Bible Contradiction? Is God the author of confusion?

 

For today’s post we will tackle the question the Skeptic Annotated Bible asked: Is God the author of confusion?

Here are the two answers which the skeptic believes indicate a Bible contradiction:

Yes

Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called [c]Babel, because there the Lord confused the [d]language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:7-9)

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

No

for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

(All Scriptural quotation comes from the New American Standard Bible)

Here’s a closer look at whether or not there is a contradiction:

 

  1. When dealing with skeptics’ claim of Bible contradictions it seems one can never be reminded enough of what exactly is a contradiction.  A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time.  To put it another way, a Bible contradiction exists when there are claims within the Bible that are mutually exclusive in the same sense and at the same time.
  2. One should be skeptical of whether this is a Bible contradiction given the Skeptic Annotated Bible’s track record of inaccurately handling the Bible.  See the many examples of their error which we have responded to in this post:   Of course that does not take away the need to respond to this claim of a contradiction, which is what the remainder of this post will do.  But this observation should caution us to slow down and look more closely at the passages cited by the Skeptic Annotated Bible to see if they interpreted the passages properly to support their conclusion that it is a Bible contradiction.
  3. A bit of background of each verse in its context might be helpful for readers.
    1. Genesis 11:7-9 in a chapter that is about the tower of Babel.  Humans were trying to gather and build a Tower that reached heaven but then we see God frustrate that attempt.
    2. Both 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 14:33 are verses in a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church in Greece at a major city of Corinth.  Here he writes to them even as the church is in chaos and confusion about right doctrines and practice.
  4. The skeptic cited 1 Corinthians 14:33 as denying that God is the author of confusion.
    1. Note in the context it is talking about the necessity of having church service in an orderly fashion.  Verse 33 appeals to the basis for that is because “God is not a God of confusion.
    2. The Greek word for “confusion” here is ἀκαταστασίας.  In the NASB ἀκαταστασίας in Luke 21:9 is translated as commotion, in 2 Corinthians 6:5 is translated as tumults, in 2 Corinthians 12:20 as disturbance and James 3:16 as disorder.  We thus see here from the lexical range that 1 Corinthians 14:33 is denying God is any of those things in His attribute of who He is within Himself (the genitive case is showing an attribute of God here).
    3. To be technically correct 1 Corinthians 14:33 says “God is not a God of confusion.”  It does not say God is not an “author” of confusion, whatever that means by the skeptic.  This is an important distinction in that God within Himself in His character is not confused but that does not mean God might ordaining confusion outside of Himself for His own purposes.
  5. The skeptic cited 1 Corinthians 1:27 as denying that God is the author of confusion but the skeptic hasn’t properly interpreted that verse.
    1. 1 Corinthians 1:27 talks about God shaming the wise and the strong people of the World because of God’s election of the unwise and the weak.
    2. Here the skeptic is making a categorical fallacy in interpreting this verse: God shaming sinful prideful people is not the same thing as somehow God being the author of confusion.  Shaming someone is not the same thing as bringing about confusion per se (you can shame someone without confusing them).
    3. Moreover part of shaming them means that they will have some understanding adequate enough to feel ashamed.  And that understanding is contrary to confusion.
  6. The skeptic cited Genesis 11:7-9 as asserting that God is the author of confusion but it still does not contradict with 1 Corinthians 14:33 when both verses are properly interpreted.
    1. Remember 1 Corinthians 14:33 is talking about God’s attribute not being a God of confusion within Himself and it is not about God not being able to bring about confusion in circumstances outside of Himself, for His greater purposes.
    2. Genesis 11:7 and Genesis 11:9 clearly reveal that God did confuse the people’s language at the tower of Babel.
    3. However that does not mean that God Himself is a God of confusion as His internal attribute.
      1. That is because God can bring about confusion upon others as an act of punishment.  Within the Biblical worldview a just punishment doesn’t mean the judge is somehow the attribute related to those punishment in other contexts divorce from acts of justice such as being a sadistic pain giver, etc.
      2. Likewise God is a God who is acting in judging sin in Genesis 11 with the story of the Tower of Babel.
      3. So this does not contradict 1 Corinthians 14:33.
      4. Also it might seem paradoxical but it not an actual contradiction to say that God in a penal way brought about confusion of language and yet He is not a God of confusion.  For example I was in the Marines and knew a sniper who saved the lives of four other Marines.  He was a life saver.  Yet in saving the life of others he taken the life of those who were violently trying to kill those Marines.  He’s a life saver, because he saved lives of his fellow Marine; yet to do this he did have to act in the capacity of taking lives.  Still given the context it would still be proper to say he’s a life saver.  Likewise God is not a God of confusion and since He is orderly He has to judge sin and frustrate the plans of sinners.
    4. Patrick Hawthorne also added this insight: ” God confused their language but not their minds. By that I mean, God’s intent was not to confuse the people through deceit. He stayed true to His Word without any violations or contradiction. The people were still able to think and act according to the plans and purposes of God which never changed. The only difference was that the were unable to communicate with each other at the present moment.”  Think of a riot.  Those in law enforcement might hinder the communication of rioters (use of tear gas, specific removal of riot leaders, etc) by means that seems chaotic but one wouldn’t say the law enforcement group are breaking the law of being disorderly when they are trying to bring about order.
  7. We shouldn’t miss that worldviews are at play even with the skeptic’s objection to Christianity.  The worldview of the author of the Skeptic Annotated Bible actually doesn’t even allow for such a thing as the law of non-contradiction to be meaningful and intelligible.  In other words for him to try to disprove the Bible by pointing out that there’s a Bible contradiction doesn’t even make sense within his own worldview.  Check out our post “Skeptic Annotated Bible Author’s Self-Defeating Worldview.”

