Digital Evangelism | The Voice 10.14: April 05, 2020

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The Voice

Digital Evangelism

It used to be a hobby and a curiosity; many derided it and its potential. Yet life in the twenty-first century is now shaped profoundly by digital technology. We must take digital technology into account when considering evangelism; we ought to seek to bring Jesus’ lordship to bear upon the online realm.

Digital evangelism involves the proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return on the Internet. The role of digital evangelism in the proclamation of the Gospel has grown significantly over the past two decades as the power and influence of the technology has increased over modern life. It was not that long ago when congregations could do quite well with an advertisement in the Yellow Pages, a Dial-a-Bible message, and perhaps posting some flyers in the community; now very few use a phone book, and the first place many people turn in order to find out information about faith, religion, or a church is the Internet. Therefore, if Christians would reach the people in their communities with the Gospel, a robust presence on the Internet is essential.

The rapid transformations in digital technology render any attempt to provide specific guidance unwise; it will likely prove irrelevant within a short time. Nevertheless, we do well to keep some general principles in mind as we consider how to effectively promote the Gospel on the Internet.

As Christians we tend to prize and prioritize what is tried, true, and is of lasting value and power, and for good reason; Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the faith which we are to preach and embody has existed for almost two thousand years (Hebrews 13:8, Jude 1:3). In many respects the Internet is the exact opposite: it is a dynamic environment that constantly reinvents itself and changes continually. Bulletin boards gave way to platforms like America Online which gave way to blogging which gave way to social media; for years text was the primary means of communication online, but now audiovisual presentations are ascendant. A well-built website with a lot of information once gained credence by search engines; now it is all about targeted advertising and search engine optimization. Whenever a person begins to feel comfortable with their understanding of just about anything on the Internet, the whole paradigm will shift. As Christians, we must recognize our temptation to justify remaining behind the technological curve, and remain humble enough to seek out resources and people who can help us most effectively proclaim Christ with the technology presently available. This will often require the active involvement of younger people for whom the technology proves more intuitive and who often understand it better. We may be comfortable with copy and writing, and wish to inculcate strong book reading habits, but we must discern the post-literate culture we are entering and not become guilty of demanding a particular cultural expression of devotion to God and learning about the faith to the detriment of actually communicating about the faith. One can come to a knowledge of the faith and be saved through listening to podcasts, hearing the Bible read aloud, and watching videos regarding matters of the faith, and all without ever picking up a physical Bible. The important thing is for the message to be distributed so that it might be heard.

On account of digital technology we are witnessing a profound change in the relationship between humans and knowledge. In former times the primary challenge was access to information: finding books or other resources, receiving the training to understand what one would read, etc. Thanks to digital technology we now have access to the treasury of human knowledge at our fingertips at almost all times. Now humans face a very different challenge: what information to trust, and how to sort through all the information accessible on the Internet. There is no lack of content on the Internet in general and religious content in particular; who should be trusted, and who is spreading fake news? To this end we do well to embody the posture of the ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20): we must prove to be trustworthy in how we promote the Gospel and embody Jesus on the Internet. We should preach the Gospel with excellent materials: we should quote reputable sources and faithfully represent the positions of those with whom we disagree, for if we do not prove fair and honest in such dealings, people will not trust us, and will seek information elsewhere. Furthermore, very little is ever really lost on the Internet; much may languish in obscurity, but whatever has been said and done on the Internet can be found and brought to light, for better or for worse. To this end Christians must remember that they always represent Jesus in whatever they say and do on the Internet. If they do not embody Jesus in how they express their views about politics, society, culture, etc., prove to be trolls in certain quarters of the Internet, or freely participate in moral hypocrisy through the pursuit of immorality online, they will be found out, and people will have no reason to trust in their witness for Jesus. Trust, more than distribution of knowledge, is the ultimate currency of an Internet awash in contradictory information, and the people of God should prove trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:2, 1 Peter 4:10-11).

The major challenge of digital technology centers on the “virtual.” The “virtual” attempts to simulate the real in many respects, yet is never truly real. Everything on the Internet is virtual; real people may be behind other screens, but all online interaction is a simulation and a pretense to some degree or another. Just as digital technology should never overtake real life, so digital evangelism and virtual association should never replace or render irrelevant physical presence and physical participation together in life. If we put so much out on the Internet that people get the impression they have no need to come together to jointly participate in life with fellow Christians offline, we have seriously distorted and warped the Gospel message. There are those out and about who proclaim that online church will be the future of Christianity; they ought to be seen as false prophets, and should experience significant push back against that hype. Early Christians suffered and died bearing witness to Jesus as having substantively come in the flesh, not virtually or in any simulation (cf. 1 John 4:1-4, 2 John 1:6-10); life in relational unity demands the sharing of physical space. We must never sacrifice sharing in physical space in the name of digital technology, and part of our responsibility in the Gospel is to teach people today how God made us human in physical bodies to share in physical space together in life and much is lost when we cease doing so. In a very real way the Internet is all fake, all too easily made a Tower of Babel to human ingenuity and the attempt to overcome our natural limitations, and a source of idolatry (cf. Genesis 11:1-9).

