Sunday, July 26, 2009

Creator God

by John D Ramsey
Lisa suggested the other day that I spend some time writing out a statement of faith for the sake of the kids. I replied that I thought that I already had. She clarified, saying that she meant something concise. I took that to mean something more concise than 150 pages. If you want the full version, just send me an email and I’ll send you a copy (while supplies last).

Saturday morning we sat down with the little girls and discussed the foundation of Christian faith. I explained to the girls that a statement of faith should emphasize the essentials, and not specify perspectives that are open to interpretation.

Our discussion of faith began where Scripture begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From this statement we infer that God exists outside of time because He created the heavens and the earth at the beginning. Too often men attribute natural limitations to God as if he was bound by the natural laws of the universe. Rather, the universe is bound by the laws of God.

After the earth was created it was formless and devoid of life and dark. Genesis 1:2 says, “. . . and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” From this we see that God’s nature is that of spirit. God is not, by nature a physical being even though he expresses Himself in the natural realm.

One cannot accept the New Testament without affirming that God is Creator. Furthermore, our perception of God in Creation impacts our perception of God in our daily lives. If we believe that God was distant and detached from Creation, then we must ask on what basis would we find God otherwise in our lives. On the other hand, if God was active and specific in His creation, then we might expect Him to be active and specific even now in our daily lives.

Reviewing the first chapter of Genesis we see that Creation occurred at God’s command.
  • “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
  • “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse . . .”
  • “God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.”
  • “God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation’ . . .”
  • “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky' to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years . . .’”
  • “God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. . .’”
  • “God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds . . .’”
  • “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”
Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26 (NIV)
Creation came about by the word of God. In John 1, we see likewise, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” The Word, the Son of God, was active in Creation. The writer of Hebrews says,
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)
In Genesis, John, and Hebrews we see the Son of God, the Word of God, creating all that exists.

The Word of God, the Son of God, is God’s revelation of Himself to the Creation. Jesus said,

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

John 14:9-10 (NIV)

When God created man, He created him in the image of the Son of God. In other words, man reflected the appearance of God as He expressed himself to His physical creation. God created man in the image of God, but from the substance of earth. Consequently, the rule of man, or his domain, included all the earth. Man was not the same as God, but was rather God’s reflection upon the earth.

While God created man as an inferior being, the creation of man was an incredibly personal event.
God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

Because man was created personally by God and in the image of God, we see that human life is endowed with a divine glory. John says, that in the Word was the “true light that gives light to every man.”

In the creation account we can see the triune nature of God:
  1. God the Father
  2. God the Son
  3. God the Holy Spirit

We specifically see the Spirit “hovering over the waters” and we hear the Son of God, the Word in John 1, saying, “Let there be light.” From Hebrews 1, we see that the Word is speaking on behalf of the Father, “. . . in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . through whom he made the universe.”

The Father reveals the will of God. In John 5:19, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

Likewise, the Father possesses the omniscience of God. Jesus says in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The Father alone is all knowing.

The Spirit of God possesses the omnipresence of God. It was the Sprit that hovered over the surface of the waters in creation. Moreover, David declared in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit?”

The Spirit of God also releases the omnipotence of God. Jesus told his disciples, “. . .you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you . . .” Acts 1:8 (NIV) The power of God is often associated with the Spirit of God throughout Scripture. Paul wrote, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

In Creation, we can see that the Father willed it to be and the Son spoke it into existence by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Son of God, the Word, is the expression of God to His Creation. The Son of God was active in Creation and the Son of God is the heir of all things created according to Hebrews 1.

While the Son of God created all things, and specifically created man in God’s image, the Son of God ironically also became the Son of Man. John says,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NIV)

The God who exists outside of space and time, who created both space and time, entered space and time and took upon himself a human nature. Jesus, the Christ, who was with God and equal to God in Creation, became a man and forever future possesses the dual nature of divinity and humanity.

Why? That will be the next topic in the Statement of Faith series.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


