Monday, 2 March 2020

Using the Bible as a Filter

In 2 Timothy 3:16 the apostle Paul says something about the purpose of the Bible: 
“All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correction, for training in uprightness.” 

Actually, to be precise, when Paul wrote this he was referring to what we know as the Old Testament.  But what he says applies just as much to the New Testament too.

The Bible as a filter

One good way of thinking about the Bible is as a filter. 

As we live our lives, we are constantly bombarded by ideas of all sorts.  There are ideas that are common in the cultures we live in.  And, as Christians, there are ideas that are held by the Christian circles we are part of.

If we imagine all these ideas coming down a big pipe towards us, the Bible can be pictured as a filter that allows some ideas through and keeps others out. 

Importantly, however, we need to be proactive in letting Scripture work in this way.  The Bible’s work of filtration doesn’t just happen automatically.  Instead, we will often need to weigh things up, to spend some time thinking about whether various ideas fit with biblical teaching. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Paul tells his readers: 
“Test everything; hold on to what is good.”

Using the Bible as a filter really just means to do what Paul instructs in this verse.  It means to make it a habit to think about the values of things in the light of Scripture and to reject anything that doesn’t pass the test.

Using the values of mainstream Western culture as a filter

Sadly, there are many professing Christians who get things the wrong way round.  Instead of using the Bible as a filter, they use something else to filter out parts of biblical teaching.

To begin with, there are those who use the values of mainstream Western culture as a filter. 

For example, the Bible has a lot to say about sexual issues and gender roles.  And what it teaches on these topics often sharply contradicts mainstream views in modern Western culture.

Instead of using the Bible as a filter to block out harmful ideas in areas like these, there are many who block out biblical teaching when it doesn’t fit with Western values.

However, one of the main reasons God has given us the Bible is so that the biases and mistakes of cultural ideas can be filtered out.  In moral issues, every culture gets some things right and some things wrong in God’s sight.  Scripture is essential for determining whether various ideas fit with His will. 

Many professing Christians today think they know better than the Bible, whereas in reality they have been deceived.

Using denominational beliefs as a filter

There are also many who go wrong by using denominational traditions to filter out biblical teaching.

No two denominations of the church agree on everything of importance as regards Christian doctrine and practice.  I would suggest that anyone who thinks there is a denomination that has got it all right is being very naive.  Instead, each denomination has strengths and weaknesses when compared to others.

That is not to say that overall no denomination is better than any other.  Some are much more in line with the will of God than others are.  But the idea that any denomination avoids all significant mistakes is very unrealistic.

There are, sadly, many Christians who never stop to question the beliefs of their denomination.  Instead of using the Bible as a filter to hold denominational ideas up to scrutiny, they do the opposite.  Parts of Scripture that contradict, or at least fit awkwardly with, the views of a certain denomination are often just brushed aside.

Again, one of the main reasons God has given us Scripture is so that mistakes in Christian doctrine or practice can be corrected.  If we refuse to allow our denominational ideas to be challenged by carefully examining them in the light of biblical teaching, we are not using the Bible as we should.

Avoiding idolatry

Whenever we use something else to filter out biblical teaching, we are guilty of idolatry.  We have set up a man-made system of deciding what to accept and reject that is vastly inferior to the one God has provided.  At best this will cause problems, at worst it will lead to disaster.

Instead, what we need to do is humbly accept the filter that God has provided, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.  And we need to actively use this filter by constantly weighing things up.

See also:

Fighting Temptations to Believe What We Want to Believe

Monday, 24 February 2020

Are Non-Christian Jews Really the Allies of Christians?

As everyone will be well aware, the country of Israel is often in the news.  When it is, usually the focus is on Israel’s disputes with Arab people-groups and countries, and with non-Arab Muslim-majority countries like Iran.

Ever since the creation of the modern-day state of Israel in 1948, huge numbers of Arabs and Muslims have been unhappy that this state exists.  And even those who accept its existence are usually highly critical of many of its policies.

Christian support for the state of Israel

In this context, it is very common to hear evangelical Christians, especially in the United States, speaking out in support of the state of Israel.  Many evangelicals believe that the re-establishment of this state is prophesied in the Bible as something that is the will of God.  So they therefore take a dim view of those who reject the existence of the Israeli state, and they often speak out in support of its policies.

I think it would be fair to say that many evangelicals today seem to view non-Christian Jews as sort of allies of Christians.  They seem to see these Jews as basically on the same page as Christians, even though they would prefer them to believe in Jesus.

