Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Trinity: paganism or Christianity?

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 5th December 2010.

Development of the Trinity
In the first century AD, Christianity spread from Jerusalem over the known world. Christian doctrine (teaching) was simple. “They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, in breaking of bread and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

What was the ‘apostles’ doctrine’?

The ‘Apostles’ Creed’ was in use during the first two centuries AD. It does not appear in the Bible, but it is a good summary of the basic teachings of the apostles. See e.g.

Over the following centuries, there was compromise and accommodation between Christianity and the religions and philosophies of the world. What had once been a simple faith which could be understood by the man in the street, became a complex system of theology which was the preserve of an educated elite. The Christian church became an establishment with political influence and political power. It also became divided.

The emperor Constantine saw Christianity as a potential unifying force for the Roman empire, and he adopted it as the state religion. In 325 AD he brought its divided factions together at the Council of Nicea, and there they thrashed out a theological statement that could be accepted by the majority of Christianity’s factions. This became known as the ‘Nicene Creed’. See e.g.

This was followed in the sixth century by the ‘Athanasian Creed’. See e.g.

These three creeds illustrate the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. They show how the statement of faith of the orthodox Christian church became longer and more prescriptive, more philosophical and convoluted, and less Bible-based.

With the Athanasian Creed the doctrine of the Trinity was now fully developed. Basically the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is three persons in one godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, co-equal and co-eternal.

We suggest that it actually derives from the various triune godheads of foreign contemporary religions. The Bible knows nothing of the Trinity.

What the Bible says

Deuteronomy 6:4 – the Bible insists that God is one.

Luke 1:35 – the son of God was born when the power of God (the holy spirit) worked on the virgin Mary.

Hebrews 4:15 – Jesus was entirely human, just like us.

Acts 4:10 – Jesus died and God raised him from the dead.

Mark 16:19 – Jesus now sits at the right hand of God.

1 Corinthians 15:25-28 – God’s purpose is that Jesus will return to earth, subdue his enemies and establish the kingdom of God, then hand it to God and himself be subject to God.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 – there is one God, and one mediator between God and man (the mediator is Jesus).

The simple teaching of the Bible, which can be clearly seen in the original Apostles’ Creed, is that God is the Creator; Jesus Christ is his son; the Holy Spirit is his power at work.

Why it matters

Defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity often claim that it is a mystery which cannot be properly understood. But the message of the Bible was always meant to be clear, simple and straightforward.

It is sometimes claimed that as the majority of Christians believe in the Trinity, they must be right. However, the majority is seldom right. See e.g. the experiences of Noah, and Jesus himself.

It’s tempting to say that it’s an academic argument, and not really important. However, when you look into the detail and really think about it, the doctrine of the Trinity makes nonsense of the basic and crucial Bible teaching that God gave his son to die for us (e.g. John 3:16).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Do you have a conscience?

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 28th November 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

What is conscience?If you found a purse in the street, what would you do?

You wouldn’t keep it? Why not? Because of some inner sense or instinct which we call conscience.

Where does conscience come from? Evolution theory tries to explain it in terms of altruism, putting the good of the herd in front of the good of the individual – but this isn’t a satisfactory explanation for all that our conscience makes us do. The Bible says that we are made in the image of God – we have an innate sense of what is right and wrong.

Even people who have no knowledge of God at all have this innate sense (Romans 2:14-15).

The Bible contains a moral teaching which serves to highly tune the conscience, e.g. Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” and Deuteronomy 22:1-3.

Bible examples of conscience at work

Genesis 3:8, 1 Samuel 24:5, 2 Samuel 24:10, John 8:9.

The Christian conscience

The Christian must obey the laws of the land (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7). Except where the law of the land conflicts with the law of God (Philippians 3:20, Acts 5:29).

Christadelphians are conscientious objectors to involvement in politics and war:

Matthew 5:39-44, don’t resist evil people; Romans 12:19, don’t avenge yourself.
John 18:36, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world, else would my servants fight.” It’s not that Christians are pacifists, but that they have no part in the world’s wars and politics – they belong to the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 11:13).
1 Peter 2:19, it’s commendable to suffer wrongfully for the sake of your conscience.
1 Peter 3:14-16, always be ready to explain your conscience to anyone who asks.

Some questions of conscience for the Christian

 Would you vote?
 Would you get involved in dishonest dealings at work?
 So you might not fight on the front line, but would you work in an ammunition factory?
 Would you undertake a transport contract for the MoD?
 Would you work in an abortion clinic?
 As a teacher, would you tell children about alternative sexual lifestyles?

Strangers and pilgrims

We are citizens of the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 11:13), and waiting for it to be established by Jesus Christ at his return.
The Kingdom of God will be a kingdom of righteousness and truth. Because that is where we belong, we should live according to its laws and principles now.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Evidence that God exists

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 14th November 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

A famous advertising campaign proclaimed the slogan: “There’s probably no God – now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Shortly afterwards another campaign used the slogan: “There probably is a God – now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

This talk put the case for there definitely being a God. Because of this we both need to worry, and have great cause for rejoicing!

Some arguments for the existence of God:

Evidence of creation. The size of the earth and its relation to the sun are just right for life. The earth’s unusually large moon, being just at the distance it is, contributes to the perfect conditions for life. The composition of the earth in terms of chemicals, the atmosphere and seas are just right. The earth teems with the most intricate and advanced life. Can you really believe it just happened this way?

If you were walking along the beach, and found a wristwatch and a crab – why would you imagine that one of them had been designed and made while the other had just developed?

Psalm 19:1-4 – “The heavens declare the glory of God …”; Psalm 8:3-4: “When I consider the heavens ... what is man that thou art mindful of him?”

The Law ahead of its time. The Law of Moses which God gave to his people Israel around 4,000 years ago contained amazingly accurate rules about hygiene, sanitation, quarantine, husbandry &c. which should not have been known about at the time.

Evidence for the Bible. When it talks about the nation of Israel and their heroes and heroines it is blunt and unflattering – it doesn’t read like a work of fiction, it has the ring of truth.

Time and again archaeological discoveries prove the truth of the Bible records – e.g. the existence of Babylon, Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ himself were once doubted, but now no serious critic would argue that they existed.

Bible prophecies foretold events far into the future, e.g. Daniel chapter 2 foretold world history from 500 BC; Old Testament books which can be irrefutably dated to at least 200 BC foretold precise details of Christ’s life.

Who Moved the Stone? The writer Frank Morrison set out to demolish the idea of the resurrection of Christ, but when he looked into the facts he ended up writing this classic argument in favour of the Bible account.

The miracle of the Jews, God’s witnesses. (See previous talks.)

The world without God would be meaningless; the Christian faith gives life and the world meaning. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 6:23)

How about a new slogan: “There definitely is a God – now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Sunday, 7 November 2010

God’s offer to man: eternal life on a peaceful earth

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 7th November 2010.

God’s promise of salvation

Genesis chapter 12. God made promises to Abraham, the first Jew – that he would have descendants (the Jews), a land (Israel), that because of him not just they but the whole world would be blessed.

Much later, in Galatians 3 verse 16, we learn that these promises also refer to Jesus Christ: “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made,” and that seed (descendant) is Jesus.

The Bible’s message of good news is centred on Jesus Christ, and revolves around the fulfilment of promises God has made to his people through the ages.

Everlasting life

Daniel chapter 12 verse 1, John chapter 6 verse 40 – there will be a time when dead people are raised to life, and judged, and some will be given everlasting life.

What will this everlasting life be like?

Daniel chapter 2 – God will set up a kingdom on earth that will take the place of all other kingdoms.

Isaiah chapter 35 – the earth will be restored and beautiful, there will be ‘everlasting joy’.

Psalm 72 – there will be justice, peace and plenty.

Isaiah chapter 2 – Jerusalem will be the capital of the world.

How do we accept God’s offer of everlasting life in his kingdom?

God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants that they were to be his people. The sign of this covenant was that every male Jew had to be circumcised.

Colossians chapter 2 verse 10 – Christian baptism is in a way the equivalent of circumcision. It is the sign that a person belongs to God. It is the beginning of a new life of service and obedience to God.

Galatians chapter 3 verses 27-29 – those who are baptised are ‘heirs of the promises made to Abraham’.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Israel proves the existence of God

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 23rd October 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

“Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no one can deny the fact that they are, without question, the most formidable race that has ever appeared in the world.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

God said that the Jews are the evidence of his existence (Isaiah 43:10).
They are his chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6) – not for any merit of theirs, but because God loves them and made promises to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a promise of what would happen if the Jews were obedient to God, and what would happen if they were disobedient. For example verses 63-67 foretell their scattering and persecution. Jesus gave detail of this in Luke 21:24.
When the Jews committed their greatest act of disobedience, killing Jesus God’s son, they brought these curses upon themselves. The nation was destroyed in AD70 and the prophecies have been coming true ever since.

However, prophecies such as Jeremiah 30:10-11 foretell the return of the Jews from their dispersion.

In the late 19th Century the Zionist movement came to prominence. This was a secular and religious movement with the aim of bringing the Jews back to their homeland. In 1948, the state of Israel was re-established after nearly 2,000 years.

“We cannot deny that [this] is an extraordinary historical achievement.” (Sir Hugh Trevor Roper)

Through the centuries there had been many attempts to find a homeland for the Jews – e.g. Kenya, Madagascar and Vietnam were all suggested. But the prophecies, e.g. Ezekiel 11:17 and Ezekiel chapter 37, had said that they would return to the land of Israel.

