Friday, August 21, 2015

Relationship evangelism

Jason Engwer made the following excellent observation:
I recently heard somebody commenting on how Christians often use Facebook, Twitter, and other media to do things like post photographs of their children and discuss sporting events, yet say nothing about subjects like God and the Bible. I've been astonished by how many people's Facebook accounts are a form of evangelization for secularism... They have so much to say about their children and grandchildren, friends, music, movies, television, sports, their jobs, politics, travel, food, etc., but so little to say, if anything, about matters like God, theology, and apologetics. When people see something like your Facebook account, blog, or Twitter page, do they see a secular, or nearly secular, lifestyle?
I'd disclaim that there are very important matters we should be discussing, and a lot, other than theology and apologetics, such as national sin, Christian obligation in response, and how we are confronting the culture with the Gospel. But a charitable reading of Engwer's remark could subsume those things under his having mentioned God, so let's let that go.

A friend responded on my Facebook wall:
It is called relationship evangelism. I see Facebook as a tool to build relationships. When you build a relationship with someone and get a deep look into their everyday lives, then people feel comfortable coming to you and talking to you about other things including religious beliefs. Why would anyone want to come to you for support if they feel you are going to judge them?

We let others know we are sinners too and our hope for a better tomorrow doesn't come from what we do but instead because of what Christ did for us.

I am not a better person because I go to church, abstain from certain things, or preach more than someone else. I am a better person because my heart is right with God because of what He did, not because of what I do.

"In the last days many will come to Me saying, didn't we preach in your name, heal the sick, raise the dead, and I will say to them, depart from me I never knew you" Jesus said.

We have to be careful that we do not preach to be seen by men but only speak to people as led by God. If a person's motive for posting is so others see you as a "good Christian" they will have their reward with men. If their motive for posting is because the Holy Spirit put it on their heart, the reward will be from God.

I have serious, serious reservations about this notion of "relationship evangelism". A few reasons why:
1) By aiming not to offend with too much overt Jesus, you show that you are willing to not be all about Jesus pretty much all the time. And that provides an example for others to follow. They can justify also not being all about Jesus because you aren't.
2) Most of the time, "relationship evangelism" is used an excuse NOT to share the Gospel. People never get around to it.
3) When/if you do get around to it, how credible will your profession to love Jesus be since you rarely talk about His being the King of your life?
4) Relating to people is not exclusive to being overtly all about Jesus. What you're actually doing is relating to people who are not convicted of their sin, while those who just might be convicted of their sin don't know that you are all about Jesus because you don't act or talk like you're all about Jesus. You're dealing with swine, in that case, and not even finding out that they're swine.
5) How can you avoid talking about Jesus all the time if you belong to Him? Where is your heart?
6) Where in the Bible do we ever see anything that looks like the relationship "evangelism" you propose?
7) When *do* you preach the Gospel? When you said "preach", did you mean "talk to someone one on one"? Did you (God forbid) mean something that a "pastor" does on Sunday mornings within the walls of a church building?
8) How is it the act of a friend to withhold the most important message that you have ever heard from them, the only news that can save them from Hell and eternally suffering the wrath of God?

You said:
\\I am a better person because my heart is right with God because of what He did not because of what I do.\\

I'd be really careful with that sort of language. You're not better. Anything good that you have or are you received from God by pure grace. It would be far better to say "I am better off". Saying "I am a better person" calls attention to yourself rather than Jesus.

You said:
\\We have to be careful that we do not preach to be seen by men\\

True, but ironically, your notion of relationship "evangelism" *AVOIDS* preaching so as to be seen (and esteemed) by men.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The negligible danger of making evangelism one's mistress

Certain street preachers of some popularity take every opportunity they can, it seems, to warn their readers/listeners against making evangelism and open-air preaching a "mistress" and thus neglecting family, marriage, and the more "mundane" (as it were) aspects of church membership.
Yes, that happens, here and there. Yes, nobody should neglect their family or other responsibilities while they do other good things. Yes, it is a warning well taken. Yes, it should be stated here and there.
But is that a relevant warning to the vast, vast majority of professing Christians in America? Are we in the middle of a huge movement of men spending forty hours per week at work and then another forty out on the street or at the abortion mill preaching and evangelising while their families languish at home? No.
So, forget a "huge movement" - are we witnessing even a significant minority of the professing Christians of America doing so or anything close to it? No.
As conceded above, of course to do such a thing would be bad and sinful. But there's something else that is bad and sinful, which *is* in fact a vice shared by the vast, vast majority of professing Christians in America - a profound and vast complacency vis-à-vis the fact that people, BY THE THOUSANDS, are dying and going to Hell and murdering their babies, every single day, and that same vast, vast majority is doing nothing about it while they pursue their leisure, vacations, book studies, sports and fantasy sports, and potlucks.
These men are like doctors who during your annual checkup make a big deal out of your chronically stuffy nose while not even mentioning the fact that your aorta is 99% blocked and that your blood pressure and cholesterol are way too high. Upon coming to one's senses and a full realisation of the actual situation and its dangers, one would abandon that physician and warn others about his neglect and/or incompetence.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Church Fathers

(This is intended as a companion piece to Dustin Germain's excellent article.)

