Yes. It is even possible to be a liberal Christian. I am an orthodox believer, and except for abortion (I am a pro-life) and gay marriage, I am considered, on virtually every other issue, because of my faith and informed by the teachings of the Bible, especially Jesus Christ, pretty liberal.

That said, I personally strongly dislike using politically ideological terms to describe my faith. Jesus said what he said. His words were words of life, not politics. It should be telling that he never addressed the Roman government, which represented earthly power, but for a few very terse comments: his encounter with Pilate prior to his crucifixion (“my kingdom is not of this world”, “you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”), the trick the Pharisees tried to play on him regarding the payment of taxes (“render unto Caesar…”), and calling the puppet king, Herod, a “fox.” Jesus lived…and died…under the thumb of a brutal dictatorship that was just about as decadent and immoral as any in history, yet not once did he ever teach or preach about “rights”, civil or otherwise. On the contrary, he consistently taught the necessity of his followers abandoning their rights. “Take up your cross and follow me” and “If someone slaps you on your right cheek (this was a backhand slap, which meant an open hand slap was next!), turn to them the other also” are not exactly what we are taught in civics class.

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I don’t think God created “that world.” He did, however, create a world in which we would be able to choose between him and ourselves. That’s what love is. If there is no freedom to reject, there is no freedom to accept.

But, if I may point out a few of things: The very question poses a real dilemma: Remove God from the question: Do we really live in a world where the weak HAVE to suffer at the hands of the strong? If so, why? Why do the strong oppress the weak? Do we not have free will? Are we not “responsible” agents? Are we not all born “good”? Even if we are not born “good”, are we not born innocent? And if we are born good, if you trace humanity back far enough, was there not a “first” human or were there not first humans who were inherently good? So, where did evil come from? Can evil even be defined or quantified? Rather than ask why God “created evil”, why did we? Remove God from the question and there is only despair: The questions cannot be answered.

Go to any kindergarten and you will see rooms full of beautiful, laughing, industrious little people, eager to please, eager to learn. You will also see future murderers, child molesters, drunks and drug addicts, serial killers…more than is comfortable to acknowledge. Yes, you might say, but it’s because of their parents/uncles/society/whatever. Okay, so go back to their kindergarten rooms, and those of their parents and on and on and on back into the darkness of time. It’s like with reincarnation, where a person is atoning in this life for the sins they committed in the previous one. Go back far enough, and won’t there be a “first” person, an “Adam”, so to speak? Well, for whose sins was he atoning? At least the Bible has as story to tell: Here’s what happened. Here’s why you’re all so wicked. Now, here’s how to fix it. “Nature” has got nothing! It cannot even be extrapolated from Nature that evil even exists, much less provide any solutions!

I don’t think so. I appreciate the following brief, but powerful, explanation of this passage by Bob Wilkin (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary):

The reference to wandering from the truth concerns moral, not doctrinal defection. This is evident from the content of the entire epistle. James repeatedly exhorts his readers to live godly lives, on some occasions also rebuking them for practicing evil (cf. 1:22-27; 2:1-13,14-26; 3:14; 4:1-2,11-12; 5:9). Yet he nowhere evidences concerns as to their orthodoxy.

While some have no room in their theology for failure in the Christian life, James does. Believers are indeed capable of living contrary from the truths found in Scripture (compare also, 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; Gal 5:13-26). The question is, what will happen to such a wanderer? James doesn’t leave us in doubt.

James’s words here are reminiscent to similar instructions by Paul and Jude. They instructed spiritual believers to attempt to bring carnal believers back to the Lord (cf. Gal 6:1; Jude 23).

James emphasized the gravity of the matter by pointing out that the believer who turns a sinning saint back from the error of his way will save a soul from death. James is saying that this is a matter of life and death.

As a matter of fact, the Greek word psyche, here translated soul, has within its fields of meaning both life and person (see The GES News, Dec 91, p 2). For example, the Lord Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life [Gk psyche] a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). Clearly Jesus Christ did not give up His eternal soul.

