Friday, August 19, 2022

Church Strategy (5) Gospel Barrier

Here is the Big Question.

The modern church lives in separation from the modern world. This leaves us with a communication problem. How do we get the people of the world to hear the gospel.

How do we get the gospel over this barrier?

This is a serious problem for the church. More of the same will not get the job done.

Announcing the good news from a pulpit in a church building will not work. Most of people in the Modern World will not be willing to drive to a strange building.

Shouting from a distance and telling them what is wrong with them will not work. They already know that they have problems. They want workable solutions not more condemnation.

A preacher standing on a pedestal where his people have placed him cannot reach over the divide to them. It is more likely that the people of the world will knock him down with accusations (true or false).

Flying in an American Evangelist will to do it. His communication model belongs in a different time, and his gospel is not good news for the modern world.

We need a Future Church model that can jump over the barrier and reach the Modern World. If we can’t solve this problem, the church will be swamped by the modern world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Church Strategy (4) Serious Problem

Modern church strategies do not touch the Modern World of the eighty percent.

The church has made a massive investment in reaching the Church Memory group, including buildings, car parks, video and sound technology, theological training of preachers, and training in video and sound production. However, this massive investment has gone into structures that are becoming less and less effective, as our sphere of cultural influence shrinks dramatically.

We have put all our eggs in one basket, but the model that was designed to reach people with a Christian Memory can’t reach over the dividing wall into the Modern World where most people now belong.

The irony is that under the drive-to-church model that we have made a massive investment into, Christians spend most of their time in the Modern World. However, they live there as isolated individuals within the structures of the Modern World, and under the authority structures of the Modern World.

The massive irony is that we are living in the world that we are trying to reach, but the main Christian thing that we do is to drive out of it to a building where the world cannot see our connection, or hear what we are saying.

Were cannot communicate effectively to the Modern World we are living in because we are isolated from each other and dominated by the spiritual authority structures of the Modern World.

The House Church movement has not done much better.

This is a serious challenge.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Church Strategy (3) Shrinking Influence

The people within our cultural orbit are getting older and less open to change. Their numbers are shrinking rapidly. Young people are leaking across the boundaries in a huge flood.

If they get their model wrong, house churches can be limited to rescuing people that are falling out of the church.
Many of the people who join house churches are in danger of falling out of the church, because they are hurt. They were Serious Christians once, but bad experiences have deadened their passion. They are slipping out into Christian Memory. House Churches are a powerful tool for rescuing these people, but it is hard work. Many have been burned by over-zealous authority, so they are hard to get close to. Most carry unfinished baggage, so few will become world changers.

Many Christians are seeking a revival. Traditional revivals occurred among people with a Christian Memory. They were stirred by passionate preaching and revival meetings. Even if revival occurred in New Zealand, it would hardly be noticed, because it would only touch the lives of people within the shrinking twenty percent who have a Christian Memory. The rest of society would not be touched. Revival is a false hope for New Zealand and most countries in the West. Something more radical will have to happen.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Church Strategy (2) Attractional Model

Modern church strategies are effective within the Christian Memory group.

The church has developed good techniques for drawing people from within a narrow sphere of influence. Most efforts are focused on getting people with a Christian Memory to become Serious Christians.

  • Church growth strategies are based on the study of this group.

  • The first Billy Graham crusades in 1958 had a huge impact on this group.

  • The Charismatic renewal really touched this group.

  • Seeker-friendly services are still effective with them.

  • Because people in the Church Memory group have become used to more sophisticated communications, church service production has to be slick to keep them amused/interested.

  • The main form of service/minsitry for many Christians is ensuring that the Sunday meeting goes off well. In this model, the worship leader is perceived to be the ultimate calling.

  • The task of Christians is to get their friends and work contacts to go to church with them.

  • They don't have to know how to share the gospel or answer questions about it. They just have to tell people about how good their church is.

  • These strategies are all centred on church meetings. If we can get a person with a Christian Memory to come to a meeting, the professionals can swing them into the Serious Christian group.

This is an attractional model. Our task it to get people from the Christian Memory into church meetings of some kind.

  • Attractional strategies have been effective with people within this narrow sphere of influence.

