Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The New Testament: A Ten Minute Overview

The New Testament is the consummation of the Old Testament. It is a continuation of God’s grand story of redemption for His people. The story of the OT moves from Creation to Fall to Promise and ends with the promise unfulfilled.  At the end of the Old Testament we are left waiting on the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem His people from their sin.

It is here that we encounter the story of God’s plan to enter bodily into the story through His Son Jesus, the Messiah, and through His life, death, and resurrection redeems His people. In the New Testament we see the staggering claim God’s people are not only the people of Israel, but includes every other race as well, the Gentiles.[1] This is good news for all sinners, both Jew and Gentile alike.

While the OT can be classified in large part as historical narrative, the NT narrative is complex. The following framework is a helpful map to understanding the progression of the NT as a literary whole.

The movement of the NT surrounds God redeeming His people from sin through the Messiah. It is the story of a covenant, a promise from God to His people that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Therefore we can divide the NT into three narrative portions: 1) Messianic Fulfillment primarily in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and redeeming death, 2) Messianic News recorded for us in the creation of the early church in Acts, and 3) Messianic Implications for mankind in the epistles. If we view the NT through this lens we can easily see the storyline of the text surrounding the Messiah, moving from the fulfillment of God’s promise, to the sharing of this good news, to the radial implications the Messiah brings to all human life.

What Composes the New Testament?

The New Testament was written between AD 40-96, the earliest being the Epistle of James attributed between AD 40-45[2] and the latest being John’s Revelation attributed between AD 95-96.[3] It includes 27 books covering two different genres:

History: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts.

Letters: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation.[4]

The New Testament was written primarily in common Greek (Koine Greek), widely understood in Palestine at the time. A few portions were also written in Aramaic.[5]

The New Testament is of infinite value to the reader. Why? Because of the life-altering message of good news it shares for both Jews and Gentiles. It holds staggering implications for every area of life including most importantly our eternal purpose, either glorifying God in heaven or glorifying self in Hell. Let’s look now at the conclusion of the OT, the staggering story of grace in the NT.

1) The Messianic Fulfillment

The New Testament is a continuation of the Old, an awesome conclusion to the cliffhanger that separates the Old and New Testaments, God’s promise of salvation. The NT fulfills the glaring problem of sin and our separation from God by revealing to us the completion of His covenant with David:

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…I will raise up your offspring after you…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:11-14).

But the promise throughout the OT of a Savior for God’s people is not simply this promise to David. The promise of a Messiah is fills God’s revelation in the OT:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6) 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, and on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)[6]

The OT paints a robust picture of the salvation of God’s people through a Messiah. As the completion of this promise, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life emphatically paints the picture that Jesus is the Christ—the Messiah—the “Son of David.” Through His life and death Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David of an eternal King who redeems His people.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)[7]

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.” (Luke 1:68-70, 72)

How did the Gospels record this Messianic fulfillment for us? Let’s look at the biographical sketch that the Gospels give us of Jesus as the Messiah fulfilled.

The Life of Jesus in the Gospels

The story of Jesus of Nazareth begins prior to His birth, which most likely would have been between December of 5 BC and January of 4 BC. [8] Before His birth, an angel of the Lord brings good news to Mary that she will give birth to the eternal King, Son of David, Son of God, (Luke 1:32-33). This is the first emphasis of Jesus as the Messiah in Luke. In the City of David, Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus (Luke 2:1-7) and He grows up nearby in Nazareth.

The earliest account of his life occurs as a boy teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem where His wisdom was already on display to the people (Luke 2:49).

Jesus’ public ministry then began with his baptism. Jesus had now left his work as a carpenter to devote himself to the public ministry of good news for all the people. After His baptism, the declaration of His public ministry, Jesus entered the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. No temptation swayed Him. He did not sin. Nothing would hinder Jesus from His mission to “seek and to save the lost” by living a perfectly righteous life to be substituted one day for the sin of others, thus fulfilling His purpose as the Messiah.

Jesus spent three years ministering all over Israel, Judea, Galilee, Samaria. He raised up twelve disciples whom He called to the task of being His witnesses to the ends of the earth. He performed miracles, He healed the sick, He spent early mornings in prayer, He preached repentance and grace, He glorified His father, He was tempted in every way we are but never sinned, He spoke with authority, He was the Son of David, the Son of God.

