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Posted by Matt Postiff June 20, 2022 under Theology  Bible Texts 

How do you inform someone who makes the following assertion:

Christians believe in polytheism—they have three gods.

The best way is to explain that we believe what the Bible says, and then let Scripture speak for itself (all quotations from ESV):

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 ...there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Ephesians 4:5-6 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...
Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Isaiah 43:10 Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
Isaiah 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god." (See also verse 8.)
Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.
Isaiah 45:6 That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
Isaiah 45:18 I am the LORD, and there is no other (see also 45:21, 22).
Isaiah 46:9 for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me...

After demonstrating that the oneness of God is a foundational truth of the Christian faith, you can explain that the one God exists as three persons sharing a single divine essence. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. Hard to understand? Certainly, because God is not like we are. God is not a human being. He is an infinite, un-caused, un-created, no-beginning being who is unique. There is no one else like him.

Posted by Matt Postiff June 17, 2022 under Interpretation  Theology  Bible Texts 

Today's question:

Romans 3:30 says that one God will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Why are two different prepositions used?

First, let's double check that there are in fact two different prepositions in the Greek text, and there are: the first is "ek" faith and the second is "dia" faith.

Now to the question of why this is. Bottom line: this is most likely a stylistic variation and the prepositions are not conveying any difference at all.

This conclusion is supported by the truth gleaned from our systematic theology studies that there is only ONE way of salvation, by grace through faith. There is not one way for Jews and a different way for Gentiles. There is no such thing as a dual covenant or "automatic pass" for Jews because they are "God's people." Today, if they do not exercise faith in the Messiah Jesus, they cannot be saved. And if Gentiles do not exercise faith in the Messiah Jesus, they cannot be saved either.

Douglas Moo points out that there are two other places where these prepositions are neighbors to each other with the same object (The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, p. 252):

Romans 11:36 ESV For from (ek) him and through (dia) him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:5 ESV For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out (ek) of water and through (dia) water by the word of God...

In these verses, context demonstrates that the different prepositions do mean different things, that is, they are not used as synonyms. But in the context of Romans 3:30, they are used as synonyms.

This reminds me of an important principle of interpretation: you have to be VERY sure if you are building a big theological point on a small preposition (or two). Prepositions are outsized in their importance in language in general, and in Scripture particularly, in that they modify and connect ideas together to create larger and more significant ideas. But they are not that outsized whereby you can undermine a clear theological truth with an argument based on a dubious distinction between what can most easily be explained as synonyms.

You are saved by faith. You are saved through faith. Those two sentences mean the same thing. And thank God for them, otherwise we would not be saved at all!

Posted by Matt Postiff June 16, 2022 under Theology 

One of our church leaders wrote to me a few months ago about what he called a "strange shortage of workers" in spite of the high demand for jobs by employers (over 10 million at this writing). I would add that the large number of side-lined workers and people on unemployment (today numbering over 1 million) make the causes of this worker shortage somewhat mysterious. Where did all the workers go? This has become an issue at corporate meetings and in the media.

The person who was communicating with me commented that this whole scenario represents an opportunity for Christians to stand out as being different, which we are in everything, including labor. I agree with him.

Although I am unable to determine the root causes of the great worker shortage, let me offer a few thoughts sparked by my friend at church:

1. Wages are stagnant. They are not keeping up with inflation. If wages are going up at 3%, that sounds wonderful. But with inflation at 8.6%, that means wages are actually going down by 5%, more or less. It can be a depressing situation. But this does not mean that Christians give up work. God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work the garden. Work is a gift from God, and it is something we can do and enjoy to a certain extent.

2. The government dole is easy to access. Many people are on unemployment. Some are on disability but are perfectly able to hold some job—not any job, but some job. We have a dear senior citizen in our church who has a disability and rightly receives disability support. But she wants to work, and does work, to supplement at the level she physically is able, and within the constraints of her low income housing and such. My point is that she works. Good for her!

