A Question from a Bible Study Group –
Why are only some people’s eyes and ears opened to hear Jesus’ message?
Is God’s Word for everyone?
If people don’t have the opportunity to hear about Jesus will they be judged at the end of time?
Don’t know, yes and yes!
1. This involves the great mystery of Man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty. Does God choose us or do we choose Him? The Bible holds both to be true though in our minds there is a contradiction.
· We are blind until God makes His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). The disciples eyes were opened by Jesus (Luke 24:45).
· Yet Jesus preached to all who came, offered salvation to all who come and held them responsible if they did not believe in Him.
You put your finger on a tension – it is the work of God so that no man may boast (Eph 2:8,9) yet we are responsible for our response.
2. God’s Word is for everyone
a. All may believe and receive, the Word (John 1:1) is for the world (John 3:16), all who receive Him He gives the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12)
b. All will benefit if they adhere to His Word (even if they do not believe in and receive Jesus). (Ps 19:7-11; Rom 2:14ff)
3. All will be judged (Rev 20:11ff)
a. We will be judged on how we have responded to Jesus (John 3: 16ff).
b. God will judge fairly (Is 30:18)
c. We will be judged according to what we have received / know (Luke 12:48)
d. No one will have an excuse (Romans 1:18)
I don’t expect this to ‘answer’ the dilemma but I hope it is grist to the mill!
May the Lord continue to bless you as you seek Him.
Nigel Barge May 2012
A Rationale for action
Those who believe that the Bible is the supreme authority and rule for life and doctrine were presented with a dilemma by the Assemblies of 2009 & 2011. Despite having doctrine based on a biblical, ‘traditional’ view of sexual morality and marriage, the Assembly chose to permit and endorse sexual relationships that are biblically unlawful. In approaching this there are some key questions to be addressed – a) What is the central issue?
b) What are the biblical principles that govern how we should respond?
c) What should we do?
The theological moment
Current questions on sexual morality within the church hinge on our understanding of the nature of marriage and the effect of the act of sexual intercourse on its participants. The fundamental issue is a theological one regarding the nature of marriage and the effect of sexual intercourse.
The secular world of today loosely associates the two. It has various views on sexual intercourse; it is a means to the end of child bearing, a recreational activity, a human right, an expression of love. It remains neutral as to the circumstances in which it happens ‘as long as no one is harmed’. Within such a context, marriage is presented as ‘a legal agreement between two people who may have or be like likely to have a sexual relationship, and which should persist as long as the mutual love and attraction does’.
This is a radical departure from society’s previously held view which was based on a biblical understanding of sexual intercourse and marriage. This holds marriage to be a creation ordinance given by God, for all mankind. (Gen 2:21-25), and in the context of the wider teaching of the bible it holds that:-
1. Marriage is an act of God
“What God has joined together man must not put asunder” (Mark 10:9)
Physically, the union is brought about by action of a man and a woman. However as this physical event occurs there is a spiritual union that God is effecting. This is a work of God. It endures for the whole of life and he insists must not be interfered with
2. Marriage expresses the image of God
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them” (Gen 1:27)
The image of God is not reflected fully in an individual. Man and woman express it together. It is only in the spiritual union of a man and woman in marriage that this image is made complete. Once this has been created nothing must deface it.
3. Marriage is consummated by the sign and seal of sexual intercourse
‘A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will be one flesh’ (Gen.2.24)
God has ensured that intercourse is an act of love, a pleasure, and a means of procreation. However its prior purpose to these was to unite a man and a woman.
When the couple leave their parents and set up a new home, the relationship is socially recognised. However it is only through the act of intercourse that the union takes place and the marriage is consummated. Whatever agreement amongst families, ceremonies enacted, festivities enjoyed or legal contracts signed, the marriage is not completed in God’s sight until it is consummated.
4. Marriage is the only right and proper place for sexual relationships
“You shall not commit adultery”(Ex 20:14)
‘Jesus declared (to the woman caught in adultery) “go and sin no more” (John 8:11)
‘Adultery’ in Old and New Testament describes a sexual relationship with one other than one’s wife or husband, i.e. any sexual relationship outside of marriage.