https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2019/07/11/bible-contradiction-is-god-the-author-of-confusion/

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With Every Blessing

When the body has need, the Lord is faithful to provide

BY CHARLES F. STANLEY

Maybe you can picture it: Jesus Christ ascending into heaven. Perhaps you’ve imagined who was there and how they reacted. Though most Christians have heard the story numerous times, one part often gets overlooked: the Lord’s final words. Although the book of Matthew recounts the last thing Jesus said as being the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples, Luke’s gospel gives an additional detail: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

 

Jesus’ last act before returning to His Father was to bless those first members of His church. In fact, everything about the church is the result of God’s grace. Sometimes we think of grace as simply the way we are saved, but it’s actually the means by which we exist as God’s people. The church was founded by grace, is kept by grace, and will reach its culmination by the grace of God. From beginning to end, the church has been showered with blessings and gifts from the Lord.

 

THE GIFT OF THE CROSS

The cross is the only means by which we can be saved and become a part of Christ’s church. When Jesus hung there with hands and feet pierced by nails, a divine exchange took place: “He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His life for our life—the gift of a God who, in humility, chose to live as a human being and die at the hands of His creation, that we might no longer be estranged from Him.

He has set us free. As a result of that loving gift, forgive­ness of sins and the righteousness of Christ are given to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The One who made us—and who has lovingly sustained us even as we have lived apart from Him—has opened heaven to us. Of course, a person can refuse that gift. But all who do will one day be required to stand before Him and offer an account for why they turned away from His love. In that moment, they’ll receive God’s righteous judgment, the truth of their hearts revealed. The cross is the only hope of salvation—it is the only way to be united with Jesus and live with Him for all eternity.

The One who made us—and who has lovingly sustained us even as we have lived apart from Him—has opened heaven to us.

The cross of Christ also gives us victory over sin. For those of us who have been saved, there is another blessing that comes through the cross. When Jesus was crucified, we were so closely identified with Him that we died with Him: “Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). The person we were before salvation—what the apostle Paul calls “our old self”—has died, and we have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). This new life is actually Christ’s life lived in us through the Holy Spirit, who now indwells our physical bodies.

God didn’t save us and then leave us to struggle through life as best we could. We have His presence and power in us through His Spirit. Because of the cross, we never walk through trials and temptations alone but can overcome through Christ and live in triumph rather than in continual defeat.

 

THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT

God’s gracious blessings to the church include spiritual gifts that ensure the body of Christ can grow and build itself up in love. Spiritual gifts are divine abilities that equip us to serve the Lord effectively. Although they’re given to each believer individually, they are for the common good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). As we work together according to each one’s unique giftedness, the church benefits and we experience the joy that comes from obediently serving the Lord.

Although spiritual gifts are given to each believer individually, they are for the common good of the church.

Therefore, we each need to discover our spiritual gifts and begin using them to accomplish what the Lord created us to do. Being a good steward of our gifts requires more than sitting in a church pew on Sundays. No matter how little we think we have to offer, God wants us to make ourselves available for service. Instead of using our difficult backgrounds, inadequacies, or past failures as excuses, we should do our best and trust the Lord to work through us.

 

THE GIFTS FOR THE CHURCH

God has also given other blessings to the church as His corporate body. We as His people can boast of nothing, nor can a church accomplish anything apart from His supernatural enablement. Everything a church needs is provided by its head, Jesus Christ:

    • Gifted Leaders. After His ascension, Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the saints to serve and grow in maturity (Eph. 4:11-13). The apostles and prophets recorded the divine revelation that we now have in the New Testament, and evangelists and pastor-teachers continue the work of building up the body of Christ.
    • God’s Word. Scripture says the church becomes “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). That’s why the preaching of the Word is a top priority for pastors. It’s also the reason that God’s people should strive to live Christ’s life at all times, with all love and humility, in their communities: so that the truth would be evident (Matt. 5:14-16).

We as His people can boast of nothing, nor can a church accomplish anything apart from God’s supernatural enablement.

