Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The Foundation of Evangelism

   Around six centuries before Christ, four Hebrew slaves – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – did not shy away from declaring the truth of God before the polytheistic despot Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:7; 2:20, 28, 37, 44, 45; 3:17). The Babylonian king acknowledged Jehovah as the God of Daniel and his fellow captives (2:47; 3:26, 28, 29), but did the king himself ever embrace their monotheistic faith? His last recorded words are as follows: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (4:37, NKJV). Even though Nebuchadnezzar regarded the God of the Hebrews as “the Most High God” (3:26; 4:2, 17, 34, 37), this may have been nothing more than recognizing Jehovah as the Chief among the gods (cf. 2:47) without necessarily abandoning the Babylonian pantheon (cf. 3:12, 14).Whether or not the monarch ever fully accepted the truth about his Creator, the point is, he was given ample opportunity to believe and obey, thanks to four Hebrew slaves unashamed of their God whom they boldly proclaimed.

EVANGELISM: THE ACTS OF WHOM?

   The English word “evangelism” is derived from the Greek noun euaggelion (“good news”) and the corresponding verb euaggelizō (“proclaim good news”). The Lord’s disciples were commissioned to announce the good news (“preach the gospel”) to the entire world (Mark 13:10; 16:15), and the book of Acts records the first thirty-two years of the great commission being carried out. Traditionally this history of missions document has been labeled “Acts of the Apostles,” so what were the “acts” of these apostles? 

   The noun euaggelion occurs only twice in Acts (15:7; 20:24), while the verb euaggelizō is employed fifteen times (5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18).2 What did these evangelistic acts entail? Here is a good summary statement from the apostles themselves: “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4). Note that “the ministry of the word,” while absolutely essential, is not the sum total of the necessary acts. Do not overlook the fact that our evangelism textbook is also replete with allusions to prayer (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24, 31; 6:4, 6; 8:15, 22, 24; 9:11, 40; 10:2, 4, 9, 30, 31, 46; 11:5, 18; 12:5, 12; 13:3; 14:23; 16:13, 16, 25; 20:36; 21:5; 22:17; 27:29, 35; 28:8, 15). Apparently our first-century brethren understood the evangelistic enterprise as God’s work, persistently inviting him to participate in it and soliciting his help.

   While the apostles initiated the diffusion of the gospel, the book we call “Acts of the Apostles” does not recount all the acts of all the apostles, and a number of the documented acts were not performed by any of the apostles (e.g. Acts 6:8–8:40; 11:19-24). Seeing that the Holy Spirit is mentioned an impressive fifty-seven times, it has been suggested that maybe “Acts of the Holy Spirit” is a more fitting title. However, Jesus Christ is referenced seventy-six times, and when people were genuinely guided by the Spirit, they didn’t talk about the Spirit as much as they talked about Jesus Christ! And what did Jesus Christ talk about? Throughout the recorded history of his ministry, he spent most of his time talking about God the Father. The book of Acts takes up where he left off, mentioning God over 150 times! Perhaps a more accurate description of this book is “the Acts of God.” 

THE MESSAGE OF EVANGELISM

   Sometimes we can be a little too quick to rattle off the steps of the gospel plan of salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. But let’s be careful not to oversimplify something as important and eternally consequential as what the Lord requires of those estranged from him. It is not, nor has it ever been, a one-size-fits-all approach. What exactly is to be heard and believed before further steps of obedience can be taken? It is a mistake to presume that if one learns what people were taught in any given conversion story in the book of Acts, then he/she necessarily knows enough to fully obey the gospel. The fallacy of this reasoning is twofold. 

   First, the Acts narrative is not an intricately detailed report of all that was said and done in each recorded event. In fact, thirty-two years of history have been compacted into only twenty-eight chapters. Note, for example, that the Pentecost-day sermon, which led to the conversions of about 3,000 souls, is boiled down to merely twenty-six verses (which can be read or quoted in less than two-and-a-half minutes!). These verses do not contain the sum total of the inspired message, as Luke informs his readers that there were “many other words” left unrecorded (Acts 2:40).

   Second, not every convert was at the same place in his/her spiritual journey when the gospel message was first encountered. As the Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and the pagan jailer in Philippi respectively asked what they needed to do (Acts 2:37; 16:30), they were given different answers because they were at different places on their way to God. In the end they all learned and obeyed the same set of divine instructions, but the starting point was different in each case.

   By limiting our focus to the individual conversion accounts, we might wonder why baptism is mentioned in chapter 2 but not in chapter 3, or why repentance is emphasized in chapter 3 but not in chapter 8. But if we can appreciate that Luke, with the limited space of a single papyrus scroll, has given selective highlights rather than comprehensive details, we will want to view his record as a whole and consider the collectivity of information in order to get the full picture.