Many people today who hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, come to faith in Him, and come to share in joint participation in faith with a local congregation will have sought digital resources at some or many points in their faith journey. Congregations must assume that a good number of those who might visit them will first explore their website and might well want to watch a livestream of much of what they do in the assembly beforehand. If we do not put forth effort in digital evangelism, we can be assured that many others will, and thus will lead people astray. Nevertheless, digital evangelism is not the end all and be all of evangelism, just as digital technology is not the sum of life; we must never become so enraptured with technology that we neglect the power of what God has accomplished in Jesus and in His people. May we proclaim Jesus as Lord online and offline to the glory and praise of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Egypt | The Voice 10.13: March 29, 2020

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It is a land easily romanticized, full of gods and mysteries, an ever-present spring of wonder and fascination: Egypt. Ancient Egypt was a land of contrasts: a fertile river valley surrounded by inhospitable desert, order in the midst of chaos, life and death. For Israel Egypt was a place of oppression and yet refuge; hope yet disappointment; representing the world, yet receiving hope for salvation.

Egypt is the gift of the Nile River, flowing from Lake Victoria and the mountains of Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea. The river would overflow its banks annually in ancient Egypt, leaving rich alluvial soil, allowing flax, papyrus, and wheat to be grown in abundance. Egypt thus enjoyed a far more consistent source of water than its ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and the culture that developed along the Nile reflected such stability and continuity. Despite moments of crisis and trial, Egyptian civilization maintained consistency in belief and practice for nearly 3,000 years.

Egypt represented the world’s first nation-state: King Narmer unified the southern Upper Egypt and the northern delta region of Lower Egypt around 3100 BCE under a single administration while Mesopotamian civilization remained divided into city-states. An Egyptian priest of the Hellenistic period named Manetho divided ancient Egyptian history into a series of thirty dynasties; historians consider the time before Narmer as the Predynastic Era, the first two of Manetho’s dynasties as the Archaic Period, and then the rest of Egyptian history as a series of three “kingdoms” with “intermediate periods” in-between. The Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3-6; ca. 2575-2150 BCE) proved the most stable of all the periods; during this time the pyramids were built. The First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 7-11; ca. 2181-1975 BCE) represented a period of collapse in the central administration, likely due to a major climactic event which led to an extended period of famine and later recovery. The Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11-13; ca. 1975-1640 BCE) saw a return of order and central administration, although not as robust as before; during this time Abraham would have sojourned in Egypt (cf. Genesis 12:10-13:1). The Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties 13-17; ca. 1800-1570 BCE) began with weaker kings and climaxed in the humiliation of the invasion of the Hyksos from the north; in these days Joseph and Israel would have come to Egypt (cf. Genesis 37:28-50:26). The New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20; ca. 1570-1070 BCE) saw Egypt reach the height of its power and empire in the ancient Near Eastern world; Moses lived and the Exodus took place either when Egypt was at the height of its power and influence under Thutmose III/Amenhotep II (ca. 1480 BCE), or under the famous builder and self-aggrandizer Ramses II (ca. 1250 BCE; cf. Exodus 1:1-15:21). The Third Intermediate Period (Dynasties 21-30; ca. 1069-525 BCE) began when Egypt fell prey to the collapse of the Bronze Age in the eleventh century BCE: weak kings, a decentralization of administration, famine, climate change, all leading to successive humiliations when Libyans and Nubians invaded and took over the throne; this is the time when Shoshenq invaded Judah in the days of Rehoboam (ca. 940 BCE; cf. 1 Kings 14:25-26), Hoshea king of Israel conspired with Orsokon IV against Assyria (ca. 730 BCE; cf. 2 Kings 17:4), and Hezekiah got caught up in the conflict between Taharqa of Nubia/Egypt and Sennacherib king of Assyria (ca. 700 BCE; cf. 2 Kings 19:9, Isaiah 37:9). A subset of the Third Intermediate Period is the Late Period (Dynasties 26-30; ca. 712-323 BCE), featuring the flourishing of the last native Egyptian dynasty which would be crushed by the Persians under Cambyses; Necho II, Psamtik II, and Wahibre (Apries) are of this time, the pharaohs who were responsible for the death of Josiah, replacing Jehoahaz with Jehoiakim, and inducing the Judahites to rebel against the Babylonians, leading to the end of the Kingdom of Judah (ca. 609-586 BCE; 2 Kings 23:28-24:20, Jeremiah 44:30, Ezekiel 19:1-14, 29:1-32:32). The last native ruler of ancient Egypt, Nectanebo II, was defeated by the Persians and Greeks under Artaxerxes III in 343 BCE; Egypt would become a pawn of successive empires until it gained independence from Britain in 1952 of our own era, fulfilling Ezekiel 29:15.

The Egyptians thought very highly of themselves and their land. To the Egyptians there was kemet, the “Black Land” of the Nile valley, and deshret, the “Red Land” of the desert. They perceived attributes of the divine in the river, land, and creatures around them, with each attribute having its own god or goddess. Egyptians believed their world continually manifested the story of Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Seth: Osiris was the former king killed by his brother Seth (god of chaos/desert), and who would become the god of the underworld; Osiris’ wife Isis would give birth to Horus, who would become the new king and bring order when he displaced Seth. Thus each living king was considered the living embodiment of Horus a god in his own right, and each dead king Osiris. All Egypt feared the days of Seth. They offered sacrifices to their gods to feed them and placate them lest the gods be poorly disposed to them.