We could translate the clause in question, “he will save a life from death” or “he will save a person from death.”

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie writes, “The reference is evidently to Christians, and the death is physical death which sin may cause (1 Cor. 11:30)” (The Ryrie Study Bible, p 1863n). Others who hold this view include Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 173; Ronald Blue, James, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT Edition, p. 835; H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on James and Peter, p. 63; Lehman Strauss, James, Your Brother, p. 226.

Of course, there are some who suggest that eternal salvation from hell is in view here. That suggestion, however, flies in the face of clear Gospel teaching all through the Bible. The sole condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ, not moral reformation.

The wanderer who is brought back to the truth avoids premature death (cf. 1 Cor 11:30;1 John 5:16-17). He is also blessed to have his many sins covered, that is, forgiven in a fellowship sense (cf. 1 John 1:9).

“Soul Salvation,” Part 2

I might add that the problem with faith+works is two-fold: Those who adhere to it always set up the straw man, “Well, so you’re saying I can be saved then do whatever I want!” and beat it to death. They place the cars before the locomotive, to use the analogy of a train. Cars have no power to move the train; only the locomotive can do it. Set the locomotive—faith, in motion, and the cars—works, will follow. If they do not, if there is a locomotive but no cars, what good is it? James, too, recognizes this when he says, “Faith without works is dead.” A locomotive with nothing to pull is a very expensive assembly of metal parts, nothing more, nothing less. In fact, I would submit that when you see a person “get saved” (walk the aisle, make a profession, etc.) but see no subsequent change in that person’s lifestyle, you’re seeing an impostor, someone who has, to use a modern term, stolen an identity!Image result for cart before the horse

Second, it sets up a salvation based on fear mentality. One can never really know if they are saved because it is simply not possible for us to live according to the standards God has set for us. Lives will be spent performing good deeds in an endless drudgery, but a frantic one, instead out of joy. Even the apostles were not immune to sin, like pride and wrong-headed thinking. Peter, for example, had to be rebuked by Paul for his religious bigotry/self-righteousness, “When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11) In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes in horror of a man in the church who had been sleeping with his step-mother. While he exhorts the Corinthian church to “Expel the wicked person from among you”, nowhere does he mention the state of the man’s salvation other than to say, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Apparently, then, this was a Christian who had fallen into terrible sexual immorality, but it did not cost him his salvation:

The expression “deliver such a one unto Satan” is the equivalent of “put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13).It is a biblical idiom for the severing of Christian fellowship.It represents a dramatic expression of the literal formula, “have no company with” (v. 9), or the more specific admonition “with such a one do not even eat” (v. 11), i.e., refrain from ordinary social fraternization with such a one (cf. 2 Thes. 3:6).

One must note that Hymenaeus and Alexander had been “delivered unto Satan” in order that “they might be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20). If the “deliverance” was death, how does the subsequent clause make any sense?It was not anticipated that these gentleman would be doing post-mortem blasphemy!

What then, is the meaning of that ambiguous phrase, “for the destruction of the flesh”? The sense almost certainly is this: Turn the man over to Satan (i.e., back into the world community of debauchery), that he may reap the consequences of his rebellion (whatever physical and/or emotional disadvantages that might involve), along with distressing estrangement from a warm, loving association with the church.Under such circumstances of distress, if there were a remnant of conscience remaining, the rogue brother might well learn to “destroy” his baser, “fleshly” urges, and thus be reclaimed for the Savior’s cause.

This is a sensible approach to the text that does not thrust scripture into the realm of the absurd or the inconsistent.

What Is the Meaning of, “Destruction of the Flesh,” in 1 Corinthians 5:5?

Scripture must always be judged by scripture. Where it is silent, ambiguous, or paradoxical, or where meaning has been lost due to time and/or culture, we must humbly learn to admit, in the exhortation of Maimonides, “I do not know”, rather than to pretend God has anointed us with “special revelation.”

