Matt Postiff's Blog

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Posted by Matt Postiff December 29, 2007 under Cults, Etc. 

I was in the parking lot of a store this afternoon and was approached by a young man who asked me if I would take some literature about God's love and Jesus. I looked at it--a full color brochure of several pages--and asked him what it was about. He said he was a missionary from "The Family." When I questioned him about his belief in Christ and salvation by faith alone, he seemed to say some true things. When said that I was a pastor and I indicated that I would look at their website and find out more information, he wanted me to give them a donation (even a small one, he said) to offset the cost of printing the brochure. I declined, and he wanted the brochure back, and instead gave me a little piece of paper with a message supposedly from God on it. The message emphasized God's love but says nothing about sin or Jesus' death or repentance. Jesus is simply the "key" to eternal life that one needs to receive to get in at the end of one's road.

I looked them up on the Internet at www.thefamily.org. They are known officially as The Family International and call themselves a Fellowship of Independent Missionary Communities. Their doctrinal statement looks fairly evangelical upon a first glance. However, they have a number of peculiar beliefs which the reader can find here. The beliefs of note are:

  • "A believer receives a measure of the Holy Spirit when he accepts Jesus." The Baptism of the Holy Spirit "may be freely obtained by all believers who simply ask God for it, and that it is often given after the scriptural ‘laying on of hands' of other believers." It is apparently not immediately done to all believers, as 1 Cor. 12:13 teaches.
  • They believe that all the spiritual gifts are operative today, including, "wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, and prophecy." All the gifts may be "freely exercised in the congregation by both male and female members."
  • They believe that the gift of prophecy should be a daily exercise for believers.
  • They believe that physical healing is provided for in the atonement and that God desires to restore to health those who believe in Him. (They do believe it is acceptable to seek medical assistance.)
  • "God also uses the spirits of departed believers to minister to and deliver messages to His people."
  • They apparently do not believe in water baptism. It is not listed alongside of the Lord's Table as an ordinance.
  • They believe in the post-tribulation rapture of the church, meaning that believers will go through the Tribulation.
  • They believe in communal living.

One can see by perusing our website that we do not hold to these beliefs. We believe all true saints are indwelt and baptized by the Holy Spirit upon conversion; that revelatory and other miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased in this age; that physical healing is something we may request from God but cannot expect it simply on the basis of our faith nor on the basis of Jesus' immutability and that he healed many in his earthly sojourn. We do not believe that departed spirits come back to bring us messages. Those cases in the Scripture where this occurred are extremely rare and out of the ordinary. We believe in water baptism for born-again believers; and in the pre-tribulation rapture of the church.


Posted by Matt Postiff December 10, 2007 under Dispensationalism 

A careful reader pointed out that the preterist view is not "one size fits all." There are "full" preterists and "partial" preterists. The latter are more common. The website http://www.therefinersfire.org/preterism.htm has a couple of helpful paragraphs on this.

So, in the previous entry on this topic, I started from the end of Revelation and began to work backward. We definitively showed that chapters 21 and 22 are yet future. This makes the full preterist view completely untenable. I had also continued working back to chapter 20 and showed that the imprisonment of Satan has not yet occurred. This alone would seem to negate the partial preterist view, if it takes Rev. 20 as already fulfilled or at least being fulfilled in the church age. But furthermore, the kingdom, of whatever length you take it to be, has not happened either. One might argue that Christ is reigning in his kingdom now, but it is hard to find resurrected saints reigning with Him anywhere. Finally, the Great White Throne judgment has not yet occurred.

We briefly stated last time also that Revelation 19 refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is manifestly Him who alone can be called "Faithful," "True," and "The Word of God." Orthodox believers confess that a fundamental of the Christian faith is the second coming of Christ. Normal interpretation of the words of this passage show it refers to the second coming. It can be correlated with Matthew 24:29-31. It seems so obvious as to not need stating that Christ has not yet returned. I can only conclude that Rev. 19 refers to events yet future.