The Egyptians gave much thought to death and the afterlife. They imagined a person’s tomb as the gateway to the underworld, the Duat, which was a mirror image of life on earth. They imagined they would have to undergo trials and tribulations to enter the underworld, and those who could afford it maintained a copy of the Amduat, known as the “Book of the Dead,” to tell them the magic and the knowledge they would need to overcome evil spirits and the moment of judgment. Egyptians believed they would enjoy life in the underworld as long as their descendants continued to speak their name and provided them with food offerings.

In truth, YHWH was God over all, including Egypt; Egypt came to know that YHWH was God, through the plagues before the Exodus, the elimination of native Egyptian rule, Jesus’ sojourn, and the spread of the Gospel in the Roman period (Exodus 10:1-2, Ezekiel 29:1-32:32, Matthew 2:13-15). For Israel Egypt would continually represent the temptation to follow the ways of the world, to serve idols and trust in foreign policy schemes, and the prophets sharply condemned Egypt for it (cf. Isaiah 19:1-20:6, Ezekiel 29:1-32:32). One might think God would want nothing more than to devastate Egypt for all their pride and haughtiness toward His people, and yet Egypt had a special place in God’s purposes. Egypt did provide refuge for God’s people; God envisioned a time of redemption for Egypt with Assyria and Israel and would become a blessing for the world (Isaiah 19:22-25).

According to tradition John Mark would preach the Gospel in Egypt; the message would spread, and much evidence regarding early Christianity has been found in the sands of Egypt. Many of the people of the Two Lands would confess Jesus as Lord and the God of Israel as their God. Egyptian pride would be humbled; the people of the God of Israel would be exalted in their God. May we put our trust in the God of Israel and find salvation in Jesus His Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Constantine and Christendom | The Voice 10.12: March 22, 2020

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Constantine and Christendom

Perhaps Constantine did have some kind of mystical experience before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge; maybe he was influenced profoundly by his mother Helena; maybe he proved to be a shrewd calculator to achieve personal advantage; maybe they all played a part. Yet Christianity would become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within a century of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312. Christianity, for all intents and purposes, had now become Christendom; the effects of popularity and political power on the faith remain to this day.

Before 312 the Roman authorities had at best warily tolerated Christianity, and at worst actively persecuted the faith, burning its Scriptures and killing its adherents. Christians had maintained an ambivalent relationship toward the Empire: they submitted to the Romans as the earthly authorities, yet perceived the power of the Evil One behind its arrogance and oppression (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18, Revelation 13:1-18).

All of that would change after Constantine gained victory over his rivals and presided over a unified Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan in 313 granted tolerance to all religions, including Christianity. Christians gained greater prominence in the Empire, as did its internal disputations. Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325 to settle some of the disagreements, representing an imperial civil authority seeking to establish a normative form of Christianity to uphold, and thus to suppress heretical variations. Basilicas would be built around the Empire; Christianity would continue to gain prominence throughout the fourth century, culminating in the Edict of Thessalonica of 381, enshrining “catholic” Christianity as the state religion, condemning traditional pagan religion and heretical Arianism. “Babylon” was now re-commissioned as a vehicle to promote and advance the “Bride”; the persecuted became the persecutors. “Christendom,” as societies, cultures, or nations professing to espouse Christianity, had been born.

Christendom would soon be rocked by the upheavals surrounding the collapse of the unity of the Roman Empire and the development of the medieval world. The eastern Roman Empire would continue as the Byzantine Empire for another millennium, and sought to fuse the secular power of the Byzantine Emperor with the spiritual purposes of the Orthodox Church: the Emperor would summon and preside over councils and appoint patriarchs, and the church would uphold and promote the empire. The czars of Russia would go on to maintain even greater authority over the Russian Orthodox Church than did the Byzantine Emperors.

In the west political power fragmented into all sorts of small duchies and kingdoms; fealty to the pope and the Roman Catholic Church provided consistency and unity across western Europe for a millennium. The papacy claimed both secular and spiritual power over the kingdoms of Europe, aided by Augustine’s arguments regarding the superiority of the spiritual authorities over secular authorities and the (forged) “Donation of Constantine,” in which Constantine purportedly gave the power over Rome and the western Roman Empire over to the pope. The secular authorities gained credibility and justification for rule from Roman Catholic authorities; Roman Catholicism received not only pride of place in return, but was able to induce secular authorities to actively persecute and kill those whom they deemed heretics, and launched crusades in an attempt to re-conquer Palestine from the Muslims.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century fragmented the perceived unity of Christendom, but did not meaningfully change the relationship of Christianity and power. Untold thousands died in bloodshed in the “Wars of Religion” that gripped Europe from 1524 to 1641, leading to the détente of cuius regio eius religio: the religious persuasion of a nation or duchy’s ruler would become the religion of that nation or duchy. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists not only persecuted one another, but all actively persecuted and killed those whom they deemed “Anabaptists.” The state would continue to financially and politically support a particular brand of Christianity; in return, the religious authorities would support the state, advocate for its policies, and justify its behaviors.

Christendom’s grip on power would begin to loosen on account of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and the success of the American Revolution. States in America began to disestablish “official” churches as the premise of individual right to free expression in religion advanced. Even as various Christian denominations flourished in America on account of its religious “free market,” most in America continued to presume their country to be part of Christendom as a “Christian nation.” It has only been within the past century that the power of Christendom in America and Europe has been significantly weakened on account of Communist revolutions, spiritual disillusionment, the spread of secularism, and the decline in participation in various denominations and churches.