Jesus’ life and ministry all moved to one place, the Roman torture device: the cross. His mission was not simply to teach and live a righteous life; it was intended all along to take Him to His death so that by His death many who by their sins have been condemned to death might have life. Without the cross there is no salvation. Without the cross Jesus is not the Messiah, the savior of God’s people, “For it was by his death, and not by his resurrection, that our sins were dealt with.”[9]  Therefore, “According to the generally accepted chronology, Jesus died late Friday afternoon, April 7, A.D. 30.[10] Three days later, on a Sunday morning (why Christians now worship on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday), the tomb was empty. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to hundreds in His risen bodily form. Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he ascended into heaven leaving behind disciples and witnesses to carry on the ministry of the Gospel, the declaration of the good news of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Each of the Gospels vary in their written style and audience. Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke believed to have been written with some uniform knowledge of Mark. Scholars attribute their uniformity in events to this possible theory. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector who wrote the account of the Messiah for a Jewish audience. Mark was a Jew whose primary audience was Gentiles. Luke was a doctor whose primary audience was Gentiles as well. Roughly 90% of John’s material is unique to John. He wrote primarily to Gentiles to show that Jesus was God, a call for them to have faith in Him for their salvation.

2) The Messianic News

The Gospels recorded the events of the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, thereby emphatically claiming Jesus to be the messianic fulfillment as the Son of God. Luke, the author of the Gospel in his name, also wrote another work detailing the spread of the news of Jesus as the Messiah in the early church: the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospels Jesus’ fulfillment is dropped like a rock into a still lake, it records the splash. In Acts we see the ripple effect of that splash recorded for us in vivid detail. Where Jesus is witnessed in the Gospels, it is here in Acts that the news spreads and the church comes into being.

In Acts the good news spreads, over the 30 years following Jesus’ ascension, with such power that it brings salvation to many, creating churches all over the Mediterranean, from Jerusalem to Rome. In the opening chapter Jesus ascends into heaven where He now intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand (Acts 1:6-11). Quickly after this the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit is given at Pentecost.

Acts can be divided from the lens of a flyover generally between the witness of two apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter acts as a witness to the Jewish people, preaching at Pentecost, in the Temple square, before the Jewish council, and in many other locations. His emphasis is on Jesus as the good news of Messianic fulfillment for the Jews, claiming exclusive salvation through Jesus: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

It is here in the beginning of Acts that we also witness the first martyr for the Gospel. Stephen was arrested for performing great signs and wonders in the name of Christ by some who “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). He was brought before the Sanhedrin where he preached the fulfillment of the promised Messiah in Jesus had come. They were enraged, cast him out of the city, and stoned him in the midst of a man named Saul.

This man Saul was a devout Jew with a hunger for persecuting Christians. He ravaged “the church…entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Yet in this vilest of opposition to Christ, God made the greatest evangelist. Jesus met him on the Damascus road and blinded him, telling him to travel to Ananias who would lay hands on him enabling him to see again. Ananias questions the evil Saul has done and the Lord reveals Saul is to “carry [His] name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15a). Saul regains his sight, by faith changes his name to Paul, and is catapulted by the will of God to share the Messianic news to the Gentiles, where Peter was sent to the Jews.

Paul travels with Barnabas on his first missionary journey to share this news to the Gentiles. The first journey takes them through the island of Cyprus, to Perga, and Galatia. Paul returns then to Jerusalem over an issue that had arisen, the question of the Gentiles obedience to the Law. Some had said that you must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul took the matter to the Jerusalem council. Here James, the brother of Jesus, proposes a solution. Circumcision is not required for salvation (Acts 15:19). The council encourages Paul in his mission to the Gentiles.

Paul then travels with Timothy on his second missionary journey to share the Messianic news. Paul travels again through Galatia starting again in Antioch. He makes his way through Asia, to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and back to Jerusalem by way of Ephesus. The church is being born in the midst of these travels as the good news of Jesus is irresistible to those who are given the gift of faith.

Paul’s third missionary journey takes place in nearly the same places as his second, revisiting Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. However upon returning to Jerusalem he is arrested for preaching and having brought Gentiles into the temple. In his arrest he appeals to Caesar, as a Roman citizen had the right to do, and journeys to Rome, by way of a shipwreck on Malta. There he lived for two years (Acts 28:30) preaching the good news of Jesus as savior, Jesus as Messiah. We do not have record of the remaining years of Paul’s life.

