Personal Responsibility and The Judgment Of God

Personal Responsibility and the Judgement of God

One of the common themes which ties the minor and major prophets together is the threat of the judgment of God against His covenant people because of their sins. Repeatedly God used the prophets to warn the people that their current course of action would lead to divinely allowed calamity. We see in the exilic era of Judah the people began to believe that they had been unjustly punished for the sins of their ancestors. Was this accusation against God correct or did the people miss the point of the judgment they had endured. This leads us to the larger question, what is the correlation between personal responsibility and God’s judgment on his people?

A Proverb about the Judgment of God

During the exilic era and even in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem the people had adopted their own parable to explain what had happened to them. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This proverb is understood to mean “Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers, or the sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children.”[1] Through this understanding the people believed that in their eyes they were innocent and did not deserve the calamity which they had experienced.

This complaint from the people did not escape the ears of God nor the prophets as both Jeremiah and Ezekiel addressed this complaint. First Jeremiah stated in 31:28-30;

28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (ESV)

Here we have the image which “depicts a person’s involuntary reaction to an extremely unpleasant taste. Since experience cannot be transferred, the saying implies that the children’s suffering for their parents’ sin is unnatural.” [2] God is attempting to assure the people that it is their actions which will bring the sourness into their own lives.

Years later in another country Ezekiel also faced the same complaint from the people taken in the earlier exile to Babylon, in 18:1-4 the prophet states;

“The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (ESV)

Ezekiel and Personal Responsibility

The effect of time is evident as “Jeremiah looked forward to the day when this proverb would no longer be used; but Ezekiel insists that it should cease forthwith.”[3] On a theological level “Ezekiel was a pioneer in developing the doctrine of individual responsibility”[4] and tried to demonstrate that the people in exile with him were there because of their own participation in their parent’s sins. The covenant people which had been compared to sheep, children and a wife had come to the theological conclusion that they could act in whatever manner they chose and not face judgment because of the presence of YHWH in the temple and the covenant of Moses.

We see then that the judgment of God fell upon Judah not because of the sins of previous generations but because the present generation continued in the sins of their fathers. While there were reprieves under Josiah and Hezekiah the overall atmosphere of the nation had remained spiritually corrupt. The people did not recognize the grace given to them but continued to act in whatever manner they pleased, for they assumed that God would only bring good things upon them as long as they maintained the rituals. This belief also created the acceptance of the prophets which would do nothing more say pleasing words to the people and assured eternal protection of Jerusalem. It is these same prophets which held influence over the priesthood which would go on to reject and assault Jeremiah.

The Judgment of God on His Stubborn Sheep

Those who witnessed the destruction accomplished by Babylon only did so because they like misguided sheep continued in the rutted path their others set out. Despite warnings from the true prophets they did amend their hearts or ways. “The Lord had expected from his people fidelity (honesty/truth), wisdom and the practice of godliness. Instead, graft, power, cheating, greed and perfidy were the order of the day.”[5] Therefore, the judgment of God was just upon them, as they were not innocent of the crimes of their ancestors because they themselves were also committing them. The people had lost sight of living in a real covenantal relationship with God and settled for the routine religiosity they had adopted. The words of Hosea 6:6 were far from their hearts, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Even with the covenant which they had put their trust in, the people ignored Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” The people also ignored the long line of potential curses in Deuteronomy 28 and the promise of destruction in exchange for covenant unfaithfulness in Deuteronomy 7. Among all of this evidence “here the belief that God had no direct concern with the individual is opposed: the fact that God will restore the innocent descendants of the original exiles affirms the doctrine of individual responsibility for sin.”[6]

Conclusion

Now then what is the correlation between personal responsibility and the judgment of God on his people? It is a correlation that God will not judge a child for the actions of their parents if they do not do as their parents did. Conversely a wicked child would not be spared judgment because of the righteousness of their parents. Each generation is judged upon their own actions, and what we saw with the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem was God’s intervention against a generation which did not repent but made the deplorable actions of their ancestors look like child’s play. Even when God acted in judgment He always did so as a last resort when the people refused to repent and whenever judgment was passed a remnant was preserved and a hope was given to the few that did not share in the sins of the nation.


[1] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 8 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 279–280.

     [2] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Eze 18:2.

[3] John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 148.

[4] Duane A. Garrett, “Ezekiel, Theology Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 231.

[5] William VanGemeren. Interpreting The Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1990), 302

[6] B. M. Pickering, “Jeremiah,” in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha, vol. 1 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), 506.

 
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Who is the Prophet Samuel

Who is the Prophet Samuel

            Throughout the Historical Books we encounter a variety of prophets and other people who act as spokesman for the LORD. All of them rose up in times of need and through the guiding of the Holy Spirit were able to deliver messages and be the conduits of both miracles and nation changing events. Each prophet was important to their specific day and time but there is one of these prophets which has had perhaps the most long reaching effect in Israel’s post-wilderness existence. It is therefore my opinion that Samuel was the most influential prophet during the time of the Historical books.

The World of the Prophet Samuel

            Before we can look at the prophet Samuel, the man, we must first understand the world in which he was operating within. The story of Samuel comes about at the end of the Early Iron Age between 1200BC and 1000BC. “This period was a relatively quiet one, both in Canaan and internationally”[1] as most of the major powers including the Egyptians, Hittites, and Assyrians were in a state of relative decline. This paved the way for the period of Samuel to me marked more by skirmishes between smaller neighbouring states.

            Israel at this time was primarily facing against oppression from the Philistines, who despite a set back caused by Samson had re-established themselves as the primary oppressor of Israel. They extended this oppression into the economic sphere by monopolizing the metal working industry. This included banning Israelites from obtaining weapons and by charging over inflated prices for the sharpening of farm tools. The time period which marked the entry of Samuel’s birth and ministry consisted of military and economic on Israel by the Philistines. This makes Israel’s cry for a king later in Samuel’s life much more understandable.

            Knowing the background of Samuel’s place in history we can now survey the life of the prophet himself. Samuel’s story begins with his barren mother in 1 Samuel chapter one. We find Samuel’s mother Hannah weeping and praying at the tabernacle offering a promise that if she would conceive she would dedicate the child to the LORD and that no razor would touch his head (a form of a modified Nazarite vow[2]). Both Eli and God head her prays and a couple of years later (1120BC) she returns with the young child named Samuel which name means “name of God,” or “His name is El” (El: God of strength and power).[3]

The Calling of the Prophet Samuel

            For about a decade Samuel served at the house of the LORD under the watch of Eli until one fateful night, the night the LORD reached out to him. Samuel heard a voice and thought it to be Eli’s but it wasn’t, then it happened a second time, finally the third time Eli the high priest realized what was happening.

