All posts by Peter Ditzel

Are Seminaries Biblical?

by Peter Ditzel

A photo of four priests laying their hands on four kneeling men receiving the rite of ordination.
Those who complete seminary training are ordained as clergy. But is seminary training supported by Scripture? Photo: Priestly ordination in Schwyz, Switzerland by Matthias Ulrich.

Most churches, and probably most Christians, assume that those who serve in the ministry, at least at the pastor level, should have seminary training.

There are some who dare to question this system. Their question is often, Are seminaries biblical? The answer they’re often given by seminary advocates is, Does something have to be biblical to be good? After all, cars, indoor plumbing, electricity, and other conveniences that we take for granted are not in the Bible. Even words such as “Trinity” are not in the Bible. But this response of citing general cases is an evasion of the question.

Modern conveniences are not directly related to the Bible, and we might expect that the Bible would say nothing about them. And, while the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, the Trinity certainly is (see “Why Christians Believe in the Trinity“). So, these examples that seminary advocates list are faulty analogies and evade the real question: Is seminary training supported by Scripture?

Seminaries are postgraduate schools that are designed specifically to teach the Bible, biblical languages, theology, leadership skills for the ministry of Jesus Christ, and so forth. Thus, we have every reason to expect the Bible to contain a precedent for seminaries or either explicit instructions or implied directives concerning seminaries. After all, it includes accounts of the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself, His training of His apostles, the apostles’ instructions to their disciples, lists of the qualifications of elders, instructions for the meetings of the assemblies, and so forth. Surely, these give us principles that will tell us whether seminaries are a good way to train the Christian leadership.

A Precedent for Seminaries?

Seminary advocates often point out that Jesus, being God in the flesh, needed no teacher. Therefore, we can’t say that because Jesus didn’t have seminary-like training, that there is no need for seminaries today. This is true. It could be that while Jesus didn’t need seminary training, ordinary humans do. Yes, it could be so, but it isn’t because the Bible tells us of people who became Christian leaders without seminary training or even formal higher education.

Did Jesus’ apostles need a seminary? Advocates for seminaries say that Jesus’ apostles were directly taught by Jesus, and what better teacher could they have had? Jesus’ teaching His disciples, they say, was the precedent for seminaries. He may not have had formal classrooms, but Jesus did teach His disciples. Today, since Jesus no longer walks the Earth, we can no longer learn from Him but must send people to seminaries to learn. Is this true?

The Bible contradicts this view and tells us that we can still learn from Jesus. In fact, it tells us that we are in a better position to learn from Jesus than the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

It is true that Jesus directly taught His apostles. Oddly enough, however, the Bible reveals that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, His disciples frequently misunderstood what Jesus was talking about and were often clueless. Even though Jesus was right there in front of their eyes and speaking directly to them, they commonly didn’t understand Him. That’s because Jesus’ physical presence wasn’t the important ingredient for understanding. The disciples had trouble understanding because “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus wasn’t yet glorified” (John 7:39).

At various times here and there, God gave these men miraculous bits of revelation (e.g. Matthew 16:15-17). On the whole, however, their minds were yet too carnal for them to comprehend what Jesus was teaching.

Jesus plainly spoke of this very thing: “However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you” (John 16:13-15). Until the Holy Spirit was dwelling in the disciples, there were many truths the disciples could not bear. But once they had the Holy Spirit, they could begin to understand.

Jesus also said that He Himself would dwell in His followers (John 17:20-23). This He does through the Holy Spirit. So, it is wrong to say that we need seminaries because Jesus can no longer teach us. Jesus is very much with His people today—more so, in fact, than when He was physically on the earth. Today, He spiritually dwells within us through the Holy Spirit.

All believers today are indwelt by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This means that, unlike the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have direct access to the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father (John 16:26-27). We also have the written Word of God at our fingertips. In other words, rather than being at a disadvantage because Jesus isn’t physically here, we have great advantages over the disciples when they were physically with Jesus.

It was only after they received the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ followers wrote the New Testament that contains the doctrine we Christians need. And they accomplished that feat without the physical presence of Jesus, and they did it entirely without seminaries.

Now, don’t mistake me for saying that a person needs no education to teach. I say this because some Christian groups, especially some Fundamentalists, disparage education as somehow being contrary to healthy Christianity. I don’t agree. Certainly, there are schools at every level of learning that try to infuse an anti-Christian bias into the minds of their students. But this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with education per se. I believe that Christians should seek to further their education as much as possible. But there is a difference between education and indoctrination. Extensive, critical reading is one of the best ways to become educated.

