God Talks to Me

“Jesus speak,s to me personally and directs me .he choose me to tell all about his love . And with his holy spirit help i will.” Those are the actual words given in response to a seven-page letter showing what the Scriptures teach on this subject. No one has any idea what this person thinks Jesus is saying to him, but He certainly is not telling him how to write, or there would not be 6 obvious grammatical mistakes in only three sentences (not counting the failure to capitalize references to Deity). Since God knew the Hebrew and the Greek, He can surely handle modern English.

So how can the Christian challenge the claims of someone who asserts that God is speaking to him? One could rightly say that the individual who so alleges is obligated to offer proof, but it is doubtful that he will feel compelled to comply. One could point out that anyone can say God is speaking to him. Muhammad averred that Allah spoke to him. Joseph Smith said he translated plates (which no one ever saw) by God’s inspiration. Cult leaders declare all the time that God speaks to them. So have some mass murderers. Obviously, such claims have no validity.

There is only one way to inject any kind of objectivity into this situation—and that is for the person claiming Divine communication to write it down. David wrote down what God said to him in the Psalms, just as Solomon did in Proverbs. Moses wrote God’s covenant with Israel so that all generations coming afterward could keep His commandments (Deut. 10:12-13). Jesus and His apostles not only spoke the word of God orally; their words were recorded by Divine inspiration. Had they not been written down, we would not have the Golden Rule and hundreds of other bits of information that we need. We would not have Divine inspiration’s explanation of the way Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament.

Therefore, all of those who think that God is speaking directly to them (instead of through the Word that He gave us) owe to the world the wisdom that God has imparted to them. If it was important enough to tell one person, then it needs to be communicated to all of us. Isaiah and Jeremiah did not keep their prophecies to themselves—or their denunciations of the nations of the world. John did not keep his revelation to himself. And neither should anyone else. All of those claiming that God speaks to them must write down their meditations and prophecies so that we may all evaluate the “Divine” wisdom they allege they have received.

New Congregations with Different Identities

Windows is a publication of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. The title of this article is an observation that the president of this institution has seen regarding modern practices—one with which he agrees. Older, easily identifiable religious denominations have been losing ground, and he is all for the new “street-level look” that is coming into view across the country. He refers to it as “evidence of the expanding visions of the church in our time.” (2).

In his article, “Preparing Leaders,” this same president praises the “church emerging in front of our very eyes” (9). As this reviewer began to consider the thoughts in this issue, an appropriate title suggested itself for all that is expressed in it: Gobbledygook. According to the dictionary, this term means: “unclear, often verbose, usually bureaucratic jargon.” In other words, the language is high-sounding and perhaps well-intentioned, but substance is lacking.

The seminary and its president are supportive of new expressions of worship that take place outside of church buildings, which seems to be the main thesis. One article talks about the “Nones” and the “Dones.” These individuals are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious” (10). To be more descriptive, the “Nones” have no religious affiliation (and perhaps never have had) and the “Dones,” referring to those who have left institutional churches. (Do they also have “clones”?) Others are included, such as those who

seek new, reforming visions for their expression. We meet in coffee shops and restaurants to talk about spirituality, life experiences, and the teachings of Jesus. This is sacred, convening ministry. It is certainly holy ground (10).

A better name for it would be shared ignorance. Does any of this remotely sound like what the Bible describes in the pages of the New Testament? Institutions like the Presbyterian Church left the teachings of the Bible when they became man-made institutions. Now they are in a culture that no longer is interested in those old, staid, and disappearing groups; so they are desperately trying to find a way to reach people. Instead, however, of returning to the Scriptures, they are following the tastes and dictates of the current culture in the name of relevancy.

The Church

Jesus established the church (Matt. 16:18), and brethren met without church buildings erected by great architects. Christians understood that the church consisted of those who were saved rather than referring to bricks and mortar. It is not wrong, however, to have a permanent meeting place, but the emphasis on the building itself seems to have displaced the idea that brethren could meet anywhere.

Worse than that was departing from God’s organization for the church. The Presbyterians and just about every other group made the church a man-made institution, which they controlled, rather than the blood bought body of Jesus Christ. The Lord, through His apostles, explained the structure of the church. Jesus is the Head (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). Each individual congregation is subject to Him (as hinted by the fact that He personally had John write letters to seven of His churches in Revelation).

Within each congregation, however, qualified men are to lead that particular group of Christians. These are overseers (bishops), pastors (or shepherds), and older men in the faith (presbyters) (see Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Deacons serve under these men (1 Tim. 3:1-13). No one, however, serves over these men except the Lord.

In other words, no one is over a region like Seminole County, in which all the churches would be subject to him or them (if it were a council). No individual or group would be over a state or an entire nation. Each group of Christians would be self-contained, autonomous. No national councils, synods, conferences, or conventions would exist if God’s plan in the New Testament were followed. All visitors would find anywhere would be independent churches under elders.

Now people are no longer interested in these old denominations and their unscriptural ways, but their solution is to become “relevant” rather than go back to the Scriptures, drop their denominational (and therefore divisive) names, and find out what the Bible teaches about salvation and acceptable worship.