Christendom provided some benefits to the world: much of the philosophical underpinning of modern Western thought derives from the principles of Christianity, especially its emphases on the value of humility, the worth and fundamental equality of each individual, and the importance of charity. Not a few have grown to become faithful Christians in the Lord’s service by starting out with some notion, held consciously or unconsciously, that as an American or as a European they should practice Christianity if they would practice a religion.

And yet Christendom has also hindered the advancement of the purposes of God in the Kingdom of Jesus. Whenever the church is welcomed into the halls of power it has been tempted to compromise the more difficult teachings of Jesus in order to uphold and advance the ideals of the nation-state. The Kingdom of Jesus transcends nation-states and all parties and divisions of mankind, and is called to emulate and embody Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-3:12). To this end Christians are to love their enemies, seeking their welfare (Luke 6:30-36); they must understand that nation-states may have been empowered by God to maintain justice and order, but they all end up giving their power over to the forces of evil to build themselves up to the detriment of others (Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-18). Christians in the Kingdom of Jesus can embody Christ; a nation-state, even if its leaders are tenderly affectionate toward the faith in Jesus, cannot truly love their neighbors as Christ loved mankind, suffering for them to the point of death, and continue to be a going concern.

Christians faithful to the witness of the Kingdom of Jesus recognize that there cannot be any such thing as a “Christian nation”; if it were to be established, Jesus Himself would have done so. Faithful Christians lament all of the ungodly and ugly things done in Christendom to advance worldly conceptions of kingdoms and power which led to the suffering and death of thousands in the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Wars of Religion, the oppression of missions throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and even the arrogant presumptuousness that everyone in American society ought to be Christians, and thus to treat people in churches and in society in ways which do not glorify and honor Jesus. Jesus established His Kingdom in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension; He reigns over it as Lord, not as a particular nation or series of nations which deem themselves to be “Christian” as Christendom, but in ways which transcend all nation-states and their values. Jesus never intended the truth of His teachings to be decided by rulers; Jesus never imposed on others by the sword or through oppression; Jesus never hitched the wagon of His message to the colonizing projects of the Western world; Jesus did not entrust the proclamation of His message to the advancement of a particular nation-state and its cultural heritage. The faith in Christ is not glorified by the Christendom which has proven enduring and pervasive since Constantine; it is only in stripping our Christianity of Christendom that we can truly serve Jesus according to the faith proclaimed in the New Testament, seeking to advance Jesus’ true Kingdom which embodies Him in all things. May we participate in Jesus’ Kingdom, not in Christendom, and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wrath | The Voice 10.11: March 15, 2020

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Works of the Flesh: Wrath

By warning the Galatian Christians regarding the dangers of immoral thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and the importance of manifesting the character habits of godliness, the Apostle Paul has given us helpful, concise lists of the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:17-24. He identified the “works of the flesh” as the following in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul began the list with the kinds of transgressions highly tempting for those coming out of the Gentile Greco-Roman world: those of a sexual nature (fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness), idolatry, and sorcery. Paul has since spoken of transgressions which heavily impact relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, and now wrath.

The word translated here as “wrath” (in other versions “outbursts of anger” or “fits of anger”) is the Greek word thumos, defined by Thayer as:

1) passion, angry, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again
2) glow, ardour, the wine of passion, inflaming wine (which either drives the drinker mad or kills him with its strength)

Thumos is a difficult word to properly convey in English; “passion” or “ardor” perhaps come closest as single terms, but thumos is best exemplified in the heroes of Homer’s Iliad, who would be moved in their thumos to act. It almost seems to describe the impulse to act based on emotional ardor.

Perhaps in Revelation 14:8, 18:3, thumos maintained its core meaning of passion: “Babylon,” an archetype of Rome, compelled the nations to drink the wine of the thumou of her sexually deviant behavior, possibly referring to “rage” or “madness,” but most likely “passion” or “ardor.” Otherwise in the New Testament thumos consistently referred to the expression of great anger and hostility. Moses proved willing to forsake Egypt even if it meant suffering the hostility of Pharaoh (Hebrews 11:27). The Ephesian rioters cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” in rage (Acts 19:28). The earth would suffer the fury of Satan the dragon when he was cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:12). Many would drink the unmixed cup of the wrath of God (Romans 2:8, Revelation 14:10, 19, 15:1, 7, 16:1, 19, 19:15). Thumos as a kind of intense anger was condemned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:20, Ephesians 4:31, and Colossians 3:8 as in Galatians 5:20: a passion to be put away and contained, not given full venting.

Thumos, therefore, refers to a powerful and animating passion borne from deep emotion, and in the New Testament particularly the exercise of that passion in strong anger and hostility: wrath. Thus Webster defines wrath in English:

1. Violent anger; vehement exasperation; indignation;
2. The effects of anger;
3. Just punishment of an offense or crime.

Wrath goes well beyond the flush of anger; wrath is akin to the explosion of a nuclear bomb, wreaking relational devastation and havoc whenever set off. For good reason Achilles in Homer’s Iliad represents the archetype of wrathful rage: full of power and emotion, sensitive to slights against his honor, he at first sulked, immersing himself in his anger and dishonor. When his best friend Patroclus fought and died in his stead, he directed his mindless rage against the Trojans. Only the tender appeal and vulnerability of Priam, king of Troy, restored Achilles to any sort of humanity and compassion.

