Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Which English Bible Translation is the Best? (Part 1)

As a pastor, I am often asked this question, and it is not a fair question. You see it is kind of like asking what is the best car ever built? Well, they all have strengths and weakness, but the all get you where you need to go, hopefully anyway. Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular Bible translations.

1.    The King James Version (KJV) –Sometimes referred to as the authorized version.
     •    Strengths:
          o    Wide use- Familiar- Liturgical use – Bible of English literature
          o    Many supporting tools: concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc.
          o    Wonderful literary quality.
     •    Weakness:
          o    Hard to read – early seventeenth century English,
          o    Lack of access to a seventh-century English dictionary for most people
          o    No paragraphing & Poetry not indicated
     •    Format: Word for Word- Follows Tyndale tradition
     •    Reading Level: 12th Grade

2.     The New International Version (NIV) – Note: The TNIV (Today’s New International Version) was created as a gender-neutral Bible, but created a huge backlash. The backlash caused it to be pulled, but revised in 2011. This address all NIV’s with a published of 1984.
     •    Strengths:
          o    Reads well, 7th-grade reading level
          o    Good supporting tools: concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc…
          o    Good Paragraphing & Shows Poetry well
     •    Weaknesses:
          o    Not consistent in how it translates same word/expressions in similar contexts
          o    A concordance is less valuable.
          o    Not useful for a gospel synopsis
     •    Format: Dynamic Equivalent or thought for thought –started from scratch
     •    Reading Level: 7th Grade

3.    The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
     •    Strengths:
          o    Follows Tyndale/KJV tradition
          o    One of if not the most literal translation of the Greek and Hebrew into English.
          o    Best Bible for careful verse by verse bible study.
     •    Weaknesses
          o    Poor paragraphing
          o    Poetry designation only fair
          o    Awkward reading – not good for a new Christian, children, or block reading from the pulpit.
     •    Format: Word for Word – Follows Tyndale/KJV tradition
     •    Reading Level: 11th Grade

4.    The Revised Standard Version (RSV)
     •    Strengths:
          o    Good paragraphing & Shows poetry well
          o    The best translation for a gospel synopsis
          o    Most accepted translation among Protestants, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish.
     •    Weaknesses:
          o    Still uses some archaic language – “Thee, thou.”
          o    The Isaiah 7:14 controversy
          o    Should be limited to comparative and critical private study by discerning students only, as many of the translation committee were committed to a liberal view of the Scriptures.
     •   Format: Word for Word – Follows Tyndale/KJV Tradition
     •    Reading Level: 12th Grade

5.    The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
     •    Strengths:
            o    Excellent paragraphing & shows poetry well
            o    Removal of archaic language from the RSV
            o    Good ecumenical Bible
     •    Weaknesses:
            o    Uses inclusive language
            o    At times compromises author’s mean for inclusive
            o    Isiah 7:14 controversy
     •    Format: Word for Word follows Tyndale/King James traditions, with the exception where it uses inclusive language.
     •    Reading Level: 12th Grade

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What are New Religious Movements (NRMs)?

Note: Please read my post on “What is a Cult?” to better grasp this post.

New religious movements are cults that formed in the past 150-175 years. They depart from the central teaching and symbols of normative to mainstream Judeo-Christian sources. NRMs often originate during times of high social stress, like in the United States in the 1840’s and 1960’s. NRMs function a form of modern shamanism. A shaman is one who communicates with gods, spirit world by ecstatic means. Here are characteristics of NRMs in American:

1.    The founder had/knows secret “incredible” knowledge.

2.    The leader of the group has a mysterious/mystical experience that often interpreted as possession, a particular encounter, or marvelous travel. Often followers are promised a similar experience if they stay loyal to the leader's teachings.

3.    The desire to be modern and use “scientific” language. Many examples of this can be seen in the church of Scientology.

4.    A reaction against orthodoxy. There is an outright rejection of first tier doctrines. Most commonly the doctrines of the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, or justification by faith alone are rejected.

