How do you think? When it comes to the Bible and your worldview how do you approach it? William Barrett said “Hebraism and Hellenism – between these two points of influence moves our world.” How true this is. The Bible is written contained within the framework of the Hebrew mind, and it is my belief that you can never fully understand it unless you gain some understanding of the Hebraic mind. Unfortunately less than a 100 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, this way of thinking had begun to wane and a Greek or Hellenistic mind had taken over. This is mainly what we find in the Church today. This in and of itself is not completely bad but without the Hebrew mind much of the Scripture will seem hard for us to understand.
The main difference between the Greek and Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing v doing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. In it’s most simplest of forms the difference between the moral man (Hebrew) and the theoretical or intellectual man (Greek).
This maybe helps to explain why so many Christian Churches are so focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (whatever that may be), at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives. For example if I wrote a blog questioning the orthodox position of say Hell and put forward a contrary position, I can guarantee that I would be attacked for all quarters and even accuses of not being a believer. I have seen people put out of Churches for simply raising questions. But on the other hand if I wrote a blog stating that I had had an affair (by the way I haven’t, and don’t plan to as I love my wife very much), I would receive emails and comments from people saying that they would be praying for me or something like that. How warped is this. This is so wrong. How many Christians have been burnt at the stake by the church for simply having a different opinion when the people doing the burning where living debauched lives?
In the Hebrew way of thinking it should be the exact opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while the Hebrew mind is concerned mainly with behaviour. Belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked. God demands right behaviour more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief.
It was gentile Christians, influence by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrew, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systemised. The believing community had no entrenched hierarchy through which all doctrine had to filtered and approved.
What the apostles taught about any given subject was either learned directly from Jesus, then passed on, or determined situationally. They determined Halakha (behaviour or right way of doing things) for believers in much the same way the sages of Israel did. As circumstances changed they rendered decisions about the application of Torah (Matthew 18:18). Acts 15 provides an account of how at least one teaching concerning requirements for gentile believers was formed around 50AD.
In Christian Circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse “the right thing,” than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed with creeds, doctrinal statements etc. I am not saying that these are not important. But I am saying how you live is more important. How you live says more about what you believe than anything else. This mode of thinking is thoroughly western and Greek.
Another issue is in Greek thought there is the idea of sacred and secular which says that religion is only for a certain area of your life but not for all of if it. In Hebrew thought this division does not exist. For example in the Talmud we even find a prayer about going to the toilet. If someone prayed in Christian circles about this or even admitted that they did it they would be accused of being irreligious. But in Hebrew thought every area of life is considered one and that there is no difference between what is religious and what is not religious.
In Greek theology, we also have sometimes abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture in favour of allegorical interpretations. This too is very Greek and was virtually unknown in the Church up until the tile of Origen. This method opens the door to a myriad of creative expositions that leave the student of Scripture confused and disorientated.
It is not easy to readjust our thinking especially as a Church we have been thinking Greek for around 1800 years. But to get the most out of Scripture and to live our lives in the way that God want us to we do as individuals and a Church start thinking Hebraically. Of course this will take time but if we start by taking small steps we can get there.
Note: If you are a follower of political correctness or someone who can’t think for themselves you will probably be offended by what I am about to write.
This Thursday, the 22nd of April is according to the followers of the religion of “Climate Change” their “holiest day”. It is called Earth Day. You can’t miss it. The TV is advertising it; companies are saying they are going to shut off their electricity for a while all in aid of worship of the Earth. This day was launched 40 years in the USA by Sen. Gaylord Nelson. It is now recognised in 100’s of countries. Most religions have a holy book and Climate change is no different (by the way I believe that climate change is a religion based on the fact that it has never been proven and you need to have faith in it). Climate change followers have their holy book also which is called “The Environmental handbook”. The book states that each tree and stream has its own guardian spirit. And Christianity is hugely at fault for environmental woes. They think we believe that it is God’s will to exploit nature (p. 20-21). Thanks to Christianity, we will see a worsening ecological crisis (p. 25). The book also says, “No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. The only way we can preserve more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed.” (p.49, Garrett Hardin). That’s called population control. Just like the global warming crowd, they want a whole lot of us to go away. On page 324, the book promotes polygamy and group marriage. It pushes for a “revolution of consciousness” and enlightenment while praising Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, druids, Taoists, witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, anarchists, and alchemists. (p. 331).