People everywhere within Christendom want to claim the "Church Fathers" as supporters of their own position. Eastern Orthodox cite Chrysostom against Rome, which counter-cites (sometimes-imaginary quotes from) Augustine, whom Protestants then cite against Rome, who then counter-cites Irenæus, who then gets claimed by the Eastern Orthodox... on and on it goes.

For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, it's understandable that they do this, for a few reasons. One is that their concept of spiritual authority is pretty murky and leaves room for "Church Fathers" to hold sway in persuading people. If Basil of Cæsarea believed it, well, who am I to question such a Great Man? Another is that for a great deal of the distinctive doctrines of Rome and the East, there is no legitimate or remotely convincing biblical proof, so really all they have are quotes from church history and naked appeals to their own authority.

But for the adherent to Sola Scriptura, the usage of the appellation "Church Father" is puzzling and unnecessary and should be jettisoned. Further, Sola Scripturists ought to take great care in how they cite "Church Fathers", for what reason, and in which context. Let's explore this more.

First of all, the word "Father" has to do with generation and origin, parenthood. In no way are any of the men usually referred to as "Church Fathers" actually fathers of The Church. The Father of The Church is God the Father. The Founder of The Church is Jesus Christ. He who inducts people into The Church is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus handpicked men who would be the first preachers of His Church. Their names are recorded in the Gospel accounts and Acts. There are twelve of them, give or take one.
"And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot..."
--Mark 3:13-18

Throw in Paul and maybe Matthias, subtract Judas, and you have your human Church Fathers.

Second, there is no reason for confidence that we in modern times, so far removed from the context in which these "Church Fathers" lived, taught, and wrote, have sufficient understanding of their writings. Here are some challenges to hubristic overestimation of what can be gleaned for our use today from their extant writings:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Greek, and the imaginary biblical support for the office of deacon

Translator bias is a very real possibility when we evaluate Bible versions, and that bias can have very substantial and practical implications for how we live and do church, who believe the Bible to be the Word of God.

Consider the case of perhaps the grossest bias I have yet discovered in my years of reading the Bible among Bible translations that are usually considered to be reliable, conservative texts, leaning much more toward formal equivalency than dynamic - that of the inconsistent treatment of the word διάκονος (diakonos) (a noun) and its verb form διακονέω (diakoneō) in the major English versions.

The English word "deacon" is usually explained as a transliteration of the noun diakonos from Greek into English. I lack the resources to dig into the etymological history of the word "deacon", but suffice it to say for our purposes that it appears as early as the Wycliffe Bible, and that probably means it had been part of regular ecclesiastical English usage for quite some time before. I would not be surprised at all to find that it is a holdover from Roman Catholic language, thoughtlessly brought over into the Reformation tradition by men who got much right but also left much unreformed.

I will argue that this traditional language has slipped past the guard not only of pastors and religious service providers, lecturers, and theologians of the past 500 years or so, but even worse, past the guard of Bible translators. I can see no sound reason why either of these Greek words ought ever to be translated with the word "deacon" in any English text of the Bible. To claim "deacon" belongs there is to hold to this translating tradition that is actually at odds with consistent translation and contextual practice. The conclusion that it is translated this way in all these Bibles because of the tradition-colored bias of the translators is very hard to escape.

The Data

In the Greek NT, there are 27 occurrences of διάκονος. The NASB renders those as "minister" or "servant" every single time except Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:12. The ESV similarly says "deacon" only those three times and "minister" or "servant" every other time except Matt 22:13, where it reads "attendants".

In the Greek NT, διακονέω (which is the verb form, you'll recall) appears 32 times. The NASB and ESV render those as "administer", "minister", "wait on", "serve", "take care of", and suchlike. They read "serve as deacon" only twice, in 1 Timothy 3:10 and 3:13.

Thus we find that the NASB and ESV translators continued an established tradition, whose backing we will go on to question, that led them to render 11% of the occurrences of διάκονος as "deacon" and 6% of the occurrences of διακονέω as "serve as deacon". That's a very small amount; when the majority of the translations of a given word are a more general word like "servant" or "minister", but in certain situations one wants to change it to something more specific, one needs a good argument to do so, whether etymological, contextual, whatever.

All the New Testament occurrences of each word can be found at Blue Letter Bible, which is a wonderfully helpful resource:

Thus you can review each text in context. It will probably also be helpful to take a look at διακονία, "ministry", which has the same root, a very close relationship to the other two, and note how many times (out of 34 occurrences) it is translated with anything like "office" or "deacon" (never).