“The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.” (Leo Tolstoy)

“What is the secret of the Jew’s immortality?” (Mark Twain)

The secret is the fact that the Jews are God’s people. Not through any merit of their own – the nation is by and large as stubborn and disobedient now as it has ever been – but because of God’s everlasting promise.

The Jews’ survival and return to statehood has been a miracle. They are a witness that God is at work in today’s world.

The Bible goes on to tell what’s going to happen in the future, and the part that the modern Israeli state has yet to play in his purpose …

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Jews, the Holocaust and the Bible

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 10th October 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

The Bible story is largely concerned with the Jews – God’s people and the ‘apple of his eye’ (Zechariah 2:8).

To be God’s people is a privilege and a responsibility. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 they are offered a choice: to obey and be blessed, or to disobey and be punished.
God repeatedly warns and pleads with his people through the Old Testament prophets. There are warnings of punishment, destruction and exile.

In the 7th Century BC, Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria destroyed the half-kingdom of Israel (see Isaiah 14); the other half-kingdom Judah was threatened, but it was delivered because of the faithfulness of its king and people. But Judah also slid downhill, and 200 years later Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon destroyed the kingdom (see the book of Daniel).

Jeremiah 25:11-14 contains a prophecy that Judah would suffer a 70-year captivity, then the exiles would return to their land. The books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah show how this was fulfilled.

By the time of Christ the Middle East was dominated by the Roman empire. The Jews were in their land, but subject to Rome. The gospel records (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) show that the Jews had once again become faithless and disobedient. Jesus prophesied the nation’s downfall (Matthew 24). This happened in 70 AD: the Jews revolted against the Romans, the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the Jews were expelled from Israel. The contemporary historian Josephus records how this was a ‘time of trouble such as there never was’.

Throughout history Deuteronomy 28 has come true in the experiences of the Jews throughout the world.

“The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” (Daniel 4:17) Difficult as it is to come to terms with, this principle is particularly seen in the history of the Jews. It explains the inexplicable things that happened to the Jews: God was at work!

The rise of Hitler to power in Germany in the 1930s was improbable. His survival of a number of assassination attempts was hailed as miraculous. Meanwhile Mussolini in Italy survived seven assassination attempts, which moved the Pope to declare that he must have divine protection. Hitler and Mussolini both died ignominiously in 1945, but only after they had inflicted immense suffering on the Jewish people.
The prophecies of Deuteronomy 28 were still coming true. Also with hindsight we can see that God was at work in another way – immediately after the second world war there was a flood of Jews out of Europe to their homeland. The Holocaust was a major factor in the establishment of the state of israel in 1948, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Jeremiah 30:3, 32:36-38, 33:7).

God will never cast away his people (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

There are prophecies about the nation that are yet to be fulfilled. All the indications are that they will be fulfilled soon. Read Zechariah chapters 12 and 13.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Understanding God

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 26th September 2010.

Nobody can really understand God. He is the creator of the universe, we are puny transient creatures with limited minds. “There is no searching of his understanding.” (Isaiah 40:28)

But God has revealed himself to us in ways that we can understand. He wants us to take the trouble to understand him.

God has told us that one day the whole earth will be full of God’s glory (Numbers 14:21).

What is the glory of God? There are two aspects to God’s glory:

1. his moral glory – his character.

2. his physical glory.

These two aspects are each seen in Exodus 33 and 34. Moses asks to see God’s glory; God tells him no one can see his physical glory and live, but he hears a voice proclaiming God’s moral glory: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.”

Psalm 19 shows both aspects of God’s glory: verses 1 to 6 describe the wonders of creation, and the following verses describe his wisdom.

God chose Israel as a nation to show forth his glory: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)

This covenant was later opened out to include people of all races who are faithful (Galatians 3:28-29). There are those with whom God will make his covenant (e.g. Psalm 103:17-18), and those with whom God will not make his covenant (e.g. Psalm 50:16-23). God will make his covenant with those who are faithful and obedient.

Jeremiah 9:24: “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”

If we reflect the moral glory of God now (by following Christ), we can live in the hope of reflect reflecting his physical glory in the future, when Christ’s faithful are given immortality on his return. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The meaning of the Last Supper

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 12th September 2010.

At the Last Supper before he was crucified, Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. You can read of it in Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:19-20.

Jesus’ body was given and his blood was poured out to seal a covenant between God and his people. A covenant is an agreement. Let’s look at two covenants in the Old Testament as examples:

Genesis 15:18, a covenant between God and Abraham where God promised to give the land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants.

Exodus 19, the covenant between God and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai where they promised to be his people and he promised to be their God.

Both these covenants were sealed by the blood of animal sacrifices.

The Old Testament is largely the story of how Israel failed to keep their side of the covenant. You would expect this to mean that God would respond by refusing to honour his side of the covenant, but he didn’t. In Jeremiah 31:31, God promises to make a new covenant – people might fail to keep their side of the covenant, but he will forgive and keep his side.

This new covenant was also sealed by the blood of a sacrifice. Not this time an animal, but the blood of God’s own son, whom he willingly gave to reconcile us to himself.

God offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We agree to be his people. We cannot live up to our side of the covenant, but God will accept our faith, by his grace. This is expressed in Romans 3:23-24: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are justified freely by his grace through redemption in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – as well as showing the covenant between God and his people, the bread and wine show the unity and fellowship between his people.

The evidence is that the first Christians shared the ‘communion’ bread and wine whenever they could as a sign of their faith and fellowship; soon it became established as a service that was held on the first day of the week.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Baptism - a matter of life or death

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 5th September 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Baptism – a matter of life and death! It does seem to be a bit of serious title doesn’t it? But from the Bible’s perspective, that is exactly what it is. The Bible teaches quite simply that:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.”

So it does seem to be black and white that if we believe
– and we will discuss what we need to believe in a little later on, coupled with the act of baptism we will somehow live and not die.

And those are incredibly powerful words of hope for us because if there is one thing certain in this life is that all of us, without exception will die at some point.

Now this evening I would like us to think about what baptism means and I want to come at the subject from the Bible’s perspective because it is the Bible which sets out the principles concerning it.

The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God which can teach us truthfully on such matters.
As the letter of Timothy tells us “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

Not only can the Bible tell us why and how baptism came about, but we can be instructed on how it is relevant to you and me in the 21st Century. Because out in the world I would suggest there is quite a confused picture of baptism.
If we were to ask the question to anyone on the street “tell me what you can about baptism?” pretty much everyone would associate it with water and a belief in Jesus and the Bible.

They may not be able to tell you what it means and why it happens, but baptism is widely understood to be associated with the life of a Christian. And they would be right. But there is a confused picture about baptism out there.

A lot of people will claim to have “been baptised” as a child, and what they are actually talking about is them being christened and sprinkled with water on their foreheads.

That may or may not have been that last time they have actually been across the threshhold of a church but in their minds, whether or not they are practising christian or not, being christened as a baby has somehow put a tick in the box and they somehow are “alright with God” so if anything untowards happens the christening can act like some kind of insurance policy.

This is a quote from the Code of Canon Law which states:
“Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay.”

There are other groups who view the practice as simply a welcoming in to the church that they belong to. It may be seen as a family tradition, that is what is done for every new family member.

There are other groups who believe in full adult immersion in the waters of baptism. i.e that a person has to be an adult and has to be fully submerged in water and it is this which constitutes true baptism.

Now my aim this evening is not to dismantle and attack other people's beliefs on the subject because I’m sure many people will have their owm opinions on the subject but as I say simply to find out what the Bible teaches on the subject because if it truly is a matter of life and death, all of us out of self preservation should take it seriously.

So where do we start?

The first thing to note is that the disciples of John the baptist and Jesus were instructed by them to be baptized and to baptize others. Baptism in all Biblical records is closely associated with those who respond to God, to His word and to His ways.

Let's have a look at where baptism starts to take place in the Bible and I’d like us to go to the new testament and to Matthew 3 verse 1. This is the first mention of baptism in the Bible and it is taking place by John the Baptist, a prophet who heralded the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 1:

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

So there is a number of things we can learn here.

Firstly: repentance goes hand in hand with baptism.It was baptism of repentance. Repentance is about a regret for previous things we have done. So the act of baptism somehow marked a change in a person from regretful things.

Secondly: It was about being prepared for the Kingdom of heaven. How would be manifested? In the Lord Jesus Christ who would begin to teach the people about the kingdom to come.Of which the act of baptism would somehow make people acceptable.

Thirdly: The people were baptized in the river Jordan, a river which runs right through the country of Israel. They were not sprinkled with water. They actually went down into the river and they came up out of the river. If we look verse 16 of the same chapter and to the account of Jesus’ baptism, we read that he did the same thing. Verse 16: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.”

In fact when we look at the literal meaning of the word ‘baptism’ it fill out the picture for us of what actually happened. The word baptise, comes from the Greek word ‘baptiso’, it is used in the sense of immersion. It means to dip or plunge in liquid so that the whole thing is fully under and is fully covered. This is important for us to keep in mind because of what it represents. And we shall come on to this in a moment.

It's interesting to note in the first occurance of baptism, there is no mention of people being sprinkled with water and there is no mention of children being baptised here. Infact quite the contrary. As we have sayed the act of baptism was accompanied by repentance and an acknowledgement of regret for previous wrong doing. In other words, it required someone old enough to have the capacity to be able to do this.

Whilst we are in this chapter I think its worth pointing out that even the Lord Jesus Christ himself thought it was needful to occur. That it was vital to his existence and really it proves the point that if we truly profess to follow the Bible then it is neccessary For those who say they do follow the Bible
but haven’t been baptized are actually in error.