Paul speaks of the ability to teach when listing the qualifications of elders/overseers (1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24). Paul also tells Timothy that he should be able to rightly divide (orthotomeō—”cut straight,” “dissect”) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This requires reading proficiency and a good level of reading comprehension. The apostle John may have been a fisherman, but he was apparently educated well enough to write a lengthy Gospel account and three epistles of significant theological depth. Peter, also a fisherman, wrote two epistles. Nevertheless, they were not seminary trained. Many more men today who are not seminary trained would be able to teach if given the chance.

Seminaries Train Clergy

God gives all Christians gifts and responsibilities. Some particularly have the gift to oversee and/or to teach. This does not, however, set them apart from the rest of the body of believers in some entirely unbiblical category called a clergy. I more thoroughly discuss the clergy in the article, “How Many Offices Are In God’s Assembly?” Yet, seminaries originated specifically to train clergy. What’s more, the clergy seminaries were founded to train were Catholic clergy. Even further, the Catholic Church founded seminaries as part of its counter-reformation. The purpose of the seminaries was to train priests who could argue against the challenges to Catholic doctrine presented by the Reformation.

The “faction” and “heresy” referred to in this quote is the Reformation: “And when in the 16th Century faction and heresy had disturbed the Church and had confounded all things human and divine the sacred Council of Trent devised no more efficient expedient than the erection of Seminaries to check the growing mischief which was spreading about her” (Henry Weedall, D.D., The Origin, Object, and Influence of Ecclesiastical Seminaries Considered, in a Discourse…. [R.P. Stone and Son, Birmingham: 1838] 14).

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that ecclesiastical seminaries are “schools instituted, in accordance with a decree of the Council of Trent, for the training of the Catholic diocesan clergy…. This system of seminary education, which has now become an essential feature of the Church’s life, had its origin only in the sixteenth century in a decree of the Council of Trent…. Cardinal Pole, who had witnessed the foundation of the German College and had been a member of the commission to prepare for the Council of Trent, went to England after the death of Henry VIII to re-establish the Catholic religion. In the regulations which he issued in 1556, the word seminary seems to have been used for the first time in its modern sense, to designate a school exclusively devoted to the training of the clergy. After the council [of Trent] reopened, the Fathers resumed the question of clerical training; and after discussing it for about a month, they adopted the decree on the foundation of ecclesiastical seminaries. (Anthony Viéban, “Ecclesiastical Seminary.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912).

Given this information, it can be a somewhat staggering fact that almost every Protestant, Baptist, and other non-Catholic denomination—as well as many non-denominational churches—have established seminaries! Yet, it shouldn’t really be surprising given that all of these denominations and churches have either always been or at some point in history become part of the institutional church that is epitomized by the Roman Catholic “Holy Mother Church.” The institutional church is not, and never has been, the ekklēsia built by Jesus Christ; although there are believers in the institutional church, and they are members of the ekklēsia.

Further reading: “Ekklēsia or Church, Does It Matter?

Is my point that Protestant churches shouldn’t have taken the word “seminary” that was used by Catholics and used it for their schools? No. That is not my point. My point is that the Catholic Church established seminaries as centralized institutions through which they could indoctrinate young men with official Catholic dogma. These men would then be sent to churches where they would teach the same, uniform doctrine they had been taught. This, it was hoped, would create an atmosphere hostile to individual thinking and prevent the spread of the Reformation. Protestant seminaries did more than just take the name “seminary.” They based their seminaries on the same model—centralized indoctrination of young men taken from their local churches who would then be sent out as a special class of Christians called clergy to teach the dogma they had imbibed at the seminary.

This is very far removed from the Spirit-led, physically decentralized, Christ-centered, biblical model; and this is why I have a problem with seminaries.

The Danger of Unbiblical Authority and Centralization

Jesus indwells each believer, we all have access to the written Word of God, and we can be exposed to the ideas of other believers through the meetings of the assemblies or—as is often now the case—through electronic and print media. Thus, even if we assume that the purpose of seminaries is to impartially teach the Word of God—and that is a questionable assumption, at best—we can see that there isn’t a legitimate need for seminaries. Jesus teaches us directly through the Spirit and written Word. But is there anything wrong with seminaries? I believe there is. Again, even if we assume an innocent purpose behind their founding, seminaries are a danger because of their inherent structure.

Two fundamental problems with seminaries lie in the perceived authority of their teachers and in their centralized organization. These really become one big problem when lots of people gather in one place to be taught by a few authorities. What happens when the sole teacher in a classroom begins teaching unsound doctrine? Can we trust that the seminary administration will catch this and dismiss the teacher? The record of the past tells us that we cannot. Jesus instructed, “If the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14b). In the case of seminaries, the bad teaching of one instructor can lead many into a pit.