3. There is a poor work ethic. An entitlement mentality exists in many people whereby they feel that they are "owed" some basic level of subsistence. The calls for UBI (universal basic income) and other "free" money are manifestations of this. Christians should be far away from this trend. Any family man who, in this economy, is out of work for any length of time is not looking hard enough for work. It is not as if there are 1 million job openings and 10 million seekers. There are 10 million job openings and 1 million seekers. It is easy to find work. You might not like the work, but that is why it is called work! If a man will not work, then neither should he eat! (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

4. Anecdotally, I spoke with a business owner in our area who said that he has noticed many families are switching gears to have mom stay at home. This trend is because, according to his explanation, sending the kids to daycare at $400 per week means that mom earning $650 outside of the home per week does not get the family significantly farther ahead, when you consider the other costs of having a second vehicle, gas, insurance, etc. The American Psychological Association laments the movement of women out of the workforce. They attribute it to "insidious societal messages that women should be mothers and that mothers should put their families first...Instead of opting out...women are being pushed out." I actually rejoice at this trend because children need mom at home. That is ridiculed as an old-fashioned patriarchal thing to say, but many women are recognizing the blessing of being at home with their children in the young years. If you want to be a mom at home, go for it! There is nothing wrong with it, and there is no higher calling to which you can aspire than to influence the next generation.

I have long believed that the entrance of many women into the workforce over the years has had the completely predictable impact of increasing worker supply; this depresses wages. As a result, it has become harder for a family to make it on the income of one spouse. But if some (women) pull out of the work force, this reduces the supply of workers and should push up wages a bit. I do not count that as an "insidious" thing.

5. There is the great resignation. Some of these resignations were what we might call permanent, but others were simply to move on to another better job. Some people left work because they disagreed with the COVID and vaccination policies of their employers (either too strict or too lenient). Others left their job because the pandemic caused them to realize things about their quality of life, dissatisfaction with their career, or a desire for more liberal remote-work policies.

Posted by Matt Postiff June 7, 2022 under Society  Bible Texts 

A website visitor asked the following:

I would like to know if slavery was ordained by God and tehreby existed in the Old and New Testament to reflect God's order (like marriage)? Or, was slavery man-made, and, thus, more of a reflection of culture and man-made traditions? Which is it?

I prepared a brief answer that I shared last Sunday evening. Basically, this is it: Slavery was not created by God to reflect creation order. It is therefore unlike marriage. God did not "institute" slavery in the way that most westerners understand slavery. It came about as a result of the sin of man. Slavery was therefore man-made.

However, everything that comes to pass is ordained/permitted by God, so we would have to say that in some sense, God did ordain slavery, just like he did all other sins. I understand slavery to be unlike marriage, but more like divorce in that slavery and divorce were not instituted by God but God permitted and regulated them because of the sinfulness of the human heart.

The Law which God gave through Moses did make provision for a kind of slavery that we could call debt-servitude. It was used instead of what we have—modern bankruptcy—and to avoid imprisonment for petty thieves. Instead, they had to work off their restitution if they could not pay it up front.

Probably the most important passage on the subject—at least for a modern westerner—is this: Exodus 21:16. In that section, God outlaws man-stealing. The entire slave trade in early American history was based on this method of obtaining and selling and buying slaves. It was an abominable enterprise from start to finish—and God made it clear by assigning it the death penalty.

Here are the messages I preached on this subject in 2016:

The Bible and Slavery, Part 1

The Bible and Slavery, Part 2

The Bible and Slavery, Part 3

Another brief but helpful resource.

Posted by Matt Postiff April 26, 2022 under Church 

Many churches do not understand the importance of local church membership. They do not talk about it or care about it. It is as if that level of "commitment" is too much for many people to handle. Even our church family, in years past, did not emphasize membership. Let me share with you the words of one of our members who wrote them in response to an answer I gave to one of his questions:

I think our membership in the church is very important. As you know, one of the main reasons I wanted to become a member was to be held accountable by the church. Being held accountable is an act of love. It is too bad so many people name the name of Christ but do not view church as important as they should. The assembly of the brethren is forsaken too easily as the cares of this world are deemed more important.

