Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Monday, January 29, 2007

ME, You and Church, Part 5. Gaius Chicago cautions the natives

My church-bashing brothers will do well to re-read Hebrews 10:25 and the warning against avoiding church or fellowship as the "day draws near". I'm also not sure the concept of church these days was the same as in the early Christian era. Most churches operate more with secular business principles than on the basis of “thus saith the Lord".

From 1994 to 1995 after I first arrived in the USA, I tried multiple churches with the simple goal of finding a multiracial church in Chicago but realized that Sunday was the most segregated day and the churches were the worst offenders. And so, I gave up searching and settled with an ethnic church with the goal of contributing to making their experience of God better.

As much as I disagreed with some of their traditions and was uncomfortable with some of their peripheral doctrines, I had a very satisfying experience with them. I introduced and wrote Bible Study outlines for them and trained Bible Study leaders and I suddenly felt all the years of training in Scripture Union, Christian Medical Fellowship, Accra Chapel, etc. were bearing fruit. I strongly believe that the approach of concentrating on using our God-given talents, skills, and experience to help some ministry in the church makes it less painful in today's dysfunctional churches.

We may not realize that a lot of us are probably better trained and equipped than some of the people who are forming churches in every inch of space. The alternative is getting so discontented with church that we may miss the true worship of God in fellowship with other believers in such services. My former boss and her husband (wonderful Christians) actually felt churches were wasteful and so they joined a group who only meet in homes with no paid pastors and use their tithes and offerings to support missionaries. I nearly followed their example, given the over bloated budgets of many of our churches. - Gaius Chicago

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ME, You and Church, Part 4. Gaius Columbus goes church hopping

I think the lack of true participation by the laity accounts for some of the lethargy we see in the church. God has distributed His gifts throughout the church, so why are one or two brothers (or sisters) monopolizing the pulpit? This is not the Old Testament when one leader became the sole mouth piece of God. Today, Christ embodies all of the gifts, and in His wisdom has scattered these throughout the church to be manifested and shared for the edification of all.

So while well-intended, today’s predominant model of the church in which one pastor preaches 80% of the sermons and the assistant preaches 15-20% does not seem very scriptural. If we are lucky, we are treated every now and then to a short sermon by one of the other elders or even more refreshingly to a testimony or short exhortation by a lay member. Whenever this happens I am amazed at the untapped talent in the church. I think the church is less effective today and impoverished by the current state of affairs.

I do not endorse a free-for-all model in which anyone can step up to the pulpit and presume to teach the congregation. Yet, the other extreme seems improper to me. Only one person’s vision is trumpeted to the congregation. What we are all asking for, it seems to me, is more variety at the top and more participation by the congregations. This is something that has bugged me for a while. Recently my wife and I decided that if churches are unwilling to provide this, we will have to find a way to meet it ourselves. What we decided to do was to split our time between two churches in our area. Some Sundays we go to one and other Sundays we go to the other. We may increase the number of churches as we see fit. Indeed, we have refused so far to become members of any one of these churches preferring instead to go on circuit from Sunday to Sunday. So far it has worked nicely.

Finally, at risk of sounding like Judas, I have often wondered why many Christian churches are perennially so strapped for money. Often these needs are legit but other times I wonder if it is because of the amount of waste we allow. If churches were akin to companies traded on the stock market (fiscally prudent) rather than like the federal government (which can always increase taxes), wouldn’t there perhaps be greater economies of scale?

For a specific example, consider the matter of space. Each church in a sense has a tax base. Could that base not be expanded without increasing overhead if we were willing to share this space? Think about it: is there any reason why two congregations should not share the same building to cut cost? My wife’s sister belongs to a church that shares facilities with another. Think about the money saved over a model in which each church had its own separate building. There are probably lots of other examples of more fiscally sound management if we would only look.

Instead, the church in one sense acts as a tax-generating body burdening its members with more and more requests for funds and tithes and offerings and special offerings, on and on, often accompanied by a modest sprinkling of guilt-inducing exhortations. I wish there was a better model and perhaps it is time to agitate for one - Gaius Columbus DISSENTUS

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ME, You and Church, Part 3. Calorius weighs in

I get very despondent and discouraged sometimes. So does my wife. It is very hard to find a church that's right. It's not that we are looking for a perfect church. We agree to make sacrifices...we've tried giving up on the music we like, or the demographics we like, or the type of liturgy we like, or the type of sermon or even theology we like so long as, we hope, the core Christianity is there. But we keep getting disappointed there too. Right now the church we go to doesn't really satisfy us, but we are staying because there is no where else to go.

Sometimes I think about starting a church of my own, just like my former classmate did. But what are we looking for?

