Christian Maturity: Speaking the Truth in Love

The objective truth of God and His Word must take precedence over our personal experience and emotions. We need to know what God says in His Word if we want to know the truth about life, reality, and what it means to be a Christian. We either trust our subjective moral autonomy or God’s objective authority. There is no neutral ground.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19

 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. We also have the prophetic word strongly confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21

Therefore, dear friends, while you wait for these things, make every effort to be found without spot or blemish in his sight, at peace. Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures. 

Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stable position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. 2 Peter 3:14-18

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. Ephesians 4:11-16

Christian Maturity

Christianity is not just praying a prayer so that you don’t go to hell. It’s an ongoing process of sanctification and growth in the knowledge of Christ. Being a Christian is not getting saved so you can live life for yourself and your dreams. Being a Christian is not about comfortably believing what you are taught without ever checking to see if it lines up with Scripture. Rather, maturity should be the desire of every Christian. Our Christian pastors and leaders are to equip us for the work of ministry. We are not to be carried about by every wind of teaching, by human cunning, or by craftiness in deceitful schemes. We are not to be led away by the error of lawless people. Instead, we are to be on guard and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We speak truth (alétheuó) in love and grow up in every way into Christ. Notice that we are to speak God’s truth in love. If we are to speak God’s truth in love we need to know what He actually says in His Word and we need to be able to teach it correctly:

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

If it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we believe in “Jesus” then how do we ascertain human cunning and deceitful schemes? Paul clearly says that there are doctrines and teachings out there that are false and deceptive. There must true and knowable sound doctrines and teachings if we are to be on guard against false teachings.

But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.

For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres. 2 Timothy 3:1-9

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!

For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10

I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me! For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly! 2 Corinthians 11:1-4

Notice here that Paul says that people can preach a distorted gospel and another (a false) “Jesus”. He also warns of those who hold to the form of godliness but deny its power. We need to know the accurate interpretation of Scripture if we are to know the true gospel and Jesus from a false gospel and a false Jesus. If there are people who hold to the form of godliness but deny its power then we need to know our Bible so we can discern and spot when people subtly twist the truth. They hold to the form of godliness; they look like Christians and what they say sounds Christian but what they say is not based on Scripture. It’s very important to study biblical hermeneutics but that means hard work and many in our day do not like the idea of taking time to do hard work. We all live busy lives lined up with activities. Many do not have time to read the Bible let alone partake in an in-depth study of the Bible. Don Closson has some wise words regarding the importance of Biblical hermeneutics:

Once we appreciate what God has done to communicate with us, we may begin to apply the principals of interpretation, or hermeneutics, to the text. To be successful this process must take into account the cultural, historical, and language barriers that limit our understanding of the original writings. There are no shortcuts to the hard work necessary to accomplish this task.

Some have wrongly argued that knowledge of the culture and languages of biblical times is not necessary, that the Holy Spirit will interpret the text for us. The role of the Holy Spirit is to illumine the believer in order to accept and apply what is found in Scripture. The Bible says that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). The Greek word for “accept” means “to take something willingly and with pleasure.” The key role of the Spirit is not to add information to the text, or to give us special translating abilities, but to soften our hearts in order to receive what is there.

The goal of this process is to be mature in Christ. The Bible is not an end, it is a means to becoming conformed to the image or likeness of Christ. (1)

The Importance of Gentleness

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26

Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. Titus 3:1-3

We need to both speak the truth and speak it in love. If there is one thing that has been missing from the church, and especially from the reformed/calvinist community, it’s gentleness. We need to rebuke error. We need to expose false teachings. I am not suggesting that we go soft on the truth or set aside the importance of sound doctrine but we desperately need to be speaking the truth in humility. It’s simply understanding that we were dead in sin just like everyone.

The next four verses of the Titus 3 passage are so important:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone. Titus 3:4-8

This passage speaks for itself. We are not saved by our works of righteousness but according to HIS mercy through the regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. We should, therefore, speak with humility and gentleness towards all people. We should contend for the faith but I believe we should be gentle and calm. I can grant that there may be times that call for the blunt declaration of truth but we should not be condescending or arrogant.

Emergents & Exvangelicals (Does What we Believe Really Matter?)

