May 21st

Someone asked me what I thought about May 21st doomsday nonsense. Here’s what I said:

  1. Harold Camping is a heretic and a false prophet.
  2. Jesus is coming back. It can be even earlier than May 21st or even on that date or later than May 21st. No man knows. But one thing is certain. Jesus said he’ll come back again for his church.
  3. The Second Coming of Christ does have “doomsday” mood because its biblical descriptions are dark – e.g., judgment, wrath, etc. And it is no nonsense. But such mood applies only to those who are not ready. But to those who long to see Christ, we live as though today is our last day here on earth and can’t wait to see our Creator and Redeemer. Hence, wishing that Christ comes even before May 21st.

A Growing Concern for Korean Christians and Churches

This article by Jewish Journal is one example of my growing concern for Korean Christians and churches who love family-values, traditions and history, yet fail to see the superiority and sufficiency of the gospel and its implications.

I had the privilege of sitting under the ministry of Dr. Jin Sup Kim (one of the men listed in the article) and served along him as a youth pastor. I grew to appreciate his scholarship, especially, in the area of the OT, but as this article demonstrates sometimes scholarship could get better of you, namely one’s evangelical distinction/conviction.

I believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, which means the Bible is the final authority and is sufficient to address in the areas of family, education, finance, and other areas that Koreans may value. And what makes our evangelical distinction/conviction unique is that everything (including those areas mentioned) flows from properly understanding the gospel and its implications. Sure, one can learn from a Jew or Judaism about how to raise a family. But that does not mean it is gospel-driven or gospel-focused. The argument is no different than say learning from a Buddhist, Muslim, or a Mormon. The fundamental question is, what makes raising a family uniquely a Christian or Christianly? That is the question.

To argue that Christians need to adopt Jewish practices is to blur not only our theological distinctions but our theological practices.

A Common Fallacy Among Christians

One of the common fallacies among Christians that has become a household cliche today is “Christianity is NOT a religion, but a relationship with Jesus Christ.” In fact, this is so popular that there is even a fan page of such statement in Facebook. It has become such a well embraced dogma that to challenge such notion is unthinkable and even consider uncharitable. However, one of the most charitable acts that Christians can display to other Christians is to admonish one another in God’s truth (Romans 15:14). After all, all Scripture is sufficient, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

So, what is problematic about the statement? A discerning Christian would raise a number of issues, namely is it biblical, theological, and historical? First, is it biblical? That is, does Scripture explicitly (or even implicitly) teach such notion? One of the reasons why Christians propagate such cliche is because many are hung-up with the word “religion” as if it is bad or evil. The word simply means belief or worship. Certainly, the word “religion” has some negative connotations due to all aberrant beliefs or religious systems. But one would think that this would be a wonderful gospel opportunity to explain how Christianity is so radically and fundamentally different (and even better or superior) than all other religious beliefs. In fact, in James 1:26-27 the Bible makes the point that there is a difference between worthless religion and pure religion (i.e., the real saving faith of Christianity). Hence, to say that “Christianity is not a religion” is simply not biblical.

Second, is the cliche theological? From the onset of Scripture, God is revealed as the sovereign creator. That clearly implies that all creation is accountable to their maker, especially, the mankind. Hence, there is no mankind who is free from being accountable to God. In other words, everyone has “a relationship” (moreover, a “personal relationship”) with their sovereign creator, regardless whether one believes, blasphemes, or hates God. That means even the demons have “a relationship” with God. In fact, James says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (2:19). Tragically, the difference between the demons and today’s professing Christians is that at least the demons believe and tremble!

That is why to say “Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ” is dangerous oversimplification. To unregenerate minds, they think they are Christians when in fact they are not. This oversimplification assures false converts. This oversimplification aids their continual in sin. It fails to confront their sin. It fails to call for repentance. It fails to demand all their life in obedience. It is simply a watered-down gospel. It is deceptive and dangerous.

Although there is definitely a relational aspect in the gospel, one needs to qualify it by pointing out that Christianity is not about a mere relationship, but “redemptive relationship” between God and saved sinners. That is, though every sinner deserves to die and be separated from God eternally, God chose to redeem some. And the basis of his choice is purely out of his sovereign grace, not because any sinner deserves to be saved.

