The Hammer of Witches: Lessons from Church History

“A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar who has lived in many times is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age.”
– C.S. Lewis

The Hammer of Witches or Malleus Maleficarum is an infamous book written in the 15th Century. Its purpose was to expose the sin of witchcraft, describe these witches and servants of the devil, who was to judge them, and, ultimately, how to execute those in league with the devil.

The period of the witch trials of the 15th century leading into the end of the 17th century (the Salem Witch Trials) is a dark stain on the history of the church influenced by The Hammer of Witches. Many women, and sometimes men, were unjustly accused of witchcraft, abused and tortured till they confessed, and were executed by the hundreds at the hands of leaders in churches (both Catholic and Protestant). The cries and screams and pleas of innocence exhales out of silent monuments and graves while tourists take pictures of their quietus.

Malleus Maleficarum‘s words unveil the ideology of this time period. It opens a door into a room filled with skeletons. We may not think much about this time period, but it is an event that some will see the church (or religion) as a corrupt institution that is power hungry to control the masses.

However, there are some lessons we can learn from this document that has the guilt of so much blood written in its pages. What can we learn from such an event that can benefit us for today?

The Torture of Scripture

Reading the Malleus Maleficarum can be quite daunting. Despite it being a rather small work (compared to most biblical commentaries of today), this volume does not rely primarily on Scripture.

Two verses are heavily use throughout the book: Exodus 22:18 and Galatians 3:1. Exodus speaks about the need for punishing witches and not allowing their practices to continue. Paul writes in Galatians that he is astonished that the people were being “bewitched” by someone to leave the truth of the Gospel.

The writer and endorsors of Malificarum’s two biblical texts, use these verses as their foundation to build their gallows of their argument for the existence of witches, the presence of devils in the world, and the mass execution of these servants of the devil in order to free the world from their control.

This document primarily relies on the works of saints, church tradition, and commentators of Scripture to build their prosecution. Through this work, you will note how many times the writer references other people or traditions more often than Scripture. Also, instead of saying that a point is a Scriptural point, the author will validate a reason or a principle or an action if it has defense from a saint or approval from the Catholic Church.

Therefore, we see in Malleus Maleficarum the issue of torturing Scripture to bend it to justify one’s views or actions. There are many places where the author will site Aristotle or Plato or another secular work on witchcraft, and then pull a passage from Scripture to back up that work. Using the Bible second as a backing for one’s ideas and actions is not what God called us to do. Paul tells us in II Timothy 2:15 to be faithful handlers of God’s Word and use it properly. Paul also states in Romans 12:1-2 that our living for God is based on renewing our mind with His Word. We are not supposed to let the Bible justify our actions, our actions should proceed from a renewed mind that has been changed by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. To “cherry pick” Scripture is to make the Bible and Christian practice in our image.

Torturing Scripture in order to make it say what we want is an abuse of God’s Word. This is why we need to study it in order to identify the times others (including church leaders) are torturing Scripture.

The Torture of Individuals

Hundreds, if not thousands, lost their lives when held to the standards of the Malleus Maleficarum. Inside its pages describe those who were most likely to be in league with the devil to accomplish his dark schemes. The book describes mainly women who are single, widowed, spoke their mind, had a deformity, were barren, or had a child with a disability. Women who fit into these categories were among the first to be accused. There are many instances where men were accused as well for similar reasons.

Once a person was suspected and accused, they were assumed guilty until proven innocent. The accused went through torture if they would not confess. Many did confess, despite being innocent, only to stop their brutal suffering.

What the Maleficarum lacks is a clear understand of John 9. Many were accused of being witches or servants of the devil because of some birth defect or having a child with a defect. Deformity was seen as a result of copulation with the devil according to Maleficarum. However, Jesus corrects any view that birth defects were because of the devil. Instead, Jesus points to the fact that the man born blind was formed that way on purpose: his body and situation was to show off the glory of God. Isn’t that what we see today with many stories? We see people with disabilities using their bodies and gifts as an instrument for God’s glory. Their disability gives them a voice to speak about the grace and goodness of God in their lives. Disability is not because of the devil or of sin. It is part of God’s plan to work through a fallen world to display His glory.

However, we have to deal with the fact that many women were unjustly accused of being witches and were exterminated. This is a difficult point. It does show the Church as being sexist towards women. These terrible trials show a low view of women. Scripture, however, has a high view of women that has sadly been overlooked in the past. The first people to see Jesus alive in Luke 24 were women. The first witness and testimony to the reality of the resurrection were women. Women are seen as vital members in the church as seen in Tabitha being raised from the dead in order for her to continue serving the many people her life touched (Acts 9:36-43). Yes, there are different roles for men and women to accomplish in the church and in the home. But, these roles do not make one inferior to the other. Instead, women, like all members of the body of Christ, are to be praised, encouraged, and helped in times of need. Women are not “creatures leading men astray” like is sometimes portrayed in the Malleus Maleficarum. It is the sinfulness of the heart that lead men astray. We need to stop blaming women, or other people, for our own lusts and sin. We need to blame ourselves.

The torture of individuals resulted in the many modern misconceptions that need correction of Scripture.

The Torture of Society

Exodus 22:18 states to not let a witch live among the people. Punishment for witchcraft was death. However, that verse has a context to it. The statement in Exodus is meant for the community of Israel. Inside Israel there was not to be someone practicing witchcraft. The context does not include people outside of Israel.

However, in order to control society, the leaders in the church (both Catholic and Protestant) used this verse to find anyone who practiced witchcraft or was accused of witchcraft and execute the accused. When we take passages out of context, we can do a lot of harm to society. When we look at the New Testament church, the judging of others in only kept inside the church. There is no judging of people outside the church for their sin. In fact, we are called to have a good testimony with those outside the church. Therefore, it is unbiblical to judge and execute someone who does not claim to be a Christian based on their lack of following the Scriptures. Sinners will behave like sinners. Christ knew that. He condemned Pharisees more than those who were called sinners. We know that one day God will judge all people. We know the end of the story. Why execute them when we can give them the Gospel?

Think about our society today. What sins do you see that disgust you that you want to see gone in society? How are you handling those people in that one sin? Are you judging them and trying to do away with them? Or are you trying to give them the Gospel and the hope to escape God’s wrath that is coming?

We need to be hardest on ourselves when it comes to how we are following God’s Word. Sinners do not care about following God’s Word. God will take care of that. But, we should not torture society when it is fallen. Instead, we need to bring the hope of the Gospel to a dark world and see Jesus change lives.

Pulling Back the Rug

Many don’t talk about this time period in church history. Some don’t know about it. Others don’t have answer for why people in church leadership did this. We can no longer sweep injustices of church history under the rug and just say, “power corrupts.” No. This was sinful action. We need to have the courage of Samuel Sewall. He was the only judge of the Salem Witch Trials to repent and say the Salem Witch Trials were wrong.

Instead of justifying the past, we need to see where the church went wrong, apologize, and correct. We need to take a biblical stance on the treatment of Scriptures, the individual, and society. We do not apologize where Scripture does not apologize, but we apologize when we have publicly smeared our testimony by departing from Scripture and following man’s words.

The witch trials of the 15th through the 17th centuries is not an easy topic to discuss. But, it is a necessary topic. We see how we need to get back to Scripture through the lessons we learn in church history. Yes, the past happened. Many were unjustly accused and executed. But, today we can cling to Scripture and follow God’s Word as we personally study it out so we do not fall prey to traps that others in the past fell into.

Today God’s mercies are new. Let us use these mercies to cling to His Word and show people how the Gospel can set them free from sin’s chains and Satan’s rule.

Qualifying His Called

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” – Hudson Taylor

Have you ever been given a task that seemed impossible? Yet, when you planned it out and took it step by step, you made it. When we look back on those times we see the accomplishment and we cheer.

Those times are sweet to us. Yet, when it comes to what God calls us to, we see the word impossible and that is it.