  • Home/life groups may just be the last legs of the attactional strategy. Attracting people to a church is getting really difficult. Attracting people who are losing their Christian Memory into a home is easier than attracting them to a church building. They might be more comfortable sitting in a lounge of a friend’s home sipping coffee in front of a warm fire.

  • When a person from the Modern World is reached by the gospel, they have to be socialised into life within our cultural orbit. The new believer is expected to change to be like us. A new language has to be learnt. They have to learn to be comfortable in our church meetings. They have to learn a new way of thinking.

  • Home/life groups can make this social, cultural and philosophical transformation easier.

  • The House Church model still focuses on getting people to attend meetings. Hopefully they are better meetings, where the Holy Spirit is freer to move.

Unfortunately, as the Christian Memory group is shrinking fast, attractional methods become less effective.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Church Strategy (1) Target Population

From the perspective of the gospel, our target population can be thought of as three groups.

Serious Christians
The hard core of serious Christians is probably about 5 percent of the population.

Serious Christians have the following characteristics.

  • They are serious about serving God
  • They attend church regularly.
  • Their numbers are shrinking rapidly
  • This group is aging rapidly.
  • The future of the church depends on this group.

Christian Memory
The second group have a Christian memory, but do not participate in the church. They might be a twenty percent of the population.

The Christian memory group have the following characteristics.

  • They may have gone to church or sunday school when they were young.
  • Their mothers were active in the church.
  • Their fathers went occasionally
  • They can sing How Great Thou Art at a funeral
  • They do not think about it much, but sort of believe there is a in God
  • When things go wrong they pray,
  • They do not know how to pray, so it is usually a desperate cry for help.
  • When things go well they believe someone was watching out for them.
  • They love spam messages about miracles and prayer.
  • They forward on emails about angels.
  • This group is getting older and is probably shrinking.
  • Perhaps they should be called the "Church Memory" group, because many have a quite distorted understanding of Jesus and the gospel.

Modern World
The third group belongs in the modern world. In parts of America this group is getting up toward 60 percent of the population. In New Zealand, they could be 80 percent.

The Modern World Group has the following characteristics.

  • This group never goes to church, except for funerals and weddings, and they feel about as comfortable as a Christian would feel in a mosque or masonic lodge.
  • They do not call themselves atheists, because they do not define themselves in terms of an attitude to God.
  • The possibility of a Christian God just never occurs to them. The idea is simply not on the radar.
  • They never think about God, even in a crisis.
  • They never pray, except to say “Oh God!”
  • When things go wrong, they go to the doctor or the gym.
  • They hate religion, because they believe that it causes most of the problems in the world. Like John Lennon, they would love a world with no religion.
  • These people know a few Christians at work or at the gym, but they do not particularly like them. Christians seem a bit odd. They tolerate Christians, but they would not see them as role models or want them as friends.
  • This group is quite spiritual, but they live in a complex spiritual world with a whole bunch of spiritual ideas and realities all mixed up together.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Two Kings

Anyone who thinks that Paul taught that we should submit to two different kings (Jesus and a worldly king/emperor/president) does not understand how well Paul understood Jesus, or how much the Holy Spirit trusted him.

I find that the people who are the most staunch about submission to political power, are pastor-leaders who want their church to submit to their power. The problem is that if they let submission to rulers go, they are in danger of losing submission to their authority.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Two Kings

A king who says to his people, I want you to serve this other king who hates me has lost the plot, and will eventually lose his kingdom.

Jesus has not lost the plot.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters (kurios - lord)”. “You will love (agape) one and despise (kataphroneo “think against”) the other”. Christians who choose to love their political rulers will eventually begin “thinking against” Jesus and his kingdom.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Two Kings

I do not understand why Christians who have Jesus as their king/ruler, are so keen to serve another king/ruler/president/prime minsiter, especially one who hates Jesus or who is controlled by a powerful government-spirit.

I do not understand why people who (should) have security in the body of Jesus, are so keen to look to a rulers who hate Jesus for their safety/security.

It does not compute.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Spirit and Soul

Soul and spirit seem to be different, but it is hard to understand how. The problem is that the Greek and Hebrew words for spirit both mean wind or breath, too.