I learned recently why some people like one type of music and other people a different kind. Someone studied it and came to the conclusion that most people like the music which they first enjoyed when they were about 18-20. So I like Andrae Crouch and Evie Tornquist and the Imperials and also the Commodores, Classic Highlife, Bob Marley, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Jimmy Smith and the Anglican Hymnal. Those songs take me back, and that type of music is, well, music to my ears. And I'm surprised when others don't like it or like something else.

I found this to be very true recently when I visited Gaius in Columbus. He has an extensive music collection, but it has expanded out of music he has always liked, and my own extensive collection has grown out of music I always liked. Could it be that we like church service of a certain kind only because that was the form that we first loved at a certain age? Are we not judging other Christians too harshly just because they don't share our taste in music or form of worship?

When I don't like a certain church and I am yearning for a different experience, how much of that is just because of my own taste has been conditioned by my past experiences? And, should I try to find one that fits me or try to condition myself to enjoy what now exists? My best option is to stay where I am and to influence it to become what I like. I am not starting any new church anywhere. I cannot sing, act, preach or lead. Maybe I could write, but nowadays people don't read much - Calorius

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ME, You and Church, Part 2. Robbo responds

I think that all you have written, AW, can be summarized in this statement towards to the end of your treatise.

"I actually feel that the real church of Christ is operating secretly in our present day churches and you have to look for it to find it and then avail yourself of its resources"

I agree with that. I think the writer of the hymn "The Church's one Foundation expresses a bit of that in some of the verses

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

I just loved the church we were members of when we lived in Connecticut because it was really "racially and ethnically reconciled" with members from suburbia and the inner city and across the economic and social spectrum. The Pastor also had a globalized world view not in the sense of "we need to send missionaries to Africa" but rather I mean to say he was not Americo-centric or jingoistic. Is God now working out his purpose through a nation’s foreign policy? Some Christians here think so and that is why you can have Oliver North and Benjamin Netanyahu doing presentations to churches on Sunday mornings. Personally, I think that kind of activity is misguided.

When we moved, we started attending our local non-denominational church. It is actually walking distance from our home and it is the closest church of any type to where we live. It happens to be a “small” mega church but I have found it to be very sound in vision and outlook. (G Columbus has been to our church before). This year they have decided to start new campuses in other parts of the city with congregations linked by video.

In effect the corporate worship and the service order will be the same and certainly the sermon will be beamed live to the other sites. I am not very comfortable with that. Maybe we are making the best use of modern technology but I would have preferred that we send missionaries to the new site to start a church with some seasoned members accompanying them. They could remain affiliated but they should have their own independent Pastors and they should be allowed to be led directly from the Lord and his Holy Spirit rather than this direct oversight or control from "Headquarters" like some kind of Vatican. I am not even a registered member so I think I should just support the move with prayer.

You know how I run this blog. Some may even say I am the type of guy who reaps where he has not sown. The blog roll on the side bar has only four links for a reason. I run a tight ship. Those links are not there for nothing. There are many other good blogs out there, but I don’t know them. I just do not want any (little) one to follow a link from here and be caused to stumble by what he or she reads. I don’t want any millstone hang around my neck before I am cast into the deep sea.

The Internet Monk who is linked on this blog wrote a post titled How God ruined Church for me on the first day of the year 2007. For that post alone, he will remain on our blogroll until I decide to delete this blog. I read his writing quite often, he considers himself a "post-evangelical".
AW, if you read the article you will see that he raises a lot of excellent points you would identify with and more importantly you will see that he is a far better writer than you.

Calorius also recently mentioned in passing the beauty of a well constructed liturgy like we had in the Aggrey Chapel at Achimota School. (By the way, I think the highest form of liturgy is the Roman Catholic Mass, incense included). Maybe we are all just being nostalgic as we grow older...and AW is just longing for his old role as an apprentice to that Evangelist back in Adenta, near Accra. I heard the same Evangelist received a gift of a white horse from a grateful church member. Not White Horse whiskey, a real white horse, an animal which he kept in the yard of his rented house. - Robbo concurring with AW’s feelings

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ME, You and Church. Part I, The Alien Warrior laments

What is the real role of the church in a Christian’s life? Today when we go to church we don't even sing much anymore. There is a band that gives as an A & B special they have rehearsed for a few weeks and then we sit down to hear a sermon, tithe and go home, all in one to two tidy hours. On one occasion in Acts, the Apostle Paul taught from morning until midnight and Eutychus fell asleep and dropped dead from a third storey window and had to be miraculously revived.

We have even had people come to church to tell us how to vote, how the Supreme Court is messed up, how our kids can't pray in school, how to have a happy marriage and raise holy kids etc. Our church once had a seminar on how to plan a good vacation. Someone came to our church once and tried to equate the US army in Iraq with God's work in that country. I am not complaining. I am just asking questions.

