Circling the Bunkers

Circling the bunkers
A Russian Bunker Source: Flikr.com

Sometime ago, I met a learned man. My aunt in the United States introduced me to him and he gave me an appointment to see him at the faculty.

Aside from being a respected professor in his field, he is also a clergyman in the Anglican Church.

My meeting with him was purely regarding my career, but as we began talking, he started to admonish me on my personal life. He began to tell me stuff about my thoughts and relationship with God which no one – not my relatives or anyone else – could have known except by supernatural means.

I looked on in surprise with my mouth almost ajar as he probed into my life and appealed to the biblical story of David and Goliath and how with God on my side, I will become victorious in life. I knew right there that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me through him.

By the way, that’s not the first time that God would send someone to strengthen me in my time of despair. The first time I experienced that was in 2014 during my Masters at the University of Ibadan.

A Christian professor from another faculty suddenly walked up to where I was seated before the lecture started and told me a certain thing which no one else knew. At that time I was depressed and was about throwing in the towel, but what he said gave me hope and confidence in God.

In the case of this Anglican Venerable, although I treasured his counsel, I didn’t expect that a man in “that” denomination would be a mouth piece for God. You see, my family were baptized and raised in the Anglican Church, but the controversy that occurred when my parents exited the denomination left a degree of cynicism in my mind.

I had little trust in anyone in a position of leadership in that church because I perceived them to be opposed to the move of the Holy Spirit. Later as I reflected on this experience, God spoke to my heart: “You can’t pocket My Holy Spirit!

How true!

All along, I had been putting the Holy Spirit of God in a test tube of sorts. I had concluded that He could only speak to me through certain pastors or ministers that I revered or those from the denomination I approved of. That was a “we alone” mentality, and thank God for demolishing it.

This mentality is what I call “circling the bunkers.” A bunker is a defensive military shelter designed to protect people and valued materials from falling bombs or other attacks.

A bunker is mostly built underground – and metaphorically speaking – it is a fortress of ideas or practices that is specially protected or defended by individuals with an agenda.

Circling the bunkers is a preconditioned thinking in which a believer invests so much in church traditions, denominational positions, theological systems or outward labels as criteria of spiritual legitimacy and is more ready to defend these than the gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

Many believers today have sadly missed out on God’s intervention in their lives because they assumed that He can only speak or supernaturally work through their preferred or “our own” vessels.

But God can and does ministers through vessels who don’t meet up with our self-made conditions.

I want you to understand that God is not limited by denominations, institutions or human vessels. In fact, God can use a weak, despised, uneducated and a very young person to confound the strong, influential, wise and mighty of this earth.

Yet, many people have a problem accepting others on the basis of minor doctrinal differences or finicky rules:

An Arminian is teaching theology? I’m not interested.

He’s a pre-triber? Nope. Bye.

A Christian woman wearing make up and jewelries? She’s a Jezebel!

An evangelist dancing disco, wearing jean trousers, a hand chain and a even a tattoo? Have mercy Lord, he’s a false convert.

You are from that denomination where you speak unknown languages and raise your thighs when praising God? Out.

That pastor doesn’t use the King James bible? Heretic alert.

I remember when I started a Facebook Christian group six years ago, one guy demanded I put a Bible verse on all my articles because as far as he’s concerned, if a Christian doesn’t have a Bible verse for everything he writes, he’s going by “human wisdom.” He’s defending his fundamentalist bunker.

Couple of years ago, a friend tagged a pastor of a popular Nigerian Pentecostal church to my Facebook post, Unmasking the Queen of Heaven, and the man said something like:

“I was following along when he was quoting the Bible to expose this spirit, but you see when he began quoting these historical and religious non-biblical sources, he lost me. I don’t give attention to such write ups.”

Nothing new here. In the cute little world some people live in, the Bible is the only authority that must be appealed to: history must be scorned, logic should be rejected, science despitefully spat on, arts (especially African arts) demonized, theology should be relegated and unless it’s Jewish culture, it should be trampled upon.