Lastly, is the cliche historical? That is, did this popular cliche ever affirm in the church throughout her history? This is where knowing church history helps. The simple answer is no. This oversimplified theological notion was foreign in the church until last century with the rise of theological liberalism. One of the paradigm shifts that the church has seen (in both liberal and evangelical churches) is preoccupation of “personal faith,” “personal relationship,” and so on that turned the subject of faith and doctrine into a matter of personal opinion. Hence, one’s responsibility and accountability to a local church has greatly diminished, since the focus has now turned from corporate cohesiveness to a matter of privacy and personal subjectivity. One wonders why churches today have a difficult time finding people who are committed and accountable. To embrace the notion that Christianity is about “having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” encourages the people to be less dependent, accountable, and committed to fulfill the “one another” commands in Scripture. Why would they? After all, it is all about having “a personal relationship with Jesus” that matters.

As pointed out, the popular cliche that “Christianity is NOT a religion, but a relationship with Jesus Christ” is neither biblical, theological, or historical.

An Exegetical Analysis of Titus 1:6 – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Arguments Against View 1

To disagree with men of high caliber is difficult, especially, if they are notable evangelical men who have done so much to the evangelical world. However, everyone admits that no one is infallible. Such is the case with men who are the proponents to View 1 – men like MacArthur, Hiebert, and others. Interestingly both MacArthur and Hiebert emphasize in their commentaries the ability of fathers to lead their children to salvation. For instance, MacArthur in his commentary to Titus writes:

If he (i.e. elders) cannot bring his own children to salvation and to godly living, he will not have the confidence of the church in his ability to lead other unbelievers to salvation or to lead his congregation in godly living. Unbelieving, rebellious, or profligate children will be a serious reproach on his life and ministry (italicized mine).[1]

Hiebert likewise notes in his commentary to Titus, “If they (i.e. children) remained pagans, it would thrown into question the father’s ability to lead others to the faith” (italicized mine).[2] Where in Scripture does it teach that one has the “ability” (father or not) to lead others to salvation except God himself? Although no one dares to question the orthodoxy of MacArthur and Hiebert, it is puzzling nonetheless to read such unorthodox comments.

How is their position square with what Paul later said in Titus 3? Specifically, in verse 5, which the apostle said, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” On this regard both MacArthur and Hiebert attribute salvation to God’s sovereign grace. Hence, it is inconsistent to read of the father’s ability to lead others to salvation and the sovereign grace of God in the same commentaries.

CONCLUSION

Most scholars would agree that having physical children (singular or plural) is not a requirement for elders. For instance, according to Mounce, “This is not a requirement that an overseer have children.”[3] But if one is blessed with children (singular or plural) do children have to be Christians? Is that the meaning of te,kna e;cwn pista,(tekna eckon pista) in Titus 1:6? One would only hope and pray. But the reality is, ultimately, salvation is of the Lord.

I have personally known many families where both parents love the Lord and have tried their best to raise their children in Scripture, yet have their children turn out to be pagans. Their best Christian efforts could not guarantee their children’s salvation. On the other hand, I also have witnessed many families where both parents are godless in many ways, yet have their children turn out to be many theophilus (lover of God). In other words, best Christian parenting does not guarantee their children’s salvation, nor godless parenting keeps children from salvation. All that to say, salvation is God’s sovereign gift, not result of our works (Eph. 2:8-9).

If parents have something to do with their children’s salvation, they have much to boast. But such boasting and notion of salvation are direct antithesis to the true nature of God’s sovereign grace. The whole point of Christian gospel is that salvation is God’s sovereign gift, which is the consistent theme throughout the whole Bible.

  • ·NAU 1 Corinthians 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

[1] John MacArthur, Titus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 31.

[2] Hiebert, 204.

[3] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 388.

An Exegetical Analysis of Titus 1:6 – Part 2

An Exegetical Analysis

The critical issue here is to decide on the meaning of the wordpista,(pista) since it is translated either “believing” or “faithful” in various translations as already pointed out. If one should choose the wordpista,(pista) to mean “believing,” then one would conclude that one of the qualifications for an elder is “he must have Christian children.” On the other hand, if one should choose the word pista,(pista) to mean more neutral sense, namely “faithful,” then one would conclude that an elder’s qualification is not determined by whether his children are Christians or not. Either way, this would have some important implications in the life of a local church.

