For an in-depth Biblical explanation as to how Steven Furtick narcissistically twists the scriptures and misreads God's Word, watch the resources posted below.
For an in-depth Biblical explanation as to how Steven Furtick narcissistically twists the scriptures and misreads God's Word, watch the resources posted below.
There is an epidemic of Narcissistic Eisegesis a.k.a. Narcigesis, infecting the churches in America today. Pastors and Bible teachers have mastered the art of allegorizing all of the characters and details of every Bible story in order to make the stories about YOU. Therefore, I've decided to give a little 'how to' advice regarding this Bible twisting technique in the hopes that by doing so you'll see the obvious problems with this way of approaching the Biblical texts. So here we go.
How to Narcigete Any Bible Story In 4 Easy Steps
Primary Assumption: Every Bible story is about YOU. And, since YOU struggle with setbacks, problems and challenges that keep YOU from achieving YOUR maximal greatness that means that the Bible is really all about giving YOU a road map that YOU can follow to achieve YOUR dreams and god-given destiny.
Read a Bible Story.
Identify the hero and the villain(s) in the story.
Identify yourself with the hero (who also happens to be on a journey toward greatness and achieving his god-given destiny, just like you).
Identify your current problems, challenges and setbacks with the villain(s) in the story.
Identify the key action taken by the hero to defeat the villain. Allegorize that action by calling it a 'principle' and then challenge people to 'apply this principle' in their lives in order to defeat the problems, challenges and setbacks in their lives so that they can achieve greatness.
We'll begin with the story of the parting of the Red Sea from Exodus 14:5–31.
Step 1 - Read the Story
“When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
“The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.””
“Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.”
Step 2 - Identify the hero and the villain(s) in the story.
Villain: Pharaoh's Army
Step 3 - Identify yourself with the hero and your current problems, challenges and setbacks with the villain(s) in the story.
Hero: Moses = YOU
Villain: Pharaoh's Army = debt, negative people in your life, a boring job, marital challenges, etc.
Step 4 - Identify the key action taken by the hero to defeat the villain. Allegorize that action by calling it a 'principle' and then challenge people to 'apply this principle' in their lives in order to defeat the problems, challenges and setbacks in their lives so that they can achieve greatness.
Key action: Moses lifted his staff and parted the water.
Therefore, in order to defeat the forces of evil that are keeping you from achieving your god-given greatness and destiny, YOU need to apply the principle of "Staff Raising" and lift your staff and command the waters to part so that you can enter your promised land.
Obvious Problem: Telling people to lift their staff and part the waters in their lives doesn't make any sense. How does one go about doing such a thing? I don't even own a staff. Do I need to go out and buy one? Do I need to practice this principle at a local pond or lake?
Although this advice sounds Biblical because it uses Biblical imagery and words, there is no real way to apply the "principle". In the end the advice offered is empty and useless.
Example 2 is from the story of Gideon's defeat of the Midianites found in Judges 7:1–25
Step 1 - Read the story
“Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”
As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.” And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”
So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.
Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.”
Step 2 - Identify the hero and the villain(s) in the story.
Step 3 - Identify yourself with the hero and your current problems, challenges and setbacks with the villain(s) in the story.
Hero: Gideon = YOU
Villain(s): Midianites = debt, negative people in your life, a boring job, marital challenges, etc.
Step 4 - Identify the key action taken by the hero to defeat the villain. Allegorize that action by calling it a 'principle' and then challenge people to 'apply this principle' in their lives in order to defeat the problems, challenges and setbacks in their lives so that they can achieve greatness.
Key action: Gideon reduced the size of his army from 32,000 to 300 and then launched a surprise attack.
Therefore, in order to defeat the forces of evil that are keeping you from achieving your god-given greatness and destiny, you need to apply the principle of "Army Reduction" by reducing the size of your army and then launching a surprise attack against your Midianites.
Obvious Problem: How is it possible that both of these stories are about me and my day to day challenges? Furthermore, what kind of advice is it to tell me that in order to defeat the "Midianites" in my life that I need to reduce the size of my army and launch a surprise attack? What army are you talking about? I don't even have an army and I don't know anyone who is a Midianite! How on earth can this be the principle that God wants me to apply, it doesn't make any sense?
Although this advice sounds Biblical because it uses Biblical imagery and words, there is no real way to apply the "principle". In the end the advice offered is empty and useless.
Not So Obvious Problem: When you make these stories about YOU and a "principle" that you need to discover and apply have you noticed that God nearly disappears from the story?
I won't reproduce anymore Bible stories here. But, quickly think about the details of several other stories in the Bible and how they'd be 'preached' using Narcigesis, i.e. Fall of Jericho, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lions Den, and Jonah and the Big Fish. Do you really think that all of these stories are about you and the principles that you need to apply in order to achieve your god-given dream destiny? What if they're not about you at all? What if these stories are ultimately about Jesus? Isn't that who Jesus said the scriptures were about?
[Jesus said] “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–41)
The Ultimate Example of Narcigesis
The sermon that is posted below for your 'listening pleasure' is an example of Narcigeting the Biblical story about the birth of Jesus Christ. In this re-imagining of the Christmas story, Troy Gramling, makes the Christmas story ALL ABOUT YOU and by doing so, misses the entire point of the story. He doesn't just take Christ out of Christmas, he replaces Christ with YOU.
I hope that after reading this post and listening to that "Christmas" sermon, that you'll be inoculated against those false teachers who twist God's word using Narcigesis.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5)
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
INDIANAPOLIS - A newly released Pira Survey of the Biblical texts reveals the real reasons why the unchurched do not attend church and the results are sending shockwaves through the seeker-driven and missional camps.
Chris Rosebrough, lead researcher for Pira, the organization responsible for this Biblical survey said, "For decades the conventional wisdom in the broader church growth and missional movements has told us that the reason why unchurched people don't attend church is because they think church is boring and irrelevant. Although true, the conventional wisdom has not been able to satisfactorily explain why unchurched people feel that way. Our survey, of the Biblical texts, strove to dig down and uncover the real reasons why our pagan non-Christian friends and neighbors feel that way about church. What we discovered was shocking and its implications regarding the newly adopted church methodologies in seeker-driven churches will challenge the core assumptions of the entire church growth industry!"