No, not like the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments. See Acts 1:21-26; 5:32; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8–9. Ephesians 2:19–21 and 3:2–5 indicate that the offices of prophet and apostle were confined to those with whom God had revealed his divine word: “…it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” Ephesians 4:11–13 clearly states “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (emphasis mine) Acts 1:20 calls the apostleship an “office.” 1. The offices were given personally by Jesus Christ*; 2. There would be an end to them.

What were the qualifications for apostleship?

When one assembles all the relevant New Testament data, at least three qualifications emerge as prerequisite to one becoming an apostle in the official sense (Hayden, 1894, p. 33, expands these credentials to seven in number). First, an apostle had to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 22:14; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, an apostle had to be specifically selected by the Lord or the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16). Third, an apostle was invested with miraculous power to the extent that he could perform miracles. The power to perform miracles included the capability to confer the ability to work miracles to other individuals through the laying on of his hands (Mark 3:15; 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; John 14:12,26; 15:24-27; 16:13; Acts 2:43; 4:29-31,33; 5:12,15-16; 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11; Hebrews 2:3-4). Jesus referred to His bestowal of miraculous capability upon the apostles when He promised they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

Are There Modern-Day Apostles?

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Sargent, “Frieze of the Prophets”
Micah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.

Ironically, the unity that the Church subsequently experienced was effectively corrupted with…the re-introduction of the doctrine of apostleship—by the Catholic Church, with the office vested in the Pope. The reason is obvious why the office was not intended to last after the death of the last of those personally called by Jesus: Anyone can claim to be an apostle. Today, many groups and individuals either claim apostleship or make the same claims as apostles, among them, the Catholic Church, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an entire new charismatic movement has grown up claiming apostleship: the New Apostolic Reformation. Even Islam can be considered a kind of claim to “apostolic succession.” ALL of them have important, foundational doctrines that contradict each other, yet ALL claim direct revelation by God himself and they ALL say those doctrines are backed by scripture. Needless to say, they cannot possibly all be right: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Similarly, the office of prophet is no more, and for the same reasons: All of the above mentioned groups claim to be prophets, not only to be speaking directly for God, revealing his divine word (contradicting each other, of course), but also, in many cases, making false predictions, saying that certain events would occur which do not come to pass. Just Google “false prophecies made by______.”

What’s the solution? It’s actually quite simple: Reject out of hand any person or group that claims direct revelation from God. God has spoken, past tense, through his apostles and prophets. Today, he speaks to us individually through his Word. None of the objections to this principle can overcome the dangers of heresy. It is better that one person go astray because of the influence of their own desires than for thousands or millions to be deceived.

*Note that we never hear of Matthias, who was chosen by drawing lots, again. There is much to be said for the teaching that the disciples were to wait until the Lord himself filled the office vacated by Judas, and that the person to fill it was to be—and, in effect, was—Paul.

There was also a spiritual gift of apostle (this is not to be confused with the office—they are separate). Among those who had the spiritual gift were James (1 Corinthians 15:7Galatians 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:4141 Corinthians 9:6), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), possibly Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:12:7), and Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:69). This latter group had the gift of apostleship but not the apostolic “office” conferred upon the Twelve and Paul. Those who had the gift of apostle, then, were those who carried the gospel message with God’s authority. The word “apostle” means “one sent as an authoritative delegate.” This was true of those who held the office of Apostle (like Paul) and those who had the spiritual gift (like Apollos). Though there are men like this today, men who are sent by God to spread the gospel, it is best NOT to refer to them as apostles because of the confusion this causes since many are not aware of the two different uses of the term apostle.

Is God restoring the offices of apostle and prophet in the church today?

