Prayers of Blessing

Several years ago, I was going door-to-door in North Kansas City with a Midwestern student. After an older woman answered the door, I said, “Hello. My name is Tom and this is [my partner]. We are with [local church] and are telling people about Jesus. Have you heard of Jesus?” To this question the woman answered, “I’m sorry. I belong to [name of denomination] and I’m not interested.” I responded by saying, “Would you mind if I pray a prayer of blessing on your home?” To this the woman replied, “That would be fine.”

At this point, I began to pray in the name of Jesus every good thing that I could think of. I prayed what the Lord brought to my mind that I thought this woman may need:

  • That God Himself would protect her home
  • That His guardian angels would surround her and keep her safe
  • That the Lord would keep evil far away from her home
  • That God would bless her and all who enter her home
  • That her financial needs would be met
  • That God would keep sickness far from her
  • That He would bless her local church and its pastor
  • That the Lord would reveal Himself to her and give her peace, and
  • That, if she did not know Jesus as her Savior and Lord, she would soon come to know Him as such.

As I prayed I literally sought to ask for everything positive that I could think of, knowing that we have a God who answers prayer!

Now, is it legitimate to pray a blessing for people in this way? Absolutely. In Romans 12:14, Paul encouraged blessing and not cursing:

Rom 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Jesus taught His followers to pray even for their enemies:

Luke 6:27-28, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

If we ought to pray for our enemies, it only makes sense that it is also commendable to pray blessings upon people whom we do not yet know.

In any case, the older woman at her door thanked us for the prayer. Yes, she told us that she was already a born-again Christian. We were soon in a friendly conversation about the spiritual needs in her area. We gently asked questions about her spiritual welfare. Loving prayer opened the door of conversation and friendship with this woman. In the case of this woman, I turned over her contact information to the church planting pastor.

One church leader reminded us in chapel that when a person allows you to pray for them, you become their pastor. Go back and visit them two weeks later. See how they are doing. Pray for them again. The Lord may use that heartfelt concern to open doors for the gospel.

In our tool-bag of evangelism resources, let’s not forget the power of prayers of blessing. If a person has a hearing of faith or even a slight inclination toward the gospel, prayer can be a powerful tool. They will recognize that they are being brought by name before the throne of grace to find mercy and help in time of need as we pray for them:

Heb 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let the words of our mouth bless and not curse.

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Ministering to Hurting Christians When Evangelizing

When involved in street evangelism and door-to-door in a majority-Christian society, it is inevitable to meet hurting Christians. These Christians may have attended a church that encountered difficulties. Perhaps they were personally hurt. In some cases, these churches have pastors that no longer preach the Word of God. Yet true believers remain faithful to these churches for a variety of reasons. How can the believer offer encouragement to these hurting Christians? Does the New Testament provide a context and guidance for this type of ministry?

The New Testament provides clues on a number of levels. It addresses the variety of churches found in every portion of church history. Each New Testament author warned his readers to beware of inevitable false teachers. Further the New Testament described levels of belief that will be found within and outside of the church. As these three strands coalesce, conclusions can be distilled and recommendations made.

Paul enumerated three varieties of hurting Christians in his correspondence to the Thessalonian believers:

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” 1 Thess 5:14.

Hurting Christians were considered in three categories: the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak. Unruly appears to describe Christians who push the boundaries of submission to Christ. They may be deemed compromising or antinomian. Fainthearted seems to specify a Christian beat-down either by life circumstances, by sin, or by a lack of solid teaching. The weak may refer to young or immature Christians who lack an understanding of every good thing they have in Christ. These three types of Christians are regularly encountered in initiative evangelism situations.

As far as false teachers within local churches and denominational structures, Paul warned the Ephesian elders:

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” Acts 20:29-30.

Paul knew from experience and from Scripture that false teachers were salivating all around him to take over and disrupt the churches that he himself had planted. Paul seemed to be recalling the words of Moses to the Levites in Deut 31:27. Moses remembered the many rebellions of the people of God during his life, and knew that it would be worse once he died. As with Moses, so with Paul.

Jesus warned of false teachers as He lowered the looking glass to His eyes in the Olivet Discourse. His warnings paralleled those of Moses and Paul:

“And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’” Matt 24:4-5.

“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” Matt 24:11.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.” Matt 24:23-26.

Therefore, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus picked up on the theme of false teachers. As it happens, this discourse was given in the final week of His earthly ministry. Then, in His heavenly ministry, Jesus again picked up on the theme of false teachers as He revealed Himself to the elder Apostle John.

