first in your life, it does not mean that you will get a nice car. You might get your car stolen or broken into. And if any of these negative things (stolen car, job termination, football losses) happens in your life it does not mean you do not have God’s favor. Christ said that experiencing suffering and persecution is a normal part of the Christian life. Although you live on this earth right now, your citizenship is in heaven with God.


While this movie had many positive elements I am not sure it will have a positive impact on a non-believer. It will most likely not cause them to inquire about the Christian faith. The combination of poor acting, poor cinematography, and poor theology will probably leave the non-believer thinking that Christianity is cheesy. The way things were depicted was a little corny for a non-believer to be impacted. There were so many things that began to go well that the Christian life seemed unrealistic. If a non-believer does desire to inquire about the Christian faith as a result of this movie, I am not sure having earthly hopes is a beneficial way to begin a relationship with Christ. It is definitely not a good hope for Christians today to have as more persecution in America is on its way. While it was good to see Christians make a movie, and I hope to see more, I also hope that Christians in the future will combine better theology and cinematography to make an impact on the world for Christ. Putting Jesus first may not result in happiness, it may result in persecution.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity gospel movement is making headlines in America. It even has caused Time Magazine to write an article documenting the movement’s claims. The article from September 18, 2006 was titled, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” As I was listening to secular radio around the time of the article, broadcasters were making fun of the “Christians” supporting this movement. They said, “Don’t they remember when Jesus said that it is easier to go through the eye of a needle then to enter to the kingdom of God?” Another broadcaster said, “There is one word to describe Christians as such: Republican!” As Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and the whole Word Faith Movement promote their prosperity gospel, the world kicks back and makes fun of so called “Christians” that are promoting this movement. Even the world seems to possess more of the natural knowledge of God, since it recognizes the need to give money rather then grow in “abundance.”

The prosperity movement’s claims are that God desires His people to be wealthy. Christians who trust God will become rich. If you are not trusting that God will make you rich then you will not become rich. And if you are not rich and you are a Christian then you are not growing in favor with God. Joyce Meyer said:

"Why would He (God) want all of His people poverty stricken while all of the people that aren't living for God have everything?" Meyer said. "I think it's old religious thinking, and I believe the devil uses it to keep people from wanting to serve God."

The Scriptures that the movement points to are: “Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Tragically, they do not even read the verse in its context. Paul’s full thought is: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Here we can see that the context is speaking of spiritual riches not material riches. Jesus never was materially rich. On the other hand, He was spiritually rich, yet He went to the cross and became poor so that we might have eternal life. The whole context of the passage is not about attaining material abundance, but giving money. Paul writes:

“For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will” (2 Cor. 8:2-3).

Here Paul testifies to the generosity of the Corinthians. The prosperity movement ignores the context of this passage and falls into the trap of preaching a false gospel. It is not even logical to conclude that homeless Jesus became poor so that His followers might become millionaires and live the “abundant” life.

Another passage the movement points to is: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).

So since John here prays for Christians to be in good health the conclusion is that God wants us to be materially rich? When if God decides not give a person good health? When if God decides to allow you to get crucified upside down under the reign of Nero like Peter? Or have your body stabbed through with a sword like Thomas? Or what if God allows you to get stoned until you die like Stephen?

An early Christian document dating from the 2nd century gives this description of Christians:

“They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign….Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven….They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things” (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus).

Jackie Alnor of the Christian Sentinel wrote after listening to a Joel Osteen sermon: “He testified about how he had been pulled over a couple of times for speeding but when the officer saw his last name was Osteen, no ticket was issued. He said the same can happen for every Christian who wakes up declaring they have God’s favor. By following this method Osteen says he has been able to get the best parking spot in a crowded parking lot, a first class seat on a crowded airplane with no boarding pass, and priority seating at restaurants.”

This doesn’t sound like the description Jesus gave us: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Jesus says that the world will hate us because of our desire to serve Him. He does not say that cops, ticket-officers, flight attendants, and hostesses will love us.

What Do the Scriptures Teach?