It’s sort of a myth. While the Bible does not actually “endorse” any economic system, there are laws and practices which, if it were possible to implement today, would absolutely horrify conservatives and libertarians. Land, for example, belonged to God; the first fruits of anyone’s labor/income was to be given to God via the priests (the “church”). This was a law, not a suggestion. Landowners were forbidden to reap the corners of their fields or to go over their harvest a second time; all grain that remained–the gleanings– was to be left for the poor to harvest (this is how Ruth, a foreign/alien widow, met Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus Christ). The people were strongly encouraged to give to the poor, especially widows and orphans: “There should be no poor among you” IF the people followed the law. This is echoed in Jesus’ commanding rich people to sell all they owned and give to the poor. What would truly horrify conservatives, especially the Ayn Rand acolytes like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, would be the commands concerning Sabbath Years and Jubilees.

Leviticus 25 ordains a sabbath year, one in every seven (Lev. 25:1-7), and a jubilee year, one in every fifty (Lev. 25:8-17), to sanctify Israel’s internal economy. In the sabbath year, each field was to lie fallow, which appears to be a sound agricultural practice. The year of jubilee was much more radical. Every fiftieth year, all leased or mortgaged lands were to be returned to their original owners, and all slaves and bonded laborers were to be freed (Lev. 25:10). This naturally posed difficulties in banking and land transactions, and special provisions were designed to ameliorate them (Lev. 25:15-16), which we will explore in a moment. The underlying intent is the same as seen in the law of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10), to ensure that everyone had access to the means of production, whether the family farm or simply the fruits of their own labor. It is not fully known whether Israel actually observed the jubilee year or the antislavery provisions associated with it (e.g., Lev. 25:25-28, 39-41) on a wide-scale basis. Regardless, the sheer detail of Leviticus 25 strongly suggests that we treat the laws as something that Israel either did or should have implemented. Rather than see the jubilee year as a utopian literary fiction, it seems better to believe that its widespread neglect occurred not because the jubilee was unfeasible, but because the wealthy were unwilling to accept the social and economic implications that would have been costly and disruptive to them.

The Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25)

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The Biblical paradigm was also one of large and extended families. Widows and orphans (a child without a father, not just a child without both parents) were to be taken in by the nearest relatives, the older son if possible. Unlike the surrounding cultures, if a man had no sons, property was passed to the daughters. Property, in other words, was to remain with the family, which could be quite large and extended.

The early church practiced a form of “voluntary communism”, but the extent of participation was left up to the individual believer. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) were struck dead, not for neglecting to give all the proceeds of a land sale to the church, but for lying about it, claiming to have done so when they actually had only given a portion.

Fyi: One per cent of US households hold 35% of the country’s wealth. Total household and non-profit net worth in 2016 was $93 trillion. So that top 1% holds approximately $32,550,000,000,000. $32.55 trillion. Ten percent of that would be $3.255 trillion. I realize that net worth is not income, but it’s telling that if that 1% paid just 10% of their wealth in taxes, the national debt–as it stands now($15.3 trillion)–would be wiped out in just 5 years.

The Bible addresses personal financial behavior quite often as well. There are injunctions against “get rich quick schemes”, taking bribes, cheating in finances (false measures, unequal weights and balances, were an abomination to God, on the level with bestiality and sodomy), etc., and, of course, commands to be generous, to give to the poor.

I would guess that they would say it’s mostly because of things Christians do, not that they really have a problem with Jesus Christ himself. When asked by an American reporter why he wasn’t a Christian, Ghandi reportedly (and erroneously*) said, “I like your Christ. Your Christians? Not so much.” Whether he said it or not, the point is well made. Well, sort of. A great many deplorable–dare I say, “un-Christian”?–things have been done “in the name of Christ.” It is a terrible argument (red herring? Straw man? Non sequitur?), though. One is not a Christian because of Christians, but because of Jesus Christ, and one must surely ask, if only for the sake of mere intellectual honesty, if those objectionable things that are done in Jesus’ name are actually encouraged by him. If Jesus said that if I am slapped on the right cheek, I am to turn the left one to be struck also, but instead I shoot the one who slapped me, I am not much of a Christ-follower, am I? And if I am not even to return evil with evil, how can I possibly justify instigating it!Image result for turn the other cheek