In Revelation 2-3 Jesus gave seven letters to seven churches that coexisted in the district of Asia Minor in the late First Century. While each of these seven churches existed at the same time, their locations were used to differentiate them from one another. In so doing, Jesus appeared to describe seven common church situations that have and do coexist in every century of the church. Considering them as chiastic in structure provides some fruitful application:

In the three innermost churches (#3, #4, and #5) doctrinal downgrade can be easily discerned. The words of Jesus (1) distinguish the main doctrinal body within the church, and (2) describe a marginal group within the church. In so doing, Jesus separated out hurting Christians within the church:

  • #3 Pergamum: “And you hold fast to My name … There are those who hold to the doctrine of Balaam … You also have those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans…” Rev 2:14, 15.
  • #4 Thyatira: “You allow the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach … To the rest in Thyatira…” Rev 2:20, 24.
  • #5 Sardis: “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead …You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments,” Rev 3:1, 4.

The doctrinal drift in Pergamum begins with the few. “There are those,” said Jesus, “who hold to the doctrine of Balaam.” And “those,” He continued, “who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” In Thyatira, the teachings of Balaam became prominent in the church through the recognized teaching of Jezebel. Jesus addressed the doctrinally sound of Thyatira as “to the rest.” Then, in the Sardis phase, the doctrinal drift was so severe that Jesus pronounced the church dead. “You are dead,” said Jesus. And yet even so, Jesus still addressed “a few names” in Sardis who held to the faith.

As ministers of the gospel, we will encounter those who attend good churches, but hold to the two types of teaching, the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans. We also encounter the faith of “to the rest” who attend churches that correspond to Thyatira. Lastly, we will share the gospel with those who are holding fast to their faith within churches like Sardis.

To this variety of Christians within churches we can add those who have heard the witness as described in the Parable of the Sower. There are those who have received the Word of God in good soil. We encounter healthy, mature, growing Christians as we evangelize. There are those who received the word in weed-infested soil. These are those who have already heard the gospel and received it. Yet they struggle to bear fruit because temptations entangle their lives. Others, in the rocky soil, have already heard and responded to the Word. However, their faith was scandalized by persecution because of the Word. These persons we also encounter. As we speak with them, they recall their prior commitment to Christ. They may even mock the Christian who has not succumbed to persecution as they have. Lastly, we will encounter those on the wide road of a hard heart. These are spiritually dead, never having a glimmer of a hearing of faith. The weed-infested and the rocky soil provide examples of persons who have had a negative experience with the gospel—because of their sin and the condition of their heart. These have prior baggage when we seek to share the good news of Jesus with them.

What are some principles that may be helpful in lovingly ministering to these divergent types of persons already exposed to the gospel of Christ?

First, these varieties remind us of our own weaknesses. Our carnal nature may easily draw us to the faith of a Balaamite or a Nicolaitan were it not for the grace of God.

Second, it is an important to understand that as we evangelize we will encounter these varieties of persons with various types of exposure to the gospel. They are all foretold in the New Testament. Therefore, it is important not to restrictively categorize persons as only saved or lost. While their eternal destinies will be decided in these two categories, their temporal experience with the gospel has greater variety.

Third, when dealing with persons of different church backgrounds, perhaps Paul’s admonition in Romans 14 rings true. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Rom 14:4. The witness needs to keep in mind to encourage the weak and comfort the fainthearted and not to attack the church which he attends.

Therefore, the three commands of Paul in 1 Thess 5:14 provide helpful guidelines:

  • “Warn the unruly”
  • “Comfort the fainthearted” and
  • “Uphold the weak.”

We are called to warn, comfort, and uphold. There are a variety of responses depending on the spiritual need of each heart. Likewise, it has been said that Jesus never shared the gospel the same way with any two persons. Similarly, the believer will encounter a wide variety of hurting Christians. It is important that his words “give grace to those who hear.” Col 4:6. While a memorized gospel plan is essential in the toolbox of any Christian, he must be ready to expand beyond a memorized plan. To properly deal with hurting Christians, the witness needs discernment, love, humility, and flexibility.

On the Scandal of New Testament Evangelism: Thoughts on Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Paul confirmed that Jesus was a reproach to Jews. Preaching Christ became scandalous to those who based their right relationship with God by seeking to live under the stipulations of the Old Covenant. In Romans 9, Paul highlighted this fact by grafting two Isaiah passages related to the ministry of the Messiah, Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 respectively:

“As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, ‘And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” Romans 9:33.

The Greek word behind this use of “offense” is the noun “scandal” [τὸ σκάνδαλον]. This noun is found 15 times in the New Testament. The verb “scandalize” [σκανδαλίζω] is used 30 times in the New Testament. As in the case of Romans 9, not all uses of these words are as a deterrent to sinful behavior.

Often, however, the verb “scandalize” is used in warning against scandalizing someone else:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin [σκανδαλίζω], it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck.” Matthew 18:6.

On the other hand, some of the New Testament uses of “scandal” relate to evangelizing. Within these verses dwells the idea that there is a scandalous element to New Testament evangelism. Here are a few examples illustrating this idea:

“And blessed is he who is not offended [σκανδαλίζω] because of Me.” Matthew 11:6.