Maybe using a sports analogy will help. Today, many Christians want to exist in a state of permanent free agency. They do not want to commit to anything. They want to say they are followers of Christ, and they "stand with" the church, but not too strongly, because when things get a little sticky, they want to disappear without any accountability.

Posted by Matt Postiff March 1, 2022 under Theology 

At some point when I was studying Matthew 12:1-14 a few months back, I jotted this note down, but I do not know where it came from or if I came up with it:

Christianity provides the rest and joy of an internal righteousness wrought by God, in contrast to the blasting burden of legal regulations and mere external obedience required by attempting to earn favor with God.

Obviously my thoughts were not on justification at the time, which provides a "from-elsewhere" alien righteousness for forensic justification. That in addition to the transformation created in regeneration gives the believer a package of righteousness before God and in the heart that is a source of great joy and rest.

Posted by Matt Postiff January 2, 2022 under Theology  Society 

Round 4 of background on the conscience-based COVID-19 vaccine exemption letter that I posted on December 29, 2021.

  1. The conscience may in fact be misinformed, but it is still dangerous and not consistent with Christian principles to violate it. Since this is the case, it is cause for patient education, not governmental mandate. Why? Mere fiat cannot change a person's conscience, and they must live with that conscience whereas the governing authorities do not have to live with a violated conscience.
  2. Historical factors can weigh on the conscience of later generations. For example: The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male permanently destroyed the trust of many of our fellow citizens in the CDC and other government departments involved in health research. How can one trust a group of humans who would run Nazi-like experiments on their own countrymen? (Note that I hesitate to use the full title of the study because of the second-to-last word; yet it seems important to include that fact for best understanding.) The COVID-19 vaccine may not in fact be a population-wide research project, but after such an awful 40-year experiment, it will be difficult to convince some.
  3. Some people simply will never be convinced. It is the Christian viewpoint that withholding from those people the means of support of a job or food or medical care is immoral. The willingness of some pro-vaccine-mandaters to treat non-vaccine-takers as sub-human and not worthy of the right to life or work is very disturbing to the religious conscience—even to those who have taken the vaccine. Think of it: if the vaccine mandates were carried out universally in New York, objectors would be prohibited from working; prohibited from eating in restaurants; prohibited from social activity; and eventually probably prohibited from living in certain locations. That kind of death penalty has no place in a civilized society and is an unjust form of punishment for the "crime" of not wanting a certain vaccine.
  4. Also bothersome to the conscience is the fact that no religious exemption requests have thus far been approved by the U.S. Navy. This appears to be a complete denial of religious free expression, which makes the conscience of some feel "put upon" and pushes such people to take an even stronger stand in an attempt to exercise what seems to be dying religious liberty in our land. To many, that liberty is an important part of their conscience as well, because the religious principle of separation of church and state is integral to our life and worship.

Posted by Matt Postiff January 1, 2022 under Theology 

Here is the annual set of Bible reading schedules that you have become accustomed to seeing here. The dates are adjusted on these to match the beginning of the weeks for 2022. This year, the schedules start on 1/2 (or 1/3 for Monday-Friday plans) at the beginning of the first full week of the year. This way, you have a few days to catch up on last year's reading, or get ahead on this year's reading.

Spiritual growth is correlated to Bible input. So, put more Bible into your mind!

Some other reading plans might catch your interest from prior years, easily adaptable to the coming year:

Posted by Matt Postiff January 1, 2022 under Theology  Society 

Round 3 of background on the conscience-based COVID-19 vaccine exemption letter that I posted on December 29, 2021.