Some Flaws

Considering some of the things we have seen thus far in the various articles in Windows, they are flawed as well. What are the “expanding visions of the church in our time”? The church’s work is described in the New Testament. Brethren (when persecuted) went everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8:4). Perhaps old institutions are crumbling because they had a different pattern from what is presented in the Bible. They developed a professional clergy with degrees that qualified them for…what? Many Christians know more Scriptures than these “professionals” do. They may be skilled in procedures, in church doctrine, in their own hierarchies, in history, in musical programming, and in fundraising, but if they were skilled in the Word, they would not be professional clergymen in the first place (Matt. 23:8-10)! The only visions of the church that matter are the ones Christ has for His body of believers. The “church that is emerging in front of our very eyes” is not the church for which Christ died. Is there some reason to think that “Nones” and “Dones” are qualified to know about the church?

“Church” Growth?

Another article deals with “experiments in church growth.” According to an article on this subject, in the 21st century, the three pillars of church growth are: worship, discipleship, and dialogue” (12). These are all Biblical, depending on the way one defines the terms. For example, discipleship is what Christianity is all about. Jesus trained many to be His disciples, but the definition was not coming to worship and sitting in a pew an hour a week, which is the way old institutions have misrepresented it. A disciple was a learner and a follower (Luke 14:25-35).

Worship can be offered to God anytime and anywhere (as opposed to thinking one must have a church building for it to be “official”). But the church must meet on the first day of the week to offer up its collective worship to God. Paul certainly had dialogue—and debates—with Judaizing teachers, as well as pagan philosophers. But what do these people mean by these terms? What Windows means by dialogue can best be described in the following quotation.

We begin by sharing our respective names and belief systems. Tonight we are: an evangelical, a gothic agnostic, a pagan, a couple of mainline Protestants, a self-identifying dual Christian and Buddhist, one religious “seeker,” a Latter-Day Saint participant, and a imam as our special guest….

Tonight an agnostic is selflessly encouraging a young Christian struggling with how to faithfully interpret her Bible readings (12).

Say, what? Can anyone honestly have the faintest expectation that any truth will emerge from this hodge-podge of religious debris? This is not the dialogue we read about in the New Testament. Meetings such as these will not bring anyone to a knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is only religious opinion-sharing with no common ground or basis of authority.

These people are obviously desperate to get anything going—even if it resembles the Star Wars cantina segment filled with spiritually-odd persons. A Christian Buddhist! Really? Didn’t Jesus say, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24)? And how, exactly, does an agnostic encourage someone in the faith? The really strange thing is that those involved in these programs don’t even see anything unusual.

Here’s the latest idea to reach people. Watch for this one to grow in popularity—a “drive-in prayer” ministry. At certain times a church member stands on a median as traffic drives by in front of the church building. He holds up a sign, asking people to come into the parking lot and pray with them. (At least they’re not asking for money.) They pray for their families, their jobs, for peace (or maybe for the traffic to abate?), and so on (9). This may be good public relations, but it is not evangelism, as defined in the New Testament.

No Biblical Message

The problem with this new approach to society is that it leaves them no distinctive message. The new leaders in the seminary are characterized by its president as being altruistic, passionate about social justice issues, tolerant, and enthusiastic about diversity (8-9). Is this supposed to be better than what Paul charged Timothy with, when he said, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16)?

In fact, one gets the idea that doctrine is passé. The president noted that “they are not interested in perpetuating the divisive churchly arguments and prohibitions that my generation vigorously suited up for….” (8). Does that mean that they will not defend their own teachings? Good, since Calvinism is full of error! But the downside is that they are not interested in doctrine of any kind, which means they are not concerned about truth, which makes it hard to be a disciple of Jesus, since He linked the two concepts together (John 8:31-32).

The president affirms that these new seminary students are “led by the Spirit” (9). This must be some new kind of definition because in the Bible those “led by the Spirit” followed God’s will and taught His doctrine. The attitudes these young people possess and the activities they are engaged in bear no resemblance to what was done in the New Testament. Practically all “Christians” today claim to be “led by the Spirit” when in reality they are only following their feelings.

What is missing in this issue of Windows, which describes what is currently happening in religion are some crucial elements of Christianity. A few Scriptures were cited in its 21 pages—maybe two or three. This precedent by itself shows the lack of emphasis on the Word of God in favor of what feels good or what is the “in” thing. God gave us a book filled with principles which, if followed, will cause people to want to become Christians (Matt. 5:14-16).

Nothing was said with respect to fearing God and keeping His commandments. One will look in vain for a single reference to holy living or forsaking sins or repentance. Are people not interested in “dialoguing” about such matters? The sad fact is that many people want to go to heaven without being part of the church, without worshiping correctly, or forsaking sin.

Comment

A copy of this magazine was sent to me by the Preaching Brother (P.B.) in another state, who has shared some really interesting materials. The magazine was delivered to him by mistake; so he took a look at it before sending it back on its way. He commented that the contents explain “why religions are failing and why they are literally mixing so much they are losing their old identities for new ones.” He believes that if this trend continues, they will become “one massive group of confused people.” Amen.