Jesus taught: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24; cf Luke 16:13). This passage is so clear there is no reason to expound upon it.

When Jesus sent the Apostles out on a mission trip he said: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Luke 9:3). He did not tell them to take an “abundant” amount of material with them. Jesus told them not to take any money so that they would be fully dependent on their Lord (Luke 22:35-36).

Jesus said: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).

Jesus calls on us to give our possessions to poor people. He calls on us to have no other gods before Him, to trust in Him alone, and in doing so we will have treasure in heaven. The prosperity movement is causing people to seek after material that perishes, instead of spiritual food that endures to eternal life.

The Apostle Paul said: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10) and the writer of Hebrews said: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

God’s desire for us is that we worship Him alone with all our heart, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We find favor before Him by his grace alone, and not by our own worthiness or wealth. We are not called to labor for fruit that perishes, but for the fruits of the Spirit which are: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). If God gives us money then we will be content with that. If we are not wealthy this has nothing to do with how holy we are. If we have faith, hope, and love, then we have all things. Money is simply a gift from God, which He calls us to be good stewards of. But one cannot worship the Giver and the gift or one will fall into idolatry. Christians are called to worship the Giver alone, and His gift to us is eternal life.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Whose Land Is It?

Hey Friends,

I would like you to check this article out and let me know what you think (begins on page 6):


I think Dr. Lessing brings up some pretty insightful points and causes us to fix our eyes on Christ, rather then have our whole theology centered upon events in the Middle East. I particularly think his definition of "Israel" as the people of God today (Christians) is biblical. I'm curious to hear your opinions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Oral Word of God

What about Christians who preach and teach? Are their words the words of God? Is there such thing as an “oral” word of God, or is there only a “written” word of God? My contention is that there is as an oral word of God, and this is attested to in the Scriptures.

Jesus said, "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it….Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:5, 11).

Here, Jesus witnesses to the spoken word of God. Jesus is describing the oral word of God as it is shared with others. What about the book of Acts? How is the preaching of the first Christians described?

The historian Luke writes, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The word of God is described here as spoken. And this theme is attested to throughout the book of Acts (6:2, 7; 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 46; 17:13).

In the writings of the Apostle Paul, the concept of the oral Word of God is prevalent as well. He writes, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13). The Epistles describe the word of God as oral in Rom. 10:17; 2 Tim. 2:9; Heb. 13:7 as well.

Now the above quotes are assuming that the oral word of God is in accordance with the written word of God. If the Christian preacher or teacher says things contrary to the word of God, then his preaching/teaching is not the word of God. All post apostolic writing and preaching is normed by the written word of God. If someone writes or preaches something contrary to the word of God, then it is not to be received as the word of God. In that way, there is a distinction between the written and oral word of God, since Scripture is the sole rule, norm, and judge of everything else. The Holy Scriptures were inspired by God Himself, so all prophecies, sermons, and teachings must be judged by it. When preachers get up to speak, they are not inspired in the same way as the Apostles were. However, if what they say is in accordance with the Scriptures, their words are the words of God.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Holy Scriptures are the Word of God

The Holy Scriptures are made up of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament) written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and a little Aramaic) over a period of more than a than a thousand years by over 40 authors. I contend that the authors were inspired by God Himself and their writings are the Word of God.

It would be wrong to assume that the Scriptures are the Word of God if the Scriptures themselves did not make this claim. However, the Scriptures do make this claim, and it is necessary to examine this claim with all honesty and integrity. If the Scriptures make this claim and are false, then the Scriptures are unreliable and should not be used at all in the church. However, the Scriptures make the claim that they are inspired by God. And if this is true, then we must submit to God’s divine revelation as authoritative in our faith and life.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and calls Scripture “the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). If the Scriptures are breathed out by God then how can they not be God’s Word? And if the Scriptures are the word of truth, then they must be from God, since God is true and not a liar (2 Sam. 7:28; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). The Apostle Peter writes, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Second Peter 1:20 communicates to us that “prophecy” is referring to Scripture. And the Apostle Peter here indicates that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Apostles Paul and Peter were speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, which Paul used to prove to Jews and Gentiles that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:2; 18:28; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:8). The Psalms declare that the Scriptures are pure (Hebrew: Tahroath Ps. 12:6), true (Emet, Ps. 119:60), and perfect (Tumiyma, Ps. 19:7).