The Pira Survey reveals that non-Christians, contrary to the assumptions of church growth consultants, are not basically good people who would love to attend church and worship God if only their pop-culture tastes and preferences were employed in church. Instead, the survey reveals that the unchurched abhor and hate God, they're born dead in trespasses and sins, they do not seek God, they love the darkness and sin and hate the light, and their continual intentions and thoughts are only evil. Please consult the chart below. Click on the Chart to Enlarge it.
Said Rosebrough, "The results of this Biblical survey make it undeniably clear that the only way you could make church 'relevant' to a non-Christian would be to give them what they want i.e. sin, idolatry, false doctrine, fleshly delights, and worldly entertainment. But when you bring those things into the church then your church ceases to be a church and just becomes a popular entertainment venue with a thin Christian-ish veneer. And, since unbelievers hate God, they'll leave as soon as you try to confront them with their sins or try to make Jesus and Him crucified the true center of the church service. The reason for this is that the unchurched don't want to have anything to do with the One True God. They hate Him and the cross is foolishness to them! I guess that's why regeneration is so important. Because if you haven't been born again then there is no way you're going to think that church is relevant."
The raw data for this survey is reproduced below.
Genesis 2:15–17 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””
Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
Romans 5:19 “for as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners
Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Genesis 8:21 “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”
Psalms 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
John 3:19 “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
Ephesians 2:1–3 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”
Psalms 14:2–3 “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God...They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10–18 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.””
Isaiah 59:2 “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
Exodus 33:20 “But,” he [the LORD] said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.””
John 1:10 “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Matthew 15:18–19 [Jesus said] “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
Ephesians 4:18 “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
Matthew 7:11 [Jesus said] “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
John 8:44 [Jesus said] “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh”
Colossians 1:21 “And you, who once were alienated [from God] and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
Ephesians 2:12 “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”
Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
Let us remember that as Christians we are citizens of two countries. I pray this hymn helps you hold on to this very real fact.
There Is Another Country
Performance by the Pirate Christian Pipes
There is another country
I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her,
Most great to them that know.
We may not count her armies,
We soon will see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart;
Her pride is suffering,
And soul by soul and silently
Her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness,
And all her paths are peace.
O sweet and blessed country,
The home of God's elect!
O sweet and blessed country,
That faithful hearts expect!
There Christ is ever with them,
the daylight is serene,
The city of the blessed
Shines forth in glorious sheen.
They sing to Christ their captain
Who conquered in the fight,
Who won for them forever
Their gleaming robes of white.
Within those walls of Zion
Sounds forth the joyful song,
As saints join with the angels
And all the martyr throng.
Around the throne of David
The saints from care released,
Raise loud their songs of triumph
To celebrate the fest.
In mercy, Jesus, bring us
To that eternal rest,
Who are with God the Father
And Spirit ever blessed.
With the U.S. Presidential elections about to take place and there being so much confusion regarding whether or not a Christian can vote for a Mormon, this explanation of the Biblical Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms may prove helpful for many Christians as they head to the polls.
When Pilate asked Jesus whether he was the king of the Jews, he replied by saying, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:33,36). This statement has been the starting point of a long series of attempts to define the relation between Christians and the world, and indeed the church and the world. Do Christians have a right to self defence or civil disobedience? Can they sue their neighbours? Can they serve in the army when God commands us not to kill and Christ commands us to love the enemy? Can Christians take an oath in a court of law when Christ forbids all swearing? Is it ever legitimate for Christians to take part in a plan to overthrow the government? Should our church speak out publicly on social issues? Should our church ever align itself with a particular political party or position (eg on matters like a treaty with the indigenous people of this land, aboriginal reconciliation, the republic debate, gambling, the legalisation of prostitution etc)? It is not our intention to directly answer any of these questions for some of them have no simple answer. But there are guiding principles to help us and our church think through these issues and to come to a decision.
One of these guiding principles is Luther’s distinction between the two kingdoms (or the two reigns) of God: the earthly or left-hand kingdom and the heavenly or right- hand kingdom. It basically aims to do three things:
• to help Christians live as God’s people in a fallen and sinful world. It says that you do not need to renounce the world and live in a monastery in order to be holy, for the world is God’s world and it is good, in spite of human sin, because God created it good.
• to make it clear that although God is love and rules his church by love and for- giveness, he cannot rule the unbelieving world by love but needs the force of the law to prevent wicked people from destroying the world and its order, and hurting others.
• to guide the church in its relations with the world, especially government, so that it understands its mission in the world to preach the gospel and to pray for all people in authority, as well as its responsibility to speak out against government whenever necessary. The two kingdoms doctrine does not call for a separation of church and state but for a proper distinction between them.
In a nutshell the doctrine of the two kingdoms and two reigns of God teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules the world in two ways. He rules all people, Christians and non-Christians, in his earthly kingdom through the agency of secular government, hence through the law (ie by means of the sword or force). Conversely, he rules all Christians in his spiritual kingdom (and hence the church) with his right hand through the gospel (ie by the means of grace). This will be explained in more detail later.
Lutherans have been criticised for holding this teaching because many people, both inside and outside the church, believe that the doctrine of God’s two kingdoms/reigns makes the Lutheran church socially and politically inactive. However, it is our belief (and here we follow Luther) that the two kingdoms doctrine, properly understood, does not discourage the church or its members from active involvement in the world, but rather clarifies their distinctive role and frees them for effective service in the secular realm (the left-hand kingdom).
The distinction between the two kingdoms is really only a corollary of the proper distinction between law and gospel. Both are distinctively Lutheran and foundational for Christian ethics.
Key biblical texts
What is the biblical basis of the claim that God rules the earthly kingdom through the agency of secular government? According to the New Testament, all lawful authority has been established by God. Jesus himself teaches this when he says to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who condemned him to death: ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above’ (John 19:11). Government has been given the right to use the power of the sword to coerce obedience and punish evil (Gen 9:6 ; Exod 21:14).
The two classical texts that deal with the God-given authority of the state are Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13,14. Earthly authority goes beyond the state to include parents (Eph 6:1-4) as well as others in positions of responsibility (eg pastors and teachers). When Luther explains the fourth commandment in his Large Catechism he says that the primary locus of authority resides with parents, and that all other human authority derives from that. From that point of view, the authority of the state has its source in the authority vested in parents. When Paul then in Romans 13:1 says: ‘There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God’, he is stating that secular government has been established by God. Luther simply points out that God establishes it in the fourth commandment.