Of Christ’s assemblies, the Bible says that two or three are to speak and the others are to judge or discern or scrutinize. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot translates the Greek of 1 Corinthians 14:29 literally: “And prophets, let speak two or three, and the others scrutinize!” Is this the way seminary classes are conducted? Do the students have the right to scrutinize their teachers? Do these impressionable young minds even want to do so, or are they awed by the dignity and reputation of their instructors? Are they spiritually mature enough to know when a teaching ought to be challenged? In 1 Timothy 3:6, Paul specifically says that those who are to be overseers in the assembly of God are not to be novices or neophytes (from the Greek neophutos—literally “newly sprouted”). Yet, that is exactly what many seminary students are.

Speaking of the spread of heresy, the Bible says, “A little yeast grows through the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). Seminaries have often become hotbeds of heresy. All it takes is one instructor in a seminary to teach heresy to his students, who then bring that teaching back to the churches in which they are hired, to spread that heresy worldwide.

Never, when listing the qualifications of elders or overseers or servants, does the Bible ever say that people must be, or even should be, seminary graduates or anything that would be a prototype of seminary graduates. Never is such a thing even suggested. Yes, the elder is to hold “to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him” (Titus 1:9). But this is a gift given by Christ through the Holy Spirit and exercised through study of God’s Word, not something earned or learned at a seminary.

Some have pointed out that Paul was taught, in a possibly seminary-like fashion, by Gamaliel. It’s true that Paul was taught by Gamaliel, and he pointed this fact out to the mob of Jews to show that he was a devout Jew and well-educated in the Jewish religion, and that’s why he “persecuted this Way [of Christ] to the death” (Acts 22:3-4). But he contrasts this with his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Surely, he considered his education by Gamaliel amongst the dung or refuse of confidence in the flesh and the law (Philippians 3:3-8). Paul makes clear that his Gospel did not come from men: “But I make known to you, brothers, concerning the Good News which was preached by me, that it is not according to man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

Paul’s instruction to Titus implies that those appointed as elders in a city were residents of that city (Titus 1:5). The Bible never teaches that the assemblies should look outside of themselves for elders. Yet, the seminary system promotes this very thing. It takes people away from their local congregations. Youths who have been force-fed worldviews and doctrine and practice by a few professors are then called as strangers before pastoral search committees who will decide, like a corporate human resources team, whether to hire them for the job. The church is a worldly institution that is the opposite of the Scriptural ekklēsia in virtually every way.

Seminaries Are Contrary to the Centrality of Christ

In the end, the problem with seminaries is that they are contrary to the centrality of Christ. Like wrong-headed teachings that say we are sanctified by our works, or that we are still somehow under the law, they faithlessly deny the power of Christ. The Bible gives us no other way to learn than to be taught by Christ through the indwelling Spirit and written Word of God. Part of this can include hearing and reading the ideas of other believers whose teachings we have scrutinized. We can then pass this on to others in a way that is also subject to scrutiny. This is the way the Bible teaches us to gain knowledge.

I am not saying that God has never used seminary graduates to teach the truth. I am saying that it is not because of the seminaries but in spite of them that God was able to use such seminary graduates.

Are seminaries biblical? No. The Bible never so much as hints that we are to send people who want to serve the Body of Christ out of their locality to a central institution to learn to be a special executive class of Christians called clergy. Christ taught His disciples, and He teaches us today. The Word of God gives us qualifications for elders, but they do not include seminary training or anything that resembles it.

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The Parables of Jesus>Who Is the Good Samaritan?

by Peter Ditzel

A painting titled The Good Samaritan painted by Balthasar van Cortbemde (1612–1663) in 1647. It shows a man in Middle Eastern attire bending down to help a near-naked man who appears to be on the point of death.
Is Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan merely a moral tale that He intended would encourage us to good works? Or, did He have something else in mind altogether? The Good Samaritan (1647) painted by Balthasar van Cortbemde (1612–1663).

We’ve all heard of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And, we’ve all heard that through this parable, Jesus was teaching that we should show love to our neighbor through self-sacrifice. “Good Samaritan” has even become a term used to describe a helpful or charitable person. According to this common interpretation, the parable teaches that when we see our neighbor in need, we are to help. Yet, if this is what Jesus is saying, it would mean that the half-dead man on the side of the road is the neighbor of the parable, the person in need, the neighbor we are supposed to help.