  • Fellowship. Those in Christ have a connection with each other that transcends every societal barrier (Gal. 3:26-28). Our commonality is the Lord Himself, who binds us together in love.
  • Prayer. Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised the disciples that He would provide whatever they asked in His name (John 14:13-14).
  • Ordinances. Jesus left His church two ordinances as reminders. Baptism symbolizes our salvation, when we died to sin and were raised to life in Christ (Rom. 6:4), and the Lord’s Supper helps us recall His death and anticipate His return (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).

All these magnificent gifts should motivate us to worship our Lord, who has abundantly supplied His church with every spiritual blessing. Because of His goodness, we want for nothing. Therefore it’s our privilege to walk humbly with Him, serve Him joyfully, and freely share with the world the message of salvation in Christ.

 

REFLECT

The Cross: Scripture clearly teaches that we are so intimately connected to Christ through salvation that we have died with Him—our old self was crucified, yet we still struggle with sin. And in the same way, we are declared righteous, but we know our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions are not always godly. Paul described this struggle in Romans 7:15-25.

We are so intimately connected to Christ through salvation that we have died with Him—our old self was crucified.

  • How do you identify with this scenario?
  • What particular sins seem to take over, even though you hate them?
  • How does knowing your position in Christ help you stand firm against sin?

Spiritual Gifts: The gifts of the Spirit are listed in Romans 12:6-81 Corinthians 12:8-11, and Ephesians 4:11-12.

  • Which of these gifts do you think you may have? How are you using it (or them)?
  • If these gifts are necessary for the common good, what do you think happens when some church members don’t use their gifts?
  • Imagine what your church would be like if all members were serving in their areas of giftedness.

Gifts for the Church: Review the list of gifts Christ gives to the church. What do these blessings reveal about His love and care for His body? What needs of yours are met by Christ through these wonderful gifts?

 

PRAY

Father, thank You that Your grace appeared at the cross of Christ, bringing me salvation. Now I ask that You continue Your gracious work in me by training me to deny ungodliness and worldly desire and to live righteously in this present age. Help me grow in love for Christ and His people, and may Your grace flow through me as I serve them by using my spiritual gift. I ask this in Jesus’ name and for Your glory. Amen.

 

MEDITATE

PRACTICE

If you feel as if you are losing the battle against sin despite the fact that the Bible says you have died to it, try praying scriptures like Ephesians 4:22-32 or Colossians 3:1-17, both of which affirm what God desires for you. Any time you offer prayers according to His will, you can be confident that He will answer (1 John 5:14-15).

Are you uncertain what your gifts are? If so, compare how you respond to situations or needs with the list in Romans 12:6-8. But also remember that gifts are discovered as you jump in and serve. Often, other people can help you discern your specific areas of giftedness.

 

Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/the-pulpit/with-every-blessing

 

Declaration of Dependence

by Greg Laurie on Jul 2, 2019

This July 4th let’s remember our founders also signed a Declaration of Dependence

Having had the opportunity to travel around the world, let me say I think America is the greatest country on earth.

We are far from perfect. We have our many flaws. But we have so much to be thankful for as a nation.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in today if there had been no America: No one to turn back the rise of the Nazis in World War II. No one to stand up against the tyranny of communism and socialism. No one to stand up for our ally Israel and other nations that need our help.

Why has America been able to do all those things? Because we have a foundation that has taught us what right and wrong are, that every individual life has inherent value and dignity and that there is a God who can and wants to bless us if we follow him.

We learn these things from the most influential book in our country’s history: the Bible.

Thomas Jefferson once said about the Bible, “I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens.” Of Holy Scripture, Andrew Jackson said it is “the Rock on which our republic rests.” Abraham Lincoln stated, “All the good Savior gave to the World was communicated through this Book. But for this Book we could not know right from wrong. All the things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found in it.”

The Fourth of July is this week. As you know, our Founding Fathers framed a document that we call the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

We often forget that in declaring independence from an earthly power, our forefathers made a direct declaration of dependence upon God Almighty. The closing words of this document declare, “With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

But 243 years later, it seems we no longer rely on God the way our founders did.

We have thrown God out of the classroom. We have thrown him out of the courtroom, a judicial system built on biblical truth. And we have done our best to throw him out of modern culture.

And when people forget God, they forget the One who blesses them in times of abundance and guides them in times of hardship. Abraham Lincoln recognized this many years ago when our nation was embroiled in a bloody civil war:

We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

Today, though our Union is at peace, we face a situation not unlike the one Lincoln was facing then.

In spite of being the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth, we have “trouble in paradise.” Americans are more depressed and unhappy now than ever before. One in five Americans — over 60 million — will battle major depression in their lifetime.

Roughly every 11 minutes, someone in America commits suicide. According to statistics— and these are conservative estimates — 1.4 million people attempt suicide every year. In fact, there are more suicides than homicides.

I mention depression and suicide because they reflect the internal state of our nation, and they tell us the answer for America’s problems is not a political one. It is spiritual. We need to turn back to God.