If all lawful authority has been established by God and has his approval, what of unlawful authority? Here we must remember that the New Testament also knows of the demonisation of the state as powerfully portrayed by the beast in Revelation 13, which presents a situation that is the exact opposite of Romans 13. The unlawful authority of the demonic state is most evident in the absolute claims made on body and soul by the satanic forces behind totalitarian regimes. Here the church must refuse obedience, in line with Peter’s principle in Acts 5:29, even if that means martyrdom, for obedience here would amount to idolatry. Martyrs and confessors of the church in all ages have never forgotten the words of Psalm 119:46: ‘I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame’.
Obedience to all forms of human government is never absolute but always limited and conditional. If it means disobedience to God, our allegiance to God must come first (Acts 5:29). When Jesus commands us to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, the implication is that God has the right to claim us in our totality because we bear his image (Matt 22:21-22).
Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:33,36). Although we live in the world, our true commonwealth is in heaven (Phil 3:19). Since we are in the world but not of the world, we must not let the world squeeze us into its mould (Rom 12:2). Peter can say that we are aliens and exiles (1 Peter 2:11) because we are on a journey to our heavenly homeland (Heb 11:13-16). Although on earth we are subject to the laws of the land, we are called to freely follow the example of Jesus who did not seek revenge, but willingly suffered injustice and oppression (1 Peter 2:18-25). So in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to forgo our rights, to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile (Matt 5:10,11; 38-43).
The final text we need to consider takes up what is called John the Baptist’s social teaching. The prophet John answered several questions that people asked him in relation to their vocation. To the tax collectors John said: Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. Soldiers also asked him what they should do. He replied: Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages (Luke 3:10-14). The significance of this text is that nowhere does John say that the people of God cannot engage in ordinary secular jobs. In fact it is significant that it is precisely tax collectors and soldiers who are singled out for special mention, since these people were involved in two of the most questionable occupations at the time of Jesus. The only qualification that John makes, and that the church has always made, is that the work we do must be honest and lawful. On the strength of John’s social teaching and the New Testament generally, we cannot agree with the Anabaptists of Luther’s day and other such sects today who claim that Christians cannot serve as soldiers and cannot be involved in certain other secular activities. Scripture teaches that we serve God by serving our neighbour in our vocation and places of responsibility in the world.
Luther’s distinction between the two kingdoms and two reigns of God helps Christians to understand how they can live by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and at the same time be responsible citizens in this world until he comes again. For when he returns there will be no longer two kingdoms but only the one kingdom—the kingdom of glory and grace, which for now is hidden in Christ and known only to faith.
Luther and the Confessions
Strictly speaking, neither the term ‘two kingdoms’ nor ‘two reigns’ is used in the Lutheran Confessions, yet both terms have become deeply embedded in Lutheran theology. Therefore we will use them both. The theology lying behind the terms however is thoroughly confessional. Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession states that ‘all government and all established rule and laws were instituted by God for the sake of good order, and that Christians may without sin occupy civil offices and engage in all manner of civil affairs’ (such as serving as soldiers, buying and selling, taking oaths where required, owning property, getting married etc). The article also states that ‘the gospel does not overthrow civil authority, the state, and marriage but requires that all these be kept as true divine orders’ (sometimes called orders of creation), unless to do so would mean disobeying God (Acts 5:29).
Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession makes it clear that ecclesiastical and civil power are not to be confused. Each has its own mandate. The church has its commission to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. It should not interfere with civil government or try to tell civil rulers how they should govern. For Christ says that his kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18:33,36), and when asked to settle a legal dispute he replied: ‘Who made me judge or an arbiter between you?’ (Luke 12:14). On the other hand, in a participatory democracy like ours, both Christians and the church have the right and duty to express their opinion.
It is important to realise that the problem facing the church at the time of the Reform- ation is the opposite to that of our own day. The culture of the Middle Ages was Christian and church and state were mixed up together with no clear distinction between them so that bishops spent more time administering civil affairs than looking after the church, and conversely the state often put pressure on the churches to forgo their doctrinal differences in the interests of political stability. Indeed, the whole Reformation cannot be properly understood if it is divorced from its political context.
In our day the problem is different. Under the influence of Enlightenment rationalism, the church in the western world (and certainly the Lutheran church) has lost its credibility as a public institution and like religion generally has simply been relegated to the private inner world of individual experience.
The idea of the two kingdoms originally comes from St Augustine, one of the great theologians of the western church. He developed the idea in order to defend the church against the criticism that it was to blame for the fall of the Roman empire because it refused to participate in the state religion. He said that there are two cities or two kingdoms: the kingdom of God (the heavenly city) and the kingdom of Satan (the earthly city). Christians belong to the kingdom of God and unbelievers to the kingdom of Satan. These two will continue to be locked in conflict until the end of the world when the kingdom of God will prevail and the kingdom of Satan will be destroyed.
Luther initially accepted this dualism but later rejected the idea that the world is to be identified with the kingdom of Satan. He rightly insisted that the world is God’s world and that Satan is at work in both the earthly kingdom (to destroy law and order) as well as in the heavenly kingdom (to stop people believing in Christ and the gospel). God uses the resources of his two kingdoms and two reigns to bring about his defeat.
Let us repeat, in the two kingdoms doctrine, the two kingdoms are not the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, but the heavenly realm and the earthly realm. It is wrong to identify God with the former and Satan with the later. The fact is that God and Satan are both at work in both kingdoms. Once Luther recognised this, he began to gradually reconceive the whole idea of the two kingdoms, putting it on a sound scriptural basis, as he wrestled with various social and political problems of the day.
God rules in two ways
While all creation belongs to God, he rules the world using two different forms of government: the secular and the spiritual. God’s secular government (reign) is related to the left-hand kingdom or earthly realm. This embraces all people who live in God’s world, whether they believe in him or not. God’s spiritual government (reign), on the other hand, is related to his right-hand kingdom or heavenly realm. This comprises all those who believe in Christ and live under his lordship.
