Christ Alone or the American Gospel?

Bernie Diaz, August 21, 2019

A dramatic and must-see documentary film, American Gospel: Christ Alone, is beginning to strike a chord within Christianity for some of the very challenging questions it raises of professing believers of Jesus, amongst them, “Does Christianity mean Christ + the American dream?”

You know about or have dreamed the American dream haven’t you? It is the traditional, multi-faceted vision or ideal that there is ‘A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S., especially by working hard and becoming successful.’ And that dream can be further realized by passing it on and seeing it lived out in the progenies of our future generations.

The idea is that with good jobs, a nice house, 2.5 children, and plenty of money, people can live the American dream.

Unfortunately, that dream has too long infected evangelicalism, culminating in the monstrous growth of the prosperity gospel, a gospel that treats Jesus Christ as little more than a cosmic ATM or genie who yearns to meet our every whim and desire if we would just manifest enough faith, spirituality and self-esteem.

In response, American Gospel examines how the prosperity gospel or ‘Word of Faith’ movement has distorted the true and biblical gospel message, and how this theology is being exported abroad.

Rather than posting a treatise here on the nature of that false and heretical church and ministry movement, featuring the likes of everyone from its most influential and charismatic leaders (Ken Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Todd White) to its more “evangelical” mainstream proponents (Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick, et.al), we can say that it seems to share a certain commonality, with other cults and religions such as Roman Catholicism, in it’s discipleship of Christ “plus”.

In other words, the biblical doctrine of justification and sanctification being brought about due to God’s grace alone and by faith in Jesus alone, is just not “enough” to satisfy the appetite for something resembling the American dream.

The ‘name it and claim it’ worldview movement for “Your Best Life” now has never been at greater odds with the gospel view that our best life is to come (in glory).

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5, ESV)

The apostle Paul’s first letter to his young apprentice and pastor Timothy in Ephesus, features a clear and concise text (1 Tim. 2:3-7) showing that Jesus is the Christian’s all and all and that we don’t need anything or anyone else to be right with God and this world. That truth became a key doctrine of the 16th century Protestant reformation, which we refer specifically to in Latin as Sola Cristus, or Christ Alone.

One of the major, early catalysts in the Reformation was a book by Jan Hus, a Bohemian Christian and theologian who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. The book was De Ecclesia (The Church), and one of Hus’s most profound points was proclaimed in the title of his fourth chapter: “Christ the Only Head of the Church.” Hus wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic [i.e., true] church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.”

Pointing out that most church leaders in his era actually despised the lordship of Christ, Hus called out the Roman leaders that “hated those who preach often and call Jesus Christ Lord.” Hus’s candor cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415, leading to the ominous idiom we came to adopt, that someone’s “Goose (Hus) is cooked.”

That happened because Hus preached the truth of the gospel and the faith that Christ alone was sufficient for salvation and a relationship with God in the face of the Catholic institution that said essentially, it’s Christ + the Papacy, Purgatory and Mary, including sacraments like infant baptism and the mass which allegedly infuses saving and sanctifying grace to the faithful.

Christ Alone is our Go-Between

A go between is a mediator, in the sense of salvation for a lost sinner who has confessed sin and repented to God through Jesus Christ. In fact, an older translation for the word mediator, would render that noun to mean ‘umpire’, or in a non-baseball analogy a more modern paraphrase translates the word to refer to a reconciler, one who intervenes between two parties, either in order to make or restore peace and a friendship or relationship, or form a deal, or for ratifying a covenant – as a go-between. This is Jesus alone, by virtue of his cross and resurrection, being the bridge or go-between God and a redeemed sinner.

We need this mediator and redeemer believe me. And we need to come to him on God’s terms and not ours, as one who will save us rather than to give us what we want and when we want it, such as health, wealth and prosperity.

Every person who comes into this world and lives, and doesn’t know Jesus as Lord and savior, is what the Bible calls, ‘an enemy of God.’ They have no personal, redeeming relationship with God, because they’re God-hating, Christ rejecting, gospel ignorant sinners, living in darkness and are under his perfect and holy wrath and judgment (John 3:16, 19-20,36).

There are multitudes of people like that who need reconciliation with God, rather than prime parking spots, first-class airplane tickets, new cars, better homes and vacations. People under the cloud of such judgment  need to plead to God for his grace and mercy to be manifest to them, so they would be brought back into a right relationship with him.

The false religions exposed in the film, American Gospel, teach we can be are own “Little gods” who can achieve salvation on our own, or do what only Christ did in his first advent on earth, if we would just carry enough self-confidence or partner with God by obeying traditions, regulations and religious rules.

They think if you can somehow work, or serve enough people, do enough good deeds, feed enough homeless people, give enough in sacrifices and offerings, pray and heal enough or speak in tongues enough, or even live well enough to have enough good karma, kill enough to show your faithfulness to a certain deity, confess to a priest and pray to the mother of Jesus, you might be able to earn your way into heaven and earn by faith, wellness and prosperity.  

Do, do, do, when the scripture says Jesus Christ has already done it all.

Only through Jesus and Jesus alone can human beings reach the goal intended by God, which is Christlikeness, the emulation of the one who never had a place to lay his head while on earth and who suffered the most unjust treatment anyone could ever imagine. Not exactly a picture of prosperity is it?

Only through Christ can sinful human beings come to God and love and obey him and be with him and experience his presence and true joy (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Such a reality reminded me of a story of an orphaned boy who was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, perished in the flames as the boy’s cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drainpipe and came back down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.

Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town’s wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. That would be the promise of a more prosperous life for the boy would it not.

But as they talked, the child’s eyes remained focused on the floor. Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. So, the boy jumped up on and threw his arms around the man’s neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those scarred hands had settled the issue.

Many voices of the American gospel and dream are calling for our attention. Among them is the One– the only one whose nail-pierced hands, remind us that He paid with his blood to rescue us, from sin and its deadly consequences so we can come home to him. Do we really need anything more?

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Another Apostate ‘Conformed to the World’

Bernie Diaz, August 13, 2019

Another celebrity from the world of ‘Christianity’ has just taken to social media to announce their possible apostasy or rejection of the Christian faith, though this man may be known more by what we sing than his name.

Marty Sampson, contemporary worship music leader for Hillsong United, etc., author and singer of the widely performed if not already classic song,  “Oceans”, has followed along the footsteps of former pastor and author Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), in making a public statement to send a message that disparages the biblical faith while at the same time not so humbly extolling the personal virtue of self-discovery and awareness.

Sampson’s telling and tragic Instagram post this week read like a manifesto on his redefinition of truth and what he implied are Christian controversies:

I’m genuinely losing my faith…and it doesn’t bother me…like, what bothers me now is nothing…I am so happy now, so at peace with the world…it’s crazy/this is a soapbox moment so here I go how many xx preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet-they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people…but it’s not for me.

Note for starters that Sampson in the above paragraph, failed to  acknowledge at least two glaring errors in his thinking: (1) Christians sin as believers struggling with their flesh as he has in a sin-cursed and fallen world. That should have been a given as we think of our churches as spiritual hospitals filled with spiritually sick patients (2) Sampson does a whole lot of judging of others while condemning judgmentalism itself.

Ironically as to truth, the man who wrote, “All I Need Is You” said he’s “not in” anymore and desires “genuine truth.” Sampson posted, “Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real.”

Sampson unfortunately, had more to say when he added, “All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.” The illuminating and philosophical phrase in that comment that has been echoed throughout our morally relativistic society for well more than a generation now, is, ‘All I know is what’s true to me right now.

Marty Sampson just confirmed a central tenet of moral relativism when saying in essence to God and legitimately born-again Christians, “Your truth is your truth- true for you, and my truth is my truth and is true for me, and never the twain shall meet.”

As I read of Sampson’s fall from grace, I couldn’t help but think of the passage of scripture I preached at church this past Sunday from Romans 12:1-2, describing what has long been a problem for professing and even true, confessing Christians that the apostle Paul described as struggling with “being conformed to this world.”

It is there in the context of writing the church at Rome and us by extension today, that Paul calls Christians to do more than sing songs of worship, but to live lives of worship 24/7 and 365 as living sacrifices “by the tender mercies of God” (Romans12:1), meaning out of service and gratitude to the one who has given and means so much to us.

In verse two of that chapter, Paul gives both a present-tense negative and positive command to disciples of Jesus Christ in order to give themselves over as living sacrifices of worship to God. The first is negative, do not be conformed to this world or better yet, present age, in its thinking and worldview, or in other words, be “squeezed into its mold”, as an older paraphrase translation tells us.  

The second command is the positive, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” which is literally a mental metamorphosis that one must be undergoing as a believer- constantly and diligently, through the regular intake of God’s primary means of grace in the word, prayer and the local church, in order to discern or prove the will of God for our lives.

If I may be so bold as to presume that Marty Sampson has been failing to ‘renew his mind’ but like Josh Harris, has been conformed to or being molded into the mind of this world, which is of course so dominated by the ‘prince of this world’, and who is ‘the prince of the power of the air.’

I would bring to mind two realities to both exhort and edify readers of this post who long to think rightly about these defections from the faith:

Christian Apostasy is not an Epidemic

Two cases pf public, social media driven confessions of apostasy do not an epidemic make. The church and evangelicalism in more modern times, has always seen its fair share of apostates, or those that backslide into sin for a season, simply due to the nature of the flesh – including that of the redeemed and due to the flesh of the deceitful and wicked hearts of the unredeemed.

Much has been made in mainstream and liberal media about the growth of “un-Christians” as in ex-believers, a theological misnomer in America, or the increase of “nones,” describing those that feel or sense some sort of spiritual connection to God perhaps, but who will not affiliate with organized religion in any way.

All that has been affirmed by these recent polls and apostasies revealed much more publicly and quickly in our 24 hour news and media cycles, is the very true, unsettling, biblical and theological reality which even Marty Sampson implicitly acknowledged, being that the gate or door leading to salvation- redemption, is quite “narrow” and the gate or door which leads to destruction or final damnation is “broad” or wide (Luke 13:23-24).

All of that is to say that relatively few of the more than seven and a half billion inhabitants of this world will ever enter into heaven or paradise with Jesus, and that relatively many or most, will unfortunately due to their impenitent sin and hardened hearts enter into hell at the final judgment.

The words of Jesus on this could not be more clear or arguable, when the above truth, came in a reply to the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” That truth must then energize and inform our evangelistic efforts.

Offer Real Worship to God

As I said to our church this past Sunday from Romans 12, the worship of God is not intrinsically musical. Rather, worship music – all of that which we sing in church or the popular praise songs we sing in our cars or at home from Hillsong, Bethel or Elevation ministries, should be an outgrowth or manifestation of hearts already devoted to lives of worship to Jesus Christ.