Detecting Bias

On November 9, 2008, Spiritual Perspectives printed the article, “The Day Journalism Died.” This conclusion was reached after watching how major news sources treated both candidates in that election. Fair journalism is still dead, and most of the polls are pretty sick after being exorbitantly off. But this article is not about the warped election coverage for which The New York Times apologized, the fact that there was collusion between CNN and Clinton campaign regarding Presidential debate questions, or other signs of a prejudiced press. Americans now see through attempts to discredit and disparage individuals they do not like.

Instead, the idea here is to show how reports of various events can be manipulated. The study of logic is quite helpful so that people can recognize ad hominem attacks, red herrings, and other means that are used to keep from getting at the truth. But Bob Kohn, in his book on Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted, explores the subtleties used to slant the news. He does not take issue with the opinion pieces of the New York paper; he objects to slanting what is supposed to be the news portion.

Justice cannot be done to the book’s 321 pages and to all the techniques used. A few will have to suffice in order to make a spiritual application. Kohn’s book was published in 2003; preceding it were Bernard Goldberg’s book, Bias, which demonstrated the prejudice of his colleagues at CBS (published in 2001), and Ann Coulter’s Slander (2002). Probably a great deal has been written since these landmark books as well.

One would think that public media would want to be fair and employ both liberals and conservatives to have a fair exchange of ideas. Yet virtually no Republicans work for National Public Radio or The New York Times (25). What kind of healthy discussion can one expect from one-sided institutions? (By the way, most college campuses are the same.) The Fox News Channel may not be perfectly “fair and balanced,” but they employ several liberals who are not bashful about challenging conservative thought. Compared to CNN, MSNBC, and other news networks, they shine as beacons of impartiality.

The New York Times once held lofty goals. In 1896, for example, their goal was: “To give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved” (27). In 1924 The Detroit News believed that a journalist’s “views, his personal feelings and his friendships should have nothing to do with what he writes in a story” (28). Textbooks in Journalism even taught that a news article should “give no opinions” (28). “Those were the days, my friend,” as Mary Hopkin might sing. A more modern textbook provides the new philosophy: “Rule Number 1: There are no rules….”

Headlines and lead paragraphs usually describe the gist of the story that follows. USA Today had a good opening to the news of USA troops capturing Baghdad. (April 10, 2003). They wrote:

Saddam Hussein’s government lost control of Iraq’s capital Wednesday as U.S. forces extended their reach deep into the city. Jubilant crowds tore down a 20-foot statue of the Iraqi leader and dragged its head through the streets in a scene reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (273).

This is a fair description of what occurred. Other newspapers reported similarly. The Los Angeles Times went so far as to record that crowds were dancing in the streets and calling out: “Victory! We are free! Thank you, President Bush!” (275). So what did The New York Times have to say? “Much of Baghdad tumbled into America’s hands today as Saddam Hussein’s image was pulled down from pedestals and portraiture in the city.” Seriously? Our forces did not apparently defeat Saddam Hussein; Baghdad just tumbled into America’s hands. Why, how fortunate we were there when it fell! Although the sentence mentions the statue of Hussein being pulled down, nothing indicates that the citizens of Iraq were involved in it or how happy they were to be rid of an evil tyrant (273)!

Most newspapers tend to be on the liberal side of things, but most of the major ones had the proper emphasis with this story. They described within the first two sentences: “Cheering, dancing Iraqis swarmed city streets”; “Exuberant defiance created an indelible image of liberation”; “Cheering Iraqis…yanked the monument to the ground”; etc. (274-75). However, the Times opened with no references to the ecstatic mood of the Iraqi people. After the opening sentence, all they could think of was to pour cold water on the celebration by saying: “But American and British commanders said the war in Iraq, including the battle for Baghdad, was not over and faced critical days ahead” (273).

Distortion

One way to distort matters is to quote those who agree with the newspaper’s position—but refrain from mentioning anyone’s name. Sometimes confirmation for a “fact” comes from unnamed sources, administration officials, or someone equally invisible. Apparently the need to document what is stated is alleviated by an obscure reference to: “experts feel,” “critics believe, “observers say,” or, “It is widely thought…” (127). As Iraq fell, the Times reported that 170,000 artifacts were stolen from the National Museum. They further stated that the loss was “likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in Middle Eastern history” (278). One Muslim archaeologist was cited. What did the truth turn out to be? Only 25 were lost. “Likely”?

One would never know that The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999) says: “Anonymity should not become a cloak for attacks on people, institutions or policies” (140). Even when studies are cited, one must be careful about how the study was conducted, but how much worse is it when an article simply reports that “studies say”?

Sometimes stories are purposely slanted. The Times decided on August 15, 2001 to do a story about refugees seeking asylum here in the United States—about how their requests were being overlooked. The story said that a “Republican-backed” law, aimed at fighting illegal immigration was to be blamed. However, the paper failed to mention that the law was also backed by Democrats, since it passed the House 370-37. Furthermore, Bill Clinton had signed the legislation into law (161). So what was the point of saying that this was a “Republican-backed” law, if not to indicate that all the blame should be lodged against them?

When a Republican used various means to ensure having a debate on a certain bill, the Times said he was using parliamentary tricks. When a Democrat did the same thing, he was commended for using time-honored procedures (176). Surely, no one would call this favoritism, would they?