This is what I call a “fundamentalist heritage.” It’s a constructed mental box that is obsessed with dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” at the risk of being labelled an apostate. They can take just one sentence you made and turn it back at you with a polemic of 2000 words and quotes from an entire chapter of the Bible.

We must not fall into the delusion that unless a person speaks or writes like our own pastors or reverend or elders, he must be messed up or absolutely false. This is how people miss out on God’s treasures.

I have known people who found the truth of Scripture even while they were still trapped within a religious system of deception and by God’s leading, they eventually found their way out, especially when they realized they couldn’t change the system.

God used a mute donkey to convey His message to a recalcitrant prophet. And there are times He will use poor, broken vessels to reprove, instruct, reveal His will or work in the lives of His people. That’s the sovereignty of God.

In the Bible we have an example of a prophet who discredited God’s revelation because he felt only his “clique” could legitimately speak for Him.

When God permitted a deceiving spirit to lead Ahab to his death, out of 400 prophets, Micaiah had a different message – a genuine insight into the heavenly conference. When he prophesied Ahab’s death at Ramoth Gilead, a respected prophet reacted:

“Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked” (1 Kgs. 22:24)

Such arrogance! Notice, he was not dedicated to God’s truth but a “party line.” Just talk like we do and you belong. This prophet felt he had a patent on the Spirit of God. He thought he had a corner on His revelation.

This is why it is dangerous to follow anyone who tells you he is the only mouth piece of God, or that his ministry is the only one that carries God’s approval.

Elijah nearly fell into this trap when he said, “I am the only one left” – the only one jealous for God. But God made Him realize that He has marked out for protection seven thousand in Israel who have neither kissed Baal nor bowed to him.

I do not have a corner on God’s truth. I am not the only contender. My blog is not the only place where truths are being shared. There are many others who have been labouring before me and will continue when I am no more here. That leaves no room for arrogance.

In Matthew 23, Jesus assessed the situation and rightly called the religious leaders of His day, “blind guides” (vs. 16, 24), “fools and blind” (vs. 17, 19), and “blind Pharisee” (v. 26). They were blind because their hearts were hardened and they idolized their outward piety above their inner spiritual state.

In Romans 11:25, Paul explained Israel’s mistake: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Their hearts were hardened because they were blind to what God is doing. The same can happen to a Christian too – stuck up in a traditional or denominational rot and blind to the move of the Holy Spirit.

The key is to accept others just as Christ has accepted us. He “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4, 6).

It was by His grace – not our works – that we were accepted, so we should extend that same grace to others. We need the ministry of the brothers and sisters outside our bunkers.

Finally, our focus should be on Jesus Christ as the sole standard (Heb. 12:2). It’s self-righteousness when we judge people by their outward labels rather than their devotion to Jesus Christ and His Word. It’s self-righteousness when we compare ourselves to others and judge them on that basis. God has only one standard for righteousness: Jesus Christ.

The Two Aspects of Jesus’ Coming

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In this post, I will be addressing eschatology from the doctrinal context of two stages of Christ’s second coming: rapture of the saints and the return of Christ to earth.

There are three major eschatological positions adhered to by various Christian denominations which determine what details they believe about the second coming of Jesus Christ. These are:

Amillennialism

This is the prevalent eschatology among Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Amish and some Messianic Jews. It posits that there will not be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. They affirm that we are currently in the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20.

Amillennialists do not deny the literal return of Christ, but they believe the kingdom of God is the present church age; Satan is currently bound and there would be no future intervening millennium before the new earth.

To them, the second coming of Christ is a single event, thus it cannot be termed “imminent” (i.e. Christ can come at any moment). [1]

Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism was a dominant theological belief among American Protestants who promoted reform movements in the 19th and 20th century such as abolitionism and reconstructionism.

It may be defined as “that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world would eventually be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the ‘Millennium.’ ” [2]

Premillennialism

This means that Christ will return to establish His earthly reign of one thousand years. There are, however, two distinct forms of premillennialism, one known as “historic” premillennialism (or nondispensational premillennialism), while the other is known as dispensational premillennialism. [3]

It’s in premillennialism that you have pretribulationism. This is the doctrine that the church will escape the great tribulation through the rapture.