How many of us has God told us what to do with our lives? Were you reading your Bible and praying over what to do with your life and then God revealed it to you?

What is the path God put you on? What task did He show you?

For many of us, we feel like we were with a map and asking God for directions. Instead, God told us to look up from the map and He pointed. His outstretched arm lead our gaze to a high mountain in the distance. “There,” He calmly whispers to us. “You want me to go there?” We quickly rebuttal due to our inexperience and other excuses we give.

God has called us each to do something. He points our gaze to a mountain top and says, “This is where you are to go.” When we look at the journey it will entail, we are in awe of what God wants us to do, but we are shamed by our own inadequacies for the journey.

Yet, God is still pointing you to that destination. His calling stands. Yet, we let fear cloud our mind and we stand there. What am I to do? I can’t do that. Does God know my limitations?

Do you know your excuses?

I Am Not Like…

So often when God calls us to do something, we say I am not like the other person we know who is a “great Christian” in our minds doing that task. We look around and tell God, “You must have the wrong person. Choose him or her.”

We value ourselves before God based on the comparison we do of others. Moses did the same. Exodus 3-4:16 tells the account of Moses and the Burning Bush. He was the son of Pharaoh. He had murdered and fled. He knew the atrocities that were taking place. And, God called him. He pointed to a mountain top (literally) and said, “Go there.” Moses saw himself in comparison to everyone else. He knew who he was. Yet, God chose him.

Paul considered himself the chief of sinners – the worst of all sinners (I Timothy 1:12-15). Yet, God chose Paul from that life to a new life in Christ. Paul was not Peter or John or Andrew. He had persecuted and murdered Christians in order to stop them from preaching the Gospel. Yet, God chose him.

God chose you. He made you specifically for a purpose on this earth (Psalm 139:13-16). He knew you before you were born and He knows your past. Did your past stop God from redeeming you through His Son? Will your past stop God from using you? If you answered yes, then your salvation and purpose on earth is based on you and not found in the new life God bestowed on you through Christ.

Yes, you are not like that other person. But, that is why God wants to use you for His calling on your life.

I Am Not Equipped to…

“Thank you God for giving me this calling, but I can’t. I do not have the experience or the correct gifts for this.” You may not say it out loud, but we all think it. When God reveals where He wants us to go, we see how inadequately we are for the journey ahead. We see every flaw. We see every sin struggle.

Moses said the same to God. God called Moses to speak in front of Pharaoh to deliver the entire nation of Israel out of Egypt. “I have never been eloquent – either in the past or recently or since you have been speaking to your servant – because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish (Exodus 4:10).”

You may not have the looks, the smarts, the personality, the physical abilities, yet God called you. He designed you the way you are for this purpose.

How God responds to Moses is how He responds to us, “Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord (Exodus 4:11).”

He gave you the abilities you have. You may have to exercise those abilities and make them stronger. But, God still called you. Your lack of something is not an excuse God is buying for you not to follow Him.

But, This Means I Will Be Alone…

Whatever God calls us to the Bible promises will not be easy and there will be suffering. It means we will be alone. As humans, we crave interaction and hate the solitude that our decisions may create as people no longer want to socialize with us.

Isaiah had to come to terms with this. In Isaiah 6 he sees the Lord in all His holiness. Isaiah breaks down, confesses his sin, and is called to speak for the Lord. Yet, God tells Isaiah that he will turn away people. He will be alone. Yet, God called him.

He knows what is going to happen when you follow Him. He knows. Yet, He still called you.

Focus on the One Who Called You

These are examples of the excuses we give to God and keep giving to God as we see where He is leading us. Excuse after excuse after excuse is what we think, because we know we cannot do it.

GREAT! You cannot do it. That is why he called you. He called you because God knew you could not ever do it on your own.

When we try to do God’s calling in our way, we will fail. We try to play “politics” in churches, we try to strategize and plan, we try and try and try. Sure, it may get us somewhere and a title. But, is that God’s way? He called us because we could not do it own our own. Stop playing games and trying to kiss-up to people to get where you think God wants you. It is not God’s way. God will supply everything you need to follow Him. It will not be the easy path, but it is God’s path.

God has called you and He will get you where He wants you. Look at the end of the story of Moses and Isaiah. Moses lead the people out of Egypt, just how God told him to do. Isaiah followed God’s command to speak exactly how God commissioned him to do. Moses never entered the Promised Land. According to church tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half. Yet, God honors them for us to learn from them in His Word.

It is God who called you. He is your Creator, Savior, Justifier, Redeemer, and Sovereign Lord. Do you think He does not know what He is doing? Look at His works in the past, and in your life.

God does not call the qualified. God qualifies His called.

It is His journey for us. We need to take our eyes off the physical limits, the people, and excuses and walk by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

The mountain top that God is pointing you to is far and high and the climb is steep and dangerous. But, He is the One who created that mountain. He knows the way.

Gladys Alyward lived in England in the 1930’s. She had a burden for China. She knew God called her to China. Yet, no mission agency would let her go. They saw her as unqualified. Aylward decided God’s calling was more important than man’s opinion of her. So, she took a job as a maid; saving every penny to buy a train ticket to China. Alone, she travelled across Europe and Asia to go where God called her. She said, “If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you. Remember, it is God who has called you and it is the same as when he called Moses or Samuel.”

Have you heard God’s calling on your life? What is the mountain top He is pointing to? What excuses have you been giving?

There can be no excuses when God is the one doing the work through us. It is not our job to qualify ourselves. God will qualify us. Our job is to follow Him.

Are you ready for the first step? No, you’re not. But, God is.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

1989. A song was heard across radios and climbed to #1 on the charts. If I Could Turn Back Time performed by Cher became one of the most iconic songs of all time. The song reveals a longing to go back time and fix the mistakes between two lovers. The singer would go to the greatest lengths, including reaching for the stars, t0 turn back time in order to restore a “golden age.”

1979. Bob Segar and The Silver Bullet Band released a song that became a staple in the Rock and Roll genre: Old Time Rock and Roll. The lyrics sing:

Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock n’ roll

Still like that old time rock n’ roll
That kind of music just soothes the soul
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock n’ roll

Both songs reveal a desire to turn back time and return to a “golden age” of the singer. Many of the most iconic songs heard on the radio and on our playlists have a theme of going back in time to bask in the sunshine of yesteryear.

We think about the same. We hear exclamations of wanting to return to the “golden age” of our country, our church history, and even our personal selves. We hear the desire to reject the ways of today because it does not have the same “soul” as those nostalgic times.

As Christians, many of us have heard in churches about turning back the clocks. We desire to go back to another time either to a different national leader, or a time in church practice. I have not been to a church where this topic has not been brought up from the pulpit. Or, I have heard people desiring to go back to their life before Christ or at least have a small bit of it. But, is it biblical thinking to desire to turn back time?

Well, Back In…

When we look back at our lives, we often see the hardships we endure spiritually and physically. We think about how easy it must have been for us before salvation. We did not have to wrestle and struggle between serving God and the desires of the flesh. Sin was first nature. We could have gone on living like that. We could be our director. We could write the endings we wanted. Yet, we had to give everything up to follow this Jesus into a life of spiritual battles, loss of relationships, changes in our plans, and a constant responsibility to live a certain way. Like Cher, we sometimes want to turn back time and undo our decisions. We want to go back to those days that seem so peaceful and possibly had potential.

Exodus 16:1-3. The Israelites have been miraculously delivered by God out of slavery in Egypt. They were in the wilderness following God through Moses to the Promised Land. Excitement after the drowning of the Egyptian army soon turned to complaining. “Well, back in Egypt…” became their motto. Over and over again, a struggle comes up and the Israelites cry out, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”

Does this sound familiar? We say the same. We look at where God is leading us, and we say, “It was better before I gave my life to Christ.” Our lives before Christ seem better and less “chaotic” than our lives with Christ. We would gladly join hands with the Israelites and return.