Now, let's take a look at some specifics.

The Epistles to Timothy

Of some note is the fact that neither render διάκονος as "deacon" in 2 Tim 1:18, despite the fact that it's the same author as 1 Timothy, Paul, writing to the same recipient, Timothy. Why the different translation?

Even more noteworthy is the same phenomenon in 1 Timothy 4:6. Note the way the  NASB translates the three verses in 1 Timothy that employ διάκονος:
--1 Timothy 3:8 - Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain...
--1 Timothy 3:12 - Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
--1 Timothy 4:6 - In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

Here in the very same letter, just a few sentences down from the other two appearances of διάκονος, the NASB translators use a different English word. One may object that the context calls for that different word. Fine; I invite anyone to show me how the context is appreciably different such that one could know that Paul is referring to some sort of specialised office or something that demands the creation of a new English word in the third chapter, but just a little later when identifying what Timothy will be if he does these things, suddenly it's a different meaning entirely. I don't think that argument is sustainable. The only reason one would say this is if he had a pre-existing commitment to the existence of a thing called "the office of deacon". The Greek text certainly doesn't lead anyone to that conclusion, taken by itself, which is pretty much what we're supposed to do if we want to go ad fontes as good Sola Scripturists.

Just Who Is A διάκονος?

I don't see a reason not to render διάκονος consistently across the board. To whom is διάκονος applied in the New Testament?

--Phoebe (Rom 16:1)
--Tychicus (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7)
--Epaphras (Col 1:7)
--Apollos (1 Cor 3:5)

Interestingly, I think most people would think of Apollos as more of a teacher or something, and that doesn't fit the traditional "deacon" role.

But it gets better.
--Old Testament prophets (1 Peter 1:12)
--Paul (1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Col 1:23-25)
--Jesus (Rom 15:8)

So, does the word mean "deacon" or doesn't it? If you're going to go to the trouble of creating a new English word (back 600+ years ago when it was created, I mean), why wouldn't you apply it to every occurrence? Are these people deacons or not? I can't think of anyone who would contend that they are, with the possible exception of Phoebe. Phoebe is often the center of "can women be deaconesses?" debates, and of course the reasoning behind those debates is that there is an office called "deacon" in the New Testament.

But wait, there's more!

Not only are these individuals referred to with διάκονος; other individuals such as Onesimus (Philemon 13), as well as all believers, are said to engage in διακονέω (the verb), in Hebrews 6:10 and 1 Peter 4:10-11! If Phoebe is possibly a deacon, then so are Jesus, Paul, Apollos, Amos, Jeremiah, Daniel, and everyone else who believes in Jesus.

Also, don't forget that Jesus Himself said that the greatest among His disciples shall be διάκονος (Matthew 23:11). One wonders, then, why deacons don't occupy such a lofty position in modern churches, as usually it's the pastor who's the greatest among the disciples.

A Third Church Office

Now that we mention 1 Peter 4:10-11, it would appear we have approximately equal biblical support for saying that "steward" is an office in the church.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves (διακονέω) is to do so as one who is serving (διακονέω) by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
If we're going to go around willy-nilly creating church offices out of thin air based on isolated passages in which we translate words in a way that is inconsistent with the way we translate it everywhere else, why not do that with "steward" (οἰκονόμος), given the way Peter uses it here in 1 Peter 4, in the context of local church life?

What's the difference? It is that "steward", in the course of medieval Roman Catholic and proto-Protestant history, never came to be thought of as an office. If it had, I have no doubt the modern pastoral zeitgeist would ensure we're all teaching and seeking men to fill the three church offices of which the New Testament speaks, and there would be whole sermons where the Scripture is butchered to "support" the establishment of the office of steward as we now see for the office of deacon.

You see, holding a church office allows men to feel important and achieve recognition, which is a basic (and usually sinful) human desire. It also allows for people to, when convenient, parry questions about their behavior and teaching, since they have a Badge of Ecclesiastical Approval, to which the hypothetical inquiring "layperson" has not attained. It's the "Touch Not God's Anointed" syndrome, which is common, many claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Deacons and Women

Further evidence that the Apostle Paul meant something other than to be setting out "qualifications" for "church offices" in 1 Timothy 3 appears in verse 11.

The claim is that Paul is saying "if a man has the following qualities, he can be a candidate for the office of 'overseer/elder/pastor/bishop/presbyter/whatever else' or of 'deacon'." While this is less a question of translation proper, it raises questions with reference to the backing tradition that brought the translation about that included "deacon". If these are indeed qualifications for offices, why do we see parallel sentence structures in verses 2, 8, and 11?

Verse 2 - An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach

Verse 8 - Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,

Verse 11 - Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

Is "woman" a church office? I know of no one who thinks so, but one of the most significant arguments in favor of these church offices is the language in 1 Timothy 3, and if "overseer" and "deacon" are offices, then "woman" would seem to be one as well.

