Sunday, 26 May 2013

Questions About Angels

Does the Bible teach that each person has a guardian angel?
      The concept of guardian angels became popular among the Jews during the intertestamental period (cf. Tobit 5.6, 21; Testament of Levi 5.6) but has no clear precedent in the New Testament.
     In Matthew 18 Jesus taught that his disciples must be “as little children” to enter the kingdom of heaven and the Lord does not want a single one to be lost (vv. 1-14). In the midst of this discourse, Jesus said: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (v. 10 NKJV). However, the reference to “their angels” [plural] does not indicate that each Christian has his/her own guardian angel, and whatever these angels are doing is taking place in heaven instead of on earth. The NEB rendering "their guardian angels" is without justification. This passage is addressing eternal salvation rather than temporal guidance or protection on earth (cf. Luke 12:8-9; 15:7, 10; 16:22; Revelation 3:5). The point seems to be that maltreatment of "these little ones" does not escape the notice of the heavenly throne (cf. Luke 1:19).
      An angel of the Lord released Peter from prison (Acts 12:7-11), and when the brethren did not believe Rhoda’s report that Peter was standing at the gate, they replied, “It is his angel” (v. 15). However, their mistaken assumption does not prove that Peter actually had a “guardian angel,” and they may have been presupposing that Peter was killed and his spirit (cf. 23:8) had spoken to Rhoda. Later Paul was comforted by “an angel of God” (Acts 27:23 f.), but again, this does not support a “guardian angel” theory. Hebrews 1:14 acknowledges that angels (in general) are ministering spirits for the heirs of salvation, but this does not suggest that each Christian has his/her own guardian angel.
What is the function of angels today?
      Angels are referred to as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:13-14). The Greek word apostellomena in this verse [from apostell├┤, “to send forth”] is a present tense participle, meaning that angels are currently and continually being sent by God to minister to the needs of God’s people. This is consistent with how God has operated in the past (Psalm 91:11-12; 103:20-21; Matthew 4:11; 24:31; Luke 22:43), and there is no reason to suppose that angels are no longer active as God’s providential agents. “Some have argued that with the conclusion of the miraculous age angels also ceased to function, but in view of the fact that angelic activity is not restricted to the miraculous, there is no reason to believe that this is the case” (Rex Banks, The Exhorter [July-Sept. 2001]: 4). Wayne Jackson comments on Hebrews 1:14, “Since the supernatural era is gone, and only God’s providential activity (i.e. the divine manipulation of natural law) remains, one must conclude, I think, that somehow God employs angels in the implementation of His providential will on behalf of His saints in today’s world . . . . but beyond this we should not speculate” (VOTI 29:94). God providentially works in the lives of Christians (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:11), and his angels appear to be the instruments through which he works.  
What is meant by the statement, “some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2)?
      In this verse the writer of Hebrews is admonishing his readers to remember to be hospitable to strangers, and the motivation he offers is that “some have unwittingly entertained angels.” Since the epistle to the Hebrews is filled with allusions, references, and quotes from the Old Testament, the inspired writer no doubt had in mind Old Testament examples of angelic visitations with which his initial readers would have been familiar (e.g. Genesis 18-19; Judges 6:11 ff.; 13:2 ff.). This does not necessarily mean that we should expect angels to personally visit us today, but the point is that hospitality should be practiced (cf. Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9) because (as biblical accounts illustrate) there are unexpected benefits to be gained.
How do some popular myths about angels compare to the biblical record?
      Angels are often depicted in modern art as blonde-haired females, but in the Bible they always appear in masculine form (Genesis 19:1, 10; Mark 16:5; et al.) and nothing is said about their hair or its color. With the exception of the seraphim and cherubim, angels in the Bible are never portrayed with wings. They do not play harps or have halos suspended over their heads. Although angels have the ability to speak, they are not mentioned in the Bible as singing (with the possible exception of Job 38:7). The Bible does not teach that angels are departed saints or that saints will someday become angels. As a matter of fact, Paul says that “we shall judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3). While much of the angels’ work in the Bible is described in a positive manner, they often evoke fear (Numbers 22:31; Matthew 28:2-5; et al.) and administer harsh judgment (2 Kings 19:35; Psalm 78:49; Matthew 13:41-42; Revelation 8:5-13; et al.). One with a biblical perspective on angels does not deny their existence (Acts 23:8) or activity (Hebrews 1:14), or misapply scripture references about them (Matthew 4:5-6), or ascribe to them attributes and functions beyond the scope of God’s revealed word.
Are angels aware of what is happening in our lives?
      Jesus said “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). The lives of the apostles were “a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9). Jesus (in the flesh) was “seen by angels” (1 Timothy 3:16), and concerning Timothy’s conduct, Paul admonished him “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsThe Angel of the LordMichael the ArchangelDemons & Demon Possession