  • Watchman Nee sliced and diced spirit and soul in his book the Spiritual Man. It was sort of interesting, but not really real.

  • The letter to the Hebrews says that word of God can divide between soul and spirit like a spiritual sword (Heb 4:12) but it does not explain how they are divided.

  • The Old Testament seems to use soul and spirit quite interchangeably at times (eg 1 Sam 1:15; Job 7:11. I have never been able to find a consistent pattern that makes sense.

  • The Greek word “psuche” is used for “life”. It can be the life that God breathed into Adam. It can also be used to describe the entire person. So I think that we have to be careful.

  • Jairus’s daughter is interesting, because most translations say her "spirit returned" when Jesus prayed for her. However, because the word pneuma means breath, Luke would must be saying that her “breath returned”.

  • Similarly with Jesus on the cross. Most transaltions say that "He gave up his spirit".The gospel writers might be just saying that Jesus “stopped his efforts to breath”, which is the most difficult thing when you are on a cross. Giving up breathing would quickly end his life.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Brain and Spirit (3)

Some Christians call their facility to see and hear in the spiritual realms their “spirit”, and there may be some scriptural justification for that, but that does not tell us much more, given that the Greek and Hebrew words for spirit mean wind, which suggests something that can’t be seen, which has an effect that can be observed.

The example of Jesus is interesting. I beleive that he had this facility in operation before he was baptised in the Spirit.

  • I presume that Jesus had to partially give up his ability to discern the spiritual realms so that he would be like us and experience life like us.

  • I suspect that Jesus had far more spiritual experiences before his ministry began than are described in the gospels. The spiritual powers of evil had tried to kill him when he was born. I don’t imagine that they gave after their first attempt as this was a desperate spiritual battle. I don’t think that his temptation in the wilderness was his first temptation. I presume that the evil powers continued to attack him throughout his life and tried to deceive him into doing something wrong that would wreck his ministry. They had probably continued trying to kill him with falling rocks etc.

  • Obviously, his baptism in the Spirit heightened his spiritual discernment, but because he a not affected by guilt and shame I presume that he had far better insight into the spiritual realm, than most of us have. I presume that this enabled him to identify the source of his temptations and resist them.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Brain and Spirit (2)

Its important what we understand is that we live in a universe that has spiritual and physical dimensions. We tend to forget that because we have becomes locked in the physical.

The scientific method can only observe the physical part, so scientists, at best, can only produce half-truths. They don’t have the tools to observe an important aspect of reality, so we should never be intimidated by them. They are like a man who can see and hear, but has no sense of touch. His description of the world will be correct as far as it goes, but he will miss out something really important things like the difference between objects that are solid and those that are fluid. He will understand that some objects are a barrier and others are not, but he will not understand why.

If scientists had put cameras and heat sensors in the tomb where Jesus was buried, they would have measured his body being absolutely cold, then quickly warming. They might pick up some of heat that the Holy Spirit generated when reviving Jesus body. The cameras would observe Jesus beginning to breath and then get up and walking out. They might observe the stone moving back. They will see all this, but they will still have no idea of how or why it happened.

A Christian who was part of the scientific team could not use this evidence to prove conclusively that God did it, or even that God exists. He could say something odd happened, but he could not prove why. The reason is that the best scientific tools cannot observe or measure spiritual reality.

The spiritual realm that scientists cannot observe is probably far more important for what happens in human life than the physical realm (more here). Those who just observe the physical dimension get a very distorted view of reality.

Humans obviously have a facility within us (not floating over us or beside us) that has the ability to observe and communicate into the spiritual dimension of life. That ability has been badly damaged by the fall (original sin is not a very could term for describing what happened). I presume that this facility is within the brain (not the heart which is just a pump, which responds to adrenaline) but I have no idea how it actually works.

Some people have this facility to observe the spiritual world with a greater capacity than others do, just as some have greater intelligence and some have heightened compassion. I do not think it is just a gift of the Spirit (although discernment is one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives) because some non-believers have this heightened ability too.