The news of Jesus spread through the apostles, through those who were direct witnesses to the good news of Christ. They took the news to places that the Lord by His Spirit opened up to them. The birth of the church happened through traveling evangelists, heralding and proclaiming the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

3) The Messianic Implications

While the Gospels reveal Jesus as the Christ, and Acts reveals the spread of the good news and subsequent birth of the church, the letters in the NT are written to churches and individuals regarding the implications of Jesus as the Christ for their lives.

Paul wrote most of the volume of the NT. Romans is his first letter we encounter in the NT. It is the King of the Epistles. If the Gospels are an account of Jesus as the Messiah, then Romans is an account of human history, Jew and Gentile, and the theological implications that Jesus brings for the Christians in Rome. Salvation in Christ is both for Jews and Gentiles. It is the most concise letter summarizing the theology of the Gospel that the church possesses.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that he spent time with on his second and third missionary journeys. In his first letter Paul addresses the need for unity in the church for the purpose of advancing the good news of the Gospel. In his second letter he defends his apostolic authority and mission to the Gentiles highlighting the witness of his suffering for the Gospel.

Paul then wrote to a few other individual churches that he came into contact with on his missionary journeys. He wrote to the Galatians exhorting them that circumcision, i.e. fulfilling the law, was not required for salvation. To the Ephesians he wrote to encourage them that salvation is by faith alone because Christ has conquered sin. To the Philippians Paul wrote to commend them for their faithfulness and encourage them in the midst of their suffering. To the Colossians he wrote warning them against false doctrine and stressed the absolute supremacy of Christ. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote two letters, the first encouraging them that those who have already died will be raised at the second coming and the second letter correcting a false teaching that the second coming of Christ had already taken place.

Paul also wrote four letters to individuals, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he writes indicting false teachers and encouraging Timothy to confront them, that the true Gospel will always lead to godly living. In the second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to remain loyal to Christ and the message of the Gospel. To Titus he sends instructions for how to order the churches of Crete. To Philemon he wrote securing forgiveness for a slave named Onesimus, thereby exhibiting how the Gospel transforms lives and relationships.

Hebrews, whose author is widely disputed, is a word of exhortation sent to encourage the faithful perseverance of persecuted Christians. The author emphasizes that Christ is infinitely greater than any angel, priest, or old covenant institution.

James writes a letter to the Jewish Christians, who are dispersed far from Jerusalem, to primarily encourage them to live their lives as a witness to the good news of the Gospel. They are to be doers and not just hearers; they are to live out their faith as witnesses to the implications the Messiah brings.

Peter writes two letters. In his first he writes to Christians who are suffering, instructing them to respond to their persecutors by suffering as Jesus did. In his second letter he urges growth and perseverance in light of false teachers who deny the second coming of Christ and instead use it as a license to act immorally.

John writes three short letters. In his first letter John calls believers back to three basics, 1) true doctrine, 2) obedient living, and 3) fervent devotion to Christ. In his second letter John writes to encourage his readers to love each other and to beware false teachers who deny the incarnation of Christ, that He wasn’t really human. In his third letter John writes to Gaius commending the hospitality of Demetrius.

Jude, one of the brothers of James and Jesus, writes to a congregation of Jewish Christians exhorting them to look out for false teachers who have slipped in and used grace as a license to sin.

Finally, John concludes the NT with his apocalyptic letter, Revelation. He writes to persecuted Christians encouraging them that God indeed is in control. He wins the cosmic story through His Son, the Christ. Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy revealing the unseen spiritual war and cosmic conflict dealing with the salvation for God’s people from their sin and His wrath. Ultimately Revelation acts a shot in the arm to fortify the church to endure suffering and stay pure.


The NT is the consummation of the OT. In it we see the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. In the Gospels the Messianic promise is fulfilled. In Acts the Messianic good news spreads from Jerusalem to Rome creating the church. And in the Epistles, we see the implications of Jesus as savior. With the conclusion of the NT we have the conclusion of God’s revelation in Scripture for our flourishing and His glory. It is a testament to the grace and love of our God in spite of all the rebellion we can muster against Him.