There is no such thing as ‘casual sex’. A union always takes place in the act or intercourse between a man and a woman whatever their relationship; even with a prostitute. Thus Paul warns
“Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute in one with her in body” (1Cor 6:15)
Thus the biblical view of marriage is described as
‘the union of a willing man and woman by God, by way of sexual intercourse, into a socially recognised, permanent , mutually exclusive relationship
The Biblical Imperative
For those seek to obey the Word of God, the question is, how do the Scriptures instruct us to respond in situations where sexual immorality occurs within the church?’ In the New Testament, the principles for this are described in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There, a man was sleeping with his father’s wife (his stepmother?) (1Cor 5:1) This was one of the practices prohibited in Leviticus 18. In his response Paul establishes the following principles:-
1] Dissociate from sexual immorality
Sexual immorality is corrosive. It defaces the image of God. It differs from other sin in that it is ‘against one’s own body’ (1Cor 6:18). This results in damage to your own body, as ‘one flesh’ with another is joined and them torn, but also implicates others to whom you are united in the body of Jesus.
The union with another not a spouse affects the communion of the whole church. Hence the instruction is not to associate with the sexually immoral within the church, not even eating with them (1Cor 5:11). This must be acted on. To flaunt this brings danger to all concerned, hence the command to ‘flee from sexual immorality’ (1 Cor 6:18)
2] Judge correctly
We know that all in the church are sinners saved by grace, (Eph 2:8,9) none of us in ourselves are righteous, (Rom. 3:9-18) and that all are similarly sinful before God (Matt. 5:21-30). Therefore no one is personally in a position to judge another and we are warned not to. (Matt.7:1) Jesus of Nazareth did not judge the world; he loved and freely associated with the sexually immoral his followers are called to follow his example. This, however, applies to life outside the church. We are called only to judge those inside the church. (1 Cor.5:19). This temporal judgement is commanded in order to maintain discipline and must be exercised for the benefit of the church and its fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
3] Celebrate the Lord’s Supper carefully
The Lord’s Supper is an expression and seal of the union of the God’s people with him through faith and with one another by the fellowship of His Spirit. It is also proclamation of the Lord’s death and of his forgiveness of repentant sinners, anticipating his return in judgement.
It is a serious matter. Thus, having addressed different areas of sin in the Corinthian church, Paul tells them to examine themselves in their approach to the table. (1 Cor 11:28). He goes on to warn that flagrant sin that does not discern and care for the body of Christ will be judged by Christ in this world (1 Cor 11:29-32)
Communion that is not real is a danger to all concerned.
4] Act in love
This is the most excellent way (1 Cor 13) and all actions should be in the context of love. Therefore, the discipline encouraged in the breaking of communion and expelling an immoral brother, is not punitive but rather an act of love seeking the well being of the offender, that he might not be lost but ‘saved on the day of the Lord’ (1Cor 5:5)
The political expedient
Those who seek to revise the church’s practice and doctrine with regard to marriage have been and are seeking to do this little by little. As they have moved their agenda along, at each step there has been vocal and heated opposition. Despite a few small setbacks, their ‘progress’ has been impressive. The basic assumptions on which they work are
1) if movement is slow enough and gradual enough the opposition will melt away each time. A few may be lost to the church but they are not significant.
2) the primary goal is ‘accommodation’. This is the public presentation and it seeks that each be allowed to do as they see fit in their own eyes. This strikes a chord with the god of tolerance who commands so much respect within secular society
3) the secondary goal would be ‘domination’. If accommodation was achieved then the next goal would be full alignment with the secular views on sexuality which would then be imposed. Traditional views would neither be respected nor tolerated.
In the face of the erosion of their position on marriage and sexuality, traditionalists have fought a rear guard action. They have seen the church shift from a view on marriage being ‘the right and proper place for the full expression of physical love (The Book of Common Order 1979), to a place where it is one place among others. In an attempt to try not alienate current culture, concessions have been made which, when added up, make us guilty of inconsistency.
In 2009 a Rubicon was crossed when the General Assembly upheld a congregation’s right to call whom they wished, while choosing to ignore that the minister in question was in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. This was then compounded by the decision of the Assembly of 2011 to ignore all those who had entered into similar relationships before 2009.