“So they were offended [σκανδαλίζω] at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’” Matthew 13:57.

“Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended [σκανδαλίζω] when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:12.

With this context in mind, this article will consider the role of Deuteronomy 13 in providing a precedent for the Jewish rejection of New Testament evangelism.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

When Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, the actions of Saul and the others were sanctioned in Deuteronomy 13. In fact, had they not stoned Stephen to death, according to their doctrinal presuppositions, they would have disobeyed the direct command of Deuteronomy 13:6-11. Therefore, after this deadly deed was done, raging against Christians, Saul of Tarsus could congratulate himself that he was acting righteously according to the Law of Moses.

Here is the Deuteronomy passage in question:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.” Deuteronomy 13:6-11.

Consider that, if anyone was to come teaching or preaching, either publicly or privately, discussing another form of religion, other than society’s generally held interpretation, that person was to be put to death. A religion-state relationship was key to applying the death penalty here. Again, if anyone did not adhere to the prevailing belief system (by which Deuteronomy 13 was interpreted), then that person, regardless of kin or kinship, was to be put to death. There was to be no pity for that person. He was not to be concealed or spared. That person was to die publicly. And his death would be a warning to “all Israel” that they might “hear and fear.”

Herein, God gave the appearance of requiring absolute submission without any individual “freedom of conscience.” There were only two possible views: conformity and non-conformity. For proselytizing non-conformity, there was only one penalty, the death penalty. The purpose for the public stoning was explained, to instill terror in the rest of the people. There was to be in Israel no dissident believers, no pluriform faith or multiform practice. Deuteronomy 13 appears to condone a type of “Reign of Terror.”

Questioning Jesus

In like manner, persons filling the role of “Thought Police” followed Jesus around, picking up stones whenever they determined that He had crossed the bounds of religious propriety:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” John 8:58-59.

“‘I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. John 10:30-31.

The Jews, in this case, were doing nothing more-or-less than what Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 13. They were initiating the same response to what they thought was false teaching that was later initiated by Saul of Tarsus against Stephen in Acts 7.

In fact, if a reader of any of the Gospel accounts begins by reading Deuteronomy 13, the response of the Jews becomes more understandable, as does Jesus’ revelation of Himself. In fact, the actions of the Jews so clearly presumed the precedent of Deuteronomy 13, that they allowed Jesus to fulfill God’s purpose by this biblical antecedent.

The actions of the Jews against Jesus should then lead the reader of the Book of John to ask himself, “Was Jesus truly telling the people to abandon the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” Or again, “Was Jesus truly ‘the Prophet’ foretold by Moses who would explain the fullness of God’s redemptive plan to the people?”

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’” Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Christians believe that Jesus was the Prophet foretold by Moses—which affirmation continues to be a point of contention between Christianity and Judaism to this very day. The attentive reader of the four Gospels must consider if Jesus fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies regarding His appearing. Deuteronomy 13 led the Jews to question Jesus. And because of their negative response, Jesus became for them “a stumbling stone and rock of offense.”

Saul’s Predicament

When Saul of Tarsus placed His trust in Jesus as His Lord and Savior, and later had his name changed to Paul, he was forced to wrestle with the message of Jesus as a scandalous message. He explained this scandal in the context of describing his difficulties with the Judaizing Christians in Galatians 5:

“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense [τὸ σκάνδαλον] of the cross has ceased.” Galatians 5:11.

It was because of Paul’s preaching the cross of Jesus that he was persecuted by the Jews. Paul pinpointed the reason for his persecution as not merely the person of Jesus, but His death on the cross—the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world!

In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul expanded the reason for persecution to include the “Greeks”—or non-Jews. For their part, the Greeks regarded the preaching of the cross as utter foolishness:

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.

One of the most confusing aspects of evangelism for a new believer is to realize that the preaching of the cross is a scandal. The new Christian needs to face rejection and persecution for the sake of the gospel. The gospel which was so easily received by the him is not so easily received by those travelling on the wide road to destruction.

Paul explained his unrealistic optimism related to his Jewish friends’ reception of the gospel in Jerusalem. As he shared in his testimony before his Jerusalem acquaintances in Acts 22, Paul explained his inexperienced confidence:

“‘Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” Acts 22:17-22.

The newly saved Paul had a level of naiveté related to the spiritual receptivity of his Jerusalem friends. He thought that their eyes would be open to the gospel, just as his eyes had been. Not so. By evangelism, we enter the saving work of God. We can never know God’s saving purposes for another person. We dare not try to presume upon God or force God’s hand in this matter.

Deuteronomy 13 and Evangelism

Back to Deuteronomy 13. In this rich passage, we read about the proselytizing efforts of a false teacher. The need for individual discernment was taught by Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. More than anything, the discerning lover of God ought never, for any reason, desert his Master to follow after “other gods.”

