Every year at Flooding Creek we run a Survey to hear what people have to say. This year it’s a question for God. We’ll announce the results on our webpage and also at our Public Launch, on 15 Feb. The next two Sundays we’ll attempt to answer the two most popular questions. Why not give it a go now?
Sounds like a funny thing to say, doesn’t it? What does it mean? No presents without chocolate? No Santa without the Easter Bunny? Some rallying cry to protect public holidays? No, it’s about what Christmas teaches us. You see, Jesus was not born because God wanted a tourist trip to earth. He didn’t come primarily to teach or to inspire, he came to save. What was it that the angel announced to the Shepherds on that very first Christmas?
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
He calls Jesus a saviour. To save us from what? Jesus told us himself:
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)
Jesus came to save us from our sin. You may not have noticed this Christmas, but our Christmas carols are filled with this message. Take for example the first verse of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
Apparently ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is one of the oldest carols, dating as far back as the fifteenth century. But even back then they couldn’t help but notice the purpose for Jesus’ birth. It was ‘To save us all from Satan’s power’. When we sin we enslave ourselves to Satan. It sounds whacky and old school, but this is the clear teaching of Scripture. Jesus makes the link himself when he is talking to his Jewish hearers. They claim they ‘have never been slaves of anyone.’ (John 8:33). But Jesus tells them, ‘You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.’ (John 8:44). The good news of Christmas, though, is that Jesus has come to rescue us from our slavery to sin and the devil. That’s exactly what he achieves on the cross. As the angel announces in the fourth verse of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’:
“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
How does Jesus do this? On the cross. His death rescues all who trust in him, just as the Christmas carol says. That is, Jesus came to earth (Christmas) in order to die and rise again (Easter) to save us from our sins. So this Christmas, as you sing the carols, listen to the words. They’re filled with wonderful truth that has been sung in different ways for thousands of years. Perhaps even this Christmas you will find the freedom from slavery that only Jesus offers.
Exodus: Gods and kings hits the cinemas this Thursday 4th December. As Ridley Scott’s most expensive film to date it’s a big budget blockbuster production. In the movie we’re told the story of Moses and Pharaoh, raised as brothers but with very different destinies. If you’re a cinema goer you might like to get along to the Sale cinemas this weekend for the big screen experience. And if you enjoy the movie then join us this Sunday to take a look at the real Exodus story, 3pm at Guthridge Primary School hall.
Missed this opportunity? Why not listen to the talk over here.
A farmer once had a watermelon plant that was always being raided by local kids. One day he decided to do something about it, and put a sign beside the plant: “1 watermelon poisoned’. He went to bed that night feeling particularly clever. When he woke up the next day, the sign had been changed. It now read: ‘2 watermelons poisoned’. Sometimes our solutions can be too clever by far.
Christians hold that Christianity is grounded in evidence. They claim that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the basis for Christianity. People may become Christians for many different reasons, but Christians agree that Christianity is based on evidence.
Not so Elisabeth Cornwell. Cornwell claims that all religion can be explained through evolutionary processes. Though Christians think they believe what they believe based on evidence, Cornwell points to evolution as the cause. On Richard Dawkins’ website she outlines her proposed explanation for the rise of religion. Quoting from many of Dakins’ books, Cornwell suggests that small adaptions over a long period of time put in place the building blocks of primitive religion, such as language, tool-making, purpose and kinship. Though today those who hold to Christianity think they do so in a reasonable manner, based on evidence, the actual fact is that they have fallen for an evolutionary throwback in their brain that needs to be outgrown. In other words, though they think they hold something true based on evidence, what is actually believed can be explained purely by evolutionary theory, and is in fact false.
This seems like such a stroke of genius that one could hardly disagree, surely? We must abandon these beliefs because they can be explained by evolutionary process. But here comes the rub. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The exact same argument could be made against atheism. Atheists believe that they hold things to be true based on evidence. One could construct an evolutionary account of the rise of atheistic thought. If Christianity can be dismissed on account of an evolutionary past, so can atheism, as can science, relationships, literature and every form of human thought. It’s a poisoned watermelon, a cancer to knowledge that, once released, unstoppably undermines everything we hold to be true. Far from being clever, it’s intellectual suicide.