  1. The conscience can be "forced into a corner" by difficult dilemmas. "If you say you believe in Jesus, I will shoot you in the head;" or "If you do not take this vaccine, you will lose your job." Those dilemmas should be avoided by authorities if possible. Reasonable accommodation must be offered to avoid impingement on free religious exercise.
  2. The reasons for conscience objections to the COVID vaccine are varied. Some are: (1) The vaccine is made and/or tested with fetal cell lines resulting from abortion, and abortion is an abominable act that is clearly rejected in Christian teaching; (2) The vaccine is mandated with severe economic penalties such as loss of livelihood, inability to purchase food at restaurants, etc., which set precedent for future Christian and Jewish persecution predicted in the Bible. Not that the vaccine is exactly this, but here is the idea: "No one can buy or sell unless he has the vaccine," which sounds eerily similar to the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:17). It sets precedent for that future terrible event. (3) The vaccine is mandated, which runs counter to God-given natural rights which are recognized the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. (4) There are health risks to the vaccine which, if experienced, may impact one's ability to live productively and serve God. (5) The vaccine is an artificial chemical to which some Christians object because they prefer to trust God's design of the body to fight infection. (6) If one has been naturally immunized by a prior COVID infection, the unnecessary additional risks of taking a vaccine (such as myocarditis) are simply too costly to outweigh the vanishingly small incremental benefit (if any) that might be obtained over natural immunity. The religious principle in this case has to do with stewardship of one’s body: Christians are taught not to do things to their bodies which may reduce their ability to live for and serve God. (7) Children are at extremely low risk of complications from COVID-19, therefore giving them a vaccine that has potentially long-lasting side effects even in a small percentage of cases seems to be putting the Lord to the test. That is too much for the conscience of some. (8) The risk of becoming ill and dying prematurely pushes the conscience of others to really desire the vaccine to reduce their own human suffering. (9) The risk of spreading illness to others encourages the conscience of some to take the vaccine to provide whatever protection is available, even if imperfect.
  3. Importantly, remember that the conscience is not informed only by "purely" religious factors. All information—even scientific—has some religious connection because of the information itself, where it comes from, the motivations behind it, the manner in which it is conveyed, etc. It is the view of many Christians that science is a discipline under the dominion of God, not man. Inasmuch as it has ignored God, it has run amok.
  4. A person’s conscience may be fully convinced that if God permitted her to be infected with COVID and survive, He has provided through His creative design all the natural immunity that is required going forward, and in fact that immunity is very likely far better than artificial immunity from a vaccine. This weighs in decision-making regarding the risks-versus-benefits of the vaccine. The risks are entirely unnecessary in this case, and subjecting oneself to the vaccine would be putting God to the test.

Posted by Matt Postiff December 31, 2021 under Theology  Society 

I offer further background on the conscience-based COVID-19 vaccine exemption letter that I posted a couple of days ago.

  1. Stated from the perspective of the church and its leadership, conscience decisions are often not uniform within a single church or denomination. In the non-religious community and even in the religious community, it is commonly thought that a particular church or denomination either has or does not have a conscientious objection to vaccines, or certain medical procedures like blood transfusion, or to war, or other such matters. While this sometimes may be the case, it is not always so. The Bible teaches explicitly that there may be within a single church some who conscientiously object to a certain practice while others do not. Two individuals who differ on a particular matter can still be members of the same church and in good fellowship with one another. From the church's perspective, these are matters of indifference that should not divide the community of Christians.
  2. There are some issues which do not fall into the "matter of conscience" bucket at all. "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, pay taxes," etc. are not matters where conscience exemptions can be claimed. Vaccines are in the conscience category.
  3. One’s conscience can choose differently at a later time if it receives new information that impacts how it adjudicates the matter at hand. Therefore, if information comes to light in the future, a person's decision about some matters may change, without there being any validity to a charge of inconsistency. The frequency of such conscience objections can be reduced by the authorities giving good, objective, full disclosure, rather than merely making pronouncements from on high. A mandate itself grates against the consciences of some (see Part 3), and to some is evidence that the thing mandated cannot stand on its own merits.
  4. The conscience can be troubled by inconsistent information. For example, the COVID vaccine was said unequivocally to be effective. Yet we now know that it was only partially effective for a short period of time, approximately 6 months. This inconsistency is a significant input to the conscience decisions of religious citizens. Another example: general masking of the population was known for decades to be largely ineffective against airborne viruses like the influenza; so at the start of the pandemic masks were not needed according to Dr. Fauci; then masks were mandated; now on CNN we hear that cloth masks—the type most people are wearing—are not appropriate for an airborne virus. Which is it? The inconsistency throws the conscience into a confused state and weighs against a clean-conscience decision in any direction.