Then comes the passage cited above, Deuteronomy 13:6-11. This second passage acts as a synonymous or synthetic parallel to the former passage. However, there are key differences between the two. In the second passage, verbs are used to describe the telling of the message, the hearing of the message, and the reception of the message. As it turns out, similar verbs are used to describe evangelism in the New Testament:

  • 6, παρακαλέω [to urge], used of NT evangelism in Luke 3:18; 2 Cor 5:20; and 2 Tim 4:2.
  • 6, λάθρᾳ [secretly], not used to describe NT evangelism, although Paul was secretly lowered out of window to escape arrest in Damascus, as recorded in 2 Cor 11:32-33.
  • 6, βαδίζω [follow after], using other words, Jesus often said to potential disciples, “Follow Me.”

Of the fact that Jesus was accused of setting Himself up as “another god,” we have discussed above the ongoing scandal of following Jesus to Judaism.

Here, by transference, it is clear that any country to which any Christian missionary goes will already have its entrenched religious practices. As in Deuteronomy 13:6, their belief systems are culturally accepted, and are already part of the pattern of religious observance from their “fathers.”

Therefore, when a missionary or evangelist arrives to preach Jesus, expecting that a few will hear and receive the gospel, while the rest are hardened, he sets up the scenario as explained in Deuteronomy 13:6.

For the follower of the Old Covenant, God through Moses explained in great detail the gods that they were not to follow. The people of Israel were not to follow the gods of the people around them, nor were they to follow the gods of those far from them. They were not to follow after any other gods from any part of the earth, from one end to the other.

Then, in verse 8-10, God explained the judicial response to a preacher of apostasy. He was not to be received nor heard. Rather he was to be stoned with stones until he died. Interestingly, the two verbs used in the negative are the exact response desired by the preacher of the gospel:

  • 8, οὐ συνθέλω [not consent]; its opposite—to consent;
  • 8, οὐ εἰσακούω [not listen]; its opposite—to listen.

Consider the second verb, the verb listening. One of the clearest passages describing the interrelationship of God and man in personal evangelism is found in Acts 16:13-14:

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening [ἀκούω]; and the Lord opened [διανοίγω] her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:13-14 (NAS).

Lydia was listening [ἀκούω]. The first prerequisite for evangelism is that the person with whom we are seeking to share the gospel must listen or hear us out. Consider that, as it relates to the false prophet depicted in Deuteronomy 13, obedient Jews were not to listen.

Following the order of verbs in Acts 16:14, after a hearing of the gospel, God must then act on the heart of the person. It is God who then opens [διανοίγω] the heart. Lydia’s commitment to Jesus was confirmed by her and her household being baptized (Acts 16:15).

Like “consent,” the New Testament used the verb “believe” to depict a positive response to the gospel. For example, Paul had the following dialogue with the Philippian jailer at the end of Acts 16:

“And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” Acts 16:30.

Correspondingly, in Deuteronomy 13, Moses told the people of Israel that they should not have agreement [συνθέλω] with false teaching or false teachers. They were not to consent to or agree with their teaching.

Again, in various places in Acts, the clear response to the gospel was that of consent, belief, or persuasion:

“And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” Acts 17:4-5.

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Acts 17:32-34.

“And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” Acts 28:24.

Therefore, in the New Testament, the response to the gospel was exactly how Moses told the people of Israel not to respond to false teachers and false teaching.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 13 provides an inverse blueprint for New Testament evangelism, set in the context of warning against false teachers and false teaching. The same verbs are used for the method of proclamation, and similar verbs are used as to its reception. Jesus and Stephen were both accused of false teaching based on this and other passages. These parallels are too remarkable to be mere coincidence.

Lessons from the Scandal of Evangelism

What lessons can be applied from this study?

First, Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies. His approach was far different from the “Reign of Terror” that appears to be taught in Deuteronomy 13.

Second, Jesus did not teach from a state-church presumption, whereby all persons were to be forced to follow the prescribed teaching of one sect. Rather, Jesus taught freedom of conscience, whereby individuals have the opportunity to hear and weigh the truth for themselves.

Third, Jesus taught that His followers should be “on their guard” and “take heed” against false teachers. They were not to deed their freedom of conscience to any other authority. By contrast, some followers of Christ deed their conscience to a Bishop or Archbishop of some locality. Jesus, however, taught soul competency and freedom of conscience.

Fourth, Jesus prepared His followers that they would be hated by family members due to the gospel. In His missional sermon in Matthew 10, Jesus was very clear to state that brothers would betray brothers and fathers their children and children their parents (Matt 10:21). These betrayals of kin and kindred were also taught in Deuteronomy 13:6.

Fifth, Jesus regularly taught that persecution and even the death penalty would be applied to Christians for evangelism. He taught that His followers should rejoice in the midst of persecution for His name, Matthew 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23. He taught that His disciples would be hated by all men, Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 15:18, 20; 16:1-2.