The amount of bible illiteracy in the church today is shocking. We have access to almost infinite biblical and theological resources on our phones. We have the bible on our phones and yet many don’t have time to read a chapter a day. We have access to Greek lexicons on our phones by which we can check to better understand the meanings of the words of Scripture as they were written in the original language. How many laypeople (or pastors/leaders) do you think take the time to do that? We have access to articles and works of theologians from the past to the present yet many go to Relevant or Sojourners and believe what they read without any discernment. Many sit through a sermon and don’t double check to make sure what is being said about God is actually what God says about Himself in His Word.

If you are at all familiar with the emergent/emerging movement then the following from Rachel Held Evans’ book “Searching for Sunday” should put a red flag up in your mind:

It seemed fitting to arrange the book around the sacraments because it was the sacraments that drew me back to the church after I’d given up on it. When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.

As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “in an age of information overload . . . the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of the incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned them dry as dust, who run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more about God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God. (2)

I believe the Ex-Evangelical movement/community is simply the newest form of the emergent movement (and I will go into more detail about this in forthcoming articles). Similarly to emergents, Ex-Evangelicals question/deny human certainty and the inerrancy of Scripture. They would say that what we experience in community is more important that what we believe. They would say we rely on our subjective experiences rather than objective truth.

What we believe is very important. I agree fully with the following excerpt from “Ready to Return“:

Faith Not Feelings

We live in a culture that teaches us to rely on subjective experience rather than objective truth. Our studies have shown that “millenials” (those born anywhere from the 1980s to the early 2000s) are not as interested in Christ or Christianity as the the previous generation. Further, those who are in the Church have major biblical literacy issues. With the cultural surge of pluralism and an obsession of serving self, even many churches have slid into “worship-tainment” for its members instead of equipping them with the Word of God, Thus, there is a whole lot more of entertaining the goats than tending the sheep.

The result is that these millenials in the Church end up with only a thin veneer of biblical understanding (they’re familiar with the “stories” in the Bible). However, some appear to be content with this level of knowledge. They cry, “What difference does it make? As long as millenials understand the gospel, who cares if they believe in a literal Adam and Eve or a six-day creation? God’s not going to base entrance into heaven based on someone’s view of Genesis creation.”

True. I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Believing in a literal Genesis account is not a salvation issue. The Bible is crystal clear that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), and that “For by grace you have been saved through faith, And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Therefore there is no religious work, good deed, or additional belief attached to saving faith that God requires. It’s faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone. Period.

However, having settled the issue of salvation, it does not logically follow that nothing else matters from that point on. As critical as they are to Christian doctrine, understanding the complexity of the Trinity or believing in the Second Coming is also not essential in order to be saved — but no respectable believer would deny their fundamental importance to Christian doctrine. Additionally, just because a person is saved doesn’t give them the option of now believing whatever they choose about other biblical doctrines and theology which don’t speak directly to the issue of salvation. It certainly doesn’t give them the freedom to reinterpret a fundamental Christian belief or to suggest an abstract understanding about key passages in Scripture.

Growth Follows Birth

By saying that saving faith in Christ is not ALL that matters, we are saying that there are other important things God would also have us believe and do. Granted, they have nothing to do with salvation, but by definition, Christianity is more than just “becoming a Christian.” To say otherwise would be equivalent to saying that being born is all that matters. Food, growth, development, and everything else that follows birth is now optional. What an absurd approach to life?

But this is effectively what some say when they downplay the importance of Scriptures that are fundamental to our understanding of God, His work, creation, the Fall, and the nature of man. It cuts at the very heart of God’s ability to accurately reveal and record His own history! And the previously cited research shows that many in our churches have a problem when it comes to how they view the Word of God.

Of course, all genuine Christians would agree that obedience to God is the important thing, that how we live after receiving the gospel actually matters.

But let’s examine this a bit further. Exactly why is our “Ticket to Heaven” not the only thing we should care about as Christians?

First of all God never says that.

Second, He is clear about many, many other very important truths He wants us to believe and embrace. Otherwise the Bible would contain just one verse about believing in Jesus instead of 66 books of doctrine and truth!

Third, embedded in true, saving faith is the guarantee of spiritual fruit, particularly the fruit of ongoing faith, obedience, and growth (Matt. 7:15-20, 21-19); Rom. 1:17; Col. 1:20-23; James 2:14-26; Phil. 1:6).

Fourth, it’s the whole of Scripture that gives us hope, perseverance, and encouragement after we come to faith in Christ (Rom. 15:4).

Fifth, ALL of the Bible is inspired and is meant to fuel our faith with nourishment (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Peter. 2:2).