But here’s the worst news. Take a look at the sacred earth prayer found in this book: “Mother, Father, God, Universal Power — remind us daily of the sanctity of all life. Touch our hearts with the glorious oneness of all creation as we strive to respect all the living beings on this planet. Penetrate our souls with the beauty of this earth, as we attune ourselves to the rhythm and flow of the seasons. Awaken our minds with the knowledge to achieve a world in perfect harmony and grant us the wisdom to realize that we can have heaven on earth.”
So why are people and especially some evangelicals lured into this? The direct reference to “Mother Earth,” “Heaven on earth,” and prayer to a “Universal Power,” should be huge red flags that “Earth Day” and some related ecology events are pagan events to be shunned. Instead, we have Web sites representing evangelicals who are promoting this big time. According to the Bible, we are to be good stewards of the Earth, but we cannot save it. Only God can. The Bible says, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs” (Romans 8:22) as it waits Earth’s real liberation — the return of Christ. Make no mistake that “Earth Day” and climate Change does represent a “religion.” It is the religion of “Mother Earth”.
God cares about the creation and does not want Christians or anyone else abusing it. His care didn’t stop after six days. It says in Psalm 104: 5 and 24, that, “You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken — O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The command that human beings are given to steward or manage the Earth is both a huge privilege and a great responsibility. It carries with it immense power for good or evil. Creation is something good. It reflects the goodness and character of God. He made it. He loves it. We need to treat it properly. But we do not need to worship it. This is idolatry of the worst kind.
As you can probably guess, I do not believe in Climate Change. You just have to watch Climate Changes “god”, Al Gore and his film to see how many holes are in his argument. I was never strong at science but I was strong in history, and as I have always said, you will never understand how we live today and the future unless you understand the past. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. In the 11th and 12th Centuries we had a similar experience. The world heated up drastically for a while then cooled just as drastically. There was plague and famines. There were religious wars. What does this remind you off? Unless you have been living like a hermit you will realise that what happened then is also happening now. By the way where were all the planes and factories at this time? O that’s right there wasn’t any. So obviously it couldn’t have been man made. Please think for yourselves and stop being spoon fed by the liberal leftist media. Even if I say that climate Change is a possibility that still would not convince me to do anything about it. After all the Bible is very clear about what is going to happen and there is nothing that you or I can do to stop it. One day everything will be made new. There will be a new Earth and a New Heaven. And I for sure can’t wait for that to happen. So on Earth Day, please just ignore and tell other people you know to ignore it also. It is a pagan festival with no connection whatsoever to the God of the Bible.
“Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me” (Matt. 25: 41-43)
This is a very famous passage which many of you will have heard many times before. A few years ago I remember hearing a sermon about the passage concerning the sheep and goats. As someone from the UK, Sheep and goats for me are quite easy to tell a part. And I had always thought that Jesus was using 2 very different animals so that we could also tell the difference between believers and unbelievers. But this preacher made the point that in Israel and throughout the Middle east it is quite difficult to tell the difference if you are not familiar with either animal. In other words you cannot always tell who is a believer and who is an unbeliever by simply looking at them from a distance. It is also about their behaviour and way of life.
From this passage I see a few question being asked. In the past year, how many humgry Christians have you fed? (by the way while it is good and commendable to help and fed non-Christians who is it that Jesus is talking about in this passage when he refers to “Brethren”? I shall not answer this but will leave it with you to ponder). How many thirsty believers have you supplied with drinking water? How many homeless children of God have you provided with shelter? How many naked Christians have you furnished with clothing? How many sick or imprisoned followers of Christ have you visited? If you where to stand in the Judgement of Jesus described in matthew 25, would you be among the sheep or goats?
We who are believers are not only called to follow Jesus in belief and faith. We are also called to follow Him with our works. As James says faith devoid of works is USELESS. It is not a case of either/or. It is a case of both/and. At the same time people who simply do good works but have no faith or belief are simply doing good works and no more. We are called to not only believe in Jesus. We are also called to follow Jesus.
Some may get worried by all this talk and accuse me of preaching a social Gospel. Well I am not preaching any such thing. The so called social Gospel and any other Gospel such as Liberation Theology is no such Gospel at all. Our starting point should alway be Jesus and what He did for us on the Cross. Without Jesus there is no point in anything you do. The Gospel is simple but it is on the end it is rather only the begining. Out of the Gospel fruit should develop in our lives which will result in our obedience in the Commandments of God. As Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them”. If here is no fruit in your life ask yoursleves why not and change your life round so that fruit will develop. Our God is a God of forgiveness. So he will forgive you if you have denied His Son. And start from this moment living a life which will not deny Him but rather Honour Christ in your life. Thanks for reading.