Yes, God drew some clear lines of demarcation between the Old Testament and the New Testament in certain areas. The area of evangelism manifests several of these differentiations. Followers of Jesus are advised to consider both areas of agreement between the two testaments, as well as those areas of transition and change brought on by New Testament teaching.

Is it not a grave danger for a follower of Jesus attempt to remove the reproach of the cross? Is it not dangerous for Christians to think that they can evade the scandal of evangelism? Is it not preferable, in light of Deuteronomy 13, to agree with the Apostle Paul’s assessment of God’s ways?

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33.

Jesus remains a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the Jewish mind. The cross remains foolishness to the Greek mind. And yet, in this antagonistic context, the preaching of the cross remains the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18.

Why Biblical Languages Are a Seminary Priority

I was once a young and zealous seminary student. Every class I took was considered through the lense of “How can this help me on the streets.” I experienced the significant dissonance between academic approaches to the Bible, church history, doctrine, apologetics, etc. My initial response was, “Who needs this?”

This knee-jerk response was unhelpful in two ways. First, the mind does need to be trained, even in areas one considers unimportant at the time. Second, if evangelistically-minded students shun higher academia as unnecessary or unimportant, then they will not funnel-up to replenish the ranks of Bible commentators, church historians, and theologians who train up future generations of students.

I once complained to my father about having to take Greek in seminary. He responded to me somewhat sarcastically, “Then why not go to this other school instead!”

At the time, I did not understand the importance of the study of biblical Greek. It did not cross my mind the depth of the Word of God that can never be fully translated into the English language. My feeling at the time was, “We have the Great Commission. What are we waiting for?”

Now, more than 30 years after having received a Master of Divinity, I view things very differently. For example, consider the power and impact of Moses’ polytheistic education in Egypt:

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22.

Here are some thoughts that may benefit the current seminary student who has an evangelistic heart.

First, keep and nurture an evangelistic heart. Do not let your passion die. Plan into your schedule weekly times of initiative evangelism. A heart for the lost can easily become static or stagnant. Plan weekly opportunities for eye-to-eye contact with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.

Second, do not underestimate the importance and power of a deep knowledge of the biblical languages. Without a knowledge of the biblical text, verses that encourage evangelism or clearly affirm the gospel can be changed without your knowing it. For example, evangelistically important verses are often the first to be altered in Bible translations.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in evangelism, He told them to be careful:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We may too easily be “gentle as doves” without first being “wise as serpents.” In order to remain vigilant for biblical evangelism, depth of education is crucial.

Third, consider that evangelism and evangelists are often framed out of many topics of study. Whether these omissions are purposeful or unintentional, I will let the reader decide. In order to maintain a Great Commission approach in every subject, the student will need to intentionally seek it out and sometimes reinject it into the topic—if it is difficult to ascertain. This last step must be done with humility and gentleness, just as Jesus stated, in one’s own private study of the topic at hand.

As to evangelism and evangelists in church history, in the study of doctrine, and in ecclesiology. The Great Commission is always there—if Christ is truly Lord of His church. The words of Christ have always been obeyed by some in every generation!

Lastly, don’t give up on the Christian higher education that a seminary provides. The topics taught in seminary are crucial and valid. Especially fall in love with the biblical languages and with every word in the Bible. Become a servant of the Word of God—allow the words of the Word to rule over you. If you do that, then everything else will fall into its proper place, including proper obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

The Problem of Dull Swords

I awoke this morning startled. My mind was thinking of a former student preparing to go to the mission field. I thought to myself, it’s good that he doesn’t need to translate the Scriptures before he gets there. He can build on the work of those that have gone before him. Evangelical missionaries have been translating the Scriptures since the eight translations made by William Carey in India at the beginning of the Great Century of Protestant Missions.

But then I thought about the Scriptures that are now available. Who controls the armament? And this woke me up with a start. Have Evangelicals turned over control of the armament to those who would dull the blade? To better understand the context of this question that woke me up with a start, a brief explanation is needed.

The Bible of the Protestant Reformation

Possibly or likely the greatest gift given by Martin Luther to the Protestant Reformation was a return to the text and authority of Holy Scriptures. The reader may ask, “What was the authority in the Western State Church prior to the Protestant Reformation?” It was:

  • Scripture + Tradition, or in actuality,
  • Tradition + Scripture.

Before the Protestant Reformation the Scriptures available to church leaders was only the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate, dated back to when Damasus, Bishop of Rome, commissioned Jerome to compile an authorized translation of the Bible into Latin in A.D. 383. An example of the doctrinal bias in this translation was his use of the verb “to do” + the noun “penance” to translate the Greek verb “to repent.” The blade of the New Testament was intentionally dulled for doctrinal or catechetical purposes.

The translation of this verb and many others were rectified by the Reformation Bibles translated directly from the Greek. Hence, Tyndale’s translated the verb μετανοέω differently to what was found in the Latin Vulgate:

  • Matthew 3:2 (Douai-Rheims), “And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 3:3 (Tyndale), “saynge; Repet the kyngdome of heue is at honde.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Douai-Rheims), “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Tyndale), “From that tyme Iesus begane to preache and to saye: repet for ye kigdome of heven is at honed”

The 1899 Douai-Rheims was faithfully translated from the text of the Latin Vulgate. It has 69 uses of the word “penance” often with various forms of the verb “to do,” such as “did penance,” “do penance,” “had/have done penance,” etc.

For almost a thousand years the Western church was required to use only the Latin Vulgate in its readings in church, in its studies in schools, and in its development of Christian doctrine. The blade had been dulled. The clarity of “repentance” (for example) had been replaced with the need for the act of “doing penance”— entering the Confessional Booth is the beginning of the Sacrament of Penance to receive absolution from a sin and receive the required penance to complete atonement for that sin.

Fortunately, Luther and his Protestant contemporaries returned the Word of God to its original sharpness on the issue of repentance. The greatest gift of the Protestant Reformation was a sharpened Bible, honed through direct translation from the Greek and Hebrew, as well as loosed from the confusion of the apocryphal books. Since the Protestant Reformation Four Centuries of Protestant scholars have found their highest authority in the words of Bible’s translated from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Enter 19th Century Secular Biblical Scholarship

In the late 19th Century the flames of secularism were fanned in academic circles. These flames burned in every area of theological studies. Two of the most crucial areas impacted, as far as biblical scholarship, were (1) approaching the Bible as a human book and (2) the question of original language texts.

In considering the Bible to be human, like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, biblical scholars raised their own intellectual abilities above those of the divine author. They reveled in their intellectual abilities to deconstruct the Bible and exhume its mythical elements. These scholars chipped away at the authority of the Bible from the inside out.

Meanwhile a more subtle secularism took hold of biblical scholarship. This renewed field of study deconstructed the original language text of the Bible. Conveniently ignoring that there was a culture of people who always spoke Greek and who had a Church more ancient in succession than was found in any Western Church region, Western Church scholars and their Protestant counterparts became viral to reconstruct a better original language text.

I once asked a New Testament scholar why Erasmus did not leave Bale and travel to Greece to find a full Greek text of the Book of Revelation. Apparently, Erasmus back-translated the Latin text into Greek to fill in gaps when he had no Greek text available to him. The New Testament scholar had no answer for me. Sure, the trip from Basel, Switzerland, to Athens, Greece, is 1,500 miles on today’s roads. But would not that trip be worth it to avoid back-translating from Latin into Greek, especially when establishing a new paradigm for the original language text? Textual criticism chips away at authority from the outside in.

These two fingers of secularism simmered within mainstream Protestant academic circles for about 100 years. Then they finally filtered down into Evangelical academia. It was English-language Evangelicalism that largely controlled (1) the worldwide Bible Society movement and (2) the 19th Century world missionary efforts.

Control of the Armament

The Bible societies had prospered on getting Bible’s into the hands of the common folk through Bible distribution and supporting missionaries who translated the Bible into the languages of the people where they ministered. In the early 20th Century a new kind of missionary emerged. These new ministers were the Wycliffe Bible Translators. They were energized by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. This was a new brand of Bible translators, founded by Cameron Townsend in 1942. They were non-denominational and non-theological. Their translators were “educators” not “missionaries.” They approached Bible translation from a purely secular linguistic approach, and intentionally avoided doctrinal controversies—if that were possible when translating the Bible.

One of the graduates of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Chicago was Eugene Nida. He would end up of playing a significant role in Bible translation on multiple fronts. Nida, and ordained Northern Baptist, joined the American Bible Society in 1943 and became its Executive Secretary for Translations in 1946, a post that he retained for 35 years.

In May 1946 Nida attended the smeeting in Elfinsward, England, when the United Bible Society was formed by joint agreement of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland, and the Netherlands Bible Society.

In November 1964 was perhaps the most important meetings of Nida. It included Olivier Béguin of the United Bible Society and Augustin Cardinal Bea of Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute and met at Crêt-Bérard, Lausanne, Switzerland. It was at this meeting that Nida sketched out the preliminary form of what became the 1968 “Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible.”

Briefly, these principles guided the United Bible Society’s efforts from 1968 to 1987, deeding oversight of all their original language texts and all their translations as follows:

“C. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a Working Committee, 2. a Review Committee, and 3. a Consultative Group.

“a. Working Committee Consisting of 4 to 6 persons equally divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. equal standing,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The 1968 “Guiding Principles” were revised in 1987 as “Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible the New Revised Edition Rome.” The same section as above was revised to read:

“2.3. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE 

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a translation team, 2. a review panel, and 3. a consultative group.