Sixth, God saves individuals so that they might fulfill a greater purpose here on earth. Part of that purpose involves “always being prepared to make a defense against anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Seventh, there are many important Scriptures that support the truth about Christ and the gospel. To ignore, discount, or demean them is to undercut the foundation of the gospel message itself.

Eighth, you cannot deny one biblical truth without effectually denying many others. For example, you cannot deny the deity of Jesus Chris and then believe in Him as Savior. You cannot deny the Resurrection and then still believe in the Cross and its accomplishments. These truths are inseparably linked. Mutually inclusive and bonded with the glue of God’s unbroken revelation.

Of course, I know some people would say we should simply avoid controversy and conflict in the world and within certain Christian circles by only focusing on the gospel message itself, and like Paul, “decided to know nothing among you except the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).

But there are several flaws in this oversimplification of Paul’s words, First, no one denies that the gospel message of Jesus Christ is what leads sinners to salvation. However, not even Paul limited his evangelistic approach to “Jesus saves,” but rather utilized the rest of the Word of God as foundational evidence for his apologetic regarding Jesus. In Acts 17:1-4, Paul reasoned with the Jews using the Old Testament Scriptures. By doing so, he built a solid apologetic case for Jesus being the Messiah. It was the Apostle’s “custom” to reason with both religious leaders and pagans, using the truth of God contained in the Old Testament Scripture (Acts 17:2). He also took the opportunity when encountering secular, pagan religious sites to demonstrate to unbelievers that God was Creator, Judge, and Savior (Acts 17:16-34). He even quoted pagan poets to support his argument (Acts 17:28-29). For Paul, establishing God as common Creator of all mankind was foundational to his argument and gospel presentation. Therefore, if God is not Creator, Jesus cannot be Savior. But you’ve probably never heard a preacher say that.

All Scripture Matters

This of course is not to say that every time we share the gospel we must survey the entire redemption story from Genesis to Revelation. It is, however, to say that the whole of Scripture is true and has direct bearing on the truth about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross. Therefore, to only focus on the gospel as our sole beginning and ending point in evangelism is not only without support in Scripture, but also isn’t smart missionary work. And make no mistake about it — we are all missionaries to the pagan culture in which we live.

   So, in short, yes, it really does matter what you believe after you become a Christian. Theology matters. Sound doctrine matters. All biblical truth — from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is inseparably linked, connected from truth to truth. You can’t merely cut out a particular portion of Scripture or deny 4,000 years of belief and interpretation and then replace it with a pagan understanding of that portion of Scripture. We don’t have that option with God’s Word. Otherwise we become judges of the Word, exalting ourselves above it. And by doing this, we are consumed with arrogance and fall into the same condemnation incurred by the devil (1 Tim. 3:6).

…Being of infinite intelligence, God is totally logical and rational — much more so than man. And throughout Scripture, He clearly indicates when accounts are to be understood as illustrations, parables, or metaphors, such as found in Luke 15:1-32 and John 10:1-17.

Consequently there is nothing in all of Scripture that gives the slightest hint of the flood or creation accounts found in Genesis as being anything other than literal, actual, and historical events. (3)

What we believe matters. What we do matters. Our theology will determine what we do. It is important that we believe sound doctrine and that we obey God. We know and we do. Not solely one or the other.

Sources:

  1. Hermeneutics, http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hermen.html.
  2. Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2015
  3. Ham, Ken, et al. Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation. Master Books, 2015.

Arguing Semantics: Bruce Ashford Says He’s “Not Good With the Bible.”

“You’re Just Arguing Semantics”

Have you ever been in a discussion, conversation, or debate and have had someone say to you, “you’re just arguing semantics”? I’ve been thinking lately about this phrase. Have you ever stopped to think about what the phrase means? What are semantics? What does it mean to argue semantics?

Here is how the English Oxford Dictionary defines semantics:

  • “The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.”
  • “The meaning of a word, phrase, or text.”

When someone tells you that you are “merely arguing semantics”, they’re essentially saying “You’re just arguing about meaning.” or “You’re just arguing about the meaning of words.”.

I think it is important to argue semantics/meanings and that is my aim with this new series of articles. I will be examining and critiquing words, phrases, and statements that I think are not quite accurate or are somewhat confusing. You might say that I am nitpicking but I would say in return that truth is important even in the smaller details. Small errors or slight inaccuracies can often make a big difference. For example, there is a big difference between critiquing something someone says and criticizing what someone says. I will explore this distinction in a future article but I intend to critique rather than to criticize.