God rules the left-hand realm through earthly government. The way God rules in this realm is through law (both natural law and positive law) and reason. Earthly govern- ment here is wider than the three arms of government in western democracy. It includes those structures of society that are essential for its preservation and good order, such as marriage and family, work and property, trade, commerce and economics. In other words, God rules the world through social and political institutions.
God rules the right-hand realm through the means of grace. Here he uses his word rather than reason, gospel rather than law, mercy rather than coercion. The highest authority—indeed the only authority—in this realm is the word of God, not the edict of kings, the decrees of parliaments, or the judgments of courts.
Different hands for different work
The two different hands or ways God uses to rule the world correspond to the distinction between law and gospel. He uses the law, as we have seen, in his left- hand to maintain order and peace in society, to protect life and property, to curb gross sin and evil, to punish wrongdoing and promote the good.
On the other hand, God uses the gospel in his right-hand to nurture those who believe in Christ. It is through the gospel that he forgives sins, comforts troubled consciences, and builds his people up in love for good works. He does this through baptism, the preached word, absolution, and the Lord’s supper.
We should note that the law also plays a role in the right-hand kingdom, but here the law has only penultimate authority and is used in the service of the gospel. The law is proclaimed to Christians to expose their sin and to make them despair of any attempt to become or remain right with God on the basis of our own efforts. Here God uses the law to lead people to seek mercy and forgiveness in Christ. This is called the theological use of the law and is held to be the main use of the law in Lutheran theology. The law also has a didactic role to play (the so-called third use of the law) where it teaches Christians the good works that God wants them to do for the neighbour.
One of the reasons why Luther developed the doctrine of the two kingdoms is because he had to combat the false belief in the Roman church that both swords (temporal and spiritual) belonged to Peter, and hence to the pope. Luther held that each of God’s hands has its own work and that one hand must not interfere with the other. To put it simply, bishops and pastors should attend to running the church and exercising their authority in spiritual things. They should not be trying to run the country or using their office to gain personal benefit or special privileges denied to others. On the other hand, rulers and politicians should stick to running the country and not meddle in ecclesiastical matters.
The unity of the two reigns
The important thing to note is that God has two hands and that he is the ruler of both realms. What differs is the way he rules. He has not abandoned his world to evil. He can even use an unjust government to serve his purposes by maintaining law and order.
The same God stands behind both the secular and spiritual government and is present in them. If this is not understood we end up with the dualistic idea that God only rules over the church and abandons the world to operate according to its own independent and autonomous principles. This misunderstanding, common in the nineteenth century, gave rise to trenchant criticism of Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms. But the criticism was misplaced. Luther was never guilty of dualism. He never held that the political and economic spheres (we could also include the scientific and technological spheres) are autonomous and independent. Rather, he taught that all spheres of human endeavour and the people who work in them are subject to the sovereign authority of God.
However, when the state intervenes in the affairs of the church and tries to change its doctrine and practice for political ends, the outcome is calamitous. Here we only have to think of the great distress caused by king Frederick Wilhelm III who attempted to force the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia, in the early part of the nineteenth century, in the interests of greater political stability. This was the event that caused the first Lutherans to emigrate to Australia under the leadership of Pastor Kavel. Perhaps this profoundly negative experience of government is a significant reason why Lutherans in this country have been tended to be suspicious of government and politically disengaged. This attitude was reinforced by the unjust persecution of some Lutherans by the authorities during the second world war.
Different but mutually dependent
We said earlier that the two reigns of God are different. He rules through the secular government with the sword to restrain evil and coerce obedience. But in the church God rules without force through his word (especially the gospel) to forgive the sins of all who repent and believe. God’s spiritual reign in Christ is not the same as his earthly reign in the world. God rules over all people as creator and preserver, but Christians also live under his spiritual reign. Because God reigns over the earthly realm through the law, Christians in secular government should not seek to legislate according to the teachings of Christ (for only Christians acknowledge Christ’s authority) but according to natural law, common law, reason, learned opinion and the collective wisdom of the ages. Luther reminds us that Moses and the OT also offer much wisdom on the topic of government that could be profitably read by rulers. The Ten Commandments (Exod 20 and Deut 5) are consistent with natural law since they are written on the hearts of all people (Romans 2).
The two reigns of God are also mutually dependent and serve each other. This has implications for the relation between church and state. The church needs Caesar to ensure it is able to worship God and preach the gospel freely and without interference. Likewise, the secular government needs the prayers and intercessions of the church (whether it realises it or not) to do its job properly. In fact the church is commanded to pray for all people in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2).
Christians lead double lives—but hopefully not in the hypocritical sense! They are citizens of two kingdoms, but they do not have two masters. God alone has absolute claim on us (Matt 6:24), and when the state becomes tyrannical (as it does when it adopts a totalitarian ideology), it exceeds its God-given bounds. Then we are freed from our obligation to obey it for it is no longer a state under God but has usurped divine authority and is answerable to no-one but itself (Acts 5:29). In such a case, to submit to the authority of the state is a greater sin than to resist. Where to draw the line will sometimes be hard to determine. We need to remember that when Paul calls Christians to honour the emperor as supreme (1 Peter 2:13) and to pray for all who are in positions of power (1 Tim 2:1,2), he was well aware that many of these rulers were not kindly disposed to the church. A quick reading of the Acts of the Apostles will confirm this.
The tension between love and justice
There will always be some tensions and ambiguities in the interaction between God’s two kingdoms. When does a Christian act according to the Sermon on the Mount (suffer injustice, turn the other cheek), and when does a Christian resort to secular power (the civil justice system) to redress injustice and injury?
One way of approaching this dilemma that Luther came up with is to make a distinction between person and office. In their private life Christians generally follow the example of Christ by suffering injustice and forgiving those who wrong them, but if they hold a public office then in their vocation they must act according to the duties of that office. A judge who is a Christian (to take a simple example) will have to sentence a convicted criminal, even if he/she feels compassionate towards that person—although one would hope that any judge will always temper justice with mercy. But in private life, if that same judge is wronged or suffers an injustice, especially if it is because he/she is a Christian, they will not seek revenge but will be willing to forgive for Christ’s sake. To take another example, Christians who serve in the armed forces can be reassured that if they have to kill the enemy in battle, they are not breaking the fifth commandment (‘You shall not kill’) for God has authorised governments to defend their citizens against an aggressor by means of force (Luke 3:14). However, in civilian life, when they are not acting with the authority of their office, this commandment also applies to soldiers just as it does to everyone else.