The preterist interpreter may quibble with some of these points, or may bring up others such as the marriage supper or other events that he thinks happened already. But so far, all the major events point to future fulfillment. It is safe to conclude that God is painting a picture through John of what He has decreed for the end of times.


Posted by Matt Postiff December 7, 2007 under Theology 

Just thinking out loud here...I thought about entitling this entry "Enough Already Not Yet Enough" but I wondered if that would confuse the issue! I don't know about you, but the "Already/Not Yet" view of the fulfillment of prophecy has been grinding on my theological nerves for some time. Frankly, it seems to be theological double-talk. I cannot grasp something that is "already" true and "not yet" true at the same time and in the same sense. Is the kingdom of God already inaugurated, or is it not yet? Progressive dispensationalists will answer "yes," just like I answer "yes" to the question "Do you want pie or ice cream?" I want both pie and ice cream! Progressives want both "inaugurated" and "not" at the same time. Granted, the meaning of this phrase seems to be "already in the spiritual sense" and "not yet in the final sense" but the finer points don't always come across clearly.

Let me give an example. Sometimes folks say "we are already righteous but we are not yet righteous." This has the same already/not yet flavor to it. (The terminology has crept out of its original "prophetic" domain into other areas.) But if we specify our words more carefully, we note that believers already have been given a righteous standing before God, which is a positional righteousness. But believers have not yet been transformed to be fully without sin, which is a practicing righteousness. The two "legs" of the already/not yet statement are not the same type of legs. One is positional, and one is practical. The already/not yet statement becomes really no more than a play on words where one word is used in two senses. It seems that the already/not yet terminology embraces theological ambiguity. We ought to urgently dismiss such ambiguity as we press for more theological clarity, not relying on a word-play type of statement in our theological expression.

Thoughts?


Posted by Matt Postiff November 27, 2007 under Dispensationalism 

The preterist view of Revelation basically teaches that most, if not all, of the book of Revelation was fulfilled in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. There are several sources that the reader may visit to become more familiar with this view:

There are a number of severe problems with this interpretation of Revelation. The first is that it depends on a very particular date of composition. If Revelation was composed by the apostle John after 70 A.D., as many conservative scholars understand, then the preterist view falls apart. A date of 68 A.D. or so must be assigned for the preterist view to be viable.

The second major problem is that there are parts of the book which are unequivocally predictive of future events--events which have not yet occurred as of the writing of this blog. Consider a couple of them in the following paragraphs. We will work backwards from the end of the book.

Chapters 21 and 22 are unquestionably future predictions that have not yet been fulfilled. The new heaven and new earth have not yet made an appearance. The New Jerusalem has also not been seen as of yet. The elimination of death, sorrow, crying, and pain in 21:4 has obviously not yet occurred. We have not yet been spared from everything that defiles or causes a lie or has to do with unbelievers (21:27). No church on earth has those qualities, much less the world at large. Chapter 22 follows chronologically after chapter 21 and explains the presence of the tree of life, another thing which has not yet come to pass.

Moving backward from chapter 21, we see also many features of chapter 20 that prohibit it from being interpreted as a record of now-past events. Satan does not seem to be bound in any way during the present age. However the 1000 years are understood, either literally or as a very long time, it is apparent that Satan has not been on any kind of severe restriction for that length of time. There is a first and second resurrection (the first is mentioned in 20:5b-6, the second in 20:5a and 20:12), yet there have been no mass resurrections of dead people in history up to this point. The Great White Throne judgment has not happened. When it does, something very serious will happen to the old heaven and earth (20:11). Also, many dead will stand before God and be judged. The unbelieving among them (it turns out that all who appear there will be unbelievers, but let us not get hung up on that point) will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (20:15). None of this has yet happened.

It should hopefully be fairly obvious that at least the last three chapters of Revelation cannot be correctly interpreted as having happened in the past. We will have to consider the other chapters of Revelation in another blog entry. But the reader might in the meantime consider that in chapter 19 Christ returns so that he can be present to reign in his kingdom in 20:4. The second coming of Christ has also not yet occurred, except in those systems of interpretation that suggest a secret coming at some past date. Such interpretations ring hollow when compared with the Revelation.