The Times has also been known to fudge facts to gin up support for their causes. On March 21, 2003 they reported 5,000 people were chanting, “Peace Now,” in New York’s Times Square. That sounds like a significant number of protesters. According to the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the New York Sun, however, there were actually only 200-300 people present (243).

Examples of the ways a newspaper can slant the news abound in this book, which shows that, as much as possible, citizens should fact check what they read, hear, or see—whether they share the ideology of the source or not. Fake news can infiltrate those on both the right and the left. Everyone should be cautious.

Biblical Application

If there’s one thing we have learned over the years, it is that cults and other religious groups can take Scriptures out of context to make an argument or advance their theology. A few weeks ago, another member and I met with a Baptist couple. It was a fair discussion in terms of both of us being able to speak and make a case. But at a certain point in the discussion, he asked if he could share with us the way in which he studies with people. So he began by reading several passages that dealt with the subject of faith, such as Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24, Ephesians 2:8-9. Finally, I said to him, “We believe these same passages and use them. Are you going somewhere with this?” He said, “None of these mention baptism. Salvation is by faith only, and these passages prove it.” I pointed out they don’t mention repentance, either. Is it not essential to salvation?

However, a better answer might have been to use the same technique that he did. Here are some Scriptures that could be used.

Acts 2:38: Neither the words grace nor faith are found anywhere in this text, although forgiveness of sins is. Does this prove that faith is not necessary?

Acts 10:47-48: Nothing is said about faith or repentance in this text. Are they irrelevant?

Acts 22:16: Ananias didn’t tell Paul to believe or repent; therefore, they are not necessary in order to be saved.

Romans 6:3-6: Faith is not mentioned, but baptism, as a burial, is.

1 Corinthians 12:13: Baptism is certainly necessary to get into the body of Christ, but faith is not mentioned.

1 Peter 3:21: How much clearer can it be? Baptism saves us. We have no need of faith or repentance.

Of course, this argument is absurd. Nobody believes that baptism, by itself, can save anyone (although those who practice infant “baptism” must think so). We recognize that faith, repentance, and baptism are all essential to salvation. Just because repentance is not mentioned in every account of salvation does not mean that some were exempt from it. Just because faith is not mentioned each time baptism is does not prove that faith is useless. To argue this way would be to purposely slant the evidence to establish a theological position. It would be reprehensible.

But why is it not equally reprehensible for people to quote passages which only mention faith—but exclude repentance and baptism? In the first place, most of the verses used are summary verses and not even dealing with an actual account of salvation. Consider Hebrews 11:6. It is in the “faith” chapter. The whole point of the chapter is to observe what faith can accomplish. All of the examples are from the Old Testament and have nothing to do with the salvation that is offered in the New. They do teach that faith is an essential quality to have in order to please God, but the text does not declare that it is all that is needed. The Bible student ought to remember that Hebrews 5:9 says that salvation is granted to all that obey Jesus.

John 1:12-13 and 3:16, as well as other passages also stress the need of faith; nobody is trying to invalidate these precious words. But none of these verses is: 1) dealing with a specific instance of someone being saved from sin (like those on Pentecost, in Samaria, and various other locations; 2) claiming that faith is all that is necessary. Those who try to use these verses in this way, whether intentional or not, are slanting the Scriptures just as the Times does its news stories—and for the same reason—to push their agenda. “Faith only” is not New Testament teaching; people try to prove it to establish their own theology. People need complete honesty in order to be saved.

“Baptized in the Name of….”

Some have expressed confusion over what should be said when a person is baptized. All who believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God know that It does not and cannot contradict Itself, yet for some reason they think they must choose between being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19) and being “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38)—as though one of these is right and one of them is wrong. Very simply put, the first was uttered by Jesus, and the second by an apostle of the Lord, speaking through inspiration. Matthew who recorded the first one and Luke, who recorded the second, were both writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who would not have allowed them to conflict with each other.

Since all Scriptures harmonize, therefore, we ought to ask ourselves what each verse means. The Greek preposition in Matthew 28:19 is actually eis and should be translated “into,” as the American Standard rendered it. Other translations use “into” in other verses, such as 1 Corinthians 10:2 and Galatians 3:27—but not here—which is a strange inconsistency. Vine says that the name (into which sinners are baptized) implies all that name stands for—“of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc., of everything that name covers” (782). In other words, it means we are submitting to His authority in all things—not only in being baptized but in the way we adopt His character, also.

Notice that name is singular, thus showing the unity of the three personalities of the Godhead. How ironic, then, that a few cite this verse to “prove” that baptism should be repeated three times—once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit. No one in the New Testament was immersed three times. They were baptized into the name of Deity.

In Acts 2:38, “in the name of Jesus” simply means by His authority, as it does in most passages where we find “in the name of the Lord” (Deut. 18:22; Jer. 44:6; Col. 3:17). This phrase does not mean that Jesus is the only one in the Godhead (as some think), which would contradict Matthew 28:19. Jesus baptized when He was teaching (John 4:1-2), and baptism does join us with His death; so it is by His authority. However, the Lord said that all He taught and did was authorized by the Father. The verse in Matthew is broader, but baptism is both in His name and into His name. Either is proper. The important thing is that a person knows the reason for being baptized.