“I’m Not Good With the Bible”

Bruce Ashford is a professor of theology and the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In an opinon piece for Fox News (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/03/31/chrissy-teigen-says-shes-not-good-with-bible-neither-am.html), he responds to a joke tweet by Chrissy Tiegen (John Legend’s wife) where she used the phrase “I’m not good with the Bible”. I want to respond to some of the statements he made in the article.

“But Chrissy has a point. None of us are actually “good with” the Bible, myself included.”

When someone says “I’m not good with the Bible”, they’re essentially saying “I don’t really know the Bible” or “I don’t know the Bible very well”. Bruce uses a different definition for the phrase “good with” and then reacts to this different meaning. “I’m not good with the Bible” has now been changed to mean “I’m not a master (acquire complete knowledge or skill in (an accomplishment, technique, or art)) of the Bible”or “I don’t know everything there is to know about the Bible”.

I agree that none of us will ever be “masters” of the Bible (using the definition from above) but we should strive to be master (having or showing very great skill or proficiency) Bible students and teachers. See the difference?

I would hope that a professor of theology knows the Bible well.

“The main reason we aren’t good with the Bible is that we have difficulty getting a handle on it. The Bible is a sprawling, sometimes confusing, often unsettling collection of ancient writings, purporting to reveal the nature of God and his dealings with the world.”

I wouldn’t describe the Bible that way. The Bible is a connected book with meta-narratives that run throughout the entire OT and NT. It actually isn’t that difficult to get a handle on the Bible, especially with all of the resources we can access on the internet. All you have to do is watch a few YouTube videos about biblical hermeneutics or biblical theology. Do a web search for any Scripture passage you are having difficulty understanding and you’ll find tons of resources. You really only need to learn the number one Bible interpretation rule: context is king. The reason people are not “good with” (notice that now he is using this phrase to mean “don’t know very well”) the Bible is that many have not been taught basic biblical hermeneutics.

“We can’t master it, tame it, or pigeon-hole it like other books on our shelf.”

We can’t have exhaustive, ultimate, or comprehensive knowledge of the Bible but we can and should skillfully handle it and interpret it. We grow in our understanding and knowledge of it over time. We will not ever fully understand everything there is to know in the Bible. However, there are truths that we can understand for certain. How else can we know the difference between false teaching and sound teaching? Take the trinity. You will not find that word in the Bible. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught throughout Scripture (https://www.monergism.com/topics/trinity).

“But when we approach the Bible in earnest and read it on its own terms, we find that this book – written over the course of many centuries – contains the true story of the whole world.”

Many people read the Bible in earnest and then walk away from it disillusioned or believing error because they don’t know how to read it.

After briefly describing the four “acts” of the story of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration), he says:

“That’s the true story the Bible tells. So, if we learn how to read it, will we suddenly be “good with the Bible”?

I sure hope not.”

Again, we’re not talking about being able to completely master the Bible but simply being able to skillfully understand it. It takes time and hard work to learn how to interpret the Bible so no, we won’t “suddenly be good with the Bible”. We should mature and be able to skillfully understand over time as we study and learn and the Holy Spirit illumines the Scripture to us.

If we learn how to study and interpret Scripture will we be “good with the Bible” over time?

I sure hope so.

“When we read the Bible seriously, we find that the Bible reads us. As we lay bare its pages, it lays bare our hearts, showing our own complicity in the badness of this world. Apart from Jesus, that experience would ruin us. But because of his death and resurrection and his offer of salvation, we are now offered a future in which everything sad will become untrue

And as for that … I’m good with it.”

I know Bruce is not an emergent or Ex-Evangelical, but this statement sounds like it could come from one of those two communities. As I’ve been saying, I believe it is important that we know how to study and interpret the Bible. It’s also not this cold mechanical process that we do at a specific time every day. We read and study the Word and then we apply it to our lives. We know it and then we live it. We understand it and then we obey it.

Conclusion

I believe one of the biggest problems we are facing in the church today is an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture and on our certainty of Scripture. There are many who flat-out deny and reject inerrancy and the inspiration of Scripture. There are also those today who would say they believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God but then say we are finite and because we are finite we can’t fully understand the infinite God. Therefore, we can’t really say what we believe is true besides that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

I get what he was trying to say with his article. I know that many today think Christians are people who always have to be right (probably going to be the next topic in “Arguing Semantics”). Many see Christians that make firm stands on doctrine and on Scripture as close-minded, self-righteous and arrogant. I believe (though I could be wrong) he was speaking to this audience.