A fact that is often missed, however, is that Jesus contradicted this accepted understanding by agreeing with the lawyer when he identified the neighbor in the parable as being, not the man in need of help, but the Samaritan who helped him. In fact, there are several difficulties with the standard definition of the parable that, when corrected by the Bible, completely change the meaning from the one assumed. What, then, is the answer to the lawyer’s question in Luke 10:29, “Who is my neighbor?” And who does the good Samaritan in the parable represent?

Read more… →

Fallen from Grace?

by Peter Ditzel

A black and white image of the angel with the flaming sword expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Theologians often say that Adam and Eve fell from grace. People commonly use the term to mean other things, too. But what does the Bible mean when it says that someone has fallen from grace?

We sometimes hear both Christians and non-Christians use the expression, “fallen from grace.” Occasionally, they use it to refer to Adam and Eve’s Fall in the Garden of Eden. At times, the media use the term to refer to someone—often a prominent Christian—who has had some secret sin, such as adultery, publicly exposed. Certain denominations frequently use the idiom to describe Christians who have so sinned that they have, according to their theology, lost their salvation (at least until they respond to another altar call). “Fallen from grace” is a biblical term with a specific meaning that matches none of the ways it is commonly used. Unfortunately, this confusion obscures the Gospel. In this article, I’d like to explain what the Bible really means by “fallen from grace.”

Belying the False Notions

Can Adam and Eve be said to have fallen from something? Yes. But no one can fall from what he or she doesn’t have in the first place. Nothing in the Bible says that Adam and Eve ever had grace. To say that they fell from grace is an assumption theologians make without any biblical evidence. God offered Adam and Eve grace through the tree of life (see “What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?“). But they never ate from it. When they disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve went from a state of not knowing good and evil—a state of innocence—to a state of knowing good and evil. What Adam and Eve fell from, then, was a state of innocence.

When the media refer to someone as having fallen from grace, they mean he or she has fallen from a reputation or position that was highly esteemed by others. Although the media seem to take some pleasure in using this expression when the person they are reporting about is known as a Christian, they are really using “grace” in a totally non-theological way to loosely mean “respect” or “honor” and, sometimes, “trust.”

As I mentioned, there are those who use “fallen from grace” to express the state of Christians whose sins have caused them to lose God’s grace and lose their position before God as saved sinners. It should be immediately apparent that this belief is self-contradictory. Grace is God’s favor, particularly as it refers to God’s unmerited favor in saving sinners. If someone can lose God’s favor because of what the person has done, it would mean that God’s favor was not unmerited but earned by works. To say that a saved sinner can become unsaved because he sins is complete confusion.

Grace does not depend upon works. Sinners do not receive God’s grace because they deserve it. For a sinner to receive God’s grace and then fall from God’s grace because she sinned means that the grace was not really unmerited. It means that the grace depended upon the sinner living up to a certain standard of righteousness. This would mean that grace is not really grace: “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6). Grace and works do not mix. If we are saved by grace, then our salvation is entirely apart from any works we may perform at any time—past, present, or future. Falling from grace and losing one’s salvation because of sinful works is utter nonsense.

What the Bible Says

The Bible does use the expression “fallen from grace” or “fallen away from grace,” but its meaning is very different from what we have seen. Contrary to the common but erroneous notions of what it means to fall from grace, the Bible clearly says, “You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). The Bible does not say that those who have sinned by breaking a law or transgressing a moral code have fallen from grace. Nor does it associate falling from grace with losing one’s salvation. (For much more information about the impossibility of losing one’s salvation, read the booklet Perseverance of the Saints: Once Saved, Always Saved? downloadable from this page.)

Those “who desire to be justified by the law” are the ones who have fallen away from grace. In other words, Paul is not saying anything about falling from God’s favor because of a moral failure. He is speaking about falling away from reliance upon grace and into the error of reliance upon the law.

The concept is really quite simple. If you are looking to the law, you have turned from grace. You can’t have both at the same time: “For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Analyze that verse. You cannot be under law and under grace at the same time (if you think that Christians must at least be under the law of Christ, see “Are We Under the Law of Christ?“). Romans 6:14 also logically means that, if we are under law, sin does have dominion over us. Because the law is contrary to our natural inclinations (Colossians 2:14), relying on the law results in more sin (Romans 7:5-9; 1 Corinthians 15:56), and turning from the law to grace completely ends sin’s rule over us (Romans 6:14).

Wouldn’t this mean, then, that falling from grace and relying on the law would cause us to lose our salvation? No! If someone, despite past professions of faith, reveals that he or she is really trusting in the works of the law and never turns from this, that person was never really saved. In appearance, such a person may look like he or she has fallen from grace, but that person was never really under grace in the first place.