Interestingly enough, music is not even mentioned in New Testament language as a means or form of Christian worship. That’s a new and tough pill to swallow for some of us who love music, including the contemporary worship we hear so much of on our phones today, written and performed by those like Marty Sampson, who if they have not altogether “renounced” their ‘Christianity’, are at least on “incredibly shaky ground.”

Ultimately, true Christians must be educated as to what their faith is grounded upon, not be preoccupied with the personal lives of sin-struggling celebrities in Christianity, whether they be nationally renowned preachers or singers, and understand as the reformers did, that perseverance or persistence in the faith, “once delivered to all the saints (Jude 3)”, offers encouragement and assurance of salvation for that believe and persevere.

Moreover, believers need to prayerfully be ready as the opportunities arise, to ‘have mercy on those who doubt; and save others by snatching them out of the fire’ of judgment (Jude 22-23) with the preaching of ‘truth in love.’ I pray someone will do that for Marty Sampson and Joshua Harris.     

Real Mourning and Real Response After a Murderous Weekend

Bernie Diaz, August 8, 2019

More than 30 dead and more than 50 injured from two mass murder attacks perpetuated within 12 hours of one another this past weekend in two different American states, by two troubled, active shooters, on the heels of another at a food festival in California that claimed three more lives just days before.

The U.S. – western civilization, finds itself in the grips of an age where seemingly random and murderous acts of violence are continuing to take place at an increasing rate, and virtually at any place, from churches and schools, to the workplace and areas of public gathering (e.g. clubs, city districts, festivals and concerts).  

The country is becoming more dangerous by the day and citizens are struggling to find rational answers as to why such events occur, while public health and elected officials are struggling to find answers and solutions to stem the tide.

President Donald Trump called on Congress to pass background check laws for gun buyers in the wake of these latest mass shootings. Trump backed “red flag” laws that allow family members, employers, or other individuals to file a request to temporarily confiscate firearms from a suspected dangerous person.

That type of law if enforced, could seemingly help prevent an active shooter from carrying out his evil deed- again, if enforced. The mother of the hate-filled suspect of Saturday’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, called local police weeks earlier out of concern that her son owned a semiautomatic rifle.

Did the mother suspect her son was dangerous? No, but she told police she was worried about her son owning the firearm given his age and lack of experience, according to a network TV report. The problem was a public safety officer told her that because her son was 21, he was legally allowed to purchase the weapon. Texas did not have “red flag” laws that would have allowed a judge to temporarily confiscate firearms if the owner was considered a threat.

Only later, did Police arrest the young man and linked him to a white supremacist manifesto posted online just before the attack that killed 22 people and wounded many others at a Walmart.

If such preventative action been taken by Broward County school and law enforcement officials here in South Florida, Nickolas Cruz’s murderous Valentine Day’s assault at a local high school may have been averted in 2018. The key phrase is ‘May have.’

So, the gun-control debate rages on as a result of this past murderous weekend. Democrats and the left blame the NRA (National Rifle Association) for mass shootings and lament inaction on gun control (though Ohio’s governor just proposed a list of 10 reforms in the wake of the Dayton shooting).  Republicans and the right stand by the second amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing a right to bear arms and say that, “Guns don’t kill people…people kill people,” pointing to mental illness and family dysfunction as root causes of mass murders which are arguments which carry much socio and psychological weight as far as they go, as we shall soon see.

Interestingly enough, according to recent polls, most gun owners are non- NRA members and yet are favoring greater gun-control laws to some degree or another in the aftermath of the latest wave of mass shootings, while still holding to their right to own firearms. Indeed, 67% of gun owners admit to bearing arms primarily for the reason of self-defense, which is certainly understandable in our day and age.

There is little hope for a settlement in the gun-control war, as both sides hold to intractable positions. Much of the left will settle for little less than an out-right ban on guns (look for a proposed constitutional amendment to do away with the second), beginning with virtually any type of semi-automatic weapons, while the right in fear of the legislative slippery slope, seems unlikely to bend on further gun-control purchase and ownership regulations.   

The Los Angeles Times reported on a study of the life histories of mass shooters in the U.S. funded by a national justice department agency, building profiles from a database of shooting incidents involving the deaths of four or more people in a public place, dating back to 1966. Jailed shooters, their friends, families, survivors and first responders were interviewed.

Moreover, reporters dug through reams of data from printed manifestos, suicide notes and social media posts as well as trial transcripts looking for patterns.

Although for obvious reasons (namely God’s sovereign and providential purposes in the affairs of mankind), no single profile emerged of a mass murdering shooter.

However, some enlightening commonalities did emerge from a majority of murderers. Many or most were young white males who experienced one of or more of the following:

  • Childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.
  • Exposure to parental suicide.
  • Victims of sexual, physical abuse and neglect.
  • Severe bullying.
  • Mental health issues, such as; depression, anxiety and other thought disorders.

Many of our readers would not find any of the above characteristics as unusual or surprising, since mental and emotional instability would seem to rationally explain what on the surface seems to be irrational behavior.

Among other contributing factors included a crisis type event or conflict for the shooters shortly before their acts (i.e. a murderous rage from a recently job-terminated shooter) and the more recent phenomenon of copy-cat shooters being motivated, if not inspired by social media posts and extreme hate-oriented websites (e.g. ‘antifa’ and white supremacists).