This August, I will be hosting an evangelistic crusade in Southern California — for the 30thyear in a row. Our Harvest crusades in Southern California are the longest-running evangelistic outreach in U.S. history.

While some people may think of a crusade as a relic of a bygone era, let me tell you, tens of thousands of people still show up every year to our events. I believe they do because they are searching for hope and meaning in this chaotic world we live in, and the gospel offers answers to their deepest questions. The gospel has always been, and will always be, the greatest hope for humanity.

As America celebrates July 4th, I pray we remember our need for God. We need to turn back to the True and only God — the same God our founding fathers invoked when they established this nation.


Originally published by The Daily Caller as LAURIE: This Independence Day, Let’s Remember The God Who Inspired America’s Founding.

Declaration of Dependence

Did God Promise You Prosperity?

by Cameron Buettel Monday, July 8, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on September 25, 2015. -ed.

What does this verse mean to you?

Most of us have heard that question before—it lurks inside countless Bible studies and Sunday-school classes. It is a postmodern mindset that has become pervasive in the church.

When reading a book, an article, or a blog post, we implicitly understand that its meaning is bound to the author’s intent. The same ought to be true for Scripture—God alone is the arbiter of what He means through what He has revealed in His Word. Yet Scripture is now subject to the whims of the reader, who is prone to read personal experience into the text instead of discovering—and coming under—its objective truth. The worst forms of this are when people think they’re helping God—improving upon His perfection, sanitizing His story, and smoothing out the sharp edges of His truth.

Life is not as subjective as we might like to think. We don’t get to decide what a red light means when we approach a traffic signal. Bank managers can’t arbitrarily determine your account balance. And, thankfully, airlines don’t hire pilots who take the liberty to decide what “runway” means to them. It is absurd to think that we can approach God’s Word with lower standards. God says what He means and means what He says, always speaks without error, and has been kind enough to speak to us with simplicity and clarity.

The tsunami of topical preaching we see today has scarred the evangelical landscape. A topical message is not wrong in and of itself, but problems are inevitable when that becomes the main diet of a congregation. Pastors who preach texts divorced from their context invariably beget congregations who interpret texts divorced from the Author’s intent. The result is that too many believers today have a propensity to treat God’s Word as their own private smorgasbord of theology.

Another place you see this trend—interpreting verses out of context—in action is in choosing of a “life verse.” Many Christians like to pick a verse that speaks to them and try to make it the theme for their lives. It’s no surprise that none of the passages concerning God’s judgment make the cut. Instead, the spectacular promises of blessing and success reign supreme.

And sitting on top of the mountain of verses evangelicals frequently misappropriate and misapply is Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

It’s All About You

Unsurprisingly, Jeremiah 29:11 is a go-to verse for celebrity pastor, Joel Osteen. His takeaway is that “God desires to see you flourish in this life. He wants to see you come out of setbacks stronger, wiser, increased and promoted. He wants to give you hope in your final outcome and see you come to a flourishing finish.” [1]

Andy Stanley, pastor of America’s largest congregation, says “We may not know for certain everything our future holds, but we know that God thinks good thoughts toward us, to give us a future and a hope.” [2]

Rick Warren also typifies that me-centric approach in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life:

If you have felt hopeless, hold on! Wonderful changes are going to happen in your life as you begin to live it on purpose. God says, “I know what I am planning for you. . . . I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.” [3]

One has to wonder if Osteen, Stanley, or Warren understand how badly they have misconstrued and misapplied God’s Word—and how they’ve misled their followers. They give zero acknowledgement to the Author’s original intent or His original audience when they rip this verse from its biblical setting. Reading Jeremiah 29:11 in context paints a starkly different picture and delivers a far more profound truth.

It’s Not About You

The nation of Israel had been taken by the Babylonians into captivity. The Temple, as well as the entire city of Jerusalem, was in ruins. Their king was in chains with his eyes gouged out. The glory of Israel as a nation was finished. But in the midst of that terrible situation, God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

For thus says the Lord, “When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.”

Because you have said, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon”—for thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your brothers who did not go with you into exile—thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness. I will pursue them with the sword, with famine and with pestilence; and I will make them a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse and a horror and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not listened to My words,” declares the Lord, “which I sent to them again and again by My servants the prophets; but you did not listen,” declares the Lord. You, therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles, whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. (Jeremiah 29:4–20)

In context, verse 11 is clearly not meant as a love letter or a promise of blessing to individual believers in the twenty-first century.

And here are a few other points to consider: How do Joel Osteen, Andy Stanley, and Rick Warren know that God is directly speaking to their congregants in verse 11 but not in Jeremiah 29:17–19, where God promises to send “the sword, famine and pestilence”? Have they considered that God’s soothing promises in verse 11 are delivered to Israel while He has His foot on their neck in judgment (Jeremiah 29:4)? What about the fact that those who received the promise in verse 11 would likely not live to experience its fulfillment seventy years later (Jeremiah 29:10). And in their egotistical exegesis, can they grasp the irony that Israel was in Babylonian slavery because they listened to prophets who tickled their ears (Jeremiah 29:8–9)?