We need to make it quite clear that Luther’s distinction between person and office in no way countenances or supports a double standard of morality: one for private life and the other for public life. Christians are always called to act with integrity and should never do anything that they would be ashamed of doing before God. What Luther’s distinction does is to provide a framework for understanding why Christians in certain situations (ie when acting in an ‘official’ capacity) are called to act contrary to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luther’s distinction between person and office is not the end of the story. While I may decide not to seek legal redress or compensation for myself as the victim of a wrong- doing, the injustice or crime that I suffered may have consequences for my neighbour (which includes spouse and children), and indeed for the wider community. In this case I may be compelled out of love for the common good, not out of spiteful vindictiveness, to seek to bring the perpetrator to justice. This at least is Luther’s position. He always puts concern for other people ahead of concern for oneself.
What is the task of the church?
The task of the church is to preach the gospel and make disciples through baptism and catechesis, to absolve the penitent of their sins and teach the way of salvation, to pray for all people, especially for those in government and positions of authority (1 Tim 2:1–3), to minister with the means of grace, and to discipline wayward sinners. The gospel is the true treasure of the church and the church alone has the mandate to preach it.
The task of the church is always spiritual although this may have political implications. It is not called to develop and implement policies for a more just and equitable society, to feed the hungry or take care of the poor, although Christians individually will do all they can to alleviate suffering and hardship wherever it occurs. Again, the church has no mandate to broker deals between the government and indigenous Australians, or to form a political party or put up candidates for office— although Christians individually can belong to a party and stand for office.
Yet the church is passionately concerned about policies in all areas of public life and should be actively involved in advising governments in all issues of social importance. It also has every right to speak out on any issue whenever it believes that the rights of the poor and the marginalised are being neglected or that the government is corrupt and guilty of gross injustice. This is part of the church’s spiritual mandate, its mission, and if it neglects this wider public duty to be the conscience of the nation, it will only have itself to blame if the world relegates it to the private realm and ignores its message as irrelevant to everyday life.
The church’s task is to proclaim the gospel. Yet, at the same time, it must exercise a watching brief. It must uphold the rights of the poor, and speak out against injustice, oppression, racism, and abuse of power wherever it occurs. It must see to it that the sanctity of all human life is respected, from the unborn through to the aged, including the sick and the disabled. The church is called to be a leaven in society, the salt of the earth, a city set on a hill (Matt 5:13–16). It is to be the conscience of society and must raise its prophetic voice wherever there is injustice, oppression, and corruption on the part of those in positions of responsibility. It must hold governments and institutions accountable to the public, and ultimately to God.
Separation of church and state: yes or no?
One common misunderstanding that must be resisted today is the belief that the separation of church and state is demanded by Luther’s doctrine of God’s two kingdoms and two reigns. It would be more correct to say that church and state must be clearly distinguished but not separated. It is true that church and state each has its own area of competence and responsibility. The truth of the argument for separation is this: The secular government must not interfere with the proclamation of the gospel, and conversely the church must not use the agency of the state to try to promote the gospel or Christianise society.
The argument for the separation of church and state has been often used to justify the church’s non-involvement in the political and economic affairs of the country. The church, it is argued, simply belongs to the private religious realm and should not interfere in the affairs of state. However, we have seen that the church’s mandate has a social and political dimension. The church must exercise its prophetic role or risk being ignored completely. This of course is even more difficult today in our pluralist world where the voice of the Christian churches must compete with the voices of other world religions and numerous ideologies.
Sometimes Luther’s doctrine of God’s two kingdoms and two reigns is confused with the New Testament teaching about the two ages (aeons), the old and the new. There the new age, which was inaugurated by Christ, is God’s hidden rule in the hearts of believers through faith, while the old age refers to the rule of sin and Satan. While believers already now share in Christ’s victory over the old age, they also remain trapped in the great battle between the old and the new that rages within them, between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Christ (ie the kingdom of God inaugurated by Christ). This battle will not cease this side of the grave because Christians themselves, although new creatures, are constantly struggling against the old self-centred nature. Only when Christ returns and banishes sin and Satan forever will the old age disappear and the new age emerge for all to see. Until then the new remains hidden under the old and is perceived only with the eyes of faith.
It is a common misunderstanding to identify the old age with the secular realm (left- hand kingdom) and the new age with the spiritual realm (the right-hand kingdom). This is the same as identifying the kingdom of Satan with the world and the kingdom of God with the church. However, the kingdom of God in the realm of redemption is God’s rule in the hearts of his people. But this rule is always contested by Satan who sets up a counter-kingdom to try to draw believers back under his power. This battle rages in all Christians and therefore cuts across the kingdom on the right as well as the kingdom on the left. While it is true that the unbelievers live only in the old age just as they live only in the secular kingdom, Christians live in both ages and also in both kingdoms. For the daily battle against sin and Satan confronts them not only in the spiritual realm but also in the secular realm.
In the two kingdoms doctrine, God’s earthly reign refers to his sovereign rule over the whole creation, and God’s spiritual reign refers to his gracious rule in the hearts of believers through Christ. God’s spiritual reign has to do with Christ’s reign in the realm of redemption. The distinction between the two kingdoms therefore comes down to a distinction between the way God rules over creation, and the way he rules over the realm of redemption in the church. It corresponds to the distinction between creation and redemption. However, we should not equate God’s kingdom/reign on the left with ‘care’ and that on the right with ‘redemption’, for God’s care is not only for the world but also for the church, just as redemption is not restricted to the spiritual realm but includes creation.
In the nineteenth century we find two common misunderstandings of Luther’s doctrine of God’s two kingdoms and two reigns. They are significant because they influenced the way Luther’s doctrine was understood in the twentieth century.
• After the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, Lutherans re-evaluated Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine. A Christian’s public life was seen to be quite separate from his or her private life. Under the influence of Kant, Luther’s teaching was reduced to an ethical dualism. Religion was relegated to the private inner world of individual experience. The church no longer had a public role to play as it did at the time of the Reformation. That largely has been the situation that has prevailed up to the present.