The word pista,(pista) comes from its root wordpisto,j(pistos). Although many proponents of View 1 do not argue that its root word always refers to that of believers, it does have a reference to believers in some cases. The following are five textual examples that occur throughout the Pastoral Epistles[1]:

  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 4:3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe (pistoi/j from pistos) and know the truth.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 4:10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (pistw/n from pistos).
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe (pistw/n from pistos).
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 5:16 If any woman who is a believer (pisth. from pistos) has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 6:2 ¶ Those who have believers (pistou.j from pistos) as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers (pistoi, from pistos) and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

At the same time its root word is also translated to “faithful” in many cases. The following are ten textual examples that occur throughout the Pastoral Epistles:

  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 1:12 ¶ I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful (pisto,n from pistos), putting me into service.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 1:15 It is a trustworthy (pisto.j from pistos) statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 3:1 ¶ It is a trustworthy (Pisto.j from pistos) statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 3:11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful (pista.j from pistos) in all things.
  • ·NAU 1 Timothy 4:9 It is a trustworthy (pisto.j from pistos) statement deserving full acceptance.
  • ·NAU 2 Timothy 2:2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful (pistoi/j from pistos) men who will be able to teach others also.
  • ·NAU 2 Timothy 2:11 It is a trustworthy (pisto.jfrom pistos) statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
  • ·NAU 2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful (pisto.jfrom pistos), for He cannot deny Himself.
  • ·NAU Titus 1:9 holding fast the faithful (pistou/from pistos) word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
  • ·NAU Titus 3:8 ¶ This is a trustworthy (pisto.jfrom pistos) statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.

And only once in the Pastoral Epistles where the meaning of believing and faithful are used interchangeably.

  • ·NAU 2 Timothy 2:2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Exegetically, the words from the root word pisto.j (pistos) have more neutral renderings (i.e. faithful and trustworthy) throughout the Pastoral Epistles than the specific believing sense. But more importantly, the particular Greek word in Titus 1:6 is not any one of the words that have mentioned above (pistoi/j, pistw/n, pisth., pistou.j, pistoi,, pisto,n, pista.j, or pistou/). Rather, it is pista,, uniquely found only twice in the New Testament – here and Acts 13:34. In regards to the latter text, almost all translations have the more neutral rendering “sure,” which is more close to the meaning “faithful” than “believing.”

George Knight, one of the leading scholars in the Pastoral Epistles, makes the following assessment as he argues for non-salvific meaning than salvific sense:

It is likely, therefore, that te,kna e;cwn pista,here is virtually equivalent to te,kna e;conta evn u`potagh/| (“having/keeping his children under control”) in 1 Tim. 3:4. If that is so, then pista, here means “faithful” in the sense of “submissive” or “obedient,” as a servant or steward is regarded as pisto.j when he carries out the requests of his master.[2]

However, this does not negate a present elder or potential elder candidate to be “off the hook” on his God-given mandate to manage his own household. Although Knight is a proponent to View 2, he offers the following words of strong exhortation:

What must not characterize the children of an elder is immorality and undisciplined rebelliousness, if the children are still at home and under his authority. Paul is not asking any more of the elder and his children than is expected of every Christian father and his children. However, only if a man exercises such proper control over his children may he be an elder.[3]

[Stay tune for Part 3]

[1] I have chosen NAU (New American Standard Updated) as the standard translation.

[2] Knight, 290.

[3] Ibid.

Hermeneutics and Children’s Ministry

Are hermeneutics and curriculum for children’s ministry important? You would think so, right? Unfortunately, that is not the reality in many churches. In fact, this principle does not only pertain to children’s ministry. It also applies to Sunday School curriculum for all levels – including youth and adults.

Churches need to discern, especially, for elders – that just because a big and popular church down the street use it does not qualify that you should use it.

I would highly recommend you read this valuable observation by Dr. John Walton. This is something that many of us have been saying for years.