THE FOUNDATON OF EVANGELISM
     
   In every conversion story in the book of Acts, the starting point is God. As the gospel was communicated in Acts 2–9, the respective audiences were comprised of devout Jews and proselytes who already had a strong monotheistic faith. When the gospel was introduced to the first Gentile converts, they were already God-fearers (Acts 10-11). On all of these occasions, the foundation had been laid long before the Lord’s disciples arrived on the scene. As outreach efforts were then focused on pagan Gentiles, the customary recounting of Jewish history or quoting the Hebrew Bible or assuming an established faith in God was not implemented. These evangelistic endeavors instead sought to lay the fundamental foundation of “the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them” (see Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31; cf. 24:14-16; 27:22-25, 35). 

   By examining all the conversion accounts in the book of Acts and harmonizing the teachings, the overall message is clear. It begins with the same basic message that Daniel and his friends proclaimed in Babylon: the one true and living God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who has worked through history to bring about his redemptive plan. God’s ultimate purpose has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who was anointed with the Holy Spirit and divinely attested by miracles, wonders, and signs. He is the Christ, the Son of God, who died by crucifixion, rose from the dead after burial, and is now exalted to the Father’s right hand where he reigns with all authority over God’s spiritual kingdom, the church.

   To Jesus Christ complete loyalty is to be given: calling on his name (reliance) by trusting in him (faith), acknowledging him as Lord (confession), turning away from sinful living (repentance), and being immersed in water (baptism) to have past sins forgiven by his blood. This enables salvation within God’s kingdom – the church, the community of the saved – where righteousness is practiced and eternal life promised in view of the coming judgment. Discipleship also involves continuing in the faith and proclaiming God’s saving message to the rest of the world.

APPLICATION TODAY

   Most 21st-century North Americans still believe in God, with varying degrees of certainty. However, the number of unbelievers continues to rise, especially among Millennials.3 The second largest religious group in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe is “no religion,” soon to become the majority in several countries.4 Whether atheistic, agnostic, or apathetic, we are increasingly faced with opportunities to share our faith with those who do not already have a foundational belief in God. Where do we begin? 

   Paul began with the origin of life (Acts 14:15; 17:24-25). Within the natural world as we know it, something does not come from nothing. The cosmos had a beginning, seeing that it is running out of usable energy and moving toward disorder. Everything that comes to be (an effect) must have an adequate cause outside itself and superior to itself. Lifeless matter does not generate life, unconscious matter does not produce consciousness, nonintelligent matter does not yield intelligence, and amoral matter does not create morality. Moreover, the consistent, complex, functional design (characteristic of our universe) does not happen by accident; where there is design, according to all that is known about how the world operates, there must be a designer. The evidence points beyond the natural world – to the supernatural (outside of and superior to nature). The Source of the universe has to be outside of time, space, matter, and finite energy, and therefore beyond the reach of scientific investigation. 

   Seeing that humans are intelligent, purposeful beings, it is reasonable to suspect that the Ultimate Cause of this universe has intelligence and purpose. Since no human is omniscient, there are things we cannot know unless we are told. Faith is not only the step taken toward accepting there is a God, which is the logical step, but also the step taken toward actively seeking to know God. Perhaps the greatest obstacles humans face in finding him are honesty about our limitations, humility, and the willingness and determination to seek him on his terms rather than our own.

CONCLUSION

   “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psalm 14:2). Apparently the Grand Designer of the universe is seeking those who seek him. For anyone who sincerely desires to know him, he will provide a way, and this more often than not involves a connection with the people of God. May we be diligent, not only in seeking him ourselves, but in proclaiming his message to a world that is lost and dying without him. May we stand with Daniel, courageously announcing the foundational truth, “But there is a God in heaven …. the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 2:28; 4:32).

-- Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 When Nebuchadnezzar said “the appearance” [wə-rê-wêh] of the fourth person in the furnace “is like” [dā-mêh] “a son” [lə-ḇar-] “of gods” [’ĕ-lā-hîn] (Dan. 3:25), it is highly unlikely that the pagan king had any concept of “the Son of God” (N/KJV) in the NT sense. The pre-incarnate Christ would not be manifested as the Son of God for another six centuries. Nebuchadnezzar was simply trying to explain what he saw as “a divine being” (ISV), perhaps an “angel” (3:28). Elsewhere in the book of Daniel the same terminology is used with reference to pagan “gods” (2:11, 47; 5:11b; cf. most translations of 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11a, 14).
     2 Comparable expressions are also used, like kataggélō (“declare,” “preach”) in Acts 4:2b; 13:5, 38; 15:36; 16:17; 17:3, 13; 26:23, and didáskō (“teach”) in 4:2a, 18; 5:21, 25, 28, 42; 11:26; 15:35; 18:11, 25; 20:20; 28:31.
     3 Michael Lipka, “Americas faith in God may be eroding,” Pew Research Center (4 Nov. 2015), <Link>. Around 70% of those 65 and older profess absolute certainty in God’s existence, while only 51% of adults under 30 do.
     4 Gabe Bullard, “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion,” National Geographic (22 April 2016), <Link>.