On the other hand, one of God’s elect, even after confessing faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, might temporarily slip into a mindset of trying to keep the law (often after hearing law-keeping touted by a legalist preacher). Paul pulls no punches in Galatians 5:4 about the state of this person while seeking righteousness from the law. He or she is katērgēthēte apo tou Christou—literally “idled down away from Christ.”

An elect person who falls from grace will ultimately and finally turn back and put his or her trust entirely in God’s unmerited favor given freely through Jesus Christ alone. In the meantime, however, while he or she is turned to the law, he or she is turned away from Christ and rendered powerless and useless. Why? Because, just like trying to power a cell phone with a dead battery, this person is putting his or her trust in something that is powerless and useless—the law.

It is a tragedy when brothers and sisters fall from grace and waste part of the time they have in this life “idled down.” That’s why we should pray for them, do what we can to restore them to full trust in Christ alone, and not shy away from exposing those who preach the false gospel of reliance on the law.

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Must We First Forgive to Be Forgiven?

Peter Ditzel

Picture of lighthouse on cliff overlaid with the Scripture, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
We commonly see pictures with Bible verses like this one posted on social media as a form of encouragement. But is it really encouraging to be told that God won’t forgive us unless we first do a work? Jesus did say these words, but did He intend them for believers?

As part of what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, and in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Again, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus taught, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These passages have caused theologians some consternation. They seem to pin our receiving God’s forgiveness upon a human work—the work of our first forgiving others. Will God not forgive us unless we forgive others first?

Jesus’ statements on this subject are very straightforward. In Matthew 18, after telling the parable of the unforgiving servant—which ends with the master delivering the servant to the tormentors because the servant had been unforgiving—Jesus says, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds” (Matthew 18:35). And Mark 11:25-26 plainly says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions.”

If we must first forgive others before God will forgive us, wouldn’t that mean that we initiate our own forgiveness? And, as we all know, God’s forgiving us is an essential aspect of our salvation. Therefore, if it is true that we must first forgive, then by our work of forgiving others, we have initiated a part of our salvation.

On the other hand, what about 2 Timothy 1:9? This verse speaks of God “who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.” What could be plainer? God purposed our salvation “before times eternal” and saved us “not according to our works.”

Here’s another very plain verse: “But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Many other Scriptures agree that it is God who acts first in our salvation, and that He did not base our salvation on our works. These verses make the idea that we must first forgive others before God will forgive us an impossibility, at least for Christians. Why, then, did Jesus teach the idea that people had to first forgive others before God would forgive them?

Before the Cross

The Bible does not contradict itself. These passages seem to contradict each other only when we leave out an important part of the equation. Jesus spoke the words in the Gospel before His death on the Cross for our sins and the beginning of the New Covenant. Like so many of His statements at that time, He intended them to teach the Jews under the Old Covenant the utter futility of trying to obtain salvation by our works. To the Jews who thought they were obeying the outward letter, He explained that they were still not achieving God’s standard of righteousness. He told them they were not even to look upon a woman with lust or be angry without a cause. They were not to take any oath. They were not to resist evil people. They were to be quickly reconciled.

Humans are sinful by nature and cannot perfectly obey any commands, including those that tell us to forgive. Even if we could perfectly obey, we would only be doing what is expected and would be unprofitable servants: “Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty'” (Luke 17:10). Unprofitable servants cannot earn anything, including salvation. As Paul said at the end of Galatians 2:16, “no flesh will be justified by the works of the law.”

James Tries to Explain to the Post-Crucifixion Jews

James begins chapter two by saying that we shouldn’t show partiality; for example, we shouldn’t treat a rich person any better than a poor person. Then, in verses 8-9, he teaches, “However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors.” Is James saying that believers must perfectly keep the law and can be convicted by the law as sinners? No. That’s just the point. Let’s let James explain himself further.

In verse 10, James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Those who teach that the New Covenant is merely a new administration of the Old Covenant and who say that Christians are still under the law use this verse out of context to try to prove their point. They say, “See. We need to keep the whole law or we will be guilty.”

They are wrong. Remember, James was an elder in Jerusalem, and, as he told Paul when that apostle visited Jerusalem, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are amongst the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). James was not pointing out their zealousness for the law as a good thing, but as a dilemma he faced when ministering to these people.

Writing to the Jews of the dispersion (James 1:1), James is trying to help the Jews to see the uselessness of trying to keep the law. James is not giving a truism for believers. He is teaching a general principle of the law: Those who are under the law are responsible to keep all of it. He elaborates in chapter 2, verse 11: “For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” Rather than teaching that Christians should keep the law, he’s saying that trying to keep the law is hopeless. If you don’t offend in one point, you are sure to offend in another.

