Book Reviews

Header Image: Mount of Olives, Jerusalem by Rob Bye (unsplash.com)

As I've been thinking more about the Israel situation, and reading and hearing the responses and debates on my last article, and the issue in general, it seems to me that people can't help but get stuck in the mindset of a geo-political debate. Yes, there's a place called "Israel" in the middle-east, and yes there's a war going on which is terrible for all involved — but from a New Testament Christian perspective, that shouldn't be our focus when it comes to thinking about the true Israel!

Spirit and Truth
This is what it's about!

 

If you want to "support Israel" because you believe they are in the right or have 'just cause', then fine – just don't call it a God-sanctioned war or prophecy fulfillment and claim that others are "anti-Israel/Semitic" and unChristian for not pledging some kind of allegiance to a political situation like you do. Although, while you are out there "supporting Israel", maybe you should get a little perspective on the land mass of Gaza using this nifty little web app I came across earlier today: Gaza Everywhere.

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But I want to take your attention away from a geographical mindset for the moment.

Israel the land isn't the point.

It's not about land anymore!

 

WDJS? (What Did Jesus Say?)

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Let's look at what Jesus had to say about having a special place for worshipping God when a Samaritan woman asked him about where the proper place to meet with God was:

John 4:21,24

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

The woman says to Jesus, 'our ancestors worshipped here, but you Jews say only in Jerusalem – which is right?' Jesus gives an answer which just flips it all up on its head and effectively says "neither and both". Neither, because a time was coming where things were about to change, where physical, geographical Israel was no longer the focus, yet both, because in that new time it would allow believers to worship God wherever they wanted to! A new and spiritual movement was coming and being brought about by Jesus; it was no longer about being in the right place, or performing the correct rituals – it was soon to be all about worshipping in spirit and truth. 

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As John 1:17 says, "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Jesus is that truth we must worship in, and only by the empowering of the new birth can we do that fully and thus worship in Spirit and Truth (John 3:1-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

 

"It's not a religion, it's a relationship..."

I've often heard that said in churches, and I was inclined to agree with it, but recently I think that I want to redefine that a little. While it's true that Christianity should be more than mere religion, and about a real relationship with the living God, I would also now say that it's even more than that.

Christianity is a new race. A new people group — a new creation in Christ.

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The new creation isn't (just?) some far off future event, but was and is a current thing which happens right now! As far as Paul was concerned, once you were in Christ, the old was gone and the new had come already:

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Galatians 6:15

For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!

As Peter also wrote, those who believe in and follow Christ Jesus are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people" (1 Peter 2:9-10), Israel was once the vine and symbolically referred to as such (Ps 80:8-9; Joel 1:7) but we are now grafted into the true vine which is Jesus (Jn 15:1; Rom 11:17).

If the vine represented Israel, and Jesus says he is the "true vine", then Jesus is true Israel and we are grafted in as spiritual Jews (Romans 2:28-29) as a new creation through him, which now has no physical, social or religious boundaries (Galatians 3:28-29)!

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But we can only be in a race or people group by birth naturally, and spiritually it is no different – hence why we must be "born from above" by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-7).

The Kingdom of God is a new creation of a new people group, birthed by God's own Spirit and not by natural means. To be "born again" means the old has to go; it has to die, which is precisely what Jesus and the Apostles taught (Jn 12:24; Luke 9:23-24; Mat 10:38; Gal 5:24; Col 3:1-7; Rom 6:11). We do this through faith in Jesus by putting away earthly things and desires which hinder our walk with God and life in the Spirit until such a time that we physically die and go to new life eternal.

Until then though, we should strive to "regard no one from a human point of view" as Paul wrote, and remember that we are a new people group in Christ.

Our home is God's kingdom; our culture is Heaven's culture; our family is Christ's family, which is why we are all brothers and sisters, adopted into the family of God as children and joint heirs with Christ (Titus 3:6-7; Eph 1:5; Eph 3:5-6; Galatians 3:29; Romans 8:16-17)!

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Our focus needs to be less on where we fit in this world, or where we come from, or what social status we have, and should be more on living out our life in Christ, showing his love to all and welcoming any and all into the Kingdom. Likewise, our focus should be less about where others are from or where they fit into society.

Our Kingdom is a new society, and race of people filled and led by the Spirit to conquer this world and it's corrupt systems with the power of God's love and Spirit within us! The small mustard seed which grows into something large, overshadowing all else.

 

As Christians it is no longer about physical boundaries, race or nation for we are all one in Christ, born again into a new creation — a new race and people of God to worship in spirit and in truth!

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Evidence of the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures

| 08th November 2017 | Trinity

Table of Contents Jewishness and the Trinity 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim Plural Verbs used with Elohim The Name Eloah Plural Pronouns Plural Descriptions of God The Shema II. God Is At Least Two Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities III. God Is Three How Many Persons Are There? The Three Personalities in the Same Passage Conclusion New Testament Light I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.   This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today. Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example). So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible. On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue. I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles. I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me. The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Jewishness and the Trinity In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote: Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.” Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking. He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn. 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus ...

Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

| 30th October 2017 | Halloween

It's that time of year when you begin to see various articles and debates online about Hallowe'en, and whether it's something that Christians should have any part in. To some people the answer is a straightforward “no”, while others say it falls into the realm of Christian freedom and personal discernment. But what about if you're unsure or somewhere in the middle of those two positions, how should you decide what is the right thing to do? We can all see that the modern celebration of Halloween is focused quite heavily on darkness and evil beings. Here in the UK it's not quite so prevalent; it seems more like an excuse for adults to dress up and have a party as much as the kids do (although with more alcohol involved). American society has really taken the holiday to its extremes with some of the decorations I've seen online and on TV and films, to the point that suicide and murder victims left in public view have been mistaken for scary props! Origins of the holiday Has Hallowe'en always been like this though? Let's take a look at its origins to see where this holiday comes from to help us decide whether we should partake or not. Did you know that Hallowe'en actually started out as a Christian holiday (Holy Day)? “Hallowe’en”, or more precisely, All Hallows Eve (from the Old English hallowed meaning “holy”), is an ancient holiday in the Christian calendar to mark the day before All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saints Day is a day to celebrate and remember the martyrs and all those who have died and gave their lives for the Faith. Originally, this yearly festival began in the 7th century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon, a Roman temple to the gods. This then became a church called St. Mary of the Martyrs, and the date of the consecration, May 13th, was to be celebrated annually thereafter as the Feast of the Holy Martyrs. This was then later changed to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD to commemorate the dedication of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to all of the saints. The feast day was then extended and made universal to include all the saints who had died, not just martyrs, since there had become too many to individually commemorate. And thus, All Saints Day was born. This isn't even the earliest time that martyrs were remembered as a formal event, as the practice goes way back to at least 135 AD which we can read about in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In it the believers are said to treat the bones of Polycarp as “more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold”. The next reference comes around 250 AD. In Epistle 36 of Cyprian, he states that the Church should take note of the days in which the martyrs are killed: Finally, also, take note of their days on which they depart, that we may celebrate their commemoration among the memorials of the martyrs … there are celebrated here by us oblations and sacrifices for their commemorations There's also other early references to this practice in sermons by Ephrem the Syrian (373 AD) and John Chrysostom (407 AD), so we can see from the existing historical documents that celebrating the lives of martyrs and “saints” has been long observed within the Church, with the first record being in what is now modern-day Turkey. Aren’t there pagan roots? There is often a lot of references to Hallowe'en being an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in, a Gaelic word meaning “end of the summer”), originating in Ireland over 2000 years ago. The story goes that this was always the time when the Celts celebrated their dead, and as Christianity spread, the Pope “replaced” the pagan festival with a “Christianised” version to try and convert people easier. But there are a few issues with this version of events, and the historical timeline that it’s meant to follow. For starters, if it truly were an ancient Celtic festival, then the historical documents we have from the early Church shoul...

American Gun Violence and the Early Church on War and Violence

| 03rd October 2017 | Early Church

In light of the sad, recent events in the Las Vegas shooting — and similar events in America— I often see Christians across social media jumping to the defence of gun ownership whenever there is even a slight hint at gun control in America. But how has gun culture become so ingrained in American Christianity when we can observe a clear theme and pattern of thought in the first few centuries of the Church, which goes completely against this? Update 7th Nov 2017: It's so sad to have to update this post on the same subject so soon, almost a month to the day. Yet another shooting, this time in Texas where 26 people have been shot dead in a church of all places. But despite this, America tightens its grip on their guns, and Trump says tighter gun laws would have made no difference to the situation. Days earlier though, when a terrorist killed 8 people in NYC by running them down with a truck, President Trump was quick to tweet about implementing "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Yet again, voices are loud for everything else except curbing gun ownership, and the silence from the Church in America is still deafening. You can read more in the link below, but here's a few examples from the early Church with regards to war and violence, and using or owning weapons: “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” — Marcellus ~298 AD “Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” — Tertullian 155-230 AD “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”  — Cyprian ~250 AD “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the pine Providence.”  — Ambrose 338-397 AD I don't have an answer to this cultural problem, and I'm not sure we can ever fully solve the issues of gun violence in the States now; but one thing that I do know is this: the Church in America needs to repent of its idolatry of guns, turn back to God and focus on the love of Christ again, and not on the weapons of destruction. Even if the rest of society clings to their guns, the Church should be the ones clinging to the Prince of Peace instead, and rejecting anything that could cause another harm. You can't love your neighbour or your enemies if you are willing to kill them (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:44-45). Matthew 26:52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. There is no room in the teaching or examples of Jesus, nor in the New Testament epistles, to give those who claim the name of Christ, permission to kill another human being! And before you head to the comments to write it, no, Jesus didn't command that we own weapons — Luke 22:36 is taken entirely out of context if you believe that, along with Exodus 22:2 if your thoughts were taking you there next. As John Piper puts it, "Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.". Which is as Paul also taught in Romans: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" and to "never avenge yourselves" (Rom 12:17, 19) because that is the role of the Lord, not us. Clearly this teaching of non-violence was something that was understood pretty well by the Early Church, as the quotes above point out. We have documented teaching from the first two centuries by those who were taught by the Apostles and who followed in their (and Jesus') instructions, rejecting any and all forms of violence and weapon bearing.  So where did it all go wrong and change?   See more early Church quotes on war and violence here: rogueminister.wordpress.com/.../quotes-the-early-church-on-war-and-violence/ Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.   Further Reading: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-wh...

My Upcoming Book

| 09th August 2017 | My Books

It's been a little quiet from me over here, but not for lack of things to write! I have been busy putting together a book based on the Lenten series I recently did this Easter just gone. It has been reformatted for paperback and soon to follow, eBook/Kindle too, as a daily reading plan not just to be read during Lent but can be read as your own personal reading plan over a forty day period of your choosing. The book will also be released with a companion book which will contain all of the full, original texts from the relevant Church Fathers that are included within the forty day plan. You can read more about it, and follow any updates here on this promo page: 40-days-with-the-fathers.html  ...