Saturday, March 29, 2014

Believe Is a Verb

I find it really interesting how believe and obey are so closely related in the Bible.  I was reading Hebrews 3 today, talking about the people Moses led out of Egypt and how angry God was with those who sinned.   "And to whom was God talking when He promised that they would never enter His rest? He was talking to those who did not obey Him. So we see they were not allowed to enter and have God's rest because they did not believe."  (vs. 18,19)  Obey and believe are synonymous in this passage.  Kinda interesting, huh?

In fact, if you look at the Greek of the word for "did not obey," apitheho, it means, "not to allow one's self to be persuaded, to refuse or withhold belief, to refuse belief and obedience, not to comply with."  It definitely shows just how involved those who did not obey and did not believe were.  It wasn't just a matter of their lack of faith, but a deliberate, stubborn decision to not allow themselves to be persuaded, to refuse or withhold belief even though there was more than enough proof of the truth (remember the Red Sea parting for them?), to not comply with what God was asking of them.  Yep, this was no passive lack of belief, no neutral disobedience. This was a very deliberate decision to not believe, to not obey what they knew to be true, what they had seen to be true, what they have been told was true.

Now I know we don't have things like the Red Sea parting for us, but we do have His Word. Will we believe and obey it?  But how can one believe and obey, without reading and studying what God's Word says?  We can't!  So, what are we gonna do with it?

I sure don't wanna be one of those with whom God was angry because I heard but did not believe or obey!

"Today listen to what He says. 
Do not be stubborn as in the past when you turned again God." 
Psalm 95:7-8 

Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes." Dietrich Bonhoeffer . 

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Peg that Doesn't Fit into a Round or Square Hole Anymore.

It is a lonely thing to not quite fit in, especially in church or even with my friends.  
I have become that person, and I don't like it at all.

I've been a believer for nearly 31 years now, so how did I get to this point in the last few months where I no longer feel like I am a part of church?  I know that I am part of THE church, the body of Christ as a true Christian, but I no longer fit into any local church.  I'm an oddity now.  (Those of you reading this who know me personally will suggest that I've always been an oddity!)

Doctrinally speaking, I no longer fit anywhere.  But the thing is, doctrine is important!

If I were to take any single doctrinal point, I could find a church home.  But I apparently have such a strange combination of doctrinal beliefs, which I believe are firmly founded in Scripture, that taken together, fit with no church.

So where does that leave me?

Right now it leaves me going to two churches.  Not quite fitting in at either one. Wishing I could fit in someplace.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflections of a What?

Pontius Pilate once asked, “What is truth?”  This question was in response to Jesus declaring that “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

People through the ages have wondered, as Pilate did, “What is truth?” Is truth absolute or relative?  Where can we find truth?  Who defines truth? 

Most everyone agrees that scientific truth is absolute.  It is truth that one plus one equals two. It is true that the force of gravity will cause a ball to fall to the ground when thrown.

Many today, though, believe that moral truth is relative.  It may be true to one person that abortion is a choice; whereas, it may be true to another person that abortion is the ending of a life.  For those believing that truth is relative, one’s truth is filtered through experiences, feelings, beliefs. “Truth in Western cultures usually refers to consensus whereby competing schools of thought aim to establish consensus and thereby dominance. So, in this version of truth (which is generally the scientific/political/social view) we have fluctuating truths that vary according to the acceptance or rejection of new data. This is something like how the pendulum of truth swung on eggs. The "experts" first thought eggs were good, then bad because of cholesterol, then good a few years later. Truth by consensus is what passes for truth for those that look outside of themselves for answers” (Davis).  But is that an accurate assessment of truth?  Did the truth of whether or not eggs are beneficial to health change, or was it merely the perception of truth based on available knowledge that changed?

It used to be accepted as truth that the Earth was the center of the universe, that the Sun revolved around the Earth.  This was the consensus at the time.  Did the fact that it was a consensus make it true? Absolutely not!  Though it wasn't believed, though at the time it hadn't been proven, this Earth has always revolved around the Sun. It is important to remember that truth and belief are not synonymous. “Beliefs have to be presented and defended. Truth Is” (Herring).

I maintain that all truth is absolute, regardless of feelings, experiences, belief, consensus, etc.  By definition truth must be absolute.  But describing truth as absolute does not define truth. So once again, “What is truth?”

The Bible has a lot to say about truth:

John 17:17 Jesus prays to His Father, “Your Word is truth.”  Earlier John had said that the Word was God and became flesh; so to say that God’s Word is truth is to say that Jesus is truth and that Jesus is God.

John 14:6 Jesus clearly proclaims, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
1 John 5:6 states, “The Spirit is the truth.”

The “word of truth” is spoken of often in the New Testament. Colossians 1:5 says that “the word of truth” is “the gospel,” and Ephesians 1:13 describes “the word of truth” as “the gospel of your salvation.” One can find many more references to truth within the New Testament, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make here.
But as I've already stated, belief and truth are not synonymous, so how can I know that what the Bible says is truth is really truth.  Because I believe the Bible?  Because I believe in God?  Because I accept what the Bible says: “All Scripture is God-breathed”?  Yes, but not only based on my belief, because belief can be relative. 

I openly proclaim that I have faith and because of that faith, I trust the Bible to be true.  But my faith is not a blind faith.  My faith, my belief that the Bible is true, is based on other objective, documented truths that support my belief and affirm my belief to be true.

Because this blog will be devoted to truth and my love for truth, I want to begin by showing you that the Bible can be trusted to be true and accurate.

Many will argue that we can’t know that the Bible is true and accurate because we don’t have the “original autographs,” meaning the original documents that each of the authors wrote.  We don’t have the Book of Acts that Luke actually penned.  We don’t have the actually letters that Paul wrote to the various churches of his time.  All we have are copies.  In fact, all we have are copies of copies.  So how can we know they are accurate?  How can we know there haven’t been changes to suit different times and cultures?  After all, that was 2000 years ago.  Can we really trust the copies we have now? 

Did you know that over a period of only 300 years over 24,300 manuscripts of the Bible were produced from the originals?  Over a period of 500 years over 60,000 manuscripts of the Bible were produced!  Let’s compare that to some other works of ancient literature. The ten of the most famous writers of ancient times are Homer, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Sophocles, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Plato and Caesar.  None of their original autographs exist any longer, but the copies available are universally accepted to be accurate to their writings.  Over a thousand year period (from the time of their writings to 1000 years later), only 643 manuscripts were produced from their writings.  In twice the time, only 1% the number of manuscripts was produced from ten of the most well known ancient authors’ writings.  The writings we have of Plato and Homer and the rest are accepted as accurate to the originals with much less proof, with many fewer ancient manuscripts to verify that they are true to the originals.  "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament" (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?), so why is it so difficult to accept the Bible is true to the original autographs?  

And all these various manuscripts of the Bible are 99.5% identical!!  The majority of the variances between them are differences in spelling, in punctuation, in division of text.  There is NO major doctrinal issue that varies among these tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible.  One of the earliest complete manuscripts of the entire Bible is from the 4th century, between 325-360 A.D. This manuscript is still easily readable (if you can read Koine Greek, that is). Why is it considered such a leap of faith to believe that the Bible is accurate?

Another reason we can rely on the Bible is because it is primarily a collection of eyewitness accounts.  The authors of the Bible were people who were actually there and witnessed the events they described.  Peter stated, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Luke said, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). Most of them were persecuted and killed because of what they were saying, but none of them changed their story, not even to save themselves from death.  Would YOU die for something you knew wasn't true?  Indeed, would you die for something even if you knew it WAS true?  The fact that these men were martyred for what they were proclaiming lends much validity to their accounts and points to the importance of their story.  