I don’t intend to say that Bruce doesn’t know the Bible well. He most likely knows a lot more about it than me as I haven’t been to Bible college or seminary and he is older than I am. I simply think the article would have been better and would have been more helpful if he talked about the importance of biblical hermeneutics. Many people know how to open their Bibles and read the words. Yet how many in our churches know how to open their Bibles, read the words, interpret them, and understand the meaning so that they can then apply it?

Like always,

I say these things in humility and out of love for people.

I hope you will not just believe what I say but will be a berean and compare what I (or anyone else has to) say to what God says in His Word.

Be a critical thinker. Be a berean. Speak truth in love.

A Corinthian Contradiction?

The Background:

Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries participated in an interfaith dialogue with Muslim scholar Dr. Yasir Qadhi in Memphis, TN in January 2017. The IFD was held in a mosque one night and the other night was held at a church building. There have been many critics since then that claim the IFD was not biblical and that it violated several Scriptural passages. Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend Radio has been one of the major critics of the IFD. Jeff Dornik is also a very vocal critic of the IFD. Some critics have claimed that Dr. White’s participation played into the hands of the ecumenical goals of Dr. Qadhi. I want to look at some of the arguments made by the critics and see if there is any merit or accurate Scriptural basis to their claims.

Introduction to Part One:

21unrl

It has been argued by critics that the IFD violated 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The argument is that we should not be unequally yoked to Muslims and IFDs violate this passage. I want to examine this claim and look into the context of this passage to form my own opinion based on Scripture. Here is the passage:

14 Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said:

I will dwell
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
17 Therefore, come out from among them
and 
be separate, says the Lord;
do not touch any unclean thing,
and I will welcome you.
18 And I will be a Father to you,
and you will be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 CSB

I can see that on the surface this passage would appear to be prohibiting partnerships between Christians and non-Christians and more specifically between Christians and Muslims. An IFD between a Christian and a Muslim would certainly seem to be a partnership and would therefore be a violation of this clear passage. If you are a discerning Bible reader you should be able to come up with questions as you are reading any portion of Scripture. Several questions came to my mind as I read this passage:

Who are the Corinthians?

What is the purpose of the book? What of 1 Corinthians?

What is the immediate context of this passage?

What is the context of this passage in 2 Corinthians?

What is the context of this passage when looking at 1 Corinthians?

What is the Greek word for partners/partnership in verse 14, what does it mean, and where else is it used?

What info can I glean from my bible commentaries and study Bibles about this passage?

Contradiction?:

As I go through these texts I aim to demonstrate the importance of discernment and the importance of biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of scriptural interpretation). We just read in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that we should not be partners with those who do not believe. However read this passage from 1 Corinthians:

I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world.11 But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.

This would appear to be a contradiction. In 1 Corinthians we are told that Paul did not tell the Corinthians to stop associating with the immoral people of this world. He actually tells them that they shouldn’t even eat with a person who claims to be a brother or sister yet is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. The book we know as 1 Corinthians is not actually the first letter that Paul wrote to them. His first letter is lost to us but we know that he sent one because he says in verse 9 that he “wrote to them to not associate with sexually immoral people”. The immediate context of this verse relates to the preceding passage of 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the man who is sleeping with his father’s wife. In verse 10 Paul goes on to say that he did not mean to say that the Corinthians should not associate with the unbelieving sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers, or the idolaters of this world. As biblical Christians, we would say that anyone who worships a false god is an idolater. We would also say there is only one true God, Yahweh the God of the Bible:

I am the Lord, and there is no other;
there is no God but me.

I will strengthen you,
though you do not know me,
so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
that there is no one but me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Isaiah 45:5-7

You, Lord, are the only God.
You created the heavens,
the highest heavens with all their stars,
the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to all of them,
and all the stars of heaven worship you.

Nehemiah 9:6

 About eating food sacrificed to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,”and that “there is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him.