Being a believer is not just about doctrine and faith. These are important issues and should always be taken seriously. But having correct doctrine and faith is no good if your life is not a life of obedience to Christ. In Ephesians 5:5-6 we read, “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” We are called to live Holy lives not unholy ones. An Unholy Christian is no Christian at all and should not even claim to be one because they bring nothing but dishonour to the name of Jesus.
As Christians our character is revealed, not by what we do on Sunday mornings, but what we do all week. It is revealed more by “little” things and by what we do when alone and no one is watching us. One who has been truly born again is indwelt by God’s Spirit and is progressively made holy as he cooperates with the Spirit. He will not lead a double life. Certainly he may stumble at times and sin. But that is not his consistant behaviour. His life is primarily characterized by obedience to the God whome he loves all the time. As John wrote, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). The new birth is the begining of a new life of holiness. And as the true Christian learns more of God’s will, he is transformed more and more to be like Jesus (see Rom. 12:2). True Christians are motivated to be holy because they’ve been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and because they love God. On the other hand, what motivates counterfeit Christians to be as moral as they are is their own self-interest, the same thing that motivates non-christians to be as moral as they are.
As Christians of course we will sin, but true Christians will feel extremely guilty and would cry out for God’s forgiveness and if they do God will forgive them. It is when we don’t feel guilty and don’t ask God for forgiveness that we should worry and ask ourselves “Are we really a christian, and are we denying Christ by our lifestyles”. Sin loses its grip when we repent, because that is when God forgives and delivers us. But repentance involves a turning away from all known sin. It is an attitude of our heart and an act of our will. People who truly repent demonstrate their repentance by their actions (see Luke 3:8 and Acts 26:20). So Repent of your sin and start living a life which brings honour to Christ and does not deny him.
Why are many people who claim to be believers today not living like it? In 1 Peter 2:9 it says, “But you are called to be a chosen people, the King’s cohanim (Priest), a holy nation, a people for God to possess!” (CJB) Christians are saved by grace but that is not the end. Because of the Reformation some people think that this question as been resolved for all time. But we have moved from one extreme to another. The Roman Catholic Church taught that you must do good works to be saved and then the Protestant now taught that all you needed was grace and faith. I would argue that both are wrong. Yes it is true that you can only be saved by grace which is a gift from God but afterwards we are called to live a Holy life. In a sense it is that God doesn’t love us because we do good works, but rather it is because God loves us that we do good works. The Grace that forgives us also transforms us. So people who have not been transformed are not forgiven. God expects that His true children will obey Him once they know what he expects from them. Those who profess to be His Children yet persist in the practice of lawlessness even after enlightenment are deceived. People who have truly been born again yearn to be holy; they “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). God is at work within them to complete the good work He began in their lives (see Phil. 1:6; 2:13). There is no such thing as justification that is not followed by sanctification. For this reason Scripture says, “Pursue…the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Heaven is not for the unholy. Salvation is no a result of our good works; good works, however, are a result of our salvation. The new birth changes, the behaviour of sinners, sometimes radically in the case of gross sinners. If you claim to be a Christian are you living like one? I am not saying that you have to live sinless lives. This is impossible this side of eternity. But are you doing what John calls “Practising sin”, in other words repeating the same sin over and over without having remorse. Light cannot live with darkness. The Bible is very clear about this. By living in sin as a believer you are not only bringing dishonour upon yourself but above all you are bringing dishonour upon God. In other words you are denying Christ. You must repent of your sin and start living the way God wants you to live. How can you be a light for God is you are living in darkness? There are many passages which speak clearly to us about living in holiness and what not to do. Such passages are the Sermon on the mount; 1 Cor.6:9-10; Gal.5:19-21; and Eph.5:5-6 to name but a few. Paul wrote in 2Cor. 13:4, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” So I will ask you the same question. Please test and examine yourselves to see if you are truly a believer and if you are living like one. If you are not please repent and start over again. If you are keep walking close to God.
I have an interest in many subjects and one of these is in Latin America and Ecuador in particular. Over time I will be writing stuff about Latin America and Ecuador concerning the Church but to start of with I wish to share an article which was published in christianity Today back in July 2009. Anyone with any comments concerning the Church in this part of the world are welcome to comment.
The ‘non-Catholic’ Latin American church is going full steam ahead—but are we on the right track?