Jesus Christ saw the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s holy Word and authoritative for faith, life, and prophecy concerning Himself. When Jesus argued with the Jews, He quoted the Holy Scriptures showing that He considered them authoritative (Mt. 21:22; 22:29; Jn. 7:32). Often Jesus would respond to attacks from men and the devil with the phrase, “It is written” (Mt. 4:4, 6, 7, 10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:31; Mk. 7:6; 11:17; 14:27; Lk. 10:26; 20:17; 24:46; Jn. 6:45). After Jesus rose from the dead, He taught about Himself using the Old Testament on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:27, 32). More than that, Jesus knew He was fulfilling Scripture testifying to its divine inspiration (Mt. 26:31; Mk. 9:12; 14:21, 27, 49; Lk. 18:31; 20:17; 22:37; Jn. 7:42; 12:14; 15:25). He told the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (Jn. 5:39). After Jesus rose from the dead, He told the disciples, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44). Jesus saw the Scriptures as the Word of God that spoke the truth which enabled Him to say, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35).

But what about the writings of the New Testament? Should they be considered God’s Word? Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed told the Apostles that after He rose from the dead the Holy Spirit would inspire them in a special way and guide them into all truth (Jn. 14:25-26; 16:12-15). The early church saw this and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he claimed divine authority for all the Apostles declaring that the church “was built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (2:20). The Apostle Peter refers to the letters of Paul as “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). And Paul declared that the letters he wrote were to be read and obeyed (Col. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:14). The writings of the Apostles were considered God’s Word by the recipients of their letters.

What about those books in the New Testament that were not written by Apostles? There are some, but none of them were written without apostolic direction. Luke received his information from the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 4:11) and numerous eyewitnesses (Lk. 1:1-4). Mark received his information from the Apostle Peter (This is attested to by Papias, and Clement of Alexandria). Paul called James an Apostle and pillar (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). Jude was James’ brother, probably Jesus’ half-brother, and closely associated with the Apostles in Jerusalem. Tertullian (De Pudicitia, 20) suggests that the writer of Hebrews was Barnabas, and Martin Luther suggested that the writer was Apollos. Both are very probable candidates for authorship. Either way, both were considered authoritative in the early church. Barnabas was called an Apostle (Acts 4:36) and accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). Apollos is mentioned in the same category as the Apostles Peter and Paul, in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth (1:12; 3:4-6, 22). Apollos, Barnabas, Jude, James, Peter, Paul, John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew are the ones through whom the gospel came down to the early church. Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons in the late second century wrote, “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith” (Against Heresies, 3:1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 414, emphasis added).

Still, many in the Christian church today do not consider the writings of Scripture as the Word of God. Some even believe that the Scriptures are not inspired at all. This has caused church bodies such as the Episcopalian Church USA (ECUSA), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to reject the passages of Scripture which speak of the role of women in the church. It is curious observing these criticisms arising during the feminist movement in America. It is also unfortunate that these church bodies have not stood boldly upon Scripture, but have allowed themselves to conform to the world. The ECUSA, and the UCC have already ordained practicing homosexuals to the Pastoral office. And the PCUSA and the ECLA are divided whether or not they should follow suit. All of these church bodies deny the inerrancy and authority of the Holy Scriptures.