The Israelites wanted to turn back time and find a way. And, they did. Moses convinced them to stay, but they decided to make Egypt in their midst through a golden calf (Exodus 32). Holding on to just a little bit of Egypt was better than letting it all go for the unknown God was doing. Would we be doing the same? Would we throw our gold in to have some comfort of our old lives before being delivered from slavery? Do we hold on to something that stokes our inner thoughts and lusts of those nostalgic sinful days?

See, the Israelites forgot one thing: slavery. They could think all about the “good” they had. But, they were slaves! They had no freedom. It is the same with us. We were condemned to Hell. No escape. Why go back to the things that lead us back to the slavery of sin? We lusted, we went after it. No shame in our actions; not caring who got hurt in the process of our desires. Yet, in salvation, Christ bled so we could follow Him to a right relationship with our Creator that ends in the New Earth with no more tears or pain.

Do we really want to turn back time to where we were before Christ? Where would you be if Christ did not die and rise from the dead for you?

Remembering the Old Ways

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16).

How many of us have heard this verse? How many of us have heard the tales of the glory days of Christianity in America? Many churches will decry from their pulpits the practices of today and urge people to return to the old practices of yesteryear.

But, that is not what Jeremiah 6 is talking about. God wants His people to return to Him. He does not want them to return to some way of living of using one instrument over another or something along those lines. He wants a return to a relationship with Him first.

We decry the cultural sin of today and we hear, “Back in our day we did not see this evil in our country or in our churches. We need to get back to a simpler time.” We then sit and reminisce about those days of old. We think how much we want to be there, and so we make our churches feel that way.

Remembering and imitating the days of old does not get rid of the sin of today, nor of the sin of yesterday. Sin will find its way. We live in a fallen world. We cannot escape it inside our churches.

It is not the former days that will save us and defeat sin, it is the days to come when Christ reigns as King on the New Earth and wipes away ever tear.

God tells us it is not wise to go back to the former days and dream about them (Ecclesiastes 7:10). God wants us to look forward as He pushes all history, all time periods, all “golden ages” to the restoration of the Creator with His creation (Revelation 21-22). We were not made to look to the past. We were made the look to the future that is bright with the radiance of our Savior as He restores creation and puts all things under his feet (I Corinthians 15:20-28).

The Time That is Given to Us

The world is falling apart. Sometimes our lives are falling apart. Bad things happen. We don’t get the job. Promises from people fall through. Our lives are not the way we think they should be. Our baby is diagnosed with a disability. The Christian leader we respected leaves the faith and turns his back on God. Every day we hear sin becoming more and more normalized. And, deep inside we ache and hurt. We cry out, “God, stop it!” When we do not get an answer we tend to want to turn back time.

A young woman is kidnapped from her home that was burnt to the ground. She is forced to present her beauty before the ruler of that nation. She is then chosen to be his wife. She is forced to marry a king who was known for his parties that involved drunkenness and orgies. After her marriage, she hears of a conspiracy by an advisor to annihilate what is left of the people from her home. When the world and her life were about to crash down, her cousin said, “Perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

We, like Esther, may wish none of what we are going through would ever happen to us. We want to turn back time to reverse decisions. Yet, it is not for us to decide. The One who made us is the One who gave us our life. He saved us. He redeemed us for a purpose. We are placed purposefully in the times we live in. Do you not think we have been placed here for such a time as this? All you have to decide is what to do with the time God has given you.

Why are we holding on to the past? What good is it going to do unless it is in remembrance of what God has done? He brought us this far for such a time as this, and He will bring us to the end for a such a time as will be.

Look to the Throne for the sake of His name;
Think of the throng who will share in His reign.
Some for whose souls we pray
Will share our joy that day,
Joining our song for the sake of His name!

In Jesus’ power, preach Christ to the lost;
For Jesus’ glory, count all else but loss.
Gather from every place
Trophies of sovereign grace.
Lest life be wasted, exalt Jesus’ cross.

For the Sake of His Name by Chris Anderson

The Crisis of Faith

“Faith does not eliminate questions, but faith knows where to take them.”
– Elisabeth Elliot

We have all been there. We are standing on, what feels like, an edge of a cliff. A crisis has happened. An event, an idea, a conversation fogs our minds and we do not know where to go. The faith we thought we had a grasp on seems to slip through our fingers like sand. To those around us, they pray we do not jump off the cliff and shipwreck our faith. Yet, we find ourselves on the cliff wanting to get to the other side.

All of us know of someone who left the faith. They claimed not to be a Christian anymore. We lift up condolences to families, and say prayers. Yet, we bury a lingering thought: could this happen to me? What if I leave the faith? What will happen to me?

We think these things because we all have a question, a doubt that we are fearful of sharing. We hide these under the floor boards of our soul hoping no one will ask about it and we will deal with it in time. Yet, the sounds of thumping come at night and when things are still. The thumping, thumping, thumping, until it breaks free and pushes us to that cliff.

What are we to do? How are we to handle our personal crisis of faith?

Fear is a Liar

We fear the questions, doubts, and thoughts. We fear what the church might think. We fear what our Christian friends, parents, and pastors will say and how they will treat us.

However, there is one person we do not have to fear: God. He never condemns someone for asking questions and seeking the truth. Psalm 23 demonstrates that our God is a Shepherd. He provides what we need. He even sets a table before us when we are surrounded by enemies (physical and spiritual). When a sheep goes missing, the shepherd does not say, “Oh well, I can always get more.” No, he comes to seek and save those who are lost.

In the Bible, many people questioned God. They asked the questions of why and how. God always answered. It may not be in their timing or with the answer they wanted. But, the answer always satisfied. Think of the stories of Job, Habakkuk, Mary, Thomas, Moses, Gideon. Did God condemn any of these for asking question or clearing doubts? The text shouts an encouraging, “No.”

Fear is a liar. People who condemn questioning in the church are not “God”and are promoting a church of fear not a church centered on God’s Word. God loves you and loves to give Truth. Why do you think we have His Word? He wants you to ask.

It Will Take Hard Work

Solutions to any issue take a lot of work. Einstein, Edison, Ford, and the Wright Brothers all share the common struggle hard work takes to find a solution.

The crisis of faith is no different. It will take work. It will take time. Start with searching out the Bible for answers. God promised in II Peter 1:3 that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. But, you will need to take time to search it out. Answers do not come quickly. Anyone who has done research will tell you that you need to let all the pieces come together. The answer is in the Bible, we need to look at all the pieces; not just the ones we prefer to look at.

Also, this sounds cliché, a crisis of faith needs the help of the Spirit through prayer. The spirit is known as the Spirit of Wisdom. He guides people in Truth. Jesus calls the Spirit the Spirit of Truth. When we pray asking for help, we will receive it. Prayer is not a drawn out elaborate ceremony. We pray because we need God to do something in our lives. We are dependent on Him and prayer shows our dependence.

A crisis of faith makes us feel like we cannot or do not want to pray. Yet, when we pray we know we will be answered by God who cares for us, who has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and gives us the Spirit of Truth.

Habakkuk struggled with God over the problem of evil. It was a lot of work wrestling and praying. Yet, God answered. Struggle with your question. Search out the answer. Whatever is causing your doubt, take it to God in prayer. Look through all of Scripture to see what the Bible says. Look at the all the pieces.

Struggling Together

A crisis of faith is not meant to be done alone. Yes, it is difficult to open up and our fear of man tries to clam our mouths shut. If you are in a church that promotes an attitude where you cannot open up and share and find help, leave. God’s church is a community of believers striving together. The church is to be Word-Centric. 1 Corinthians 12 states that we are a body with many members and are to help each other. James 5:16 encourages us to share our struggles and to pray for each other. A prayer of a righteous man (one who has been justified by Christ) will accomplish much.

The church is a place to open up and search the Scriptures. The church points each other to Christ and pushing each other towards the end goal. We do not do the Christian life alone. We are saved by Christ and for Christ. He has called the church. The church is not one person. The church is Christ’s body striving to bring salvation to the end of the earth by glorifying the name of our Savior with our lives.