This caused great consternation among many in the church who found it completely unacceptable. In the eyes of those with a traditional view it was not simply unwise, but blatantly sinful. The repercussions and implication for the church are held to be most severe. Such is the seriousness of the matter that there is a widespread desire to disassociate from the sexual immorality involved and the Assembly’s complicity in it.
The leading question is – ‘What should we do to articulate and demonstrate our disassociation?’ The answers given differ depending on people’s understanding of their calling.
Some believe they are called by God to leave the denomination altogether. In doing this they are removed from under the authority of the Assembly, they are released from complicity in its decision and they make a prophetic statement to the church to repent. If this is done in love seeking the wellbeing of the people of the Church of Scotland, then the principles described by Paul to the Corinthian church have been enacted.
However, for those who hold the Assembly decisions to be unacceptable and yet believe they are called to remain within the Church of Scotland, the situation is not so clear. It is a distorted image of the situation in the Corinthian church. In effect the leaders have ignored Pauls command to disassociate with the sexually immoral until they repent and have instead endorsed and validated their behaviour and continued to eat in communion with them. How should the members of the church who know this to be wrong, act?
In applying Paul’s principles in both scenarios, it is expedient that there is
It needs to be made clear where the error is and what the implications are. Paul states that those who flagrantly continue in sin (and not simply sexual sin), in an unrepentant manner, will not inherit theKingdomofGod(1 Cor 6:9)
Traditionalists in the Church of Scotland continue to present the biblical case though it has been largely ignored.
The seriousness and consequences of the error need to be demonstrated. InCorinth, the immoral brother was not simply allowed to carry on as though nothing was wrong. He might have misunderstood the seriousness of the situation. Instead, communion was interrupted in the hope that he might come to his senses and be saved.
In the current situation though there has been explanation there has not been decisive action against immorality either by the Institution or by individual members. Revisionists have construed this as acquiescence and continued to tighten the ratchet.
If we continue on the current trajectory, communion within and without the Church of Scotland will be fractured irreparably. Revisionists are banking on this being an alarmist view. Traditionalists know it to be true. Many ministers are waiting to see what happens in 2013; already other Churches and denominations are distancing themselves from the Church of Scotland. How can the Church be brought to its senses?
This is a Communion issue. It will be in 2013 and it is now. For someone who objects to the actions of the Assembly in 2009 and 2011 with regard to sexual morality to withdraw from the Lord’s Supper within the courts of the church until the decisions are reversed is a stance of biblical integrity in that
1) It disassociates from the sexual immorality
This is not a rejection of authority. Submission, respect and service must be maintained in all other ways to the courts of the Church.
2) It is a prophetic statement,
As with the discipline that should be exerted on us as individuals if we are immoral, it anticipates the ultimate consequences; if the ‘trajectory’ of 2011 is continued the interruption of communion perceived in the present if this action is taken, will be an extensive and ongoing reality
3) It is an act of love
If we withdraw from communion it is not out of any feeling of superiority; it is not as a means of hurting the church; it is a costly and loving act that seeks the well being of the whole church. The desire is to fulfil our ordination vows. We are acknowledging the ‘supreme authority of the Word of God’, ‘upholding the doctrine, worship and discipline of the church’ in order that the ‘unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ may be salvaged
There may be questions as to the timing of the response. Why, it might be asked, if we have not taken action when other heresies have been raised in the past should we now make a stand at this point? A response to this is
a) Two wrongs don’t make a right. We have been ‘inconsistent’. People have preached false doctrine in pulpits in the past in breach of their ordination vows, denying the fundamentals of the faith. We did not insist on discipline. We should have done, and hence forth we should do in the future. We must not let failure of the past to be perpetuated in the present
b) This issue is different in that not only did the General Assembly ignore unlawful practice; it set a trajectory to change fundamental doctrine of the church to align with in it. This cannot be accommodated or tolerated.
Western society is becomingly increasingly sexually immoral. This has been aided and abetted by a ‘revisionist’ movement within the church which seeks to gradually align the two.
Traditionalists have been dragged along protesting but have been unable to halt the alignment. Intolerable decisions have been taken at the two recent Assemblies in this regard. There is a widespread desire to dissociate from these decisions. A few have left the church. Many left within are frustrated as the feel unable to obey the command to flee and dissociate from sexual immorality.