            1 Samuel 3:8-11 “A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ “So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle…” (NIV)

            At the utterance of that now famous phrase “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” Samuel entered into his prophetic calling as the LORD stood before him and spoke about the coming judgment on Eli. As time went on 1 Samuel 3 shows that “19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” In being thus recognized, Samuel was qualifying for his leadership role in serving the nation.”[4]

            This recognition lead Samuel to occupy the roles of prophet, judge and priest in the nation these “three roles are combined in this passage as he leads them in repentance in order to bring about their deliverance.”[5] We see this call to repentance in 1 Samuel 7 following the return of the ark of the Covenant to Israel from Philistine territory. “At the Mizpah national assembly, Samuel ‘judged the people’, calling for repentance and fasting.” [6] As the people were assembled the Philistines came up to fight against this assembly which they interpreted as a rebellion, Samuel acted in the office of judge and priest though the offering of a sacrifice and in the call to battle. With the Philistines pushed back but still causing trouble and peace with the Amorites Samuel took up a regular routine of travelling between Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah and Ramah to perform his roles of prophet, priest and judge. It is also believed that at this time Samuel established the school of the prophets and routinely visited them on his regular circuit.

Samuel Anoints a King

            After many years of Samuel’s oversight of the nation the people called out to Samuel to give them a king so that they could be like all of the other nations around them. After conversing with the LORD twice about the matter Samuel was told to “Listen to them and give them a king.” This event is one of the reasons why Samuel is seen as the most influential prophets in the Historical Books as it was through him that Israel transformed from a theocratic tribal confederacy to a monarchy. Samuel proceeded to tell the people the price they would have to pay and endure because of this demand but they did not relent.

            By their demands they had taken the first step into having a monarchy like those around them. For “the kings of the ancient world enjoyed nearly limitless power and authority, and regularly claimed divine support for their rule. Kingship was believed to have been lowered from heaven and to have its roots in the original creation and organization of the world. The king functioned as vice-regent for the divine ruler, and it was his duty to preserve order and justice in society.”[7] This is what the people wanted and they felt that first Samuel could not deliver that and secondly, they did not want any of Samuel’s sons to assume the role of judge for they were going down the same path as Eli’s sons.

            When we move to 1 Samuel 9-10 we see Samuel in the role of “king maker” through his discovery and anointing of Saul son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. A man literally head and shoulders above the rest who apparently fit the mold of what the people wanted in a king. With the monarchy in place Samuel still remained a prominent figure in Israel and still continued to act as a prophet and a priest. As “with the initiation of kingship, the role of the prophet would now become an advisory one. Rather than leading the people as the recipient of divine messages, the prophet would offer guidance to the king, who would retain the freedom to accept or reject it.

Samuel as an Intercessor

            1 Sam 12:19 also emphasizes the intercessory role of the prophet.”[8] For the next several chapters we encounter several rough encounters between Samuel and Saul. In chapter 13 we see Saul’s impatience get the better of him and he offered the sacrifice in Samuel’s place. Samuel responded to this overstepping of Saul’s authority by proclaiming in 1 Samuel 13:13-14 “13 “You have done a foolish thing you have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (NIV) The stage had now through the prophet had been set for a new dynasty to emerge in Israel.

            Unfortunately, Saul did not learn his lesson about heading the words of the prophet, as we see against further disobedience in 1 Samuel 15. Here Samuel had commanded Saul to strike down the Amalekite for what they did to Moses and the people in the wilderness. Samuel commanded that they were to be totally wiped out people and animals, none were to be spared. Saul won the battle but he allowed the people to keep the best of the animals and left king Agag alive. The LORD being grieved at what had happened spoke through Samuel and told Saul “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

            After hearing that Saul fell down and tore the hem of Samuel’s robe (a symbol of his prophetic office) as he grabbed it in a plea for mercy. Samuel then proclaimed in 1 Samuel 15:28-29 “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” The last part appears to be a rebuke of how Saul changed his mind and allowed the people to keep the best of the spoils. After that judgement, Samuel in what could be called a momentary reactivation of his role as judge[9] killed king Agag before he left.

Samuel’s Search for a New King

            From here Samuel set out in his next mission to find the king of the new dynasty which would be a man after God’s own heart. In 1 Samuel 16 we find the prophet in Bethlehem and his divinely appointed meeting with a man called Jesse who had eight sons. Among those sons was the youngest, a tender-hearted shepherd named David after the LORD had rejected the other sons. “12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’ 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.”

            Going forward Samuel only takes on a minor role in the narrative but it is evident that David remained in contact with him to some degree in the coming years. When David was fleeing Saul, Samuel is one of the people he went to for help, as we see in 1 Samuel 19:18-20. Later in that story Saul himself would come out and begin to prophesy in front of Samuel, in some ways everything had come full circle as upon his anointing Saul also was found among Samuel’s disciples prophesying. This marks the last major event in Samuel’s earthly life as he is not mentioned again until 1 Samuel 25 which speaks of his death and the nations mourning of their loss. This just leaves one final event in the life of Samuel, well not life but afterlife of Samuel. Saul when he was facing the Philistine army desperately wanted to hear from the LORD so he employed the services of a necromancing with in Endor. Through deception he convinced her to summon the prophet Samuel so he could get a message from the LORD. The message he received is recorded in 1 Samuel 28:16-19:

            “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

Conclusion

            The legacy of Samuel and how he fits into the rest of the Historical Books is found primarily in the monarchy which endured until the exile to Babylon. “Samuel has been called the connecting link between theocracy and monarchy”[10] as he closed out the era of judges and brought in a system of government which effected the rest of Israel’s history. Through Samuel we have the reign of Saul and the reign of David. Through the reign of David we have the Davidic covenant and the promise of the coming Messiah. The remainder of the Old Testament is mere ripples of effect which begun with the life and ministry of Samuel. Samuel also created a precedent of the proper relationship between prophets and kings which would mark the rest of the historical books. There is then “no question, however, that he was a major precursor of the great prophets of the eighth century bce.”[11] Samuel became the model prophet for generations to come and also established the school of the prophets which was still in operation in the days of Elisha.

            After exploring the life of Samuel, I remain committed to the concept that Samuel was the most influential prophet during the time of the Historical books. Even the other writers of scripture place this high opinion on Samuel. Jeremiah declares in Jeremiah 15:1 “Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” Even the Psalmist in Psalm 99 elevates Samuel to the level of Moses in verse 6 “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them.”


[1] Howard, David M. An Introduction to he Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago IL; Moody Publishers,   

1993), 169.

[2] Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Historical Books (Abbotsford BC: CeeTeC Publishing, 2000), 97

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1890.

[4] Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Historical Books (Abbotsford BC: CeeTeC Publishing, 2000), 101

[5] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1 Sa 7:6.

[6] Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 37.

[7] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1 Sa 8:6.

[8] Ibid, 1 Sa 12:19.

[9] George W. Ramsey, “Samuel (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 955.

[10] Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Historical Books (Abbotsford BC: CeeTeC Publishing, 2000), 107

[11] Richard R. Losch, All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 370.

 
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How to Understand the Five-Fold Ministry

How to understand the Fivefold Ministry

It seems that one’s personal philosophy of ministry cannot be complete without addressing what has been called the five-fold ministry presented by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:10-16. How one views the need, purpose or even the current existence of these five church roles will determine their overall view of ministry. My personal view is that for a church (or a group of churches) to be able to fully express the ministry of Christ all five types of ministry must be in effect to some degree. So then, how exactly does the five-fold ministry factor into our understanding of a healthy and thriving church or ministry?

The Five-Fold Ministry is Both Unity and Diversity Which Builds the Entire Church.

We must first begin by understanding the overall purpose of the five-fold ministry in the mind of Paul. In Ephesians 4 Paul speaks of these ministries as being given to equip the body and to bring people to spiritual maturity. Paul also speaks about the key concept of unity as these gifts are not to be compartmentalized from each other but are to be active alongside each other. God is not a God of uniformity, just look at the variety found in creation, and in the five-fold ministry we are confronted with a call to unity through diversity.

No single expression of ministry can fully encapsulate all that Jesus is, therefore, we need all five of these offices, along with the other spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 15 to fully express Christ to the world. Because “as we grow up in Christ, we need to receive from every aspect of Jesus. “Those truly called and gifted of God to be five-fold ministers will do the same things Christ Jesus would do for His Saints if He were here in a natural human body.”[1]

What sets these five ministries apart from others such as deacons, elders, or others is that “all five-fold ministries are headship ministries; that is, they are an extension of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. All five are called to govern, guide, gather, ground, and guard God’s people; but each has been given special grace and gifted ability in one of these areas more than the others have.” [2] For example, Paul and Moses both desired that all people would prophesy and hear from God, but that does not make all people prophets. For prophets have a call, platform and responsibility to the larger community of believers, that others to not possess. The same holds true for evangelists, all people are called to preach the gospel according to the Great Commission but not all people will devote their lives to only to witnessing or have a philosophy of ministry exclusively focused on converting people.

The Gift vs. the Office

These are some of the differences between what is known as a gift and what is an office, “a spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the Body.”[3] While an office is an official (staff, volunteer, or lay) position recognized by both God and man. These people are commissioned to train, disciple, and nurture those who have spiritual gifts, so they can be fruitful. Another way to understand the difference between an office and a call according to my philosophy of ministry would be the difference between a carpenter and someone who has a woodworking hobby. Both can work with wood and create various objects but you (and the municipality) would only trust a carpenter to build you a house.

Understanding that these five gifts are not in competition with each other and that all five should be expressed in each congregation to some degree, we must now look at what exactly each of these five ministry offices are. Let us begin with Apostles, this is not just a fancy title given in some modern denominations or a title which died out in the first century, but the term literally means a delegate, ambassador messenger and the original context was “one sent forth with orders.”

The Apostle

Apostles are seen as the ones who go out to create and supervise multiple churches, one way to see and Apostle is as a pastor who shepherds churches rather than a congregation. The main call of this office is to spread the gospel and build the church and people in this office tend to move in more than one of the gifts of the spirit. This is different than an evangelist who tends to only go out and preach, apostles preach to the lost but also create the infrastructure to support the new believers. We see these factors in action through the life of the Apostle Paul (2Tim 1:11, 2 Cor 8:23, 12:12) who would preach the gospel but would also establish churches, leaders and other preachers to continue the work when he was not there.

Some view apostles as being “like fathers and mothers who impart to the Saints and raise them up as sons and daughters in the faith.”[4] While in the more historical and literal sense “apostles were literally commissioned messengers carrying out their sender’s mission; as such, they were backed by the sender’s authority to the extent that they accurately represented that commission; in the New Testament, the term applies to commissioned agents of Christ authorized in a special way (more authoritatively than others) to declare and propagate his will.”[5] In my own view of ministry I see the apostles as those who build the church on a regional level and they serve the larger church buy doing what they can to support the individual local churches.

The Prophet

The second five-fold office is that of the prophet, perhaps the most misunderstood and rejected expression of the heart of Christ among all of the spiritual gifts and offices. While prophets are generally seen are seen as foretellers, they are better understood as being inspired speakers and proclaimers of a divine message. Prophets are the ones who are especially gifted with seeing and hearing the words of God, so they can speak it to the church and in order that they can watch over the people. This is not an invitation to nit-pick sins or to become gossipers but the call to be watchers of the overall spiritual condition of the church or region, and to intervene when necessary.

The prophet is not to work alone because “the prophet was one who not only exercised the gift of prophecy, but who occupied a place of leadership ministry along with the apostles and teachers (Acts 11:27; 13:1–3; 15:32; Eph. 2:20; 3:5).”[6] A mature prophet is one who is grounded and can work with the other offices, while an immature prophet is one who remains all alone and only emerges when they have a “grand word from the Lord.”

In the New Testament we see the examples of the likes of Agabus (Acts 11:27-28) and Silas (Acts 15:32) as being recognized and active prophets. They were set apart as those “who were given, as were the apostles, particular insight into the doctrines of the faith (see Eph. 3:5). They were under the immediate influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which distinguishes them from teachers (see 1 Cor. 12:10).”[7]

The role of the prophet may not be exactly the same under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant but that does not mean the core responsibility has not changed. Prophets are still tasked with expressing God’s will and words in a church, but unlike the Old Covenant prophets are expected and encouraged to work alongside other ministries. Whereas apostles are those who oversee the natural side of churches, nations and communities, prophets are those oversee the spiritual (unseen) aspects of churches, nations and communities, much like their Old Covenant counterparts.

The Evangelist

The third ministry office is that of the evangelist, every believer is called to spread the gospel but there are also those who are specifically called to do so in a greater measure. These are those whose sole purpose in life is to see people come to Jesus, some people do it professionally and others do it casually, but both have the same fire and goal in their hearts. Evangelists are the street preachers, the ones who continually go out and bring new members into a church which is vital because an effective church should have a constant flow of new believers coming in and trained/prepared believers going back out to do the work of the gospel. When either one of these flows stop, the heart of the church becomes stagnant and dies, much like Israel’s Dead Sea.

In scripture the only person we see with the title of an evangelist is Philip (Acts 21:8), the former waiter who brought the gospel to Samaria, “but workers such as Timothy (2 Tm. 4:5), Luke (2 Cor. 8:18), Clement (Phil. 4:3) and Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12) may have functioned as evangelists.”[8] Through Philip we see how the office of an evangelist works with the other ministries. Philip goes into the new territory of Samaria and preaches the gospel, people believe and a congregation forms, then apostles from Jerusalem then come out to further teach and establish the new group of believers.

The same is true today, for the role of an evangelist continues be the bringing in of new believers into the church, and then the evangelists presents them to others for development. Afterwards the teachers can give them the knowledge and wisdom to understand the scriptures, the pastors give them council and accountability, the prophets share exhortation and edification given from God, and finally the apostles prepare them to be released into their own from of ministry.

The Pastor

We now come to a transition point in the list of the five-fold ministry as we come to pastors and teachers. Unlike the other three, “linked together (by the same article in the Gk.) are the pastors and teachers. It is possible that this phrase describes the ministers of the local church, whereas the first three categories are regarded as belonging to the universal church.”[9] Apostles, prophets and evangelists are seen as having a vision of building up the church as a whole, while pastors and teachers typically focus only on building up the local church they are apart of. This does not diminish their role in anyway compared to the other three offices, but it does provide clarity of what they are called to do in the kingdom.

With that we turn to the purpose and office of the pastor, which is the most recognized and accepted office among the five-fold ministry. The office of the pastor has evolved over the centuries yet its literal Greek definition of being an overseer, elder and shepherd, or one who tends herds or flocks not merely one who feeds them, remains true. In the New Testament the word we use as pastor today and the role they played referred then to the elders of the church. These are the ones who supervise local congregations and help the people develop into their fullness in God, in a sense “Pastors are men who serve as undershepherds of the sheep of Christ,” [10]

This sense of oversight and eldership is how Paul and especially Peter (1 Peter 5:1-4) addressed this ministry office in their writings, often using the terms pastor, elder and overseer interchangeably. This is not an isolated office as those under the office of pastor/elder/overseer must still work alongside those of other giftings to bring about the fullest expression of the ministry in the Holy Spirit in their local congregation. But it is in the front lines of ministry in a local congregation that a pastor finds their purpose, for that is there home and their pasture where they live among fellow sheep who are all following the Good Shepherd.

The Teacher

Last but far from least is the ministry office of the teacher are well those who can teach. They are the ones with the gifts and ability to lead others to the fullness of the knowledge of God and to develop people into who God created them to be, through instruction, training and discipleship. Teachers are the ones who dig deeper into searching out God’s word, they have a gift of wisdom and discernment to understand and share the scriptures with others, so then those being taught may learn and show others also. Originally “teachers were expounders of the Scriptures and of the Jesus tradition; if they functioned like Jewish teachers, they probably offered biblical instruction to the congregation and trained others to expound the Scriptures as well.”[11]

Unlike the other five-fold ministry offices and gifts teaching is the gifting in which all the others must be must be both capable and proficient in. Evangelists teach the gospel, pastors teach how to be a Christian, prophets teach what God has shown them and apostles teach a variety of different matters. Yet this office of the teach can be its own ministry in itself while there is overlap between this office and that of a pastor (Titus 1:9, 2Tim 2:23-26) there is the truth that you can be a teacher and not a pastor, they are still unique callings from one another.

How the Five-Fold Ministry Works Together

With all five of these ministry offices understood we can now piece the entire picture of unity through diversity together. If we to compare the church as a whole to a building, the apostles would seen as the walls surrounding the church on each four sides providing boundaries and protection. The prophets would then be the roof providing a covering from the top, providing an upper boundary and a covering for the people. Going deeper the evangelists are like the electricity which keeps the lights and the power in the church running, keeping it out of darkness. Pastors can be seen as the wooden beams which supports the overall structure of the church, and provide strength and just enough flexibility to keep the structure from collapsing. Finally the teachers can be seen as being the doors and windows of the building, they allow light and air into the building but keep the elements (wind, rain) and the bugs out.

This is a picture of what Christ intended for the church to be like in order for it to grow to “full maturity”. A building without a roof or 2×4’s is not a building but a pile of rubble and that is how many churches are operated in our day and age. Jesus has not given us the call to build the church without support he has given to us gifts, “the gifts are the people. All, in their particular ministries, are God’s gift to the church.”[12] The purpose behind Jesus giving these gifts is for the building of the overall church not a single particular church or denomination, they are tools for the expansion of the kingdom and must be done through love and not selfish ambition.

            At its core the five-fold ministry is about unity, maturity and love and when one of these three aspects are broken or removed the entire structure begins to collapse. This was done on purpose by God so that his people would work together and not create islands of isolation but an interconnected kingdom. In my own philosophy of ministry, I am not calling for the abolishment of denominations, but I am rather calling for unity among giftings so that each gift is not hidden behind a different denominational wall. It is the concern that the overall church believes that if it specializes in one area it has no responsibility to have the other area active within its walls. If church A specializes in evangelism and church B specializes in the prophetic it does not excuse either church of rejecting or downplaying the other.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of all of this how exactly does the five-fold ministry factor into my own personal philosophy of ministry? It factors in because I believe highly in the cooperation of the different gifts and offices in the body. That each congregation should have access to all five of these offices and have the opportunity to express them on a regular basis. Just as all people have natural blind spots so do these ministers but when circled together the blind spots can be removed and the church can better reflect the complete image of Christ back into the world.

I have seen this at work in my own life as I understand that I need others of differing gifts and offices around me in order to do the “full work” of ministry and to accomplish the totality of what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in a given situation. The five-fold is not about rank, or power or authority but it is the expression of the variety of gifts and personalities God has gifted to us. The five-fold ministry then is in the expression of servant-leadership, which calls on believers to walk in unity together so the greater purposes of God can be accomplished.


[1] Bill Hamon, The Day of the Saints: Equipping Believers for Their Revolutionary Role in Ministry (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2002), 182.

[2] Bill Hamon, Prophets, Pitfalls, and Principles: God’s Prophetic People Today (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2001), 97.

[3] C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts: Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2012), 33.

[4] Bill Hamon, The Day of the Saints: Equipping Believers for Their Revolutionary Role in Ministry (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2002), 182.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Eph 4:11.

[6] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 350.

[7] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Ephesians), electronic ed., vol. 47 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 120.

[8] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 353.

[9] Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 10, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 126.

[10] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1935.

     [11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Eph 4:11.

[12] Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 10, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 123.

 
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Erasmus The Reluctant Uncle of The Reformation

Erasmus The Reluctant Uncle of The Reformation

When studying the history of the continental Reformation our attention is primarily drawn to the so called “fathers” of the Protestant movement such as Zwingli, Calvin and Luther. However, they should be seen as the benefactors of others who set the stage in Europe for the theological quaking of the sixteenth century. One of those precursors of the Reformation was Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536), commonly known as Erasmus. While relatively unknown in Protestant circles his efforts helped pave the way for the likes of Luther to rise up and critique the established Catholic church. But how exactly did this devout Augustinian monk become what we could call the reluctant uncle of the Reformation?

The Early Years of Erasmus

At the beginning of his life in the Netherlands Erasmus became steeped in the ideas of humanism which were springing up in the latter part of the fifteen century. It was during his early years in Gouda and later Deventer that Erasmus was influenced by famed humanist Alexander Hegius[1] and the Brethren of the Common Life.[2] Following his ordination in 1492 Erasmus began his advanced studies in Paris, Oxford and Turin where he specialized in Biblical Greek. Life was quiet for Erasmus in these early years until he returned to England in 1509 to teach Greek and Divinity, a position which later opened up the door to move to Basle in 1516, one year before Luther posted his 95 Theses.

Despite being a member of the Catholic clergy Erasmus did not fear calling out aspects of the church he disagreed with, despite the danger. Erasmus felt free to call out many questionable practices of his time:

There are monks and theologians who, induced by the savagery of their natures, by stupidity, by the delights of glory or gain, or, indeed, by private animosity, make savage indictments. Not only do their charges consist of trivialities or matters open to debate pro and con, they also perversely misrepresent even perfectly correct statements.”[3]

In true proto-Reformation style Erasmus viewed “most Christians of his age to be more superstitious than pious” [4] and that the monks were “those who, day after day, mumble their way through psalms.”[5]

Live From 1516 it’s Saturday Night

  These observations by Erasmus transformed him into what we would call today a “political satirist.” This willingness to critique “the system” and appeal to the people through sharp tongued humor prepared them for the coming theological storm. In Erasmus’s works Colloquies and the bestselling[6] In Praise of Folly he would blend together satire, Christian doctrine and Greek mythology to illustrate what was wrong with the church and how a Christian should live. Not even some of the reformers would go as far as Erasmus in critiquing the Catholic clergy as being “no better than jackanapes tricked up in gawdy clothes, and asses strutting in lions’ skins.”[7] It can be argued then that from these writings Erasmus challenged how the people viewed the church and instilled in them a the desire for change in that system.

Erasmus the Bible Translator

            Aside from his satirical writings Erasmus was still a scholar who sought to refresh the New Testament to make it more accessible in his generation. He determined to update the Latin text from its archaic form into a more modern style[8] and to produce a parallel Greek version of the New Testament inspired by Byzantine Textual tradition.[9] This work came together in 1516 as Erasmus’s Swiss publisher Johann Froben desired to be the first to market[10] with a new Greek New Testament motivating Erasmus completed the first edition[11] of what would later be called Novum Testamentum in only ten months.

            This translation of the New Testament garnered both praise and criticism as several of his attempts to restore the text conflicted with several Catholic traditions. Erasmus was begrudgingly convinced to “correct” many of his changes in subsequent editions as “preachers warned from the pulpit against a man who dared to alter the Our Father and the Magnificat.”[12] For the first time in centuries long held Latin doctrine was forced to face Greek scripture as the people were witnessing the detours Latin doctrines had taken. For the later Reformers this scriptural restoration by Erasmus along with his quote “but there is… no one who cannot be a theologian.”[13] have contributed to the idea of sola scriptura.

Erasmus and the Reformation

Through his New Testament translations and his Paraphrases Erasmus was recognized as “the most widely influential New Testament scholar of his time.” [14] Later reformers such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale and Theodore Beza would base their own translations on Erasmus’s works. Even the creation of the King James Bible the pinnacle of Reformation biblical translations was based on works derived from Erasmus[15] making him one of the greatest influencers of the Reformation over the centuries.

As the Reformation dragged on people began to equate Erasmus’s critiques of the church and his teachings of humanism with the ideas of the Protestants. This left Erasmus facing the wrath of inquisitors and the censuring of his writings as “the conservative Catholics, on their part, viewed him as treacherous and unfaithful to the status quo.”[16] Erasmus was even driven to appeal to Charles V for support in a letter where he speaks of how “I have roused up against me the whole Lutheran faction, which I wish were not as widespread.”[17] Yet Reformers such as Zwingli, Melanchthon and close friend John a Lasco[18] still respected Erasmus. Even Martin Luther one of his fiercest opponents once commented, “I give you (Erasmus) hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue.”[19]

Erasmus set the stage for the Reformation and unknowingly prepared the people for a change in how the church and clergy operated and in trying to bring people back to a simple approach to the scripture based on logic and piety. These were ideas the early Reformers resonated with and used them in their own challenges against the church. While Luther can be seen as the Father of the Reformation, he could not of had the impact on continental Europe without the shadow of Erasmus hanging overhead. While Erasmus never left the Catholic church his reception by the early Reformers truly made him not a father of the movement but an uncle of it, even if he was reluctant to be counted among their number.

Conclusion

After displaying the life and influence of Erasmus upon the Reformation I can find no better way conclude than with the words of Erasmus himself:

I perceive now, that, for a concluding treat, you expect a formal epilogue, and the summing up of all in a brief recitation; but I will assure you, you are grossly mistaken if you suppose that after such a hodge-podge medley of speech I should be able to recollect anything I have delivered.[20]


     [1] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 560.

     [2] A religious group founded by Geert de Groot in the Netherlands which advocated a life of devotion based on the teachings of Scripture.