There is something far greater and eternally significant that we learn from this story in its true context. God does not abandon His people! In spite of their sin, God was relentlessly faithful to His covenants regarding Israel’s future and His promised Messiah. Not even Babylonian captivity could prevent His promises from coming to pass.

Likewise His promises to us as New Testament believers concerning our calling and election are also unshakeable (John 10:27–29). And they provide far more lasting comfort than Old Testament verses plucked out of context and misappropriated for modern audiences.

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B150925

US Continues to Condemn China’s ‘War on Faith’

A new State Department report notes some “good news,” like improving conditions in Uzbekistan, though the list of worst religious persecutors remains largely unchanged.
PAUL JACKSON JUNE 24, 2019

US Continues to Condemn China’s ‘War on Faith’

The US State Department is taking new steps to call out China as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Last week, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback rebuked the world’s most-populous country for ramping up what Brownback called its “war on faith.”

The latest Report on International Religious Freedom from the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF), released last Friday, details the status of religious liberty in every country in the world other than the United States, elaborating on abuses in 10 countries of particular concern (CPC)—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

This year’s report describes religious freedom issues in the country’s mainland, Tibet, Macau, and Hong Kong, where longsuffering Christians have played a central role in recent pro-democracy protests.

It also includes a special section dedicated to China’s malfeasance in Xinjiang, the autonomous northwestern province where between 800,000 and 2 million Uighur Muslims have been detainedand, according to the report, subjected to “forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.”

“We’ve seen increasing Chinese government abuse of believers of nearly all faiths and from all parts of the mainland,” said Brownback, who cited concerns over organ harvesting among Chinese prisoners of conscience, interference in Tibetan Buddhist and cultural practices, and Christian persecution.

“They’ve increased their repression of Christians, shutting down churches and arresting adherents for their peaceful religious practices,” Brownback said. “And to this we say to China: Do not be mistaken, you will not win your war on faith. This will have consequences on your standing at home and around the world.”

The IRF report largely aligned with the recent report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a separate, bipartisan commission that also assesses the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. USCIRF says its reports “are different from, and complementary to,” the IRF reports, with the commission saying its scope and bent toward policy recommendations is unique, and that “Whereas the State Department must account for overall bilateral relationships in its reporting, USCIRF has the independence and objectivity to call out violations wherever and whenever they may occur.”

USCIRF named 28 countries that stand out as religious freedom offenders, including 16 countries the commission identified as Tier 1 CPCs. All 10 of the IRF’s CPCs are included in USCIRF’s list of top-tier offenders, while USCIRF recommends adding the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam to the list of leading abusers of the freedom of religion and conscience.

Both reports echo the 2019 World Watch List rankings of countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, which bumped China from No. 43 of the globe’s worst Christian persecutors in 2018 to No. 27 this year.

Announcing the release of the IRF report, Pompeo described his personal faith as an Evangelical Presbyterian—“I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon at my church”—and decried the governments and groups around the world that deny others the “unalienable right” to practice their beliefs.

He highlighted a few instances of “good news,” praising improvements in Uzbekistan, which for the first time in more than a decade is no longer designated by the State Department as a country of particular concern (CPC). The Uzbek government recently passed a religious freedom roadmap, freed 1,500 religious prisoners, and loosened travel restrictions on 16,000 who had been blacklisted for their religious affiliations.

Pakistan—where Asia Bibi, a Christian charged with blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and threatened with execution, was acquitted by the country’s supreme court—was cited as a win for religious freedom, along with Turkey, where pastor Andrew Brunson was released last year after a two-year imprisonment on terrorism and espionage charges.

But even in these “good news” countries, there is still a long way to go. In Pakistan, more than 40 currently face life sentences or execution for the same charge leveled against Bibi. Another Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy is currently imprisoned in Bibi’s old prison cell.

All three countries lauded by Pompeo were listed among the worst offenders in both the IRF and USCIRF reports. And according to the World Watch List, Pakistan is ranked No. 5 in the world for Christian persecution, Uzbekistan comes in at No. 17, and Turkey is No. 27.

And though Pompeo said Uzbekistan no longer qualifies as a CPC, it is a still a USCIRF Tier 1 offender and was named to the IRF’s Special Watch List, along with Comoros and Russia, for “governments that engaged in or tolerated severe violations but were deemed to not meet all the criteria of the CPC test.”

Pompeo and Brownback had more to say about countries the report exposes as featuring “a chilling array of abuses.” They specifically highlighted Iran, Eritrea, Russia, Nicaragua, and Burma for various abuses. China was again singled out as a leading actor in religious freedom violations.

“People are persecuted—handcuffed, thrown in jail, even killed—for their decision to believe, or not to believe,” Pompeo said. “For worshipping according to their conscience. For teaching their children about their faith. For speaking about their beliefs in public. For gathering in private, as so many of us have done, to study the Bible, the Torah, or the Qu’ran.”