When consumed in his wrath Achilles disconnected from his humanity, becoming as a raging beast. Such is the danger of all forms of anger, and such is why Paul echoed Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26:

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

“Wrath” here is a Greek word somewhat synonymous with thumos (parorgismos); Paul’s exhortation can help sort out the human quandary in regards to anger. Anger is a deeply primal passion easily instigated as an almost instinctive response to perceived slights and injustices. To this end Paul recognized that Christians will feel this passion; the question will be what the Christian will do in response. Paul exhorted Christians to not sin in their anger: they ought not immerse themselves in it and allow their anger to morph into wrath. They must recognize the passion welling up within them and do whatever it takes to not allow it to pour out. Science is now validating the reason for the concern: when we get angry, the chemical response leads our brains to shut off “higher level” thought processes. Have you ever been angry, gave vent to your anger, hurt some people you love, and when it was all over wonder why you said and did such things? You literally stopped thinking; thumos took over. The results are never pretty.

Wrath, beyond a manifestation of a lack of self-control, devastates relationships like a tornado, hurricane, or nuclear detonation. Achilles’ wrath almost doomed the Achaean army; our wrath can doom our relationships, our employment, and our lives. Once words and actions are done in anger and wrath, they can never be fully repaired: yes, people can forgive, and relationships can be mended, but a legacy of hurt and damage will never go away. We all know this intuitively: think about the people you love, and whether you ever heard from them a word or experienced an act from anger and wrath. Even if you have forgiven that person, you still likely remember exactly what they did or said, and if nothing else, you remember exactly how those words and/or deeds made you feel. A lifetime of diligent work to build goodwill can be entirely ruined in one outburst of wrath.

No wonder wrath is reckoned as a work of the flesh: in humanity it works entirely contrary to everything God is working to accomplish in Jesus. In Jesus God would reconcile and heal (Ephesians 2:1-3:12); wrath divides and hurts. In Jesus God would tear down walls between people (Ephesians 2:11-18); wrath gives those who suffer it every reason to create distance and build walls against those who inflict it. Relational unity and wrath cannot mix; and thus the anger of man cannot accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

To avoid wrath does not mean to cease feeling; feeling is a major part of what makes us human. We will feel anger because of injustice and dishonor, and woe to us on the day if and when we cease feeling and lapse into ungodly indifference. We must feel, yet without sin: we must keep discipline and not allow our great-hearted passion within us to pour out as wrath. Our relationships prove far too precious to destroy by outbursts of wrath. May we stand against injustice, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and maintain discipline in our feelings of anger, so as to reflect Jesus the Christ and obtain life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Paul in Caesarea | The Voice 10.10: March 8, 2020

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Apologies in Acts: Paul in Caesarea

Paul’s situation had grown dire. Accusers slandered him at every opportunity. Yet now he would tell of what God accomplished through Jesus and in him before governors and kings.

Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and had made his defense before the Israelites and the Sanhedrin (Acts 21:17-23:11). Some among the Jews hatched a plan against his life, and it was made known to him; Paul was then given a strong military escort from Jerusalem down to Caesarea where Marcus Antonius Felix, the Roman procurator of the land, maintained his residence (Procurator from 52-60; Acts 23:12-35).

Before Felix the Jewish people made their accusations against Paul: they considered Paul a pestilence, one who caused insurrection among the Jewish people, a ringleader of the Nazarean sect, who profaned the Temple and was only by Roman violence spared from their hands (Acts 24:1-9).

Paul then made his defense before Felix (Acts 24:10-21). He began by clearing his name: he informed Felix that he had only gone up to prostrate in Jerusalem within the past twelve days, and he did not dispute with anyone in the synagogues or in the city, and they cannot prove the accusations which they have made against him (Acts 24:10-13). Paul then made his confession: he followed the Way which his accusers had called a sect, and in that Way he served the God of their fathers, fully believing the Law and the prophets, maintaining hope, as did his accusers, in the resurrection of the just and the unjust; to this end he lived with a good conscience (Acts 24:14-16). He again explained what happened: he had returned after a few years to bring gifts and offerings to his nation, and some Jewish people from Asia found him purified in the Temple, without crowd or contention, and those Jewish people from Asia should have been present to make accusation against him (Acts 24:17-19). He then indicted those who brought the accusations against him, asking them to declare what wrongdoing was found against him when he stood before the Sanhedrin, save that he cried out among them that he was on trial in their midst regarding the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:20-21; cf. Acts 23:1-11).

Felix had a more exact knowledge of what God accomplished in Jesus; he did not make a determination at the time, but delayed, hoping to gain material benefit from Paul’s associates (Acts 24:22-26). As a favor to the Jewish people Felix left Paul in prison throughout the rest of his procuratorship, leaving the matter for his successor, Porcius Festus (Procurator ca. 59-61; Acts 24:27).

As soon as Festus came to Caesarea the Jewish people brought accusations against Paul again; Luke summarized Paul’s defense similarly to much of Acts 24:10-21: he had not sinned against the laws of the Jewish people, the Temple, or Caesar (Acts 25:1-8). Festus asked Paul to stand trial in Jerusalem; Paul said he stood before Caesar’s judgment seat as was appropriate for his station, and that if he were guilty, he would accept punishment, but if not guilty, he would not be given over to the Jewish people of Jerusalem, and to that end he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:9-11). Festus agreed to send him to Caesar, but wanted to be able to explain to Caesar why he was being sent; to this end, he set Paul’s case before Marcus Julius Agrippa, also known as Herod Agrippa II, King of the Jews, who himself had wanted to hear Paul (Acts 25:12-22). The stage was set with great fanfare (Acts 25:23-27).