James wants his readers to use this information about the inescapability of breaking the law. Seeing that breaking the law is inescapable and that man’s only hope lies in God’s forgiveness through grace, they should also take pity on others and forgive them. “So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom” (verse 12). In other words, because God will judge us by what James calls the law of freedom—which is really grace, love, and mercy—we should judge others by that same law of freedom: “For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (verse 13).

If we judge others without mercy, we are demonstrating that we are still under the law that is merciless. Those who are truly saved may temporarily slip into such thinking, but God will open their eyes to their fault before it is too late. When we are merciful, that mercy negates judgment. We don’t initiate God’s forgiveness, but we manifest it.

If we are judgmental toward others, we are exalting the law over grace. We are saying that we want the law. And if we want the law for others, then God will judge us by the law without mercy. Those who have falsely professed belief and who are excited by the ideas of religion, morality, law, and justice will be judged by the law with no mercy.

So, in the verses I quoted at the beginning of this article, Jesus was speaking from the point of view of those still under the Old Covenant and its law because that was the covenant still in force. But He was showing why the ending of the law and the coming of the New Covenant—under which there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1)—was needed. No one can meet God’s standard of righteousness, including His standard of forgiveness. God will not judge with forgiveness those who don’t show forgiveness toward others. Instead, He will judge them by their works because their works reveal their still hardened hearts (Revelation 20:13). Those who do show forgiveness toward others are bearing the fruit of the forgiveness God has already given them through Christ. Because He was both God and man, He was the only human who ever met God’s standard of righteousness. Through Christ, God always initiates every aspect of our salvation—including our forgiveness—and this is amply supported by Scripture (e.g. Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:12).

Writing well after Christ’s death and the start of the New Covenant, Paul puts forgiveness in its correct order for believers: “Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do” (Colossians 3:12-13; see also Ephesians 4:32). Christ first forgives us, and then we forgive others.

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Q. Does God see choosing singleness to be equally as good as marriage?

A picture of a lone man with his head down. A Scripture reads, It is not good for the man to be alone. Genesis 2:18.
Various circumstances may cause some people to not marry and others to lose a spouse. All can live fulfilling, God-glorifying lives. Paul learned to be content in whatever state he was in (Philippians 4:11). So should we all. But are those who teach singlness as a choice that is equal to or even better than marriage going too far?

A. Years ago, if a Christian never married, his or her spiritual brethren might consider it mildly unfortunate, but they usually remained polite enough to stay out of the person’s personal life. Now, however, “celebrating singleness” has become so trendy that many Christian writers and preachers are advocating staying single. Whether someone marries or not is that person’s private business, but false teaching is potentially damaging and ought to be exposed.

Instructions that misrepresent the Bible regarding singleness can lead people—usually impressionable young believers—to make decisions they may later regret. No matter how preachers and Christian writers try to distort Scripture to sound as if singleness without compelling circumstances is a plan for your life that is on a par with marriage, the Word of God really says otherwise: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Period. Full stop. Right through the New Testament, except for very unusual circumstances most of us will never experience, the Bible never strays from that position. Yet, because singleness is so promoted as a fabulous lifestyle, many who hear the propaganda question the Bible’s stand.

1 Corinthians 7

But what about what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7? Didn’t he say, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”? Yes and no. Actually, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:1, was quoting “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” from a letter the Corinthians had written to him. In the verses that follow, he addresses the subject they raised: “But, because of sexual immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2-3). If you think that doesn’t sound like singleness, you’re right. It’s marriage. Rather than not touching each other, men and women are supposed to marry.

Later, Paul gives his opinion, not commandment, that he believes that if they have the self-control, it is better for the unmarried to remain so. But he admits that, if they don’t have the self-control, they had better marry. And let’s admit it; most people don’t have that self-control. Later, in verses 25ff, Paul appears to explain his opinion as based on the “distress that is on us.” By this, he is speaking of severe persecution. Although he expressly allows marriage for those who want it, his opinion was that changing our state—marrying, separating, buying, even weeping and rejoicing—sets our minds on worldly things, which is an unnecessary distraction from the kingdom of God when the time is so short. Notice that Paul’s reason was so that those who were facing possible martyrdom could focus what remained of their lives on the kingdom of God. He had no other possible reason for singleness in mind. Those who use 1 Corinthians 7 to advocate singleness today, unless they are specifying an area of the world where there is great persecution, are taking Paul out of context.