To better assess and respond to religious oppression, Pompeo announced that the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the State Department’s office dedicated to monitoring and fighting anti-Semitism, are getting a boost. Both offices are now elevated at the State Department, reporting directly to the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.

“This reorganization will provide these offices with additional staff and resources, and enhance partnerships both within our agency and without,” Pompeo said. “It will empower them to better carry out their important mandates.”

“For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom,” said Pompeo, “I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account.”

 

 

Original here

Imitate These Things Not Those

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Not everything in church culture is good for us. How can we tell the difference between authentic discipleship and unholy peer pressure?

Katie had a solid Christian pedigree. She’d grown up in the church, committed her life to Jesus at youth camp, attended a Christian college, and married Jeff, her college sweetheart, immediately after graduation. At the church they’d begun attending, the couple served as Sunday school teachers. Katie also made time in her busy schedule to volunteer with a ministry serving the homeless in their new community. Yet after nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in. “I’m still treated as an outsider by the other women, and it’s not because I’m a relative newcomer. It’s because I work full-time outside the home.” She explained that almost all the other women her age in the congregation were stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their children, and a few older women focused most of their attention on nurturing this group. Besides meeting during the day for Bible studies on how to be better wives and mothers, they often arranged informal play dates and field trips. Katie’s work schedule meant she and her young son couldn’t join them. But it wasn’t the lack of invitations from the other women that troubled her.

After nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in.

“When we first came to the church, Jeff and I knew that my job put me in the minority among the stay-at-home moms, but the pastor assured us it shouldn’t matter, as we were all seeking Jesus together. We appreciated his emphasis on discipleship. As the years have passed, however, I’m noticing that most of the women seem to be copying each other in terms of lifestyle, convictions, and calling. It feels more like a clique than a church,” Katie said sadly. She and Jeff were considering leaving the congregation.

Scripture portrays discipleship as the way in which a mature believer lives out faith in the everyday and ongoing companionship of a younger student. This maturity references age, experience, and faithfulness. It’s a description of the ongoing process of spiritual growth, not the arrival at some state of spiritual perfection (Deut. 6:4-9). The late Dallas Willard called this whole-life learning model apprenticeship, a word that is helpful in translating an ancient concept into our modern context.

Like my friend Katie, I’ve found that sometimes a Christianized form of peer pressure takes the place of true apprenticeship. If your church culture implies that all real believers end up looking, acting, voting, or talking the same, pay close attention. It’s possible you’re seeing peer pressure at work. And though it’s simply a more sophisticated version of what you may have experienced in middle school, the social push to conform to a group’s standards can be just as powerful. Some examples:

  • We tell new believers (or inquirers) that they need to learn to “act like a Christian” in order to fit in at church.
  • We subtly (or not so subtly) discourage young believers from pursuing careers in academia or the arts because those vocational paths are “too secular.”
  • We shun or shame people who, on a theological non-essential—such as politics—may not share the prevailing opinion of our congregation.

The challenge for the more mature in an apprenticeship relationship is to remember that learning happens in different ways at different stages of our spiritual development. There is a time and a season in our spiritual life for imitation. Just as young children parrot sounds and words as they’re learning to communicate for themselves, we learn how to walk with Jesus by patterning our lives after those who’ve gone before us. Imitation serves an instructional purpose.

Peer pressure has “fear of missing out” at its root, and not fitting into the group is viewed as a cardinal sin. If you sense everyone around you competing in an unspoken contest to conform to the group’s standards, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re noticing the effects of peer pressure. The imitation of godly women and men, on the other hand, teaches us essential patterns and practices while honoring individual calling and giftedness.

First-century rabbis would assess a potential apprentice via a long period of living and learning together: They would look for someone who had the capacity and desire to mold himself to be like his teacher. Author Doug Greenwold explained, “Throughout the Gospels, the phrase ‘follow me’ is a Jewish idiom used by the rabbis to mean, ‘Come and be with me as my disciple, and submit to my authoritative teaching.’” Jesus’ words “follow Me” mean far more than “join my team.” They are words that tell us He believes we will seek to pattern every aspect of our life after His.

However, His goal isn’t that we remain perpetual infants, repeating basic lessons over and over again as though we’re in an endlessly looping game of Simon Says. Instead, wanting us to move toward maturity, He empowers us to then apprentice others who will delight in imitating Him as we’re learning to do (Matt. 28:18-20). The writer of Hebrews expressed frustration with his readers’ seemingly plateaued spiritual growth: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12).

We see this pattern in action in Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth. He urges the young church to imitate him while learning to navigate their lives as immature followers of Jesus: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). However, in the personal greetings he uses to conclude the first letter to the Corinthians—those words we tend to zip past because they seem like personal bits of housekeeping—we see how Paul celebrates the diversity of gifts and ministries among those who’ve been mature leaders among those believers.