Related articles: Rick Renner's 12 Legions of Angels. Wayne Jackson's What the Bible Says About Angels

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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Lifting Up Holy Hands

     In light of 1 Timothy 2:8, should Christians lift their hands as they worship God? At least three things need to be considered here: what this passage actually says, what it means, and how it applies. Paul wrote to the young evangelist in Ephesus: “Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (NKVJ). Notice first of all that this admonition is addressed to “the men” (tous andras = adult males) in contrast to “the women” (tas gunaikas, v. 9), therefore this was something enjoined on the male Christians who pray rather than everyone in the worship assembly. Furthermore, notice that Paul does not simply refer to lifting up hands, but rather “lifting up holy hands.” This raises the question: is Paul addressing one’s physical posture (i.e. the position of his hands) when he prays or something else? If the focus is on what a man does with his literal hands, in what sense are they to be “holy”?
      The Bible describes a number of different physical positions for prayer: e.g. standing (Mark 11:25), kneeling (Dan. 6:10), sitting (Luke 22:14, 17), lying down (2 Sam. 12:16), prostrate (Matt. 26:39), bowed head (Ex. 4:31), eyes looking upward (John 17:1), facing a wall (2 Kgs. 20:2), lifted hands with bowed head (Neh. 8:6), standing with lifted hands (1 Kgs. 8:22), kneeling with lifted hands (1 Kgs. 8:54), etc. It is evident that there is no prescribed posture for prayer. However, God’s word consistently emphasizes that the condition of a man’s heart and life is essential when he prays. “Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Pet. 3:11-12; cf. 1 John 3:22; 5:11-15; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Isa. 59:1-2; et al.). Therefore the key word in 1 Timothy 2:8, in connection with prayer, is “holy” rather than “hands.”
      Since a person uses his hands for most physical activities, the hands symbolize one’s actions (cf. Gen. 16:12; Job 14:15; 20:10; Matt. 6:3; Mark 9:43). And a person’s actions (good or bad) are directly related to the condition of his heart (Matt. 12:34-35; Mark 7:20-23). Those guilty of sin (as opposed to being “holy”) are metaphorically depicted in the Bible as having dirty “hands” (Isa. 1:15; Ezek. 3:18, 20; Jas. 4:8), and thus the removal of sin from one’s heart/life is symbolized as cleansing the “hands” (Deut. 21:6-9; Job 17:9; Psa. 24:4; 26:6; Jas. 4:8). When Pilate wanted to proclaim his innocence in condemning Jesus, he “washed his hands” (Matt. 27:24). David wrote: “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Psa. 18:20). Obviously there is much more in view here than personal hygiene!
      In the Bible the actual lifting of one’s hands in prayer symbolized that a pure life was being offered to God and thus the prayer should be unhindered. But the same could be accomplished without the literal raising of one’s hands (cf. Matt. 26:39). Whether a person’s hands are lifted or not, dirty or clean, has nothing to do with the acceptability of his prayers.  It is the condition of one’s heart and life that matters to God. Sin (the “dirt” of the soul) causes one’s prayers to be hindered (Isa. 59:1-2; Psa. 66:18), not the condition or position of his physical hands. 
      God directed Isaiah to write: “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil” (1:15-16). It is clear that “lifting hands” is a metonymy for prayer, just like “bowing the knees” (Eph. 3:14) is a metonymy for reverence and humility of heart.  To lift up your hands in prayer is to lift up and present your heart, soul, and life to God (cf. Psa. 63:4; 86:4; Lam. 3:41). If your spiritual “hands” are stained with sin, God will not hearken unto your prayers (Psa. 66:18). But if your spiritual “hands” are cleansed from sin (Psa. 18:20, 24; 24:4), your prayers will be acceptable to God (1 Pet. 3:12). “If you would prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward Him; If iniquity were in your hand, and you put it far away, and would not let wickedness dwell in your tents; Then surely you could lift up your face without spot; Yes, you could be steadfast, and not fear” (Job 11:13-15).
      In 1 Timothy 2:8 the emphasis is not on the position of men’s hands but rather the holy lives of the men who pray (or lead prayers in the assembly). A Christian mechanic with grease-stained hands or a Christian amputee with no hands at all can still lift “holy hands” in prayer as long as his heart and life are set apart in faithful service to the Lord. Regardless of physical posture, when men pray God wants their hearts and lives to be holy (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 1:4). A praying man can raise his hands in the air if he chooses (or kneel or stand, etc.). But if an unrighteous man prays with hands lifted and a righteous man prays with unlifted hands, only the latter is in harmony with Paul’s sentiment in 1 Timothy 2:8.
--Kevin L. Moore