One can understand the atheist desire to write off religion as an evolutionary throwback. It is a near-universal of human experience. But it would be far wiser for the atheist to listen to the Christian than invent evolutionary tales that undermine all human thought.
There has been for some time now a raging debate about gender inclusive language in the NIV 2011. The Centre for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), in particular, have mounted a sustained attack against the NIV 2011. You can read a short version of their critique here: CBMW Let me say upfront that I am a complimentarian and have benefited from the ministry of CBMW. While a focus on specific key texts shows some legitimate concerns with a few verses, CBMW has a broader issue with the NIV11:
The NIV 2011’s aversion to generic masculine forms of expression is unnecessary and can have the deleterious effect of obscuring aspects of the biblical authors’ meaning. In my view, this feature alone weighs heavily against the NIV 2011.
The question I want to ask in this blog is, should our Bibles have an ‘aversion to generic masculine forms’? The key aim of translation is to render the original message into the current language of the reader. Keeping as much of the original wording as possible can help in accurately conveying that message, but this is just not possible when moving from one language to another. This is especially so with languages as different as Hebrew, Greek and English. For example, one Greek word means to be born, made, performed, happen, develop, become something, move, prove to be, be there, belong to and be in. What English word covers all that? No translation, therefore, will ever be perfect, because where it may gain from consistently using the same word in different contexts, it will lose from not choosing the best word for each context. We will always need different translations, each with a different focus (word for word, meaning for meaning) in order to best grasp the meaning of the original.
One reality every translator must face, however, is that language changes over time. This is certainly true for English. There was a time when ‘this is a problem for men’ could have meant every person, male or female. In English today, however, this phrase strictly addresses only male adults. Words have changed their meaning. If we are going to translate the Bible into modern English we will need to take this into account. Despite CBMW’s preference for generic masculine forms, there are some Greek words that imply both genders. One of these is ‘anthropos’. Although anthropos has traditionally been translated as man or men, it does not imply masculinity. Unless the context requires it, it is not a gender specific word. It is best translated person or people, unless the context requires otherwise. Yet the CBMW preferred translations (NASB, ESV) regularly translate the word as either man or men. In fact, on 341 occasions the ESV translates it as man or men. The ESV only translates anthropos as person or people on 94 occasions. The ESV has a clear preference for generic masculine forms. This can be seen in the following examples:
ESV Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
NIV Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.
The use of man here is an archaic usage. There is nothing masculine in this context that requires it to be translated man.
ESV For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
NIV Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Again this is an archaic usage. Is it only one male or all males that Paul might be trying to please? The NIV makes a sensible translation, using human beings in contrast to God, and then people in contrast to Christ.
ESV And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
NIV “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
I think this verse highlights some of the weaknesses and frustrations of the ESV. First the gender issue – were they only going to be fishers of male adults? That’s certainly the way it sounds to modern ears. What is a fisher, anyway? According to the Oxford online dictionary it’s a large brown marten (whatever that is). It also has an archaic entry: fisherman. We actually have to translate this verse of the ESV into modern English!
ESV For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
NIV The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
Is it only men whom God is angry with? Are women off the hook? What in this context requires the use of ‘men’?
ESV Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-
NIV Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
Perhaps women are off the hook because it’s only men who have sinned? There is no need for masculine gender to be used in this context, in fact it’s deeply unhelpful, even problematic. Yet, the CBMW takes no issue with their preferred translations at this point, but prefers ‘generic masculine forms of expression’, even if they distort the text to the ears of the modern reader.
How is it that the CBMW is worried only about distortions of the text that may reduce the strength of male headship in the Bible, but not concerned about unnecessary offence caused to women or the multitude of distortions to the text caused by a preference for generic masculine forms? It’s right and proper to pull up the NIV (and any other translation) for incorrect translations of particular verses, but it’s wholly out of step with the current use of the English language to evaluate a translation on the basis of gender-neutral forms. Quite simply, the ESV on many occasions has to be translated into modern English before it can be understood, even though it was translated just 13 years ago.