No matter how much the neuro-scientists do, they will not be able to see this facility, because there tools can never observe the spiritual dimension. They might pick up the effect of the spiritual on the physical, but they will not be able to see observe the interaction. All they will see is effects in other parts of the brain, but they will never know what caused them.

I reckon that the deadening of this facility that interacts with the spiritual realms is the major effect of the fall. I presume that it is restored when we are born again. However, it is essential for followers of Jesus to be aware that they have this facility, and develop their ability to use it. This awareness is something that has been lost with the secularisation of or culture.

In terms of apologetics, McGilchrist’s comment that surveys show that most people believe “there is something more out there” is relevant. I believe that most people these days have an awareness of the spiritual dimension of life. Most of the younger generation have had a spiritual experience, and for most, it was a bad one. So the people of the world don’t need to be persuaded that the spiritual is real. What they need is an account of the spiritual realms that makes sense; that fits with their experience of the spiritual, whatever it might be, and which enables them to make sure that they are living on the right side in the spiritual battle.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Brain and Spirit

I have listened to the debate between Iain McGilchrist and Sharon Dirckx on Premier Radio a couple of times. I am not going to summarise it, so you should listen if you are interested in this topic.

I found the debate very informative, but I think the left brain/right brain discussion is a bit of a distraction. It can help us understand ourselves. I realise that I am far more right-brained than I had assumed, because I tend to focus on the big picture, rather than the detail, but I do not think it is that helpful for apologetics.

Neuro-science is just getting started, so neuro-scientists still know very little about how the brain really works. I hear Christians who have jumped on the band wagon saying, “The brain does..”, or “The brain works in this way but I think it is much more complicated than they realise and that simplistic explanations might prove to be wrong once more is know.

Christians need to be careful that they do not get into a “God of the Gaps” position, as they did with evolution, by saying that God (or their spirit) is the explanation of the phenomena that the neuro-scientists have not yet explained. As the latter learn more and more, they will explain more and more human behaviour, and the role God and the spiritual will shrink into insignificance, just as science has squeezed God out of the modern understanding of the created world.

We must be really careful about positing a soul that is something distinct from the body. This would play into the hands of the “trans” people want to claim that a woman can been born with a man’s body, or vice versa. People are born with soul and body integrated in a unity. If there is a disconnect between what a person feels and their body, that is the consequence of the fall and the work of the spiritual powers of evil.

The immortality of the soul is a Greek idea. They believed that a pre-existent soul gets trapped in a physical body at birth, and at death goes back to its ideal state. It is not the Christian view.

The most important thing to understand is that we live in a universe that has spiritual and physical dimensions. We tend to forget that because we have becomes locked in the physical. More on this in my next post.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Romans 13 (7) My Journey

As far as I know, all translations and commentaries just accept the traditional interpretation of Romans 13. This is not surprising because most of the early translations into vernacular languages were done when the Christendom model was still widely accepted. Luther was beholden to political rulers for his protection from the pope so he supported state power. The translators who were set up by King James were not going to undermine his role.

Although Christendom has collapsed, most Christians still have a Christendom mindset, so they still trust in political power to make the world a better place. So the same approach to Romans 13 has been carried through into modern translations without any serious questioning, because they are done by biblical scholars who know very little about political theory.

I come from a different direction. Before, I became a Christian I was studying Economics and Political Theory. The main question of political theory is “How should humans govern themselves” and “what limits are there on government power”? Despite some very clever people having a go over a couple of thousand years, secular political theorists have not been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to these questions. When this frustration drove me to Jesus, I began looking in the scriptures for answers to the questions raised by political theory, because I knew God must have answers to them.

The standard Christian response based on Romans 13 seemed to be that “Whoever grabs power is God’s anointed”, and ”They can do whatever they like”, and “Christians must submit to them even if they are evil”. I had read enough history to realise that view was absurd, so I began to read the scriptures differently trying to find God’s true answer to the questions of political theory. It took a long time and serious study to see that God does have an answer.

Not many Christians take the journey that I did (no translators would), because most who are interested politics go to the scriptures to baptise/justify their existing political views. The traditional view of Romans 13 suits them well, because it gives the justification for the position that they have already adopted (and justifies their faith in political power). However, it is dangerous to answer little questions, if you have not resolved the big question correctly.