There are a number of severe problems with this interpretation of Revelation. The first is that it depends on a very particular date of composition. If Revelation was composed by the apostle John after 70 A.D., as many conservative scholars understand, then the preterist view falls apart. A date of 68 A.D. or so must be assigned for the preterist view to be viable.

The second major problem is that there are parts of the book which are unequivocally predictive of future events--events which have not yet occurred as of the writing of this blog. Consider a couple of them in the following paragraphs. We will work backwards from the end of the book.

Chapters 21 and 22 are unquestionably future predictions that have not yet been fulfilled. The new heaven and new earth have not yet made an appearance. The New Jerusalem has also not been seen as of yet. The elimination of death, sorrow, crying, and pain in 21:4 has obviously not yet occurred. We have not yet been spared from everything that defiles or causes a lie or has to do with unbelievers (21:27). No church on earth has those qualities, much less the world at large. Chapter 22 follows chronologically after chapter 21 and explains the presence of the tree of life, another thing which has not yet come to pass.

Moving backward from chapter 21, we see also many features of chapter 20 that prohibit it from being interpreted as a record of now-past events. Satan does not seem to be bound in any way during the present age. However the 1000 years are understood, either literally or as a very long time, it is apparent that Satan has not been on any kind of severe restriction for that length of time. There is a first and second resurrection (the first is mentioned in 20:5b-6, the second in 20:5a and 20:12), yet there have been no mass resurrections of dead people in history up to this point. The Great White Throne judgment has not happened. When it does, something very serious will happen to the old heaven and earth (20:11). Also, many dead will stand before God and be judged. The unbelieving among them (it turns out that all who appear there will be unbelievers, but let us not get hung up on that point) will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (20:15). None of this has yet happened.

It should hopefully be fairly obvious that at least the last three chapters of Revelation cannot be correctly interpreted as having happened in the past. We will have to consider the other chapters of Revelation in another blog entry. But the reader might in the meantime consider that in chapter 19 Christ returns so that he can be present to reign in his kingdom in 20:4. The second coming of Christ has also not yet occurred, except in those systems of interpretation that suggest a secret coming at some past date. Such interpretations ring hollow when compared with the Revelation.


Posted by Matt Postiff November 26, 2007 under Interpretation 

There is a proposed hermeneutical principle in the study of the Bible which its proponents call the principle of first reference. When a word or concept is encountered, the first reference in the Bible to that word or concept is consulted as the most significant defining or foundational passage. (If anyone reading can supply a better definition, please send it to me.)

Even though I had studied quite a bit of theology, the first time I remember running into this concept was a couple years ago in the book Velvet Elvis by post-modern/emerging church guru Rob Bell. I then ran into it in a Days of Praise devotional last week (November 24 - Magnified Mercy).

It strikes me as a very unreliable and unbiblical principle--I considered it nonsense from the first time I heard it. For one thing, "first" reference has to be defined--is it first in chronological composition of the Bible? Or first in "Bible order" in the 66-book English Bible? Or is the order of books as it is found in the Hebrew Bible (which is different)? Second, there is no mention of such a principle in the Bible. Third, we do not apply this principle to any other book. Finally, there is no inherent reason that just because a word is used for the first time that this use defines its characteristics. That use could be the odd use, the opposite of normal, or a bad example of the practice of that word or concept.


Posted by Matt Postiff November 23, 2007 under FBC 

Wednesday evening we had a combined meeting at Faithway Baptist Church in Ypsilanti. We sang some hymns, listened to a men's trio and ladies quartet sing, shared testimonies of salvation and of God's goodness in many other ways, and heard preaching from Ephesians 5:20 on "An Exhortation to Thanksgiving." The service concluded with the baptism of two young people who gave testimonies and shared a verse regarding their salvation. It was the first time that I remember when our two churches got together for a meeting. It was great to meet the folks of Faithway Baptist and to let them know personally that we are praying for their ministry. Thank God for others of like faith and practice.