*Prepared for the 2017 FHU Lectureship.


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Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Demons and Demon Possession

Subordinate agents of Satan are called “demons” (Matt. 12:24), “evil spirits” (Luke 7:21), “unclean spirits” (Matt. 10:1), and “the devil’s angels” (Matt. 25:41). The term “unclean” is used 22 times in the New Testament in connection with these demonic creatures, interchangeably with the modifier “evil” (Matt. 12:43, 45). 

Demons are real personalities, described as speaking (Luke 4:33-37; 8:30-31), recognizing Christ and being afraid (Luke 4:33-37, 41; Mark 5:6-7), and trembling (Jas. 2:19). God created all things (1 Cor. 8:6), including free-will spirit beings, and everything he made was good (Gen. 1:31). But some of his creation have rebelled against him, including the devil (1 Tim. 3:6) and the devil’s minions (Matt. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4).  

Demon Possession

Demonic spirits afflicted people in the first century AD with the inability to speak (Matt. 9:32-33), blindness (Matt. 12:22), insanity (Luke 8:26-36), and epilepsy (Matt. 17:14-20), although the same maladies had natural causes as well (cf. Matt. 4:24; 8:16). Not all mental illnesses are attributed to demons, and not all illnesses attributed to demons are psychological in nature (Matt. 12:22-29). Demon-possessed persons were regarded in the same manner as sick people and are sometimes said to be “healed” right along with those suffering from natural diseases (Luke 8:36). 

Demon possession always required supernatural power to expel the demons (Matt. 10:8; Luke 4:36; 11:20) and apparently only occurred in New Testament times, as there are no recorded instances in the Old Testament. With the exception of four occurrences in Acts (chaps. 5, 8, 16, 19), all references are in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (total 26).

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and the devil’s angels were fearfully aware of the Lord’s purpose and their ultimate doom (Mark 1:24; 5:7; Matt. 8:29; Luke 4:34; cf. Jas. 2:19). By casting out demons, Jesus demonstrated his authority and power over evil forces, signaling the approaching kingdom of God (Luke 4:36; 11:20). His disciples exhibited the same power by the authority of Christ (Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:17; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:18; 19:12-17).1

Perhaps demon possession was part of an all-out attack the devil made against Jesus and against the establishment of his kingdom, somewhat of a mock incarnation with the devil’s forces seeking to take on human form as God did in Christ. There were attempts to prematurely reveal Jesus’ identity, potentially causing him to be put to death before the completion of his work (Mark 1:34; Luke 4:41). But Jesus is greater and more powerful than Satan’s forces and brings complete deliverance from evil in all its forms (Col. 2:15; Eph. 1:20-21; 1 Pet. 3:22). 

Does demon possession still occur today?

The biblical evidence indicates that demon possession occurred only during Jesus’ earthly life and for a brief period afterwards (on a much smaller scale) during the time of the apostles. There is not a single case of demon possession mentioned in the New Testament beyond Acts 19. Neither are there any warnings against demon possession, nor instructions or spiritual gifts to deal with it. Even in the lists of miraculous gifts recorded in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28 and Eph. 4:11, there is no mention of the power to cast out demons. This suggests it was not a common occurrence in the early church, it was not expected to continue, and it is therefore no longer happening.

There is a big difference between demon possession as recorded in the New Testament and modern-day claims of demon possession. In the New Testament cases, there was no doubt as to the cause; Christ and the apostles simply ordered the demons out, with immediate results.2

Conclusion

Despite many post-apostolic claims of demon possession and exorcisms, nothing comparable to what is depicted in the New Testament can be confirmed. While no clear explanation is provided in scripture, it is reasonable to conclude that demon possession was a limited phenomenon allowed by God to demonstrate and confirm the power and authority of his Son over the spiritual realm of Satan (cf. Matt. 12:28-29; Luke 10:17-18; 11:20-22).

The devil’s real work today is not possession but temptation (Matt. 4:3; 1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Thess. 3:5). If you are in Christ and faithfully serving him, then the devil and his agents are overcome in your life and you need not fear (John 10:27-30; 1 John 2:13; 4:3-4). Do not be concerned about the devil or demons taking you away from God; they cannot (Jas. 4:7).

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 The sign of casting out demons, promised to “the ones having believed” (Mark 16:17), is contextually referring to the Lord’s immediate disciples, who had just been rebuked for their unbelief (v. 14), afterwards fulfilled in them (v. 20).
     2 Many today profess to “cast out demons” and to do “many wonderful works” in the name of Jesus, but they make this claim without the Lord’s sanction (Matt. 7:21-23). Here is a sample <Link>.