by John D Ramsey
Recently, I read a quote from a prominent so-called Christian leader that roughly correlated church programs with the alley-oop. We toss the ball up, and God makes a slam dunk. Without our setup pass God can do nothing, but without God, we’re shooting air balls; together we score. In effect, the church expects God to validate whatever it decides to do.
God does not work that way. In Acts, we are given some illustrations of how God does work, but we evaluate those empirically and decide that because we have never seen it, they are no longer relevant.
Right before Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he told his disciples,
  • Do not leave Jerusalem
  • Wait for the gift my Father promised.
Jesus promised the disciples that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and that when this occurred, they would become Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. The disciples were expecting God to restore the kingdom to Israel, but Jesus told them that it was not for them to ask about “times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Acts 1:7 (NIV)
The disciples stayed in Jerusalem, but they did not wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Peter insisted that they nominate two men to replace Judas Iscariot. After the nomination they tossed them up to see which one was God’s slam dunk. After hearing that the timing of God’s promises were not for them to ask, Peter and the crew decided that the time had come for God to replace Judas. Matthias was chosen by a game of chance, and nothing more was ever heard about Matthias.
No doubt, Matthias was a good man, but he wasn’t God’s man. Peter’s initial logic was sound, but his decisions were all wrong. The Psalmist prophesied of Judas, saying, “May another take his place,” but this was not Peter’s decision, it was God’s. If Peter had followed the pattern of church government that Jesus taught in Matthew 16 and 18, there would have been no need for casting of lots. Jesus prophesied in both of those chapters, “Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”
From Matthew 18, it becomes apparent that the binding and loosing that Jesus refers to is the collective decision making of the assembly of believers. Jesus taught his disciples that He reveals His will in the unanimous agreement among the assembly. If only two or three are present, Jesus still makes His will known through their agreement. If you get a whole church to agree together, then that is a miracle, and that is the point Jesus tried to teach his disciples.
Peter and the other disciples apparently could not agree between Barsabbas and Matthias, so they alley-ooped. That is to say, they required God to finish what they had started. Churches today ignore the unanimity requirement for decision making. Decisions are made by approved people behind closed doors. We then expect God to endorse our decisions.
Sometime after Matthias was no longer relevant, the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Paul) on the road to Damascus. Such was God’s timing. Paul calls himself the least of the apostles. Yet, as the least of the apostles Paul became the principal writer of the New Testament.
Peter set the criteria that whoever replaced Judas must have been someone who was with Jesus from the beginning. In other words, Peter wanted someone who wanted the job, and someone who had demonstrated to the disciples the necessary commitment. These were not God’s criteria, but rather man’s criteria.
There was nothing on Saul of Tarsus’ résumé that would have appealed to Peter and the gang. Come to think of it there was nothing in Peter’s résumé that qualified him to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, either.
Much of what we call church occurs at the pleasure of men. Leadership is still largely chosen by committee either internal to the local assembly or by leadership of the denomination. Pastors candidate for positions that meet their compensation requirements. People attend the church whose programs please them or whose services entertain them. Congregants, or conscripts, are assigned to roles as it pleases the so-called church leaders. The modern church is entirely designed to please men, and not God. Scripture is distorted every Sunday morning to convince people that they must continue doing what pleases men. We neither wait on God to make His will obvious, nor do we uphold Jesus’ standard of unanimity in our decision making. We operate mostly as an oligarchy doing what pleases the so-called leaders.
We take out church mortgages or sell bonds using the charisma of the pastor as collateral on the loan. Then we ask God to pay off the debt – alley-oop. We justify ourselves by remembering that mortgages and church bonds are about the only way to acquire a building. This should make us ask a rather obvious question!
Churches manage their members in CRM databases grading performance based on growth and retention. Under-performing facilities are upgraded, and under-performing pastors are replaced. We spend our entire church experience trying to please men. We commend the success of an assembly in human terms – how many congregants, how many programs, and how much money.
Once on television, I watched on prominent so-called Christian leader bragging about the church gymnasium that was so grand it persuaded many people to join his church. His bragging was mundane; some churches incorporate sports bars. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a giant bait-and-switch? Come for the basketball, and while you’re here, let us punch your ticket to heaven.
Modern churches seek to please men in all things. Yet Paul tells the Galatians, “For now do I comply with men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if still I please men, I was not then Christ’s bondman.” Galatians 1:10 (AB) Likewise, when you look at the salutations on Paul’s epistles, you find phrases such as:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a chosen apostle, being separated for the good news of God . . .” Romans 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, a chosen apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God . . .” 1 Corinthians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God . . .” 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father . . .” Galatians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God, the father, and our deliverer Jesus Christ, the one of our hope . . .” 1 Timothy 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, according to the promise of life of the one in Christ Jesus . . .” 2 Timothy 1:1 (AB)
Paul did not seek to please men. In fact, he said that if he tried to please men he could not consider himself a bondman of Jesus Christ. He didn’t kowtow to Peter, James, and John, nor did he detract from the Gospel message just to attract more people.
What would church look like we did not seek to please men, but rather we sought only to please God? Would we have gymnasiums and sports bars? Would we have church buildings at all?
What would a church look like if we all met together in a borrowed upper room, studying and praying until God revealed what He wanted to do? What would church look like if we were all more interested in hearing from God, than doing anything. The truth is that the modern church does not exist to please God, but rather to please men.
Ironically, to the extent that we do church to please men, we demonstrate that we are not bondmen of Jesus Christ. Instead, we’re just playing games.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ecclesiastical hierarchy

by John D Ramsey
And through covetousness
shall they with feigned words
make merchandise of you