Posted by Matt Postiff November 19, 2007 under FBC 

In yesterday's entry, I mentioned the issue of the cross as a decoration in our church. We do not have a cross upon the front wall or on the outside of the building. There are some historical reasons why this was the case up to the time I started the pastorate at Fellowship Bible. So what is wrong with putting a cross up in the front now?

The way some folks have talked, they might be surprised to hear my answer. NOTHING!

There have been some pragmatic concerns that have led me to ignore putting up a cross. Some of them include preparation for preaching, counseling, teaching, transitional work from the previous pastor, managing all the infrastructure projects around the church, spending large amounts of money to install major new HVAC systems in our building, and many other small details. In short, there have been many more important issues with which to concern myself. Further, those folks to whom the task could be delegated are also busy with other things around the church or just don't have time for other reasons. But at this point there is a far more important reason that the cross-decoration is not high on my priority list.

And that reason is that we have a great "teachable moment" going on here. What might also be surprising is that the push for a cross tells me more about the theology and heart desires of the folks doing the pushing than they might at first realize. It demonstrates a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Ecclesiology, the Church. It also demonstrates a focus on the external, the visible, the unimportant. Some have said that people don't come to our church because it doesn't "look like" a church. To which I respond, "What is a church, anyway? And what does a church look like? Did they have crosses in the churches in the first century? Did they even have church buildings?" I have tried to remind folks that the church is not the building, it is the believers. Further, it is there, among the believers, where the Bible is preached. People still come to our church, not because we have a cross as decoration, but because we preach the cross as the way of salvation. Unfortunately, there are many well-decorated churches that are not well in their doctrine. And as far as decoration goes, I'm far more concerned that our lives make the gospel attractive (Titus 2:10), not that we first make the church attractive!

So, maybe I should modify my answer to the question, "What is wrong with putting up a cross?" The answer is "NOTHING--as long as we understand decoration does not make a church, and decoration is not important when set over against how we decorate our lives with the practice of the gospel."


Posted by Matt Postiff November 18, 2007 under FBC 

Lately I was reminded that some folks that have left Fellowship Bible Church have spread the word that we are a "cult." I wondered what that meant. When I inquired of the best source I could find for information on what these folks are saying, I found that the we are a cult because:

1. We believe the Bible teaches that divorce is displeasing to God and should not happen.
2. We believe the Bible prohibits women from teaching men or being pastors.
3. We have not decorated our auditorium or outside of our building with a cross.

I would hope it is obvious that among any community of believers, including ours, there is not complete agreement on all details of theology. For instance, my position on divorce is "No divorce, but if there is divorce, no remarriage (Mark 10:1-12, 1 Cor. 7:10-11)." But there are divorced folks in our church; there are divorced-and-remarried people in our church; there are folks who disagree with me who have stated their disagreement; and there are probably folks who disagree who have remained silent. And I'm glad they are in our church. But everyone in the church knows that I am going to do the best job I can to show them from the Scriptures why they should not be divorced, and not get themselves into a situation where it becomes an issue. Same goes for the issue of women preachers. I believe 1 Tim. 2:12 is unequivocal on this issue. Others may disagree, but they know I'm not going to invite a woman to preach! I'll leave the issue of the cross decoration for another blog entry, since I don't have any Bible verses to appeal to on that one.

Well, that list still did not satisfy me that I understood why we are a cult. So, I looked up a definition of the term "cult" that is consistent with our fundamental Christian position. From the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, I found this helpful definition:

"A religious group that follows a particular theological system. In the context of Christianity...it is a group that uses the Bible but distorts the doctrines that affect salvation sufficiently to cause salvation to be unattainable. A few examples of cults are Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Christadelphians, Unity, Religious Science, The Way International, and the Moonies."

That did not help me either, because we are very plainly teaching the gospel of God's grace alone, through the Lord Jesus Christ alone, received by faith alone--the Biblical way of salvation and the only way that it can be attained. I suspect the term "legalism" may have some bearing on the issue (i.e. we are a cult because we are legalistic, that is, hold to some standards of Christian behavior), but I'm not sure. Maybe those folks who are spreading the word that we are a cult could communicate with me directly via email and share some more reasons why they think we are a cult. I will report in this venue if I learn anything more.