From these beginnings, the practice is carried out by the church for example in Acts 2 verse 41, where we read about the people who received the gospel from Peter, “that the people gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.”

Understanding this concept of repentance is the first step to understanding what baptism is all about. As we have said, there is an acknowledgement by the recipient that they are going to turn their life around from the life they were living to a new a different life. There is an acknowledgement that the life they had been life is one that is contrary to God. That they have been ‘in sin’ and they want to make a new start. Primarily it is understanding how that we as human beings are under a curse of sin and death. That sinfulness come naturally to us. If we turn to Genesis 2, we can see how this originally unfolded.

Now it's not the story of creation that I want to concentrate on here, I just want us to look at the consequence of disobedience unto God. God said don’t eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and they did. Chapter 2 verse 17, we read the LORD’s warning to Adam and Eve: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Turn over the page to Genesis 3 verse 19, this is the LORD talking to Adam after he had disobeyed God: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So the LORD’s response for disobedience is unequivocal. Sin equals death and because you and I are the offspring of Adam and Eve, we have inherited the same free will as they and the same curse too.

We may think that it is a bit unfair, after all it wasn’t you or me that disobeyed God in that instance in the garden, but doing what we want to do as opposed to what God wants us to do comes naturally to us because of the way that we’ve been made.

We are inherently sinful and because of that we’re all touched by the same curse given to Adam. We return to the ground after our 70 or so years and become as dust as Adam did.

It all seems to be a pretty depressing picture but if we read on we find that not only were Adam Eve cursed, they were given a way back from sin by the Lord covering their sin.

Verse 21 we read “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Although this was a literal covering for their nakedness, it showed an important principle that in order for sins to be done away with, there had to be the shedding of blood.

It was if to say that sin is so grevious to the LORD that needed something as serious and meaningful as the shedding of blood in order for sins to be forgiven. And
this is a core principle which runs right through scripture and which manifests itself in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

Baptism really pivots upon Jesus Christ. In the passage we took in Matthew we saw how John called on people to be baptized. Why? because of the coming of the kingdom of God revealed in Jesus’ ministry.

The Lord Jesus came into the world to cover the sins of the world once and for all, not by the blood of an animal like in the garden of Eden, but by his own blood in his crucifixion.

The Lord had to undergo such a cruel death because it was a demonstration of the highest price paid for sin being done away with once and for all. As Hebrews 9 confirms, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins”. John the Baptist recognised and witnessed to the work of the Lord Jesus because he is recorded as saying in the gospel of John chapter 1:29 speaking of Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”

Right at the very start we mentioned that being baptized was associated with “belief” in something. We read “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..." The belief that it is talking about is the belief in the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. That in his death and ressurection our sins can be covered once and for all.

We read in the gospel of John chapter 3 verse 17 speaking of the minstry of the Lord Jesus: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

So although we have seen that the LORD God is true to His word and mete out punishment on those who are disobedient, He actually is a loving and merciful God who is not willing that any should perish. He sent His Son into the world to give man a way whereby he might be eternally redeemed from sin and death.

Belief in the name of the Lord Jesus is integral to the process of baptism. Something which is born by many scriptural passages. We don’t need to turn them up but I will just mention a few of them.

The apostle Peter in preaching to the people in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost says in Acts 2:38 “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

The apostle Paul preaching in Ephesus a little later on says pretty much the same thing “ In Acts 19:4 we read: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

And so it goes on.

How can belief in the Lord Jesus Christ be a means to save us from sin and death? The answer lies in the life of Jesus and his death on the cross. When we consider his life we are introduced to a man that had the same nature as ours because he was born of the Spirit and of a woman, a descendent of Adam and Eve. His father was God and his mother was Mary and therfore he inherited the same capacity for sin as us.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that he was made in a similar way to us, we read that the Lord suffered in the things he was tempted by...he was in all point tempted like us, yet without sin.” To put it simply, the Lord Jesus experienced all the desires common to human nature.

He knew of the things the LORD God wanted him to fulfill and he chose to supress his own desires, rejecting them in favour of faithful obedience unto God. The significance of this and the implications are far reaching. For the first time in the history of mankind, there was a man who was without sin, he had the capacity for it and yet he conquered it - because of this he was the perfect sacrifice to take away sin and death once and for all. The Lord Jesus’ perfect life of obedience, unto the cross was the ultimate offering for sin, it was the perfect expression of love and obedience and it was the vital atonement for mankind’s sin that would ultimately destroy sin and death forever.

Being baptised is often called being ‘in Christ’. It sounds like a bit of a strange thing to say that when we are baptised that we are ‘in Christ’ or we have ‘put on Christ’, but this is how the LORD God sees it. We are brought into a new relationship with the Father and Son, we have become members of the Lord’s family.

The apostle Paul expands upon this new relationship that we can obtain when we are baptised in writing to the Galatians. If we just turn to Galatians 3 verse 26: Here the apostle is writing to a new church in Galatia and is introducing them into the fact that if they are baptized into Jesus, then they can inherit the same promises given to all those who are faithful to God. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

We are all part of the family of the God through the Lord Jesus Christ. We have fellowship one with another in the way we are all brethren and sisters in Christ. We have fellowship together as we encourage one another on the path to the kingdom. That fellowship manifests itself in the partaking of the bread and wine week by week to remember what has been achieved for us by the Lord Jesus.

The apostle Paul goes further elsewhere and talks about us being part of the body of Christ, of which he is the head.

Now when we looked at the meaning of the word “baptism” we mentioned that full immersion or being completely submerged in water is a symbolic act and this is exactly what it is.

Baptism is a type or a kind of ‘shadow’ of what the Lord went through in his sacrifice. The Lord was crucified as we have discussed but he was also raised from the dead and made immortal and free from the curse of the garden of Eden. He wasn’t worthy of death because sin wasn’t found in his perfect life. Similarly, if we are baptised it is a kind of reenactment of what the Lord went through - it is a symbol of death and resurrection to newness of life. The further writings of Paul in Romans 6 bears this out. If we just turn to Romans 6 we can see how this symbology works in the case of baptism, and it also explains further this idea of being “in Christ”.

Beginning Romans 6 verse 4: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

Now that may appear to be a complex passage but actually it is rather simple. The act of baptism is a symbol of dying to an old way of life and rising to a new life in Christ. The old man, the man of the flesh, the old way that we have lived our lives has been replaced by a new way, a new creation, one that is in Christ doing the things God would have us do.

If we continue to do those things, by the grace of God we can look forward to the same prospect given unto Jesus, raised from the dead and granted immortality. When will this take place? When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven after he was ressurected he sayed he would come back in the same way he went to restore the kingdom. For those who have died before that happens there is the prospect of being raised from the dead as Paul says we will be changed into the likeness of the Lord.
What a wonderful prospect this is for us to look forward to!

If we are raised as a new creature in the waters of baptism we are expected by God to live like a new creation unto the LORD and not continue in the way we have been living. If we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:15 it bears out the point of what is expected of us. How that because Jesus died for us we have responsibilty to that sacrifice.
Verse 15: And [that] Jesus died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we [him] no more. Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

This doesn’t mean to say that when we are baptised we stop sinning, this plainly doesn’t happen because we still are made up of sinful human flesh with the same desire to do what we want to do. God does not automatically change us in some miraculous act when we come up out of the waters of baptism and believe in His Son. Now will He regard us as sinless because of the sacrifice of his son. We have to realise that although we can take these steps to being right with God, there is nothing we can do that warrants us being made sinless. God’s mercy and forgiveness in his grace can come about by certain conditions. The prime condition is that people who come to Him through Jesus recognise the truth about themselves and that they acknowledge it is only through Jesus sacrifice that we can come near.

It is also in our resolution to live a new life not continuing to do what we want to do but fulfilling the commandments of Jesus.

If we continue to commit the same sins, and lead the same type of life as before, then we are in danger of taking God’s grace and His forgiveness for granted and we are making a farce of the whole institution and we will receive judgement for this.

Hebrews 10 verse 26 says: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”

These are pretty strong words but really in reinforces the point that after we are baptized, it is not the end of the story for the believer. We have to ensure that we truly are making an effort to turn our back on our old way of life. That we are not walking in our old way of life and only paying lip service to a life in the Lord Jesus. The grace of God depends upon the resolution of our hearts.

Finally then:

We have see how baptism acomplishes three things.

1) It provides a cover that blots out past sins by forgiveness.
Being in Jesus provides a basis for fellowship with God and with each other as we share in fellowship.

2) It provides a means of access to God’s mercy, nsuring continual forgiveness of sins after baptism when those sins are confessed and forsaken.

3) And it of course fulfils a commandment of Christ.

We have also seen that full adult immersion in the waters of baptism by someone who acknowledges their sinfulness and repents of it in the name of the Lord Jesus can only be the true biblical teaching on the matter.

The question for you and me is, if baptism is the only means whereby death is not the end of the story for us. If it truly is a matter of life and death, then we need to do something about it.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Is the God of Christianity the God of the Bible?

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 15th August 2010.

A prominent Christian, trying to build a bridge with the Muslim community, said, “We worship the same God as you do.”

His Muslim audience retorted, “Our God is the God of Abraham, and Noah, and Jesus – the God Allah.”

This Christian, along with the majority of modern Christians, subscribes to the orthodox ‘Trinitarian’ view of God, which views him as one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This view is incomprehensible to Muslims – and also to Jews, and to many Christians.

Another orthodox Christian has said, “The Trinity is not simple to express briefly, and it is impossible to explain fully.” We have to ask the question, is the Trinity the God of the Bible?