The Scriptures show themselves to be divinely inspired since in them we see hundreds of prophecies extending hundreds – and sometimes thousands of years in the future. Many liberal church bodies often want to reduce the Bible to the friendly Jesus (the gospel) and do not to heed the words of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament testifies to Christ and prophecies concerning Him. The Scriptures prophecy that Jesus would be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; Mt. 1:20; Gal. 4:4), descend from Abraham (Gen. 22:18; Mt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16), be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:18), be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7), be rejected by His own people (Is. 53; John 1), be presented as a king riding on a donkey (Zech. 9:9; Luke 19:35-37), be betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9; Mt. 26:50), be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12; Mt. 26:15), have blood money thrown on temple floor and used to buy a potters field (Zech. 11:13; Mt. 27:5-7), be crucified (Ps. 22:16; Lk. 23:33), be crucified with thieves (This was prophesied prior to crucifixion being a mode of execution; Is. 53:12; Mt. 27:38), have lots cast for his clothing (Ps. 22:18; John 19:23), be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is. 53:9; Mt. 27:57), be resurrected and exalted (Ps. 16:10; Is. 52:13; 53:10-12; Acts 2:25-32) and ascend into heaven (Ps. 68:18; Acts 1:8; Eph. 4:8). This is what the these divinely inspired Old Testament writings say about Jesus Christ. And the same Jesus Christ inspired the New Testament writers authoritatively (Jn. 14:25-26; 16:12-15; Eph. 2:20). It is absurd to think that God would abandon His people and leave them with no rule, norm, or guide for faith and life. The Psalms declare that God “will guide us forever” (48:14), and Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk. 13:31).

The Scriptures show themselves to be a book of history promising historical events that come to pass exactly as promised. These promises show the divine inspiration of Scripture and show that God is active in human history bringing events to pass just as He ordains them. We can therefore trust the internal consistency of the Bible as being a faithful witness.

What about a non-believer who declares that the Bible cannot be trusted? Why should they accept the Scriptures as the Word of God, and not other religions’ writings? First, neither Islam, any other world religion, or cult can present any specific prophecies concerning the coming of their prophets. This testifies to the divine inspiration of the Bible. Above, I have showed the prophetic testimony concerning the coming of Jesus Christ. These are the Scriptures which speak of Christ the incarnate God, and firstborn from the dead, who promises to save us from our sins by His grace alone and not by our works. No other religion takes care of the problem of sin, has an incarnate God, or presents evidence for the resurrection or salvation by grace alone. Second, the historicity of the Old and New Testament accounts have been well established by early Ancient Near East, Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources. When the Old and New Testament speaks of rulers, nations, people groups, political events, and the existence of Jesus, non-Christian historical sources confirm the accuracy of these Old and New Testament accounts. Further, archaeological sites and artifacts have been found confirming the accuracy of the Scriptures. A few examples include Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, Israel (Lk. 1:9), the Derbe inscription in Kerti Huyuk, Asia Minor (Acts 14:20), the Erastus inscription in Corinth, Greece (Rom. 16:23), and the tomb of Augustus in Rome, Italy (Lk. 2:1). This testifies to the historical accuracy of the Bible. And finally, many non-believers are willing to accept the authority of ancient writings such as Homer (ca. 850 BC), Plato (ca. 380 BC), and Aristotle (ca. 350 BC), but are unwilling to accept the writings of the New Testament (ca. 60 AD). We only have 643 copies of Homer’s writings, and do not know when the earliest copy comes from. We have seven copies of Plato’s writings and the earliest copy we have does not come until 1300 years after Plato’s time. We have five copies of Aristotle’s writings and the earliest copy does not come until 1400 years after his time. We have over 14,000 copies of the New Testament and have a scrap of papyrus containing parts of the gospel of John dating no more than 40 years after John’s gospel was likely written. A non-Christian scholar, Carsten Peter Thiede, claims he has dated a fragment of Matthew to about 60 AD. Of the 14,000 manuscripts there are variants, but 97-99% of the New Testament can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is dependent upon textually disputed passages. And if the New Testament is accurate, its testimony concerning the Old Testament must be accepted as well.

In conclusion, for both the critical Christian and the skeptical non-Christian, the bibliographical, prophetic, and historical evidence are strong and hopefully will remove stumbling blocks in the way of accepting the Scriptures as God’s Word. However, for both, it is not these arguments that are going to change hearts and minds, but it is the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of the gospel.