     [3] Erasmus, Desiderius, Controversies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 224-225.

     [4] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 149.

     [5] Ibid., 150-150.

     [6] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 312–313.

     [7] Erasmus, Desiderius. In Praise of Folly (Open Road Media, 2016), 15.

     [8] Similar to the issue many 21st century readers have with the King James Version and the need of having it be updated with the NKJV or other modern translations.

     [9] John B. Payne, “Erasmus, Desiderius (c. 1466–1536),” ed. Donald K. McKim, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 413.

     [10] Cornelis Augustijn. Erasmus : His Life, Works, and Influence (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 91.

     [11] Second edition: 1519, Third edition: 1522, Fourth edition: 1527, Fifth edition: 1535.

     [12] Cornelis Augustijn. Erasmus : His Life, Works, and Influence (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 92.

     [13] Robert B. Laurin, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Interpretation,” ed. Ralph G. Turnbull, Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967), 124.

   [14] John B. Payne, “Erasmus, Desiderius (c. 1466–1536),” ed. Donald K. McKim, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 417.

   [15] Erasmus’s work was further developed by Theodore Beza whose translation was used in the KJV, and in the development of the Textus Receptus in 1633.

     [16] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 151.

     [17] Erasmus, Desiderius, and James K. Farge. The Correspondence of Erasmus : Letters 1802-1925 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 301.

     [18] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), 583.

     [19] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 319.

     [20] Erasmus, Desiderius. In Praise of Folly (Open Road Media, 2016), 78.

 
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What is idolatry and does it still exist today?

What is idolatry and does it still exist today?

In our day and age, it appears as if we take the concept of idolatry for granted, it was something done long ago in the age of Pantheons and the height of pagan religion. Or at the very least we see it as a casual annoyance for God as he watched over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Through our modern desensitization to the overall idea of idolatry it is no wonder then why we have lost the theological and moral implications of these actions. In his book We Become What We Worship G.K. Beale has set out to remind contemporary readers of the dangers, consequences and power that idolatry held over the Israelites. Not only that he sets out to demonstrate how even Christians today who claim a better covenant are still susceptible to this corruption of the heart and relationship with God. Therefore, we shall delve into how G.K. Beale understands not only the core of idolatry but how it applied to the Israelites and modern Christians through his core thesis of “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”[1]

What is Idolatry

The Act of Idolatry

            At its core “idolatry is the ultimate expression of unfaithfulness to God and for that reason is the occasion for severe divine punishment.”[2] Therein lies the danger and the allure of idolatry as whatever idol or source is set above God becomes the foundation of a person’s life. In essence idolatry can be expressed as “whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security.”[3] Throughout his book, Beale examines this topic primarily through Isaiah’s appointment, Isaiah’s prophecies in chapters 40-66 and through the episode of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai. These prophecies and events are presented as the backbone of Israelite idol worship which was the attempt by the nation to find security, fulfillment and purpose outside of God.

            These idolatrous actions and attitudes of the heart are not just an absence of devotion in a person or nation but rather the corruption of it since there is no neutrality in this process. The cost of idolatry then is great as:

when we worship something in creation, we become like it, as spiritually lifeless and insensitive to God as a piece of wood, rock or stone. We become spiritually blind, deaf and dumb even though we have physical eyes and ears. If we commit ourselves to something that does not have God’s Spirit, to that degree we will be lacking the Spirit. We will be like ancient Israel.[4]

This insight by Beale forms the backbone of his theology, for as Israel followed their idols to a greater degree the more the people resembled those idols. This transformation did not bring them the life they hoped for but instead left them blind, deaf and dumb spiritually. It left them spiritually deficient which is no wonder why the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah were in the minority for much of Israel’s history.

What is an Idol?

            Understanding the action of idolatry then begs the question of what exactly is an idol and how can this hunk of stone or wood have so much power? At its core, an idol “is anything worshiped in place of the true God,”[5] it is a physical representation of a spiritual force or idea which draws the devotion of a person or nation. In the era of the Old Testament “an idol or image contained a god’s presence, though that presence was not limited to the image.”[6] This can be seen in Israel through the Asherah poles or even the statue within the temple compound during the ministry of Jeremiah. These images ranged from giant statues to small household statues like the one Rachel stole from her family. While these were prohibited in Israel, they were prevalent throughout Israel’s neighbors for they believed that each idol was a connecting point between the gods and the people.

Connection Between Idols and Demons

            Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 32 and 1 Corinthians 10 make it clear that behind many of these idols were fallen spiritual forces who were opposed to God. People believed their idols were tied to real spiritual forces and the testimony of the Scripture was that while they did “exist” they were all beneath YHWH. Beale presents idols in this light as a means to emphasize the severity of idolatry as the people were worshipping fallen creatures rather than the creator.

Various Israelite traditions connect this idea with the worshipping of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, as even Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians is “parallel with the targumic traditions that see the activity of Satan working through the golden calf idol to influence Israel to be spiritually identified with the idol.”[7] Furthermore Paul “interprets sacrifices to idols to be also sacrifices to demons, which necessarily entails ‘becoming a sharer in demons,’ who indwell the idol.”[8] This is a revelation which was true centuries ago and while controversial still applies to modern times as behind many ideologies, contemporary idols and other matters lie spiritual forces who lead people against God and his purposes for humanity.

            By understanding these aspects of idols and the act of idolatry it becomes clear that the heart of this issue is a rejection of God, his rulership and his nature. There is only worship of God or rejection of him in favor of idolatry, there is no grey area in between and this is “why half-heartedness is a template of idolatry. When someone wants to embrace both (cf. 11:19, 21), it invariably leads to whole-scale apostasy.”[9] Jesus warned his followers about being double minded for this very reason, and it is why he used the language of those not understanding his teaching being blind or deaf.

Becoming What You Worship

            Idolatry is the action of endorsing and supporting any spiritual being, ideology, person, tradition, attitude or action which stands in opposition to God. Through this consignment to opposing forces the idolater assumes the heart and nature of whatever they have chosen in place of God, this is Beale’s core idea of “becoming what you worship.” We can see this idea go all the way back to the garden of Eden as “Adam’s allegiance shifted from God to himself and prob-ably also to Satan, since he comes to resemble the serpent’s character in some ways.”[10] Beale describes how this happened through Adam not trusting in God’s words and in Eve’s misquoting those same commands.