Remembering

When we come to our faith crisis, some will say in an almost Mufasa sounding voice, “Remember who you are.” Is this correct thinking? No.

The many stories of Israel turning away from God all have one common theme: they forgot God and His works. Psalm 106 tells of Israel’s refusal to remember. They did not have to remember who they were, they had to remember who their God was. They had to remember what He did for them.

Asaph, in Psalm 77, was in crisis. Yet, with all his tossing and turning, he remembered God and His works.

When was the last time we remembered, not who we are, but who God is and what He has done for us? Remembering points us back to the path. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “You will never realize the greatness of God’s power until you realize the greatness of the obstacles which that power has overcome.” What obstacles has God overcome for you? Can you list them specifically?

A Step of Faith

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy faces three challenges in order to get to the Holy Grail. Through each challenge he must us his journal to navigate and stay alive. The third challenge is to get from one side of a canyon to another. Yet, his journal says there is a way across. He cannot see it, yet he trusts his journal. Watch the scene here.

The chasm between where we are at the edge of the cliff and the other side is massive. No one can jump it. It is impossible. We might not fully understand everything, but there is something inside of us from the Spirit that tells us to step out in faith. We have searched God’s Word and we know the truth. No one can push us out. We must take that step ourselves. It is our faith; not our parents’, not our pastors’, not our friends’. It is our choice. We must walk in faith.

A crisis of faith will not just come once. There will be big and small crises throughout our lives. But, it will be up to us where we take those. Do we take them to Google, Facebook, or Snapchat? Or do we take them to God’s Word and remember who God is? Faith does not say we will perfectly follow and have no doubts or questions. Faith, instead, points us to where we take those questions and doubts. And, it leads us to one question: Who is God to you? That answer will determine your step of faith.

Our Forgotten Advocate

“Fear, lest, by forgetting what you are by nature, you also forget the need that you have of continual pardon, support, and supplies from the Spirit of grace, and so grow proud of your own abilities, or of what you have received from God.” – John Bunyan

When a semester of college comes to a close, students will meet with their professors with great urgency. The issue at hand is of grave importance: their grade.

When the student is questioned for why the professor should change the grade, the student is allowed to defend themselves. They become their own advocate. The student will produce reasons for late assignments, reasons for changing a grade on a project, or produce late assignments. Achieving either the top grade or that “A” or “B” is the goal.

After my first year of teaching at the college level, I found these conversations common. It is interesting to note how far some of the students will go to persuade to get the higher grade or some sort of grace.

We have all been in a similar conversation where we needed to be our own advocate. We stood up for ourselves and defended with evidence our position.

Yet, do we as Christians do the same before God? We do believe that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But what about our sanctification?

By Works You Have Been Sanctified?

When we look at our sanctification, the process of becoming more like Christ, there tends to be something that goes with it: the list. It usually has do’s and do not’s on it. For some it is longer than others. We go back to passages such as Galatians 2:20 (I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.) and Philippians 1:27 (As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel.). We try to do what we can in order to show we are living a new life that has been bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We stick to simple rules such as:
– Read your Bible daily
– Pray daily
– Go to church
– Give to the church
– Don’t do worldly things (drink, drugs, immorality, etc.)
– Be a good Christian

These are some basic things that tend to appear on everyone’s list. We use these items to measure our spiritual temperature. Are we on fire for Christ or are we lukewarm and in danger of being spat out? We do not readily admit it, but we tend to see our sanctification in these terms. Our process of becoming more like Christ becomes how good we can get an “A” in sanctification.

Dangers of List Sanctification

But is it wrong to view sanctification as a list? Yes. There are three dangers that can destroy ourselves and our churches when we see sanctification as by works or following a list.

CATEGORIZING SIN
A list of do’s and do not’s begin to show some sins are worse than others. We start setting some sins as “don’t even go there,” and some as “that’s all?”

Think about it. Would you mind having a pastor who has in his past lied? Would you mind having a pastor who has stolen? Would you mind having a pastor who was a homosexual before salvation? Or a church leader that struggled in his past with pornography? The line has been crossed, hasn’t it? There is something in us that says homosexuality and pornography are worse than lying. We might even see someone who comes to our church “with a past” and keep our children from them (Even if that person has a testimony of being saved). Why do we do this?

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.” We tend to be the firsts to say, “Yeah, homosexuals are going to Hell!” Yet, what about greedy? or those who are verbally abusive? Doesn’t God say that liars are in Hell too?

We have nothing to stand on. All sins are condemned before God. It is only because of Jesus Christ that you are saved. It is not because of what sin you haven’t done. Your salvation and sanctification rests on what Christ did for you and the change in desires His Spirit is developing in you. Your list of do’s and do not’s creates an attitude of categorizing sins. Are you not grateful for 1 Corinthians 6:11? “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

List Sanctification leads to justifying our own sins by saying it is not as bad as those sins.

IS HE A GOOD CHRISTIAN?
When we have a works based sanctification, we tend to ask the question stated. When a person brings their fiance to church to meet people, the girl is often asked, “Is he a good Christian?”

We have all heard this question before. Sometimes, we have answered it. But, how have we answered that question? “Yes, he goes to church,” or “Yes, he is in Bible college.” Wait, what are we really saying when asking or answering that question.

“Is he a good of a Christians as I am?”

When we view our sanctification as something we are in control of, we tend to categorize people by being good or bad Christians all on the criteria and satisfaction of a list. Have you ever thought of answering “Is he a good Christian?” with “Yes, he has been saved by Christ and is justified and sanctified by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” That is the only way someone is a good Christian.

EMOTIONAL BEAT UP
The last danger of a works based sanctification is our tendency to beat ourselves up emotionally. If we had a bad day where our actions were in the flesh and we sinned, we tend to rake ourselves over the coals and repent multiple times until we feel forgiven. We beat ourselves up. We begin to compare ourselves with those “good Christians” we see around us.

Did you know that Paul calls the people at the church in Corinth saints? Yes, the church that had divisions, a man sleeping with his mother, and a whole lot of other issues. Paul calls them saints. He did not remind them of how they failed a list; instead, he goes back to Christ. We are saints because of Jesus, and because we have been sanctified in Him. We are not sanctified in comparison to each other.

Defending Ourselves

At the foundation of viewing our sanctification as a list or works, is our desire to advocate for ourselves. We want to stand in the midst of our fellow Christians and before God to demonstrate how good of a Christian we have been. We want crowns. We want honor. We want the Heavenly Christian Character Award.

But, there is no Heavenly Christian Character Award. Anything we get for our works on earth that are done for God we do not keep. Instead, we give them to the one who changed us. We give them to the one who bought us. We give them to the one we are grateful for saving us from our sins and changing our sinful nature to be more like Himself.

We cannot defend ourselves. We cannot present our evidence of our good Christian behavior. We can only present His evidence of His work in us.

Our Forgotten Advocate

Aren’t we tired of trying to advocate for ourselves? When we follow lists and make our sanctification all about our works and what we have done, we always fall flat. When we sin, we see a failed list. We have been deceived because we have forgotten our Advocate.

1 John 1:9-2:2 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

We have an Advocate who has justified and sanctified us and will one day glorify us. Our sanctification is based on the changed desires and affections that the Holy Spirit through Christ is doing in us. Once we are saved, it is not up to us to work to keep our salvation or to show how good we are. Christ is doing that work in us. When He changes our desires, then our actions will change. There becomes the desire to know God through His Word. There is a desire to fellowship and contribute to the church. There is a desire to live in a way that does not put to shame the work of Christ. It is not because we get something out of it. It is because we are being changed because of Christ’s work in us.

When we look at passages like Romans 12:1-2, it is interesting to note that Paul says based on God’s mercies to us that we are to live in a certain way. We do not get God’s mercies because of how we live. We live for Christ because of all the mercies of God.