In the last five minutes of a church service, even when the issue is very secular, gears are suddenly switched and a passionate appeal is made for folks to come and be saved and join the church. We usually sing "Just as I am without one plea" and are asked to close our eyes; keep our heads bowed with no movement. A couple of serious looking deacons come up to receive the lost and now found.

I must admit that I am becoming increasingly very disillusioned with church and I have found myself sneaking out quite often- with my wife’s knowledge- to visit other churches on my own to see what is going on there. I am not looking for a new church but just an occasional difference in style of worship and I must confess the Charismatic churches are always more exciting.

Back to my original poser, what is the local church to today’s Christian? Is it (still) a place for us to go, get empowered and go out to serve the Lord? Or is it a place for ME to be ministered to, a play to care of my needs and because I am dissatisfied with the service I am getting I have come here to complain to my brothers. Have we gone too far in catering to the need for a good mental experience in the hope of attracting people to our churches and are we relying less on the work of Holy Spirit?

I have a sneaking suspicion that if the church went back to basics our membership rolls will rapidly plummet as people seek out what they want to hear, just as Paul warned Timothy about the latter times. We love to make little digs here and there at Robbo’s former Roman Catholic connections (I suspect he is still a closet Catholic anyway) but look at all the little infallible popes springing out all over the place. They just call themselves Bishop or Doctor instead.

But this is not about doom and gloom. I actually feel that the real church of Christ is operating secretly in our present day churches and you have to look for it to find it and then avail yourself of its resources. Did Jesus not often warn his disciples to be vigilant and not be found sleeping? I don't see things changing but I think we can help ourselves and our kids by diligently seeking out the true church in every congregation. I have found that in most churches that adhere to the basic principles of the Gospel and to the fundamental doctrines, you will find the real church of Christ operating silently and empowering people for service- Alien Warrior.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Trusting God's Word, Obedience, Temptation etc

Gaius Columbus writes-

In a previous communication (oh excellent Calorius), I stated that I believed that the devil’s strategy in the garden was not to intimidate Adam and Eve or to seduce them with the beauty and taste of the fruit, but to infuse doubt about God’s purposes into their minds. I wanted to confirm that this was indeed true, so I read the account again. I think my statement was close to the mark. What I found most curious and interesting was that the very first recorded temptation had none of the features we now typically associate with temptation. By this, I mean the Devil never really told Adam and Eve that the fruit was beautiful or that it was good for nutrition. All he did was to suggest that God was being unfair to them and cheating them out of knowledge which was their right to have. Having done this, all the other reasons for disobeying God were not supplied by him but actually were provided by man himself (in this case, Eve)!

In doing this, Satan worked like a master judo fighter: he used man’s own strengths—his intellect, his curiosity about God’s creation—to work against him (man), co-opting Eve (and ultimately Adam) to do his (Satan’s) purposes. His cunning rests in the fact that he did all this without expending more energy than was necessary. All that was necessary was the nudge, the catalyst of doubt. After that man’s own minds did the rest of the work!

Genesis 3. 1-6. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

I wonder how often this still applies today. In creating a backsliding heart, does the Devil still get Christians to disagree or become discontent with God’s moral code first—suggesting perhaps that God’s Word no longer applies to them today or is not applicable to their peculiar situation, or has failed them or deprived them? Does he first suggest to such a Christian that he or she knows or can do better than Scripture suggests, or whisper to this potential backslider that God has not treated him/her well, creating as Paul says a root of bitterness from which then flows a gradual slide to a cold heart?

Perhaps, C.S. Lewis describes this in the Screwtape letters—it has been a long time since I read it. I suspect that if Satan can get us to agree with this premise, like he did with Adam and Eve, his work is essentially done. He “has” us where he wants us. For having done this, doesn’t the Christian begin to do all the work? Does he not begin to supply all the other reasonable/rational reasons why continuing to breaking God’s code is actually not such a bad thing?

We see this often enough. The man who continually steals justifies it by saying he intends to use the money to support his family, and believes it; the leader, tyrant or dictator who lies to or oppresses his people and says it is in for national interest and security, and believes it; the unfaithful spouse blames his indiscretions on his or her hapless marriage, and believes it. He or she argues that his or her emotional well being is at stake. All of these reasons: support of family, national interest and emotional well being are desirable things. The problem is that they are supplied as “good” reasons to justify a course of action that has already been embraced and is in opposition to God’s laws. In this state, any Christian becomes quite good at finding justification for acting out desires of a heart that is now bent on breaking God’s law.