Therefore, other than instituting some “red-flag laws” and pouring millions if not billions of dollars into security measures, mental health prevention and treatment programs, there seems to be little secular help or guarantees in sight of doing away with (#NeverAgain) mass-shooting murders.

Few if any pundits or politicians will dare go near the real spiritual, underlying reality of evil, hate and murder (James 4:1-2), lying at the doorstep of every man’s deceitful and desperately wicked hearts, cursed by sin and influenced by Satan.   

One who knew better, was the Dayton, Ohio shooter himself, who declared in a bio post, “I’m going to hell and I’m not coming back.”       

So, what are redeemed disciples of Jesus Christ to do and what do we have to offer a world facing the above obstacles to living “peaceful, dignified and quiet lives” on earth (1 Timothy 2:2) in a time of active shooters and mass murder, breeding fear among the populace?

I would say, humbly mourn and share.

Mourn Over Sin

The Bible calls us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) before attempting to offer contrived words of worldly wisdom and easy- quick fix solutions to this rash of violent sin before us.

We all should weep over what has and is becoming of this nation, due to its rejection of its God and creator, failing to give him the worship, honor and thanksgiving he is due. It is only by his common grace providing a level of protection on ‘the just as well as the unjust’ that has kept this land from total anarchy or chaos.

Share the Hope of Good News

Know and explain God’s meta-narrative or story of the world (“HIStory”) to the lost and hurting among us; it’s past, present and future, which will feature the wonderful good and gospel news of final redemption after a final period of violence and bad news.  God has a four-part story for us that we are in the third part of:

  • Creation
  • Fall (sin and its consequences- see last weekend’s news)
  • Redemption, meaning salvation by the cross and resurrection of Christ in this current age of grace
  • Restoration, meaning after a future and final age of world-wide judgment and destruction, King Jesus will rule and reign over the most glorious period of man’s history and after God’s extreme make-over of this planet, bring an eternal new heavens and earth to God’s people to enjoy with him.    

Now is the time to humbly mourn and share the only hope for mankind in this sin-cursed and violent world while there is time (James 4:9).

Now is the time to cry for America and then let God lift hearts through the blood that saves and gives life, rather than fear the ones that are shedding blood now.

Kissing Christ Goodbye – Pt.2

Bernie Diaz, August 2, 2019

Evangelical Christianity has been shocked and abuzz over the social media revelation made by author, speaker and former pastor Joshua Harris this past week, who renounced his faith in Jesus Christ (see MCT; Kissing Christ Goodbye, Pt.1).

Harris, the ex-pastor of a mega-church and author of the best-selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, announced his apostasy or defection from Christianity just after rejecting his wife of 20 years as well in an Instagram prompting questions and sending shockwaves throughout the evangelical landscape.

Is Harris a true disciple of Christ who has fallen into a prodigal or ‘backslidden’ season of sin and doubt? Or worse, has he completely apostatized from the Christian faith once and for all? Only time will truly tell as his loved ones, former partners in ministry and friends wrestle with those questions in analyzing what became of a man they once called Pastor and a brother in Christ. 

Most apostasies do not occur dramatically overnight like some Pauline like, ‘Damascus Road’ conversion experience, but more so over a course of time and events shaking a faith that was never truly grounded to begin with as some of Harris’ closest friends have already speculated.  

Harris left the Sovereign Grace church he pastored in Maryland some years ago to study at a more liberal seminary in the hopes of building a more formal and academic theological base he had never enjoyed before. One can only speculate as to what seeds of aberrant and unorthodox theology may been planted in him there, as was the case with the infamous Charles Templeton, a former mentor of Billy Graham, who also rejected the faith in the mid-20th century after falling prey to intellectual, secular theories of creation.  

Recently, Harris apologized to the LGBTQ+ community, regretting the teaching of his books including IKDG, (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and pastoral ministry, “regarding sexuality.” He posted that he “regretted standing against marriage equality” and for having, “contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry,” implying that the biblical doctrine of human sexuality had become bigoted or discriminatory to him in some way. Something changed.

Kissing Purity Goodbye

What about I Kissed Dating Goodbye, written by Harris when he was just 20 years old? Having been reared in a biblically conservative home as one of three ambitious sons (the other two co-authors of Do Hard Things) born to modern homeschool advocates and pioneers, the eldest son had never before been involved in a secularized dating relationship by the time he wrote the book arguing for a Christian-based approach to dating.

After mostly favorable reviews and more than a million copies sold, IKDG “helped shape purity culture” for thousands of Christian millennials reeling at the height of the sexual revolution’s rebirth in the mid to late 90’s, as the AIDS epidemic raged on. Promiscuity, STDs, teen-pregnancies and abortions rose to record levels at the time prompting a Christian cultural backlash to sex outside of marriage, which attempted to once again ground sexuality in scripture – appropriately so.

“True Love Waits” at that time also became a sort of Christian sex education clarion call, embraced by thousands of evangelical households, culminating in a rally in Washington, D.C. with 25,000 young people who displayed 210,000 commitment cards on the National Mall.   

Did the goodbye kiss to dating work? First by my general definition of dating, the more secular, standard and acceptable version of entering into relationships here for nearly a century, has been romanticized by popular culture but has proven too often to have resembled little more than the process of buying a ‘used car,’ where individuals try each other on and out on a socialized test-drive basis for pleasure and a possibility of a future – at best.