But, that doesn’t happen. We forget our advocate, Jesus Christ. We rely on ourselves. But, God wants us to rely on our Advocate. Our righteousness comes from Christ, so our defense and our evidence of being a Christian comes from Christ as well.

Living With An Advocate

When you have someone who has your back and has gone to bat for you, you change. You act differently. You live as a free person who is grateful. It is the same with our Advocate. We see our lives as belonging to Him, because He died our death and gave us His life. When we have been set free from sin, we see life and we see our desires change. Our affections begin to love God and His Word and what He asks us to do in our lives. It no longer is a list. It becomes a change in our affections that affect our actions.

What do we do when we fail the list? Throw it out. Focus on your Advocate. Confess your sins. He will forgive. Our job is to continually listen to Him as He leads. That does mean we do need to read His Word, but not as a check off. We read it as our desires change, because of what He did for us.

Most students cannot change a teacher’s mind about a grade. We cannot change God’s mind towards us. Through Christ, He justified, cleansed, and sanctified us. Isn’t that enough motivation to live for Him?

Don’t you want to be able to live as Paul states in 2 Timothy 1:8-12?
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.

We have an Advocate before the Father. We have a reason to live.

We Don’t Talk About That…

“Faith consists, not in ignorance, but in knowledge, and that, not only of God, but also of the divine will.” – John Calvin

“He who shall not be named.”

In the world-wide popular series Harry Potter this phrase is quoted many times. The characters are referencing, Voldemort, the main villain of the book. His name, to some, should not be said out loud in fear of what would happen. Yet, it is interesting to note, the when the lines are drawn and sides are taken, those who were not afraid to speak his name were the ones who confidently took the side against him. Those who felt the fear of Voldemort’s name were either swayed to his side or questioned which side was right.

Many say, “art imitates life.” This means that our works such as paintings, sculptures, and even the narratives we craft reflect the realities around us. These cultural artifacts unveil our inner thoughts. They paint a picture of how we interact with the world around us.

This situation from Harry Potter reveals something that the church could take to heart and learn from.

These are Things That Shall Not be Named

“I was raped.”
“I got pregnant with my boyfriend.”
“I think I am attracted to other guys.”
“What about my body image?”
“What is so bad about anorexia, it is my body.”
“What does the Bible say about smoking weed?”
“What is…”
“What is so wrong about…”

“These are things that shall not be named!”

Isn’t that the response many of us face in the church? These statements and questions are things many ask in the church to their pastors or parents, and yet they are turned away. With a quick response and a Bible verse to meditate one, he or she is sent off.

Why is that? Ephesians 5 comes to mind where two verses stand out:
v. 3 – But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints.
v. 12 – For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. 
Sounds like it is a done deal. But is it?

When we take a look at the context of the whole passage, we see that in verse 3 a believer should not be participating in these sinful acts. The key in verse 3 is participation.

But, verse 12? Is it saying that we cannot talk about sin and call sin as it is? No. In verse 11, Paul says not to participate in sin, but to expose it. How can one expose sin if one does not know about it? In fact, Jesus says something about this. Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Jesus knows what the world is like. He is telling his disciples to be wise. To be wise means you have knowledge. Yet, he tells them to be innocent as doves. Innocence references to actions.

God is telling us in His Word that we need to know about the dangers and sins around us. We need to be wise about them. If we were never to mention things that were shameful, then why does the Bible have stories about witchcraft, homosexuality, murder, incest, mutilations, child sacrifices, and other such things? It is not a command to keep in silent these shameful acts. Instead, Paul’s statement is one that should be of our conscience. “He did something that made me want to throw up.” “I can’t even begin to say how disgusted I was.” Paul is using a phrase to indicate how vile sin is. He is not saying we should never talk about it, but we need to keep the proper attitude towards sin. Our talk is to expose sin, but we should never lose the shamefulness of sin.

Yet, we have a fear of handling and talking about these issues. Paul tells us to expose them. Jesus says to be wise as serpents. God wrote a whole book that involves some of the most shameful acts. Yet, we have this fear and we brush off these topics saying, “we don’t talk about that.” Does that match Scripture?

Searching in Other Places

We may think the story of an individual’s question is done when we say, “It is a sin and here is a verse.” But, how many of us will be honest and say that is not where it ends?

How many people have left the faith, not because of the lack of music or church preferences, but because of being unanswered?

How many young men and young women, today in youth groups, ask why homosexuality, sex before marriage, drugs, and other things are wrong? To answer, many pastors and teachers say the Bible says its sin and that’s it. Their question indicates they have some sense that it might be wrong. However, they want to know why.

Yet, without an answer people turn to other places. They turn to people who will answer their questions. More than likely, the answers will not come from the Bible. Instead, other answers will lead those searching away from God’s Word and substitute man’s words and experiences.

Think about the answers given. Think about where that leads. Be realistic. Where does searching for answers in other places really lead?

What is Wrong with this Picture?

What is the issue at hand? How can we fix this?

Many will say, “It is their fault for not taking God’s Word as true. They did not find it enough. I gave them the verse. They needed to believe it.”

Is that the problem? Does the problem rest in the one who questions in this situation? No. God never condemns one who questions in search of the truth. Did God ever condemn Habakkuk for questioning the evil in his world? Did God condemn Job for asking questions? Did anyone in the Bible who sought truth end up condemned? No.

The issue is not with the questions asked. We have seen that the Bible is full of sins and explanations for why something is wrong. The issue is with the one who answers. To answer with just a verse and to send them on their way is the issue. It reveals the ignorance of the leaders and teachers and parents in our churches.

II Peter 1:3-4 states, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” God promises us that he gave us everything that pertains to life and godliness. It is primarily found in his Word. Yet, we send people with only a verse to answer a question. Why are we not sitting down and showing the answer to the why? God says it is there. Are we not trusting his Word that answers are there?

It is ok to say, “I do not know, but let’s search out the answer.” This cultivates a II Timothy 2:15 attitude in the church. We become students of the Word. When we show our need to rely on the Word for answers, we develop in the ones who question a real-life example of searching and using the Scriptures. Real-life examples are better than lectures on how to study the Bible.

Sit Down on the Bench

When someone goes without a question answered, they feel lonely. They feel like they are left by themselves screaming, but no one can hear them. They are left alone on the bench looking at life. A bench is found on a path. It is used to rest and figure out the next move. They are sitting on that bench.

When we give them only a verse and a shame for asking a “topic that shall not be named” we leave them alone on that bench. The spot next to them is vacant. Anyone can sit down. Anyone can give advice.

Think of your children, the people in your church, those who look up to you. Think of the questions they have. Now think of them sitting on the bench of life. They are resting to figure out which way to go. The spot next to them is vacant. Who is going to fill that spot?

Let’s shake off our fear of topics, which is a fear of ignorance. Shake off the pride of not knowing the answer. Search the Scripture with them. Take time to understand God’s Word and his plan for life. Don’t worry about who you will offend, but think about who you will inspire when God’s Word is searched for the answers. Think about how God will use a believer who faithfully studies his Word.

Let’s change “We don’t talk about that” to “Let me search the answer with you.” This is discipleship.

A Place of Openness

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Witch!” Cried one of the young girls. “She has bewitched me. Her spirit visits me and invites me to sign the Devil’s book!”

1692, Salem, Massachusetts.

Chaos ruled the town. The cry of “witchcraft” plagued Salem as many young members of the town accused others of being witches. The town was in an uproar. Judges from around the state were brought in to oversee the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Nearly 150 people were accused and arrested for being witches. 20 people were executed; including one minister who at the gallows recited the Lord’s Prayer and yet the judges still executed him.

Samuel Sewall was one of the judges at these trials. He was a prominent member of Boston. He married into a well-off family. He was a faithful member of his church. He attended prayer meetings. He was known as one who would sing Psalms, and daily read his Bible. Yet, he condemned people who were innocent to their deaths. His hand had a part in one of the darkest moments in American and Church History.