So how do protect our hearts? I think the only remedy is to ensure that our devotion to the Father stays strong. We do this by guarding our hearts against all bitterness and false knowledge that exalts human understanding over God’s revealed word. We do it like our Lord did, by rebutting the insinuations of the devil with God’s word. Perhaps this is why the gospels and epistles are so filled with reminders of God’s love for us, His good purposes for our lives, and His interest in our well-being. We will do well to bind these to our hearts. Perhaps these writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew how important a right understanding of God is. For isn’t the converse what idolatry truly is—i.e., any false representation of God, including all false notions of Him? - Gaius Columbus


I am with you here (oh noble Gaius). I believe there is also another way in which adding to God's direction is dangerous.

Notice how Eve claimed God said "...and you must not touch it..." God never said that as far as we know. What He said was, "You must not EAT of it". At first it seems harmless, or even positive, that Eve is adding to God's requirements. What can be better than extra obedience? However, this extra part must have contributed to the feeling that God's law was unreasonable. It also made the whole thing more incredulous. After all, what's wrong with touching the plant? How can that hurt? It's such a beautiful plant. God must have some other reason.

This is why I am so particular about things like the tithing doctrine, because I fear that by adding our own bits to God's requirements we make them burdensome, unreasonable and our minds more prone to temptation. This was one of the problems of the Pharisees, who fasted very frequently and "tithed of mint and dill and cumin" but neglected the weightier matters of the law. There are many Christians who tithe faithfully today but are neglectful of true charity or Christian responsibility.

I think one of our very first protections against temptation is to learn the requirements of God accurately. Not only must we not relax on His expectations, but we must be careful not to add to them. Just my fitty cents - Calorius.


1 Cor 4:6 and 2 John 9 give Biblical evidence for not going beyond the word of God as you two have pointed out. I see two main ways in with Satan corrupts God’s children

-First he goes to the extreme opposite of what God says (e.g. Love vs. hate, mercy vs. merciless, happiness vs. sadness/depression).

-Second he corrupts Godly virtues in our life with satanic imitations, the angel of light phenomenon (love vs. indulgence, mercy vs. leniency, freedom vs. licentiousness, happiness vs. excessive mirth or coarse joking as in the vulgar sitcoms).

Almost any Holy Spirit fruit listed in Galatians 5 can be mapped out in these two ways. However I personally think if God declares something off limits one should not even bother to entertain it for a second. Jesus defined sin to include the thoughts- e.g. adultery is really the thought not the actual physical contact. Thus if God says the fruit is bad then for me I accept it and I won't even look at it. I am not sure if Adam was in the Stone Age in Eden but knowing what I know now, I would have found a machete and hacked the tree down the tree to eliminate any chance of eating its fruit, you know what I mean.

If you also analyze the passage carefully you see that the senses and the mind worked together to lead Eve to sin- 'she saw the tree was a delight to the eyes'; 'it was good for food'; lastly but not the least 'it was desirable to make one wise'.

Here's my point: sin originates from the flesh and the unregenerate mind. This is why Paul’s writings are so full of warnings about renewing your mind (Rom 12:2, I Cor 2) and keeping the flesh subdued. Anything that feeds these two things will invariably result in sin. Why do you think advertising is so successful? How often do you something you didn’t know you wanted or needed and suddenly find very good reasons to get?

God's solution is for us to live off the center of our beings- the Spirit- which in the Christian is to be filled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then begins to exert control by renewing your mind and restoring your will to an active form where you choose what is right and best according to God's will as God reveals it through His word primarily (emphasis on primarily because God can speak through circumstances and other means as long as they fall in line with His Word).

Basically I am saying that man is a spirit, soul and body (1 Thess 5:23, Heb 4:12). God works through the spirit of man (John 4:24) by His Holy Spirit and Satan through the flesh and the unregenerate mind. Thus I will be careful about what I feed to my mind be it in images or other physical attributes because you may be giving ground to Satan to launch an attack on you. I am simply sounding a caution about the statement that "it is ok to look at the fruit". Maybe you don't need to physically chop the tree down but our paths should as as far from it as is possible. - Alien Warrior


Point taken. Actually, I'm not saying it was OK to touch the fruit. What I'm saying is that I think it was wrong to say that God said they should not touch the fruit, if God did not say that. I agree with AW that it is often useful to set additional boundaries for ourselves. Just that we should not claim it is God who said it. – Calorius

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fairness, Grace and God's Sovereignty

I have some further questions/comments on fairness, grace and God’s sovereignty. Is it really true or valid that “all men are created equal”? I wonder. We are not even born with equal opportunities or potential. It is possible though that our souls are of equal value in God's sight- although I can't say I know that for sure from the Bible.

The passage about “different articles of gold and silver, wood and clay” in 2Timothy 2 20:21 seems to suggest otherwise, although the most reassuring part to me is that " If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work “. This suggests or indicates that there is something we can do as Christians to commend ourselves to be better used by God.