Predictably “Romantic love” has proven to be a failure for millions of Americans and Christians included, who have been inordinately influenced by peer pressure and society’s failed mores.

For those looking to find their forever “one” in matrimony primarily by the fleeting and subjective characteristics of physical attraction and chemistry, rather than the biblical exhortations to look foremost for compatible faith and character, one-third to one-half of marriages in this nation have ended in divorce for more than a generation, leading to homes where nearly one of every four children grow up with only one of their biological parents – the highest rate in the western world.

Joshua Harris’ book and the ‘True Love Waits’ ethic, took aim at the whole modern idea of dating and challenged youth to rethink it. Indeed, researchers found in the wake of the two above campaigns that there was a significant decline in sexual activity for teenage youth between the ages of 15 to 17 years old, in the period between 1995 and 2002 as well as a dramatic drop in teen pregnancies that would last 30 years.

Many Christian families began to study and rethink the ideal of romantic love which is a concept largely derived from the Greek word for erotic (eros,) and which interestingly enough, is absent when describing love in the New Testament.

Does this mean the Bible mandates pre-arranged love or fixed marriages with parents paying dowry’s as compensation to wed couples, as was the ancient norm? No. The Bible does not explicitly address the topic of dating as relevant to the historically, latter-day view commonly held today.  Why? Because Today’s dating would have been a foreign concept to a biblical, sexual ethic.

Therefore, are relationships to begin and occur by means of courtship, a more traditional and perhaps more accurate portrayal of companionship love, as once supported by Harris, steeped in servant and friendship love (philia) as pictured by Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament? Such a mindset would seem much closer to a biblical view of romance and sexuality than our society’s version today.

However, since today’s young adult culture is loath to accept much less parrot the concept of courting, I might suggest the idea of intentional dating being adopted by Christians as a means of relating to a member of the interested, opposite sex.

That is a relationship predicated upon an intention to ultimately marry, in which one finds his or her companion first by assessing common and critical values in the other – a must for Christians who wish to obey God and be ‘equally yoked’ in a one-man and one-woman for one-lifetime marriage.

Those principles seem to promote a greater biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) that would discourage today’s looser or less-intentional forms of dating that are inherently more sexual and tend to disapprove of virginity before marriage, which is inarguably the biblical standard for those who understand that their body is not their own, but are “temples of the living God (2 Cor. 6:14-16).”

This sexual ethic, obviously out of touch in our culture dominated by the moral revolution, dominated Judeo-Christian relationships for centuries. In In fact, the only hint of sexual and erotic love found in a positive relationship of any kind in all the Bible, is found in the context of marriage as beautifully and metaphorically described in the Song of Solomon.

Fast forward however to 2016, where Josh Harris wrote in a statement posted on his website, “I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”

Harris noted “flaws” in the book that led to his discontinuing its publication.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, he has seemingly rejected his own words affirming the biblical admonition to Christians to live sexually pure lives sometime ‘before’ his recent public announcements affirming the fornication of homosexuality.

The Possibility of Purity

Criticism even from some Christians have fallen on some of the particular methodologies of the purity movement and it is true that some of the promises made by purity advocates and implied in IKDG, illustrated by purity pledges, rings and balls, may have been stretched too far (e.g. near guarantees of ‘happy-ever-after endings’ of great marriage, sex lives and families).

We must be reminded that no man-made or extra-biblical methods of attaining sexual purity can perfectly achieve God’s ideal of fidelity for everyone, being that everyone is in a tug of war with their flesh and the unredeemed have no chance of victory in it.

However, no matter how far Harris has strayed from Christ and his former, biblically-based sexual ethics, purity is inarguably God’s revealed will, word and is best for all of his image bearers for a myriad of reasons.  

For the Christian, sexual purity will at least be fully realized in glory, but until then, believers and unbelievers alike must choose Christ first- as their greatest treasure and his fellowship for their greatest pleasure in preparing for the marriage supper of the lamb and his church.

Therefore, as Joshua Harris entitled in another book of his, let’s Stop Dating the Church, and let’s kiss sin goodbye. One more thing.. pray that Harris will do the same, repent and turn back to Christ and the gospel he once preached as true – the only truth that produces true relational bliss.       

‘Kissing Christ Goodbye’ – Pt.1

Joshua Harris, former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland

Bernie Diaz, July 30, 2019

There are days and weeks in which bloggers struggle to find the single best question, controversy or theme to address in a given post, particularly for those of us bloggers who post about worldview and theological issues.

Sometimes there is a scarcity of material relevant enough to grab the attention of a good number of our readers and other times there may be too many options to choose from. This week does not fit into either of those two scenarios but is one in which I was led overwhelmingly to opine and chime in on, in the wake of the news report that a prominent author, speaker and former pastor has apparently renounced his faith in Jesus Christ.

Joshua Harris, the author of the best-selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, essentially and publicly announced in an Instagram post last week that he is ‘kissing Jesus Christ goodbye,’ saying he is no longer a Christian.

The shocking admission comes just a week after Harris publicly announced that he and his wife, Shannon, were separating after 20 years of marriage  but would remain “friends,” as they continue to raise their three children together.

In the Instagram post, Harris commented on the responses he received about his pending divorce and dropped the other shocking bomb shell by revealing that he is “falling away” from the faith and no longer identifies as a Christian.

How and why does a pastor, preacher or any Christian for that matter, become an “ex-Christian?” Is it even possible for that to happen, to become a Christian, be born-again and yet die again to the faith once professed and depart from it?  