5.    The blending of concepts from various religions-  the bible founder and group will seek to add and interpreted the Bible through the beliefs and doctrines of other faiths. The blending of different religions happens through new or recovered “revelations” from “god.”

6.    A blurring of the line between man and god. It holds a variation of either man is God or can become God. A quick test for a false religion is that if it exalts man at the expense of God, it is false.

7.    Optimism, success orientation

8.    Emphasis on healing.

9.    Magic- use of non-empirical means for empirical ends. For example using seer stones to gain access to "sacred" texts.

10.    A definite process of entry and imitation, desire to grow.

11.    Often established a sacred center. Towns or places which the group views as essential to the religion, something like what Mecca is to Muslims.

12.    Emphasis on psychic powers – best seen in William Marrion Branham who claimed to have special powers and knowledge.

13.    Tendency to attract isolated individuals, usually not families

14.    Experience through group activity- chanting, meditation, etc…

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is a Cult?

“I’ve been involved in a number of cults both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader.” – Creed, Season 4 “The Office”

A simple definition of the word cult would be any sect of people bound together by devotion to a person, object or ideology. There are two streams of cults the protestant Christian church spinoffs and non-Christian new religious movements. In the church, we tend to think of cults as any sect of individuals united by devotion to any religion considered false, unorthodox, and counterfeit. However, with the continued influx of immigrants, the spiritual landscape of our nation is quickly changing.  Despite many differences, cults have a set of general characteristics in common. Here is a list of the general characteristics of cults. These characteristics have been organized in an acronym to help you remember:

C = conflict with society – they do not follow the cultural norms of their surrounding culture usually an overall reject all together. Examples of this may be a complete withdrawal from surrounding culture into compounds or small communities built for and by the group.
U = unfamiliar – distinct alternative patterns in fundamental areas of religious life. They deviate from Judeo-Christian teachings, symbols, and sources. This changes their theology, practice, and socially.
L = leader - a stong, charismatic leader with a high level of authority, who formulates dogmas, isolating members from others who do not support their beliefs.
T = totalism – complete commitment, the member becomes dependent on the group for psychological, social, religious, and physical needs. Often, strong and seemingly unnecessary boundaries are drawn in the areas of dress, diet, and names.
S = seeks experience- Oriented towards powerful subjective experiences and meeting personal needs. The group believes that they have exclusive rights to a long tradition of wisdom or practice either corrupted or lost in the mainstream.

I plan to post another blog about American new religious movements soon. For now keep praying for those caught up in these traps, 75% of them will leave within a year of joining. Many who leave cults will not trust religion, especially what they term “organized religion.” The church must be prepared to encourage, evangelize, and help them heal. Jesus is the only one who can free us from the bondage of our sin and the sins of others.

"Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." -John 14:6

Monday, November 21, 2016

When Pastors Renounce their Faith, What Should We Do?

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." -Proverbs 14:12

Recently one of our church members sent me an article from the Johnson City Press about a pastor who has “come out” as an atheist. This former pastor’s “news” leaves some in the church confused and sad. Even sadder is the fact that many of God’s leaders in the bible don’t finish well either. Dr. J. Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, has spent the past 15 years conducting extensive research on the lifelong development of Christian leaders. Dr. Clinton found that only 30% of biblical leaders finished well out of the 1000 that he identified. Here are my thoughts on what happened in this man's life. First, we must think biblically:

What does the Bible Say happened here?

1. According to 1 John 2:19, He never actually believed in the first place. John tells us that some will appear to us to be part of the body; however, they never were part of Christ’s body due to silent disbelief in their heart. The disbelief was always there but unseen by the human eye. Our lack of ability to see their unbelief makes their exit from the body so shocking and jarring for us, but not for God. John even goes on to call them anti-Christ, because they are against Christ.

2. According to Psalms 14:1, He has done a foolish thing. King David warns anyone that to claim there is no God is foolish. How could you know for sure? Do you possess all knowledge from all places and from all times? The answer is a painful no.