As far as the 'we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal' in the US constitution, I think the authors did not mean it literally since slavery was alive and well at the time, and women could not vote, or possibly they were merely articulating the ideals. - Calorius


Very well put, Calorius. As always, I enjoyed your writing which is often sprinkled with wisdom, wit and some very apt metaphors. Incidentally, I believe that if we assume this posture of undeserving servants, we will not only never pity ourselves or be envious of others (worldly wisdom, as James calls it) but instead only rejoice when God bestows blessings on those around.

Follow up question: even though God can do whatever He wants, does He or has He, done so historically? Thanks to you I can’t get the whole “the owner of the some-tin is the chopper and not the hungry man!” thing out of my head!! I can still imagine Super OD saying something like that. So having established what our attitude should be toward God i.e., humble acceptance of His will rather than a sense of entitlement, we ought to be careful not to extrapolate that lesson incorrectly to our relationships with one another. By that I mean, we are instructed to be fair minded in our dealings with one another.

In the OT, it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In the NT, we are admonished to do unto others as we would them do unto us. Love your neighbor as you love yourself....etc. God is not bound by these laws, He created us; we are. Part of accepting His governance in our lives is to promote justice, an extension of fairness on this earth.This has application to other areas of our lives. For example, I used to think when the Bible talked about humility it meant someone who let him/herself be stepped on. Now I think I understand what it really means. A humble person is someone who accepts God’s will in his or her life. This is humility in relationship to God and what He permits in our lives. This is what characterized Moses, David, Paul and ultimately Jesus. They accepted God’s governance and will. They did not think His ways unfair.

Contrast this with Aaron, King Saul, the false apostles, and the Pharisees, all of whom kicked against God’s chosen path. Interestingly, the devil in the garden did not threaten Adam and Eve with violence or coax them with the physical attractiveness or nutritional value of the fruit; he simply injected dissatisfaction with God and a sense of being treated unfairly. Once they bought this false theology, it was an easy path to disobedience after that. To be humble is to accept God’s wisdom and will in our lives. It leads naturally to obedience. To be proud is to reject His wisdom and will for our lives—to believe that the God of the universe is being unfair to us. That attitude leads naturally to dissatisfaction with Him, a blunting of our worship, and ultimately to acts of rebellion— did not the devil follow this exact prescription to his downfall?

I posit that the underlying defect to be found in every backslider and behind every act of a Christian who lives in sin or in any brother or sister who has grown cold toward His Maker is a dissatisfaction/disappointment with God. An unspoken grudge, a feeling that he or she would have done it differently from the God of the universe. It is something we are all to guard our hearts against.One last thing related to this issue of gratitude vs. entitlement. I have realized in my reflections on some of the attitudes of the flesh that some that seem different on the surface but are really mirror images of one another.

One example is self-pity vs. boastfulness, which seem like very different sins on the surface of things. However, if one reflects on these a little more deeply one realizes that they are actually the same exact thing. The boastful man feels better than his neighbor because he has stuff that his neighbor doesn’t. The envious self-pitying man, similarly, is envious only because his neighbor has and he doesn’t. The only difference is in who is identified with the “having” and who isn’t. Reverse their positions—give to the envious what the boastful have—and you will find an automatic reversal of attitudes. The formerly boastful man will now become envious of the once envious and the formerly envious self-pitying man will become boastful toward the now materially deprived. Both are at the core materialistic and this what the Apostle speaks against.

I suspect there are other such examples—vices that for lack of a better name I will call symmetrical vices. Attitudes of the flesh that seem different on the surface but on deeper reflection are the same at the core. Okay enough from me. - Gaius Columbus


Happy New Year, guys! I've read everything with much interest. I have some comments.

Calorius, I think “all men are created equal” and we will all die equal. As has been said and sang about before, no one goes on his final trip to the cemetery with a U-Haul full of green paper and all the accolades attained in a lifetime. It is an essential truth that "naked and from the dust you came and to the dust ye shall return'. In that sense, "all men are created equal"

I'm glad that God doesn't practice our concept of fairness. If He did then the sun and the rain would only be for the righteous and not for the evildoers which includes most of us on earth. It is always easier to see how the other guy is the evildoer.