Israel in Bible prophecy

In this article I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the place of Israel in Bible prophecy.  For me personally, it is a topic where I am uncertain on a number of points.  Nevertheless, I will make a few brief comments.

First, I think it is highly likely that the Bible prophesies a mass turning of Jews to Christ.  In Romans 11:25-26 the apostle Paul writes: 
25 So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.”

(Scripture readings in this article are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

It is very difficult to interpret this passage in any other way than as a prophecy that Jews will turn to Christ in large numbers.

Second, I prefer the view that the Bible prophesies the re-establishment of the state of Israel as something that is God’s will.  In Luke 21:24 the Lord Jesus predicts: 
“. . . Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The context of this prophecy is literal Jerusalem, and Jesus does most naturally seem to be implying that a time will come when Jews will regain sovereignty over the city and that this is the will of God.

Third, we should firmly reject the view that there will be a 1000-year-long earthly kingdom centred on Jerusalem after Jesus returns.  There are too many biblical passages which contradict this idea (e.g., Matt 25:31-46; 2 Thess 1:6-10; 2 Pet 3:3-13).  Instead, all end-times events involving Jews will take place before He returns. 

Fourth, we should also reject the dangerous idea that it is God’s will for there ever to be another literal temple in Jerusalem.  That would involve going from the substance in Christ back to the shadows that paved the way for Him (Heb 8:1-13), and we can be sure that this is not God’s plan.

Christians and non-Christian Jews are poles apart

My main aim in this article is simply to oppose the idea that non-Christian Jews should be seen as allies of Christians in a general sense.  This idea sharply contradicts the Bible.

To begin with, we need to understand how different Christians and non-Christians actually are.

Christians are people who have been born again (e.g., John 1:12-13; 3:3-8) and in a sense created again (2 Cor 5:17), and who have the Holy Spirit (e.g., Acts 2:38; Rom 8:9).  By contrast, non-Christians are people who have not been born or created again, and who don’t have the Holy Spirit. 

Importantly, Scripture uses the image of light and darkness to compare Christians and non-Christians.  For example, in John 12:46 Jesus states: 
“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me would not remain in darkness.”

This clearly implies that Christians are in light, and it just as clearly implies that non-Christians remain in darkness.  In the natural world, the difference between light and darkness can hardly be overstated, and Jesus’ words must mean that there is a huge difference between believers and non-believers.

Similarly, the Bible distinguishes between Christians and non-Christians in terms of their liability to condemnation.  For example, in John 3:18 we read: 
Anyone who believes in Him [Jesus] is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.”

This is clear that Christians are on track for final salvation, whereas non-Christians are on track for final punishment.

It is impossible that those in light and those in darkness could be allies of each other in a general sense, or that those who are not condemned could be on the same page as those who are condemned. 

In fact, in Luke 11:23 Jesus says: 
“Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters.”

This makes it plain that non-Christian Jews are against the Lord Jesus. And because they are against Him, they must also be against us His followers.  So they can’t be our allies.

Of course, in individual issues of various kinds, Christians may find themselves with the same goal as other groups of people.  And in such cases alliances of limited scope for a specific purpose will form.  In this sense it will be true from time to time that Christians are the allies of non-Christian Jews.

However, to see Christians as allies of non-Christian Jews more generally is a big mistake.

The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD

One thing that shows how far non-Christian Jews are from the will of God is the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  This is one of the most significant events in all of Jewish history.

In 66 AD the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, resulting in an extremely bloody war that cost probably hundreds of thousands of lives.  In 70 Jerusalem was captured and destroyed. 

Luke tells us in Luke 19:41-44 that when Jesus visited Jerusalem just before His crucifixion He prophesied about the city: 
41 As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you knew this day what would bring peace ​— ​but now it is hidden from your eyes.  43 For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side.  44 They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’”

In verses 43-44 Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in 70 AD.

Verse 44 also makes it clear that the destruction happened because the Jews failed to recognise God’s visitation of them.  In other words, Jerusalem was destroyed because the majority of Jews in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and in the immediately following decades, failed to accept Him as the promised Messiah.

Luke 13:34-35 and Matt 23:37-24:2 also connect the destruction of Jerusalem with Jewish rejection of Jesus.

The Romans were the actual ones who destroyed the city, but God was working through them to judge the Jewish people.  This is closely parallel to the way that God used the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem in the 6th century BC as a punishment for Jewish sins.

If we want to know what God thinks about non-Christian Judaism, He has given His verdict in what He did through the Romans in 70 AD!  Failing to accept Jesus as Messiah is quite simply one of the worst sins that a person can commit.  So the idea that non-Christian Jews are allies of Christians in a general sense is completely wrong.