            This pattern then repeats itself throughout the history of humanity, but on a theological and historical level it reached a climax at Mt. Sinai. There the people grew impatient with Moses and created a new god, or a new embodiment of God for themselves. Another option is that “a calf or bull was among the most important of the Egyptian animal images that represented Egypt’s gods,” [11] specifically Ptah. God subsequently judged the people for these actions of rejection and Moses destroyed the original commandments, and this is where most people stop with the story. However, Deuteronomy 29:3 states “But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear” (ESV). Through their idolatry and spiritual stubbornness God had allowed Israel to resemble what they truly worshiped, and it left them spiritually blind. “Just as idols had eyes but could not see and ears but could not hear, so Isa. 6:9–10 describes apostate Israelites likewise to indicate figuratively that what they revered they had come to resemble.”[12]

This episode of the golden calf Beale points out is the origin of the language of Israel being “stiff-necked” like a wild young ox, language which repeats itself throughout the Old Testament. “To understand this is also to understand the way idols subverted Israel’s security. YHWH was the sworn protector of Israel. As he had made them, so he would be with them.”[13] Yet despite all of this the Northern Tribes still erected their own golden calves in defiance of Jerusalem and the people continued following these and other gods until the exile. The judgment they faced from the Assyrians and the Babylonians becomes more understandable as God was treating the people as he would treat their idols. Especially when we consider places such as Isaiah 9 where “idolaters are compared to cultic trees and their judgement is suitably depicted as cultic trees being burned.”[14]

How Does Idolatry Warp the Image of God?

We have seen how “all idolatry is human rejection of the Goodness of God and the finality of God’s moral authority,”[15] yet this corruption goes far deeper into the core of humanity. It could be argued that idolatry obscures the image of God within people, as it directs our love and attention away from God our true source and forces us to take in counterfeit life from another. Beale elaborates this point as to how, “Those who are not ‘loving God’ and consequently, not being ‘conformed to the image of God’s Son’ are loving some other earthly object of worship and, consequently, being conformed to that earthly image.”[16]

Humanity’s Nature and Purpose

One of the great tragedies of idolatry is that it goes counter to the purpose of God creating humanity, that is to be an image or a physical representation of God within the Earth. In this twisting of nature the ones who are in the image of God have instead chosen to reject that assignment and worship other creatures. When humans sinned they chose “not to conform their life to God’s image but to the image of the serpent’s sinful and deceptive character.”[17] A decision we continue to live with today as while the image of God is innate in all people it is visible in only a few who are willing to forsake their idols and reclaim their position as imagers of God through Christ. These are those who work towards “the penultimate goal of the Creator was to make creation a liveable place for humans in order that they would achieve the grand aim of glorifying him.”[18]

Idolatry Changes our Source

In the story of the fall “There also seems to be an element of self-worship in that Adam decided that he knew what was better for him than God did, that he wanted to advance himself at all costs, and that he trusted in himself, a created man, instead of in the Creator.”[19] Adam changed the source of his life and ideology in exchange for a forbidden wisdom that he desired so he could be like God. A great lie for Adam since he was already in the image of God, meaning he already was to a degree like God. Therefore, Adam’s source changed from life to death, he exchanged God’s glory for entropy and futility and from this place the meaning and mind of humanity began to drift. We could look at this change as if humanity had altered its operating system or even replaced it, such as replacing Windows with iOS. However, humanity was not compatible with that change of source and operating system so it sought to either find new gods for themselves or to submit to other spiritual forces who were determined to make humans suffer despite promises of health, wealth and joy. No longer did humans look to God for fulfillment but instead turned to other sources for happiness and security. This is the lesson of Adam who “stopped being committed to God and reflecting his image, he revered something else in place of God and resembled his new object of worship. Thus, at the heart of Adam’s sin was idolatry.”[20]

Idolatry in our Contemporary Age

From the lessons of ancient Israel who trusted in idols such as the golden calves, Baal and Asherah more than God we move on to our more “civilized” age where we claim to no longer follow these idols. When in actuality our gods of wood, stone and metal have been replaced by the gods of Self, Money, Ideology and Tradition.

A Culture of Self-Idolatry

The culture of the western world in the past hundred years has been marked by the desire of the individual to rise up above something, anything, in attempt to find meaning and understanding in this world. From this has come consumerism and rationalism which leads people into thinking that their purpose is to take in resources and trust that their finances will grow by 2-5% every year so they can continue the process of consumption. It is a mindset which places us as gods over ourselves as “we know best,” or that we “trust our gut” as the paragon of intuition and guidance.  Leaving people unaware that “the fundamental idolatry described by the Bible lies also at the heart of the varied modern idolatries: the idolatry of the self. The self is set at the center of existence as a god: ultimate significance is found in god-like individual autonomy, self-set goals and boundaries.”[21] Beale highlights this idea in saying, “modern people devote themselves to ‘self’ by taking every expedient in order to insure the welfare of their “self,” ultimately without concern for others or for God.”[22]

We worship the self by indulging in its appetites and through the quest of happiness and fulfillment through the resources of creation. “Consequently, if we try to make ourselves great, then we are actually reflecting our own egos in a greater and greater way.”[23] This is the trap of setting ourselves above God in our own eyes or by rejecting God because he won’t let us have what we want (whether it is a matter of sin or not). When this is done a person might as well bow down to a statue of themselves, or even before a mirror. No matter how hard we try, “Desiring to reflect the idol of ourselves and making ourselves larger can only lead to becoming small, because of judgment.”[24]

A Culture of Financial Idolatry

Beyond the culture of self-idolatry Beale tackles next the issue of financial idolatry which is more than worshipping money in itself but through placing trust, lust and dependency upon the entire system of greed. Beale points out how “The worship of idols likely often involves not only the usurpation of divine prerogatives but self-worship, since people would worship various gods in the ancient world in order to ensure their own physical, economic and spiritual welfare.”[25] This is an issue pointed out in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation as many of the charges against places such as Thyatira concerned their allegiance to trade guilds which participated in pagan practices and idolatry. Even Israel sought security from idols such as Baal the storm god and bringer of rain along with other gods who promised fertility and blessings.

The blunt fact is “greed is idolatry because the greedy contravene God’s exclusive rights to human love, trust and obedience.”[26] It is a religious devotion to acquisition which inevitably forces the worshipper to do so at any cost to themselves but especially to others. This is done in the name of security or “protecting my family” or keeping “investors happy.” These people place “their ultimate security in the excessive trappings of their money, jewels, beautiful clothes, cars, and houses; they place their trust in financial security, which is idolatry, and they literally begin to take on the appearance of the wealth in which they have trusted.”[27] Paul in Colossians 3:5 confirms the idea that greed in itself can be seen as idolatry, not that business or providing for a family is evil, but it is when your life is dictated by those pursuits.