Posted by Matt Postiff December 30, 2021 under Theology  Society 

I offer the following thoughts in support of the conscience-based COVID-19 vaccine exemption letter that I posted yesterday.

  1. Conscience operates on a case-by-case basis. It does not operate on a class or category basis. That is, if a person took some vaccines but not others, he could not necessarily be charged with inconsistency. For example, an individual’s conscience might be fine with some vaccine given that it is satisfied with the information about it, its risks to life and ability to serve God, side-effects, efficacy and longevity of efficacy, testing, length of usage, etc. But another vaccine may not be satisfactory to that individual’s conscience because of shortcomings of that particular vaccine in the aforementioned categories.
  2. Conscience operates freely and fully at a mature age. A person may have received vaccination as a child when his sincerely held religious beliefs were not yet fully formulated nor freely exercised. This does not undercut a present conscience objection to a particular vaccine.
  3. Conscience operates in such a way that a person must be fully convinced. Romans 14:5 teaches that each person must fully convinced in his own mind about his choice in which there are differences between people. The example given in the Bible is that some may choose to eat certain foods; others may not. Those choices are up to individual discretion in accordance with the conscience.
  4. Conscience operates on a person-by-person basis. Two people in the same Christian church may disagree on a particular issue, both parties being fully sincere in their beliefs. This idea is itself a Christian teaching and recognizing it is part of our free religious exercise. To reiterate: this idea—that not every person in a church has to share the same view on matters of conscience—is a matter of doctrinal importance in the Christian faith. To demand that my views line up exactly with that of my church or denomination is an impingement on my free exercise of religion. The fact that I cannot “find” a church that agrees with all my views or will support an exemption based on those views does not mean that my views are unworthy of conscience protections. It may simply be that I have different views than the church, or that the churches I have asked to help with an exemption do not want to put their names “out there” as supporting an exemption because of potential persecution by authorities.

Posted by Matt Postiff December 29, 2021 under Society 

December 29, 2021

Re: COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemption

To Whom it may Concern,

As a follower of Jesus Christ and one who sincerely adheres to His teachings, I believe that following my conscience is integral to my free religious exercise—not only as respects the United States Constitution, but as required by God, who is the highest authority.

Christianity teaches that the conscience is part of the make-up of every human being; that God endowed it with certain basic moral knowledge; that it guides the individual in deciding what he should do when something bothers his conscience; that the conscience is informed by religious teaching and study; that it is influenced by information of all sorts that the individual encounters; and that it cannot be safely violated because purposeful violation of the conscience damages its future healthy function and constitutes disobedience to God.

Christian teaching about the conscience importantly includes that each person must be fully convinced in his own mind before taking a course of action (Romans 14:5). The Bible warns against taking an action that violates the conscience. It also warns against violating the principle that "whatever is not of faith is sin."

There is no such thing as a denominational or church-wide conscience. The operation of the conscience is necessarily an individual matter because the conscience is influenced by each person’s own experiences, culture, knowledge, etc. It cannot rightly nor practically be dictated in all details by any religious organization. In our own church, we have people of different views about many matters, including that of vaccination in general and the COVID-19 vaccination specifically. Neither the pastor nor the church doctrine dictates such matters. In sum, my convictions are my own and not necessarily represented by others identifying as Christians. I am personally responsible to God my judge for my own actions (Rom 14:4).

In accordance with my sincerely held religious belief, my conscience is not clear about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, I claim a religious exemption at this time from the requirement to be vaccinated.


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