Many non-pretribulationists (amillennialists, postmillennialists and posttribulationists) totally reject the idea of the rapture of believers. This point of difference has been a bone of contention between many a Christian.

It has gotten so bad that Christians who are premillennial or pretribulationists are unfairly labelled as vile heretics and often ostracized. I have personally been blocked – not merely removed – from several Christian Facebook groups on this basis. Yet, most of these group admins would readily accept non-Christians as members.

I must also add that I’ve observed this sort of “circle the bunkers” approach to be quite prevalent among American Christians. Most groups managed by Christians from other continents seem to be more tolerable of diverging eschatological details.

But I believe what should be the unifying factor is the belief in the return of Christ. John Feinberg has demonstrated that one must first examine the basic Bible passages about the rapture and the return of Christ and then look at secondary issues in the light of the primary passages. [4]

Distinguishing Carefully

There are certain similarities between the rapture passages and the second coming passages, since they both refer to future events relating to our Lord’s return. But similarity does not mean they are referring to the same event.

There are enough substantial differences between the two aspects of Christ’s coming so as to render them as two separate and distinct events.

The distinction between these two phases of the second coming is substantiated by the contrast between those passages that refer to our Lord’s coming for His church and those referring to His coming to judge the unbelieving world.

Pretribulationists merely need to prove that the dissimilarities between rapture passages and the return passages are significant enough to indicate that they are separate events.

Thomas Ice provided the following list to identify those distinctions.

Rapture Passages:

John 14:1-3, Romans 8:19, 1 Cor. 1:7-8; 15:51-53; 16:22, Phil. 3:20-21, Col. 3:4, 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19, 4:13-18; 5:9, 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28, James 5:7-9, 1 Peter 1:7, 13, 1 John 2:28-3:2, Revelation 3:10.

Second Coming Passages:

Daniel 2:44-45, 7:9-14, 12:1-3, Zech. 14:1-15, Matt. 13:41, 24:15-31, 26:64, Mark 13:14-27; 14:62, Luke 21:25-28; Acts 1:9-11, 3:19-21, 1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 1:6-10, 2:8, 2 Peter 3:1-14, Jude 14-15, Revelation 1:7, 19:11-20:6, 22:.7, 12.

Ice comments that the rapture is characterized in the New Testament as a “translation coming,” in which Christ comes for His church, taking her to His Father’s house. Here He claims her as His bride and the marriage supper of the Lamb begins.

Whatever view one holds in regard to our Lord’s return, one thing is clear in prophetic Scripture. The marriage occurs in heaven (Rev. 19:7-9) before the triumphal return of Christ with His redeemed church at His side (Rev. 19:11-16). [5]

The return of Christ is a series of events fulfilling all end-time prophecies. These include predictions of His coming for His church and His coming with His church.

Pretribulationists divide the return of Christ in two main phases: the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ.

In the first aspect, our Lord comes to take His own (the living and the dead) to be with Him. In the second aspect, He returns with His resurrected and raptured saints to win the battle of Armageddon and to establish His kingdom on earth (Revelation 5:10, “and we shall reign on the earth”).

Pretribulationists place the seven-year tribulation period between the rapture and the return. This allows for the proper fulfillment of Daniel’s “seventieth week,” and it clearly separates the rapture from the return.

It is vital to substantiate the adequate dissimilarities between the events of the rapture and events associated with the return.

1. At the rapture, Christ comes FOR His own (e.g John 14:3) while at His return, He comes WITH his own

2. At rapture, He comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). At His return, He comes to the earth (Zech. 14:4)

3. At rapture, there is removal of believers (1 Thess. 4:17). At His return, Christ is manifested (Mal. 4:2)

4. At the rapture, ONLY His own see Him (1 Thess. 4:13-18). At His return EVERY EYE shall see Him (Rev. 1:7)

5. After rapture, the Great Tribulation begins (2 Thess. 1:6-9). After His return, the Millennial Kingdom begins (Rev. 20:1-7)

6. At the rapture, the saved are delivered from wrath (1 Thess 1:10). At His return, the unsaved experience the wrath of God (Rev. 6:12-17).