Paul then made his defense before King Herod Agrippa II, Queen Berenice, and the Roman procurator Porcius Festus (Acts 24:1-29). Paul had confidence in Agrippa’s understanding in the ways of Israel, and so told his story: he had been raised a Pharisee, and was now judged for the hope of the promise which God made to their fathers which the twelve tribes hope to attain in their service to God (Acts 24:1-7). Paul asked if Agrippa thought it incredible that God would raise the dead (Acts 26:8). Paul testified regarding his persecution of the name of Jesus: imprisoning Christians in Jerusalem by the authority of the chief priests, voting for their execution, punishing them in synagogues, compelling them to blaspheme, and in great zeal persecuting even unto foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11). Paul then recounted the story of his conversion: the journey to Damascus; the great light from heaven; the voice asking in Aramaic why he, Saul, was persecuting him, and how hard it is to kick against the goad; the identification of the person as Jesus; Paul’s commission to be a servant and witness of what Jesus had and would show him, to deliver him from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, and to go to the Gentiles to open their eyes to turn from darkness to light, from Satan to God, to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among the holy ones (Acts 26:12-18). Paul spoke of how he proved obedient to the vision, proclaiming in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and then among the Gentiles the call of repentance and turning to God in Jesus (Acts 26:19-20). Paul declared it was for this reason the Jewish people seized him in the Temple and wanted to kill him (Acts 26:21). To this end Paul testified how, through God’s help, he stood and spoke nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come, that the Christ would suffer and in His resurrection would proclaim light to the Jewish people and also to the Gentiles (Acts 26:22-23).

At this point Festus cried out loudly that Paul had gone mad by his great learning (Acts 26:24). Paul countered that he was not mad but spoke truly and soberly, and appealed to the knowledge of Agrippa; Paul was persuaded Agrippa had heard of these things, because they had not been done in secret (Acts 26:25-26). Paul asked if Agrippa believed in the prophets; Agrippa responded, likely sarcastically, that Paul was trying to make him a Christian in such a short time (Acts 26:27-28). Paul did not deny it; he wished that all who heard him would become as he was, except for his chains (Acts 26:29).

Paul’s apologies in Caesarea demonstrate his agendas and purposes well. Before Felix he was accused in the setting of a more formal trial; to this end most of his speech was a pure defense of his conduct, yet even in so doing he made sure to “confess” his faith in the Way of Jesus as the fulfillment of the hope of Israel in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:15-16). In his defense before Agrippa we get a clearer idea of what Paul was intending to do before the Israelites in Jerusalem: he was telling the story of what God had accomplished in him to explain why he had returned to make offerings, and in the process, to testify regarding God’s work in Christ in and through him (Act 26:4-21; cf. Acts 22:1-21). Yet in all these apologies Paul worked diligently to establish the points of continuity: in Paul’s telling, he had not deviated away from Israel, or had “converted” to Christianity; instead, he perceived in Jesus’ death and resurrection the fulfillment of all God had promised Israel (Acts 24:14-15, 26:6-8, 22-23).

Thus Agrippa was not wrong: Paul might have been making a defense of his conduct, but he was really trying to convince them to become Christians (Acts 26:28). We have no evidence that any converted, but they all were convinced of Paul’s innocence, and he would have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:29-32). Yet the Lord Jesus had told Paul he would testify of Him in Rome, and so to Rome Paul would go (Acts 27:1-28:31). Paul had accomplished the Lord’s purposes in testifying regarding what Jesus had done in and through him, and how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises God had made to His people Israel. May we also proclaim the work of God in Christ in and through our lives, and share in the inheritance of the saints!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Invitation Evangelism | The Voice 10.09: March 1, 2020

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Invitation Evangelism

It was the first call to action, and it was an invitation: come and see. Thus Jesus welcomed Andrew, and thus Philip invited Nathanael (John 1:39, 46). In the Gospel all are now welcomed to come and taste that the Lord Jesus is good and gracious, and to receive rest in their souls in Him (Matthew 11:28-30, 1 Peter 2:3).

Invitation evangelism is really the only form of evangelism if we understand it as the welcome to come and learn of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. No one alive has personal experience with Jesus as He walked the earth as the Apostles did (cf. 1 John 1:1-3); yet even the Apostles themselves invited people to follow Jesus and put their trust in Him as Lord, and did not seek any glory for themselves (1 Corinthians 3:21-4:1, 4:9-13). Only God saves in Jesus; all we can do is plant the seed of the message of what God has done in Jesus and nurture it (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). Evangelism can never be about us, our culture, or anything other than the good news of Jesus the Christ. We must always point back to Jesus and anchor any word we may have to say to our culture in what God has made known in Jesus (2 Timothy 4:1-4). If we have truly come to believe in and accept the Gospel of Jesus, we ought to know that salvation cannot be found in personal insecurities or opinions or socio-cultural norms or attitudes: salvation is only found in the good news of what God has accomplished in Jesus (Romans 1:16).