No excuse for anti-Semitism

Throughout Christian history, more than a few people calling themselves Christians have used Jewish rejection of Christ as an excuse to mistreat Jews.  Some have claimed that because the Jews crucified Him, Christians are justified in treating Jews harshly.

At the present time, anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise, so I want to spend a little time trying to counter this sort of thinking.  In short, to see Jewish rejection of Jesus as a good reason for being harsh to Jews is not only morally wrong but also logically nonsensical.  There are several points to make here:

(1) Throughout history, some Jews have accepted Christ as Saviour, just as some Gentiles have done.

(2) In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us to be radical in how we love people (Matt 5:43-47).  We are to love everyone.  Even when people do bad things, there is no place for Christians treating them badly in return.

(3) At the most fundamental level, all human beings are guilty of the crucifixion, not Jews alone.  It was the sins of all people that drove Jesus to the cross.

(4) It is true that Jesus came first and foremost to the Jewish people (Matt 15:24).  So there is a sense in which Jews in the first century were guilty of the crucifixion in a way that Gentiles were not (Matt 27:25; 1 Thess 2:14-15).  However, it is not clear that today rejection of Christ is any worse from a Jew than from a Gentile. 

Just as importantly, even if rejection of Jesus today is worse from a Jew than from a Gentile, this is essentially a private matter between Jews and God.  When a Jew rejects Christ, they are sinning against God, not against Gentiles.  It is not the job of Gentiles to try to avenge God in this.

(5) Not only have Gentiles not been treated badly by Jews rejecting Christ, but the Bible says that Gentile Christians have actually benefited from this sin!  In his letter to the Romans Paul makes it clear that God has offered salvation to Gentiles precisely because Jews rejected Christ (Rom 11:11-32).

Let me give an analogy.  Imagine the following situation:

A father has two sons, and he is planning to take his older son to a football game.  But this boy seriously disrespects his father in some way, so the father decides he is no longer going to take him to the game. 

However, he still has the ticket that he was going to use for his older son, and he decides to take his younger son to the game instead.  So father and younger son go to the game and have a great time.

In this situation, the younger son is hardly going to bear a grudge against his older brother.  The older boy misbehaved, but not against his younger brother, and the misbehaviour only led to a benefit coming to the younger boy.

Similarly, it is completely nonsensical for Gentile Christians to bear a grudge against Jews for rejecting Christ.  Their sin in rejecting Him was against God, not against Gentiles, and it has led to the infinite blessing of salvation being offered to us.  How can we possibly bear a grudge against Jews for that?

For various reasons, then, it is both immoral and absurd for Gentile Christians to want to treat non-Christian Jews harshly for rejecting Jesus.  On the other hand, however, we certainly shouldn’t see non-Christian Jews as our allies in a general sense.

Christian attitudes to non-Christian Jews

How, then, should Christians relate to non-Christian Jews?

Well, first, we are duty bound to love all people, and that goes for Jews as much as anyone.  Above all else, love for Jews will mean praying for them to accept the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, and persuading them to do this when we have the opportunity. 

Second, to the extent that we are convinced that events surrounding the state of Israel are the will of God, we should speak out in support of them. 

I have worded the previous sentence quite vaguely, because personally I am very unsure about how much of the land the Jews possessed in ancient times it is God’s will for them to regain.  This question isn’t made any easier by the fact that in Old Testament times the amount of land the Jews controlled varied enormously from time to time.  But anyway, each Christian should follow their conscience in this matter.

Third, Christians need to avoid uncritically accepting the policies of the state of Israel.  And we need to speak out when we are opposed to these policies.

For example, persecution of Christians in Israel seems to be on the increase.  There has been the recent scandalous treatment of Eritrean Christians, who have fled to Israel from persecution in Eritrea, only to be harshly treated there too.  And there are also recent examples of Jewish believers being persecuted too.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the Israeli state’s outrageous policy to refuse Jewish Christians from elsewhere in the world the right to immigrate.  Other Jews, even atheists, are allowed to immigrate and become Israeli citizens.  But if a Jew believes in Jesus, he or she is barred.  This is a policy that underlines just how hostile the modern-day state of Israel is towards God.

Finally, Christians should be ready to criticise some common Jewish practices too. 

For example, we know that Jesus sharply criticised the scribes and Pharisees for weighing people down with rules and regulations that were never the will of God (e.g., Matt 23:4).  Ultra-orthodox Jews today do exactly this, maybe even more than the scribes and Pharisees did.  And we can be sure that the Lord is just as unhappy about this now as He was in the first century.

See also my articles: