Monday, October 16, 2017

Could We Change God’s Mind?

            We prayed for many years that God would heal a terminally ill friend. He continued to deteriorate despite our prayers. The doctors, finally, gave up hope. Then a few friends requested a famous faith-healer, who happened to be in the city, to visit and pray for our ailing friend. The preacher visited and prayed. Lo and behold, the terminally ill man was miraculously healed!

            Did God change HIS mind when a more righteous or a spiritually gifted faith-healer prayed for this ailing person?

            Can God change HIS mind?

            There are two diametrically opposite answers to this question. Some Christians believe that God can change HIS mind, whereas others assert that God does not and cannot change HIS mind.

            Let us briefly study their assertions.

God Changes HIS Mind

            Some Christians think that God can change HIS mind, “…advocates of a theory called open theism have argued that God can and does change and that we can cause that change. They find their support for this in passages such as Genesis 18, where Abraham intercedes before the Lord for Sodom and Gomorrah, and God seemingly changes His mind. They claim further support from passages like Jeremiah 18:7–10, Jonah 3:10, and Genesis 6:6, which speak of God repenting or relenting or being sorry.”1

            These Christians, upon reading these verses, believe that God changes HIS mind:

            “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Genesis 6:6, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.” (Exodus 32:14, RSV, Emphasis Mine).

            “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it." (Jeremiah 18: 7-10, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

God Cannot Change HIS Mind

            Pastor, theologian, and author, R.C Sproul, unpacks this dilemma from the vantage point of God’s omniscience.2

There’s one sense in which it seems God is changing his mind, and there’s another sense in which the Bible says God never changes his mind because God is omniscient. He knows all things from the beginning, and he is immutable. He is unchanging. There’s no shadow of turning within him. For example, He knows what Moses is going to say to him in Numbers 14 before Moses even opens his mouth to plead for the people. Then after Moses has actually said it, does God suddenly changes his mind? He doesn’t have any more information than he had a moment before. Nothing has changed as far as God’s knowledge or his appraisal of the situation.
Is God confused, stumbling through all the different options—Should I do this? Should I not do that? And does he decide upon one course of action and then think, Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea after all, and change his mind? Obviously God is omniscient; God is all wise. God is eternal in his perspective and in his full knowledge of everything. So we don’t change God’s mind. But prayer changes things. It changes us. And there are times in which God waits for us to ask for things because his plan is that we work with him in the glorious process of bringing his will to pass here on earth.

            Similarly, Dr. William Lane Craig explains this theme from the perspective of God’s foreknowledge and the need for us to understand the literary genre’s of the Bible and the literary devices used by the biblical authors for an effective narration. If we understand these details, we will be able to accurately interpret the Bible. Thus we would possess a proper understanding of God. Here’s William Lane Craig:3

I don’t think that God can change his mind, because as an omniscient being, he knows everything that will happen, including his own decisions. God has foreknowledge not only of everything that creatures will do, but also knowledge of his own acts…If God knows the truth value of all true future tense propositions — then he will know the truth value of propositions about his own actions — like God will part the Red Sea; he knows that. So, God would have knowledge of everything in the future, and therefore there could be no basis for changing his mind. An omniscient being cannot change his mind, it would only be an ignorant being, a being that is ignorant, that could acquire some new reason for doing something that would cause him to change his mind…
There are some Scriptures which, at least superficially to a layperson, looks like God’s changing his mind. Jonah and the whale and Nineveh where God was going to destroy the city unless something happened, and he seemed to change his mind.
It’s vital that we understand the literary genre, or type, of most of these biblical stories. The Bible is in the form of narratives. They’re stories about God told from the human point of view. And so, a good storyteller will tell his story with all the vivacity and color that he wants to enhance his narrative.
And so, you’ll find stories in the Bible about God, told from a human perspective where God not only lacks knowledge of the future, but even lacks knowledge of what’s going on presently. God comes down to Abraham and says, “I’ve heard the outcry in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m going to go see if what I’ve heard is really happening there.”
Well, that would deny not only God’s foreknowledge, but his knowledge of the present. And there are other passages where God is spoken of in anthropomorphic terms of having nostrils and eyes and arms and other sort of bodily parts—wings. If you take all of these literally, God would be a sort of fire-breathing monster.
And so, these are anthropomorphisms. They are literary devices that are part of the storyteller’s art, and shouldn’t be read like a philosophy of religion or systematic theology textbook. There’s just a naïve view of the type of literature that Scripture is.

Need For Proper Interpretation Of The Bible

            Unless we understand the Bible as how God – the author of the Bible – desires us to understand, we will subscribe to a faulty theological position, which, at times, could be detrimental to our salvation. Hence it is imperative to interpret the Bible accurately, “…while the above texts talk of God as changing, there are numerous texts in the Old and New Testaments that tell us that God does not change in His being (Psalm 102:25–27; c.f. Hebrews 1:10–12; Malachi 3:6; James. 1:17) and that He does not change His mind (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:17–18). This is not to play different texts against each other but to know that we need some interpretive principles to help us understand the Bible. There are two reasonable interpretive principles that can help us understand these passages:

            1. Difficult passages should be interpreted in light of other clearer passages.

            2. Passages which are found in the historical narrative in Scripture should be interpreted in light of the didactic (instruction/teaching) passages (such as the epistles.).”4

Can My Prayer Change God’s Mind?

            If our prayer can change God’s mind, then there would exist an overabundance of confusions and contradictions that would effectively destroy our spirituality. If our prayer can change God’s mind, then God cannot be a maximally great being, but let’s not even go to such stupendous theological dilemmas.

            Consider this rather simplified dilemma. If I pray for rain and if you pray for no rain (because your home is in a low lying flood prone location), and if God answers my prayer and not yours, then would you not consider God to be partial and cruel?

            Numerous theological complications, such as this, could be offered, but there is no need, for God does not change HIS mind, “…people often ask whether prayer can change God’s mind….How could a prayer change God’s mind?.... Is it that when Abraham (Genesis 18:16–33) came to God, he came to Him with information that God lacked apart from what Abraham told Him? Obviously Abraham didn’t teach God something that He didn’t already know. In fact, God knew that Sodom would have fewer than ten righteous people, whereas Abraham did not. God’s mind doesn’t change because it doesn’t need to change. He knows everything, and He knows the end from the beginning. God has no plan B because there are no deficiencies or flaws in His plan A.

            Does prayer change things? Yes. Does God use prayer as a secondary means to bring His work to pass? Yes. Does God not only invite us to pray but command us to? Yes. Does the effective prayer of righteous man accomplish much? Yes. But do these things change God’s mind? No. Why? Because God has never had to change His mind from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:11).”5

Endnotes:

1https://answersingenesis.org/who-is-god/does-god-change-his-mind/

2http://www.ligonier.org/blog/does-god-change-his-mind/

3http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/can-god-change-robert-lawrence-kuhn

4https://answersingenesis.org/who-is-god/does-god-change-his-mind/

5Ibid.


Websites cited were last accessed on 16th October 2017.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is The Music Ministry Destroying Other Ministries In Your Church?

            “How was the worship at your church?”

            “Oh, it was awesome! The worship team was amazing!”

            “Wonderful…how was your personal worship experience?”

            “Very powerful indeed; the worship leader is certainly anointed!”

            Ask any young person about their worship experience, and I am so sure that a vast majority of them would, innately, refer worship to singing in the church. In today’s church parlance, singing means worship and worship refers to singing.

            Thus the dilution of “worship” raises its ugly hood in the church. This then is one of the many problems prevalent in the church today!

Glorified Music & Marginalized Worship

            There are churches that do not allocate more than 10 minutes for preaching or the exposition of the Word of God. Scripture reading would never exceed 5 minutes, even on a day when long passage(s) are read! But their singing would go on and on for more than 30 minutes. Why this imbalance?

            A pertinent point emerges to the forefront when the local church glorifies the music ministry more than the other ministries. When preeminence is bestowed upon singing, and when music ministry is glorified beyond conceivable proportions, at least a few of the other equally important ministries in the church tend to be ignored or marginalized.

            A glaring example would be the absence of the ministry of Christian apologetics (offering a rational defense for the Christian faith) in the churches today. Apologetics would generally be a non-existent ministry in your church, and a good number of church leaders tend to think that apologetics refers to offering an apology for the Christian faith!

            Dr. William Lane Craig speaks of this malady in the local church, albeit from the perspective of the church ignoring the need of a seeking mind, which leads to an intellectual impoverishment of a sincerely-questioning-Christian-mind, “I think the church is really failing these kids. Rather than provide them training in the defense of Christianity’s truth, we focus on emotional worship experiences, felt needs, and entertainment. It’s no wonder they become sitting ducks for that teacher or professor who rationally takes aim at their faith.”1

            I am not saying that the music ministry is eating up other ministries. But I am indeed claiming that the churches are ignoring equally pertinent ministries, such as the ministry of Christian Apologetics. This is a sad existential occurrence because the church leadership invests all its efforts only into a few ministries.    

            When churches ignore the ministry of Christian apologetics, and when apologetics is not intricately woven into the fabric of your church ministry, your church would be grossly ineffective to answer the questions of a seeking Christian or a non-Christian. Some pastors even have the audacity to claim that the questioning mind is a stupid mind. Little do they realize that they are the stupid one, for not having an answer for the hope that they have in Christ (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

            Why do churches ignore the ministry of Christian apologetics?

            “The great revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries brought with them an emphasis on quick conversion of individuals to Christianity without sufficient attention to instruction in biblical doctrine.  The Christian life became more about the experience than the intellectual assent to the teachings of Christ and the apostles.  Without intellectual grounding, many Christians fell prey to the rising philosophical views alleging that only empirical evidence can support truth claims.  Higher criticism began to cast doubt on the inerrancy of the Scriptures.  Darwinism challenged Christian teachings on the origins of man.  The evangelical church largely responded to these challenges by abandoning rational inquiry altogether.  Philosophy, as a whole, became rejected by the fundamentalists, who stood by the truth of the Scripture.  Mainstream denominations, on the other hand, accepted modern philosophy and rejected the inerrancy of Scripture, viewing it as a spiritual guidebook only, not propositional truth.  Instead of engaging the secularists, the fundamentalists retreated to the margins of society.  As a result, the church has largely adopted a blind-faith position regarding the knowledge of spiritual truth.  Rather than faith being seen as a response to reasoned evidence of the truth of Christianity’s claims, it has become contrary to reason altogether.  It amounts to believing despite all the evidence. Ultimately, the absence of apologetics in the church has to do with intellectual laziness, which is sometimes made a virtue in the name of “faith.”  The effects of anti-intellectualism in the church have been disastrous,”2 says an article in Carm.org.

            Ignoring the ministry of apologetics is synonymous to ignoring the intellectual needs of the young people. When pertinent ministries are consciously ignored by the local church, the worship experience is meticulously diluted.

True & Effective Worship  

            Every mature believer understands that worship in the church includes singing. Singing praise and worship songs are as important and pertinent as the reading of the Scripture, preaching of the Word, offertory, and even the announcements. Everything that happens during the worship service is an act of worship.

            True worship does not merely refer to singing, “The apostle Paul described true worship perfectly in Romans 12:1-2: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, or well pleasing and perfect.”...in the passage is a description of the manner of our worship: “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” Presenting our bodies means giving to God all of ourselves. The reference to our bodies here means all our human faculties, all of our humanness—our hearts, minds, hands, thoughts, attitudes—are to be presented to God. In other words, we are to give up control of these things and turn them over to Him, just as a literal sacrifice was given totally to God on the altar. But how? Again, the passage is clear: “by the renewing of your mind.” We renew our minds daily by cleansing them of the world’s “wisdom” and replacing it with true wisdom that comes from God. We worship Him with our renewed and cleansed minds, not with our emotions. Emotions are wonderful things, but unless they are shaped by a mind saturated in Truth, they can be destructive, out-of-control forces. Where the mind goes, the will follows, and so do the emotions. First Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have “the mind of Christ,” not the emotions of Christ.

            There is only one way to renew our minds, and that is by the Word of God. It is the truth, the knowledge of the Word of God, which is to say the knowledge of the mercies of God, and we’re back where we began. To know the truth, to believe the truth, to hold convictions about the truth, and to love the truth will naturally result in true spiritual worship. It is conviction followed by affection, affection that is a response to truth, not to any external stimuli, including music. Music as such has nothing to do with worship. Music can’t produce worship, although it certainly can produce emotion. Music is not the origin of worship, but it can be the expression of it. Do not look to music to induce your worship; look to music as simply an expression of that which is induced by a heart that is rapt by the mercies of God, obedient to His commands.

            True worship is God-centered worship. People tend to get caught up in where they should worship, what music they should sing in worship, and how their worship looks to other people. Focusing on these things misses the point. Jesus tells us that true worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). This means we worship from the heart and the way God has designed. Worship can include praying, reading God's Word with an open heart, singing, participating in communion, and serving others. It is not limited to one act, but is done properly when the heart and attitude of the person are in the right place.”3

Conclusion

            Ask yourself this question today. Does your church excessively glorify its music ministry? Does this excessive glorification hurt the other ministries of your church?

            Is there a ministry of Christian apologetics in your church? If not, why?

            May all our faculties be sensitive to hear and follow God’s voice, now and always.

Endnotes:

1William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 20.

2https://carm.org/apologetics-in-church

3https://www.gotquestions.org/true-worship.html


Websites cited were last accessed on 11th October 2017. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

You Won’t Like Humble People

            Humble people are much loved. There are two types of humble people: those who act as humble people and those who actually are humble people.

            To act humble is not to be humble. But our society loves those who act as if they are humble, whereas in reality, our society need not necessarily desire those who are actually humble. This is not a contemporary phenomenon, but an age-old fact.

            Erroneous understanding of humility is quite rampant. This post would strive to contradict artificial humility while comparing it with actual humility.  

Artificial Humility

            Those who act as if they are humble would showcase the following characteristics:

            There are the humble-brags, “I used to work with this guy who’d say things like, “My wife’s always telling me that people think I’m weird and socially awkward because i use professor-like vocabulary words instead of talking like a normal person.” Let me translate that for you: “Folks think I’m weird because I’m so stinkin’ smart!” A humble brag is the delightful technique of saying something awesome about yourself, but washing it down with a chaser of faux-criticism or depreciation.” (Emphasis Mine).1

            Then there is the holy-humble-bragging that is much preferred in our society. This holy-humble-bragging is evident in Christendom, “Sometimes when you compliment a Christian on a job well done they’ll give you this kind of response: “Oh, that was just the Lord working through me” or “All the glory goes to the Lord.” This is the Christian mash-up of not taking a compliment and holy humble bragging. It’s the worst kind of religiosity because it passes off the compliment while doubling down on self-righteousness. By acknowledging your gifts, you glorify the Lord. Humility doesn’t parade around in the skinny jeans of false piety.” (Emphasis Mine).2

            Being a doormat is another attribute of ‘acting humility.’ Those who tend to be doormats (submissive people who allow others to dominate them) are often considered humble. But a humble person will not be a doormat. People who are doormats would not hesitate to compromise the truth for a lie. Their rationale behind this despicable deed is to maintain peace at the cost of the truth.

            People who desire political correctness act as humble people. They would go to any extreme so not to offend those with power, fame and wealth. Had Christ desired to be politically correct, HE would not have offended the religious leaders of HIS time.  

Actual Humility

            The Lord Jesus was an epitome of humility (cf. Phillipians 2:1-11). HE was not the most popular person among the people of HIS time. Had HE been popular, HE would not have been crucified (cf. Luke 23:13-25). Humble people are not necessarily popular.

            Humble people do not always say nice things to everyone. Being politically correct is not innate to humility.

            The humble Lord Jesus offended the religious leaders of HIS time by calling them a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34), whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27), and sons of the devil (John 8:44). Christ called his own disciples a “faithless and twisted generation” (Matthew 17:17). Paul, notwithstanding his humility, rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11) and scolded the Galatians as “foolish” (Galatians 3:1).

            Humble people are not the only ones who are offensive. The proud people are offensive as well. There is a qualitative difference between the offensiveness of the proud and the offensiveness of the humble, “The proud offend to exalt or defend themselves and control or manipulate others. The humble offend in order to advance the truth for the glory of God and ultimate good of others. Humble offensiveness may not be popular, but it’s always loving.

            King David knew this, which is why he wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon also knew this and wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Humility can wound and pride can kiss. Kisses may feel better than wounds — at first. But later, the wounds foster health and the kisses corruption.”3

            You would not like humble people because they are typically silent. Their silence is predicated on the fact that they are not preoccupied with themselves. Silent people are not the most desired people in our society.

            Silence, in this context, is not a reference to not speaking in a literal sense. Humble people do not brag about themselves. In an era when our society is engulfed by social media, and when millions use the social media to promote themselves, humble people would not desire to enhance their image. They would neither publicize their fame nor would they expect to receive praise from their friends and the public.

Be Humble

            So we can choose to act as humble people in order to have people love us or glorify us. Alternatively, we can wisely choose to be actually humble, so to honor and glorify God. The choice is ours.

            We are called to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). May we do just that even at the cost of antagonizing people who may not desire to understand humility in its purity, “That’s why humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

            And this is the kind of people God is calling us to be, people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants us to be absorbed in things more glorious than ourselves (Philippians 4:8), to prefer windows to mirrors (Philippians 2:3), to live counter to every culture we live in (Hebrews 11:13), and, when love requires it and it would give grace to those who hear, to be humbly offensive (Ephesians 4:29).

            To be humble people requires much grace. But the good news is that God is able to make this grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8), and he offers it to us if we will receive it (James 4:6).”4

Endnotes:

1https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/4-%E2%80%98humble%E2%80%99-things-aren%E2%80%99t-humble

2Ibid.

3http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/humility-is-not-always-nice


4Ibid.

Websites cited were last accessed on 30th September 2017.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Snoop Dogg’s Gospel Album; To Worry Or Not?

            When Snoop Dogg produces a music album, millions listen and adore. Such is his fame! So when Snoop Dogg announces his intent to produce a gospel album, millions will listen.

            The fact that Snoop Dogg is not a Christian music artist is an adequate reason to discuss this development, for there’s mixed response from churches. Some churches do not endorse this album, hence they advice their folks to not listen to this album. A few other churches plan to endorse and promote Snoop’s Christian music album. Then there are other churches that are uncertain about their response.

            What do we, as individual Christians, do? Our children may be attracted to Snoop Dogg’s music, so do we endorse Snoop’s Christian album or not?

            Before we decide for ourselves, let us examine the reasons cited by churches for their varied responses to this album. Why would certain churches reject Snoop’s Christian music album?

            An article from churchleaders.com articulates this predicament very well, “Herein lies the controversy that the church has stumbled over time and again: How do we react to celebrities who thank God for awards or name their children after Bible characters or claim their faith pulled them through a difficult time, and then turn around and live a “Hollywood lifestyle”?”1

            Snoop’s typical Hollywood lifestyle is arguably the greatest barrier between his album and the Christian community. His dubious morality (highly materialistic, profanity-laced, pot-smoking and what not!) is an adequate reason for some churches to reject him, and hence, they reject his album.

            On the other hand, certain churches endorse Snoop’s music album because they reckon this is a time to rejoice. The gospel message would reach millions around the globe through Snoop’s album, and the majority of his audience may not even be Christians! Moreover, this occasion could enable Snoop to become an ardent Christian. Snoop’s mother is an ordained evangelist. Her prayers for her son need not go in vain.



            Here’s the same article from churchleaders.com on this matter.2

Could it be that this man, who has walked a hard road and has produced some of the most questionable content our culture has seen these last couple decades, is seeking God? I think it’s entirely possible—perhaps even plausible considering he has a mother, active in the faith, who is praying for him and has likely been praying for him from the start. I think it matters how the church responds to the album. There are a few things I hope we can keep in mind as the album releases and people start talking about it. One of which being there are going to be Snoop fans who don’t know Jesus and will listen to the album. Let’s not turn them off to the church by criticizing the album or its producer. This album may also present an opportunity for the church. While other rappers like Lecrae or Kirk Franklin may have a more Christian audience, Snoop doesn’t necessarily. Which means people who have never heard gospel music may hear it for the first time. They may be moved to find out more about Jesus and his church through this music. They may even come to visit your church. The question is: What will they find when they come? Judgmental people who care more about what they were smoking in the car than they do about the state of a fellow human being’s soul? Or will they find the compassion of Christ in another person? I hope we can answer this question correctly, Church. I hope we can hope the best for Snoop and his family. I hope we can get over ourselves and the rules we sometimes care about more than the people who break them. Most of all, I hope Snoop finds the love of Christ in His people and in the words he is producing.
  
            We may have observed the negative side of Snoop Dogg’s life that is exposed in the social media – his highly materialistic, pot-smoking, profanity-laced life. But we have not seen the other side of his life – his spirituality, especially.

            Some Christian sportsmen, whom we adore, live a highly materialistic, pot-smoking, profanity-laced life. But we revere them so much so that they are welcome into any mainstream church.

            Why not extend the same courtesy to Snoop Dogg?  

            We do not possess any authority, whatsoever, to discourage another person from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, even through dubious means (in our context, producing a contentious Christian music album).

            So this is my response to Snoop Dogg’s music album and I submit it for your consideration.  

            First, pray for Snoop that he does the will of God while producing this gospel album. Also pray that this production will reveal the Lord Jesus to Snoop Dogg that he becomes more sincere in his relationship to the Lord Jesus.

            Second, let’s pray that the gospel message is preached wholly through this music album. Let not Satan dilute the gospel message so that it corrupts the theology of Historic Christianity, and endorses the gory lifestyle of the worldly Hollywood celebrities.

            Third, let us pray that this album serves as a powerful evangelistic tool to bring more souls into Christ’s fold.

            Finally, let’s pray for ourselves. If this gospel album denies Christ in any manner whatsoever, may our disapproving response to this album be filled with gentleness and respect, as the word of God mandates (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).   

Endnotes:

1https://churchleaders.com/news/culture/310721-snoop-dogg-releasing-gospel-album-local-church-care.html


2Ibid.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Do Not Pray This Prayer

            The “Covenant Prayer”1 is a powerful prayer of a Christian, who willingly and unconditionally surrenders his/her life to God. But please do not pray this prayer if you are uncertain of your dependency on God or if you are not sincere in your relationship with God or if you have not thought through your relationship with God.

The Covenant Prayer

            This is the contemporary version of the Wesleyan covenant prayer:2

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,

Praised for you or criticized for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.

And now, O wonderful and holy God,

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

you are mine, and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.


The Theology

            This is the theology that undergirds this prayer. Just as God’s love for us is unconditional, our response to God should also be unconditional. This basic tenet of committing or surrendering our lives to God, in an absolute sense, governs our relationship with God. If we are not keen on totally and unconditionally committing or surrendering our lives to God, then our relationship with God cannot be on the right path.

            The Lord Jesus taught that in order to follow HIM, we are to deny ourselves of any selfish, worldly or material pleasures, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NIV).

            Moreover, Christ taught that our love for God should be nothing less than absolute, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’" (Matthew 22: 36-37, NIV). Similarly, the Apostle Paul taught that we are to be a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1; cf. Mark 10:28; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Galatians 2:20).

The Challenge

            The challenge inherent in committing ourselves to God totally or unconditionally is our allegiance to selfish gains and worldly pleasures. It is very difficult for a spiritually-young or spiritually-immature Christian to renounce his/her selfish gains and worldly pleasures for the sake of God.

            It is quite easy to read about Paul delighting in his weaknesses, insults, persecutions and difficulties, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV). But it is excruciatingly difficult to live out a life that virtually delights in loss and weaknesses.

            Our immediate reaction when we are attacked by evil is to either ask God why HE delivered us to evil or we plead with HIM to deliver us from evil. Sometimes we even reject God (cf. Job 2:9b).

            But how often do we thank and praise God when evil plunders and renders us homeless, jobless, penniless or worthless (cf. Psalm 34: 1; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)? This is the existential challenge!

            Then there is the theological challenge.

            A section of Christendom believes in being the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28: 13). This group of people (prosperity gospel or health & wealth gospel’s proponents) is always in search of victory, “One of our church members saw his sales performance hit rock bottom by the middle of the year. As a result, he was ranked 320 out of the 420 financial advisers in his company. Devastated and on the verge of giving up, he started listening to my messages and claiming God’s promises such as “the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath” and “many who are first will be last, and the last first”. (Matthew 19:30) He committed everything to God because he believed that only God could turn things around for him. And God did just that.”3

            Those who subscribe to prosperity gospel believe that “…believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.”4

            Significantly, the proponents of prosperity gospel would theologically negate the core tenet of the covenant prayer, which is to surrender ourselves to God - lock, stock and barrel. This is the theological challenge!

The Reason (To Pray Or Not To)

            You may not belong to the prosperity gospel faction of Christianity. But you may believe that it is God’s bounden responsibility to bless us and not deprive us. If you subscribe to this thought process, then please do not pray this prayer thoughtlessly.

            Take time to study your Bible. Meditate upon God’s goodness and love. God, who is absolutely good and loving, allowed Joseph to be sold to the Ishmaelites by his own brothers (Genesis 37:12-36). God allowed Job to be tormented by the evil one. The Bible is replete with such instances.

            As much as the Bible speaks about the faithful being blessed, it also speaks about the faithful not being blessed in worldly terms, “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11: 35b-40, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

The Conclusion

            The covenant prayer is a powerful prayer, designed to bring us closer to God. We cannot be close to God if we equate God with our selfish gains and material blessings. So pray this prayer, if you sincerely desire to grow in your love for God, by laying aside your desire for selfish gains and material blessings.

            Our joy is to be found in Christ alone (Colossians 1: 27), not anything else, certainly not the material blessings, “a fixation on material prosperity as the measure of their faith makes Christians weak when hardship strikes because their unrealistic, unbiblical expectations are not met and they feel let down. Worse still, their appreciation of the core blessings of Christianity (eternity in the presence of God, salvation from sin and judgment, complete renewal, etc.) is dulled by finding their primary joy in peripheral blessing. Most seriously, the teaching of blessing in exchange for sowing a “seed” or some other work undermines the fundamental teaching of grace: the unmerited favour of God towards sinful man. The supreme irony about this thing called the prosperity gospel is that it actually leads to spiritual poverty in the life of a Christian. We need to stamp it out to restore the joy of the Christian’s salvation, so that in all circumstances of life they can find their meaning, their purpose, and their joy in Christ alone.”5

Endnotes:

1This prayer was written by John Wesley. Covenant is an agreement between two entities. In our context, the covenant prayer is an agreement between man and God.

Covenant Prayer (Traditional Version)
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

2https://thewell.cor.org/wesley-covenant-prayer-card-traditionalcontemporary-package-25

3https://www.josephprince.org/blog/daily-grace-inspirations/the-head-and-not-the-tail

4http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/decemberweb-only/gc-prosperitystatement.html


5http://far-above-rubies-and-pearls.blogspot.in/2010/08/be-my-guest-poverty-of-prosperity.html

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Could Christians Participate In Non-Christian Religious Rituals?

            Christians actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals is a common sight. Even the Pope prayed in a mosque, “In a gesture designed to highlight his commitment to inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis conducted a silent prayer alongside a senior Islamic cleric in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque on Saturday. Facing Mecca, Francis bowed his head in prayer for several minutes while standing next to Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran.”1

            There was a time when I neither read nor studied the Bible. Hence, my love for the Triune God was very cold and immature. At that point in time, I [passively] participated in non-Christian religious rituals (acts of worship, such as Hindu pooja & eating prasada - religious offering, usually consumed by worshipers after pooja). Some of my Christian friends had even undertaken pilgrimages to sacred non-Christian religious sites.

            However, when my knowledge and my love for the Triune God and HIS Word increased, I concluded that Christians should not participate in non-Christian religious rituals. Here’s why:

The Bible Says So

            There is only one God, HE is the Triune God (Isaiah 43:10, 45:5; Psalm 18:31). There are no other gods than the Triune God.

            Actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals is synonymous to worshipping that nonexistent god, which is an active rejection of the Triune God. Praying to that god or diligently and devotionally reading their sacred texts or undertaking pilgrimages are some instances of actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals.

            The living God has firmly emphasized that there should be no other gods in our life (Exodus 20: 3-6, 34:17; Deuteronomy 6: 14 etc.). In fact, God commands us to “not even mention the names of other gods—do not let them be heard on your lips.” (Exodus 23: 13, NET). The Bible also categorically states that the Lord Jesus Christ is THE only way to heaven (John 10:9; Acts 4:11-12).

            When Christians actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals, they invoke the wrath of the only living God (Cf. Exodus 34:14; Jeremiah 25:6). Hence, an active participation in the non-Christian religious ritual is to be avoided.

            But some Christians who actively participate in non-Christians religious rituals cite this passage from the Bible to claim that they have the necessary freedom.

With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin. (1 Corinthians 8, NET).  
        This passage, if studied in its original context, refers to some believers who felt there was nothing wrong with eating this meat that following the sacrifice, was sold in shops near the temple. These believers, who ate this meat, knew that the gods to whom this meat was sacrificed were nonexistent. However, these believers are called to relinquish their personal liberty for the good of their fellow believers with weaker consciences.

        But those Christians who actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals based on this passage should read the following passage, which firmly asserts that believers should not attend temples where sacrifices to other gods were made, since that would mean being in spiritual fellowship with demons.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10: 14-22, NIV).  
Reasons Behind Participating In Non-Christian Religious Rituals

        Let us consider two reasons mentioned by Christians participating in non-Christian religious rituals.

        Political correctness is one reason why Christians actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals. Many Christian politicians actively participate in the sacred rituals of the non-Christians.

        This is votebank politics. The Christian politician believes that in order to secure the votes of non-Christians, he/she should participate in the sacred rituals of non-Christians. Christian celebrities too commit the same fallacy of participating in the sacred rituals of non-Christians in order to gain greater fandom. Other Christians who idolize these politicians and celebrities follow their idols in worshiping other gods.

        The problem with being politically correct is that by doing so, we run the risk of invoking the wrath of the living God. Politicians and celebrities should realize that it is God who blesses them to be a politician or a celebrity. Hence their allegiance and devotion should be to God and not man.  

        A notion that we would offend our non-Christian friend is another common reason that motivates a Christian to participate in the sacred rituals of non-Christians. Christians, in the workplace, often seek to gain favor from their authorities or clients. Hence they would participate in the sacred rituals of their non-Christian friends, so not to offend them.  

        In this instance, Christians ought to recognize that God is the one who blesses the work of their hands. It is God who enables people to favor us. Once again, our sole allegiance is to our God and HIM alone.

        Christians, who are totally committed to evangelism, invite their non-Christian friends to the worship services of their church. Hence, in order to return the favor, they, occasionally, visit the sacred places, and in some instances, also participate in the non-Christian religious rituals, so not to offend their non-Christian friend.

        Christians, who are committed to evangelism, should realize that their non-Christian friend visits the church in order to seek and find the truth of the living God. But, if the non-Christian friend demands that the Christian worship the other god, then it is probably the non-Christian friend who is evangelizing the Christian, not the other way around.

        Since there are no justifiable reasons for Christians to participate in the religious rituals of non-Christians, let us not sin against God by worshiping other gods, even though these gods are non-existent.

Endnotes:


1https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/29/pope-francis-turkey-pray-blue-mosque-islam-cooperation, last accessed on 7th September, 2017.        

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Terrible Worship Songs; Should We Sing Them?

        Age-old hymns and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) are predominantly sung in the churches. Contemporary Christian Music is also labeled as “Worship Songs” or “Praise & Worship Songs.”

            Quite undoubtedly, young people are largely attracted to churches that sing contemporary worship songs. However, the detractors of worship songs claim that some of these songs are theologically incorrect and hence they should not be sung in churches.

            This is not an endeavor to establish or suggest the supremacy of either of these genres of Christian music. But is it possible to justify Contemporary Christian Music, even if it is not theologically correct, for the simple reason that it attracts young Christians to the churches?

            Consider two key allegations against contemporary worship songs:

            (1) Some songs do not mention God or Jesus e.g. “In the Secret” & “Draw Me Close.” If the song does not mention God, it’s quite easy to misunderstand the lyrics. These songs would make sense if they were sung in churches or clubs.

            Consider the song “Draw me close,’ “Who do you want to draw you close? Could be the Lord. Could also be your middle school crush.”1

            The song ‘In the Secret’ contains the lyrics, “I want to touch you, I want to see your face, I want to know you more.” Since this song does not mention God or Jesus, “It’s tough to sing lines like these when the song never mentions who you’re singing to, and this one never does. The vague lyrics could easily suggest a plan to sneak around and make out in the bushes or a desire to encounter Jesus.”2

            (2) Some songs contain faulty theology. The song, “When I look into your Holiness” contained the lyric, “when my will becomes enthroned in your love.” Our will cannot be enthroned in God’s love; instead HIS will should be ours. Hence, a more acceptable word “enthralled” replaced the contentious word “enthroned.” Our will can certainly be enthralled by HIS love, but it cannot be enthroned in HIS love.

            Another well known song that apparently contains faulty theology is, “Blessed be your name,” “the lyrics of the bridge (“You give and take away…”) are problematic.”3 The faulty theology is explained here, “The words “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” from the lips of Job, are not good theology.  They’re bad theology.  According to Job 1, it was not God, but the Devil who took away Job’s children, health and wealth.  God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of where his calamity came from and what God’s will actually was for his life — which was for good, and not for harm.”4

            Poor theology could be excused but what about songs devoid of theology? A well-known song, Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), is a case in point, “The whole thing seems to live in this self-indulgent purgatory, without any concrete statement of faith, without any trace of the Christian story, beginning and ending in these dream-like sequences of possible drowning. And it’s simply not a congregational song. If you MUST sing it, have it be done as a prayer by a soloist.”5

            Are these allegations devoid of rationality? Should we continue to sing these contentious worship songs?

            First, should we not sing any song that does not mention God or Jesus? If we are literally bound to this rule, then we should protest against the book of Esther (in the Old Testament), for there is no mention of God in the book of Esther.

            If the worship song does not mention God or Jesus, would not the sole purpose for writing the song and/or the context in which that song is sung, provide the much needed credibility to that song?

            The contentious song, Oceans, written by Hillsong United, was written for the sole purpose of singing in the church to worship God. Isn’t this sufficient to prove that that song is a Christian song? 

            Likewise, even if the song does not mention God or Jesus would not the church in which it is sung offer clarity that that song was meant to worship and glorify God?

            Second, should a worship song that is theologically incorrect be discarded? A worship song should be discarded if it contains a heresy. A worship song should be discarded, if it denies the core tenets of Historic Christianity.

            If the worship song does not promote a heresy, it need not be discarded. If a worship song does not deny the core tenets of Historic Christianity, it could be tolerated or suitable changes could be made to that song (if possible).

            Finally, those who claim to have apostatized6 because of a theologically incorrect worship song would discover, upon sincere introspection, the underlying reason(s) that was/were the primary cause for their desertion. For instance, a deep disappointment in God or Christians could surface while hearing or singing a particular worship song.

            Therefore, it is that deep disappointment in God that motivated the apostasy, and not the worship song. A worship song, in itself, cannot be cited as the sole reason to reject Christianity.

            Satan has succeeded in making substantial splits in Christianity, let us not be his agent to divide the church anymore. Let us be channels of unity and peace in the church of Jesus Christ.

Endnotes:

1https://www.onfaith.co/discussion/lets-stop-singing-these-10-worship-songs?facebook_join=1#/_=_

2Ibid.

3http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2016/02/08/10-worship-songs-we-should-stop-singing/2/#MrvQMLLOUg7DEuEV.99

4http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/01/24/good-grief-soundings-part-one/#PYCFjAGxD8hr1rbU.99

5http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2016/02/08/10-worship-songs-we-should-stop-singing/5/#Prb0QwOLVZUIqQwy.99


6http://www.nashvillescene.com/music/article/13056969/how-a-terrible-worship-song-drove-me-from-christianity