Three questions which Trinitarians find it very difficult to answer:

1. Who was tempted in the wilderness?

2. Who died on the cross?

3. Who ‘learned obedience by the things which he suffered’? (Hebrews 4)

Bible passages which are claimed to support the doctrine of the Trinity

Genesis 1 verses 1 to 5. When God created the world, the Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ which the Bible writer uses is actually plural – “In the beginning Gods created the heaven and the earth.”

Is this really talking about a ‘triune godhead’? Genesis is the Jewish Bible, and the Jews have never taken the word ‘Elohim’ to mean a trinity. Instead they generally interpret it as God being addressed in the plural – an idiom of the Hebrew language. (Another explanation is that god is talking to the angels who worked in the creation of the world (Job 38:7).)

John 1 verses 1 to 5: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him …” In the King James version and most of the versions which have followed, this reads very much as though Jesus was the Word. However, the King James version, along with most of its successors, have been translated by people with a distinct Trinitarian bias. Earlier translations such as Tyndale’s refer to the ‘word’ as ‘it’, with apparently no implication that it refers to Jesus.

Jesus was the ‘word made flesh’ (verse 14), i.e. God’s son brought to birth in the purpose of God. See Luke 1:35, John 17:3.

(There is also a school of thought which says that actually John chapter 1 is entirely speaking about Christ, and not at all about the creation of the world. This is another subject.)

John 17 verse 5: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Surely this is a reference to Jesus’ pre-existence as part of the ‘godhead’? However, passages such as 1 Peter 1:19-20 teach that Jesus was in the purpose of God from the beginning – he did not exist until he was born.

The history of the Trinity

The Bible itself says nothing even remotely about ‘one God in three persons’.

However, from the early days of the Christian community people were speculating about the nature of Christ, and suggestions soon arose that he was perhaps part of the ‘godhead’. The Nicene Creed in 323 AD was the first time that the idea was formalised. The Creed was steered through by the emperor Constantine in order to head off disunity between opposing theological factions in the church.

Monday, 9 August 2010

What the Bible says about science

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 8th August 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

My purpose this evening as a Bible believer and also a scientist is not to try and give a detailed response to those areas of science which seem to contradict the Bible but rather to show that it is reasonable to believe in the Bible, in a scientific world. I’ll be honest; the Bible says nothing about what we have come to think of as science in the 21st Century. The Bible is only concerned with spiritual things, with winning the hearts and minds of men. The Bible claims that God exists, that he was our creator. It shows God as very concerned for us and that He is always grieved by sin, which is when men follow their own way and not His. He could interfere but does not because that would remove the gift of choice. The Bible lays out God’s purpose, that is, His way of solving the problem of sin and eventually filling the Earth with His Glory. Which is a religious way of saying that God has planned that He and mankind together will live one day in perfect harmony on a perfect planet for ever, with no war, illness pain or death to spoil the perfection.

Let me assure you that the Bible is not against the natural truth about the world that science has uncovered. The Bible states simply that God created the universe therefore its operating principles were also created by Him. Some of these natural truths were actually written into the Bible long before men re-discovered them and called it science. The Creator does not reveal to us the details of how he made everything, it just serves as a background to the working out of His purpose with human beings. God is unconcerned about the physical form of things. He is only concerned about the mind of man. Nevertheless, that background is there, if you look for it. Examples: Ecclesiastes 1 v 5 - 7 In our age we just call it weather. Job 26 v 7 “He hangeth the world on nothing. In our age we call it space/time. Matthew 6 v 19 Rust and Moth doth corrupt, we call these biology and chemistry. There are dozens of other examples. But what’s in a name? The Bible writes about these as fundamental principles built into the fabric of the world; it is not concerned about explaining the mechanisms. Christ says: v 20 “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven”. The Bible reveals that the failure to see God as the prime cause of nature has consequences and those consequences are what we are going to be talking about.

If then the Bible says nothing about science why are we talking about it?

The point is that unless we are scientists very few of us understand what science is or what it has done to us. We have vague impressions of test tubes and chemical flasks, atomic symbols and the DNA twisted helix. But these are just images for popular consumption. It is paraded as truth but all it actually is, is a current model of the world. The heroic message pumped out is that science is fashioned by the struggle of human reason. From the first taming of fire to the microwave oven the inventiveness of man has made steady progress. It is celebrated in chatty TV programmes and glossy magazine articles and popular books.

This is propaganda and dangerously seductive propaganda. In reality we have been and are deceived by what science really is - a particular way of thinking which has shown itself unable to coexist with any other way of thought. The gadgets it produces and the comforts we enjoy are not what science is about, they are only the side effects. We have forgotten how new science is in human history. Science and technology have not developed gradually over thousands of years as we are informed; it has exploded all about us over the last 400 years.

The traces of the conflict are still there. Let us go to the two times in the Bible when the word “science” is actually used. Daniel 1 v 4 in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible written before Jesus Christ in the Hebrew language and in 1 Timothy 6 v 20 written after Jesus Christ in the Greek language. If you have a modern translation you will notice that the word does not appear, it is only used in what is called the Authorised Version or the King James Bible, a translation completed in 1611. From the context and from later translations we quickly realise that the word ‘science’ does not mean what we think. In the Old Testament, the word means ‘to ascertain by seeing’, and is used to describe ‘knowledge’ which in Daniels case meant he had a good grasp of the facts of any subject. NIV. In the New Testament it is the word ‘Gnosis’ and is always used of the knowledge of God and His salvation. Paul’s use of the word here in I Timothy 6 is about matters of faith as emphasised by the last verse v 21.

Why then is the word in the Authorised version translated as ‘Science’?

The AV was translated and first published at a time when the Church of the day that we now call the Catholic Church was reeling under the impact of something new. It was called in Italy the ‘Scienza Nuova’. The ‘New Knowledge’. The people of 400 years ago had a picture of their world that is very peculiar to our understanding. It was based on the published knowledge of a Greek called Aristotle born in 384 BC, which another man called Thomas Aquinas had incorporated into the Christian faith in 1266. Since that time the science, the knowledge of the day was founded not upon observation and experiment but by the authority of the Church. The celestial heavens were, perfect, unchangeable, pure and refined not made out of the stuff of Earth. It was where God lived together with the immortal angels. Also as obviously, the Earth was diseased and filthy, subject to decay and change, full of sin and death and corruption. The purpose of the whole system was so that man could rise from the cess pit of sin it to the purity of heaven through the salvation offered by Christ. The salvation of Mankind was therefore the heart and cause of the whole observed system from men to stars. It was a model that seemed to fit. It was the truth as seen by men of that age.

In 1609 however a man called Galileo looked through a telescope and saw that the world did not fit the model. He saw that the moon had mountains and plains and was essentially the same as the Earth; it was not made of celestial substance. He saw the moons of Jupiter circling the planet just like the Earth and it’s moon. He saw that Saturn had rings. He saw a super nova and knew it was a new star thus proving that the immutable heavens were also subject to change. He watched swinging lamps and dropped weights from the Tower at Pisa and deduced how principles of acceleration, mass, velocity and time interacted. He wrote “In science the authority embodied in the opinion of thousands is not worth a spark of reason in one man”. The authority of the Church was under threat, and the Catholic Church tried to brutally suppress this New Knowledge of how to look at things without religion. This is the reason that the translators in the Daniel 1 translated ‘to ascertain by seeing’ as ‘science’ and why in 1 Timothy 6 v 20 they used the word ‘oppositions of science’. It was a feeble effort to bolster the authority of the Bible. And it did not work. While the ideas were there since 1543 with the speculations of Copernicus it was Galileo who proved it and marketed it thus becoming the father of our modern world and those who followed him have removed the old certainties one by one. The world’s culture has been progressively overwhelmed and transformed by science. Science more than anything else has made us who we are; it is the unique signature of our age.

Science is a totally different form of knowledge. Take the idea of maps which always had areas unknown on them marked ‘here be dragons’ because mapmakers were only left with imagination when the limits of their knowledge were reached. Then the ‘new knowledge’ cast invisible lines called latitude and longitude over the planet and suddenly by looking at the position of the stars and making a calculation we could know where we were in relationship to everywhere else. It worked. There was no speculation required. This was not simply better knowledge it is utterly different knowledge – and it works with spectacular effectiveness. Straight away the old maps seem na├»ve, the wisdom of the past seems quaint. Those invisible mental lines that science drew, technology has made real with cables, radio and microwave links. We have killed the dragons. This is the power of science and the lure of science and the danger of science.

Science it is claimed is neutral or innocent but it is not. Science has done us terrible spiritual damage and in our day the world at large are only just beginning to realise it. It forces us to separate our values from our knowledge of how things work. It is a spiritual corrosive, dissolving away old traditions and ancient authorities.

All science has, is its effectiveness. What does it tell us about our past; it can only offer theories. What can it tell us about our future; it can only guess. What does it tell us about ourselves and how we must live; the answer is ‘nothing’. One philosopher has written, “We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” As we look at news day by day we know that this is true. All the science we know cannot give us peace of mind; the Bible can. Phil 4 v 6 - 7. Science has not stopped war and conflict only made it more destructive; the Bible reveals the end of war Isaiah 2 v 4. Science has enabled women beyond the menopause to conceive and bear children but cannot tell us what love is. The Bible reveals that love is the driving power of the purpose of God. John 3 v 16 1 Cor 13 v 3. Science can explain why a sunset looks red but cannot tell us why it looks beautiful. The Bible does Ecc 3 v 11 or it can explain exactly what the waveform of a musical harmony looks like but cannot explain why the sound can make us weep or tap our feet 1 Chron 15 v 16. Albert Einstein’s wife was once asked if she understood the theory of relativity and replied “Oh no, although dear Albert has explained it to me many times – but it is not necessary to my happiness”. We might ask then what it is necessary for?
Science while it is a distinctively human creation perversely seems to have no room in it for humans.