Posted by Matt Postiff October 25, 2007 under Society 

I decided I should read Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation to learn about the current state of the atheist community. One thing I learned by reading his initial "Note to the Reader" is that he believes we are in a moral and intellectual emergency because of the supposed Christian beliefs of the population of the United States.

His starting point for drawing this conclusion comes from polling data regarding American religious beliefs--such beliefs as a young earth, God's hand in creation, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement of believing in Jesus Christ for salvation, and the imminent return of Christ. Although it seems far-fetched to me that such beliefs are really so pervasive, let us accept Harris' undocumented data for now, and his first conclusion that the United States really is an odd country in the world because of these convictions.

Harris proceeds to say, "many of us [speaking of Christians] may not care about the fate of civilization." His conclusion is based on another polling datum, namely that 44% of Americans believe Christ will return soon, and only after devastation on the earth. "It is...not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud..."

So goes Harris' argument for the moral and intellectual emergency. But is it a convincing argument? Look back a mere five years before the writing of Harris' book to September 11, 2001. A great disaster did occur in the city of New York. Did a significant portion of the population get some sick glee out of the deaths of thousands of Americans? Did Christ return? Did many people really think great and glorious things were about to happen? Much to the contrary, while a few Christians might have thought they could with certainty ascribe those events to God's direct judgment and a sign of Christ's soon coming, the "significant percentage" recognized the evil for what it was, and prayed for justice and protection.

In short, Harris' conclusion does not follow logically from his argument. Christians are never really glad for evil that is done, even if such evil does indicate that prophesied events are still on the way to fulfillment. His moral and intellectual emergency is fabricated, based as it is on an exaggerated hypothetical situation weakly coupled with some polling data. Harris goes on to respond to this so-called emergency in the remainder of his book. Lord willing, we will look at some more of his arguments in future entries, even if we have to suspend disbelief about his major premise.


Posted by Matt Postiff October 19, 2007 under Society 

Atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote in a 1989 New York Times book review, "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." He later added a fifth possibility, that such a person is a victim who has either been tormented, bullied, or brainwashed (see his essay Ignorance is No Crime).

If Dawkins would subject his own statement to careful scrutiny and objective measures, he would see that it does not hold up to scientific standards.

Consider the number of scientists who hold doctoral level degrees from secular universities, and are at the same time Christians. I personally know several, and know of many others. Because they have been granted doctoral level degrees, they can hardly be called stupid or ignorant. Their intelligence and knowledge has been objectively validated by the secular establishment. Dawkins might argue that they are stupid or ignorant in the areas of physics, astronomy, geology, paleontology, and other such specialties. The trouble with such an argument is that there are many Ph.D.s in those very fields that do not accept the evolutionary worldview. And many Ph.D.s whose specialties are in other fields are still well-read and intelligent thinkers.

These well-educated, Christian scientists are also not considered insane by any objective measure, even by secular psychiatrists and psychologists. They behave normally, hold jobs, have good interpersonal skills, are well-balanced, and so on.

In addition, these Christian "non-conformist" scientists behave very well and do not have any hidden agenda to promote their views of God and creation. They are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, they are of good character, and are quite clearly not "wicked."

Furthermore, Dawkins' statement was overly general. Almost everyone believes in "evolution" in one way or another. Basically everyone understands evolution of technology, or micro-evolution of germs. What creationists object to is the "macro-evolutionary" theory of one species changing into another species.

Finally, I'll give a little personal testimony. I don't feel like I'm a victim of others trying to keep me in the dark on the issues of creation. I've made a careful decision for young-earth creationism. If I am tormented or bullied , it is by scientists like Dawkins who keep calling me names. If I am brainwashed, it is by educators like Dawkins who try to keep views such as ID or creationism out of the public square. Too bad Dawkins does not use the scientific method he embraces to measure his own statements. If he did, he would find them wanting.