     With respect to those who feel compelled to wave their arms in the air during worship, please consider the following. (1) If the intention is to comply with 1 Timothy 2:8, the point of Paul's directive has been missed, and there is no other passage in the New Testament to which an appeal can be made. (2) The men who pray are singled out in the text, not the women (vv. 9-15) or even the entire assembly. (3) If the practice is borrowed from our charismatic neighbors (many of whom, incidentally, ignore or dismiss or explain away vv. 11-12), the standard of worship is all wrong. (4) If the purpose is to generate a special feeling, or it results in drawing undue attention to the one(s) doing it, the focus of worship is all wrong. (5) If it causes a distraction to others who are trying to worship, or even a potential distraction, how is this practice, which is not legitimately based in scripture, justifiable? On the other hand, if everyone in the assembly is reverently and discreetly lifting hands simply as a customary worship posture (cf. Neh. 8:6) with which all are comfortable and no one stands out (similar to bowing heads or sitting or standing), there is no biblical teaching that would be at variance with it as long as the above five points are taken into account. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Early Restoration Pioneers Outside the United States

     Along with the concerted effort in the 19th century to restore New Testament Christianity in North America, similar movements were underway in other parts of the world. The present study documents some of these works from Scotland to New Zealand, from New Zealand to Australia, and from Australia to Southern Africa.      
From Scotland to New Zealand:
     Thomas Jackson, a product of the restoration movement in Glasgow, Scotland, arrived in New Zealand in November 1843, bringing with him the simple plea for undenominational Christianity. With the help of George Taylor from Yorkshire, a congregation was planted in the South Island city of Nelson in March 1844, becoming the first church of Christ in the Southern Hemisphere. A second congregation was started in Auckland by Jackson and some of his converts the following year. Word eventually spread to the United States, and in 1846 Alexander Campbell devoted two pages in his Millennial Harbinger to the news of the establishment and growth of churches of Christ in New Zealand. 
     By 1885 there was a membership of over 1,200 New Testament Christians among twenty-five congregations. J. W. Shepherd, who would later serve as editor of the Gospel Advocate, preached in Christchurch and Oamaru from 1888 to early 1890 before heading to Australia. Near the turn of the 20th century, human innovations began creeping into the New Zealand churches, including a conference system of church organization, ecumenical philosophies, and instrumental music in worship. Although a small number of disciples resisted these changes, a denominational organization known as the Associated Church of Christ eventually formed.
     Cyril Tucker, having been influenced by the Gospel Advocate, was instrumental in getting staff writer John Allen Hudson from Oklahoma to come to New Zealand in 1936 to teach the Bible for a year. Californian Paul Mathews arrived in 1956, locating a six-member congregation in Nelson, eight members in Auckland, and two in Wellington. Mathews helped establish additional churches in Invercargill (1957), Tauranga (1958), and Dunedin (1959), with the Bill Watts family and more U.S. workers arriving in the following decades. Today there are about two dozen autonomous churches of Christ in New Zealand.
From New Zealand to Australia:
     One of Thomas Jackson’s first converts in New Zealand was Englishman Thomas Magarey, who moved to Australia in 1845 at the age of twenty. By 1848 Magarey had successfully led out of denominationalism a Scotch Baptist assembly in Adelaide, thus establishing the Lord’s church in Australia. The previous year, however, a group of Christians from the New Mills church of Christ in Scotland had immigrated to Australia and settled in the Willunga Maclaren area.
     In the 1860s and 1870s North American missionaries began arriving in Australia, including Henry S. Earl and Tommy J. Gore. J. W. Shepherd worked in Sydney from 1890 to 1892. While the brotherhood in Australia reached as many as 130 congregations consisting of approximately 8,000 members, the introduction of the missionary society and mechanical instruments brought about division in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Only about 100 Christians were left who opposed the innovations, mainly around the Sydney area.   