Jesus

Jesus spoke of being a eunuch for the kingdom’s sake (Matthew 19:10-12). But being a eunuch for the kingdom was not the normal course that Jesus expected for someone’s life. Jesus clearly said it was not for everyone, but that being able to do this was a gift: “Not all men can receive this saying, but those to whom it is given” (verse 11). And it had one reason and one reason ONLY. That reason was to sanctify your life to the furtherance of the kingdom of God.

So, if you want to solemnly dedicate your life to the preaching of the Gospel, living a self-sacrificing life of peril and poverty as did Jesus and Paul, entirely focused on the one goal of getting the Gospel to the lost, and you believe that God has given you this gift so that you will have no desire for or temptation to have sexual intimacy, then you go right ahead and plan on being single. If, on the other hand, you want to remain single with any other goal in mind, then, sorry, the Bible does not support your choice.

If you are planning your future as the breezy life of a single person—this is how I will be self-fulfiled, this is how I can find myself, this is how I can live the life I want, this is how I can reach my career goals, this is how I can have the stuff I want—you have your head on cross-threaded. I advise you to take it off, align the threads with God’s will, and try again.

But, you might ask, if it’s okay to plan to stay single for the Gospel’s sake, why not for other reasons? The answer is simple. The Bible doesn’t give other reasons for planning to be single.

But, argue some famous preachers who ought to know better, Jesus didn’t marry, and, thus, He set an example to follow. Excuse me, but Jesus’ life wasn’t typical in many ways, and, therefore, we cannot just live the way He lived. Jesus’ physical life met the rare criteria for singleness we just discussed. Jesus dedicated His life to His ministry, and His life was a road to the Cross. Marriage would have been a distraction from the Gospel-centered focus for which He came. And He knew He would die an early and violent death. Thus, Jesus’ singleness cannot be held up as an example for the average Christian.

“Choosing” Vs. “Circumstances beyond Your Control”

Notice that all through this article, I’ve used the words “plan” and “choice.” I’m not talking about circumstances beyond your control. The reality is that there are some guys whose marriage proposals will always get turned down, some gals who will never be asked, and some folks who have physical or psychological or developmental disorders that make marriage questionable and maybe even out of the question. Related to this, some have been scarred by very bad home lives as children. These are things that have happened to these people. Some of these may be overcome; some may not. But these things have nothing to do with the self-absorbed, planning-to-be-single-and-free attitude I’m talking about.

There are those who preach that singleness is not a trial to be endured but a gift to be celebrated. By placing the poles of the dichotomy as far apart as possible, they create a straw man. Singleness is not the equal of being starved, dressed in rags, and enslaved to hand pull barges up the river (cue “Song of the Volga Boatmen“). Yet, neither is it a gift (as we’ve seen, the gift is the rare ability to be single and dedicate your life fully to the kingdom of God). Neither is singleness something to be celebrated as if it were an academy award.

Singleness is not a superior or even an equal choice to marriage; it is not something to desire for any reason other than focused dedication to the Gospel. That’s because, rather than the joyful lifestyle choice presented in so many books, singleness is merely a circumstance. Unless you’ve chosen it because you have the gift to devote your life entirely to the Gospel, or unless you have some mitigating circumstance, if you have consciously chosen to be single, your choice is not biblically supported. Singleness is something that happens to you for reasons that maybe God only knows and which you can learn to live with and still have a fulfilling life. It is not something to desire.

God and Your Private Life

“But what right has God to interfere in my private life?” you ask. Every right: “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Paul wrote the above verses in the context of talking about fleeing sexual immorality. Let’s face it, many who plan to stay celibate while single don’t succeed. Celibacy is not the way God made us. Remember again, it was our Creator who said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). He did not make men and women to be independent units putting their selfish desires first. Those who hype singleness are speaking contrary to the natural order that God has established. In the world, we can expect selfish fads to be popular. Such things ought not be promoted amongst believers.

God made humans to be teams of two close-knit people of the opposite sex working together through life and supplying each others’ physical and emotional needs. This includes sex, but goes far beyond it. It encompasses the hand that reaches out during a social engagement, the conversations that go late into the night as your minds become one, the times when you’re snuggling together and saying nothing, the nursing through sickness, the coaching through the birth of a child, the support through trial, the word of correction fitly spoken, the long walks hand-in-hand, and—after 35 years of marriage—I could go on and on.

Before closing, I want to be sure that you understand that I am not talking about condemnation for the choices you make. If you are a believer, you are not under the law and you are not under any condemnation. What I want to leave you with is an admonition not to be swayed into a trendy choice now that you may regret later. From the beginning, God made men and women to pair off in marriage. Don’t be so quick to give it up for a life of me, myself, and I.