The authority of the Church has gone, the position of the Earth relegated to an insignificant speck. Space and time have become infinite. Heaven and Hell relegated to myth. We do not even have ourselves. Man has been presented as first a descendant of apes and then as an accident of chance, here for a little while before the impersonal cosmos obliterates us as if we had never been. We are nothing. That is what science has done for us.

In this negative sense the Bible has a lot to say about science. Look at the same book we started with in 2 Timothy 3 v 1 – 7. This is a perfect description of what happens when man has no spiritual hope and it is happening now. The Bible says it is the last days. All though the ages the Bible has been there answering the questions that science does not and cannot answer. 2 Timothy 3 v 15 - 17. It is obvious that there is something in the human condition, which demands a dimension we call spiritual. The true struggle for the vast majority of human beings is to find a basis for goodness, purpose and meaning in life. The Bible gives us the answers but to understand them you need faith. This is not the dirty word that some scientists say it is. We forget that scientists who insist that they are telling us how the world is are also asking for our faith in their current model.

The days of the omnipotent, problem-solving technology is over. Science has been shown to lack a vital human input and looks more and more like a child playing in his father’s workshop full of dangerous and inexplicable tools.

Surely such a major change must have been prophesied and recorded by the Bible if as it claims it is the word of God. Well it does. We have already seen the consequences of having no hope. Look at Daniel 12 v 4. Knowledge shall be increased the old translators missed that one (science) shall be increased. When “at the time of the end”

The Bible is a book of fundamental certainties and we would encourage you to read it and understand what it is saying to you.

Don’t be afraid of a simple faith or be browbeaten by the brashness and certainty of science. Psalm 53 v 1 - 3

Gain the confidence that faith brings. Hebrews 11 v 1 - 3.

Believe that there is a creator who is concerned for this world and mankind. The earth will not be destroyed Ecclesiastes 1 v 4.

Don’t be fearful about war all that will stop when Jesus Christ returns as we have seen in Isaiah. It is certain.

Don’t worry about death. God promises that if you believe in Him and follow His ways you can live forever Romans 6 v 23

He also promises that there will be an accounting. Revelation 11 v 18

The lesson that Jesus describes in Luke 21 which applies just as much to the people of our day, to you and me, as it did to the people of Jesus' day. V 34 – 36.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Marriage is for Life

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 1st August 2010.

We live in an age where marriage is seen to be of no importance. The Bible however shows us why it was introduced, why it is relevant and what it represents.

Genesis 2 v 18 shows us that God made woman to be a helpmeet for man (Adam). The man and the woman would together form one unit. Whilst all of the animal kingdom was made from the dust of the ground, as was man, woman was made from part of man, so man and woman were part of each other, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom.

The Principle of Marriage and the Roles of Husband and Wife

God created man and woman to be two different parts of one unit – together they have different but important roles to carry out in forming that unit.

Following their sin in the Garden of Eden by heeding the words of the serpent and partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God specified how they were to be punished in Genesis 3. Amongst those punishments, God declares to the man that: “in the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread”. He would have to work in order to provide for himself and his family.

The woman was to be subject to her husband – “he shall rule over thee”. The role of the husband however is not to act as a dictator to his wife, but rather to take responsibility by guiding and caring for his wife and family.

Priorities of the woman include care of the children and those of the man include caring for his household – neither are exclusive to the one or the other, but they are primarily responsible for these roles. The scriptures show us however that the role of the wife is not to be a slave to her husband.

Proverbs 31 v 10-11 shows us that the husband and wife should be able to trust each other, and the relationship should be lifelong. Hebrews 13 v 4 also shows us that a sexual relationship should only be within marriage, and that God will judge those who go against this or commit adultery.

Marriage as a Type of Christ and His Followers

Ephesians 5 v 22–33 again reiterates the importance of the roles that husband and wife have in a marriage, and we see why the roles have been created as they are. It is an example which points forward to the time when Jesus returns to the earth.

The time will come when Jesus Christ will return to earth to set up God’s kingdom and he will be joined together with his faithful followers. Christ is often referred to as the bridegroom and his followers who are found to have been faithful are collectively referred to as his bride. Christ as the bridegroom cares for those who seek to follow his example, and the role of his followers (the bride) when he returns will be to assist him in setting up God’s kingdom on earth.

Revelation 19 talks about the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (the Lamb being another term often used in referring to Jesus Christ, as he was a type of the sacrificial lamb when he was crucified).

The marriage supper refers to the time when Jesus will be united with his faithful followers. If we want to be part of the “bride” that will be chosen to assist him in that time to come, we need to follow the example that he has set for us in the Bible. By doing this, a wonderful hope awaits us as we will have the opportunity to live and reign with Jesus when he establishes God’s kingdom here on earth.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

God will judge the world

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 25th July 2010.

The Bible tells of the goodness of God, and also his severity (Romans 11:21-23). He is a God of love and mercy, but also a God of truth and justice. The Gospel involves the coming Kingdom of God, and also the judgement of the world.

Judgement on Israel

Jesus was talking of the Jewish religious rulers when he said: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” (John 9:39)

Later he said: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” (John 12:31-33)

The world in general was not judged at that time, so what did Jesus mean? It was suggested that the ‘Prince of this world’ was Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest.

Jesus replaced Caiaphas as ‘prince’: this is a conversation between the Jewish high priest and some of the disciples, later: “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

The Jewish rulers killed Jesus Christ at Passover, approximately AD30.

At Passover AD70 the Roman army laid siege to Jerusalem. Jesus had explained that this was a judgement for what they had done: “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matthew 21:33-43)

(Note that although the Jewish nation was punished for what it did, the Jews are still God’s people and have not been cast off – Romans 11.)

Judgement on the world

There is a pattern in the Bible: What happened to Israel was a foretaste of what is to happen to the world. For example Jeremiah 25:29: “For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.”

Paul explains how the judgement will work: “God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. “(Acts 17:31)

Jesus will judge the world when he returns.

This is what Jesus himself said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:25-30).

Let us strive towards the ‘resurrection of life’!

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Bible, God's living word

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 18th July 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Three good reasons why you can be confident that the Bible is the word of God: the Law of Moses; world history; prophecies about Christ.

1. the Law of Moses

The law that God gave to his people Israel was thousands of years ahead of its time.

At the turn of the 19th Century, two thousand women a year died of ‘childbirth fever’ in England and Wales. Dr Semmelweiss had an idea that it was to do with cleanliness, so he ordered that all the doctors in his department wash their hands between handling corpses and delivering babies. The mortality rate from ‘childbirth fever’ in his department reduced from 18.3% to 1%.

More recently, MRSA in hospitals has again highlighted the need for cleanliness.

The Law of Moses laid great emphasis on washing and hygiene – e.g. Numbers 19:11-19.

This passage from Numbers highlights other enlightened aspects of the Law of Moses which were way ahead of its time:

verses 13-15, looking after the poor (note, not handing out ‘charity’ but allowing disadvantaged people to work to look after themselves)

verse 11, honesty

verse 13, prompt payment of wages

verse 14, respect for the disabled

verse 15, impartiality in justice

verse 18, the reason for all this is respect for God.

2. a tale of three cities

Babylon was known as the Golden City – reached its height around 600BC, when it was the capital of a superpower. The Jewish prophets declared that it would be completely destroyed and never again inhabited (e.g. Isaiah 14, Jeremiah 50). Its destruction was so complete that until fairly recently people argued that it never actually existed! Since its ruins were rediscovered there have been attempts to rebuild it, but they have all failed – in fulfilment of Bible prophecy.

Tyre was a sea port at the centre of a powerful maritime empire. Ezekiel 26 foretells its downfall. Ezekiel’s words came true in astonishing detail – the city was repeatedly invaded, eventually the city was relocated to an island off the coast; Alexander the Great finally captured the island by building a causeway from the mainland using the rubble of the old city. In fulfilment of Ezekiel’s words, the city actually became a place where fishing nets were spread out to dry.

Jerusalem is the subject of many Bible prophecies, e.g. Jesus’ ‘Olivet prophecy’ in Luke 21. He foretold that it would be besieged and destroyed, and he warned people that when they saw it surrounded by armies they should flee. This happened 40 years later in AD 70: the Roman general Vespasian besieged the city, but then for a short time the siege was lifted while Vespasian was recalled to Rome to be made emperor. Christians who’d taken note of Jesus’ words took the opportunity to flee to the nearby town of Pella, but many others took the opportunity to flee for refuge to Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards the Roman army returned under Titus, and Jerusalem was destroyed.

The prophet Micah had said that Jerusalem would be ‘ploughed as a field’, and this actually happened in AD 135 when the Emperor Hadrian had a plough drawn over the city to demonstrate its complete destruction.

In Luke 21 Jesus said that Jerusalem would be “trodden down of the Gentiles (non-Jews) until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”. In 1967, Jerusalem once again came under Jewish control and became the capital of the state of Israel.

3. The life of Jesus

The life and death of Jesus were foretold in detail by the prophets in the Old Testament.