A major drawback for the regular public reading in church of the ESV and NASB is their higher reading levels. The ESV and NASB both have a reading level of grade 10 and 11 respectively. The NIV, on the other hand, only requires a reading level of grade 8. This may not be such a big deal if our churches are filled with university graduates, but given that only 23% of Australians have a bachelor’s degree or above, and given the widespread turn away from books and reading in our culture, the vast majority of Australians will struggle to hear and understand God’s word when we read it to them from the ESV or NASB.
So, what are we to make, then, of the gender inclusive language debate? First, let’s acknowledge that no one translation is perfect or even adequate for detailed study. Any Christian serious about understanding the Bible will reference more than one English translation. We train church pastors in Greek and Hebrew so that they can get behind even the English translations to the original languages. Second, any modern English translation will use the conventions of modern English, which will mean in our day and age the use of gender inclusive language unless context suggests otherwise. To do any different is not to render a modern English translation. Third, other factors beyond just gender inclusivity need to be taken into account when selecting a translation, including the required reading level. Unless our churches are going to be elitist institutions, generating dependence upon the paid staff for Bible interpretation and understanding, we had better publicly use a Bible that everyone understands, even those who aren’t confident readers. For this reason Flooding Creek has used the NIV 2011 for the last year, and although it has been less than perfect, it has served us well. We were tempted to dabble with the HCSB, however the lack of availability and popularity, especially in country areas, were factors that played against it in the end.
Life returns to Sale again and everyone is welcome.
Is there more to life?
Jesus Christ says there is. We’d love you to join us at Life to explore what he says about this question and many more, such as:
- Who is this man called Jesus? Isn’t he simply an urban myth?
- Is there any real evidence? What about his resurrection from the dead?
- Does my life have purpose?
- How can you trust the Bible? Hasn’t it been changed over time?
- Why should I care about all this stuff?
You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions. Regardless of how difficult or controversial, we won’t be offended.
Is Life for you?
Life is for anyone interested in exploring the big questions of life. Everyone is welcome, no matter age or background. The night includes good food, coffee, a short talk, and opportunity for discussion and questions – all in a relaxed atmosphere.
Life series details
Life series begins on 18th February and includes 6 Tuesday nights for coffee and dessert.
location: Tall Poppy Cafe, 344 Raymond St Sale (Opposite Harvey Norman)
cost: $2 (includes coffee and dessert)
time: 7:30pm – 9pm Tuesday nights starting 18th February
questions: contact Dan Godde (0437) 218 641 or here.
It’s a very common complaint today, and with good reason. The large church institutions of the past have a mixed track record in how they’ve used their power. Sometimes that record is blown out of proportion. Like the claim that all the wars have been started by religion. The Encyclopedia of Wars claims that less than 7% of the world’s wars have been fought over religion. But one war caused by a large church institution is one war too many. Christians agree that the churches have a chequered past and much to apologise for. The same can be said for the instances of abuse, and even worse – cover-up, among churches. There is and never will be any excuse for such behaviour. What is it essentially that we hate about organised religion? It is the hypocrisy.
If you hate the hypocrisy of organised religion then you’re in good company. So did Jesus. In fact he saves his most stinging criticisms for the religious leaders of his day. Check out some of the things he said:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 14 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are… 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:1-15,25-28)
Jesus hates the way that they look good on the outside, but on the inside they’re just as bad, if not worse than those they condemn. Many of us have seen churches just like that: in the history books, in the media or we’ve had personal experience ourselves. But does that mean that Jesus isn’t into church? Is the answer to follow Jesus and avoid church? Not at all. Notice what Jesus also says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:13-18)
Church is Jesus’ idea. He’s not talking here about massive human institutions, but the heavenly gathering around himself. Just as Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, so also Jesus started a heavenly church. It’s his heavenly church that meets locally in your town – the local church. If you’re into Jesus then you’ll be into your local church. So if you’re going to follow Jesus you’ll steer clear of organised religion, with all the associated hypocrisy, but you’ll be deeply into your local church. After all, it was Jesus’ idea in the first place.
Want to hear more? Come and listen to the talk here.
