Why I will listen to Bethel Music

In-house, Christian-matters. I don’t usually agree to post Christian debate issues on my blog, because I don’t think it’s actually helpful or encouraging. In this case I will because 1) my blog’s not popular enough, 2) the debate is happening anyway, 3) I think I’m writing towards a peaceful resolution between the two sides. And 4) I have been asked about this several times by other Christians and find myself having to rethink it all again – it is much easier to have it written in one place.

There is a bit of a hot debate going around some Christian circles and websites at the moment. And it’s one I’ve had to give some thought to because of a particular preacher I listened to several times each week during my teenage years.

It’s a strain of the prosperity gospel (as defined that God wants to bless you, with health, wealth and happiness), which is based on faith. Most prosperity gospel have their roots in blatant legalism – “Do good, get good”.

This faith-based prosperity gospel, says – “believe and get good”. Implying, when bad happens, it’s because you don’t believe enough, or you’re not “claiming” it in faith. Also implying, it’s always God’s will to answer your prayers – provided you believe.

(Aside from the common obvious points that several of Jesus’ prayers were not answered with ‘yes’…”Father let this cup pass from me”, “Father I pray that the Church would be united in love, that they would be one as We are one”…. [For more read: God on Mute – Pete Greig]. )

Popular churches that seem to espouse this teaching include: Bethel, Hillsong and a lot of the GodTV cast. Since Bethel and Hillsong also write a large fraction of the worship music out there, a common response is to stop playing their music at churches etc.

The reason being 1) they don’t want to financially support ministries with false teaching, 2) they don’t want to encourage new believers to seek out false teachers 3) they want to protect their flock.

All pretty legit reasons.

Here are some of my counter thoughts though:

1) Jesus, when confronted by his disciples complaining about people casting out demons in His name, responded: “whoever is not against us is for us”. I do not honestly believe that the majority of people in these churches, are opposed to Christ. (Furthermore, I don’t think it is my job to determine that.) Matthew 12:30-42

2) Paul writes, that no one can claim (and mean that) Jesus is Lord without the help of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 . I know this is a loose application, and that there are false teachers who can claim this. But I think we may be underestimating the truth of this passage to dismiss such worship leaders so quickly.

3) God consistently uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Some of the people God has used throughout scripture and history, have had enormous doctrinal flaws. Consider the precious puritans and their slave ships. Consider Paul, the worst of sinners. Consider me!

4) Not all worship music, and not all prayer, needs to be doctrinally sound. A quick perusal through the Psalms reveal prayers and songs that were not “theologically correct”. Is it Psalm 137 that talks about the happy man being the one who dashes infants against rocks.

Prayer and worship is about coming honestly before God with our true selves, bringing it before Him knowing we are loved and accepted. If we start censoring songs and prayers, don’t we encourage people to only present their “best self” to God. Isn’t this one of those things that Jesus came to set us free from?

5) Paul writes in Philippians, “it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love…the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble…But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, CHRIST IS PREACHED. And because of this I rejoice.” (2:15-18)

I’m not fussed if Hillsong and Bethel are making a lot of money, or even if this is their primary motive, IF their songs lead people to Christ. I rejoice. Personally, I have encountered God’s presence whilst listening to their music, and I know many have been encouraged to the Father’s arms via “Mighty to Save”, “Oceans”, “No longer a slave to fear”…

6) Linked to this is, my lack of concern about money going to these mega churches, that have dodgy teaching. All money belongs to God, He can reduce empires and build them up. As a matter of interest, do the Christian who refuse to listen to bethel, also refuse to buy clothes made in sweatshops, coffee that isn’t fair trade, computers from large tech companies. Micah 6. It seems a little showy and divisive to make a stand only in regards to music.

Furthermore, since God owns all the money, and gives all the authority and platforms…(see Jesus when He tells Pilate that the authority he has is only from God). Do we trust Him.

7) There is a measurement of conscience, love and faith in this. See 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14. In short, (I’ve explored in another blog post), Paul talks about how knowledge can be used to puff up, or can be used in love. He talks about eating meat offered to idols, and how it may be right for some to eat, and it may be right for some to abstain…depending on their conscience, faith and love.

There is a cutting line here: “Whatever is not from faith is sin”. If we can’t eat meat offered to idols, listen to music produced by Bethel with a clear conscience then we shouldn’t. If we can’t listen to Hillsong’s songs, without causing our fellow believers to stumble than we should abstain. Will we let love and conscience impact how we carry out our faith.

8) Jesus said “my sheep know my voice”. Do we trust that this is true? Yes, there is a place for warning against the wolf-like false teachers. But there is also a place for trust that those who are God’s children can recognise His voice.

9) Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. Do we trust that this is true? When it comes to false teaching and heresy and people’s faith, we often work ourselves into a state where fool ourselves into believing we care more about this all than God does. No, God cares, and He hates lies. I don’t mean to belittle the impact of false teaching and lies. I love scripture and God’s truth, it is my life!

Just as the prophet declared about the early Church… “Therefore in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” Acts 5:38-39

Whatever you do…

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Have been reading through 1 Corinthians this week and one of the things that stood out to me was these verses in Chapter 10. It’s connected to chapter 9 and 7 and displays a lot of Paul’s attitude towards his work. I was challenged in my attitude towards work.

One of my dreams is to preach the gospel, like Spurgeon, many times throughout the week. I love to encourage people with God’s word and in their walk with Jesus. And if that was my full time job, I’d do it out of hours and wouldn’t worry about working ‘unpaid’ overtime.

So why don’t I consider my work with Cancer Research in such a way? Am I not supposed to be doing that work as unto the Lord? Am I not supposed to be seeking God’s glory in whatever position God calls me to? Married or single, slave/servant or freeman, employed or self-employed?

And so, I have been praying about what does it look like to carry out my life as it stands – today – as unto the Lord. And my thoughts:

  • Going the extra mile
  • Working overtime
  • Honouring my employer when their watching and when their not

In a sense, I want to steward the job I have now well in my early 20s as how I would if I was working full time for a church. I want to work as diligently as an employee for Cancer Research as if I was a missionary for Reach Across.

My aim isn’t to switch job, change my circumstances, but to glorify God.

1 Corinthians 7:

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

Receiving Romans 8

I am Righteous.
I am not condemned any longer.
I have been given life.
I have been set free from sin and death.
The righteous requirement of the law has been fully met in me because: I live according to the Spirit.

I have my mind set on what the Spirit desires.
I have my mind governed by the Spirit.
My mind is life and peace.
My mind is a friend of God and is no longer hostile to Him.
My mind is able to submit to God’s law – and it does.

I please God!

The Spirit of God lives in me!
I have Him!
I belong to Christ!
Christ is in me!

Even though my body is subject to death – I have received life because of righteousness.
My body will be raised because His Spirit is in me.
I put to death the misdeeds of the body.
I will live!

I am lead by the Spirit.
I am a Child of God.
I am not a slave to fear.
I am adopted to son ship.
I cry “Abba Father!”

I am an heir of God.
I am a co-heir with Christ.
The Spirit, The Holy Spirit himself, testifies as much!
I share in His sufferings.
I will share in His glory – it will be revealed in me!

I have the first fruits of the Spirit.
And I groan inwardly as I eagerly wait
This is the hope I have, and it saves me.
I hope and wait patiently.

I am helped in my weaknesses by the Spirit.
He intercedes for me!
He searches my heart.
He intercedes for me according to God’s will.

God is working for my good.
I love Him!

I have been called according to His purpose.
God foreknew me.
He predestined me to be conformed to the image of Christ.
He called me.
He justified me.
He will glorify me.

God is for me!
Who can stand against me?
He will give me all things!
Who will bring any charge against me?
He has justified me.
Who will condemn me?
No one!

Nothing will separate me from the love of God!
I am a super-conqueror through Him loved me and gave Himself for me.

Amen

The Promises are true!

Just a quick post…today has been an exhausting day. To be honest the whole week has felt pretty stressful. A lot on at work at the moment and a lot of problems along the way…

And I got back from the office after work, dead minded, tired, wiped out, physically and mentally drained…etc. And the thought randomly occurred (#TheSpiritRemindedMe): “Those who wait on the Lord renew their strength.

In that moment I had a choice. Do I switch the TV on, put an audio book on and numb the exhaustion with “rest”. Or do I fetch my Bible from my home desk, pull out a chair and sit in the garden and wait on the LORD?

I chose the later option.

I decided to test the promise…

And I found it true.

He does renew the strength of those who hope in Him. Hopefully this post can remind me next time.

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

How do we know that God exists?

This week see’s us start part 2 of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. So far we’ve covered The Doctrines of the Word of God. And now, we are looking at the Doctrines of God.

My mentor once told me, systematic theology studies are usually divided over what to look at first. God or the Bible. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Theology is, by definition, the study of God. So intuitively we may assume the Doctrine of God should be studied first. However, since Systematic Theology is our knowledge about God as defined by the whole of scripture, it is important that we establish what Scripture claims for itself first.

In short, it doesn’t really matter, and there is a lot of overlap.

Reading chapter 9, felt a little like re-visiting my RE classes back in secondary school.

Wayne Grudem outlines four main approaches to believing God’s existence.