[1] Israel can clearly be classified as God’s people in the OT. However books like Jonah reveal that God’s grace is also meant for other Gentile nations like the Ninevites. Jonah is a precursor to the inclusion of Gentiles as God’s people in the NT.
[2] Douglas Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 25-26.
[3] Alan Johnson, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 581-582.
[4] Revelation is sometimes classified in it’s own genre as “Apocalypse,” but begins as a letter to seven churches so many have also included it in the category of Epistle.
[5] Aramaic was a Semitic language, similar to that of Hebrew. The Assyrians made Aramaic a common language during the Jewish exile in the sixth century BC. For many of the Jews in Palestine, this was the prominent language.
[6] See also Jeremiah 23:5-6
[7] See also Mark 10:47-48 and Matthew 3:17
[8] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 124. Most scholars attribute this dating for the birth of Jesus, though there are many differing views as well.
[9] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 233.
[10] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, 149. Though many argue as well for His death to have occurred in AD 33.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Sober Moment: Some Critical Insights on the Manifestations and Principles of Islam

by Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy Ph.D.

We must step back. In considering Islam we are too close to the immediacy of the news to think objectively about what is actually taking place in the world. We are confronted with manifestation and principle and it appears to me that we confuse the two.Let's look first at manifestations. The familiarity of the West with Islam tends to center on the various upstart events of the late 20th and now the 21st centuries. 

Places of which many had never heard are now in the news because of the comparatively sudden appearance of hostile and often brutal terrorists such a Al Quaida, Boko Haram, ISIS, and a plethora of sub-groups in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and more front-page nations such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Nigeria. 

The manifestations swamp us with horror, fill us with alarm, and may cause us to faint. Who can remain stoic while heads roll and girls are raped and murdered? 

When we are consumed by manifestations we lose sight of the principles that lie behind them. They are not the accidents of history. They are part of the plan and purpose of Islam from the beginning. We must face the truth ... Islam is the enemy of the Christian, not because I think it so but because the Quran says it is so. Simply stated, if you are not a Muslim,  you are an infidel regardless of your track record. It is therefore the duty and the responsibility of the Muslim to eliminate anything that is infidel from society and in its place establish the Caliphate, the Muslim dominated universe.

The principles of Islam call for a dual thrust of its religion, emphasizing that it is not only a path of faith but a way of life. Those who follow the way of life, the five pillars of Islam, and other defined behaviors, are presumed to have faith. It is the only way of salvation for them.However, caution is required here. When we regard Islam, or attempt to, by pursuing its theology, we find ourselves in the swamp. The reason for this is simple. While there is an erstwhile theology that speaks of benignity, the truth is that the theology is driven by an over-arching mentality that connotes domination, conquest, and ruthlessness.

The so called "moderate" Muslim is seen to be benign. That means we can talk with him, persuade him in a kindly godly fashion, even minister to him, share the Gospel with him, and help him in his understanding of whom we are as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We may even appear to be seeking greater understanding ourselves. The scenario is very pleasant. It belongs to the "angel of light." But what of the "raging lion seeking whom he may devour?" The benign Muslim has no choice but to obey his roaring when the tide turns and the upstart movement begins its devastation. He must rally to the cause or be silent. This explains why the Muslim community as a whole -- the majority -- has not already risen up to condemn by every possible means the dastardly behavior of their terrorist brethren.

If there were no historic precedent, one might imagine that what is happening in the world today is new and has no predecessor. But that is simply not true. The leopard has not changed his spots and the motive that drove that conquests of the earlier centuries (notably the 7th and 8th) is still the same motive today with more sophisticated and devastating expression.

If we are realistic in our objective understanding of the truth, we will now turn to our resources as believers and utilize them. We are reminded that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." We have read the end of the story. The Book of The Revelation assures us of the triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ and the consummation of His Kingdom. We have the God-given gift of prayer that allows us intimate union with the Father, and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, "strenthening us with might in the inner person." Shall we not hold fast to these turths and exercise them? Surely this is a time when the enormity of the opposition is overwhelming save for the assurance that there is victory in Jesus. We are satisfied that this is not the opportunity for theological debate, but a call to the church to lay hold of our resources for the battle is the Lord's and not ours

-Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.is a former missionary to Nigeria, an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and a teaching fellow at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, FL.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stay at Home Christians: Leaders of the World's Smallest Cults?

For a while, I have been pondering the phenomenon of Stay-at-Home Christians. Before I propose something rather controversial, let me define the group that I am talking about.

They are not shut-ins with protracted health problems. They have every means necessary to attend a Bible-believing church, but simply choose not to. They are not unreached. I am not writing about those who live in places with few or no open expressions of Christian faith like North Korea or Iraq. I'm not talking about those who are imprisoned for their faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is off the hook in this article. I should also clarify that I am not talking about the paradigm of local churches meeting in homes. This article is about ecclesiology (our view of the nature of the church) not architecture (what type of buildings Christians should meet in).