7. No signs precede the rapture (1 Thess. 5:1-3) whereas signs precede the second coming (Luke 21:11, 15)

8. The focus of the rapture is on the Lord and church (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The focus of His return is on Israel and the Kingdom (Matt. 24:14)

9. After rapture, the world is deceived (2 Thess. 2:3-12). At His return, Satan is bound (Rev. 20:1-2)

The church’s hope is the rapture. She awaits the Savior who is coming for His bride. The church may endure persecution, trouble, and difficulty in this present time. But she is not the object of divine wrath.

The church does not await destruction as the world does. Rather, she awaits the coming of her Lord and King. Peter explains that the present world is “reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7).

The Bible pictures the church as the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). She is not the object of the wrath of the Lamb. Jesus will not beat her up and then marry her! Or marry her, then beat her up! He may discipline her in love. But His ultimate purpose is to present her to the Father as His perfect bride. [6]

The biblical terms used to express rapture are “caught up” (Greek: harpazō) and “gathered together” (Great: episunagōgēs). Greek scholars observe that harpazō is the same verb used of Paul (“whether it was in the body or out of the body,” 2 Cor. 12:2-4 NOV); Philip (the Spirit… suddenly took Philip away,” Acts 8:39 NIV); and the man child (“snatched up to God”). This term was also used by Christ in John 10:28-29 where He promised that no one can “snatch” His own out of His hand. [7]

Therefore, the rapture is the time when Christ will “snatch” His people out of the earth and we will be “gathered together” with the Lord (2 Thess. 2:1). The basic meaning is to “assemble together.” The rapture church is pictured as the great “assembly” in the sky. As Milligan explains it:

“The word goes back to the saying of the Lord I Mark 13:27 (“gather His elect”), and is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in Hebrews 10:25, where it is applied to the ordinary religious assembling of believers as an anticipation of tge great assembling at the Lord’s coming.” [8]

The rapture (or “translation”) of the church is often paralleled to the “raptures” of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:12). In each case, the individual disappeared or was caught up into heaven. At His ascension, our Lord Himself was “taken up” into heaven (Acts 1:9).

Indeed, there is a rapture and there is the second coming of Christ and a millennial reign of Christ on earth. There’s no justification for spiritualizing Revelation 20 any more than Genesis 1 or John 20.

Notes

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941, pp. 696-703.

[2] Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, Reformed Press, 1966, p. 14.

[3] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, p. 409.

[4] John Feinberg, “Arguing for the Rapture,” in Pre-Trib Answers to Post-Trib Questions (August-September 1994, p. 2.

[5] Thomas Ice, “Why the Rapture and Second Coming are Distinct Events,” in Pre-Trib Answers to Post-Trib Questions, pp. 2-3.

[6] Earth’s Final Hour, Ed Hindson, Evangel Publication, 1999, pp. 112-116.

[7] C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, London: Exeter Press, 1929, p. 144.

[8] George Milligan, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians, NY: Revell, 1908, vol. 2, p. 96.

Human Free Will and the Problem of Evil

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One of the garden variety objections usually thrown out by atheists and skeptics – especially after a tragic event – is: “Why can’t God just instantly fix all the injustices, wickedness and outrages in the world? If God is so good why is this world so messed up?”

Notice, these folks imagine God to be like a wishing well. Just toss a coin in and your dreams come true. This is not how God works and such a narrow concept of God evinces ignorance. God will still fix these evils at the end of the age – in His own time – not ours.

Many of the atrocities, disorder and outrages in the world stem from man’s free will and humans, to an extent, can “fix” some of these problems. The question is, why do we always blame God for what we entirely caused? This blame-shifting mentality is as old as Eden. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, but the serpent had no one to blame.

God cannot instantly “fix” the mess in the world because to do so will override human free will. Now what does free will means? It’s the ability of mankind to make willing choices that have real effects.