1) Our inner sense of God (which is intensified by the Holy Spirit for Christians, and alluded to in Scripture – see Romans 1:19,21,25)

2) The Evidence of God in Scripture and Nature (we are told the heavens declare God’s glory, that the seasons of fruitfulness demonstrate His mercy – see Acts 14:17 & Psalm 19:1)

3) The Traditional proofs – these were covered for most students in Religious Studies classes at school. A quick google search will find good elaborations on them. (Sorry I don’t have time now to re-hash them!) They included the Comological Argument (First Cause), Teleological Argument (Intelligent Design), Ontological Argument (The “Greatest” thing must be real in order to be the “greatest”) and the Moral Argument (see point 1).

Interestingly, Grudem concedes that these traditional arguments are true whether we are convinced by them or not. But that, they themselves, cannot bring to saving faith the lost. This is because of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture.

4) Finally, we are told that only God can overcome our sin (which blinds us) and enable us to be persuaded by His existence. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us that human wisdom is inadequate, we are dependent on Him to bring us life.

Please see my notes below:

Systematic Theology 8: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (4): Sufficiency

The Sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly and for obeying Him perfectly.

Throughout the Bible we see that the Scriptures provide everything we need to hear in order to bring us to Salvation. There is nothing more, no secret knowledge we need to stumble upon, than that is provided in the Bible (see 2 Timothy 3:15, James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23).

The Bible also contains everything we need to hear to equip us for living the Christian life (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and Psalm 119:1).

In these senses the Bible is sufficient.

There is an interesting discussion about the amount of scripture slowly increasing at each stage of redemptive history. Wayne Grudem argues that at each stage the amount of scripture available was sufficient.

This is why commands such as “you shall not add to these words” were able to be said by God as early as Deuteronomy 4:2). Of course, God has added to it as He has seen fit.

The sufficiency of Scripture also can encourage us to know that God has not spoken anything more that we need to believe, think or do, that is not already in the Bible.

Interestingly, our tendency to create additional rules for ourselves are met with failure and a lack of follow through, because the Holy Spirit does not empower us to fulfils our man-made rules. This was a problem Jesus addressed with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:3-7), but it is an issue we also must address in our own lives. The tendency to put ourselves under additional laws is very great.

Paul writes: “why…do you submit to it’s [additional] rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules…are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Col 2:20-23).

In my notes below I have also listed seven additional practical applications from this doctrine:

Systematic Theology 7: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (3) Necessity

Fun fact an easy way to remember how to spell Necessary is: Never Eat Cheese Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young. Necessity is only changing the last three letters.

In this chapter we’re continuing our study of the four characteristics of scripture. We’ve already covered Authority (& Inerancy), Clarity and now [Never eat…]cessity.

The Necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life and for knowing God’s will, BUT it is not necessary for knowing something about God’s character.

Notice how this definition gives us three things we need the Scripture for, and one thing we don’t.

Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel – This is mostly justified from Romans 10:13-17. Which reasons that in order to be saved we need to call on the Lord’s name, but in order to do that we need to believe in Him. In order to believe in Him, we need to hear about Him.

In this way one must read the gospel or hear it told to them in order to be saved. I have written about this elsewhere, in: “what about Jesus-dreams”. Where I wrestled with this Doctrine, on the basis of the stories I’d heard where people have had dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible.

Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life – Again, this is mostly justified by Matthew 4:4 where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy “Man shall not live on bread alone”. But I guess we could also use 2 Timothy 3:16, where is says that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Necessary for certain knowledge of God’s will – We may have some knowledge of God’s will without it, but certain knowledge is different. Even if we could conceive a way for God’s justice and mercy to be reconciled, we wouldn’t have enough certainty on it for it to save us.

He has not revealed everything in the scriptures, obviously there is no knowledge of nuclear physics etc, but we do have enough that we may know His will (Deuteronomy 29:29).

From a philosophical point of view, the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything. Because either we know everything (which we don’t). Or we have the words of Someone who knows everything and who never lies.

HOWEVER:

The Bible is NOT necessary for knowing that God exists (or some of His attributes) – The Bible tells us that the heaven’s declare His glory (Psalm 19:1), that rain and fruitful seasons are signs of God’s blessing (Acts 14:16-17) and that God’s invisible qualities have been made known to all so that no one is without excuse (Romans 1:19-21).

Wayne Grudem makes a distinction between “general revelation” and “specific revelation”. Whereas general revelation is available to all as a result of God’s general grace to all people, specific revelation is what God has specifically made know through the Scriptures. (see notes below for more detail).

The Bible is NOT not necessary for knowing something of God’s character or moral laws – Therefore we are still guilty of sin even if we never hear the gospel (Romans 1:32, 2:14-15). The law has been written on our hearts.

This doctrine should make us inspired and challenged to proclaim the gospel as Romans 10 reminds us: How can they call on One they have not heard about, and how can they hear unless someone tells them!”