A Better Suggestion

Bible translations ought to communicate as clearly and faithfully as possible the meaning of the original language text. I'll just say it like it is - inserting the word "deacon" in 1 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1, instead of sticking with what διάκονος actually means, which is "minister" or "servant", is an unhelpful and false translation that stems from the traditions of man rather than properly passing on the meaning of the Greek text.

The inconsistencies we have seen already. Of course it is preposterous that Jesus be a deacon. Of course it is preposterous that all women hold a "church office", leaving churches that are majority "clergy" and minority "laypeople". That's the point. Whoever it was who thought of the word "deacon" should have cared about these points, enough to not transliterate διάκονος into English. Later translators should have corrected that error - such a thing has been done numerous times, but not in this case. Rather, translators and theologians and the like have, up to this very day, perpetuated and promulgated this mistaken notion and thus led churches into error.

My proposal is simple - remove "deacon" from the English text and replace it with "minister" or "servant", like the word is translated in pretty much every other occurrence. Let us rejoice that the Lord has given us yet another opportunity to be semper reformanda and throwing off the false practices, structures, and teachings that Rome bequeathed to us.

Then, let's consider what 1 Timothy 3 actually means, since it doesn't mean "holder of a church office called 'deacon'", bear fruit in keeping with repentance, walk in the truth in all things, and reform our churches to match true biblical teaching.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cage stage anti-abolitionists

The claim is also absurd on its face as it runs counter to all the (overwhelming!) evidence that AHA evinces a very strong "in-group / out-group" mentality in both speech and in writing.

AHA's proponents' rhetoric drips with contempt for its ideological foes both within the pro-abortion and pro-life spheres.

One wonders to what "overwhelming" evidence this CR individual refers. I've seen worse, personally, in Reformed circles like the Reformed Pub Facebook group, where in some ways if you don't homebrew your own beer you're not part of the cool kids crowd. But status as alcohol connoisseur aside, the term "cage stage Calvinist" exists for a reason, and quite a few people have gone years in that stage. Same with covenant theology, or one's preferred eschatological position, or cessationism, or pretty much anything. Does CR decry the same among the Reformed? Does that mean Reformed theology or covenant theology or amillennialism is an organisation?

Of course not. Those are ideologies. Like AHA is an ideology. There are people who adhere to amillennialism. There are people who adhere to Reformed theology. There are people who adhere to Abolish Human Abortion ideology. They're called "abolitionists (of human abortion)". This is only complex to the intentionally obtuse.

At any rate, if someone wants to show a very strong "in-group / out-group" mentality, it would be wonderful if they could
  • prove it
  • demonstrate it is relatively stronger than other comparable examples
  • show how it is inordinately strong and not just a more or less average outflow of the natural human tendency to cohere among like-minded people
I bet CR would claim his own church has an in-group/out-group mentality. He would probably say it is justifiable. I would probably agree with him. So why does he object to the same among abolitionists?

As for "dripping with contempt", I simply say: May the Lord protect us from harboring contempt for other people. That would probably be sinful, though not always; Scriptural examples could certainly be forwarded of godly people and even the Lord Jesus treating especially false professors and false religionists with contempt. I mean, God straight up laughs at the wicked in the second Psalm.
But of course, each instance needs to be judged on its own merits. If CR loves abolitionists, he ought to call us on our sin. I pray he will do that, so that if we have indeed sinned, we may repent of it and be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.
(Side note: What are the chances he'll actually do that? Yep; I agree that they're probably pretty low. Snide swipes from afar as a barely-pseudonymous [mostly anonymous] commenter are much easier than actually laboring with brothers in love, as I tried to do with Steve via email.)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Intransigence and Steve Hays

So Steve Hays decided to post his side of our email correspondence. I wasn't going to do that, but I might as well give the full context. Notice the way Steve refuses to take correction, how he speaks so harshly, in such an unbrotherly manner. I tried to reason with the man. Sometimes he just can't be reasoned with. It's kind of sad, actually.

Also, this might help before we get into the correspondence:

I realise that I might have lacked some needed specificity in this interaction when I used the word "group" at times. In my mind, I was equating "group" with "organisation", and those are not exactly the same things, but they are close. Steve could have chosen to enter into a constructive conversation with me in an attempt to come to a common understanding that edifies everyone, but he chose not to.
Keep in mind that he and I have been acquainted via email and blogs for probably around 7 years, maybe more. I used to contribute to the Triablogue; I thought Steve was a friend. I was wrong; I don't know what he was looking for when he said I could contribute, but I guess he got what he wanted and then has dispensed with me.


It's really sad that you are doing this. Trying to point out actual flaws is one thing. You're just on a vendetta.

May the Lord help you, man.