I'm talking about that ever-growing demographic of people who have every opportunity to attend a local assembly of confessing Christians, but simply choose not to. They got bored and left. They got offended and never came back. Someone sat in their pew and they got ticked. They lost a close vote at the board meeting and split, never to darken the doors again. The pastor said the wrong thing on the same day the band played the wrong song. Whatever.

If you ask them, they will say devoutly, "I worship at home. I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I read my Bible. But I don't need the church." 

Sometimes you will recognize a S.A.H.C. by their particular vocabulary. Church for many is merely "organized religion." And they want no more of it. (I am always tempted to ask in a snarky tone whether they would prefer the opposite, "disorganized irreligion," but I usually don't go there).

But to pose the question more directly: are these professing Christian believers actually closer in practice to cults than orthodox Christianity? 

One of the definitive works on cults, is Walter Martin's The Kingdom of the Cults. To my knowledge, he does not mention this classification of people. So they're orthodox, right? Not so fast.

To answer my own question more precisely, we will have to look at the typical markers of a cult and see whether or not Stay-at-Home Christians would qualify. Let's consider several.

A) Authoritarian and Unchallengeable Leadership. For instance, in the Jehovah's Witnesses cult, the headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is unchallengable. No mere member has the right to question their teaching. Or correct their interpretation. The same with the Branch Davidians. All directives go downward, from the top.

Although Stay-at-Home Christians do not have any formal leadership structure at all, with each man functioning as his own senior pastor and guru, that's exactly the problem. It is worrisome to me when one's own opinion is regarded as the highest and best. Who else would he listen to? What other voice can he heed? He has no one to whom he submits, excepting his own conscience. He carries out his religious practices at his own dictate. In a sense, he acts as his own personal pope and bishop. RATING: SEMI-CULTIC.

B) Lack of Accountability. In most cults, there is no process by which a "person in the pews" can call a leader into account. There are no presbyteries for accountability. There are no General Assemblies, or Regional Conferences to whom one may appeal for help or to reign in an unrepentant leader. In the case of moral failure, (sexual, financial or otherwise) no one can call the leadership into account. No one can hold their feet to the fire. For this reason, cult leaders often are able to get away with much sinful license that orthodox church leadership cannot. In fact for the cult, accountability is a bad idea. Accountability would only get in the way of a leader's pursuit of his own passions and power. He doesn't want any speed bumps.

So too, I think, with the S.A.H.C.  If a man or woman falls into sin - for instance marital infidelity - there is no "church disciplinary" process that automatically kicks into affect. As a Presbyterian minister myself, if I committed adultery, I would have to face a Presbytery commission to reprimand me. But who is in a position to reprimand the S.A.H.C.? Sure, a person could check themselves into rehab or turn oneself into the police in extreme cases. But would he have to? Of course not. There are no council of elders, or deacon board, or ranking bishop to call one to accountability. There is no congregation to vote out the leader because he is both the congregation and the leader. RATING: CULTIC.

C. Unorthodox Theology. Cults are known for their unorthodox theology that veers far from the historic Christian faith. Cults do not profess such historic documents as the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed or the Chalcedonian Definition. Neither do they profess the confessions of Reformation-era Christianity such as the Westminster or the Heidelberg. Their views of Jesus (Christology) are all over the map. Doctrines such as the Trinity and the eternality of Hell are usually the first to go. After that is the infallibility of Scripture. While some go far afield in sexual ethics, (the Mormons and polygamy for instance), others still attempt to live holy, if legalistic lives.

As for Stay-at-Home Christians, their theology and doctrinal convictions are impossible to categorize since the wide scope of their beliefs are unique to each individual person. Each man defines truth for himself. One man may believe this, another that. In fairness, a Stay-at-Home Christian may know his Bible better than most. But maybe not. Who knows? There is no one there to correct him. No one there to teach him or steer him away from error. One S.A.H.C may quite like the Westminster Catechisms, while another cannot even define "justification." Another likes Oprah's views. Still another the preaching of Joel Osteen. Their theology is simply too messy to attempt to analyze. The point is, there is no way to tell. RATING: QUESTIONABLE.