The scriptures which address this topic are many and is a two-millennia plus old issue in the church, which even the author and finisher of our faith and the divinely inspired authors of God’s word dealt with from the birth or inception of Christianity, definitely answering “no” to the possibility of ‘ex-Christians.’

In one of the most thought-provoking if not terrifying passages in all of the Bible, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in drawing the distinction between mere professing and true, Spirit-possessing believers, said:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23, ESV).

The implication of Jesus was made clear in those words. There were, always have been and will be people who profess saving faith in Christ, even evidence some good works in his name; today they could be regular and giving church goers and doers, serving in the ministry even to the extent they could be serving as pastors and preachers and yet ultimately will bear the fruit that they were never regenerate or born-again as disciples to begin with (“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’”).

Christians are reminded here to refrain from judging others in the sense of condemnation and should hesitate before making a final judgment on someone’s heart and spiritual condition, knowing that there is such a thing as a “backslidden” or prodigal son of God, who is in sin and may even stray from the faith for a time, but will eventually return as a regenerate or born-again Christian.

The apostle Peter and his triple denial of Christ on the eve of the crucifixion of his Lord and master is one such example.  

However, we can also hold that truth in tension, in contrast to those that will not repent, proving they were never real believers to begin with such as Judas Iscariot, one of the original twelve, and as was the case of some antichrists or false teachers dividing churches in the first century, who under persecution also defected from the faith.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 Jo. 2:19).

The apostle John makes plain above, that true Christians persevere in the faith until the end as the final prerequisite for seeing glory as sanctified believers. It is that fortitude or endurance, the grace to finish the race that will finally distinguish the lost from the found, or the justified from those that were merely “enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away..” (Heb. 6:4-6a).

There is of course a big difference between tasting and actually digesting the gospel of God.  

What would lead a professing Christian to ‘fall away’ or apostatize from the faith? Unconfessed and impenitent sin will always be the core issue of course, which may include false or heretical doctrine which seems at least in part, to be at the root of Harris’ farewell to Christ, as evidenced by his own social media posts, when he wrote as a follow-up to the first describing his marital problems:

 The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.

What event or turning point could have led to that announcement? Harris added, “Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years — repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.

But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”

What Harris makes abundantly clear in his ‘confession’ of apostasy is that he long ago, at least slowly if not surely, turned to a relatively new and different doctrine, or a non-biblical understanding of human sexuality and the church, and the LGBTQ+ community specifically, apologizing for past, biblically orthodox sermons and teaching.

Tragically, Harris may now be counted as yet another casualty of the sexual revolution, as we may come to find in the days ahead that there may be linkage found from Harris’ personal life and his renunciation of his 1997 best-seller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, written when he was just 20 years old before he had ever been in a dating relationship before, to his departure.

Three years ago, Harris wrote in a statement posted on his website, “I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”

Then, in announcing last year that the publication of that book would be discontinued, Harris added, “In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it’s best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar).”

Unfortunately, Harris seemingly rejected his own words affirming the biblical admonition to Christians to live sexually pure lives (1 Thess. 4:3-5) sometime before his recent public declarations.

Michael Farris, a long-time friend of Harris, a notable and national Homeschooling advocate and contributing online columnist for The Christian Post, painfully posted, “My heart aches for you in so many ways. It seems that you thought that Christianity was a series of formulas. Formulas for marriage. Formulas for systematic theology. Fear of choosing the wrong formula. Fear of failing to live up to your formula.”  

Farris pointed out in his op-ed piece the view that Joshua Harris’ coming out of Christianity, reflected a heart that likely was never in the faith to begin with, stating, “I would never reach this conclusion about you on my own but what you have said yourself can be fairly summarized as this: you thought your faith and your marriage were based on formulas. They never went deeper than that.

Jesus says about people like you that in the last judgment, He will say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’ You know that this means you never actually knew Him. As immersed as you were in Christian culture and a career as a pastor, you never actually knew Jesus.

It gives me only heart ache to say these things to you. And Jesus will take no pleasure in pronouncing those words in judgment of you or anyone. You haven’t walked away from a relationship with Jesus. You have walked away from the culture you were raised in.”

The best we can do in response to this sad story of apostasy as we have seen in other and similar occasions is to join Mr. Farris in praying for the heart and soul of Joshua Harris and those we know and love like him who need the gospel more than they had ever imagined before, as Farris concluded:

Jesus still loves you at this moment. And so do I and countless others. And I will love you no matter what in the days ahead. But my love is tinged in deep sadness. Josh, you and your story are not the measure of the validity of Christianity.

Jesus is real. He doesn’t want you to return to your prior formulas. He wants you to come to Him for the first time and learn to love. Amen.

In pt. 2 of this post, “Kissing Christ Goodbye,” we’ll look at the issue of Joshua Harris’ initial and influential teaching from, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Finance Matters and the Love of Money

Bernie Diaz, July 24, 2019

Even many secular, non-Christians have heard or uttered the familiar biblical phrase, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV).

Unfortunately, too many people- Christian and otherwise have failed to heed that statement as I preached to my church this past Sunday in launching a new, brief series on money (Finance Matters).

To little surprise, the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, the first theologian and missionary of the church did not give very specific direction to first century believers as to how to manage their money or on personal finance, not that citizens of the time would have many options.