     Gospel Advocate staff writer John Allen Hudson, having spent the previous year in New Zealand, visited Australia in 1937. In 1948 Charles Tinius was the first full-time evangelist from the United States in Australia since J. W. Shepherd fifty-six years earlier, and Tom Tarbet arrived in 1955. Additional U.S. missionaries contributed to the work in subsequent years, and today there are over eighty-five nondenominational churches of Christ in Australia.
From New Zealand/Australia to Southern Africa:
     John Sherriff, the son of English immigrants, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1864. At the age of twenty-one he moved to Melbourne, Australia to train as a stonemason. It was here that he learned and obeyed the gospel and became active in the work of the church. In 1889 he married Marguerite Wilson, but when their first child died in infancy, Marguerite became mentally unstable and had to be confined to an institution for the rest of her life. In later years, following her death, Sherriff married Emma Dodson, one of his Australian converts. 
     Sherriff decided to leave the South Pacific region to become a self-supporting missionary, arriving in Cape Town, South Africa in February 1896. He organized a church of twelve members in Cape Town, and he settled for a time in Pretoria where he started a congregation there also. He then moved further north into Southern Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe), arriving in Bulawayo in the last hours of 1897.
     In 1898, while working as a stonemason during the day, Sherriff began teaching his African workers at night. Meeting twice a week, he taught them to read English using the Bible as a textbook. Many were baptized and then trained to preach. By 1904 he had baptized two whites, six African women, and sixty-seven African men and boys. 
     Sherriff enthusiastically wrote to friends in Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand about the missionary prospects in the area and gained additional support. It was during this time that the missionary society was growing in prominence, and it appears that some support initially came from the Foreign Missions Committee of New Zealand. Additional workers from New Zealand and Scotland came to help in the work.
     At Forrest Vale (five miles/eight kilometers from Bulawayo) a 412-acre farm was purchased, becoming Sherriff’s permanent home, with his wife, two daughters, and two African girls they raised from childhood. There an agricultural school was begun, where Sherriff trained and sent out African evangelists to other parts of Zimbabwe and to other nations in Central and Southern Africa. In later years Sherriff was instrumental in establishing the work at Livingstone in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and in Blantyre in Nyasaland (now Malawi), and he also helped to start another congregation in Cape Town, South Africa. 
     By 1918 churches of Christ in the United States became involved in this work. Jesse P. Sewell persuaded the church in Sherman, Texas to support Sherriff, with additional support coming later from A. M. Burton of Nashville, Tennessee, allowing brother Sherriff to shift his energies from stone-cutting to full-time ministry. In 1921 Will N. and Nancy Short became the first U.S. missionaries to join the work. John Sherriff died at his home in Forrest Vale in 1935. Today there are over 400 churches of Christ in Zimbabwe.
     From Great Britain to New Zealand to Australia to Southern Africa: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV).
--Kevin L. Moore

Works Consulted:
     Hastings, Marvin W. Saga of a Movement: Story of the Restoration Movement. Manchester, TN: Christian Schoolmaster, 1981: 51-64.
     Jacobs, Lyndsay. “The Movement in New Zealand,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone Campbell-Movement. Eds. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavan, and D. Newell Williams. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004: 563-66.
     Kyle, Rod. “From the Heart of New Zealand,” in The Voice of Truth International 32 (n.d.): 102-110.
     Lyn, Mac, ed., Churches of Christ Around the World. Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2003: 28, 160.
     Major, Trevor. "J.W. Shepherd's Work in New Zealand (1888-1890)," in Gospel Advocate 154:12 (December 2012): 30-31.
     Meredith, Don L. “John Sherriff,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone Campbell-Movement. Eds. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavan, and D. Newell Williams. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004: 684.
     Merrit, Dow. The Dew Breakers. Nashville, TN: World Vision, 1971: 10-23.
     Rutherford, Rod. Practical Principles of World Evangelism. Powell, TN: Rutherford Publications, n.d.: 53-54.