1 Corinthians 8:4

In 1 Corinthians we are told by Paul that he did not mean to say that the Corinthians should stop associating with unbelievers and then in 2 Corinthians we are told by Paul that the Corinthians should not be partners with unbelievers. Which one are we to follow? Is he changing his mind in 2 Corinthians? Muslims believe in a false god and idolaters are those who put anything else above sole worship and belief of the God of the Bible. 1 Cor would suggest that we can and should associate with Muslims but 2 Corinthians seems to suggest that we should not be partners or have a partnership with Muslims. This seems to be contradictory and very confusing on the surface. Yet we need to dig into the context and the original language and try to get a clearer and better understanding of what is going on in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

The Context:

Let’s start by setting up the context of 1 and 2 Corinthians. The following quoted information is taken from the Wycliffe Bible Commentary:

“The city of Corinth. Corinth was a wealthy commercial center. …Corinth’s moral character made it a fertile field for the glorious good news of the Messiah. The old city had contained the famous Temple of Aphrodite, where one thousand sacred prostitutes were made available to its cultists. The same spirit, if not the the same temple prevailed in the new city. …Corinth was a city noted for everything depraved, dissolute, and debauched.”

1 Corinthians was written in response to a letter that Paul received from the Corinthian church. Paul addresses very specific problems that had been affecting the Corinthian Christians such as division, sexual immorality, abuse of the sacraments, and lawsuits between believers. The church sought instruction from Paul regarding marriage, divorce, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts, and other matters. Can you picture this young church at the epicenter of an incredibly wicked and depraved culture and city? False apostles are deceiving the Corinthians and are turning some of them against Paul. Picture a young church like this in Portland, Oregon or a post-Christian New England city. There truly is nothing new under the sun. It may seem that our current American culture is becoming more and more depraved but it’s really not any worse than the state of the culture of the early church. There was sexual immorality, greed, hate, violence, racism, and any other wicked sin like there is today. It may have changed dynamics but the root sins have been around since Adam’s fall and were extremely prevalent in the pagan culture surrounding the early church.

The Greeky Section:

Now let’s take a look at some of the Greek words used in our two texts. I’m not a Greek scholar and I haven’t been to Bible college or seminary but I know a little Greek and I know how to use the internet to look up the meanings of Greek words used in Scripture. All of the following Greek information comes from http://biblehub.com/greek/.

This is the word that is translated as “associate with” in 1 Corinthians 5:9:

sunanamignumi: to mix up together, hence to associate with  

Original Word: συναναμίγνυμι
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: sunanamignumi
Phonetic Spelling: (soon-an-am-ig’-noo-mee)
Short Definition: I keep company with
Definition: I mingle together with, keep company with.

HELPS Word-studies

4874 synanamígnymi (from 4862 /sýn, “identified with“; 303 /aná, “up, finishing a process”; and 3396 /mígnymi, “mix”) – properly, mix-closely-together to influence, “associate intimately with” (Souter).

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that he did not mean to say in his previous letter that they should not “keep company with” or stop “mingling with” unbelievers (sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters, etc.). The word study help above says that this Greek word means mix-closely-together to influence, and “associate intimately with”. This passage very clearly does not support the claim that an IFD between a Christian and a Muslim is unbiblical. Dr. White and Dr. Qadhi clearly stated that they have different beliefs and that they were in no way compromising their beliefs. They did however say that the goal of this IFD was to open more dialogues between Christians and Muslims and to take away the fear and anger that each group has towards the other. The modern American evangelical church’s view of Muslims is that they are all Jihadists and they want to implement Sharia Law and destroy Christianity. The majority view is that Muslims hate Christians and Americans should fear Muslims. There are many groups out there that push this view of fear and anger towards Muslims. If that is what most Christians believe about Muslims then it would follow that most Muslims would believe that these are the views held by most Christians. We as Christians should love our Muslim neighbors and friends. We should give them the gospel and pray for them.

However, in this divided climate driven by fear and anger there honestly is very little open and honest dialogue between Christians and Muslims. This is where Dr. White stepped in with the IFD. This IFD sought to diffuse the tension between Christians and Muslims. The goal was to help Christians understand what Muslims actually believe. The Islamic extremist view is not the majority view held by Muslims. If we are to engage Muslims and share the gospel we need to know what they actually believe and we need to view them not as people to fear or be angry with but as lost people who need to hear the gospel. Let’s say for example that Islam became the majority religion in the United States and Sharia Law was implemented. Would God not be sovereign? Would Christianity die? Would the gospel cease to spread? No. God is sovereign over all things:

 King Nebuchadnezzar,

To those of every people, nation, and language, who live on the whole earth:

May your prosperity increase. I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me.

How great are his miracles,
and how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom,
and his dominion is from generation to generation.

 

34 But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever:

For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

36 At that time my sanity returned to me, and my majesty and splendor returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and my nobles sought me out, I was reestablished over my kingdom, and even more greatness came to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.