But we don’t have to rely only on the authors of the Bible.  Irenaeus (c. 120–202 A.D.), Tertullian(160–225 A.D.), Polycarp (69–155 A.D.), Julius Africanus (c. 160–240 A.D.), Origen (c. 184–254 A.D.), and Clement of Rome (died 99 A.D) are considered some of the earliest church fathers.  In fact, according to the writings of both Tertullian and Irenaeus (who according to his own writings, in his youth heard Polycarp speak), Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. Many of their writings have survived, and in these writings the early church fathers quote so much of the Bible, that with their writings alone, we would have almost the entire New Testament.
There are even writings of ancient secular historians that corroborate the authenticity of the New Testament.  Josephus (37–100 A.D.) was a contemporary of the authors of the New Testament. Josephus writes about John the Baptist (using that terminology).  Josephus states that John the Baptist told the Jews to exercise virtue toward one another and piety toward God, he said that great crowds came to listen to John the Baptist speak, and that many followed John and were baptized by him and that his followers were very dedicated to him. Josephus also relates a time when the Jews sent priests to question John.  And finally, Josephus relates John’s imprisonment in Macherus by Herod and his subsequent execution.  Each of these statements by the ancient historian support what the Gospels relate about John the Baptist, adding some detail in some instances and omitting details in others, but never contradicting the accounts of John the Baptist by the Gospel writers.  Josephus also mentions Jesus in his writings twice, thereby substantiating the historicity of Jesus.

Pliny the Younger (c. 61-112), a Roman official and historian, in a letter to the Emperor Trajan, discussed how to handle those who refused to worship the emperor because they worshiped “Christos.” In his letter, he writes, “They have also stated that their entire negligence or violation was only this: they regularly came together before dawn on a fixed day to sing verses in honor of Christ as a god, and to unite with each other under oath, not with any criminal purpose, but to refrain from theft, robbery or adultery…”

Tacitus (c. 56-117 A.D.), another Roman historian, wrote of “Christus,” who was put to death under Pontius Pilate.  He also related the persecution of Christians under Nero, including Nero’s false accusation that Christians started the fire of Rome.

These ancient secular writings add to the verity of the historicity of Jesus and the early Christian church, which in turn adds to the credibility of the New Testament.

Several archaeological discoveries substantiate the accuracy of various historical and cultural references in the Bible. Artifacts that speak of King David (who experts once believed was a fictional character), Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem spoken of in 2 Kings 25, the construction of Hezekiah's tunnel mentioned in 2 Kings 20, the story of the Assyrian siege told about in IsaiahChronicles and 2 Kings are just a few examples of archaeological discoveries which corroborate stories, people, and places spoken of in the Bible. A simple Google search will show you that there have been many more such archaeological discoveries that further substantiate the Bible’s historical and cultural accuracy. 

One very interesting archaeological discovery is that of an entire set of royal archives in cuneiform tablets that included records of trade between Assyrian merchants and the Hittites.  What makes this especially interesting is that before these discoveries in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the popular view was that the Hittites were a fictional people, but since this discovery, experts have not only affirmed the Hittites of the Bible existed, but that they were the dominant power in Asia Minor until around 1200 B.C.

A final, very powerful proof of the Bible’s legitimacy is its literary consistency.  The Bible is made up of 66 books written over a 1500 year period by 40 different authors, but it all comes together to tell one story, that of God’s plan of salvation through the Messiah Jesus Christ.  Prophecies of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, written hundreds of years before Jesus was ever born were proven true by eyewitness accounts written in the first century. “There is indeed a wide variety of human authors and themes (in the Bible). Yet behind these…there lies a single divine author with a single unifying theme” (Stott, Understanding the Bible).

I am sure there are many other evidences that could be discussed to support the accuracy and truth of the Bible as the infallible Word of God, but this is just a touch of why I know I can trust the Bible as my source of truth.

I am a philalethist, a lover of the truth, and in this blog I will be reflecting on truths I've found and documenting my discoveries of truth I have yet to find.  I’d love for y’all to join me on this journey.  You may not agree with what I find, but I promise you I will not rely on my beliefs or feelings or biases, but on God’s Word to discover and affirm truth.