“Energized” by the Spirit

Seventh-Day Adventists follow the teaching of Ellen G. White. They seem to defend everything she wrote whether she agreed with the Scriptures or not. She was in error on many things—not the least of which was insisting that worship be on the Sabbath day because it was part of the Law of Moses—even though the New Testament says that the Law was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) and that we are under the new covenant of Jesus (Heb. 8:6-7). But much more information is available on this subject in other articles.

The point is that even on their advertising brochures one of their local groups quotes from her. The sixpanel brochure has a front cover that identifies itself as Solomon Porch Advent Ministries, complete with name, address, telephone, and website. The first two inside columns serve as a worship program; the third one lists announcements. The fifth page identifies what the Solomon’s Porch Church is, and the last one contains a quotation from Ellen G. White, a portion of which is cited below.

There is too much formality in our religious services. The Lord would have his ministers who preach the word energized by His Holy Spirit; and the people who hear should not sit in drowsy indifference, or stare vacantly about, making no responses to what is said.

The gist of the entire paragraph is that people should be involved in worship, occasionally saying, “Amen,” when it is warranted. She goes so far as to say that the “spirit of the world has paralyzed” worshipers and that the “truths of God’s word are spoken to leaden ears and hard, unimpressible hearts,” which is quite an indictment. We agree that for worship to be in spirit and in truth, all must participate in each of the various aspects of worship.

The puzzle is what she means in the paragraph cited above when she says ministers should be “energized by His Holy Spirit.” So what is supposed to happen? The Holy Spirit revealed God’s Word, and it is a message of eternal life. What is supposed to make it better than that? Was Paul not energized by the Holy Spirit when he preached directly by inspiration? Even so, Eutychus fell asleep (Acts 20:9). The problem was not with Paul, the Holy Spirit, or the Word. Eutychus simply “was overcome by sleep.”

Surely, he did not intend to fall asleep; he was undoubtedly eager to hear what Paul had to say, but a combination of various factors probably led to what occurred. He may have been up since dawn, worked all day, and it was way past his usual time for sleep. Paul did speak until midnight. He could also have been ill, and his body needed rest. We don’t know what all entered into it, but it was not the fault of God’s Holy Word.

Would Eutychus have remained awake if he had been saying an occasional, “Amen”? Not necessarily. When someone is tired, he can say, “Amen,” and still fall asleep between the next two syllables. Today, we might avoid this embarrassment if we made sure that we were well-rested before coming to worship (although this is an ideal situation that is not always possible).

So, if a person could fall asleep while an apostle inspired of the Holy Spirit spoke, what does Ellen G. White mean by ministers “energized” by the Holy Spirit? Did she expect them to shout periodically or wave their arms in the air? Was she advocating that they leap around the podium like the prophets of Baal did around their altar? All of these might keep people awake, but they are not proof of being energized by the Spirit.

Did she mean what some people have since talked about—that the Bible is basically a dead letter, and it needs to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit who inspired it in the first place. At first glance, some think that such a notion makes sense, but if what the Spirit initially inspired has become dead, then what will happen when it is illuminated the second time? Will additional illuminations need to follow every time it begins to become dead again?

Or maybe White just means that a minister should preach with enthusiasm. Brethren have made the same observation, however—totally unrelated to the Holy Spirit. As one black brother said years ago: “Either put some fire into the sermon, or throw the sermon into the fire.” Just because someone does not “appear” to be as enthusiastic as someone else does not mean he is deficient. Different individuals express themselves in different ways.

The same is true if people think White is talking about conviction. A number of different preaching styles might be observed, and every one of them could be coming from a person of conviction, yet seldom might any two of them express themselves identically. In fact, some who seem very enthusiastic and “full of the Holy Spirit” may have no convictions at all. Everything they do might be for show or to garner financial support, as some do from a TV audience.

The only person who is really “energized” by the Holy Spirit is the one who preaches what the Spirit inspired in the Word. One obtains convictions and enthusiasm from knowing the Word of God, and that condition results only from studying and meditating upon Holy Writ. No one today receives knowledge directly from God; it comes through diligent study and application of that which edifies and builds up. For that reason Paul commended the Word of God (Acts 20:32). Only the Scriptures will make a person wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) and cause him to teach or preach the truth. Relying on the word of men (or women) results in error.

Perfect Pitch

This event actually occurred, although four decades have elapsed since it happened. Names and places are omitted, however, to protect the participants. Some men of the congregation had an opportunity to attend a song leading class with a nearby church hosted by brethren. A few men decided to take advantage of the opportunity and felt that they profited immensely. They all returned with bright, shiny pitch pipes to use in order to be certain that each song began on the right note. Not everyone was convinced that these contraptions would make that much of a difference, but no one protested—until the day when its use caused a tiny problem. The brother directing this portion of the worship announced the song, and the congregation began to sing when suddenly the song leader had an uncontrollable urge to cough. He had been taught, as most people have, that it is not polite to cough without covering one’s mouth. The only problem was that he did not have a free hand. He was holding the songbook in one hand and the pitch pipe in the other. Reacting quickly, he used that hand to cover his mouth. BEEP! BEEP! The preacher, sitting near him, held out his hand and motioned to him. So, he reluctantly and sheepishly surrendered his pitch pipe, never to receive it back.