While all faithful and effective evangelism invites the hearer to come and see what God has accomplished in Jesus, “invitation evangelism” is most often understood as a different practice: an initiative which encourages Christians to invite their family, friends, or associates to come and consider an assembly of the saints. Such “invitation evangelism” may be informal: a Christian may feel as if he or she is not adequately equipped to tell someone about Jesus, or thinks the proclamation of the Gospel is best left to the “professionals,” and thus thinks their role in evangelism is to invite people to their church to hear about Jesus. Yet it may also represent some kind of formal program: perhaps the congregation maintains a “seeker friendly” paradigm, and the entire assembly is oriented around the comfort and basic instructions for the “unchurched”; perhaps the congregation features a “friends and family” assembly, or facilitates a specific assembly which may be more accessible and amenable for the “unchurched”; perhaps the preacher will guilt and shame Christians for their lack of effort in evangelism, and suggest the solution is for them to go out and invite their friends and associates to church.

“Invitation evangelism” as inviting people to assemble with Christians is not wrong; in many respects, it is a culturally appropriate and expected form of outreach. Many have accepted such an invitation, have learned of Jesus in the assemblies of Christians, and have become faithful Christians on account of it, and God be praised for it. Yet there are dangers regarding such “invitation evangelism” which can lead to distortions of understanding regarding evangelism and the nature of the assembly of the saints.

As Christians we do well to maintain a clear distinction between inviting “the unchurched” to visit an assembly, which is a form of outreach, and inviting “the unchurched” to learn about Jesus, which is evangelism, lest we believe that inviting a person to church is the same as learning about Jesus. In this distinction, “outreach” is the means by which we encourage someone to come to learn about Jesus; “evangelism” is when that person learns about Jesus. Let none be deceived: outreach is an indispensable part of the means by which people come to a saving knowledge of the truth in Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the word of God in Christ (Romans 10:17); Christians must find ways to welcome people to hear that word, and the means by which they do so is outreach. Inviting people to attend an assembly of Christians is one such form of outreach, and it can be done well and effectively. But just because someone is invited to church does not mean they have learned a thing about Jesus; many times a person can even visit such an assembly and come away without having learned much about Jesus! Until a person has been confronted with the story of how God worked through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and will in His return, they have not been evangelized. All outreach ought to lead to evangelism; but outreach is itself not evangelism.

Christians also do well to never get distracted from God’s primary purpose for their assemblies: the spiritual edification of one another in the faith (1 Corinthians 14:26). Unbelievers, or the “uninitiated,” were present in Christian assemblies in the first century; they even could be convicted in faith based on what they saw and heard in those assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:22-25). Yet the New Testament betrays no suggestion that Christian assemblies were the primary means of evangelism by early Christians, or that the assemblies were structured around the comfort of unbelievers; thus, a “seeker friendly” posture as has been manifest in much of Evangelicalism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is inconsistent with God’s purposes for the assemblies of Christians. At the same time the New Testament does not recommend a “seeker hostile” posture, either; early Christians displayed hospitality in welcoming unbelievers to their assemblies, and Christians should always speak of the truth of God in Christ in love and humility, seasoned as with salt (Colossians 4:6, 1 Peter 3:15). A congregation may find it appropriate to dedicate certain assemblies to feature messages in which the story of what God has accomplished in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and will accomplish in His return, and do so in order to both remind and refresh the saints in these truths as well as to proclaim them to those who may not yet believe. Any unbeliever who assembles with Christians ought to find them to be warm and welcoming; whoever invited him or her should not be given reasons to have to apologize for what they saw or heard afterward, and if such reasons are given, no one should be surprised when the one inviting ceases to invite their friends and associates any longer. Yet the unbeliever should also see how the assembly of the saints is for the saints and their mutual encouragement and edification, and it should encourage them to become a part of the body of Christ and share in such joint participation in Jesus.

All faithful evangelism invites people to learn of their God through what He accomplished in Jesus, and to follow and serve Jesus as Lord in all things. We may have opportunity to invite people of the world to assemble with us as part of our assemblies, and even dedicate certain assemblies for that purpose. And yet we must always remember that inviting someone to an assembly is not the same as telling them about Jesus; unbelievers should find a hearty welcome and a loving environment when assembling with Christians, yet be able to perceive the primary purpose of that assembly as directed toward the edification and encouragement of the saints. May we never confuse outreach with evangelism, emphasize the importance of actually telling people what God has accomplished in Jesus, and invite everyone to share in eternal life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gospel of Kingdom in Midst of Empire | The Voice 10.08: February 23, 2020

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The Gospel of the Kingdom in the Midst of the Gospel of Empire

Good news had been proclaimed throughout the known world. After a long time of instability, war, and a proliferation of petty kingdoms, the gods strengthened the hands of the Romans to bring peace and prosperity. Augustus, son of the divine Caesar, had brought peace after great civil conflict; the pax Romana would endure for the better part of two hundred years, and represent a remarkable period of stability in world history. All were directed to continue to offer sacrifices to their gods in order to preserve the stability of the Empire and to celebrate and venerate the gifts of Rome through honoring the genius of Roma and her Lord, a son of the divine Caesar and Augustus.

This was the environment into which the Apostles and early Christians went about embodying the Kingdom of God in Christ, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, raised from the dead, King of kings and Lord of lords. They risked making known the Gospel of the Kingdom in the midst of the “gospel” of the Roman Empire.