The accommodation of immoral practice in the past and the adjustment of doctrine anticipated in the ‘trajectory’ will bring a permanent fracture in communion within and without the Church of Scotland.
To withdraw from communion in the courts of the church until we reaffirm our biblical stance on sexual morality, would be a faithful personal response to the Word of God, a prophetic voice concerning the consequences of continuing in our sin and a loving action that may, under God, bring our denomination back from the brink.
This needs to be acted upon urgently
Nigel Barge Dec 2011
Quite often after a church service, after reading our Bible or even following discussion with others, questions, points of clarification or doubts arise that make us want to ask someone about them. This is good, because it shows that we are thinking and taking our faith seriously.
If the minister is occupied with some other folk, or if we are in a hurry ourselves, it may not be possible to have our important questions discussed there and then.
Please feel free to send an e-mail direct to our minister, Rev. Nigel Barge. If your question is of a general nature that may be of interest to others then it may be summarised and added together with the answer on this page.
Obviously, personal and sensitive matters will be treated in complete confidentiality. At no time will any association between persons and e-mails be disclosed, no inquirer will ever be identifiable from the website and contacts will not be traceable by those who manage the website.
In the beginning of the bible we read of people with lifespans of hundreds of years, for example, Methuselah living for over 900 years. How would that be possible and are we to interpret that as actual living years or is it referring to something else.
Good question to which there is no simple answer. Here are some observations –
- A name can mean both an individual and his clan, but some are definitely individuals e.g. Enoch who lived for 365 years.
- Some say that units of time have changed value (a year was not 365 days then). However, that doesn’t fit with 7:6 & 8:13.
- There are other traditions that record long life in this period of time.
- It is possible for irresolvable questions that science raises to distract us from hearing the meaning and message of the text in hand in the first few chapters of Genesis.
It would seem that the life spans are intended to be taken literally. What might account for the variation of lifespan between then and now is another question for which there is no satisfactory answer!
Nigel Barge Oct 11
As I said the other day, I have been thinking about something you preached in
your sermon of 7th August and I had a listen to the sermon again via the
website and it has raised a question that I hope you can answer.
You finish up your sermon saying:
“You are where God wants you to be if you are submitted to Christ. You are
where God has ordained that you should be and you may have got there
through Sin. If you are submitted to Christ, you have a calling to be where you
are. However you have got where you are, the sovereignty of God has placed
you there today.”
Based on what you said, how do I relate these words to the appointment of
Scott Rennie in Queens Cross Church?
I am sure he would argue that he is submitted to Christ, and his lifestyle may
be classed as sinning, so is it wrong that he has been called to minister where
Is he where God has ordained, through his sovereignty, and called him to be?
The key things in this are:
1] God’s calling.
We tend to think about this as where we are or what we are doing.
However, these things are secondary. The thing of primary importance is
our relationship to God.
2] Submission to God in your heart.
This means that I humble myself and sit under and obedient to God’s
Word. Disciples obey Jesus’ Word / do what Jesus commands (Jn 15:1-
17). I am not where God wants me to be (whatever the outward
circumstance if I reject His written Word – the Bible)
3] Our sin and God’s control.
If you are in a state of submission to God, wherever you have been,
wherever you have got to and however you got there, this is ‘where’ he
wants you today. From that point, you walk on in the fellowship of
the Holy Spirit. This may mean a change of behaviour, circumstances
etc if that is possible and desirable, but this follows from that right
In LUKE 15, in his providence the father allowed the younger son to go
to the far off land (he financed it!) He would have rather he stayed but
the son needed to come to his senses. God is in control of my life even
when I am sinfully disobedient. He allows me to suffer the
consequences of my sin in order that I may turn back to him. Thus the
son was where the father wanted him to be when in the far off land, so
that he would come to his senses and decide to submit to him.
In the sermon I was trying to deal with any who might say ‘I am
submitting to God now but have got myself into the wrong place in
family, work etc, so I can’t…..’. The fact is today, if you are submitting to
God in your heart, it is a new start. You are right with God and need to
move on from there.
Any child of God who is flagrantly disobeying the Father’s Word and
heading for the far off land is not following the Father’s calling even
though he is still living within his permissive will.
Nigel Barge Sept 11