This series of posts has been quite selective. My full teaching on this topic can be read in Understanding Romans 13.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Romans 13 (6) Doing Good or Evil

Excellent judges are raised by God to do good to everyone. In contrast, rulers sometimes do what God wants them to do, but it is usually not good, or even nice. They do what is good for themselves, not what is good for everyone. At best, it is a lesser evil.

If we trust Jesus and obey him, we will live good lives. No one would become a good person by submitting to Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar or Pharaoh. Rather, they would struggle to be good, and would frequently have to compromise with evil to survive. Their only benefit is that they would be forced to trust in God for their safety.

Daniel served under several emperors, but it was a precarious life. He owed total allegiance to the emperor, and if he refused to obey his decrees, he could lose his place, and possibly be killed. (Actually, Daniel and his three friends would all have died, if God has not protected them from the lions and the furnace).

God placed Daniel in his role so he could speak prophetically, but it was a testing role. In the areas, where Daniel was governor, he had to implement the emperor's decrees, mostly with violent force. He would have to seize any wealth that the emperor demanded. Daniel was not able to establish the Kingdom of God in the places he was governor. His survival depended on his establishing the emperor's kingdom.

God put Joseph under Pharaoh in order to provide food for Abraham's descendants during a famine that the spiritual powers of evil planned to use to destroy the chosen nation before it got started. God did not put Joseph in his role to do good for everyone. Joseph actually enslaved the Egyptians who were land-owning independent farmers and turned them into serfs, totally dependent on the Pharaoh for their survival. They were rescued from a famine, but they paid a terrible price. Joseph was not able to advance the kingdom of God. Rather, he had to do everything that Pharaoh wanted, usually with ruthless force.

We should not be naïve about rulers. They are not good people that God has raised up to rule us so that we will become good, or even so that we will have good lives. God will sometimes use them to eliminate something evil that he is concerned about, or to accomplish some other important purpose, but mostly they will pursue their own good. They are usually manipulated and controlled by powerful government-spirits, so they will mostly be pursuing evil, even if they don't realise it.

We should only submit to a ruler because they have the power to make us do their will, and fighting against them would be a waste of effort, and would distract us from preaching the gospel and advancing the Kingdom of God. We should not assume that submission to rulers advances the kingdom of God or does good, because that would be naïve. It advances their kingdom and allows them to good for their friends.

The idea that submitting to a political ruler is the moral equivalent of submitting to God is absurd. Saying, as many do, that we don't have to obey if they are asking us to do something contrary to God's will does not help because it means we have to test every decree or ruling the political powers make to see if it aligns with God's will. We might just as well cut out the middleman and submit directly to Jesus and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we do that, we will be doing God's will, regardless of what the ruler does.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Romans 13 (5) Rulers

In Romans 13:3-4, Paul says that a worldly ruler (arkon) is God's servant. This is often misunderstood, because the contrast that Paul is exposing is missed by commentators who trust political power.

  • • A judge (exousia) is "God's servant for your good".

  • • A ruler (arkon) is "God's servant, an avenger for anger".

These are quite different roles. An excellent judge applying God's law provides the only true justice.

God sometimes uses rulers, but not to do good for everyone, because they are not capable of that, but to avenge those who do serious evil. In Romans 12:19, this is a task reserved for God, so his people are not to engage with it. Instead, they must respond to evil with good (Rom 12:17, 21).

In an article about called Prophetic Events, I described the nature of "Protective Judgements".

God sometimes assesses a nation and decides that it has become so evil that it is beyond saving. In this situation, he then has no choice but to allow its destruction to minimise evil. I refer to these as protective judgments, rather than destructive judgments, because their primary purpose is to protect the world from evil. God does not engage in mindless destruction. He always destroys empires when it is the best way to constrain evil.

In the Old Testament environment, prompting one nation to destroy another was often the only way to restrain evil. This did not destroy the evil spirits, but the disruption of war breaks down their uneasy unity and causes them to fight against each. Concentrating in one place allows them to leverage their evil. When evil spirits are dispersed and isolated, they do much less harm.