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Wednesday, 8 January 2020

God is Savior of All People, Especially Believers (1 Timothy 4:10)?

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:10, “For to this we labor and struggle, since we have hoped upon the living God, who is savior of all people, especially of believers.”1 In what sense is God “savior of all people”? What is meant by the qualifying phrase, “especially of believers”? Are there two different ways or degrees or senses in which both unbelievers and believers are saved? Does this passage support universalism? 

Contextual Usage of “All”

Contextually the statement in question follows (and must therefore be understood in light of) what Paul has already affirmed in 2:3-6, “This is good and acceptable before our savior God, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth. For [there is] one God and one mediator between God and humankind, a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself [as] a ransom for all, the testimony in their own times.” 

Obviously, according to Paul, God wants “all people” to be saved and has thus made provision via Christ’s atoning sacrifice for “all.”2 Therefore God is “savior of all people” prospectively in that he has provided redemption to everyone through “knowledge of truth.” Moreover, this follows Paul’s affirmation in 1:15, “Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.” In this sense salvation is made available to “all kinds of” people,3 even reprehensible sinners like Paul, but not without a faith response (1:16; 2:7) and enduring faith (1:19; 2:15; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6, 8, 12-16; 5:4-15; 6:10-21).4

In 1 Timothy the adjective “all” is consistently applied, not universally but in a more limited, qualified sense (4:15; 5:20; 6:10, 13, 17). It is repeatedly employed emphatically when a certain point is being emphasized (1:15, 16; 2:2b, 11; 3:4, 11; 4:8; 5:2; 6:1, 10, 17).

Contextual Usage of “Especially”

But what is meant by the phrase, “especially [málista] of believers”? Some have interpreted this to mean salvation is granted to those who are not believers, which contradicts other clear passages of scripture (e.g. Mark 16:16; Heb. 11:6). If we keep reading, however, Paul himself reveals his intended usage of this phraseology. The superlative adverb “especially” can be interpreted to indicate a contrast between two different things, but this is not how Paul employs the Greek word málista in 1 Timothy.

In 5:8 the apostle says, “but if anyone does not provide for [his] own, and especially [málista] [his] household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Here Paul is not making a distinction between one’s “own” and one’s “household” but is placing special emphasis on a particular obligation. Then in 5:17 he writes, “Let the well-ruling elders be considered worthy of double honor, especially [málista] the ones laboring in word and teaching.” Again Paul is not contrasting “well-ruling elders” with those “laboring in word and teaching” but is emphasizing with greater specificity what it means to be well-ruling elders.

In 1 Timothy the adverb málista (rendered “especially” in our English Bibles) seems to be employed emphatically rather than contrastingly. It narrows the focus and conveys particularity, thus comparable to “namely” or “in particular.”5 Whatever else might be inferred, the terminology in no way supports sweeping universalism.

Conclusion

If 1 Timothy 4:10 is isolated from its immediate context and the overall context of scripture, it can be misconstrued to convey any number of things. But when we carefully follow Paul’s train of thought, and interpret the verse in its much broader context of meaning, the statement is clear. The spiritual salvation God provides through Jesus Christ is universal in purpose and scope but conditional and thus limited in appropriation.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 John 3:16-17; Rom. 5:18; 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Tit. 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14. See K. L. Moore, “Did Jesus die for many or for all?” Moore Perspective (13 Feb. 2015), <Link>. 
     3 The Greek adj. pas can idiomatically signify “a totality of kinds or sorts—every kind of, all sorts of” (J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT [NY: UBS, 1988]: 589); cf. 1 Tim. 6:10, 13, 17. In Romans the adj. “all” is consistently applied with particular reference to ethnic groups, not the unqualified totality of all individual persons. The overarching theme of Romans is that Jews and Gentiles stand before God on the same footing. Gentiles sin and are thus condemned (1:18-32), but they are not the only ones; Jews are also guilty before God (2:1-5). Whether Jew or Gentile, the obedient receive divine favor and the disobedient face God’s wrath (2:6-16); there is no partiality with God (2:11). All have sinned (3:10-12, 23; 5:12) = both Jews and Gentiles (3:9, 19), not just the one to the exclusion of the other. Moreover, “all” (both Jews and Gentiles) have equal access to God through Christ and are accepted by him on the same terms (3:29-30; 4:16, 24; 5:18; etc.).
     4 For what it means to be a “believer” in the biblical sense, see K. L. Moore, “NT Believers,” Moore Perspective (26 July 2013), <Link>.
     5 Idiomatically rendered “that is” (ISV); “particularly” (Mounce, NLT, Phillips, TLB). 


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