“2.3.1. Translation team Consisting of not more than six persons of high competence from the Roman Catholic and other Christian constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. comparable qualifications,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The reader will note the changes in the composition of the Translation Teams according to this document. This author will allow the reader to discern who may now control the weapons cache held by the United Bible Society since 1987.

It may be no surprise that many of the most important “readings” in the UBS Greek text now correspond to those of the Latin Vulgate.

Sharpening the Sword

It almost sounds sacrilegious from an Evangelical point-of-view to consider the need for sharpening the sword of the Word of God. Is not the inherent sharpness of God’s sword self-evident? According to Hebrews 4:12-13 the sword of the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts to the bone and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
Hebrews 4:12-13.

And yet, although this Word is quick and lively, whether it be the Thomas Jefferson Bible, the Jehovah’s Witness “New World Translation,” or the Douai-Rheims Bible, there are Bibles that have been intentionally dulled. And whereas we in the English-speaking world are insulated from the battles of Bible translation in the many languages of the world, we would do well to be aware of what is happening in these many languages and cultures.

So, this morning, as I woke up with a startle, thinking of my former student going out as a missionary, my prayer for him is—that he would be “Wise as a serpent and gentle as dove” (Matthew 10:16). May the Lord lead him to use the best Bible available to reach the hearts of those to whom he will be sent!

Blessed Are the Poor

A common term for persons lacking money is to call them “poor.” Being financially poor generally refers to lacking the essential elements of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus opened His “Sermon on the Mount” using the metaphor of this condition:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)*
*NKJ is used throughout unless otherwise stated.

Understanding the analogy of Jesus is contingent upon being acquainted with economic destitution. Yet Jesus mined deeper ore than mere financial poverty. Jesus added the qualifier “in spirit.” In so doing, Jesus dove from the physical meaning into a spiritual meaning. It is this spiritual meaning that we will consider in this post.

Jesus, the “Son of David,” found the concept of the “poor” used often from the pen of his namesake, King David in the Psalms. King David likewise mined the rich metaphorical meaning in this term. For example, in Psalm 22, he used term “poor” in synonymous parallelism with those who fear the Lord and those who seek Him:

“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!”
(Psalm 22:25-26)

In Psalm 34, David wrote:

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.”
(Psalm 34:6-7)

Again, the Psalmist used “those who fear Him” in parallel with “poor man.” This same pattern is often found in the Psalms. In fact, David affirmed his own spiritual destitution:

“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 40:17)
“But I am poor and sorrowful.” (Psalm 69:29)
“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 70:5)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 109:22)

It is likely that it would be a mistake to interpret these uses of “poor” as referring only or primarily to physical poverty, since the context clearly denotes a spiritual need—much as Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.

So when Jesus spoke of “poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount, he had the antecedent of King David speaking of another kind of lack, that being spiritual destitution. Jesus appears to be saying that those who understand their spiritual poverty are blessed, because they willingly submit to the rule of heaven. Or to put it another way, the key to living with a heavenly focus is to understand our spiritual bankruptcy and to be willing to submit to the rule of heaven in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Clearly, the blessing of Jesus was spoken a particular group of people. His blessing was not generalized to all of mankind, but rather to a subgroup of humanity—that is, “the blessed ones.”

The Apostle Paul picked up on the same theme of poverty, but from a different angle. When Paul was explaining the gospel in Romans he underscored that all people are spiritually destitute:

“For there is absolutely no difference: seeing that all have sinned, and are entirely destitute of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:[22]23, 1605 French Geneva, translation mine)

Paul stated that all people are spiritually and morally bankrupt. They all lack anything and everything that they need to achieve the glory of God. They are totally destitute, or to put it another way, totally depraved. Their spiritual bank account before God stands completely empty.

As Paul argued for the spiritual depravity of all mankind in Romans, so Jesus affirmed that the spiritually bankrupt comprised of a certain group of blessed people. So then, was total depravity a spiritual condition of all mankind (as in Paul) or was it only the spiritual condition of a particular group of people (as in Jesus)?

I argue that Jesus and Paul were communicating the same truth from two different perspectives.

Paul used the concept of a spiritually impoverished humanity to show that everyone on earth is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus blessed those who recognize that they are impoverished, which was and remains the sign of a receptive heart. For Jesus, it was only those who understood their spiritual destitution that were deemed acceptable for the rule of heaven. Likewise for Paul, although all people were indeed helpless and hopeless, only a special group of people understands and acknowledges their spiritual condition.