If God was like man, there'll be limit to forgiveness. We think it fair that our legal system will punish repeat offenders more severely. And so, instead of looking at all the people we think were treated unfairly, and there're many examples in the Bible, lets look at all the examples, ourselves included who have been granted us underserved favors. The greatest favor of all is salvation by the merciful God. The concept of fairness does not arise if we hold to the truths that:

God is sovereign

He knows what He is doing (and we don't)

He looks at the broader picture including eternity (we cannot even see beyond our nose tips)

At our Sunday service last week, our pastor spoke about 35 people accepting by faith the work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the funeral of a 25 year old man killed in a car accident. The mother of this young man had also lost her other son three years prior in a car accident. Someone asked me, “Could God choose the death of this young man to win his friends?” I do not know for sure but it is very possible. One day we will understand. Is this a fair trade off? In our eyes it isn’t, particularly to a grieving mother. If we believe that God knows all things then He is within his rights to permit the death of this young man. In carnal thinking I take it to be big loss but in the long run what matters is eternity and salvation of souls.- Gaius Chicago


Some deep thoughts and as always lot of wit from Calorius. I do need to say that I agree that life is not based on merit. I was talking to one of our class mates today and we reflected on the career paths some of us have taken since leaving college, we quickly realized that some of the most talented guys in our group are very ordinary now and some of the ordinary guys are very exceptional now. I can't explain all this but I think it is a combination of several factors.

One is that we live in a world of sin and therefore are not exempt from the effects of a world system dominated by Satan and sin- the two things are very different incidentally. Thus my race may limit my potential, my looks may land me a dream job etc. Then there is our deliberate choices and our abilities to read situations and take opportunities. Again some people are more adventurous, some are more hardworking, some can read situations better, some have a higher IQ and test better, interview better etc. I grant that there is some inherent unfairness here as some are more gifted than others- but we have discussed this and I will not go into that.

My main point though is where is God in all this? I find my answer in Acts 17:26,27. You see God's purpose in every man's life is first and foremost to reveal Jesus Christ to that person- yes even Saddam. Thus in every situation we find ourselves in God is present and so are Satan's demons and the struggle is for your soul and your life. What we consider as unfair may be God's way of reaching a man. Let me illustrate it with a personal point in my life.

I always felt that moving to America was something that I orchestrated, but I have since come to realize that God allowed it to happen to teach me obedience to Him and to reveal His Son to me in ways that I could not have imagined if I had stayed in Ghana. Rom 8:28 makes it also clear that nothing touches a Christian without Gods permission (even when you get a traffic ticket) and I believe that that even applies to us when we sin and find ourselves in difficult situations. Sometimes God is good enough to even allow us to see His foresight in this life- once in Arkansas I had a minor traffic accident and I can't tell you the number of times that God has since spared my life in the same scenario over and over again.

My little accident years ago made me aware of the situation. At the first instance I was annoyed that something that was not really my fault was blamed on me. Look at it this way, why does God always ask us to love Him? Is there something special about us? No! Our love for Him is what unlocks Rom 8:28 and brings us freedom to be what He has made us to be. Thus what we see as Gods unfairness is really His way of teaching us obedience and delivering us from the power of the flesh and sin. So I may be as hardworking and as industrious as Calorius, but my circumstances may not be the same. I may be afflicted with a certain disease for which I pray like Paul with no effect and like Uncle James may even die "prematurely" but for me the realization that God is the one who knows what is best for me brings in the humility that Gaius Columbus excellently expressed.

I don't see it as unfair but rather as God, the Potter, molding me. The unbeliever may find this to be rubbish. I think the American unbeliever was born here because that is his best chance of knowing Christ but were the people of Darfur born there because that is their best chance of knowing Christ. Is this unfair or not? I don't know. The Darfur thing troubles me as do several other things in this world. I can ask God when we meet Him. Which of us deserves anything that we have, including our very lives anyway? I have a feeling that when we get to heaven all of this will be very, very peripheral. - Alien Warrior

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Monday, January 08, 2007

A fair or unfair world and our Sovereign God

Hey guys, a provocative question for you. In musing about recurrent protestations by my kids about the fairness of this and that matter, I have come to wonder about the whole concept of fairness. Does the bible teach fairness? Indeed does it NOT teach the opposite? Examples of “unfairness” include the following:

God’s choice of Israel over the other nations in the OT

Isaac and Esau. The second born getting the blessing of the first born

The parable of the workers in the vineyard—the guys who came late got the same pay as the guys who worked the entire day.

The parable of the rich man who filled his barns only to die the very next day. In fairness, did he not have the right to enjoy his labor?