Yet, five years later a change happened. In a church meeting, he handed a letter written to the congregation. Sewall stood as the minister began to read. Samuel Sewall took on all the blame and shame of the Salem Witch Trials. He repented of his actions when none of the other judges did. He asked for forgiveness. A well-off man, a prominent citizen stood in front of his church repenting.

The Church… A Community

The church is known as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). It is also seen as a community of believers helping and encouraging each other (Acts 4:32-35).

Many verses in the New Testament encourage believers in their relationships with one another:

And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25


Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

These two passages speak to one facet of the church: community. There is supposed to be interaction with each other in the church. However, it requires openness. In order for us to provoke each other to love and good works, to encourage each other and to admonish each other with God’s Word, there must be openness between believers in the church. This means we can reveal our dark places and sin. It is iron sharpening iron. Some call it accountability, and, from Scripture, it is a necessary part of the church.

A Closed Openness

However, is this openness happening in our churches?

In many churches, there is a culture of appearance. Some wear coats, ties, and dress. While other churches are more casual. Yet, there is a culture of appearance. We want to appear as having things all together. We want people to look at us. We wear the right thing. We say the right words. Why? We want to be perceived in the right way.

Yet, does this promote a community of openness? It promotes a closed openness. We only allow people to hear what we want them to hear. We may even open about sin in our lives, but we word it in a way so we are not perceived in a wrong light.

Jesus has something to say about that, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. (Matthew 23:27)”

We quickly say we are not like the Pharisees, because we do not reject Christ. But, why did Jesus say this? He was condemning their hypocrisy. They looked great on the outside and were respected. Yet, they were full of sin on the inside. Nothing more than a rotting grave.

We dress ourselves up for church and we say the right things. But, are we honest with each other (even if it’s only with a small group) about our sin? Or do we hide the sin we know to be true like skeletons in our closet?

This can be boiled down to one thing – Fear of Man

The Blessing of Openness

When we set aside the fear of man in order to be open about ourselves, we see a change in ourselves and in our churches.

When you read the life of Samuel Sewall, there is a change that happens. After his repentance, his theology begins to change. He begins to shift from a works based mentality before God to one of repentance. He doesn’t see God’s blessing rising and falling based on his works, but the blessings of God based on his Advocate before the father.

This happens to us, individually, when we open up. When we say what is really going on internally, we see the light of God clearer. Our personal theology begins to change. First, we are honest about our state before God. When the sinner opened up about his state before God, he walked away forgiven; unlike the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). Second, when we see our state before God as a sinner we see Christ as the Savior who frees us from sin. We become Galatians 2:20 Christians. Openness changes our perspective of ourselves and God.

In our church, openness shows to each other the working of God in our lives. We get to see the Word of God and the Spirit of God at work. We get to see that our church is built on redeemed sinners who depend on the daily grace and mercy of an all loving and self-sacrificing God; not built on culture or tradition. Accountability for a church to be Word centered and “Word-Living” becomes a result. A community of encouragement and admonishing with God’s Word emerges.

The passages use words like provoke, encourage, and admonishing. How can we do that as a church unless we are willing to open up to each other?

Not Flaunting Dirty Laundry

Hopefully all of us at one time or another have done laundry. It is appropriate that we do not flaunt our dirty laundry. Yet, we all know what people wear; even the more “embarrassing” items. Knowledge of something does not mean we flaunt it.

This is the same with openness in the church. We can be open about our sin and dark places God has brought us through. It is not a celebration of sin or wallowing in mud. We celebrate the Savior who conquers our sin. Knowledge of one’s sins leads to a boasting in Christ over flaunting the sin.

Paul and Openness

Does Paul promote openness in the church? There are passages about confessing your sins to one another and bearing each others burdens. However, there is one passage where openness was shown in the church of Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul could only say this if the believers in Corinth were open about their pasts. To say, “some of you used to be like this,” is to say he knew their past. They opened up before him and their fellow believers.

Romans 12:9-16 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Paul commands every believer to be like this. Yet, for this to be apart of our lives we must be willing to be open.

Being a Modern Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall was a prominent man in Boston and in his church. Yet, he repented of his actions in the Salem Witch Trials.

I couldn’t help but think, “How often does this happen in our churches today?” How often are we opening up so we, individually, and our fellow believers can be encouraged?

How as a church are we doing with this? Are we more concerned about how we are perceived or how we are being encouraged by each other to live for Christ? Do we hide behind our appearances and culture in order to hide sin? Sin when it remains hidden will kill us. John Owen said, “Kill sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Are we more like the Pharisees than we realize?

It will hurt our pride and our self-consciousness when we open up. Openness does show our true state as sinners, but it glorifies a Savior who is the only one who can change us. The church is a history of Christ changing people from condemned to redeemed. Why should we stop that history with our pride?

An open believer promotes an open church which promotes an openness to God’s Word and His Working. Lives can only be changed when we are open with ourselves and with each other in the church as we cling to God’s Word.

Samuel Sewall’s last words speak to the change that occurs when we are open: “If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father. Looking to Jesus, He is the only remedy.”

A Color Blind Church?

“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.” – Priscilla Shirer

My wife and I were on our flight home from a wonderful visit with her family and friends. We got comfy and waited for the rest of the passengers to board. I pulled out my book and began reading as the plane took off. However, my ears began to pick up a conversation in the row ahead of us from a group coming home from a missions trip.

“I learned a lot about how others really need the Gospel,” said one. The leader responded, “Yes, it is clearly seen with a group who has never heard the Gospel before. That group of people never had seen a white man before or knew about a church. I am grateful we were able to give them the Gospel and help them start a good church.”

This conversation pulled me from my book and grabbed my attention. Never seen a white man before? I knew what the phrase meant, but it hit me it an odd way like bad fish. The sentence of putting “white man” and “church” together needed some searching for me.

What does the Bible say about the church and race? And did it connect to having a “good church”?

Two Conflicting Passages

Galatians 3:28 – There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.

The New Testament discuss the beginning and the doctrine of the church. However, in my search of race and the church, I came across Galatians 3:28 (and others like it). “Well, that clears it up. There is to be no distinction of races in the church. All are equal and one.” I thought my research was done. Yet, I remembered passages in Revelation (like 7:9) where it is mentioned that there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. These passages were recognizing racial and cultural diversity.

Is it a contradiction? Does God really see diversity in the church or does he want everyone the same that these divisions do not matter?

Being Color Blind

According to Meriam-Webster dictionary, to be “Colorblind” means to “not be influenced by differences of race; especially: free from racial prejudice.”

Seeing and treating everyone as the same, despite their racial background, is highly valued in our world today. We are not to judge people because of their race or treat them differently because of their race. We would all agree this is a good thing.

There have been so many battles and debates won in order to make sure we stop people being treated differently because of their race.

But, should the church be colorblind?

Seeing Color – Being One

When we look at the book of Revelation, it mentions there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. In Revelation 21 it mentions the nations brining in their glory into the New Jerusalem. There is no “color blindness” (I am using this phrase in a different way) in these passages.

Why? Does God not want the church to be colorblind?

Passages, like Galatians 3:28, are not referring to being color blind, but are referring to an equality of faith. Everyone is equal in the church. There should be no favoritism. There is no discrimination of race or gender or status in the church.

Yet, we see God mentioning people groups in Heaven and on the New Earth not as one, but as nations. God is recognizing diversity. He is the one that created all of us whether of one race or the other and whether male or female. He loves diversity. In Revelation, there is no mention of a “heavenly language” that we will all speak. It says people from every language. Yet, His people are all one in Heaven through Christ.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing the diversity of people in our churches. We are all one in Christ, but we all come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, and languages. These are God ordained. Diversity is beautiful. When we recognize diversity in the church, we see people as different, yet redeemed by Christ.

In doing so, we begin to see how each person can contribute to the church. We see the history of God working in a culture. We begin to see how we can go to a different country and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Unfortunate White-Washing

In American conservative churches (this is where I mainly observed this), there is a push for being colorblind. However, what has that done?