There’s something profoundly true about that, isn’t there? This was the second most popular response in our recent survey. Faith is an individual choice, and it is not the role of the government to decide people’s faith for them. Both those ideas are taught in the Bible. Christian faith is about a personal relationship with Jesus. Christians are to convince and persuade people to take up their faith, not to bully people into it, especially by using the government and laws. But does that mean it’s ok to believe anything we want? What if I believe that I should be a suicide bomber? Is that ok? Well, now we need a caveat: you can believe anything you want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. This has been a popular expectation in Australia for the last 50 years or more, and as far as laws and public policy go, we would have to say it has been good. But is it good morality? Is it a good way to live personally?
One of the popular ways we’ve used to decide if something is good morality or not, is to ask the question: what if everyone did it? What if everyone restricted their behaviour to the standard: not harming others? What would our society look like? There would be no expectation to volunteer, no expectation to venture out and meet the neighbours, no expectation to think of others before ourselves. Society would have low levels of volunteering, become more lonely, and self-focused. That’s exactly what’s happened to our society over the last 50 years, and many see it as a tragedy.
Christian morality, however, calls for a different standard. In a post I did a while back I showed how the golden rule leads Christians to selfless initiatives for others. This is an ideal, but one Christians are encouraged to live up to after the supreme example of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the greatest good they can do is share the life-saving and life-changing message of the gospel. This however, will lead to a discussion, and discussions can easily become arguments. Arguments lead to pain and angst. One motivation behind the phrase ‘individual and private’, I suspect, is a desire to avoid the arguments, and the pain and angst that go with them. If we just cut faith out of our discussions we can cut out pain and angst. But it hasn’t worked out that way. We still argue, we still live with pain and angst. It’s just over different topics now. e.g. smoking. Smokers must be the most persecuted people in Australia. Even if a smoker manages to find the only legal location left where they might light up in public, someone will feel utterly vindicated to cross the street to tell them that it’s a disgusting and filthy habit that’s going to kill them. You would be safer swearing at your children then you would be smoking a cigarette in public.
The secular vision for peace is to retreat away from topics like religion that may lead to arguments. The problem with this approach is that it leads to loneliness, and loneliness is at epidemic proportions in Australia today. The Christian vision is a community that comes together in love and peace, but the problem is, how do you do that?
The apostle Paul confronts one of the biggest rifts of his day in the letter to the church in Ephesus. It was the divide between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). He points out to them that when we have peace with God, we can have peace with each other.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18)
He then gives them three images to show them how they share powerful things in common that build a community of peace together: fellow citizens (shared identity), fellow household (i.e. family) members (shared resources), built together as a temple (shared focus – God).
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Through peace with God we can have peace with each other. We can have a faith that’s shared and public without the pain and angst. We’ll still rub up against each other a bit, but the peace that Jesus has won for us on the cross leads to a genuine peace between each other. Don’t believe it’s possible? Why not take a visit down to your local church and find out… Want to hear more, check out the sermon over here.
This was by far the most common response from our recent survey. There’s certainly a lot of truth in that statement. We all know people who are very nice who don’t go to church. We’ve at least heard of, if not know personally, people who aren’t nice , who do go to church. Given that there are nicer people who don’t go to church than do, why would I go to church? Especially if I’m a good person already?
This only makes sense if church is about making people good. What if church is about something different? If that was the case, then this reason wouldn’t make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t go to the supermarket because I can watch movies at home.’
It’s interesting to see what happens when Jesus meets a good person. In Mark 10:17-27 Jesus meets the quintessential good bloke. He’s never broken most of the 10 commandments (v19-20). He calls Jesus a good person and expects that Jesus will say the same back to him. What Jesus points out instead is that he has devoted himself to wealth instead of to God (v21-22). Jesus uses this as a teaching point to his disciples – if even a good bloke can’t get into heaven by his own good works, what hope do the rest of you have? (v23-25). But then he delivers the most wonderful news of all – even good people and bad people can get into heaven: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Getting right with God is what the Bible calls salvation. God gives salvation as a gift. Salvation is impossible for us to do, but it’s not only possible with God, he will happily give it to anyone who asks, free of charge. Do you have salvation?
Church isn’t about making people good, it’s about getting right with God. Want to hear more? Listen to the talk here.