A Culture of Ideological Idolatry

A subject that deserves mentioning but Beale does not touch on is the idea of ideology as being a form of idolatry. Recent examples such as the social justice warrior movement, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, MAGA and a host of other battlelines drawn between liberals and conservatives all invoke a religious and idolatrous connotation. If religious ideology can be a form of idolatry it could be argued that the same can be said about social or political idolatries. Especially in this highly charged and polarized society where in many cases social acceptance is tied to total allegiance to certain ideologies which have become idols in themselves.

In speaking about Proverbs 14:12 Beale comments “The idolaters thought the idols would bring greater life and prosperity, but they would only inherit death and emptiness, which is to become like the spiritually dead and empty idols.” This same sentiment can and should be applied today to various ideologies as people commit to these beliefs out of hope (or fear) that they will bring about health, wealth and security. Often this is “achieved” through the powers of indoctrination, destruction and fear. Therefore, when we trust in ideologies or in “false teaching, which is a false substitute for truth, then we are guilty of idol worship. The church must guard itself from venerating false theology as a substitute for the true.”[28]

A Culture of Christian Idolatry

Perhaps most controversial of all of these modern forms of idolatry is the amalgamation of these idolatries into the operation and expectation of the modern church. One that in the eyes of some is only concerned with growth, finances, collecting people and appealing to people’s base desire for self-fulfillment or uncritiqued worship of self. These matters have been matched by critiques of the church such as “Too many churches of today are market-driven, attempting to meet the need of their consumers’ desires for idolatrous self-fulfillment… Much of the Church today, especially that part of it which is evangelical, is in captivity to this idolatry of the self.”[29] On the surface the church can see itself as the dwelling place of God but at the same time be indistinguishable from its surrounding culture. All the while claiming spiritual superiority given its status as the house of God, a claim made by earlier Israelites which was met with judgment from God.

Even the likes of Eugene Peterson spoke out against this alteration of the heart of the church and how it has strayed from its true devotion:

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1.[30]

In many ways then the church itself has adopted an idolatry of growth, financial security, along with an aversion to tackle ideological idolatries of the day and in enabling the continued idolatry of the “self” by many in the congregation.

Restoring the Image of God

Trying to find restoration or relief without first letting go of idols is a fruitless endeavor because “One’s only hope in being delivered from reflecting the spiritually lifeless images of the world is to be recreated or reformed by God into an image that reflects God’s living image, which results in spiritual life.”[31] Any attempt to do otherwise only ends up in people trading one idol(s) for another which may draw them even deeper into the proverbial darkness. Stanley Grenz points out that “according to Paul, the divine glory is precisely what fallen humanity has failed to attain, for sinful humans have refused to glorify God,”[32] therefore the cure to idolatry should be found in glorifying God and more specifically through worshipping and following Christ.

Beale postulates “that the image of God’s son to which Christians are becoming conformed in Rom. 8 is the antithesis to the worldly “image” that unbelieving humanity had exchanged in place of God’s glory in Rom. 1.”[33] Christ as God and man presents us with a new source of being and gives us a path out of the darkness of idolatry, if we are willing to follow him fully. In many ways this offer of cleansing and redirection is even greater than what transpired in Isaiah 6 when the prophet saw the glory of God and received cleansing in exchange for service. For those in Christ the image of God is able to once again reflect the glory and purpose of God as people have the option to no longer trust in themselves or creation but have access to God and his provision and guidance once again.

All of this boils down to whether or not a person will reject their idols and recognize God as being the only true God and source for humanity. Beale points out that when “we love God, and in the process of loving him, we become what God wants us to become. Loving God, paradoxically, is the best expression of self-love, for in loving God we are truly happy.”[34]

Conclusion

Through Beale’s book We Become What We Worship and many of his other works he presents the idea that what people worship they will become. This includes becoming spiritually blind, deaf and dumb as their physical idols and being labeled for judgment for rejecting God as God. This applied not only to Israel in the past but continues today as people worship the idols of self, finances (greed), ideology and even church practices. However, there is a remedy for this corruption of the heart which leads to idolatry. Though Christ people are able to receive cleansing and forgiveness by which they are able to recognize God as God with a clear mind. This then presents a choice to people of, what do they want to become? They in turn answer this by determining what they will place their trust in as they seek for security, blessing and peace. Beale leaves us with the sobering challenge of “whatever work Christians do, they should pray, ‘Lord, cause me to take pleasure in your glory and not in mine.’”[35]


[1] G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 16.

[2] Brian S. Rosner, “The Concept of Idolatry,” Themelios 24, no. 3 (1999): 21.

[3][3] A. Motyer, “Idolatry,” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Leicester U.K.: Inter Varsity Press, 1980), 2:680.

[4] Beale, Worship, 307.

[5] Beale, Worship, 166.

[6] Beale, Worship, 17.

[7] Beale, Worship, 155.

[8] Beale, Worship, 154.

[9] John N. Day, “Ezekiel and the Heart of Idolatry,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 28.

[10] Beale, Worship, 133.

[11] “Calf” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Peter W. van der Horst (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1999), p. 181

[12] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 239.

[13] Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. 81.

[14] G. K. Beale, “Isaiah VI 9-13: A Retributive Taunt against Idolatry.” Vetus Testamentum 41, no. 3 (1991): 278.

[15] C. J. H. Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 164.

[16] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 376.

[17] G. K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom, ed. Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 54.

[18] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 82.

[19] Beale, Worship, 134.

[20] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 358.

[21] Iain Provan, “To Highlight All Our Idols: Worshipping God in Nietzsche’s World,” Ex Auditu 15 (1999): 33.

[22] Beale, Worship, 138.

[23] Beale, Worship, 297.

[24] Beale, Worship, 140.

[25] Beale, Worship, 138.

[26] B. S. Rosner, “Idolatry,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 575.

[27] G. K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom, ed. Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 65.

[28] Beale, Worship, 285.

[29] David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 202-3.

[30] Eugene Peterson, “Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons,” Christianity Today, March 2005, p. 45.

[31] Beale, Worship, 279.

[32] Stanley Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 232.

[33] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 376.

[34] Beale, Worship, 298.

[35] Beale, Worship, 310.

 
Creative Commons LicenseWhat is idolatry and does it still exist today? Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
 
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