God uses powerful rulers as his servants. When evil gets out of control through an empire like Rome or Babylon, God often stirs another powerful ruler to destroy it. When the gospel is weak, this is often the best way for him to do it, although he would far rather that the people in the empire came to faith.

Isaiah called Cyrus the Persian God's shepherd and his anointed (messiah) (Is 44:28-45. God used him for two roles. He used him to subdue Darius the Mede, who had defeated Babylon and was getting out of hand and becoming evil. He took hold of Cyrus's "right hand to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour". The right hand symbolises military power. God used Cyrus's military prowess to shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

The second thing that God used Cyrus for was to get the temple rebuilt in Jerusalem (2 Chron 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1).

These verses explain that God moved Cyrus's heart. This is something that the Holy Spirit is skilled at doing. He is clever enough to put an idea into the mind of a ruler that he will like and implement, even though he has not chosen to follow God. Cyrus was superstitious and restored the worship of the local gods in many of the lands that he conquered. Cyrus had not chosen to follow Yahweh, but just wanted to ensure that the gods that controlled Israel were not offended. This is how the Holy Spirit was able to move his heart.

Of course, the Holy Spirit had no problems persuading him to take over the Median empire. Cyrus was a ruthless military leader, so he was eager for that challenge.

Although God called Cyrus his shepherd, he was not a follower of Yahweh. He was a ruthless ruler who controlled a huge empire with brutal force. In turn, Cyrus was controlled by a powerful government-spirit called the Ruler of Persia (Dan 10:13,20).

Cyrus was not interested in establishing the rule of God, but was intent on establishing the strength of his dynasty. He was not interested in serving God, but God was able to use him to achieve a few things that he wanted to achieve at that time.

Cyrus was not a good man that you would submit to in order to become a better person. Two types of people would submit to him. Most of the people within his empire had no choice but to submit to his decrees. They would be beaten if they didn't. Many of them would be slaves, and those who retained their freedom were not much better off. A favoured few would submit to Cyrus to support his rule and share in the benefits of his power. They would have to do everything that he demanded without question. These people served under Cyrus to become rich, not to do good in the world. If they fell out of his favour, they would lose all their wealth and possibly be killed.

Rulers are God's servants, in the sense that God uses them, but that does not mean that followers of Jesus should unreservedly submit to them, because they serve him infrequently and in quite a narrow way by disrupting evil when it gets out of control. The Holy Spirit has to be really clever to get them to do what he wants. He often has to appeal to their baser nature to get them to do his will. Most of the time, they do not serve God, because they reject the voice of the Spirit.

Christians should recognise that rulers will sometimes avenge a great evil. However, they should be very careful about obeying a ruler who is an unreliable servant and who is often controlled by powerful government-spirits.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Romans 13 (4) Rulers

Paul explains that those who resist God's system of good judges will find themselves under powerful worldly rulers who will do terrible evil. He contrasts God's judges (exousia) with worldly rulers. The word that he uses for "ruler" is "arkon". This is the same word as Paul used in the letter to the Ephesians to describe "government-spirits". Arkon are rulers that are opposed to God and usually controlled by powerful government-spirits.

Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul engages in a debate, setting out a false position and demolishing it, before stating the true position. With regard to government, he begins setting out the contrasts in Romans 12. God's people are called to radically change their thinking and do his will (12:2). They were to love one another by joining together in the body of Jesus and sharing in the gifts of the Spirit (12:3-8).

The body of Christ was a relatively safe place in an evil world, because they could support each other and provide for each other when resisting evil. Paul told them to hate evil and cling to good (12:9). They should not be conformed to the patterns of the world (12:2) by relying on political power to obtain justice (12:19). They should not repay evil with evil (12:17) or see revenge against those who harmed them (2:19)

Followers of Jesus should not participate in the arbitrary and evil of Roman power. It did not provide justice, but protected the rich and powerful. Instead of relying on political power, they should overcome evil by doing good and providing justice within the body of Jesus. This justice would be delivered by elders rising up to become good judges, as described in Romans 13:1-3.

Paul explains that people who object to the justice provided by excellent judges applying God's laws are rebelling against God.