• The nineteenth century, in contrast to Luther, taught the autonomy and independ- ence of all areas of secular life. The political, economic, and scientific areas were each thought to be governed by its own inalienable law that was established by God. They were no longer subject to any external moral norms. This is going far beyond what Luther ever intended. It is true that he wanted to create space for the state to exist independently of the church in all its secularity. However, Luther never tired of emphasising that God was Lord of both kingdoms and that there was nothing in the left-hand kingdom that was not subject to his moral law.
There are two main objections to the doctrine of the two kingdoms.
Objection 1: The lordship of Christ
The first objection is that the doctrine limits the claim of Jesus Christ to be lord of all areas of life within the world. How do we respond to that? To begin with, Lutheran theology does distinguish between the spiritual and the secular (and hence between the sacred and the profane) because it distinguishes between law and gospel. It is true that Luther too, in a certain sense, can say that secular life stands under the lordship of Christ, just Paul in Colossians can say that Christ is lord not only of the church but also of the world. The limitation for Luther however is that Christ is not lord within the orders as such (ie is not Lord of the various vocations and stations in life in the sense that they must conform to some particular Christian pattern) but only within the people who serve as priests within these orders. (This is the connection between the priesthood of the baptised and vocation.) Thus the secular kingdom does not stand under the lordship of Christ in the same way that the kingdom of Christ or the church does. For the lordship of Christ still remains hidden under the form of this world. The fact that the orders (eg the state, marriage and family, the economy, trade and commerce, international alliances etc) do not stand under the lordship of Christ, but are formed and shaped according to reason, does not mean that they are not subject to the will and command of God—in this case that life is preserved. We will return to this topic in the final section.
Objection 2: Hitler and the Nazis
The second objection comes out of the German experience of the Hitler years and the Jewish holocaust. Most branches of the Lutheran church in Germany, initially at least, supported Hitler and hailed him as the God-sent saviour to rescue the nation from the crippling effects of the great depression. However, even when German Christians knew the truth about Hitler’s program of ethnic cleansing and his ‘relocation’ of Jews to the death camps, only relatively few voices were raised in protest. Most bishops went along with Hitler. This perhaps is the most compelling reason why critics of the two kingdoms doctrine claim it must be given up. In its most simplistic form, the logic of the argument is that Luther is indirectly to blame for Hitler, for without his idea of the two kingdoms, the German Christians would not have felt it necessary to give unconditional allegiance to the government—and so the holocaust would not have happened.
How are we to respond to this objection? First, it is true that the churches in Germany (except for the Confessing Church, which actively opposed the Nazis) badly misjudged the situation and its lack of action was inexcusable. However, we categorically reject the argument that Luther was to blame for the murder of the Jews because the church, in supporting Hitler, was simply acting according to the doctrine of the two kingdoms and obeying lawful government. It is not the doctrine that was at fault but the way it was interpreted. As we have seen, the two kingdoms doctrine does not relieve the church of its duty to speak out against injustice.
Given the way the doctrine was misunderstood in the nineteenth century, the support for National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s was almost inevitable. It also explains the reluctance of the German church to speak out against the Nazi party, for it was believed that all human authority was ordained by God, and Hitler was hailed as the saviour of the German nation. The fundamental error here was a failure to understand that, although the natural orders and structures of society are given by God, they can become demonised, as in the case of the Nazi state and totalitarianism generally. It is noteworthy that once the vulnerability of the orders (such as government) to subversive demonic attack was recognised, the term ‘orders of creation’ fell out of favour and in its place theologians spoke of the ‘orders of preservation’.
A necessary distinction
The criticisms that have been levelled at the doctrine of God’s two kingdoms and two reigns often proceed from the perception that it prevents the church from being socially and politically active. As we have seen, if this is the case, it is not the fault of the doctrine but the way it has been interpreted. The LCA in its statement, Reflection on the Two Kingdoms and Social Ethics, has tried to clarify the interrelation between secular and spiritual government and clear up some misunderstandings. Error occurs when the two kingdoms are separated rather than distinguished. It is as Jesus said: His kingdom does not belong to this world, but it is in the world, just as Christians are called to be not of the world but in the world (John 17:15-19).
The doctrine of the two kingdoms does not prevent the church from playing an active role in society, but it does clarify that the church’s real mission is not in the realm of law and politics, but in the realm of the gospel. It also frees the Christian to be engaged in the secular realm, without being swept away by secularism or the illusion of utopianism. It makes it clear that the kingdom of God, in the sense of God’s spiritual rule in the hearts of his people through the word, is not an earthly entity and cannot be established on earth by means of social action. Most of all,the doctrineof God’s two kingdoms/reigns prevents the gospel from being turned into an ideology, a political principle, or a legal requirement. Ultimately, this is the most important reason why the Lutheran church today still hangs on to Luther’s two kingdom teaching: to keep the gospel pure and to prevent it from being turned into a law.
Lutherans reject the idea, common in Protestant churches, that there is only one kingdom and one government and that Christ is sovereign Lord in both the temporal and spiritual realms. This may sound perfectly correct. Why should Lutherans object to the lordship of Christ within the orders? What is at stake here however is an important but subtle distinction between God and Christ, or more particularly, between what Luther calls Christ’s strange work and his proper work. His strange work is his law work; his proper work is his gospel-work. Christ also preaches the law, and in that sense he also rules over the political realm. But that is not his proper work, it is not the reason he came (John 3:17). He did not come as lawgiver and judge, but he came as the saviour of sinners.
To say then that Christ is the sovereign Lord of the temporal realm (ie of the political, economic, and social world) and that these structures must therefore conform to his teaching rather than to reason, is to misunderstand his mission and the nature of his lordship. Christ is our Lord not because he has sovereign power to command our unswerving loyalty and obedience. That he has such power we do not deny. But according to the New Testament he shows his lordship not in commanding obedience but in freeing us from captivity to other lords and tyrants who held us in their clutches. He is our Lord because he has saved us from the powers of darkness, has defeated our enemies (the usual suspects: sin, death, Satan—and the law!) and now protects us from them by his almighty power. That is his proper work, his gospel-work as distinct from his strange penultimate law-work. Unless these are carefully distinguished, we will end up confusing law and gospel, and hence the two kingdoms.