He asks the Christians in Corinth to treat his protégé Timothy with respect, because though a different person than Paul, the younger man was carrying on a similar, complementary ministry to the apostle’s (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Without denigrating Apollos, Paul noted that this co-laborer in Christ didn’t initially want to visit the church but then reconsidered—a recognition that Apollos was his own man, with his own mind and faith (1 Corinthians 16:12). Paul then offers a shout-out to Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. Their ministry to him came in the form of practical financial assistance (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). Finally, he mentions mature church leaders Priscilla and Aquila, who led a congregation in their home, apprenticing young believers in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:19Acts 18:24-26).

The pattern of follow-the-leader was formalized in the early decades of the church. The Didache, a document that dates from perhaps as early as A.D. 100, is an example of an early catechism—a set of questions and answers new believers had to learn or memorize as part of their membership process in the local congregation. The Didache and eventually other forms of catechesis were Discipleship 101 for the early church, focusing on both the essential teachings of Jesus and the baseline practices of corporate confession, communion, and the authority structure God has ordained for life together. Young Christians learned to follow Jesus by following their leaders.

However, imitation should never result in uniformity. Musician Steve Taylor’s 1983 satirical song entitled “I Want to Be a Clone” named the fear driving Christian peer pressure: “They told me that I’d fall away / unless I followed what they say.” Aping the beliefs and behaviors of the influencers in their church may seem to promise a sort of spiritual insurance policy that will seal their salvation—or at least their place in the group. But a life shaped by a healthy fear of God will produce very different fruit than one shaped by fear of being excluded by the in-crowd. Fear of God offers us freedom. Fear of others enslaves.

A better “discipleship program” will not fix this problem, because it runs as deep in each one of us as our fear of being abandoned or left behind. That unexposed, un-discipled fear leaves us vulnerable to peer pressure whether we’re a young Christian or a seasoned leader. As my friend Katie and her husband assessed their experience at the church, they asked God first to reveal their own fears of being left out or forgotten, and then to confirm that they were being obedient in the ways their family was serving Him through work, parenting, and lifestyle decisions.

Jeff and Katie were asking good questions. Those questions led to them seeking the prayer and counsel of other mature believers—their pastor, a friend at church, and other friends in their social network, including my husband and me. The process clarified for them their own calling at this stage of their lives. It also helped them to better recognize the unhealthy peer-dependent dynamics among many of the young families at church. Instead of feeling excluded or judged by them, Katie told me she found new compassion for them. They decided to stay and brought their concerns to the pastor, who told them he was noticing the same issues as they were.

J. Oswald Sanders said, “No living thing comes to maturity instantaneously. In the attainment of intellectual maturity, there is no alternative to the student painfully working through the prescribed courses. Nor is it any different in the spiritual life. Growth toward spiritual maturity will of necessity involve moral effort, discipline, renunciation, and perseverance in pursuit of the goal. There are no shortcuts.”

Christian peer pressure is a counterproductive shortcut. And recognizing it for what it is becomes a powerful step in an apprentice’s journey toward maturity.

Illustrations by Jack Richardson

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/features/imitate-these-things-not-those

For What “Good” Is God Working All Things Together?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019 by Jeremiah Johnson

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on September 28, 2015. -ed.

You’ve probably heard the proverb “Familiarity breeds contempt.” That’s often true with relationships and institutions, as your close proximity reveals cracks and blemishes you wouldn’t notice in passing. However, when it comes to Scripture, familiarity usually breeds carelessness.

Many of the “Frequently Abused Verses” we’re considering have been maliciously ripped from their context, misappropriated, and misapplied. Their original meaning has been twisted and contorted to serve a foreign purpose and make a fraudulent point.

However, in some cases, the abuse is much more passive. That’s true of the verse before us today—Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

At first glance, it might be hard to imagine how such a simple, straightforward verse could be abused. How could anyone misconstrue and misrepresent this wonderful promise from God?

But in this case, the abuse of this verse is tied to its familiarity and simplicity. Most believers have heard this verse so many times that they rarely stop to consider its larger context, or give any thought to the point the apostle Paul had in mind when he first wrote it. Call it “needlepoint theology”—the great passages of Scripture that most often wind up on wall hangings and throw pillows are the ones we’re least likely to prayerfully consider and thoroughly study.

Romans 8:28 is a prime example of how careless familiarity can lead to corruption. The verse is applied to virtually every hardship, disappointment, and trial that believers encounter. It’s an all-purpose spiritual salve for every situation.

A Better Life

Here’s one example—a devotional reading from Joel Osteen. Romans 8:28 appears to be one of the prosperity preacher’s favorite verses—this is just one of the many entries he’s written on it, titled “When Life Isn’t Fair.”

Everyone goes through things that don’t seem to make sense. It’s easy to get discouraged and wonder, “Why did this happen to me?” “Why did this person treat me wrong?” “Why did I get laid off?” But we have to understand, even though life is not always fair, God is fair. And, He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him.