How to Sleep Through a Sermon

[This article was published by a church in another part of the state of Florida. It has been copied and adapted (and who knows what else) from a February, 2008 issue of Homiletics. Coincidently, it shows that clean humor exists. The full title is: How to Sleep Through a Sermon Without the Preacher Noticing.]

We all know how taxing it is to get up early on a Sunday morning. Most folks arise early Monday through Friday because they need to work for a living. If Saturday is a day off, some will be up early (maybe before dawn) to go fishing or otherwise prepare for a day of recreation. That only leaves Sunday to sleep in and really enjoy oneself. Couldn’t worship wait just a little while? There should be time for a leisurely awakening (sometime around 11:00 A.M., let’s say). After getting ready and eating breakfast out, there is plenty of time left in the day to remember God—well, say, after a judicious nap. We could all meet around 4:00 P.M., and everyone would be happy, but, no, we are accustomed to meeting at nine or ten in the morning. One can scarcely blame those who need additional rest after rising early enough to be present. So, here are some tips on how to sleep during the sermon without getting caught.

First, never fall asleep flat on the pew. To avoid this embarrassment, it is actually better to sit in a crowded pew, shoulder to shoulder, with worshipers on your left and on your right. Otherwise, you might slide into a prone position, and that’s really noticeable. Read Acts 20:9 and learn from it. A guy named Eutychus was sitting in a window while Paul was preaching, and he toppled three stories to the ground below. He was “taken up dead,” but fortunately the apostle Paul was able to intervene and restore his life. Our aim here is not to be judgmental or “preachy,” but bad things can happen when you snooze without taking the proper safeguards. Besides, your preacher is no apostle Paul. Trust me.

Second, when you sleep, don’t fall completely asleep; just take power naps instead. If you fall completely asleep, your sleep apnea may kick in, and that would make you conspicuous. It’s far better to just half-sleep and remain vaguely aware of your surroundings. It helps to use a Bible to prop your chin up—or lean against your head. You can close your eyes as long as the Bible is in view. That way the preacher will probably think you’re praying. Also, you’ll be ready if the preacher asks you to lead the closing prayer.

Third, have a friend be a watcher. Sit with someone who is sympathetic to your cause. Your spouse might not be the right person for this. A spouse tends to poke you, which in turn may cause you to shout suddenly, attracting attention to yourself. No, you need a friend who will give you a gentle nudge if the preacher seems to be looking in your direction a lot. Make sure that a Bible is open on your lap or is prominently in view. In those moments when you are barely conscious, turn a few pages, rustling them loudly, so that people will think you are following along. Occasionally, your friend can rouse you so that you can say a quick, “Amen,” and then get right back to your nap.

Fourth, do not sit on the back pew. Believe it or not, this is the first place preachers look for sermon slackers. If you sit in the first few rows, you can actually get more sleep because normally preachers are looking right over you. You might think this ploy doesn’t work, but try it. You should come away well rested.

Fifth, make it a point not to sleep through the entire sermon. After all, the preacher probably has something you really need to hear. But once you’ve heard it, you have no further obligation to stay awake. Also, if you remain awake for at least part of the message, you can then refer to it on your way out, when you’re telling him how much you enjoyed the service. You can shake his hand and say, “Wonderful sermon, preacher! I especially enjoyed the part where….”

These tips have proven helpful to an awful lot of folks. Just make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Disassociation

The problem with a so-called “Christian” nation is that many so-called Christians disconnect themselves from the teachings of Christianity and the way they behave. One wonders, for example, how many “Christians” paid $125- $275 to go see the “Here Comes the Funny Tour” this past Monday night (Dec. 12, 2016). The four comics performing were Adam Sandler, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Nick Swardson—some of whom once appeared regularly on Saturday Night Live.

So, what’s wrong with seeing comedians? Nothing, per se. About three decades ago this writer’s whole family went to see Jay Leno perform in Peoria. The humor was clean, and everyone was entertained (the price was not nearly so high back then, either). But it is sickening to see how this funfest is advertised. The Orlando Sentinel’s description on December 8th is that these men are “known for off-color, raunchy jokes” (A2). That’s the appeal? People don’t get enough of that in locker rooms and in some workplaces? They are willing to plunk down money to hear “professionals” use such terms?

Have we left the era of clean humor altogether in the past? Didn’t people laugh their heads off at Red Skeleton, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, George Goebel, Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, and many others whose humor did not need to rely on bathrooms or bedrooms to get laughs? What? Are we too “sophisticated” for that? Or have people just lowered their standards? Why do people suddenly erupt into applause when vulgar terminology is used? What’s the motivation behind that? Are they afraid of being called a “square”?

We teach little children, “O be careful, little ears, what you hear.” So what happens when they grow up? Faulty memories? Christianity teaches that we should not speak like these “comedians.” Paul wrote: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). Those who utter words of vulgarity violate this principle taught in the New Testament of Jesus; those who listen sin, also. A Christian cannot engage in either of these practices. Yet how many who speak corrupt language and listen to it with approval count themselves as Christians? Not Sandler—he’s Jewish. One’s actions must be consistent with that which he professes.