3. According to 2 Timothy 3:7, He continues to learn but is never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. He claims to have read X number of books and continues to read and learn. Timothy gives a strong warning to any who remains a seeker but never settles on the Word of God for truth. He stood above the Word and judged the Word, and fond it lacking instead of the other way around.

4. According to James 1:5-8, He sought knowledge in all the wrong places. Be careful what council you take. This man did not surround himself with sound brothers during this search (Proverbs 27:17). Instead he turned to unbelievers with his doubts.

What do we do about him now?

1. Pray for his salvation. He is now verbally and publicly an unbeliever. We should pray for him that God will save him. What a testimony that would be for him to give one day!

2. Pray for his family. They have been thrust into the spotlight a bit though this thing, so we should pray for their safety and spiritual health.

3. Love them given the opportunity. I don’t know this man, but some of you who are reading this might. In the Bible, Jesus is tough and tender. He is tough on Pharisees and tender towards sinners. Showing judgment and anger towards him will not prove an effective evangelism strategy. Instead, treat him as you would any unbeliever point them back to Christ with your words and life.

4. Do not let this shake your faith. As I said earlier, many leaders among God’s people have fallen and will continue to fall in various ways. His was disbelief, but others may be moral failures. We are not shaken by such things if we stand on the ROCK and not men (Matthew 7:24-27).

Thursday, November 10, 2016

In 1 Peter 3:19, who are the spirits in prison?

"He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison." -1 Peter 3:19

The “spirits in prison” are mentioned in the context of what Jesus did in time between His death and resurrection. We know four things about the spirits referred to in 1 Peter 3:19. The Spirits are:
    Incorporeal (without a physical body)
    committed sin before the Flood
    were visited by Jesus at the place of their captivity to make an announcement to them.

Who exactly these spirits are has been the subject of some speculation through the years. The verse proclaims Christ’s victory over demonic spirits after his death and resurrection.

First, let’s look at the word spirits. It is a translation of the Greek word pneumasin, a form of the word pneuma, which means “air, breath, wind.” The Greek word for spirits is used in the New Testament almost certainly refers to angels (Hebrews 1:14). “Spirits” (pneumata) in the plural almost without exception in the New Testament refers to angels. While the Bible makes it clear that human beings possess a spirit (Hebrews 4:12), the Bible never refers to people as merely “spirit.” In contrast, God the Holy Spirit, angels, and demons are never said to possess spirits; they are spirits. So the usual meaning of the word spirits in the phrase spirits in prison argues for the spirits’ being something other than human beings.

The spirits in prison cannot be the holy angels because they have not sinned and are not imprisoned. And, if the spirits in prison are not the spirits of deceased human beings, that leaves us with one option—the spirits in prison are demons. Now, it is clear that not all the demons are imprisoned. The New Testament gives many examples of demonic activity on earth. So the spirits in prison must be a select group of demons who, unlike the rest of their demonic allies, are held captive.

What might be a reason for some, but not all, of the demons to be imprisoned? Jude 1:6 gives us an important clue. Some fallen angels committed egregious crimes of some kind causing them to be locked away. Jude 1:6 does not provide details, but the demons’ sin was related to how they “did not keep their position but deserted their proper dwelling.”. Revelation 9:1–12, 14–15, and 2 Peter 2:4 also speak of a group of very wicked angels that are currently bound.

The sin the spirits in prison committed could be referenced in Genesis 6:1–4, which records the “sons of God” mating with the “daughters of men” and producing a race of giants, the Nephilim. If the “sons of God” were fallen angels, then the sin of Genesis 6 involved angels leaving the place where they belonged in the act of disobedience before the Flood—and that corresponds to what the apostle mentions in 1 Peter 3:19. It seems likely that the demons who cohabited with human women were imprisoned by God to prevent them from repeating that sin and to discourage other demons from trying it.