Just one example is Psalm 22, where the Psalmist describes Jesus’ death (by crucifixion, a method of execution that wasn’t known in the Psalmist’s time). For example:

verse 7 could well be a description of onlookers mocking the spasms of a crucifixion victim

verse 8 is precisely the insult the Jewish onlookers threw at Jesus

verse 14 describes dehydration by blood loss and sweat, and bones pulled out of joint

verse 16 describes the method of fixing the victim to the cross

verse 18 – the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes

verse 22, the Psalm abruptly changes from a plea for deliverance from torture into confidence in God’s salvation.

These are just a few remarkable reasons why you can be sure that the Bible is what it says it is – the word of God.

Monday, 21 June 2010

What the Bible says about gambling

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 20th June 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

We’re just going to look at one type of gambling: “To play a game of chance for money”.

There are possibly only two mentions of gambling in the whole Bible:
 the soldiers at the foot of the cross casting lots for Jesus’ garment (Luke 23:34)
 Ephesians 4:14, a reference to the “sleight of men” as one of the deceitful influences of the world – the Greek word “sleight” means to gamble or cheat.
Gambling was probably as widespread in Bible times as it is today. Why does the Bible say so little about it? …

The Bible doesn’t give hard and fast rules on the subject. It’s a matter of getting to grips with some principles of Christian living, and allowing them to guide the conscience. Here are some of the principles:

The love of money

1 Timothy 6:610 is a summary of what the Christian’s attitude should be to money generally. Don’t be in love with money!

Ecclesiastes 5:18 and 9:10, and Proverbs 13:11, give guidelines for the Christian life – to work diligently and enjoy the fruits of our labour is much better than to try to ‘get wealth by vanity’.

How does this principle affect daily life? the work we do, our leisure activities (for example should we watch TV shows that encourage gambling and glorify greed?)

Trust in God

Proverbs 16:33 – probably not talking about gambling, but the principle is that God is in control of our lives. Trust in God, not luck.

No man can serve two masters

These were words of Jesus, Matthew 6:24. The Christian’s master is Christ. There’s a danger that the pursuit of money can take over as our master. Paul calls this idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
The pursuit of money can take you over. Much more potent, the excitement of gambling can take you over. Gambling addiction is the cause of many ruined lives.

Love thy neighbour

The Christian looks out for the welfare of others, as well as himself (Matthew 22:39). Gambling addiction can be the cause of suffering beyond the individual concerned – whole families suffer poverty when one member has an addiction.

God loves a cheerful giver

These are words from 2 Corinthians 9:7. The Christian should be willing to give to a good cause, freely and wholeheartedly. Games such as lotteries and raffles which encourage giving by the bribe of a possible reward go against this principle.

What’s the best thing to do if someone is collecting for a good cause by selling raffle tickets? …

Holier than thou

When a Christian tries to live according to the high principles of the Bible, there’s a very real danger of becoming sanctimonious and self-righteous in his attitude to others who don’t live by those principles. Christians must not be ‘holier than thou’!
Colossians 3:17 describes the true Christian attitude – thankfulness, and a genuine desire that others might see the wisdom of God’s ways.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The purpose of the Holy Spirit

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 13th February 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

We believe the Holy Spirit referred to in the Bible is God’s power.

Definition: ‘Holy’ means set apart, sanctified, special, and ‘Spirit’ signifies power. Hence, the Holy Spirit is God’s special power.

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” Acts 10v38.

The Bible calls the holy spirit ‘He’ so the churches think it has to be a person, when in actual fact it was the translators who called the Holy Spirit ‘He’. Wisdom in the book of Proverbs (particularly chapter 9) is often called ‘she’, but we don’t think of wisdom as a person or separate entity so it doesn’t make sense to think of the Holy Spirit as a separate entity either.

Shortly before Christ was crucified he said to his disciples that ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth’ (John14v16-17) Here Jesus promises to give the disciples another comforter in his place after he dies, a helper for them. When we read down to verse 26 of John chapter14 we see the helper and comforter Christ was referring to is the Holy Spirit. ‘...the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’. So, the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to teach all things and for the disciples to remember everything that Christ had said to them. This alone is a miracle. Can you remember word for word what a friend said to you last week, last month, last year?

‘...No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

Monday, 7 June 2010

What makes you special?

A summary of the family afternoon at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 6th June 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

There are 6,540,283,000 people on the planet.

There are 60,000,000 people in the UK.

There are 64,449 people (or thereabouts) in Burton.

There’s one of you.

How are you special?

The children were each given a satsuma from a bag. They were given a few moments to study their satsuma, then they returned them. Then they were invited to pick out their own satsuma – and they did! We might think satsumas are all the same, but they each have subtle identifying characteristics.

God knows all his children and can tell them apart, just like we can identify a satsuma in a bag!

God made all the stars and calls them all by name (Isaiah 40:26). Latest estimates are that there are 70 sextillion stars. (What does that mean? If you could count every grain of sand on every beach and desert on the planet, and multiply the number by 10 – that would give you 70 sextillion!)

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my
unformed body” (Psalm 139:15). God knows everything about each one of us.

We each have between 90,000 and 140,000 hairs (blondes have the most). And we lose between 50 to 100 hairs every day. Jesus said, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).

God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers (Matthew 6:26-30) – how much more does he care for us!

Never forget how special you are!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Resurrection: The Fingerprint Facts

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 30th May 2010.
This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

We can use evidence to prove that Jesus existed, died and rose again.

There is a surprising amount of evidence that a man known as Jesus of Nazareth existed. In fact, there is said to be more contemporary documentation for the existence of Christ than for Julius Caesar.

We can take the evidence of three non-Christian historians from the 1st century AD:
• Tacitus (active c. AD 64-116) refers to Christians as followers of “Christus” who had “undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.”
• Thallus (c. AD 52): in his writings a reference to Christ’s death is presented as fact.
• Josephus (c. AD 80-93) the famous Jewish historian refers to Jesus, his miracles, his crucifixion and his disciples. He also mentions “James the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”.

We can’t ignore this kind of evidence.

There are 2 tests historians use to test the reliability of ancient documents. Firstly the number of years that elapsed between the event happening and the date of the earliest written copy available to us today. Obviously, the longer period of time, the less likely it is to be reliable. We can apply these tests to the New Testament.

New Testament events happened between 30-100 AD. The earliest surviving record we have available to us today is about 130AD. By comparison, for Homer’s Iliad there’s a 500y gap. Pliny (who tells us about Vesuvius erupting in Pompeii) we have 750 years between the event happening and our oldest surviving document today. So if someone is sceptical of the New Testament text, they need to be even more sceptical about all the other classical history that we take for granted.

The second test is the number of ancient copies of the document (agreeing copies!) that survive. The more agreeing copies there are, the more likely it is to be accurate. There are seven of Pliny’s report of Vesuvius. Homer has 643. But there are more than 24,000 copies of the New Testament, in individual fragments, whole copies, and quotations in early church writings. This leads us to an important statement – historians in their professional capacity would say the New Testament is an accurate, reliable record of events.

All of the writers we’ve already referred to give us evidence that Jesus died. The fact that he had a lot of followers too means they’re not likely to get this fact wrong in their writings and not have it corrected or disputed at some point.
Mark 15v42-45 also gives some valuable evidence. The Roman soldier featured here would have been certain that Jesus was dead before handing him over to Joseph of Arimathea. It would have been more than his life was worth to get this wrong. The record also tells us that he was surprised he was already dead – he wasn’t expecting Jesus to die so quickly. So he would have been doubly sure that he really had died before releasing the body of the controversial man to Joseph here. Pilate too would have needed to be certain before he authorised its release. They knew their job!
In addition to these facts, the disciples of the Lord had completely given up hope that he was alive. You can imagine them desperate to cling to the idea that he had survived for as long as possible. Yet here, Joseph – one of his followers – goes and buries him. He knew there was no hope he was alive.

The so-called “swoon theory” – the idea that Christ didn’t actually die but revived later in the cool of the tomb and then escaped – only appeared in the C19th and makes no sense:

A Jesus who had survived would still be physically exhausted and covered in wounds – unable to escape from a tomb that was blocked up by a massive stone. And he would hardly have been strong enough to convince others that he was the prince of life in a state like that. If he hadn’t died, where could he go? The whole of Jerusalem was looking out for him, we can be sure, and he wouldn’t have been able to get far.

Seven facts provide evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

1. We know for certain that no-one ever produced the body.
There were many people who hated Jesus, and wanted to extinguish the movement he started once and for all. For this, all they had to do to ensure this was to produce the body. That would have silenced the “resurrection” movement for all time.
Instead, the Jewish elders have to claim that the disciples stole it (Matthew 28v11-15). This could never have been written in a widely circulated document if it wasn’t true – especially because it makes the Jews look incompetent. They were the ones who had guarded the tomb (27v63-66). In their desperation they allege that the disciples, most of whom had already fled, manage to get past guards who could not have fallen asleep on duty and lived to tell the tale, silently move a huge stone twice, escape again, and find somewhere to hide where no-one ever found the body.

2. The tomb was never venerated.
When a leader dies, experience tells us that the tomb becomes the focal point of followers afterwards. Tomb veneration was common in the 1st century. They could have easily identified the tomb – we know it was Joseph of Arimathea’s own (Matthew 27v59-60). But there is no record of the first Christians even so much as gathering for worship at the tomb, and we are not certain today which tomb it was. The obvious reason for this would be that the tomb was empty on that resurrection morning, and therefore insignificant.

3. The movement known as Christianity almost died, and yet suddenly turned around and flourished.
Something very dramatic would have been needed for this to happen. Only hours before his death, most of the disciples were in hiding, Jesus himself was (in the eyes of the authorities) weak and humble, willingly laying down his life without a fight. Judas had betrayed his lord, Peter had denied knowing him, many other followers had fled in fear, and only a very small crowd helplessly watched the Crucifixion take place. The atmosphere was sad and dejected (Luke 24v13-17, 21). This was a movement in rapid decline. But the turnabout happened in Jerusalem: the very place where it could have so easily been proved wrong. It would have been more likely to flourish elsewhere after these events – perhaps around Jesus’ birthplace. Only the resurrection of Jesus can make sense of this sudden shift in power. If we accept the Bible as a true and accurate record, then the resurrection was prophesied throughout the Old Testament, many hundreds of years earlier (see Psalm 16v10 and others).

4. Eyewitnesses were available at the time.
In 1 Corinthians 15v3-7, the Apostle Paul names people who you could go to and check the facts with. They could corroborate his claim that Jesus had indeed risen. If this was a lie, Paul wouldn’t have named them because many were still alive to argue. Notice that Paul claims that such a huge number had seen him, and not just a few. He would not have done this unless he was absolutely certain of its truth. Paul was staking his entire reputation, if not his life, on what he was writing.

5. Hallucinations need certain conditions to exist.
Some people claim that the personal appearances of Jesus after his death were hallucinations by the exhausted disciples. But hallucinations are as individual as we are. Even if several people hallucinate at the same time, perhaps under the influence of drugs, the hallucinations themselves will all be different because they arise from the subconscious mind. We know from the Gospels that people of a wide range of personality types claimed to see Jesus. On different occasions, 1, 2, 7, 10, 11, and 500 people all claimed to see Jesus – they were unlikely to all experience the same hallucination. Also the outward circumstances differed: walking along a road in the evening, shut away in a room, gathered at a meal table, and so on. In John 20v26-27, they touch him and eat with him. Hallucinations differ when situations change. And finally, all the appearances happened within 40 days then stopped abruptly, never to recur. That’s not how an illness or narcotic of this type usually behaves. So we can rule this out from being a credible alternative explanation – it is very unlikely that they would all see then same thing.

6. Peter spoke unopposed in Jerusalem only weeks later.
Peter can only give his speech in Acts 2v22-24 because no-one has proved these things wrong by then. If just one person in the massive crowd had seen the body or had a good explanation, they would have said so. But what actually happens is that countless people convert to Christianity within yards of the place where all this happened. People don’t even doubt the women who were the first to see the empty tomb in Luke 24v1-3. If there was any doubt of what they had seen or done with the body, Peter – or his crowd – would have called them to testify. But no-one ever calls on them in the Gospels or in Acts because no-one doubts what they found: an empty tomb.

7. People don’t die for a lie.
We have no record of any confessions under torture, or any deathbed repentances under persecution. Instead they all died, many through persecution, absolutely convinced of the resurrection and not once denying it. People will suffer and die for their convictions, but not for their inventions. The great moral establishment of the 1st Century church would not have been on stable or lasting foundations if any one of the disciples who were there knew it to be a sham. The resurrection being true is the only way to explain all of these pieces of evidence.

Why does it matter?
If Christ rose from the dead, so can we. It proves that death need not be the end for us. It would take a massive change for a mass murderer to espouse the cause for which he killed people. Yet this is what happened to Paul, who wrote about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15v20-22.

This says that Christ was the “firstfruits” – the first offering of the harvest – with more to come in time. It means that all those who are in Christ – who are his followers by baptism and belief – will be raised too, and therefore death need not be the end for us either. That’s why this resurrection message is so important, and so full of hope for us today.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Peace of mind

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 23rd May 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

As we get to know what God requires of us, it’s inevitable that we’re going to be saddened by how far short we fall! This might get us down, but it shouldn’t. Paul sums up the right attitude in Romans chapter 7: he laments his sinfulness and constant failings, but finally he concludes that it’s not his own merits that count but his faith in Christ. He is an abject sinner, but he has peace of mind knowing that God loves him.

How do we gain peace of mind?

All the letters in the New Testament (except Hebrews) start by wishing their readers grace and peace. This was a fundamental desire of the apostles.

Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus …” The discussion that follows emphasises two particular qualities that we must cultivate: humility and obedience.

In John 14:20-27 Jesus is reassuring his disciples shortly before the trauma of his death. He promises the gift of the ‘Comforter’, and in particular:
 they will be of one mind with Jesus and his father (v. 20)
 they will be loved of God (v. 21)
 Jesus and his father will dwell with them (v. 23)
 they will be helped in difficult circumstances (v. 26)
 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (v. 27).

Again in John 16:
 God loves those who love and believe in his son (v. 27)
 “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (v. 33).

Philippians 4:4-7 is an exhortation to rejoice and to live Christlike and prayerful lives: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

When things go wrong, people with faith in God know that God is in control: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.”

The example of Jesus

Did Jesus have peace of mind? He was a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3); he ‘offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears’ (Hebrews 5:7); his life was short and stressful and it came to a horrible end. But yes, he had perfect peace of mind in that he was completely submissive to God’s will and had complete confidence in God.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Trinity - true or false?

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Webster's 1961 new Collegiate Dictionary defines the Trinity as:

"trinity ...1. [cap.] Theol. The union of three persons or hypostases (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three persons or hypostases as to individuality. 2. Any synbol of the Trinity in art. 3. Any union of three in one; a triad; as the Hindu trinity, or Trimurti."

Harold Lindshell and Charles Woodbridge in the "Handbook of Christian Faith" make the following claim: "The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul."

However, it is a remarkable fact that the ideas contained in the Doctrine of the Trinity are not found in the Bible. This is not a new discovery. It has been known for a long time, right back in the 4th century of our era. More recent theologians have said so clearly. For example, the Anglican theologian J. H. Newman, who joined the Church of Rome in 1845, wrote:

". . . the doctrines (that is, concerning Father, Son and Holy Spirit) have never been learned merely from Scripture" (The Arians of the 4th Century, p.50).

Dr. W. R. Matthews, for many years Dean of St. Paul's, London, was more emphatic:

". . . the doctrine of the Trinity . . . formed no part of the original message. St. Paul knew it not, and would have been unable to understand the meaning of the terms used in the theological formula on which the Church ultimately agreed" (God in Christian Thought and Experience, p.180)

Many sincere admirers of Christ may well feel disturbed at this plain assertion that his great Apostle Paul knew nothing of the Doctrine of the Trinity!

How then did it arise?

To answer this question we need to know when it arose. The answer is: not till 300-400 years after the days of Jesus and his apostles. It is a striking fact that the "early Church Fathers" -- the theologians who wrote in the period 100-300 A.D. -- knew nothing of it, and frequently uttered opinions which contradict it. For the majority of them there was no question of Jesus' being "co-equal and co-eternal with the Father". He was subordinate to God his Father, and was regarded as a "created Being". The teachings which now make up the Doctrine of the Trinity were the decisions of a number of general Church Councils. These are the most significant:
325 A.D. First General Council at Nicea, declared that the Son was from the beginning of the same nature as the Father.
381 A.D. Second General Council at Constantinople, declared that the Holy Spirit was to be worshipped with the Father and the Son.
431 A.D. Third General Council at Ephesus, decreed that Jesus had two natures, a human and a divine; also that Mary was the "mother of God", in opposition to those who maintained that she was the "mother of Christ".
451 A.D. Fifth General Council at Chalcedon, decreed that the two natures in Christ constituted only one Person and one will.

The progressive formulation of the Doctrine of the Trinity over a considerable period of time, is clearly shown when the major creeds of the Church are compared:

The Apostles' Creed, certainly an early Creed though its exact date is unknown, expresses the relationship between Christ and God thus:

". . . God the Father Almighty . . . Jesus Christ His only Son . . . conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . ." After his resurrection Christ "ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . ."

This is in complete agreement with what the Bible says. But later creeds show many additions and a different view.

The Nicene Creed, 325 A.D., declares that Jesus Christ is

"the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds . . . God of God, Very God of Very God, being of one substance with the Father . . . The Holy Ghost with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified . . ."

The Athanasian Creed, of unknown date but certainly in existence soon after 500 A.D., is even more emphatic:

"We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity . . . there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate . . ." All are declared to be eternal, "yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal". The Creed concludes with the ominous statement: "He that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity."

The new teaching about the Godhead aroused much opposition from those who claimed to be holding the original beliefs. The result was bitter controversy for over a century between the church leaders. The decisions of the Church Councils in the 4th and 5th centuries were the actions of the Church authorities determined to suppress all "rebels". So the official Doctrine of the Trinity was elaborated and proclaimed, and its acceptance declared to be obligatory.

What does the Bible say?

Before Jesus Christ appeared, the writings of the Old Testament had for centuries been revered by the nation of Israel (the Jews) as the revelation of their God who had delivered them from Egypt at the Exodus. What impression had they gained about the nature of God? The answer is clear from the following quotation:

"Having affirmed the existence of God, Judaism really lays down only one basic idea about Him which is a recognised dogma -- the Unity of God. 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.' This is immediately a negation of the polytheism of the ancient world with its numerous deities. It is a repudiation of the idea that there are two gods or two creative sources of existence, one of good and the other of evil. It is also a clear denial of the idea of a trinity -- three gods in One which is the established doctrine of Christianity. For Judaism there can be absolutely no compromise at all in this fundamental concept of the Only One God who is the ultimate creative source of all life and death, the elements of nature and history and the power behind all forces, physical and spiritual" (C. Pearl and R. Brookes, A Guide to Jewish Knowledge, pp.96-97).