The Bible and Dance

Coming soon at a church building near you will probably be a dance troupe—especially if you live near Cleveland, Tennessee. Newspapers love stories like this one. If fifteen people were baptized during a gospel meeting, they would probably not even include a whisper of it. But let someone brew beer while worshiping God, or serve non-alcoholic Pina coladas while doing Jamaican dances, and those will receive attention. The article about the dance troupe garnered a large layout in section E of the Times Free Press of Chattanooga on November 19, 2016.

Above the headline, across the top of the page (except for one column) is a photograph about 5 x 7, containing a scene from the story of Joseph. Underneath two lines of description of the story is found a large title in the following style:

The BIBLE
In DANCE

To the right of the title is a small picture (about 1½ x 2), that shows a cast member being made up. Below the title in a (2 x 2¾ inset) is one of the performers, who also teaches dance. The last scene on the page (just under 4 x 6 in size) shows more characters from the Troupe. A performance at Lee University was being advertised. The 45 dancers were performing “Dreamer: The Diary of Joseph” for free (E1). One wonders what kind of dancing is performed. The answer is that it is a mixture of different types—from ballet to hip hop, with even some tap dancing thrown in.

What is its purpose? “It is used to add beauty and emotion to a service” (E6). No doubt it may do exactly that, but the question few ever ask is, “Did God authorize it?” (Most people do not understand this principle, which shall be examined more fully later.) God certainly knew about the power of dance. It found a tremendous response in Herod—so much so that he promised half of his kingdom to Herodias’ daughter. John was beheaded as a result of the beauty and emotion she evoked.

The article focuses on Unity Dance Troupe, but it also mentions that dancing in worship has become more popular in recent years. This group does not dance the way Herodias’ daughter did, which most scholars have thought was in quite a seductive manner. The costumes of the Troupe are loose-fitting and not intended to draw attention to their bodies—but rather “keep their audience focused on the message they are trying to convey” (E6). A spokeswoman for the group says: “I think audiences see the heart and worship behind it and see the presentation of Bible stories in a new perspective” (E6). But again, the question must be asked: “Does God authorize it?”

The Old Testament

As one might expect, Miriam and the women of Israel are cited as justification for dancing in worship today. Not much is actually said in Exodus 15:20-21:

Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea!”

It was a joyous occasion. Many believe that, after each section was sung by the men (Ex. 15:1-18), the women responded with this chorus. The text does not say what kind of dancing it was, nor is any specific motion mentioned in other similar verses, such as Judges 11:34 (Jephthah’s daughter); 21:21 (the daughters of Shiloh); 1 Samuel 18:6 (Israelite women upon David’s return); 21:11 (a reference to 18:6); 29:5 (another reference to 18:6)—or even Exodus 32:19, where there was dancing in connection with the golden calf. Nothing in the Hebrew word conveys the type of dancing referred to. It seems to be an expression of joy.

The Hebrew word cited above was Strong’s #4246. A related word [#4234], is also found several times (Ps. 30:11; 149:3; 150:4; Jer. 31:4, 13; Lam. 5:15). This Hebrew word simply describes a generic dance.

Two other words are used less frequently. One of those [#2342] Strong defines as “to twist, whirl, dance, writhe, tremble, be in anguish, be pained.” It is translated “dance” in Judges 21:21 and 23. Another word finds its way into Hebrew texts [#7540], and it refers to “skipping about, dancing, or leaping.” It is used in Job 21:11, Ecclesiastes 3:4, Isaiah 13:21, and 1 Chronicles 15:29.

The word describing David’s dancing is found only in 2 Samuel 6:14 and 16 [#3760], which means to whirl or dance. The only other Old Testament verse with dancing in it (not already mentioned) is 1 Samuel 30:16. The word used there [#2287] usually refers to holding a feast, but it also can include dancing.

These are all the words used in the Old Testament that are translated dancing. Generally, there is no negative connotation inherent in these words. Something evil might happen in connection with dancing, such as being associated with the golden calf, but that is incidental. Most of the dancing was individual and involved nothing more than expressions of joy, as with Miriam and the women, the daughters of Shiloh, David, and Jephthah’s daughter. As Solomon put it in Ecclesiastes 7:4: “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” The contrast in both cases is between sorrow and joy.

What, therefore have we seen about dance in the Old Testament? Many participated in it on certain occasions. But there are three notable points to observe from all these words and passages. First, none of these involved concepts that we find in modern ballroom dancing. None of the instances involved men and women as partners. Second, none of the dancing involved lascivious movements or unchaste handling of males and females. Third, none of these instances involved worshiping God. They were not done in either the tabernacle or the temple, nor were they conducted by the priests or the Levites.

The New Testament

But even if they had been authorized in worship, it would have been under a covenant that is no longer in effect. The Law was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14), and it has been replaced by the New Testament of Jesus Christ. No one can go to the Old Testament and cite it as authority for what is practiced in New Testament worship. This is true as it pertains to dancing, the use of instrumental accompaniment when singing, using incense, or worshiping on the Sabbath day.

“But,” someone protests, “Psalm 150:4-5 says that we should praise God with the timbrel and the dance, with stringed instruments, with flutes, and with loud cymbals.” Yes, it does, but that was under the Old Testament. Paul states very clearly in Galatians 5:1-4 that anyone who tries to go back to the Old Testament to justify a religious practice (such as circumcision) must obey everything written there (including animal sacrifices)—and even then he would still only have succeeded in falling from grace. Notice that no one ever quotes a New Testament verse to justify dancing or the use of musical instruments.