However, in making the case that loving money begets evil and sins like coveting and idolatry amongst others, the biblical point is clear that covetousness, that unhealthy lust or craving for riches and wealth in and of itself, is a matter of the heart like any other sin:  

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matt. 15:19-20a). Theft is just one “evil”- that manifests itself from the love of money. Money can also influence or as Paul argued, produce a “rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:8).

In fact, Christian counselor and long-time author and speaker Paul David Tripp in his latest book, Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts, lists five dangers that disciples of Christ should be aware of and guard against as they look to manage their personal finances in these uneven, economic times:

Even many secular, non-Christians have heard or uttered the familiar biblical phrase, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV).

Unfortunately, too many people- Christian and otherwise have failed to heed that statement as I preached to my church this past Sunday in launching a new, brief series on money (Finance Matters).

To little surprise, the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, the first theologian and missionary of the church did not give very specific direction to first century believers as to how to manage their money or on personal finance, not that citizens of the time would have many options.

However, in making the case that loving money begets evil and sins like coveting and idolatry amongst others, the biblical point is clear that covetousness, that unhealthy lust or craving for riches and wealth in and of itself, is a matter of the heart like any other sin:  

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matt. 15:19-20a). Theft is just one “evil”- that manifests itself from the love of money. Money can also influence or as Paul argued, produce a “rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:8).

In fact, Christian counselor and long-time author and speaker Paul David Tripp in his latest book, Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts, lists five dangers that disciples of Christ should be aware of and guard against as they look to manage their personal finances in these uneven, economic times

5 Dangers of Money:

1. Money can cause you to forget God.

Physical neediness can cause you to cry out to God for help, and as you cry out for help, you come to realize that you need it not only physically but also spiritually. A pastor of a church in an extremely affluent community told me that since his people are able to buy their way into or out of just about anything, it is hard for them to think of themselves as needy.

… Money can allow us to afford a self-centered way of living that acts as if nothing is greater than us and more important than our individual wants, needs, and feelings.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. There is no teaching in Scripture that would lead us to believe that poor people are better off spiritually than others. My point is to alert you to one of the dangers of money. Money can function as an ingredient in a lifestyle that, at street level, forgets God’s existence and his plan…. Those caught in that lifestyle may not theologically deny the existence of God, but their money supports a lifestyle that ignores it.

As money redefines your identity, it can also change the way you look at others.

2. Money can change the way you think about you.

Money is a stimulant. It will be used to stimulate a Godward way of life or an inward way of life. A friend told me that for years he had prided himself on being committed to and contented with a “simple” lifestyle, that is, until he came into money. Suddenly he found himself wanting the more luxurious car; he was attracted to the more expensive shirt, and he wanted to eat at the better restaurant. He said, “It was humbling to admit that I hadn’t been living the simple life because I was spiritually committed to it. I’d been living the simple life because I was poor.”

Money can encourage you to be more self-focused and demanding; it can edge you toward being discontent with what once made you content, and, even more dangerous, money can move you to begin to expect from life what you should not expect and to feel that you deserve what you do not deserve.

3. Money can cause you to look down on others.

What was going on was very clear and very sad. The affluent kids stood around and made fun of a homeless man who was doing his best to get out of their way. What was the difference between the kids and the homeless man? Well, in the deepest and most profound way, there was no difference. The kids and the homeless guy were all made in the image of God and meant to reflect his glory. They were all sinners in desperate need of redemption.

Neither the homeless man nor the affluent teenagers had been in charge of all the circumstances that had led them to their place in life. Neither the kids nor the man could stand before God and say they deserve anything. But the boys didn’t see themselves as similar to the man. They saw themselves as a higher order of human being, and they treated the poor man as less than human.

… As money redefines your identity, it can also change the way you look at others. Money can stimulate the prideful prejudice that lurks somewhere in the heart of every sinner.

4. Money can weaken your resolve to fight temptation.

When my friend made his simple-life admission, he was saying something else. In a real way, his poverty had protected him from being able to fully follow the trail of his greed. No, it hadn’t protected him from being envious and discontented at points, but he simply did not have the money to pay for what his selfish heart could imagine. This point is precisely why the Bible does alert us to the danger of riches. We come into this world as people who need to be retrained. We come into this world as a danger to ourselves. We are naturally more discontented than contented. We are naturally attracted to what should scare us. We intuitively push against God’s boundaries. So anything in our lives that protects us from us, anything that restrains us, or anything that makes it hard to go where our desires wander is a blessing.

5. Money can finance your allegiance to the kingdom of self.

Well, this is the bottom line. I’ve already said much about it, but this point too requires more special attention. There is no neutrality when it comes to your relationship to and daily use of money. As you hold and use your money, you must constantly remind yourself that the holding and using of money are acts of worship. That’s just how significant this issue is.

Either you are using your funds in the worship of yourself, even if you don’t know it, or you are using your money in the self-conscious worship of God.  This is the temptation that every sinner faces, to use the resources he has been given to finance the wants, needs, and desires of the kingdom of self, and the more money that is in his hands, the more power this temptation tends to have.

So, money really does matter. Finance matters, and as Tripp concludes in his section of money’s dangers, “God’s grace matters even more. It alone provides both the strength and the freedom we will continue to need until the dangers of money are no more.”

As I attempted to make the case to my congregation last Sunday in setting the tone for the rest of the series of Finance Matters, contentment in God’s providence and promises (Matthew 6:33; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 13:5) I found to be the attitude which defeats the love of money in the heart of a Christian. It is the Bible’s “Secret of Satisfaction.”