July 29, 2009
It is widely recognized that the majority of Christians in the world today live in the Southern hemisphere. Along with Christianity gaining a new geographical center, theology, too, is moving south. If you are wondering where your pastor will get his ideas in a decade or two, you might look to Latin America, where the non-Catholic church is growing—often without any connection to historical Protestantism. (Eastern Orthodoxy is not included here in the term non-Catholic.) Church historian Andrew Walls calls Latin America a place of “theological ferment.” With hardly any Christendom left to speak of, the future of Christianity is wide open for new and unexpected developments.
National and international Christian tv channels, radio stations, and books testify to the numbers. Sociologist Paul Freston found that Protestants in countries such as Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile make up about one-third of the population. The large number of people these churches convert to Christianity leads some analysts to regard Latin American Pentecostalism as having “revolutionary potential” and an immense capacity to bring hope, a new form of democracy, and solutions to many Latin American problems.
But while Latin American evangelicalism is important for the future of democracy, it’s not enough to look at the sociology of this burgeoning church. We also need to examine the theology that is moving south. Will a gospel-centered Christianity prevail? The answer gives us cause for both celebration and concern.
Neither Catholic nor Protestant
The most prominent item in many Latin American churches is a drum set. Many congregations spend over an hour standing and singing (often songs written by church members) before the sermon. Lively worship and other Pentecostal characteristics (speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing) have become part of most non-Catholic Christian churches in Latin America. Many of these, often called “neo-Pentecostal,” are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating without any historical connection to classical Pentecostalism.
Despite their similarities, these churches are not unified. Some experts say non-Catholic Christianity in Latin America is best described as “neo-Pentecostalisms”—plural.
Two general interpretations have emerged for the exponential growth of these non-Catholic churches: Some uncritically see this as a movement of the Spirit, bringing people by the hundreds of thousands to the foot of the Cross, making them true sons and daughters of God and of the Reformation. Others see the massive movement in clear continuity with popular Catholic religiosity and indigenous traditions, having nothing to do with Protestantism.
Indeed, the neo-Pentecostalisms may be based on neither Protestant nor Catholic core doctrine, but on a convergence of popular Catholic religiosity with popular Protestant religiosity. In that case, we are likely witnessing a new form of post-, neo-Christianity.
The future of Latin American theology concerns some theologians for three reasons: faulty theology, divisionism, and the proliferation of sub-international-standard theological institutions along with a cheap “degree fever.”
Some descriptions of neo-Pentecostalism are puzzling. For example, Latin American church historian Arturo Piedra argues that non-Catholic Christianity in Latin America is evangelical and neo-Protestant. But when he details a new movement called “apostles and prophets” in these churches, he says this is a kind of injerto (“grafting”) done by people who have no knowledge of or respect for “the principles of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.”
The apostles and prophets movement emphasizes what they see as ministries from Ephesians 4:11, and its adherents’ teaching has caught on quickly. A pastor near my seminary now signs his name “Apostle ___ ,” and asks others to address him as such. The group also hosts lessons in being a prophet, where students pair off and take turns prophesying blessings for each other.
Piedra says that the “religious space of ‘prophets and apostles’ is dominated by an anachronistic Protestant shamanism, made up of individuals (actores) who pretend to save the world through an animist manipulation of evil spirits.”
Under the umbrella of spiritual warfare has grown a body of clergy specializing in discerning hidden forces. These preachers focus more on the fear of spirits than on the hope that Christ gives. They are also “experts” on curses and all sorts of practices like geographic cornering and blowing and whistling to subject evil spirits. This is quite the opposite of the defeat of Satan!
Like Argentine Methodist theologian José Míguez Bonino, Piedra holds that there is a weak historical connection between Latin American Protestantism and the Protestant tradition, as there is little or no emphasis on sola gratia, sola Scriptura, or justification by faith alone. Sadly, the apostles and prophets are not teaching the central message of the gospel, but a gospel of prosperity.
Television is a powerful influence on Latin American theology. The TV channel Enlace (owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network) has become “a true magisterium” beyond denominational beliefs and practices. It is available in most Latin American countries. Most evangelicals turn it on several times a week. No matter what topic Enlace is dealing with, the message boils down to making “pacts” with God, wherein a person must demonstrate the seriousness of his prayer request by sending money along with it. Pastors with little or no training imitate Enlace preachers, and the effect intensifies.