The fairness of Joseph being selected over his older brothers,

fairness of Jonathan’s death in battle even though he had been a faithful friend to David

The fairness of we being selected before the beginning of time by grace to be God’s elect

Hell as eternal/infinite punishment for a finite period in life of disobedience

There are probably others. Indeed, can anyone show me a single instance where fairness is explicitly taught? If not, is this idea—particularly one that teaches that God has to adhere to our standards of fairness—simply one more false man-made (or devil inspired) doctrine designed to make us question God’s goodness? Is it not true that by buying into this doctrine many like the pastor we recently spoke about (the one who no longer believes in hell) have ultimately stumbled in their walk with the Lord? Perhaps an insistence on fairness connotes human entitlement, whereas scripture seeks to emphasize God’s grace.Your thoughts? Regards, Gaius having-second-thoughts-about-fairness-as-a-precept


I agree with your comment that very often our view of unfairness is linked to a feeling of entitlement. However, I see some of the examples you gave very differently, for example

God’s choice of Israel over the other nations in the OT

I don't think God chose Israel. I think it's more accurate to view it as He chose Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob and David). The Israelis were just the people who happened to be descendants of the patriarchs. And among them it was only those who kept the covenant who were blessed. The covenant though was with Abraham and his offspring. But among the Jews as with everyone else, bad things happen to some good people and good things happen to some really bad people.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard—the guys who came late got the same pay as the guys who worked the entire day..

They each got what their contract said. I actually think it was a parable of fairness. What we get depends on our relationship to the payer, not to other recipients.

The parable of the rich man who filled his barns only to die the very next day.

He did deserve to enjoy the fruits of his labor. What he did not deserve (and had never earned) was a right to live the next day. Of course I am against abortion but in a certain respect none of us has a right to life, regardless of the antiabortion rhetoric.

The fairness of Joseph being selected over his older brothers,

They were bad people. Very, very bad people. President George Bush can tell you what should happen to bad people or evil doers.

The fairness of Jonathan’s death in battle even though he had been a faithful friend to David

Those who live by the sword usually die by the sword. His time had come.

The fairness of us being selected before the beginning of time by grace to be God’s elect

It's not without our consent.

Hell as eternal/infinite punishment for a finite period in life of disobedience

Try to think of eternal there as "ultimate" rather than as "everlasting". Just as in "eternal" life. It's our normal destination, just that we avert it by accepting grace. It's the grace that is unfairly given (we didn't deserve it).

In short, I agree that there are many examples of unfairness, but if you take the view that we are damned, doomed bastards to begin with, most episodes of perceived unfairness become instances of grace. And who can fault God for that? If ten people are drowning, and you save one but leave the rest, are you guilty of anything? I think not. But if ten were surviving, and you caused even one to drown, you would be doing a bad thing. Of course it's more complex because God could save all ten, but that's where the argument of Him being the potter and we the clay or pot comes in. - Calorius.


I will limit myself to a few points. By the way, Calorius has an excellent matter of fact way of driving his points home which I think is an (unfair) gift that God has given him.

Those who live by the sword usually die by the sword. His time had come.

Did Jonathan really live by the sword? I am glad you said "usually" because a running theme throughout Ecclesiastes which you allude to in your “good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people statement” is the apparent randomness of events when seen from an earthly perspective. God Himself said that He would not let David build His Temple because his hands had been bloodied excessively. Following that logic then David should also have died by the sword instead of his comfortable old age where he even had a young maiden lying by him to comfort him

I was thinking recently about Saddam going down by the hangman's noose and yet a few weeks ago Pinochet (another documented brutal dictator but who remained loyal to “important friends”) lived to the ripe old age of 90 and died of natural causes. Nearer home General Sani Abacha died at 52 and
Nigeria has been partly successful in retrieving part of the millions of dollars he siphoned away into Western banks and yet Mobutu of Zaire died of illness in his old age with the alleged stolen billions sitting nicely in some secret Swiss account. You are right in saying we all don't deserve a single day and I would add that it does not matter how any of us eventually dies. We will all be called to give account and we have but one plea- the blood of the Lamb. This does not mean we should live depressed, fatalistic or cynical lives. On the contrary it should challenge us to make use of the (borrowed) time we have until we go to the Master or He returns.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard - the guys who came late got the same pay as the guys who worked the entire day

Once again, Calorius has the simple but correct application. From the very first time I read this parable as a kid I was struck about how unfair it was that people got paid the same for different work. But recently I have applied that principle in my own life when I felt I was not being fairly compensated for my work. I just have top look at my own contract terms and not compare myself to my colleagues doing the same or a perceived less amount of work. In the past I also felt bad for the five virgins who did not have extra oil for their lamps and for the older brother of the prodigal son. Its Grace, that is all it is. We got what we didn’t deserve, - Robbo- much overwhelmed by God's grace to me.


I guess we all agree. My point was that the human notion of fairness faults God on each one of these points because it is based on a sense of entitlement—what I have, I deserve; what my neighbor has (health, riches, promotion, beauty) should be mine, too. In contrast, the Bible teaches undeserved grace from the Father’s hand. Everything we have is an undeserved gift. This is the lesson of the parable of the workers—undeserved grace.