Daniel 4:1-3, 34-37

We as Americans have had it relatively easy and we don’t often think of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries were persecution is severe and frequent. Yet the gospel continues to spread in North Korea, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, the middle east, etc. Persecution will not stop God from accomplishing His will. We need to examine our hearts and see if we have put our American freedoms and American way of life as equal or maybe even higher than our devotion to the Living God. Christians are not guaranteed a life of ease…in fact we are told by Paul that we will face persecution and suffering.

Application of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

I believe that I’ve laid out a solid, biblically sound argument that 1 Corinthians 5:9 actually says it is okay for Christians to keep company with and/or mingle with Muslims or any unbeliever. Here are some application points I want to summarize:

  • Christians can have friendships with unbelievers, in fact it is unavoidable as long as we are alive. We definitely should desire to and actively share the gospel with our unbelieving friends and aquaintances. From my understanding of this text I don’t believe that we necessarily have to preach the gospel every time we get together with them. If we have preached the gospel at least once, the Holy Spirit will do His work and draw those who are chosen to the Father.
  • Christians should not have friendships or even eat with someone who claims to be a brother or sister yet is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a swindler, and etc. I believe this is talking about Christians that engage in an unrepentant continuation of sinfulness. We know from 1 John that Christians will struggle with sin until we die and that if we say we don’t sin we are liars. So this passage can’t mean that we should never associate with a Christian that struggles with sin. However, we should not continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin. This is a sign that you are not truly converted. These are false converts and Paul warns us and commands to not even eat with people like this. Probably so that we do not get led astray ourselves.
  • An interfaith dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim does not violate this passage. As long as it is not an ecumenical occasion but a discussion of differences and similarities, I believe it is permitted. Again, this is based on the goal of diffusing the current tension that exists between American Christianity and Muslims. This is not a compromise or an attempt to downplay the gospel. If Muslims think Christians hate them and fear them will they even listen to a Christian share the gospel with them? Definitely not if the gospel they hear is that they will go to Hell if they don’t repent and especially if that gospel is given in a fearful or angry manner. We are to speak the truth in love. American Christians need to be better at speaking in love to Muslims but at the same time not downplay the truth of God.

The Second Greeky Section:

We’ve used our hermeneutical skills and looked at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9. We can finally get into 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. We need to interpret and understand what this passage means. The CSB translation uses “partner” and “partnership” in 2 Cor 6:14 and my first thought was to find out what words  were used in the originl Greek. This is the word that was translated into “partnership”:

metoché: sharing

Original Word: μετοχή, ῆς, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: metoché
Phonetic Spelling: (met-okh-ay’)
Short Definition: sharing, partnership, fellowship
Definition: sharing, partnership, fellowship.

HELPS Word-studies

Cognate: 3352 metoxḗ – a close relation between partners, i.e. people sharing something held in common (used only in 2 Cor 6:14); joint-activity.See 3353 (metoxos).sharer, partner
Definition: a sharer, partner, companion.

Metoché refers to a close relation between partners. The Greek word that is translated into partner is:

metochos: sharing in

Original Word: μέτοχος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Adjective
Transliteration: metochos
Phonetic Spelling: (met’-okh-os)
Short Definition: a sharer, partner
Definition: a sharer, partner, associate.

HELPS Word-studies

3353 métoxos (from 3348 /metéxō, “share in,” derived from 3326 /metá, “with change afterward” and 2192 /éxō, “have”) – properly, change due to sharing, i.e. from being an “active partaker with.”

I think it is interesting that metochos was only used 6 times (once in Luke and 5 times in Hebrews) and that metoché was used just once, here in 2 Cor 6:14. These words seem to imply something stronger than a mere friendship or fellowship. These are active partakers or partners. After finding this out, I wondered how this related to the 1 Cor 5:9 passage. I decided to see if there are any other Greek words that could be translated to our English word “partner”. There is another word that could be translated into partner/fellowship in English:

koinónos: a sharer

Original Word: κοινωνός, οῦ, ὁ, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: koinónos
Phonetic Spelling: (koy-no-nos’)
Short Definition: a Cognate: 2844 koinōnós (a masculine noun/substantival adjective) – properly, a participant who mutually belongs and shares fellowship; a “joint-participant.” See 2842 (koinōnia).

[2842 /koinōnía (a feminine noun) stresses the relational aspect of the fellowship. 2844 /koinōnós (a masculine noun) more directly focuses on the participant himself (herself).