It is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded; it’s the power to make decisions. I’ve had some dear Christians say rather brazenly, “There’s no such thing as ‘free will’ in the Bible.” They are either repeating someone’s line or their adherence to a theological system precludes them from seeing it.

The term “free-will” appears several times in the Bible. It occurs as “freewill offerings” (Ex. 36:3; Lev. 7:16; Amos 4:5), “freewill offering to the LORD” (Ezk. 46:12) and offerings from “everyone who is willing” and “each man whose hearts prompts him to give” (Ex. 35:5; 25:2). If the concept is an illusion, it wouldn’t have been alluded to.

The heart is the seat of the will and emotions. Free will is very essential to man’s relationship with God. He calls us to love, obey, serve, worship and to do so by choice. Without free will, it will be impossible for us to love or hate, choose or reject, submit or rebel. For example:

Loving God
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)

Love can only come willingly; you can’t compel someone to love you. God in His love gave us the freedom to serve and love Him with the whole of our hearts. This command is meaningless if we don’t have the power of choice.

Service
Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:24)

David admonished Solomon “acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9)

Choice
Joshua said “then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…” (Jos. 24:15)

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (Jn. 7:17)

But you are not willing to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:40)

If people are not willing to come to God or Christ, then there must be a choice to be willing. In fact, God’s warnings and ultimate judgement are meaningless (if not mockeries) if humans lack a free will.

I have seen this time and again when people trapped in false religions willingly seal their hearts to the truth of the Christian Faith and this prevents them from learning anything. The Bible warns: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 4:7)

Obedience
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land.” (Is. 1:19)

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my heart against their foes!” (Ps. 81:13-14)

Coming to God
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:3)

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Seeking God
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Prov. 8:17)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-7)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

Praying for God’s will on earth

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)

This shows that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will, otherwise there would have been no use for this prayer. To assert that everything that happens is according to God’s will and man has no power to decide logically implies that the rapes, murders, wars and evil in the world today are God’s handiwork. That’s theologically abhorrent.

Rejecting His ways
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2)

I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law” (Jer. 6:19)

But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Ezra said “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (8:22)

Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jer. 17:13b)

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor…” (2 Pet. 2:15).

A major objection raised to the reality of the free will is that God foreknows and wills all things, otherwise we can’t believe, trust and rely on His promises. This was an argument raised by Martin Luther in The Bondage of the Will. But this is faulty on 3 counts:

1. Scripture doesn’t imply that God knows all things beforehand because He has caused it, much less that He must cause it in order to know it. Granted, God knows everything that will happen before it happens. That’s why the Bible is full of prophecies. But foreknowledge is not the same as predestination.

To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. God doesn’t need to predestinate something in order to know it will happen. For example, in Job’s case, God knew he would be would stand the trials, but God wasn’t the author of his troubles.

2. We can believe, trust and rely on God’s promises because He is God and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). He doesn’t have to will all things for Him to make or keep His promises. We can trust Him because He is faithful and sovereign, and He will fulfil His Word regardless of the will or actions of man or nature.

3. It’s unbiblical and fallacious to assert that God’s foreknowledge eliminates human free will. God being Sovereign can effect His eternal purposes unhindered and yet allows man freedom of choice. Both man’s free will and God’s Sovereignty are presented in Scripture (cf. Ps. 75:6-7; Jer 10:23; Rom. 8:28 etc). To deny either is to espouse a heresy.

Many Calvinists and Lutherans will perhaps find this indigestible, but we don’t accept something just because someone influential said it. We need to examine the Bible for ourselves in arriving at truth. Even Augustine of Hippo, whom Calvin and Luther fondly admired wrote:

“Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we … faithfully and sincerely confess both” (The City of God, V. 10. 1977, 35).

Conclusively, the evils we see in the world today are results of people who have rejected God and His Word and have chosen to serve Satan and sin. Therefore, they have no moral anchor, no empathy, no reason, no hope, no direction, no shame, no conscience, no understanding of right and wrong, and most of all, no willingness to even listen to any other view except their own.