To this day the orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity remains a great obstacle for any Jew inquiring into the Christian religion.

In these days of hazy ideas we need to remind ourselves that the Old Testament we possess is the same collection of writings revered in Jesus' day as the word of God. Jesus himself described them as "the law, the psalms and the prophets" and said that in them were prophecies of himself. In Psalm 2 we read:

"Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (vv. 7-8).

Certain clear conclusions arise: God has anointed one who is to rule for Him ("my King") over all the nations of the earth. But he is God's Son, because he has been "begotten". The ruler is not God; he is the Son of God; and he began to exist on the day he was "begotten". Like all sons, he is preceded by his Father. The whole of this general teaching is summed up in the first verse of the New Testament:

"The book of the generation (or birth) of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).

Now when this "Son" first appeared among men, how does he regard himself? There can be no doubt about the answer: Jesus always speaks of himself as subordinate to the Father, as dependent upon Him for all his teaching and all his works. These are some of his own sayings:

"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do . . ." (John 5:19).
"My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me" (7:16).
"The Father is greater than I . . ." (14:28).

When he is accused by the Jews of "making himself God", he denies the charge and says, "I am the Son of God" (John 10:34-36). He even declines to allow himself to be called "good". When he is addressed as "good master", he replies:

"Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God" (Mark 10:18).

In his great prophecy uttered shortly before he was crucified, Jesus speaks of his own coming back to the earth to reign:

"Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory . . . But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13:26,32).

When he has risen from the tomb, this is his message for the disciples:

"Go unto my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:19).

There can be no doubt about the view held by Jesus himself: in everything the Father was superior; the Son was dependent upon Him.

The Origin of the Son

How Jesus came to exist is explained in simple terms in the Gospel of Luke. To Mary, a God-fearing virgin in Israel, herself a descendant of David the King, there appeared an angel with a very remarkable message:

"Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee . . . Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus (Saviour). He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David . . . and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:28-33).

Let us pause for a moment to appreciate the shock of surprise and then exhilaration that these words would provoke in her. She knew quite well the promise made to David over 900 years before. A descendant (son) of David would be the means of restoring the glory of the Kingdom of Israel, and of reconciling Israel to God. This was the long expected Messiah, and she was actually to be his mother. Her child was to reign on David's throne!

But then -- perplexity. Although Mary was betrothed to a God-fearing Israelite named Joseph, they were not yet married, and there could be no question of a child being born until they were. How then, Mary asks the angel, can this promise come to pass? The angel is quite explicit in his reply:

"The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (v.35).

To complete the picture, Matthew's Gospel gives us the matter as it appeared to Joseph, her future husband. Before they were married, Mary "was found with child of the Holy Spirit". Joseph would have been fully justified in repudiating his undertaking to marry her. But an angel had a message for him from God:

"Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21, R.V.).

From this Joseph would understand that this child was to be the Messiah. The whole episode is concluded by Matthew's statement:

"All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying (he quotes Isaiah's prophecy uttered 700 years before): 'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us' " (vv. 22-23).

These divine statements to Mary and Joseph contained the most momentous news. A child with a great destiny was to be born, for he would not only reign on David's throne for ever, but he would also "save his people from their sins". But the child's origin is clearly stressed. Mary is to be the mother, but Joseph is not to be the father. The child will be conceived because "the power of the Highest", "the Holy Spirit", will operate upon Mary to bring the marvel to pass. And so "a virgin shall conceive" and her son shall be called "the Son of God". This is the clear Bible teaching of the Virgin Birth of Christ.

Jesus, Son of Man

There is reluctance sometimes to accept the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was fully a member of the human race. Some feel that to think of him as sharing our nature with all its weakness is to degrade him, and to throw doubt on his sinlessness.

Here again we must turn to the evidence of the Bible. We have seen already the clear record of his origin and his birth: Son of God, but also son of Mary. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, puts it thus:

"When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (4:4, R.V.).

"Born under the Law" means that he was a male Israelite, living under the Law of Moses. Paul tells us why: "that he might redeem them which were under the law" (v.5). The Jews lived under a law that condemned them because they could not keep it without sinning. Jesus was born one of them, so that he could fully represent them in his work of redemption.

The Epistle to the Hebrews describes how Jesus had to be made "perfect through sufferings", so that he might be "the author of salvation" for those who are to be sons (and daughters) of God. For this reason "he that sanctifieth (Jesus) and they that are sanctified (the faithful) are all of one"; that is, are of the same nature. This is what he next declares, referring to the sons and daughters this time as "the children":

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise partook of the same" (Hebrews 2:10-14).

This is an explicit declaration that the nature of Jesus was exactly like that of his fellows, "flesh and blood". The writer goes on to tell us why this had to be:

"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (vv. 17-18).

In short, Jesus, in order to carry out his great work of sacrifice for sin, had to be of the same nature as those he came to save; and in order to be a merciful high priest, he had to have experience of all their temptations. The point is put equally clearly in chapter 4, verse 15:

"For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but one that has been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

There is, however, a great reluctance to accept the idea that Jesus literally suffered all the temptations that we do. Some feel that to think of him as literally feeling temptation -- that is, the urge to commit sin -- is to defile him and to make him less than sinless. This, however, is a great mistake. There is a tremendous truth embodied in the living experience and the death of Jesus, and to this we must now turn.

Why was the Son of God born thus?

What was God's purpose in bringing His Son into the world in this way? The following statements will make it clear:

"Thou shalt call his name Jesus (Saviour): for it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

"God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . For if, when we were enemies (that is, of God), we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:8-10).

The clear message emerging from these sayings is that the work of Jesus, under the good hand of God his Father, was to be a sacrifice so that sin could be put away, men and women could be saved and reconciled to God. This is the great work of redemption in Christ. We need redemption; we need "saving", as the Bible puts it. For otherwise our situation is just as the Apostle Paul told those Ephesians theirs had been, when they did not yet know the Gospel:

"At that time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world" (2:12).

What a devastating verdict! Yet that is our case too -- "having no hope", apart from the work of God in Christ. That is why the Gospel of Christ is not a pleasant "optional extra", but vitally necessary if we are to escape the fate of eternal death.

The Vital Work of Christ

So we come to "the problem" (if we may call it that) which needed to be solved. Mankind cannot save itself from the consequences of sin, that is death. Yet God is "not willing that any should perish": in fact He desires "that all men should be saved" (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). Yet He cannot overlook sin, for that would be to abdicate His righteous authority in the world. So sin must be recognized, condemned, and conquered in such a way that men and women of earnest, sincere hearts can see the lesson, and acknowledge its truth for themselves. Men and women need a Redeemer who can achieve in himself, and on their behalf, what they in their weakness are unable to do.

So God manifests His only Son, begotten by the power of His Holy Spirit, yet fully a member of the human race. That Son experiences all the temptations of humanity, but firmly rejects them, and chooses to do, not his own will, but the will of the Father. It is vital for us to understand that Jesus made this decision entirely of his own will. He was not forced into it by God, or inevitably predisposed towards it by some preexistent consciousness in heaven. As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

"Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (1:9).

So, representing the human race, Christ conquered sin in that very nature, flesh and blood, where before it had triumphed: he reversed the original failure which led to the Fall, and, being himself sinless, was able to be offered as a sacrifice for sin. His death upon the Cross was the atonement for human sin. So God, having upheld His righteousness in condemning sin, could now in the abundance of His love and grace, extend forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Himself to all those who will acknowledge His work in Christ.

If Jesus had, as part of the Godhead, already existed in heaven, it is inevitable that he would have been deeply influenced by that knowledge during his life as "Jesus of Nazareth". He would have known that his glorious resurrection and exaltation were certainties. He would not have needed, nor would he have been able, deliberately of his own will to choose to obey God in the face of the greatest natural pressures to please himself. His great conquest of sin, as a representative member of the human race, would not have been possible and the necessary atonement for sin would not have been achieved.

Understanding the truth about the nature and the experience of Jesus "in the days of his flesh" is absolutely essential if we are to understand God's work of redemption in him.

The Holy Spirit

The doctrine of "God the Holy Ghost" came very late into the Trinitarian theology of the 4th and 5th centuries. It was the last, after the Father and the Son, to be declared to be "God". The Apostles' Creed knows nothing of it; and its appearance in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds has, according to some authorities, the appearance of being "an afterthought".

The Bible's presentation of the Holy Spirit is very different. It is the power and influence by which God achieves His ends. In the beginning "the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters" and as a result the various acts of Creation came to pass. All living things, man and animals, says the Psalmist, depend upon God:

"Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth" (Psalm 104:29-30).

By His Spirit He sustains them all in life.

The prophets of old spoke their messages from God, not out of the inventions of their own minds, but because they were "holy men of God, moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Jesus himself performed his great signs and spoke his words of life, because "God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38).

Nowhere do the descriptions of the activities of the Holy Spirit suggest that it is to be regarded as a person.

"Christ the Wisdom of God . . ."
That Son had to be fully a member of the human race, in order to be, not their substitute, but their total representative. Putting aside his natural desires, he chose to do the will of his Father. Thus sin was conquered in its own domain, human nature, and Jesus died as the vital atonement, "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world". Ever since, believing men and women have found in him forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

The marvel is that this great work is still going on. We are far away in space and in time from the days of Jesus and the scenes of his witness. Yet in the great mercy of God we can still know and understand what he and his apostles had to say to those who were willing to listen. But only in the pages of the Bible, and nowhere else. These precious pages demand our earnest and sincere attention in reverence and humility, for where else shall we go? Like Jesus of old, they have "the words of eternal life".