We see churches that have white-washed themselves. Everything that is done or celebrated is mainly “white.” I have seen a mural in a church that promoted itself as reaching to the nations and being culturally diverse. The mural portrayed various people in church history. However, all of them were white.

If God shows us a glimpse of Heaven and it has people of every tribe, language, and nation, then shouldn’t we be churches that begin to recognize how every nation has a part in church history? Every race may do church differently, yet we can learn from them? Every language can bring out a new way of understanding the Bible?

Without Color… Creativity is Lost

My favorite painting is Starry Night by Van Gogh. Yet, look at it without its color. It is still interesting to look at. Yet, something is missing. The colors work together as one to show the creativity and mind of Vincent Van Gogh.

The church is the same. Without seeing the diversity in the church, we lose the mindset of God of using diversity to the purpose of seeing His glory though the church as they reach individuals with the Gospel.

Each tribe, each language, and each nation has something to add to the church as it marches towards God’s purpose.

We are all one and equal in Christ. Yet, we recognize that our diversity can come together as one, like a beautiful painting, to show the glory of God through Jesus Christ as He works through His church.

Painting our Churches

But, now what? How can we do this in our churches today?

First, look around you. Look for the diversity in your church. Now, if the “diversity” goes against God’s Word, then it should not be recognized (for example, sin is not diversity). But, look for the diversity in the people in the church. Look how God has redeemed each one of you to be apart of His church. Find out the stories of grace that are in your church.

Second, take a trip to the bookstore or library. Have you ever read about the history of Christianity in China? Or in India? Have you ever read about the Spirituals written during the time of slavery in the US? Have you read biographies of women risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel? Do you know how God has worked in the drug cartels in Colombia? Have you taken time to see how God works through history and culture to show how He uses diversity to bring Himself glory?

Third, in our churches, are we celebrating our diversity? Have you taught your congregation a song in another language? It does not have to be on Missions Week. Are you teaching about God working in all cultures and celebrating the contributions all groups of people have given to the church throughout history?

Our culture tells us to be colorblind. In that sense of the word, yes. Never judge someone because of their race and background.

In the church we see each other as equals because of Christ. Yet, we see the “color” of diversity God is using in the church to accomplish His purpose.

“Never Seen a White Man Before”

As I think back to the conversation I heard on the plane, I can’t help but think that this group is missing out on how they should be viewing God’s church. I wanted to ask, “What if someone from Ghana or China brought them the Gospel before you?”

Let us, as a church, appreciate the diversity in the church and see how that brings color to God’s world and how that diversity can be used to march forward in oneness towards God’s purpose of the church.

Lord we stand in the midst of a multitude
Of those from every tribe and tongue
We are Your people redeemed by Your blood
Rescued from death by Your love
There are no words
Good enough to thank You
There are no words to express my praise
But I will lift up my voice
And sing from my heart
With all of my strength

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Lord we stand by grace in Your presence
Cleansed by the blood of the Lamb
We are Your children called by Your name
Humbly we bow and we pray

Release Your power
to work in us and through us
Till we are changed
To be more like You
Then all the nations will see
Your glory revealed
And worship You

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Behind Pleasant Faces: Standing

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” – Martin Luther

He stood there, on trial, facing his accusers. His works and writings spread across a table. “Will you recant?” Silence fell and all eyes looked to Martin Luther.

One might have wondered what was going through his mind. Did he think back to all that happened leading to the Diet of Worms? Did his mind recall the pounding of the hammer as he nailed the 95 Theses in Wittenberg? Or was it an event or an action before that? Did Martin Luther think back to the hours he spent studying God’s Word and finding the book of Romans? Did he think back to the times he found himself wrestling over the Catholic church’s teachings and the doctrine of God’s Word? Did he then think about how this time studying gave him a voice to declare and stand on what God’s Word said?

He opened his mouth, “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this was brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”

Where the Reformation Began Then and Now

Many people see 1517 as the beginnings of the Reformation. Many see the action of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses as the spark for the Reformation. But, was it?

How do you think Martin Luther arrived at these conclusions that were contrary and condemnable at his time? He started by personally studying Scripture. Luther did not just vent complaints. Instead, he found the teachings of Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic church to be in conflict. He then spoke.

In these last three posts, I have written about the King James Only Movement. I have laid out reasons why we left the churches found in this movement. Many have done the same. Why? Was it because we do not like the King James Version?

No. It is from taking the teachings of this movement and comparing them with Scripture. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
II Timothy 2:15 is the attitude that sparked the Reformation. It was when an individual took time to study the Bible that God gave them a voice. It was studying the Bible that lead us to separate from the King James Only Movement.

It is not about preference. It is about what God says.

Raising Your Voice Like Paul and Martin Luther

When we read the New Testament epistles, we find an attitude of Paul towards various issues in the churches. When it came to issue of false teaching in the church, Paul was direct. He did not beat around the bush. He was blunt. He calls for false teaching to be exposed, separated from, and then a return to Biblical teaching.

Martin Luther followed suit. He was direct. He did not beat around the bush. He called out false teaching, called for separation, and then he did one of the most beautiful things in church history: Martin Luther began translating the Bible in the German language. He wanted the people to know God’s Word and know what God teaches. The only way for one to know the Bible is to study it in their own language. The Reformation followed Paul’s example by leading people to Scripture.

Both never called for a destruction of an individual or group of people because they were teaching unbiblical thing. Instead, call it out > separate > return to Scripture.

Now We Turn to the King James Only Movement

What are we to do with the King James Only Movement and the churches and people who follow this teaching?

Our first question should always be: Is it biblical?

They claim that holding on to the King James Version as the only version is a key component of the faith. Is that biblical? It is not. https://bracedbytruth.home.blog/2019/06/26/behind-pleasant-faces-house-rules-as-doctrine/
Please see the link for the Scripture. It is not biblical to say this because it ultimately makes the Christian faith a “Jesus and…” faith.

Their ideologies are similar to that of the Gnostics. They promote one can only know God through the secret knowledge only found in the KJV.
https://bracedbytruth.home.blog/2019/07/03/behind-pleasant-faces-dissecting-and-exhuming-ideology/

It is clear, based on their teachings, the King James Only Movement is not biblical. When we hold their claims up to Scripture, it is not a match.

Behind Pleasant Faces

There are many saved individuals in King James Only churches. There are many good Christians sitting in those pews. There are many good pastors who are preaching there. However, what they hold to is unbiblical teaching. They are being deceived. Behind their smiles and warm acceptance is the deception that goes back to the New Testament of adding to salvation and sanctification.

It may not be their fault. But, we still need to call it what it is: unbiblical. Pleasant faces can hide unbiblical deception.

Standing

The truth has been stated. We follow suit with Paul and Luther. It is hard to do. But, it comes down to a question: if something unbiblical is happening in the church, what should we do? What do we ultimately call the KJVO movement? Romans 16:17-18 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

But, it is not enough to just separate. All that does is leave behind a deceived people. We must stand on the truth. We must stand on God’s Word. They can have all their Greek and Hebrew manuscript debates. But, it must come down to what is ultimately being taught. Does it match Scripture? We must always stand with Scripture over everything else. We must always promote the truth of Scripture. We should not be seated and just see these movements as a matter of preference. Standing with and for the Truth is what we are called to.

Concluding

As Martin Luther gave those words, he sealed his fate. Yet, he stood for the truth. It was not popular in his circles and he probably lost friends and relationships with neighbors. But, Luther could not go against Scripture. He had to promote the truth. He did not try to close down the Catholic Church or destroy the papacy. He spoke truth and pointed people to the truth.

As we look at the KJVO Movement and other movements and teachings in our churches today, do they match with Scripture? What are we going to do as individuals who know the truth when unbiblical teaching happens?