D. Ecclesiology and Sacramentology. Cults often have very unique definitions of the church itself and the sacraments (or ordinances) of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Many simply will not practice them at all and create their own pseudo-sacraments. These expressions of corporate faith are as variant as they are numerous.

As for S.A.H.C.'s their expressions of the church cannot possibly be orthodox, in my view. The very word "church" in the NT Scriptures (Greek: ekklesia) is plural and means "called out ones." A lone individual can be a member of a church, but not the church. One can be a member of the body (to use Paul's analogy in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12), but he cannot be the whole body.

Since it is impossible to baptize oneself or serve oneself the Lord's Supper (all of Paul's dictates to the Corinthians about the Lord's Supper presuppose a corporate gathering of believers) we have to assume that both the ecclesiology and understanding of the Biblical ordinances of the S.A.H.C. movement is deeply flawed. RATING: CULTIC.

E. Other Beliefs and Practices. On the other hand, there are probably dozens of practices of S.A.H.C.'s that do not evidence cult-like behaviors at all. I don't sense a strong desire on the part of this movement to manipulate or control people, for instance. Neither do I detect a strong evangelistic outreach or campaign to win people to their views, as is often evidenced in many cults. I don't see much financial motivation to work Ponzi Schemes over on people, and undo their adherents financially as many cults have been wont to do. The only possible financial motivation I can detect in this movement is probably a reticence to tithe of their income to any local church. RATING: NON-CULTIC.


In conclusion, then, while probably not cults by any traditional definition, we do find some disturbing patterns among Christians who profess Jesus Christ as Savior, but who eschew the Church that He bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Many of the foundational beliefs and patterns appear cultist in some respects, and many others are borderline, albeit without any motivations or aspirations towards gaining power among a great many followers.

I believe we should show great concern and love for those who reject the corporate expression of the Body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14). I think their position is precipitous in many ways without necessarily being outright heretical.

In some cases, we ought to regard S.A.H.C.'s as sincere believers who have back-slidden considerably, and are in great need of the love and care of a local church. In other cases we ought to treat them as those who have yet to be converted (1 John 2:19). Certainly great grace should be shown on our part, and no little charity as well.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Let's Talk About Discouragement

by Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy

Over the years, in the service of my Lord, I have often had a reason to be discouraged. My hopes and aspirations, my "best laid schemes", may not have worked as I had wished. My long range plans, so carefully crafted and expressed, have not always transpired, and I have been given cause to wonder "what is wrong with me?" ... I am not doing very well. Then I ask "am I doing my best?" ... and often I am, as far as I understand it,  but even so the results don't flow and I wonder why some appear to enjoy such success and I feel like I am not making much progress.

It has been in comparatively recent time that I have come to the conclusion that God is not in the business of meeting my goals. I have read what others have written about methods and techniques, ideas and consequences, and sometimes I have sought to fashion myself according to them, but never completely. I have heard of their abounding fruitfulness and unparalleled success and concluded that they must have had some special revelation that I have not. 

It is then, when I begin to ponder, that I hear the gracious reminder that "my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways." I am arrested! ... pulled up short and rebuked. I have subliminally believed that if I am careful and sincere God will honor my goals. I now know that is not the case -- I must honor His.

So as I search on,  the Word of God insists that the priorities that He dictates must become my priorities. If He says that my personal relationship with Him is paramount, Jesus is all in all to me, that the Holy Spirit indwells me and will sustain me, then I must nurture and foster the relationship and tend it carefully never taking it for granted.. If prayer is the first and most vital component of the Christian life, then I must not only believe it so but make it so. If building up the Body of Christ, is important, then I must focus first on that responsibility before I consider any further endeavor. If reaching out to the unsaved that they may be gathered in is high on the agenda, then I must rest in the assurance that this is His work and that He will bring it to pass through His people and not necessarily through me.

A further word here and I'm done. We have been trained to think that prayer, meditation, even teaching, are all passive -- somewhat incidental and, let's admit it, ordinary. So the idea of a stirring stimulating exciting adventurous ('new and improved') activity is to be preferred. So we aim for it, prepare for it and go to it with a new enthusiasm. We are sometimes promised a finite result -- "if you do this the right way, this will happen" ... and when we don't see that fulfilled we blame ourselves. There was nothing wrong with the program, it must be us! We are discouraged. No wonder. But do we ever ask if our goals were His goals or if we simply asked Him to endorse ours because we sincerely believed them to be worthy?