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

So, according to Paul, Christ died for those that had no spiritual strength. And while all men are “without strength,” only a particular group of men actually acknowledge their spiritual poverty. These few cry out to God for mercy:

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25)

Following this example, it is only those who cry out to God for deliverance from their spiritual poverty who are heard from heaven. Indeed, these are the ones whose spiritual bank account is filled with the righteousness of Christ. These are the ones who follow the example of Abraham, who believed the Word of God:

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Rom 4:3)

This gift of righteousness is then placed in the account of everyone who believes:

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Rom 4:4-5)

As men and women acknowledge that they are spiritually destitute and look to heaven, they find the only answer for their spiritual debt. Christ shed His blood for those few who would acknowledge their spiritual poverty, look to heaven for help, and cry out to God for mercy through Jesus Christ.

So Christ Himself became the blessing of the blessed ones—the “poor in spirit”—gifting them entrance into the kingdom of heaven!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)

Top 10 Reasons the Bible is Relevant for Spiritual-Historical Study

crespin inside cover

The Bible provides Evangelical historians a full pallet of colors by which they can divinely interpret the complexities of God’s work on the canvas of history. However, in the late 19th Century secularism descended like a pastel fog hiding biblical insights in the study of history in general and church history in particular. While 19th Century German scholars forged a path of secularism in biblical studies, historical study was not immune from that same secularization. In the field of history, dialectics* provided the secularizing tool by which divine authority was logically excised from historical study.

*Dialectics is described as: “development through stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism… [also] the theoretical application of this process esp. in the social sciences.” (Webster’s)

In this blurred and hazy environment, biblical input was shunned as the “thesis” or “basis” from which society evolved away. When applied to the ebb and flow of people and movements in the history of the churches, biblical insights were mummified and entombed as an obsolete forms of interpretation. Younger generations of students were taught to shun the biblical approaches of their Protestant forebears. The fallacy of composition grouped any living historian who wrote from a biblical a priori with his buried ancestors. Meanwhile the light of the Word of God in historical study dimmed.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Psa 119:105)

While the agnostic, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, liberal Protestant, etc., may view history as they chose, for the Evangelical historian the Bible contains rich insights to assist him to properly analyze the dark recesses of history.

Let me offer 10 areas that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in historical study.

  1. The Bible is the only inerrant and untainted intellectual authority given to humanity

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

The Bible provides the only book in world history by which mankind can and ought to judge all other sources of knowledge, whether they are primary sources or secondary sources. For the Evangelical Christian, only the Bible holds this position of absolute prominence.

  1. The Bible speaks with clear and adequate sufficiency to every issue that was, is, or will be considered in church history

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

As with the Bible’s authority, so God’s words speak with sufficiency, providing the student of church history the framework to properly understand its complexities.

  1. The Bible uniquely addresses us both the beginning and end of history

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)

Biblical revelation spans the entire scope of world history. It addresses events prior to the creation of humans to the end of the world. As such, the Bible exceeds the scope of earthly human history, providing a supra-earthly point of view by which to understand the history of humanity.

  1. The Bible offers us a worldview lens to interpret life (& history)

“You shall bind them [these words] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:8)

The Bible offers its readers and those who submit to its tenets the worldview lens by which they can properly interpret all of life and history.

  1. The Bible explains God’s sovereign work in history

“The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”(1 Sam 2:6-10)

Hannah’s amazing song affirms the sovereign work of God in all of history. He raises up and He brings low. He is literally in control of everything. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign hand.

  1. The Bible explains God’s particular saving work in history

“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, … that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:4-5, 12)

As God is in control of all of human history, so within this history He is calling out His people unto Himself. From the standpoint of the Apostle Paul this calling becomes efficacious when persons hear the gospel with a hearing of faith, and repent and believe.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)

  1. In the Bible, Christ gave His church its mission, purpose, and charter for all of history; then celebrating the fulfillment of the same

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Christ left one final command to His people. This injunction was passed down to His disciples in all forthcoming generations, languages groups, and places. So, it only follows that in any retelling of the history of God’s people, the Great Commission and its fulfillment will be found front and center.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)

So important is the Great Commission in God’s view of human history, that He has determined that its fulfillment with mark the end of the age!

  1. The Bible reveals four supreme world monarchies in history

We read of visions wherein are explained and interpreted world empires in Daniel 2 and 7. The German Protestant historian Johannes Sleidan considered these empires the “key of history”—as noted in his book titled, “The Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History” (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1561, 1563, 1566). These four chief monarchies were: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

  1. The Bible exemplifies social-denominational cycles of obedience and disobedience

The Bible provides information about the spiritual cycles of the people of Israel in the Books of Numbers, Judges and 2 Chronicles. There were seasons of obedience and disobedience to God, submission and disregard of His word. Within these extremes were found many variations, providing powerful types and antitypes for the benefit of future generations.

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)

  1. The Bible prophesies the fact of the good, the bad, and the ugly in church life

The letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were oracles to the churches in existence during the time of John. Yet, just as all these churches existed at the same time, so also each type of church exists throughout all of church history. These letters encourage and warn all churches throughout all of history—maybe even providing an interpretive grid for church historical study.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)