The reason is that our system of worship does not authorize these practices. We must have authority from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit who inspired the New Testament for us to be certain that what we teach and practice is, in fact, pleasing to God (Col. 3:17). It is not necessary to have a command that says NOT to dance or use incense or use musical instruments to accompany singing. Where does God authorize it?

Are there any words in the New Testament that deal with dancing? Yes. One word [3769] is used in four verses. Two of them refer to a general statement the Lord made: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance” (Matt. 11:17, Luke 7:32). The other two instances both refer to the daughter of Herodias dancing for Herod and his friends (Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:22). Notice that, as with the Old Testament verses, 1) none of these involve concepts that we find in modern ballroom dancing or instances of men and women dancing as partners; 2) none of the dancing involved lascivious movements or unchaste touching; 3) none of these instances involved worshiping God; and 4) none of them were done in connection with the church. So far as we know, Jesus did not dance, leap, or whirl before God, nor did any of His apostles.

One other Greek word is translated “dancing,” and it is found only in Luke 15:25 [5525]. It refers to a circle, a ring, round dancing. Nothing seems to be wrong with this kind of dancing. Many countries have various folk dances that do not resemble in the slightest intimate ballroom dancing, nor is there any inappropriate behavior. Those dancing in Luke 15:25 were rejoicing in the return of the prodigal son. Since the father in the story represents God the Father, this expression of happiness was evidently authorized. However, this event does not authorize dancing in worship to God. Nothing either in the Old or New Testaments does.

Social and Religious Acceptance Is Not Adequate

The newspaper article says that certain religious groups are accepting the Dance Troupe. The United Methodist Church has been okay with it for more than ten years; the Church of God has allowed performances there, also. Even the Baptists are into it (E6). The article found that amusing.

Who hasn’t heard jokes about Baptists and dancing—“Baptists think dancing is one of the seven deadly sins,” for example (E1)?

Now some are not only accepting it; they are involved in it. The article highlights Katie Ervin, who “joined a praise dancing club at age 9. Now a senior at Silverdale Baptist Academy, she began teaching praise dancing at age 15…” (E6).

However, a practice cannot be determined right or wrong by who accepts it. For centuries many religious groups rejected the use of instruments of music in worship, but now almost everyone accepts the practice. Yet those who opposed it had valid Scriptural reasons for doing so. For more than two hundred years, the people in the northern kingdom worshiped a golden calf as God in two different locations. They also had priests from just any tribe instead of from the Levites. They changed a feast day appointed by God (1 Kings 12:25-33). We don’t know how they felt about it when it was first done, but after a generation or so, it was accepted and never changed back. God took them into captivity because of the sins of Jeroboam, who made these changes (2 Kings 17:21). Passage of time does not change something wrong into something right.

Using a dance troupe is, at this time, something new and novel. It may well gain acceptance—especially if people find it meaningful. However, the acceptance of the practice will not be approved by God, who has not authorized it. If it prevails, it will be just one more thing that “Christians” have become enamored with. One wonders what kind of impact might be made upon this world if those professing to be Christians would spend as much time and study on being evangelistic. In other words, what if people studied to be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason of the hope that is within us? What if we were ready with Scriptural answers to Biblical questions? Having that ability takes talent, study, and practice, too.

A Celebrity Tells the Truth

Okay, so dealing with celebrities is always dicey. First of all, they are not necessarily knowledgeable about social or political affairs just because they enjoy celebrity status. And who knows how solid a position they hold is. But having thrown in a caveat, it is worth listening to what America’s Got Talent host, Nick Cannon, said about Planned Parenthood when he averred that the organization promoted “population control.” He also said they practice “modern day eugenics” and that they are inflicting “real genocide” on the African American community (Fox News, November 29, 2016).

What makes this a newsworthy story is that hardly any well-known personality has spoken with such earnestness and accuracy about Planned Parenthood. Margaret Sanger, the founder of the organization, did believe in practicing eugenics, which is defined as “higher rates of sexual reproduction among people with desired traits (positive eugenics), or reduced rates of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics).” Less reproduction and sterilization is precisely what Sanger desired for the black population. One news article commented thus: “Cannon is absolutely correct. In New York City alone, more black babies are aborted than born alive.”

Planned Parenthood has always been about family planning—with an emphasis on having few or no children. The idea of planning a family is something that probably most couples do, but if the unexpected occurs, they do not usually decide in favor of abortion, which Planned Parenthood heartily recommends—and performs—for a fee. They are the largest abortion provider in the United States and have received money from the federal government for years— which hopefully will soon come to an end. Imagine—using the tax dollars of citizens to support this barbaric practice!

One news story said, “Cannon previously stated that he felt it was his duty to tell the truth.” They quote him as saying: “I come from a long line of community leaders and I’ve always thought that to who much is given, you’re responsible for that, much is required. So I use my platform to tell the truth at the end of the day,” he said, referring to Luke12:48. This is really impressive—a celebrity who can cite Scripture—and apply it correctly. If a few more would speak out—especially female celebrities—it might prove helpful in turning the tide against the pro-abortion propaganda.