As we have seen, the New Testament teaches that God rules this world in two ways and will do so for as long as it lasts. Until Christ comes again and establishes a uni- versal lordship, his reign on earth is known and confessed only by the church and is to be understood within the context of the theology of the cross. For now it remains a hidden lordship, visible only to the eyes of faith (Col 3:1-4). Obedience to him is the obedience of faith, and this cannot be coerced with the law. Christ’s lordship in this world is still hidden under the cross and it will only become visible when he returns in power and glory and faith gives way to sight. Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess what the church has always believed and confessed: That Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).
Lutheran Church of Australia: Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions
THE TWO 'KINGDOMS'
Approved by the CSBQ, 2001
On the day when Peter made his great confession of Christ, our Lord gave a promise to the church. That promise was that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Here's what Matthew saw and reported:
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:13–19)
Although many of today's Evangelicals technically believe Jesus' promise they functionally act as if the gates of hell conquered the church until it reappeared around the time that Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life was first published. Because of this so few who call themselves Christian have any knowledge of the rich and deep history of the historic church that they confess to be a part of. The only thing I could liken this to would be to say that you're a citizen of the United States but have never heard of the American Revolution, George Washington, The War of 1812, the Civil War or Abraham Lincoln. Such a citizen would be unheard of. Yet, Christians are citizens of a kingdom far greater than any earthly kingdom but so few of them have any knowledge of the history of this Kingdom's activity on the earth since the close of the New Testament cannon. Even worse is that so few even care to know.
To give you a small taste of what they're missing, I'd like to reproduce an amazing story from Church History regarding a letter sent to Jesus by King Abgar of Edessa and Our Lord's response to King Abgar. Here is the account as recorded in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.
Abgar sends princes to Marinus; these deputies see our Saviour Christ
At this period Marinus, son of Storoge, was raised by the emperor to the government of Phœnicia, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Abgar sent to him two of his principal officers, Mar-Ihap prince of Aghtznik, and Chamchacram chief of the house of the Abahouni, as well as Anan his confidant. The envoys proceed to the town of Petkoupine to make known to Marinus the reasons of Abgar’s journey to the East, showing him the treaty concluded between Ardachès and his brothers, and at the same time to call upon Marinus for his support. The deputies found the Roman governor at Eleutheropolis; he received them with friendship and distinction, and gave this answer to Abgar: “Fear nothing from the emperor on that account, provided you take good care to pay the tribute regularly.”
On their return, the Armenian deputies went to Jerusalem to see our Saviour the Christ, being attracted by the report of His miracles. Having themselves become eye-witnesses of these wonders, they related them to Abgar. This prince, seized with admiration, believed truly that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, and said: “These wonders are not those of a man, but of a God. No, there is no one amongst men who can raise the dead: God alone has this power.” Abgar felt in his whole body certain acute pains which he had got in Persia, more than seven years before; from men he had received no remedy for his sufferings; Abgar sent a letter of entreaty to Jesus: he prayed Him to come and cure him of his pains. Here is this letter:
“Abgar, son of Archam, prince of the land, to Jesus, Saviour and Benefactor of men, who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting:
“I have heard of Thee, and of the cures wrought by Thy hands, without remedies, without herbs: for, as it is said, Thou makest the blind to see, the lame to walk, the lepers to be healed; Thou drivest out unclean spirits, Thou curest unhappy beings afflicted with prolonged and inveterate diseases; Thou dost even raise the dead. As I have heard of all these wonders wrought by Thee, I have concluded from them either that Thou art God, come down from heaven to do such great things, or that Thou art the Son of God, working as Thou dost these miracles. Therefore have I written to Thee, praying Thee to condescend to come to me and cure me of the complaints with which I am afflicted. I have heard also that the Jews murmur against Thee and wish to deliver Thee up to torments: I have a city small but pleasant, it would be sufficient for us both.”
The messengers, the bearers of this letter, met Jesus at Jerusalem, a fact confirmed by these words of the Gospel: “Some from amongst the heathen came to find Jesus, but those who heard them, not daring to tell Jesus what they had heard, told it to Philip and Andrew, who repeated it all to their Master.” (John 12:20-22)
The Saviour did not then accept the invitation given to Him, but He thought fit to honour Abgar with an answer in these words:
“Blessed is he who believes in me without having seen me! For it is written of me: ‘Those who see me will not believe in me, and those who do not see me will believe and live.’ As to what thou hast written asking me to come to thee, I must accomplish here all that for which I have been sent; and, when I shall have accomplished it all, I shall ascend to Him who sent me; and when I shall go away I will send one of my disciples, who will cure thy diseases, and give life to thee and to all those who are with thee.”
Anan, Abgar’s courier, brought him this letter, as well as the portrait of the Saviour, a picture which is still to be found at this day in the city of Edessa.
Preaching of the apostle Thaddæus at Edessa
After the ascension of our Saviour, the Apostle Thomas, one of the twelve, sent one of the seventy-six disciples, Thaddæus, to the city of Edessa to heal Abgar and to preach the Gospel, according to the word of the Lord. Thaddæus came to the house of Tobias, a Jewish prince, who is said to have been of the race of the Pacradouni. Tobias, having left Archam, did not abjure Judaism with the rest of his relatives, but followed its laws up to the moment when he believed in Christ. Soon the name of Thaddæus spreads through the whole town. Abgar, on learning of his arrival, said: “This is indeed he concerning whom Jesus wrote to me;” and immediately Abgar sent for the apostle. When Thaddæus entered, a marvellous appearance presented itself to the eyes of Abgar in the countenance of the apostle; the king having risen from his throne, fell on his face to the earth, and prostrated himself before Thaddæus. This spectacle greatly surprised all the princes who were present, for they were ignorant of the fact of the vision. “Art thou really,” said Abgar to Thaddæus, “art thou the disciple of the ever-blessed Jesus? Art thou he whom He promised to send to me, and canst thou heal my maladies?” “Yes,” answered Thaddæus; “if thou believest in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the desires of thy heart shall be granted.” “I have believed in Jesus,” said Abgar, “I have believed in His Father; therefore I wished to go at the head of my troops to destroy the Jews who have crucified Jesus, had I not been prevented by reason of the power of the Romans.”