We should follow the example of Martin Luther and Paul. We call it out. We separate from it. But, we do not leave it there. We speak the truth. God’s Word and His Truth is much more powerful than our attempts to close a church. His Word changes hearts and that is how a church is changed. We have to be faithful in proclaiming that Truth… even if we stand alone.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Behind Pleasant Faces: Dissecting and Exhuming Ideology

“My dear Wormwood, the fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.” – Screwtape

A medical examiner stands over a recent victim of a vicious murder. She begins to take notes. “Thin slice across the neck severing the jugular. There are also two, three, five stab wounds in a circular pattern.” She steps back. Her face says it all. She has seen this before. She phones the forensic team, “The body on my slab has similar patterns to John Doe 245, the cold case we buried last month. I need an order to exhume that body.”

In the news, we hear of stories where patterns have emerged on a recent murder victim to identify a serial killer. When a pattern is found resembling another case, an order to exhume (or dig up) the other body is given. Dissecting a present case can lead to exhuming the past.

In matters of the church, as one investigates, a study into the past may become necessary. Church movements of today may have similarities to patterns of the past. It is not to say that one group today is equivalent to a movement of the past. Instead, it is to see the similarity of ideology.

Behind Pleasant Faces has been our look at the King James Only Movement. It is a recent movement going back to the 1950’s, and then not until the 1970’s was this movement made public. But, does this movement have any patterns to the past? Is it truly a new movement? Or is the ideology found in the King James Only Movement similar to another in church history?

First, we need to have a dissection of the ideology found in the King James Only Movement to see if it warrants an exhumation.

Dissecting the KJVO

Since its beginning, it is difficult to find out what the King James Only Movement teaches in their ideology. Many books and debates have wrestled with the textual criticism in this movement. But, what of their ideology? For this, we need to turn to the men that have pushed this movement forward: Peter Ruckman, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Jeffery Fugate. (These do not represent every major name in the KJVO movement, but is an excellent sampling).

“The true Christian stays with the true text of the King James Version which is God’s true Word.” – Jeffery Fugate

This quotes states something very clearly: the King James Version is the true Word of God. This means that God’s Word is only found in the King James Version. Peter Ruckman says that a Christian cannot truly know God or cannot know the full truth without the King James Version. It is clear that in order to know God, one must have the knowledge of only the King James Version. Without that, a Christian will never truly know God. According to these two men, there is a special knowledge that gives a Christian the full truth of God only found in the King James Version.

This view of the King James Version leads to some more ideology in King James Only churches:

First, in observation a visitor can notice that a lot of songs and themes in a KJVO church is that of Heaven and going to Heaven. Songs like, I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop, resonate this theme. Heaven is the ultimate goal. It is taught in many of these churches to reject the world and focus on Heaven. The material is bad, but when focused on Heaven one is on the right journey. The earth is seen as “the Devil’s playground.” And, as Jack Hyles mentions, when one does not hold to the King James Bible, the Devil can lead that person away into worldly living. This ideology is also known as Dualism. It is the separation of the Sacred and the Secular. The King James Only ideology teaches that being on your way to Heaven is more important than anything else and a good Christian rejects the material world which is evil. While this is an important theme in Scripture, this teaching fails to look at that God sends us into the world to make disciples of all nations. We were not made for Heaven, but to be God’s image bearers on earth. The New Earth is our real destination in the end, according to Revelation 21. Separation from the world is biblical. Rejection of the material is a different matter. While we are alive we use the materials God has given us in the world to reach the world with the Gospel. We do not huddle in churches, we reach out.

Second, this ideology of special knowledge found in the King James Version leads to a certain view of Scripture. Peter Ruckman states, “The truth is that God slammed the door of revelation shut in 389 BC [the Old Testament], and He slammed it shut again in 1611.” “The King James Bible is God’s work… God is the author of the King James Bible,” says Jack Schaap. With this line of thinking come ways of handling Scripture. “Cherry Picking” and “Proof Texting” become ways of proving the validity of the King James Version. Also, due to the difficult language of Elizabethan English, many preachers in the King James Only Movement will begin to say that passages have a deeper meaning or a more mystical meaning than meets the eye. This leads to allegorizing passages that are not meant to be allegorized. As a result, many think they are getting the “better spiritual truth” of the King James. They are kept in awe and wonder as these preachers and authors wow them resulting in these men’s works seen with the same influence as the King James Version.

This is a sad reality. As one digs deep into these men’s sermons and writing, it comes apparent that these three things are basic ideology of the King James Only Movement.

An Ancient Exhumation

In our dissection of the King James Only Movement we found three things:
1) The ideology of a special knowledge
2) The ideology of dualism
3) The ideology in handling Scripture with mystical meaning and a high view of teachers

Do these three things warrant an exhumation? Have we seen these things before?

Yes. Second Century AD.

While there may be other Church historical movements resembling these patterns, I want to go back to ancient church history. There is a movement that should be exhumed for their ideology: Gnosticism.

The Gnostics were a second century group that is found inside the church. It did not come from the outside, but from inside. They had their own set of documents that were taught from as well as the Scriptures. However, they claimed that one could not fully understand God without their special knowledge hidden in their texts. The Gnostics claimed to possess a secret knowledge that only through their teaching one could learn it.It was only through the “demystifying” of the text through their teachers that one could fully understand it. The text was seen as needing a mystical mindset to understand and to untangle the allegories of Scripture. From the Gnostic teachings, one can clearly see an ideology of Dualism as it was taught to reject the material world and only focus on Heaven. If one departed from the Gnostic teachings, it was taught that something bad would happen to their faith.

The Gnostics were not seen as a good group in church history. Because of these three basic ideologies, they were condemned.

The Churches’ Response

How should we respond to this?

First, how did the early church respond? Iranaeus, a Church Father, wrote a 672-page volume titled Against Heresies. Here, Iranaeus works his way through the teachings of Gnosticism and comes to one conclusion: this is unbiblical. Gnosticism strays from the Bible and teaches things that are not congruent with the teachings found in the Bible. He calls forth a solution. Iranaeus prescribes that the unbiblical teachings of Gnosticism needs to be exposed and taken out of the church. Then, the people need to be brought back under the teaching of the Bible and the church needs to be held accountable for what is being taught inside the church.

How about us?

As we have seen from these past posts, the King James Only Movement is an unbiblical movement. It is teaching house rules as doctrine, and has similar ideological patterns to Gnosticism. It is a poisonous teaching that is feeding Christians a lie. But the solution is not to shut down these churches. It is like dealing with a disease. First, a patient needs a public diagnosis. It needs to be stated that something is wrong. Then, a doctor needs to go in and take out whatever is causing the problem. Finally, a doctor then prescribes good things to be added into the body to help it heal: medicine, diet, exercise, etc. it is the same with the KJVO Movement. We need to begin speaking out when unbiblical teaching sounds in the church. Then we need to remove that teaching and begin to fill in the truth of the Bible in leading people to what the Bible says about these things. Shutting down these churches will do nothing. Instead, we must get back to the Bible. Anything that is said from the pulpit must be checked by Scripture.

Back to the Bible

In the second century, combatting false teaching in the church was to promote the people to go back and search the Scriptures. In the Reformation, Martin Luther, Zwingli, and John Calvin all pointed to the need to know what the Bible says and to check the going-ons in the church with the Bible. This is why we have a translation of the Bible in our own language. We need to stay biblical in our teachings in the church. This means we, as individual Christians, must study the Bible for ourselves.

Being a biblically based church means that we as individuals in the church must have a 2 Timothy 2:15 attitude, we must stand for truth because we know he truth, and we must combat passivity in our churches’ attitude to knowing the Bible (ignorance is not bliss).

In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, as he is training his nephew in how to get people away from the truth says, “The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.” It is only in studying the Bible as individuals in the church that we will be able to see the flower of unholiness and bring truth to the soil in our churches.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled

*This post is based on a paper written by Stephen Field in 2018. If you would like to read a copy of it, please contact me and I will be glad to send you a copy with all sources.