Many Enlace-style churches have reduced the message of the gospel to economic prosperity. Based on belief in evil spirits’ hidden conspiracies that can only be averted by economic pacts—a contemporary version of indulgences—some of these churches end up in clear continuity with the surrounding culture of amulets, or magical ways of quickly obtaining wealth and happiness. The celebrities who represent this kind of overnight wealth are Mafia members and druglords. The final product, says Piedra, is religious consumerism.
Respected Latin American theologian René Padilla says the new massive churches formed by these theological forces may directly or indirectly come from the Reformation. Nevertheless, he argues, these churches have adopted the “mass empire” culture, as they use business strategies and marketing techniques to reach their numerical goals, offering material prosperity, making people feel good, and emphasizing entertainment.
They reduce their biblical message, if they have one, to a minimum, and their view of discipleship is extremely limited. For these reasons, Padilla holds that these non-Catholic churches are an expression of evangelical popular religiosity. He calls it a form of Protestantism
closely related to a light culture of postmodern times. With those characteristics, it is hard to imagine how these big churches could be of any significant influence in preaching the message of the kingdom of God and the practice of justice in our continent. Christian ethics have been replaced by magic, Christ has no humanity.
French historian Jean-Pierre Bastian has concluded that the new Pentecostalisms are a “religious mutation” founded on emotionalism and a “popular religion that restructures the symbolic universe of the poor in terms of survival.” These religious expressions are in continuity with “the Latin American cultural and religious universe and have replaced historical Protestantism.” For this and other reasons, Bastian believes that the neo-Pentecostalisms could be classified as indigenous (and Catholic) Latin American popular religions. For Bastian, that explains in part why these churches grow so quickly.
In addition to its faulty theology, Latin American evangelicalism challenges our optimism with its notorious sectarianism. It is not only diverse, it is divisive. A large percentage of Latin American churches of all sizes are products of church splits. In Medellín, Colombia, where I live, close to half of the non-Catholic churches, and all the largest churches in the city, are the result of church splits.
The fragmentation of Latin American Protestantism, says Freston, makes it impossible for it to be a force for democracy.
Finally, Latin American institutions that somehow grant the highest academic degrees in theological education have proliferated. More than 60 percent of our pastors have no theological education. When they join a church’s staff, they often go on to get degrees from institutions that they themselves started.
These schools often operate below international standards of higher education. People can get “doctoral” degrees without an accredited master’s degree or a research library. Since seminaries usually aren’t accredited, they aren’t regulated. Each denomination and megachurch wants to have its own seminary or Bible institute and grant academic degrees with just a few books.
There are also evening and online institutions based either in Latin America or in the United States that offer all sorts of degrees. Institutions that do comply with international standards struggle to survive because their degrees are more rigorous and therefore cost more and take longer. We end up in “the perverse circle of mediocrity,” says Lausanne International Deputy Director for Latin America and seminary founder Norberto Saracco.
Wherever it exists, Christianity will always have a cultural component. There will always be a need to adjust the relationship between theology and experience. However, it is very dangerous to affirm that all who call themselves Christians are Christians—no matter what they do with Scripture, what theology they hold, or how they live. Christianity cannot be interpreted only through cultural anthropology or ethnographic lenses.
A sound church should aspire to be evangelical, biblical, and historical—and there are such churches in Latin America. Not all evangelical churches here have the problems I’ve outlined. But enough of them do that I am deeply concerned. This brief perspective shows that the task of evangelization is never fully accomplished.
We need a new generation of Latin American (and Asian and African) theologians who know the Scriptures and how to interpret them in order to avoid the theological anarchy—both indigenous and imported—that reigns in our midst.
Sometimes preachers of false doctrine turn around and look to the true message of the gospel. A fellow theologian told me about a Guatemalan preacher who, after 20 years, became interested in the Reformation. He began to study, and his message changed completely. But another theologian asked me whether we can really afford to wait decades for our leaders to preach the gospel.
Bad theology harms people. Sometimes they see that what they have been taught doesn’t match up with the truth. Often, they reject God because of it. My own church has taken on the task of counseling such seekers.
We especially need to recover and discover anew the priesthood of all believers, and the primacy of canonical and historical interpretation of the Bible, while never forgetting who we are as Latin Americans. Only then can we begin to speak of a Latin American biblical theology.
Milton Acosta is professor of Old Testament at Biblical Seminary of Colombia in Medellín, Colombia. He studied as a John Stott Ministries–Langham scholar at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This article is underwritten by a generous grant from John Stott Ministries.