Monday, 31 May 2010

Folk hero in Temple fracas!

Headline from the Jerusalem Chronicle AD 10

A charge has been referred to the TPS (Temple Prosecution Service) against a thirty year old travelling preacher from Nazareth for breach of the peace, public affray and religious harassment.

One witness claimed ‘he sounded angry, kept quoting Bible verses and acted like he owned the place, saying it should be a house of prayer. So much for all the talk about meek and mild’. His followers have provided the police with a different version of events (Matthew 21: 12)

The charge sheet alleges that a leader of the Messiah sect ‘attacked’ Temple foreign exchange kiosks, brandishing a makeshift weapon made from cords. It is also alleged that he ‘harassed’ staff at Court of Gentile Exchange Services with ‘den of thieves’ comments.

Court of Gentile took over the half-shekel temple forex market as part of a recent privatisation scheme.

The scheme has proved unpopular with overseas worshippers, who view this as yet another scam aimed at fleecing foreigners. They claim an extra charge on foreign currency introduces a racist element into God’s worship.

Antique currency desks were overturned during the protest that could lead to a further charge of criminal damage. Insurers are presently assessing the overall bill for furniture repair.

A spokesman for Court of Gentile explained: ‘As everyone knows the temple is central to the religious life of Judea. The temple relies on the valuable foreign exchange to maintain financial stability in these difficult times. The half-shekel is part of the priceless Temple Experience. Currency exchange is labour-intensive and requires careful accounting. While Court of Gentile is doing everything possible to keep to charges down, foreign converts to our faith must bear some of the costs incurred. It’s unhelpful and unfair to say that we are extortionate. Our charges are perfectly legal and are in line with private sector financial ‘best practice’.’

Religious leaders have deplored the act as an escalation of hierophobia (priest hatred), following a recent torrent of abuse, including an unfavourable comparison to ‘whited sepulchres’. With the loss of income estimated at over 20,000 shekels, they also mention possible job losses as a result of the incident, stating ‘it is yet another blow to the fragile economic recovery of Jerusalem’.

Page 10: ‘Losing everything for heaven': A psychologist profiles the Messiah sect.

Page 15: Chief priest’s cousin held on fraud charges

STOP PRESS: Charges dropped as a result of people power! Temple authorities to reconsider tax policy.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Always pray, don’t faint

The Second Coming is a day of reward for Christians and retribution for the impenitent. The present age should be interpreted as an offer of amnesty and a stay of execution. God offers mercy to those who show remorse, but He also promises retribution upon human defiance: ‘In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thess. 1:8).

In Romans 9:22, Paul declares that God is ‘willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known’ but He also ‘endures with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’. This is why retribution is held back: ‘He bears with them long’ (Luke 18:7). It’s because ‘He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.’ (2 Pet. 3:9)

In Revelation 6, the martyrs of the faith cry out to the ascended Messiah: ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ A white robe is bestowed on each as a reminder of the Divine blood-bought amnesty secured through the Father’s loving sacrifice of Jesus, His Son. Christ promises that His glorious return will occur when His last earthly witnesses are martyred. He will grant eternal life to those who have claimed His mercy, judge all sin, end the age of the Gentile supremacy and honour his promise to Abraham by restoring a remnant of Jews to join in faith towards Him as the true Messiah.

In the same teachings, the biblical message is that life will become increasingly intolerable, especially for Christians. The end of the Gentile era will be characterized by:

1) Unprecedented levels of human malice

2) International anarchy: ‘Nation will rise against nation’.

3) Intensifying upheaval of the natural world and universe.

4) Hostility, ostracism and criminalisation of those who label the idolatry and sensuality of this era as sin, and challenge it with the promise of divine retribution, proclaiming faith in Jesus as its only cure.

However, as Jesus says, ‘Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ given that ‘because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold’ (Matt. 24:12)

Luke relates Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. The objective of this comparison is explained: ‘to this end that men ought always to pray and not to faint’ (Luke 18:1) The parable shows that even a corrupt magistrate can be influenced by the dogged persistence of those who have no-one to advance their cause. God, who is just, is more easily moved by the cause of His own justice and salvation. Guardian angels are constantly pleading our cause and He intervenes partially now, but will ultimately fulfil all of our righteous petitions by His return on Judgement Day.

We must persist knowing that ‘he that comes to God must believe that He is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him’ (Heb. 10:35) i.e. only persistence in the form of practical, thoughtful, compassionate, resolute commitment to our goal pleases God as worthy of Him.

Note that, in the instance of the child possessed by a dumb and deaf spirit (Matt. 17:14 – 21; Mark 9:17 – 29), Christ’s consternation was that his disciples gave up too quickly, not realising faith bestows the representative authority of God on the believer to act as Christ would in all situations. Reliance isn’t about backing down and running away as challenges mount up, it means standing your ground against all odds and applying the mind of Christ in the knowledge that power has already been granted.

This is the faith that moves mountains.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Persecution is complex 3

The second front in the Christian challenge to our society’s ethos is the public ministry of the Word (whether presented individually, in open-air meetings, or recorded through social networking media). While we all have a responsibility to testify to the power of Jesus' resurrection, the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of evangelism and pastoral care on specific individuals. The key scripture for this post is taken from 2 Tim. 4:2. ‘Preach the word; be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ Paul was fully aware of the many prophecies that foretold of massive deception and heresy that would attack the church. In his earlier letter he claimed, ‘Now the Spirit speaks clearly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils’ (1 Tim 4:1) The Greek word for seducing is planois from which the word, planet is derived. The root word means ‘to wander’. To the ancients, planets didn’t appear to follow consistent paths. They appeared erratic, sometimes even moving backwards. The equivalent Latin word is errare, meaning to wander or go astray. The deception is a wandering from truth by accepting inconsistent inspiration. A preacher may indeed be inspired, but if it is by the Holy Spirit, his words and actions will point in the same direction and will not contradict any part of scripture.

It is this inconsistent application of scripture that characterises modern church opinion. The selective use of scripture is used to justify actions that the Bible condemns elsewhere. Unfortunately, even the average churchgoer has remarkably little grasp of scripture and many are intimidated into leaving false doctrine unchallenged. Peter said of Paul’s writings: ‘His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

Christ insisted ‘scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35), i.e. that God’s Word is entirely consistent and must be applied consistently. It is this  scriptural consistency that is held forth as the counter to the current decline from biblical and apostolic Christianity.

Paul also introduces a high level of urgency based on the prospect of a wholesale rejection of the faith: ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim. 4:3)

Isaiah’s words challenge modern self-centred ethics in this way: ‘They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.’ (Isaiah 30:10) If you just want to win a religious following, tell people what they want to hear. Affirm their innate goodness, dispense with Christ as the only cure for human guilt and declare a bright future and they’ll be in church every Sunday.

So as people persist in rejecting Christ, many ministers are learning to dilute the biblical standards of remorse over sin, turning from idols and thinking against heathen behaviour. Instead, these churches happily allow their leadership to indulge in serious, unconfessed sin, thereby reducing the lay churchgoers to complete moral apathy.

In spite of this true ministers of the gospel will continue to warn against lax morality and present Christ as the only enduring cure: ‘And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.’ (Jer. 25:4)

It will soon cost us dearly to maintain this gospel witness. As it causes ‘alarm, or distress’ to the consciences of influential citizens, society will resort to exploiting the organs of state to silence Christian opposition to immorality.

It is for true ministers of the gospel to say: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)

We will not be intimidated, but follow Him who said to His deadly critics: ‘Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth’ (Matt. 23:34, 35). Such is the nature of genuine Christian ministry.