I believe the key word is this verse is “together.” In other words, you can’t just isolate one part of your life and say, “Well, this is not good.” “It’s not good that I got laid off.” “It’s not good that my relationship didn’t work out.” Yes, that’s true, but that’s just one part of your life. God can see the big picture. That disappointment is not the end. Remember, when one door closes, God has another door for you to walk through—a better door. Those difficulties and challenges are merely stepping stones toward your brighter future. Be encouraged today because God has a plan for you to rise higher. He has a plan for you to come out stronger. He has a plan to work all things together for your good so that you can move forward in the victory He has prepared for you! [1]

With some variation, that represents many believers’ general understanding of what Paul meant in Romans 8:28—“Don’t let life get you down. God’s going to make everything better!”

Of course that oversimplification goes beyond the original intent of Paul’s words. There’s no biblical basis for Osteen’s promise that God always has a better door for us to walk through. In fact, His Word promises that life won’t always be happy, rich, and full—sometimes we’re meant to suffer (1 Peter 4:12).

It’s in the midst of that suffering that Romans 8:28 is most often deployed. We want to trust that God is working, even through our trials, to bring about His will. And there’s plenty of biblical evidence to back up that hope. The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is one of the clearest examples.

Joseph was severely beaten and sold into slavery by his brothers. He endured the illicit advances of his boss’ wife, and was thrown into prison after she made false accusations against him. He lingered in prison for years before he was released and brought in to council Pharaoh himself. He was given a position of leadership, in which the Lord used him to spare Egypt and countless surrounding communities—including his own family—from famine. At the end of his story, as he reconciles with the brothers who kick-started all his suffering, he acknowledges God’s sovereign hand working through it all: “As for you, you meant evil against me, butGod meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

Stories like Joseph’s give us confidence that God is always working behind the scenes to bring about His will. But He might not have such monumental purposes for our suffering. Sometimes it’s simply for our own spiritual growth that the Lord allows us to suffer through trials (James 1:2). The Spirit’s refining, sanctifying work is often painful, but the spiritual fruit it bears is well worth the struggle.

In his commentary on Romans, John MacArthur explains that God is working out

our good during this present life as well as ultimately in the life to come. No matter what happens in our lives as His children, the providence of God uses it for our temporal as well as our eternal benefit, sometimes by saving us from tragedies and sometimes by sending us through them in order to draw us closer to Him. [2]

But is our spiritual growth and temporal blessing the ultimate “good” Paul describes in his words to the Romans? A careful look at the context of verse 28 points us to an even greater promise from the Lord.

A Certain Eternity

In the immediate context of Romans 8, Paul is not dwelling on our current suffering, but looking forward to eternity. In verse 18, he mentions the “sufferings of this present time,” but only to say that they cannot compare to “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” From there he explains how creation groans to be free from the curse of sin (Romans 8:19-22), and how believers likewise long to see the fulfillment of their faith (vv. 23-25). Then he describes how the Spirit intercedes on our behalf according to God’s eternal purposes (vv. 26-27).

The theme continues in the verses immediately following:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

In the context of the believer’s eternal glorification, we need to understand the “purpose” for which God is working all things together as not merely our temporal good, but our eternal good. In that sense, Romans 8:28 isn’t merely a promise that God is watching out for us in this life; it’s a guarantee that He is working out all aspects of our lives toward His ultimate goal of our future glorification. It’s a promise that our eternity with Him is secure.

In a sermon on this passage called “Groanings Too Deep for Words,” John MacArthur explains that powerful promise this way:

The point is this: Because of the plan of God and the provision of Christ and the protection of the Holy Spirit through His intercessory ministry, God is causing all things to work together for our final, eternal, ultimate good. Not everything in this life works out for good—far from it. Oh, you might draw a good lesson from it. You might draw a good outcome from it. You might be drawn to the Lord. It might increase your prayer life. It might strengthen you. It might give you patience. It might perfect you, mature you. It might make you able to counsel other people and strengthen them because . . . you’ve been comforted by God in the same struggles.

All of those are wonderful realities, but that’s not the good that’s being spoken of here. The good that dominates this passage is that ultimate, final good that is the glorification of true believers. We are secured to that final good, that which is the best.

In His providence, God is sovereignly orchestrating all events according to His will, for His glory and our good. But we’re not guaranteed that all our struggles will be turned into blessing. Sometimes He will rescue us from tragedies; other times it’s our suffering that brings about His desired result. Our perspective on His sovereign goodness cannot be bound to our own circumstances—if Joseph had remained in the Egyptian jail for the rest of His life, would God be any less good, or His will less than perfect?

What we are guaranteed in Romans 8:28 is that regardless of what we have to endure in this life, our eternity with Him is unassailable. Nothing can stand in the way of His plans for our future glorification.

And in the midst of life’s struggles, what better promise could we cling to?

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B150928