Thenceforth Thaddæus began to preach the Gospel to the king and his town; laying his hands upon Abgar, he cured him; he cured also a man with gout, Abdu, a prince of the town, much honoured in all the king’s house. He also healed all the sick and infirm people in the town, and all believed in Jesus Christ. Abgar was baptized, and all the town with him, and the temples of the false gods were closed, and all the statues of idols that were placed on the altars and columns were hidden by being covered with reeds. Abgar did not compel any one to embrace the faith yet from day to day the number of the believers was multiplied.
Had you ever heard the story of King Abgar of Edessa before today? If not, there are many other stories that have been recorded regarding the history of the citizens of the Kingdom of God as they've sojourned here on earth. These stories are not scripture. But they are very important to know as they help anchor us in the historic Christian faith, help us to see that Jesus' promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church has proven true and to help protect us from the innovations of those who teach falsely regarding Jesus.
Grace, Mercy and Peace,
We haven't met. But, despite the fact that I'm writing to you on a blog, I don't live in my mother's basement. I don't own a bean bag and I don't survive on a steady diet of Cheetos and Mt. Dew.
I am however, married. I have three children of my own and a grandson. I also have a degree in Religious Studies and Biblical Languages and I also have a Masters degree in Business Administration and the emphasis of my graduate work was Leadership.
I felt it necessary to explain that about myself because you have a really bad habit of publicly brushing aside all criticism leveled at you by claiming that bloggers are "basement living opinion givers". By the way, that defense is known as an ad hominem attack and is generally only used by people who are not capable of substantively answering their critics. If you'd like more information about ad hominem attacks here is a link to a video that I believe will be instructive for you.
The reason I'm writing you is to challenge you to provide the Biblical passages that underpin some of the doctrines that you teach. The reason for this is because after reviewing several of your sermons on my radio program I'm convinced that you're teaching false doctrine and that you're guilty of twisting God's word. Furthermore, based on the emphasis and details of your peculiar doctrines I'm convinced that the Holy Spirit warned the church about men like you when he inspired the Apostle Paul to write:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1–4)
I believe that an prime example of tickling itching ears and teaching myths can be found in your recent sermon entitled How to Hug A Vampire: Dealing With Drainers. In this sermon you twisted Philemon 4-7 by psychologizing the passage and falsely using the text to teach your church which types of people God wants them to grant access to their lives. A full length review of your sermon can be found at this website.
Of particular note was this short segment of your sermon:
David, would you please provide the Biblical passages that say, in context, using sound hermeneutics and exegesis that:
1. God has some big thing that He wants each of us to do.
2. That God has a supernatural script / divine dream for our lives.
3. That this divine dream is so big that we can't pull it off by ourselves.
4. That we will need to surround ourselves with an entourage who will champion and resource this divine dream for our lives.
5. That God has a holy habit of making dreams come true.
6. That this God-sized dream is catalytic and will power you past your problems in life.
Also, will you please provide the passages from the writings and sermons of the early Christian church fathers that teach these same doctrines so that we can know that they're part of historic orthodoxy?
Furthermore, in light of the second video snippet, will you please provide the Biblical passages that teach us that we need to restrict personal access to people who would diminish the dream that God has placed in us?
As a careful student of God's word I am not familiar with any Biblical passages that say any of these things. Nor am I aware of any of the ancient Church Fathers who said anything even remotely approaching such teachings. Therefore, since you're the person putting these ideas forward, the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate and prove that these doctrines are what God has revealed in His word.
May I also suggest that you read Martin Luther's Treatise on Good Works. This short work clearly lays out the Biblical teaching regarding the good works that God wants Christians to do. You will find a link to download a free version of this wonderful little book at this link.
I look forward to your response.
Happy Reformation Day!
I am firmly convinced that if you understand the history of the Reformation including an understanding of Medieval Roman Catholicism and Martin Luther's torturous sojourn through it that you will have the ability to better spot the false theology that has crept into today's church. To help you gain an understanding of that history I'm providing you with links to download FREE books and other resources that you can add to your digital library that will aid you in better understanding the historic Christian faith.
Enjoy and Be Edified by these Free Resources!
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
This biography of Martin Luther is simply the best one written in the English language. I cannot recommend it highly enough. This biography will give you a deep understanding of the terrors of soul that Luther suffered while trying to save himself and merit salvation under Roman Catholicism as well as the freedom and boldness that he gained through his rediscovery of the Biblical Gospel.
It is available for free as a PDF. To download it Click Here
Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians by Martin Luther
This is one of the most important books written in the entire history of mankind. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress said, “I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all books that I have ever seen.”
Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther
This short but powerful work by Luther is a "must read" for all Christians as it helps drive home the implications of the Gospel to our daily lives.
A Treatise on Good Works by Martin Luther
What is a good work? There is a lot of confusion today regarding what a good work is just like there was in Luther's day. This short treatise will help you understand the Bible's teaching regarding good works.
FREE MP3 Recordings of The Great Hymns of the Historic Faith
If you've ever had the desire to sing many of the great hymns of the faith but didn't want to pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for CD's then this website resource will blow your mind. It literally has free downloads of nearly every hymn for nearly every major hymnal in print including the Lutheran Service Book.
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An excerpt from Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians
Who gave himself for our sins. - Galatians 1:4
Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, "Who received our works," but "who gave." Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.
How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: "The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins." The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.
This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words "who gave himself for our sins." So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word "sin" embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.
This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.
All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks, nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honor that belongs to them alone.
Note especially the pronoun "our" and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun "our," and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.
This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins.
This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." But the real significance and comfort of the words "for our sins" is lost upon them.
The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins" as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.
Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: "Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another's possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.
"Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins." To believe this is to have eternal life.
Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," you tell him: "No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God's fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil's craft and put from us the memory of sin.
St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.
Make ample use of this pronoun "our." Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.
We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Savior, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.
For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins." Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes "who gave himself for our sins."
I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.
Martin Luther's entire commentary on Galatians is free for Kindle! You can download it by clicking here.
Broken: 7 ''Christian'' Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible
There are only two kinds of spirituality in the world. One is false, and one is true. One is the manifestation of the old evil foe who has sent many false spiritualties out into the world, and the other is the holy spirituality found only in faith in the one true God. One is a lie, and one is real.
But which is which?
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