Posted by Matt Postiff October 5, 2007 under Hebrew 

When I taught elementary Hebrew at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary during the 2006-2007 school year, I recorded some helps for the students regarding the vowel points. My Hebrew teacher, Dr. Robert McCabe, passed on the audio of a native Jewish man saying the alphabet. Please click the following links to download the mp3 audio.

I also recorded Allen Ross's vocabulary from the first 40 chapters of his Introducing Biblical Hebrew. These files can be accessed below:

 Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6
 Chapter 7  Chapter 8  Chapter 9  Chapter 10  Chapter 11
 Chapter 12  Chapter 13  Chapter 14  Chapter 15  Chapter 16
 Chapter 17  Chapter 18  Chapter 19  Chapter 20  Chapter 21
 Chapter 22  Chapter 23  Chapter 24  Chapter 25  Chapter 26
 Chapter 27  Chapter 28  Chapter 29  Chapter 30  Chapter 31
 Chapter 32  Chapter 33  Chapter 34  Chapter 35  Chapter 36
 Chapter 37  Chapter 38  Chapter 39  Chapter 40

There is also a complete collection of the Hebrew Bible on mp3. It is available to stream through the Audio Scriptures project. The actual site to visit is talkingbibles.com. Earlier, I was able to download any of the mp3 files directly. This site apparently does not do that now, but requires you to buy a CD. However, the same audio files are available elsewhere. You can search google for them. One nice site is at the University of Washington. Good places to start listening to the Hebrew Bible include Genesis 1, Genesis 12, and Psalm 1.


Posted by Matt Postiff September 14, 2007 under Interpretation 

One of the tensions with my "no polygamy" stance is how to understand the Old Testament, where polygamy abounded. It is first mentioned in Gen. 4:19 where Lamech took for himself two wives. We see many men, including Abraham and Jacob, with multiple wives. Kings David and Solomon had a huge number of wives.

It should be noted first that God never specifically commands men to take multiple wives; rather, the teaching from the time of Adam is one man, one woman, and one flesh (Gen. 2:23-24). Second, it is obvious that God allowed polygamy, and that, good or bad, it accomplished certain things like allowing prominent men to have many children more quickly than they would have been able to have with one wife. It also resulted in intra-family rivalries (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:6). Third, though Exodus 21:7-11 regulates polygamy, this does not necessarily endorse it. Similar regulations were given to regulate or curb the sin of divorce (Deut. 24:1-4) but this did not change God's desire for marriage (Matt. 19:6). Fourth, God's allowance of David to have Saul's wives is simply that--an allowance which indicated a complete transfer of the kingdom rule to David (2 Sam. 12:8). In the midst of the rebuke given by God through Nathan, God is saying that He gave David everything he could ask for and then some, and then David was still not satisfied and wanted yet another wife from a man who only had one! Here is a clear-cut case when taking another wife was done so in adultery.

There is another problem with respect to the Levirate marriage institution which was used for the propagation of the family name and inheritance rights (Deut 25:5-10). The brother of the deceased could do the levirate marriage or not. Presumably if he were already married, then he would have two wives after taking his deceased brother's widow as his own. Fortunately for my position, we are not under the Mosaic Law today so I don't have to worry about this case in the present day as if it were legally sanctioned by God. But it is a legitimate tension in that God gave this as part of the Law and so in some sense endorsed it. I'm willing to live with that tension for now until I have time to think it through more fully. In western cultures, this is not a problem because polygamy is outlawed anyway. In other cultures where polygamy is legal, we should explore why is it used. Is it done for religious or pragmatic reasons? Is it tied to certain religious beliefs, as in Islam? Or is it related to the culture's view of inheritance, property transfer, and sustaining the family name? Or is it simply a way for men to indulge their sinful desires?

All of that may be somewhat less than perfectly satisfying, but I am trying to deal honestly with the Biblical text. What we can say without any doubt, gentlemen, is that God wants you to love your wife as yourself and enjoy her as the gift from God that she is. Solomon might say, "My son, keep my words. Don't look elsewhere to satisfy your desire for love."

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