Still, what we believe determines how each one of us views these stories, reflects how we view God, and mirrors how we process life’s occurrences. In the case of the workers in the vineyard, people who believe in the human notion of fairness would, while accepting the legality of the contract, likely object to the fairness of the contract itself. Today, such people would probably form a political action group to lobby congress to establish laws that mandate contracts that reflect work done—examples might include the “workers against the teachings of Jesus” lobby with a mantra like that “equal pay for equal work”.

In similar vein, people with a “fairness” outlook might feel sad for or bewildered by the parable about the rich man. Some of these might even say he was “robbed” of his retirement. Similar reactions would be expected with Isaac vs. Esau, Joseph and his brothers, hell as eternal (final) damnation for a mere 70 years of disobedience. There appears to be no “fairness” in such a construction. In contrast, anyone who believes, like us, that every good thing comes from above would have no problem with any of these parables/teachings. Why? Because we know we are sinners deserving of punishment; we know we deserve nothing and so are grateful for whatever we are given. We see every blessing as gift to be stewarded to the best of our capability.

In a culture that teaches “fairness”, and entitlement, and equality (not only of effort but also of outcome), it is not always easy to teach our kids these lessons, or as Robbo says to assume a posture ourselves of undeserving servants when life seems “unfair” or unduly harsh compared to that which we observe for those around us. I think this is what our kids struggle with the most—why does he or she get more pocket money, why does he or she get to stay up...etc.

I hear a similar refrain (reflecting fairness/unfairness) from families that lose a child or have a child diagnosed with a serious illness. It is often some variant of “why me?” or “this isn’t fair!” Contrast that attitude with David’s, who says “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be His name”. Those 2 responses belie very different worldviews. Again, I think we all agree. I posted my question, because I could find no instance in the Bible of the world’s view of fairness.

Bottom line is, given the right worldview, gratitude rather than envy/complaint is the only attitude befitting a Christian. It should be our constant guide. Nothing else is right or consistent with the kind of response we as His dearly beloved children should have for the immeasurable riches of His graceand mercy shown toward us. - Gaius Columbus also grateful for and awed by God's goodness.


There is another aspect: as the comedian Super O.D. used to say, "the owner of the something is the chopping"- i.e., the person who owns something is the one who gets to enjoy it- or call the shots. It is God who defines the moral code. He gets to say what is fair or not. I remember the late Uncle James pointed out to me once, that God, who was the one that said "thou shalt not kill" had the right to command Saul to kill in battle. There is a way in which it is true that there are no absolutes except God. It is a part of His Infiniteness, just like His omniscience, omnipotence, or Immortality. And because those attributes are unique to Him, He does not share them. So there are no absolutes besides God. He is Sovereign, and He alone is Sovereign. He is not even obliged to explain anything to us. It is what it is.

There is also a way in which we as humans tend to elevate the law above the lawgiver (in this case the law Maker). We tend to do that because the law is known, written, finite, objective, and easy for us to fathom. The Law Giver is is a more difficult concept and cannot be contained by us. Sometimes we even want to live the law devoid of Him (a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof) like those who want to place carvings of the Ten Commandments in the courtrooms. That's the wrong approach because "the letter [of the law] killeth, but the Spirit giveth life". That is why "mercy triumpheth over judgement". The cedi is not stronger than the Bank of Ghana which issues it. We should not hold the contract as more substantial than the signatory.

Yet another argument is that every law has a target population. As Jesus said, "the [Sabbatical] law was made for man." Somewhere else it talks about how laws are made because of lawbreakers, not the good people. In that sense, the Judaic law and its derivative moral code was laid down for man- and not for God. He is exempt. He is truly above the law, just in the same way that school prefects do not obey the juniors' lights out rule, and police on duty do not obey certain traffic rules. All of the Old Testament laws have a context, a target population and geographical and time boundary. Regarding marriage for example, there are certain moral laws (don't put away your partner without cause) which "Moses gave to your fathers because of the hardness of their hearts" and certain other moral precepts which were "from the beginning...for which reason a man shall leave his mother...” And then there are even higher standards laid down for followers of Christ.

My kids help me understand this. Every once in a while, they will devise some game for us to play, like counting car numbers while we travel. But as we go along, they keep making up new rules that favor them. When I protest, they remind me that they were the ones who created the game, and it is as they say (I think they also lie). I always lose anyway. God, the Potter, who created it all, can change the rules as He likes, and it is what He says. If Ian Fleming says James Bond can hold his breath for 10 minutes and step over alligators and make boats fly, then James Bond can do all of the above.

On another level, my kids often try to get their way with something by claiming fairness, as in "I should get to watch 30 minutes of TV because my sister did..." What I ask them is, "who makes the rules, and who decides what is fair... grown-ups or children?” All said and done, it is good that we are on the side of the One Who makes the rules and calls the shots. - Calorius

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