Anyone resisting the decision of a good judge is rebelling against what God has put in place and will receive a sentence from God. Worldly rulers hold no terror for good works, but only for those choosing the evil way (Rom 13:2-3).

Those who reject God's system of justice will inevitably find themselves under worldly rulers. People who have chosen the best way within the body of Jesus are relatively safe from evil, because they can support each other to protect their community. Those who choose God's good life do not need to fear worldly rulers (arkon). Paul urges followers of Jesus to do good by sharing in his body.

If you want to be free of fear of a judge's authority (exousia), do what is good. You will praise him, because he is God's servant for your good (Rom 13:3-4).
Excellent judges applying God's law are the servants (deacons) of those who have chosen his good way. They do good for God's people. If we do not break the law by harming our neighbours, the judges will do no harm to us.

In contrast, worldly rulers (arkon) produce fear for those who reject God's way and choose to live under political power in whatever form prevails during their time.

But if you do evil, be afraid; for the ruler does not carry the sword for no purpose; for he is God's servant to avenge those who practice evil by decreeing sentence against them (Rom 13:4).
Worldly rulers carry a sword and they are not afraid to use it. Their justice is based on power and coercion. People who are forced to live under political power, or choose to live under it, should be afraid of their rulers, because they can hit them hard if they step out of line, even if they are right.

Rulers carry the sword in an attempt to overcome evil with lesser evil. They don't attempt to overcome evil with good, as God requires.

In contrast, good judges do good for people who have chosen God's way (Rom 13:4). They implement a voluntary justice based on love that always does good for those who accept it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Romans 13 (3) Excellent Judges

A big translation problem in Romans 13 is the word "authority" (exousia). It is used four times in the first two verses of the chapter, so its meaning is really important for understanding Paul's message. By attaching the word "governing", modern translations give exousia the strongest possible meaning. However, like the English word "authority", the Greek word "exousia" can take a broad range of meanings, including freedom, ruler, authority and judge. Its most common use is for the authority that was given to Jesus (Matt 28:10). It is also used to describe spiritual authorities (Eph 1:21; 6:12).

In Luke 12:11, exousia is used in the context of appearance before a court, so "judge" or "magistrate" is the appropriate translation. The context in Romans 13 is similar, as Paul is thinking about crime and punishment. In most societies, the punishment of crime is handled by judges in courts of law. Therefore, translating exousia as judge makes sense in this passage.

The usual practice of translating exousia as authority does not make sense as it implies that Christians should submit every political authority including evil dictators. Paul had warned that Christians should not be "overcome by evil". It is unlikely that he would follow this warning with a message of comfort to rulers and authorities who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

In Romans 13, exousia is authority that has been given by God to those who implement his law, so it must be referring to judges. The core message of Romans 13:1 is that all people should submit to excellent judges.

Every person should submit to the more excellent judges, because there is no legitimate judicial authority except under God.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Romans 13 (2) Lost Key

Most people come to Romans 13 looking for a Christian political theory. Unfortunately, they are disappointed. I come at the passage in a very different way. God gave Israel a perfect system of government when they entered the promised land. They did not need a system of government while they were slaves, but once they began to live together in a small piece of territory, they did. The perfect system that God gave Moses was his law applied by local judges. I describe it in more detail at Law and Judges. God's perfect system of government was recorded in the books of Moses, so God did not need to give it again through Jesus or Paul.

I stumbled on the key to Romans 13 when I was pondering its meaning. My father always referred to the government as "the powers that be" It took me a while to realise this was a quote from Romans 13:1. One day I was wondering about this odd expression, and the conjunction of the plural "powers" with a singular verb "be". I realised that it could be translated as "the judges that are". I then thought "Where?" and "How come they just are, and are not appointed?". It then clicked for me that Paul was referring back to two verses in Deuteronomy that I had recently read.

Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand... before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days (Deut 19:17 ASV).
Thou shalt come unto the judge that shall be in those days: and thou shalt inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment (Deut 17:9 ASV).
The modern translations refer to the judges that are in office in those days, but the word office does not exist in the Hebrew text. A literal translation would is "the judges that shall be in those days" or "the judges that are in those days". Paul would have been familiar with these texts. When he started thinking about justice and government, the Holy Spirit brought this expression to his mind.