Related articles: David Padfield's Christianity Before Alexander Campbell

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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Hand in Hand with Jesus

      In the Gospel record of Mark, of the numerous encounters Jesus had with certain individuals, there are four which share one thing in common that is not shared with any others. By considering these accounts and comparing their similarities and differences, lessons can be learned that directly apply to our lives today.
      Early in his Galilean ministry, the Lord entered the house where Simon resided with his wife, his wife’s mother, and his brother Andrew (Mark 1:29-30). Seeing that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, Jesus "took her by the hand" and healed her at once (v. 31, NKJV). On another occasion he entered the home of Jairus, whose twelve-year-old daughter had just died (5:35-40). When Christ "took the child by the hand," she arose immediately (vv. 41-42). Then a man inflicted with blindness was brought to him (8:22), and the Lord "took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town," where the man’s sight was restored in two stages (vv. 23-25). Later, Jesus encountered a boy inflicted with a mute spirit that caused uncontrollable seizures (9:17-22). When the unclean spirit was cast out, the boy convulsed and appeared as dead, but Christ "took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose" (v. 27).
      These episodes depict different people in different circumstances in life: both male and female, young and old. The first two involved females (a woman and a girl) and occurred indoors, whereas the other two involved males (a man and a boy) and took place outside. While all four healings were complete, the first two were immediate, while the others were not. Despite these minor differences, the one thing they all share in common is that Jesus deemed it necessary or beneficial to take each person by the hand. As we consider these fortunate souls who found themselves hand in hand with Jesus, what can we learn?
      From Simon’s mother-in-law we learn that Christ provides healing. Now as flesh and blood human beings living in a temporal world, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the curing of bodily illnesses. But the healing-power of Jesus goes well beyond the physical. When faced with criticism for associating with sinful people, the Lord responded: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick . . . . For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:12-13). The primary aim of the Great Physician is to heal the sin-sick soul. It is through God’s Son, and only through him, that the prescription for sin is available (Luke 19:10; Acts 4:12).
      From the daughter of Jairus we learn that Jesus gives life. But again, it is not physical life that is primarily at stake. When Martha’s brother Lazarus had died, the Lord said to her: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Jesus was not contradicting himself but was contrasting physical death with spiritual death, and physical life with spiritual life. It is through Christ alone that the second death is avoidable and eternal life is attainable (Revelation 20:11-15), as well as the abundant life we can enjoy right now (John 10:10).
      From the blind man we learn that Jesus offers guidance. He is "the good shepherd" (John 10:11), and as such "He leads me in the paths of righteousness" (Psalm 23:2-3). When we suffer from spiritual blindness, will we accept or reject the hand of guidance that is offered by Christ? Let’s appreciate that without studying, learning and obeying the scriptures, the outstretched hand of the Lord remains empty (John 8:12, 31-32; 12:48).
      From the epileptic boy we learn that Christ enables us to take control. As fallible human beings living in an imperfect world, we are continually bombarded from every direction by temptation, stressful circumstances, and life’s daily pressures. It is easy for our lives to seem out of control, and while the apostle Paul could certainly relate (Romans 7:8-24; 1 Corinthians 9:27), he found the solution in Jesus. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). As Paul learned to rely on "the power of Christ" rather than himself (2 Corinthians 12:9), he could confidently affirm: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
      Whatever our struggles might be, whether sinful addictions, guilt, anxiety, grief, anger, uncertainty, helplessness or hopelessness, the Lord is reaching out. Why keep trying unsuccessfully to face these challenges alone? Jesus is the one who offers spiritual healing. He provides everlasting life. He gives indisputable guidance. And Jesus is the one who enables our lives to be in control. Why not take the hand of the only one who can actually help? "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
--Kevin L. Moore

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