I am convinced, however, that the same people who claim not to be Christians because of the Inquisition, the Crusades, or other awful things “Christians” have done do so because it is an easy, if intellectually challenged, excuse. Fact is, Jesus places impossible demands on his followers, demands that can only be realized by complete and total surrender to his will, and even then, we still occasionally screw things up. And humans are loath to give up control to anyone, much less a moralist like Jesus Christ. Like with the rich young ruler, he tends to require us to give up our gods before we can follow him, and we do love our little gods, don’t we? Sex, money, power, fame…ourselves, our lives. Just try a little experiment: Ask your garden variety atheist if he/she would be a Christian if everything in the Bible, including the resurrection, were proven to be absolutely true. I will bet good money that the answer will be, in virtually every instance, “No.” Why? It’s not Christians, it’s Jesus.


* “A similar quote appears to be from an Indian philosopher named Bara Dada, brother of Rabindranath Tagore. The full quote from Dada appears to be from the mid-1920s: ‘Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.’” (7 Gandhi Quotes That Are Totally Fake)

I don’t know about “was”; people don’t change, really; and God’s word is a Rock, unmovable, unshakable. Times, circumstances, and cultures, however, do change. One of the great things about the Christian faith is that it transcends all of those things, and even penetrates them. The reality is that the more comfortable a people’s existence, the more difficult it is to remain true to the ideals of the faith. The Christians of the early church were united by a very strong, common bond: the threat of persecution and death. Up until the 1800s, virtually every Christian community on earth lived and worshiped under some kind of authoritarian rule, quite often lives that were in direct conflict with their leaders. The founder of the faith suffered the ultimate penalty for what he taught; such was the norm for the next 1800 years or so, and still is in much of the world. When your pastor or deacon is being beaten to death or your family is about to be burned alive, everlasting love may be the only thing that sees you through.

The church in the west hasn’t the “luxury” of persecution; thus, our comfort has become paramount, not the spreading of the gospel, not living lives worthy to be called “Christian.” We are often at each others’ throats for trivial matters, issues that will have no lasting value beyond the grave…or even the next election cycle. I recently read a newsletter by a minister friend in which he describes a fellow pastor who told his congregation, “Virginity is not the gospel.” A man in the congregation immediately stood and directed his family to leave, “That’s it,” he said, “We’ve had enough.” The pastor’s point was that we tend to focus on peripheral things, things that may be important*, but not Gospel, to the exclusion of the more important ones. Jesus made this point in his denunciations of the Pharisees, among which was the one where he criticized them for emphasizing tithing at the expense of the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former,” he told them. The pastor was right; keeping one’s self sexually pure is important, but it is not the gospel. Guess what? Patriotism isn’t the gospel, either.

Our church experiences today are divided by class, economics, race (less now than in the past, thanks be to God!), politics, even age. I have been to secular events, like rock concerts, where young people thought it was “cool” that an “old dude” like me would be in attendance. Talk my ears off! At a church gathering, though, like a college cook out, I’m a “creepy old guy,” avoided like the plague. Every age group in most churches is partitioned off into their own compartments, and they dare not “mix.”

All that said, the church has always had to deal with divisions, gossip, infighting, backbiting, etc. Jesus warned of this from the beginning (parable of the wheat and the tares) and Paul spent more than a little time addressing it. What is the standard, though? What is the requirement when it comes to love to which Christians are supposed to aspire? Well, Read 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is not just hard to live up to this standard, it is impossible, which is why, of all the Christian virtues, humility should be the one that sets us apart most  noticeably. WE cannot do it, but Christ can, through us: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

* I believe and counsel virginity, chastity, celibacy if a Christian is not married, but I am not against providing kids with potentially life saving options if they, to me foolishly, choose sexual activity. Anthony Bourdain, who committed suicide June 9, 2018, once said, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” He ended his amusement ride, and he was wrong, at least in the case of Christians. Our bodies ARE temples, and they are not ours to do with whatever we want. Still, if kids choose to act foolishly, immorally, they should still be protested from any avoidable consequences.