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 5: In Wrath Remember Mercy

On Monday we looked at the punishment given to man following his crime against God. In today’s post we will examine the other elements of the curse, and how even in the midst of God’s wrath we can see and celebrate His Mercy.

The Promise

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and hers;
He will crush your head
And you will strike His heel

After God has cursed the snake, He goes on to issue a promise. Some commentators called this the proto evangelium as in, the first proclamation of the Gospel. For it tells us about Jesus:

  1. His Incarnation – this promise tells us He will descend from Eve,
  2. His Suffering – this promise tells us He will be wounded in the process
  3. His Victory – over evil and sin, He will crush the serpent!

The Woman

In light of the curse given to the snake we can see the God’s mercy in the midst of wrath, embedded in the sentence given to the woman:

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
With painful labour you will give birth to children

Yes, this is a severe punishment and consequence to Eve’s sin. And yet, it is not without mercy. For firstly, she will bear children. This means that the promise above (in verse 15) will continue. God will remain faithful even when we are faithless – He will fulfill His purposes.

Secondly, after the pain of childbirth there will be joy! (John 16:21)

The Clothes

In addition to the mercy shown through God’s words. We also see further mercy, in God’s provision of clothes for the couple.

As an history graduate, God’s provision of clothes is very significant. In Andrews Marrs book, History of the World, he pinpoints the invention of the needle (for the purposes of making clothes) as one of the defining inventions that set man apart from other species. Obviously, this passage does not say that God invented the needle. However, the blessing of clothes provides protection, warmth and even comfort to the humans.

The Shame

Nevertheless, it is undeniable, that God has rebuked us. He has stripped us of the garden, of our pathetic leaf outfit, moved us away from His presence and the tree of life.

And yet, in this shame there is grace. God has shamed us that we might seek Him (Psalm 83:16). As Augustine said: He has rubbed salt on our lips that we might thirst for Him.

We see this in the story of the prodigal son, who realises how good it was in his Father’s house, when he is reduced to pig food!

What now?

What difference does this make to our faith? What difference does God’s insistence on Mercy, towards Adam and Eve, make to our walk with God today?

  1. We worship a God who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. People often assume the God of the Old Testament is not merciful. Yet this story tells us clearly it is there.
  2. God’s plan for rescuing us, is not a fad, it is not a fickle ambition. Rather it has been planned from the beginning.
  3. We serve a God who is able to turn our worst failings, into means to accomplish His glory and our good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28).

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 4: In Wrath Remember Mercy

Because mankind rebelled against God, and betrayed a Just God, there must be punishment. We see from verse 14 onwards, God’s punishment: first to the snake, then to woman, and finally towards man. However, our God is not only a Just God, He is also a Loving God full of mercy and grace. Therefore, even in the midst of the great curse of Genesis 3, we can see God’s wrath mixed with mercy.

We’ve already considered the anatomy of temptation and the character of the snake. Today we turn our attention to our Righteous and Graceful God. We will explore His response to sin and evil and remind ourselves that God hates sin, but He longs to rescue sinners. In this passage we can see a microcosm of the Gospel.

In reverse order:

Man’s Punishment

‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are,
and to dust you will return’
(vv 17-19)

The punishment is severe. The work that Adam once had to do before, is now frustrated, complicated and filled with futility. Tim Keller put’s it like this: “In other words, work, even when it bears fruit, is always painful, often miscarries, and sometimes kills us…in all our work, we will be able to envision far more that we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us. The experience of work will include, pain, conflict, envy and fatigue…’ (Every Good Endeavour, 89-90). He goes on to explain that this curse also demonstrates that work will become: pointless, selfish and will reveal our idols.

In this curse we see the context of work (ground), the fruit of work (eat the plants) and frustration of work (thorns and thistles) all subjected to punishment.

We also see promised punishment of death – that Adam would return to the ground as dust.

So where is grace?

We see grace in the fact that the man is not cursed himself. It is the ground. A quick look at the snake’s punishment reveals that the serpant was cursed! We are merely ‘put under the curse’. The full wrath of God is withheld against us, and directed instead to the ground. (Hence Romans 8 speaks of creation groaning!) We are punished indirectly.

We also see mercy in that Adam will be able to eat. His work will not be entirely futile. It will provide food for them, in this way we see God’s ongoing provision of man. God could have punished Adam by making him work for fruit that others would eat! This is in fact a blessing elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 128:2)

One commentator went so far as to say that the promised death, was also a demonstration of God’s grace. Otherwise, man would have to continue living forever in a state of separation from God, from life, from blessing. Instead, God allows death, so that through faith in the Promised One they might be saved and return to the Garden. (More on that in the next post).

In this way we can see wrath mixed with mercy. In Wednesday’s post we will examine the concoction of mercy and wrath served by the rest of the curse.

It is a cause of worship that we come to the same God who in His wrath remembers mercy.