These two verses summarise the perfect form of government that God gave through the Mosaic covenant: God's law applied by godly judges. So Paul was referring back to God's ideal government. He was not creating a new political theory in Romans 13:1, he was simply referring back to the perfect system of government that God has already given to Moses and confirming that God's will for government had not changed.

Paul affirmed the system of law and judges that God had already given, just as Jesus did (Matt 5:17-18). (That is why Jesus had nothing much to say about laws and structures of government.). Paul follows his affirmation of "God's law applied by local judges" by giving a few applications for life in the Roman empire, building on the more important behavioural stuff in Romans 12. (Law and government are always secondary for Christians.)

So if we want a Christian political theory, we cannot go to Romans 13, instead we must begin with Deuteronomy and God's law and local judges. I have not found any biblical commentary or Christian political theorist who has seen the link between Romans 13:1 and Deut 19:17 and Deut 17:9. But that does not surprise me, because most Christians who are interested in political theory hate God's law. However, they are missing an essential key, which explains why there has been so much confusion on this topic.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Romans 13 (1)

Most Christians assume that we must submit to all political powers. This cannot be true. If Paul believed that all authorities are from God, he would have used the word "all", but he did not. He used the Greek word "all" (pasa) when saying that "all people should submit", but he did not use it when saying which authorities to submit to.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established (Rom 13:1b).

The traditional interpretation of these verses is that we must submit to all political authorities, because their authority is from God. This is a false syllogism. To see the twisted logic, look at the following sets of statements.

All authority is ordained by God
Hitler has authority
Therefore Hitler is ordained by God,
so we must submit to him.
This following example exaggerates the point.
All authority is ordained by God
Satan has authority
Therefore Satan is ordained by God,
so we must submit to him.
That is not true. The correct logic is as follows.
All legitimate authority is from God.
Hitler and Satan are hostile to God
Therefore, the authority of Hitler and Satan is illegitimate.
The statement that all authority is ordained by God cannot be used to legitimise any and every political authority. It should inspire us to seek out legitimate authority.

If your interpretation of Romans 13 can be used to justify Hitler's power then there is something wrong with it. We need a better translation and interpretation of Romans 13.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Female Prophets

In my teaching about the Ministry of the Prophet, I have sometimes used the male pronoun, but this is just because writing he/she gets cumbersome after a while. And many of the examples that I quote come from the Old Testament where the prophets were mostly males. Nevertheless, I believe that everything that I have written about the ministry of the prophet apploes to men and women.

The Holy Spirit has been poured out equally on men and women, so he can use both men and women as prophets. All the ascension gifts described in Ephesians 4:11 are available to women.

The only constraint is that in a perfect world, all prophets should be submitted to elders who are pastors, apostles or evangelists, just as pastors, apostles and evangelists should be submitted to elders who are prophets. No one person should be in charge. Mutual submission is the key to the effective functioning of all these gifts. This applies to both women and men.

This issue is much wider than the role of prophets. Many modern churches struggle to recognise the role and gifting of women. If a woman belongs to a church with that approach, she will find it difficult to develop any ministry, let alone a ministry as a prophet. Many churches still want to be led by a single male pastor-leader. In that situation, the pastor will find any prophet threatening, whether they are male or female. They will want to tame them to keep them under control. This attitude will make it difficult for any woman to emerge into a prophetic ministry.

Various prophets have different personalities. Jeremiah was a very different person from Elijah, and perhaps more like Jesus. The same is true now. The various men and women that God calls to the prophetic ministry will have different personalities, so they will need to develop their ministry in a way that fits with their own personality. This means that some female prophets will function in a different way from some male prophets.

Deborah is the female prophet about whom the scriptures give us the most detail, (although others like Miriam and Huldah were mentioned). That does not mean that every female prophet should aspire to be like Deborah. Deborah was called to a particular task at a particular time and she had a personality suited to that role. Many female prophets will have a different role today, so they will have a different personality. Every prophet needs to work out who they are in relationship to their calling.

Women can take everything that I have written about the ministry of the prophet and use it if it is relevant to them. However, they will have to work out their calling where God has placed them in terms of the personality that God has given them.