Puritan preacher and author Jeremiah Burrough’s The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Banner of Truth) is a classic book that I commend to all of you who strive to have a heart of contentment dominate your perspective on money management.

In the book’s first chapter Burroughs begins with Philippians 4:11 and seeks “to show what a great mystery there is in Christian contentment, and how many distinct lessons there are to be learned, that we may come to attain this heavenly disposition, to which St. Paul attained.” He demonstrates four things: what Christian contentment is, the art and mystery of it, what lessons must be learned to bring the heart to contentment, and in what qualities the glorious excellence of this grace chiefly consists.

Burroughs defines contentment in this way: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

My prayer is that God’s people begin to do business and manage money God’s way, beginning with a heart or disposition to trust by faith in his providences – however painful they may necessarily be at times, understanding his purposes and sweet promises for his own.

The Moon Landing and a Universal Choir

Bernie Diaz, July 16, 2019

50 years ago this week, man walked on the moon. Countless television and news reports have been observing and celebrating that hot Florida day on July 16, 1969 (definitely a day like today), when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins flew into space on the most famous exploration mission in history, Apollo 11.

After touchdown on that July 20th, Armstrong would spend just slightly more than two and a half hours walking around on the Moon’s surface, “going where no man had gone before.” They picked up rocks and items of study but life on the moon was never expected nor discovered.

Such a mission has not deterred but encouraged millions of Americans to dream about a time where extra-terrestrial life will be found on other planets and UFO sightings may be confirmed as more than silly hoaxes and conspiracies for those that love all things sci-fi.

I have enjoyed more than a few Sci-Fi movies or TV programs in my lifetime- including E.T. as a youngster, but none was more interesting to me than director Steven Spielberg’s lesser known classic film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  What did I find so fascinating about that story? Perhaps it was the wonder, the transcendence of inter-galactic relationships forming, the thrill of the “coming home” aspect of the earthlings being returned to this home-planet in scenes which stirred my  heart in a “frequency deeper than mere entertainment,” as a writer put it.

Such fantasies bolstered by the enormity of the heavens and universe also stir up our imaginations because as human, image-bearers of God we tend to feel we are not alone.

In fact, a lot of astronomers are fascinated and perplexed, as to why the universe is so big. The Hubble Telescope for instance, seems to tell us that there may be at a minimum, as many as ten thousand galaxies other than our own, which make up just a small portion of the universe, which is so big that we’re considering the expenditure of bigger bucks looking for other life forms in the universe.

50 years post Apollo 11, President Trump is talking about rejuvenating NASA and the space program, as America prepares to return to the Moon by 2024, and eventually, to Mars.

The prevailing wisdom among some scientists is that we have to assume there must be some other life forms in our massive universe. More habitable planets have to exist in such vast reaches of space they say. It’s just way too big, if it’s just a place for you and me right?

Isn’t that why UFO’s exist? What about Area 51? Isn’t that more than just a military base in Nevada, but rather a staging and research center for the study of UFO’s and ET’s? Conspiracy theorists think so.

Only recently the acronym “UFO” (Unidentified Flying Object) is now being referred to as ‘unexplained aerial phenomenon,’ or “UAP.” That is the term used by the scientific and evidence-based wing of the UFO research community, in an attempt to disassociate from the mockery that accompanies the lunatic type fringe of the “UFO” movement.

The Bible and Aliens

Getting to the heart of the issue, other than false interpretations of Ezekiel’s prophetic visions, God’s word makes no mention of “aliens” other than human beings who immigrate from one nation to another or enter a country as refugees, which is a whole other controversy.

Now, could God have created other life-forms; plants, animals or conscious, sentient image-bearers on other planets? I would suppose so. God being the sovereign, all-powerful and all-present creator and sustainer of all life in the universe can do as he wishes. We could not rule out such a possibility in good conscience, but we should know that scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that God began the creation of the universe itself with planet earth and its created beings.   

God spoke and the universe came into being (Psalm 33:6,9). However, speculation remains due to the observation that if the universe was created simply to house humanity, it sure seems a bit oversized.

Why then is the universe so large and teeming with galaxies of stars and planets yet apparently devoid of other life-forms? If only perplexed astronomers, atheists and agnostics knew why God does anything, they might find an answer for the existence of the universe, as Christians have from the Bible (Acts 17:24-27). If they only knew that the universe’s primary function is not to house life-forms like humanity, but to glorify or magnify its Creator. In that sense the cosmos are not as big as they thought:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away (Psalm 148:1-6, ESV).

Our best explanation for the existence of the unchartered universe (“undiscovered country”) may be more for mankind’s amazement and wonder – reflected in praise and worship of God for his mind-boggling creation in the heavenlies, which speak of his creative power and glory (Psalm 19:1-3) than anything else.

Indeed, it seems that the heavenlies themselves and the created beings within them make up one grand, universal choir of voices of praise and worship.

Perhaps one day, the voice of God will ring out to us as it did for the prophet Isaiah during Israel’s troubled time, when he said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). Who would ever have expected that such a powerful and majestic God would ask such a question of one man for one nation? Maybe the Great Commission will expand to other worlds and not be limited to “nations.” Maybe- maybe not.

Quite honestly, I don’t spend too much time thinking about aliens, UFO’s or UAP’s. We have more than enough work to do when it comes to faithfully proclaiming the gospel here on planet earth – don’t we?