Peter Ditzel

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Christianity and Your Self-Esteem

by Peter Ditzel

Two contradictory quotes are presented. Oprah Winfrey: Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher. Apostle Paul: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4, NASB
Who would you believe?

You’ve heard the precepts: “Only make decisions that support your self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth” (Oprah Winfrey), “Of all things God created, what He is most proud of is me. I am His masterpiece, his most prized possession” (Joel Osteen, part of a self-declaration), “Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem” (Robert H. Schuller). Such thinking is becoming so commonplace that it’s influence can be found practically everywhere from popular magazine articles to public school educational objectives to the pulpits of neighborhood churches. As Christians, we need to determine whether elevating our self-esteem is a valuable part of our Christian lives or whether it is harmful. How does God want us to see ourselves?

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Q. Has God reconciled all things to Himself or is He still wrathful? John 3:36 says that the wrath of God remains on the disobedient, but Colossians 1:20 says that God has reconciled all things to Himself by Christ, “having made peace through the blood of his cross.” Can you explain this seeming contradiction?

A photo of a quizzical looking infant captioned, The wrath of God remains on the disobedient...or...through Him to reconcile all things to Himself
How can God reconcile all to Himself while remaining wrathful towards some?

A. This seeming contradiction has caused no end of controversy. How can God be wrathful toward the disobedient if He has reconciled the entire world to Himself through Christ’s atonement? Colossians 1:20 sounds like a universal atonement, but John 3:36 seems to name the disobedient as an exception to it. On top of that, the exception sounds like it is based on works—disobedience or obedience. Does this mean that obedience (works) saves people from God’s wrath and reconciles them?

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The Growing Threat of Anti-Intellectual Emotionalism, part 2

by Peter Ditzel

 

"A picture of a woman sitting praying with her Bible and overlaid with the words, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.' John 14:23."
If we are to know Jesus, we must know what He has revealed about Himself in His Word. If we love Jesus, we will obey His command to keep His Word.

In part one, we saw that a false belief is taking hold that asserts that we can attain a relationship with Jesus through emotion at the expense of learning about Him through a study of God’s written Word. Now let’s see how such a notion leaves us with no knowledge of God and Christ and deludes us into accepting a god of our own creation as the true Creator.

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The Growing Threat of Anti-Intellectual Emotionalism, part 1

by Peter Ditzel

"Two juxtaposed memes: First meme: Devious-looking woman with pink hair saying, 'Jesus isn't someone to study. Jesus is someone to know.' Second meme: Peter Falk/Columbo holding up a finger and saying, 'Let me get this straight. I'm supposed to know Jesus without studying who He is and what He said?'"
Those who claim to know Jesus without knowing the statements by and about Him in the Bible cannot really know Him. Jesus said, “I am…the truth” (John 14:6) and “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). To know Jesus, we must know and believe what the Bible says about Him. Any assertion contrary to this is mysticism.

From the seminaries, the pulpits, electronic media, and the pages of some of Christendom’s most popular writers, the siren song of an alluring message blares forth. Its simple and seductive philosophy, carried on the air of its confident maxims, deceives much of the public into accepting it as a more palatable Christianity than the faith once delivered to the saints.

This siren song is the sound of anti-theological, anti-intellectual emotionalism. You’ve no doubt heard some of its claims: “the Spirit is what is important,” “Jesus has to be discovered through relationship,” “we must stick with the simplicity that is in Christ,” “knowledge doesn’t save us,” “head knowledge is not enough,” “don’t forget that knowledge puffs up,” and so on. All of these assertions contain some truth, and that is what makes them all the more hazardous. When we go fishing, we hope the fish will swallow what is partially real food and partially deadly hook. As believers, we must insure that we don’t get fooled by the bait. To succeed, we must exercise our senses to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). So, let’s examine some of these ideas.

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Q. If God makes sure we persevere, how can we be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19) and become castaways (1 Corinthians 9:27)?

The wreck of the SS American Star (originally named the SS America) on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.
The wreck of the SS American Star (originally named the SS America) on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Can we make shipwreck of our salvation?

A. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul wrote to Timothy, “This instruction I commit to you, my child Timothy, according to the prophecies which led the way to you, that by them you may wage the good warfare; holding faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust away made a shipwreck concerning the faith.” How can some have thrust away their faith and good conscience to become shipwrecks at the same time that God is making sure that they persevere? Is the perseverance of the saints an unbiblical doctrine that gives us false hope?

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