"Lord, in the simplicity of my life, I humbly ask that I be enabled to release my personal ambitions, to submit them all to you, and ask in exchange that you will "take my will and make it Thine," that Jesus may be seen to be Lord of my life and that I desire nothing more than that He be lifted up, above all.

Wilfred  A. Bellamy, Ph.D.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Going Old School: My Venture into the Greatest Literary Work Ever Written in English, The King James Bible of 1611

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it's true.

At 37 years of age, having been a Christian for nearly 25 years, and having served as a pastor in two Presbyterian churches,  I still have not read completely through the King James Bible.

Cover to cover.

I've received two degrees in theology and am working on my third and final one. But still that fact hangs over my head. Yes, I've read dozens of Psalms and portions of the Gospels in the KJV. But Genesis to Revelation, no. (Hangs his head in shame). As to the Authorized Version, I am still a newbie.

When I was converted to Christ at age 12, well meaning Christians told me to stay away from the KJV. That it was "old fashioned." That it was "too religious." That I wouldn't understand it. That I needed a personal relationship with Christ and that a modern English translation was best. I'm sure they meant well. (Shrugs shoulders).

For years, the NIV84 served as my everyday Bible. My first year as a Christian, I read the Bible straight through. And then I did it again. And again. The NIV84 was my heart language.

When I began to study the original languages of Greek and Hebrew in college and seminary (I got pretty good at the former and still stink royally in the latter), I eventually realized that I needed a more literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible. Thus, the ESV came into my life in the mid 2000's. I latched on and never let go.

Since that time, the ESV has been my translation of choice. Literal, beautiful, authoritative, and powerful, I even led my church through a transition from the NIV84 to the ESV when we purchased all new pew Bibles. The ESV has been the translation upon which I have preached some 500 sermons, messages, and Bible studies (give or take a couple hundred). The ESV has been the text I quoted in all of my books.

But this year, I am going "old school." I turn 38 next month and I am preparing for a new venture in the world's greatest literary work ever written in the English language (and yes, I've heard of Shakespeare and I'm not backing down on that claim).

*Note: I'll still be using the ESV in church. 

Briefly then, here are four reasons that I am starting this personal adventure.

1. The KJV is an excellent, word-for-word translation of the original tongues. Always has been, always will be. It is known for majestic style, accuracy, power, and beauty. Just a couple weeks of studying Greek and Hebrew, and even the seminary freshman can see how fitly the KJV renders the original languages into gorgeous English. The translators of the 1611 masterwork did great diligence and got it right. Pretty amazing for a committee! 

2. It's not as hard to read as everyone makes it out to be. Go ahead and try it out on a Psalm or two. Read a chapter of Matthew or Luke. Compare what a passage in Romans says to the ESV or the NASB and you will see that it's not too terribly difficult at all. The beauty of the text will make up for any strange vocabulary that you will encounter. ("Peradventure?" Had to look that one up!) The oft-cited "thee's and thou's" are actually very beautiful and lend themselves to prayer very readily and naturally. The more you read it, the more you get used to it.

3. History. The KJV was the Bible of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham and virtually every other significant figure between the 1600's and the 1900's. Nearly the entire Puritan and Colonial Calvinist movement used it. For me as a lover of history, this is a pretty significant reason. In the case of Edwards, who is my doctoral research subject, I felt compelled to throw myself into the study of his Bible as well as his thought, theology, worldview, and philosophy. We are not the first generation of Christians on Planet Earth (despite what cutting-edge coffee shop pastors in skinny jeans and horn rims might lead you to believe) and it is a rich experience to read the texts, creeds, and confessions of the generations on whose shoulders we stand. How much more so their Bible!

4. The KJV has influenced the English language that you and I speak more than any other book. Simply speaking, it is a literary gem as well as a faithful rendering of the infallible Word of God. It is shocking to consider all the ways that the KJV has become part of our everyday English. Here is an article that shows that quite well. 

In the coming weeks, I will review a couple of high-end copies of the KJV that you can purchase for around $30--both bound in high quality leathers with excellent print quality and paper--to enhance your reading experience. As a general motivation, getting a new Bible every once in a while is a good incentive to launch a new personal study program! (I think a huge adventure like this calls for the treat of getting oneself a little present, don't you?)

Alright. So the launch begins in a couple of weeks. So, who's with me? Are you ready for the KJV challenge?

-Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. A confessed bibliophile, he loves the works of Jonathan Edwards, the puritans, and old and new Bibles.