2844 (koinōnos) is also used as a substantival adjective, as with the classical Greek authors, see J. Thayer.]

Koinónos is used 10 times in the New Testament. As you can read above, this word refers to a relationship between a participant who mutually belongs to and shares fellowship with someone else. Are you thinking what I’m thinking right now? If Paul wanted to say that Christians should not have fellowship, relationships, or friendships with unbelievers (that includes Muslims) I think he would have used koinónos in 2 Cor 6:14. So what the heck does this verse mean? Well, I will now address what I believe is the key to understanding this passage.

Hetero-What?:

The CSB translation uses “partner” in verse 14 and I wanted to find out what word was used in the original language. Here is the info on this word:

heterozugeó: to be yoked up differently, i.e. to be unequally yoked

Original Word: ἑτεροζυγέω
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: heterozugeó
Phonetic Spelling: (het-er-od-zoog-eh’-o)
Short Definition: I am yoked with one different from myself
Definition: I am yoked with one different from myself, unequally yoked.

HELPS Word-studies

2086 heterozygéō (from 2087 /héteros, “another of a different kind” and 2218 /zygós, “a yoke, joining two to a single plow”) – properly, different kindsof people joined together but unevenly matched; hence “unequally yoked” (not aptly joined).

2086 /heterozygéō (“mis-matched”) is used figuratively of Christians wrongly committed to a partner holding very different values (priorities), i.e. that run contrary to faith (the kingdom of God).

Reflection: Scripture uses symbols to teach about the importance of keeping spiritually pure

The picture we get from this is a metaphor that Paul’s readers would certainly be familiar with. Two oxen that are yoked together are both pushing the plow. They are both working towards completing a task. Being yoked to someone implies a very intimate relationship. If you have two unequally yoked oxen pulling a plow nothing will be accomplished. Picture a big ox and a small ox yoked together pulling a plow. The bigger ox will last longer and the small ox will tire out quicker. This word heterozugeó coupled with metoché paints a picture of a person who is actively participating or working alongside a nonbeliever. This could be applied to a self-proclaimed “Christian” going to a mosque to worship God. This would refer to ecumenical initiatives like Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan. This would refer to Christians embracing or working alongside Unitarianism and postmodernism. This passage is directly referring to marrying nonbelievers and also applies to starting businesses with nonbelievers. A Christian should not marry a non-Christian. This is not talking about situations where both spouses are unsaved and one of them comes to faith while the other remains unsaved. This is talking about a single Christian that chooses to marry an unbeliever.

Here is the crux of the interpretation of this text and the concept of being unequally yoked. Picture a dead ox yoked to a live ox. We who are Christians were once dead in our sins and trespasses and we have been made alive through Christ. If we willingly marry an unbeliever or enter a business relationship with an unbeliever we are essentially yoking ourselves to someone that is still dead in their trespasses and sins. We can still push the plow but we have to put extra effort into it and we also have to carry the extra weight of the “dead” ox. Now picture two healthy live oxen pushing the plow. They were both dead but through Christ they have been redeemed. They are equally yoked. They press on together to accomplish the same task. Throughout their marriage they continually press towards the same goal: unity in Christ. Sure there are trying seasons and difficulties but they are bonded together by their shared redemption in Christ. A Christian married to an unbeliever does not have that bond. An important lesson to learn from this is that if you are single and a Christian and you desire to get married: pray about it, make sure you know what this person is really like and what their Christian faith looks like now. Don’t rush to get married…sometimes people only find out what their spouse is like after they get married and then it is too late.

Conclusion:

In summation, I do not believe that the IFD between Dr. James White and Dr. Yasir Qashi violated 2 Corinthians 6:14. I believe that we should form friendships and relationships with Muslims or any other unbeliever. We should share the gospel with them but there is nothing wrong with having friendships with unbelievers. I would also say you need to be careful if you aren’t very mature in Christ. You could easily be led astray by your unbelieving friends. This is why I stress the importance of Biblical hermeneutics and sound doctrine.

I know far too many who were raised in the church and were taught surface level Christianity that have no interest in God today. If you have been taught that you can choose God or that you can convince someone to become a Christian by not using the Bible and instead they can be convinced by using other forms of evidence I encourage you to seriously consider the implications. If you “accepted” Christ you can still reject Christ in your lifetime. If you can reason someone into the faith apart from using God’s Word they can also be reasoned out of the faith. The church has done a good job of being loving but we have largely abandoned sound doctrine. May we test all claims against the truth of God’s Word.