2 Peter 2:3 (KJV)
Did anyone read the AP headline about the former Indiana pastor and his sons who allegedly scammed 11,000 people by securities fraud? Really? The marks thought they could make money by purchasing bonds for church building. Really? Is anyone truly surprised? Don’t say Peter didn’t warn you.
Peter says that because of them, “the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 2 Peter 2:2 (AB) It is maddening that people use positions of respect to manipulate and devour the naive. Peter spends the rest of the chapter describing the severity of God’s judgment against such men. He calls them “slaves of depravity” (NIV), and compares them to a “dog having returned unto its own excrement.” (AB) Most translations soften the object of the preposition saying, instead, “vomit,” like that’s so much better. The Greek is rather direct, however.
The notion of an ecclesiastical hierarchy exacerbates the problem of frauds within Christendom, whether they be shysters or sexual predators. People implicitly trust so-called Christian leaders. In reading my Bible I can find no basis for such obeisance. Peter warned of false prophets and teachers in 2 Peter 2. Paul warned of “grievous wolves” in Acts 20 who would “draw away disciples after them” (AB). John warned the elder Gaius, in 3 John, about Diotrephes, “the one enjoying being first.” In Revelation 2, the Lord Jesus condemns the practices of the Nicolaitans, or “conquerors of the people.”
The Apostle Paul, did teach an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Nevertheless, the hierarchy Paul taught was consistent with the words of Jesus,
But you are not to be called Rabbi,
for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earthfather,’
for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
Nor are you to be calledteacher,’
for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

Matthew 23:8-10 (NIV)
Modern churches mostly ignore the concept of equality among the brethren. In so doing, they ignore Paul who scolded the Corinthians for causing divisions within the body. Most translations, especially the NIV, strain to justify the favoritism the Corinthians practiced, but Paul told them that because of their divisions they did not celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but their own. He went on to say that because their practice did not recognize the body of the Lord, many were weak and sick and others had died. The church, the body of Christ, consists of many members, but only Christ is the head.
The concept that Christians should organize in hierarchies is un-Biblical. Paul taught a ecclesiastical hierarchy, but it is rather shallow. He says,
But I want you to know,
that the Christ is the head of every man;
and the head of the woman is the man;
and the head of Christ is God.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (AB)
Modern Christianity largely rejects or ignores Paul’s statement that the “head of the woman is the man.” It’s a free country, and they’re welcome to start their own religion. Nevertheless, what I see within this paragraph is simply this, if Christ, being God, and equal to God, can submit to the Father, then a woman, being equal to the man, can submit to her husband without incurring any inferiority. Women are equal to men, according to Galatians 3:28; their submission is only for the purposes of orderliness. It certainly reflects the character of Christ and the natural divine order designed by God. Moreover, in this ecclesiastical hierarchy every woman is only three from the top which is much higher than organized Christianity puts most anybody.
The simple beauty of this passage is that “the Christ is the head of every man.” No Christian leader stands in any position of ecclesiastical authority over any other man. In fact, Paul takes it further and says, “Every man praying or prophesying having anything on his head, disgraces his own head.” 1 Corinthians 11:4 (AB) Many scholars obfuscate this passage to make it sound like a man must not wear his ball cap at the table while saying grace. Yet clearly, Paul is saying, Christ is your head; do not cover yourselves with any other presumed spiritual authority.
If no man can have ecclesiastical authority over you, then you also have no ecclesiastical authority over him. As Jesus said, “You are all brothers.” 
When any so-called Christian leader touts his credentials, beware. He is deceived and likely a deceiver. The only valuable credentials he can possibly have is that Christ is his head. Those credentials are no more valuable than your own, if you belong to Christ. Even Paul called his vast credentials foolishness in 2 Corinthians 11. He sarcastically tells the Corinthians that he knows they will indulge his foolishness because they “put up with anyone who enslaves [them] or exploits [them] or takes advantage of [them] or pushes himself forward or slaps [them] in the face.” 2 Corinthians 11:20 (NIV)
Although no man holds ecclesiastical rank over another, the truth is always authoritative. That is why Paul preach authoritatively and could also compel Titus saying, “These things speak, and encourage, and reprove with all command! Let no one speculate about you.” Titus 2:15 (AB) Titus did not have all authority, yet the message he delivered was authoritative. Similarly Peter proclaimed, “If any speaks, let it be as oracles of God.” 1 Peter 4:11 (AB) As each of us declares the truth, we should do so with authority.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul outlined what a church service should look like. Very briefly, the assembly of believers was designed to be interactive. One speaks, others discern. If one stands up to speak, the one speaking sits down. All things were to be orderly. No one leader emerges, yet all lead as the Holy Spirit directs. Each brings something that builds up the body.
In modern Christianity, we idolize the authors, the orators, and the entertainers. We elevate the credentialed and ordained. In so doing, we ignore the truth that only Christ is our head. We open the doors for the ravenous wolves, those who seek a following for themselves. We enable those who by “feigned words make merchandise of” us. By ignoring our lofty position with respect to Christ, through false humility, we deny him.
Knowing that only Christ is our head should compel us to know him better. As brothers we are told to respect and defer to those who are older—this is the natural order. We are also supposed to submit to one another while avoiding those who love being first.
When we begin to see believers as equals and not superiors or inferiors, and when we begin to see only Christ as our head, then it should become easier to spot those who assert themselves or attract fan clubs for themselves. These are certainly not believers, because by elevating themselves, “They have turned from the holy commandment delivered to them.” 2 Peter 2:21 (AB)