In His life Jesus hinted at the upcoming contrast and conflict with the Roman authority in Matthew 22:15-22 and parallel passages. The Pharisees and Herodians sought to entrap Him regarding taxes (Matthew 22:15-17). Jesus skillfully evaded their trap while pointing to a profound truth. He requested Caesar’s coin to be brought forth, most likely a denarius; it would have featured the portrayal of Tiberius’ face along with “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS” inscribed around it: Caesar Augustus Ti[berius], s[on] of the Divinized Aug[ustus] (Matthew 22:18-19). All faithful Israelites would consider such a coin blasphemous and an affront to God; to this end Jesus told all to give what is Caesar’s to Caesar, but to give to God what is God’s (Matthew 28:20-21). Give back to Caesar his blasphemous money; but dedicate your life and all that is in it to the God who gave you life and all things. Jesus’ declarations were not partisan, yet they certainly carried political connotations: do not give into the totalizing rhetoric of the Empire. Maintain devotion and loyalty to God.

In a similar way Paul exhorted the Christians of Philippi to recognize their citizenship was in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Philippi was a Roman colony originally populated by the soldiers of Octavian Augustus; they greatly valued their Roman citizenship and standing. Paul told them to live as faithful citizens as informed by the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). Such Christians were not to live in rebellion against the Roman authority (cf. Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); and yet they were to maintain their primary loyalty to God in Christ, considering themselves as citizens of the reign of God in Christ.

To this end Christians in the Roman Empire were reckoned as the “Third Way.” Pagan Romans and their pagan subjects represented the primary way at the time. Jewish people represented the second: very obvious in their dress and practices, begrudgingly respected as an ancient religion, since Moses was older than Homer. Christians, though, were the third way: they looked and seemed like everyone else, but they observed this new “atheistic” superstition. You could not tell whether a person was a Christian or not by how they looked; you could only know by confronting them or noticing certain changes in their lifestyles. To this end they were extremely subversive; their “atheism” represented an existential threat to the stability of the Empire.

How could Christians be seen as subversive? They proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Indeed, Jesus’ Kingdom was not of this world and was from above (John 18:36), yet Jesus’ reign had implications for the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). The Thessalonians were not wrong to hear in Paul’s proclamation of Jesus a message turning the world upside down, acting against Caesar’s decree by declaring another king, Jesus (Acts 17:6-7). If Jesus is the Son of God, then Caesar is not. If Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, then Caesar is not. The Gospel of the Kingdom did not enmesh itself within the “gospel” of empire.

But how could Christians be seen as “atheistic” in light of their dedication to God’s Kingdom? The conflict came from their rejection of the gods of the nations as non-existent or demonic (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6). The Romans could prove tolerant of its subjects serving all kinds of gods under heaven in order to secure peace and prosperity for all; but a growing group of people denying all of the gods save the God of heaven undermined group cohesion and stability. Rejecting all other gods seemed impious to the Romans, and in their theology the worst possible idea: if more and more people did not provide the ancestral gods with honor and sacrifice, those gods could get very angry and cause great disruption, distress, and difficulty for the Romans and their subjects. And so whenever the Empire endured any kind of distress or tragedy, the Christians became the easy scapegoat: all of this misery has come upon us because the “atheistic” Christians have angered our gods, and we must coerce them back into serving the gods or eliminate them to ameliorate the threat. Furthermore, the unwillingness of Christians to offer sacrifices to the genius of Roma and/or its Emperors seemed both impious and politically subversive. We can thus understand why the Romans persecuted the Christians as they did, and why it was so important for Christians to maintain their witness for Jesus despite all such distress (cf. Revelation 12:10-12, 13:1-18).

Times may have changed; nevertheless, the powers and principalities have not. Empires today may not look exactly like the Roman Empire; their religions may not look exactly like Roman paganism. And yet Christians are still called to embody and proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom in the midst of the “gospel” of empire. Nation-states still put forth the “gospel” of their propaganda, and how their rule has brought peace and stability. When embodied and proclaimed properly, the Gospel of the Kingdom will continue to undermine the pretentious claims of the nation-states, and will rightly be seen as politically subversive. If the nation-state finds Christianity beneficial, it is only when the nation-state has successfully overseen the compromise and domestication of the Gospel of the Kingdom to serve its own interests.

The Gospel of the Kingdom is never partisan, but it cannot help but have political overtones. The Christian’s loyalty must always be primarily to Jesus, not to Caesar; Caesar is not okay with this. The embodiment of the Gospel is always a rebuke to Caesar’s ways and habits; Caesar looks upon this warily. The Gospel of the Kingdom will never square exactly with any worldly ideology or political platform; either the Gospel of the Kingdom is made primary and Christians find themselves as exiles and sojourners among the ways of the world, or the Gospel of the Kingdom is compromised to fit a political platform, and Christian witness becomes entangled in worldly partisanship.

Christians do well to follow the path of their Lord: they must give to Caesar the honor and taxes due him, but dedicate themselves fully to the God who gave them all things. Their loyalty to the reign of God in Jesus demands discomfort with the nature of Caesar’s reign. The Gospel of the Kingdom is at odds with the “gospel” of empire. Empires wither and fade; the Gospel of the Kingdom endures forever. May we serve God in Christ in His Kingdom and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jealousy | The Voice 10.7: February 16, 2020

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Works of the Flesh: Jealousy

The Apostle Paul had affirmed for the Galatian Christians the power of the Gospel of Jesus to save without recourse to observing the Law of Moses. Yet Paul’s concerns were never only about what they believed; their belief should inform their thoughts, feelings, and actions, as illustrated in Paul’s contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:17-25. Paul considers the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul had begun with challenges prevalent particularly in the Greco-Roman world, especially relating to sexuality: sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, and sorcery. Paul continued with the kinds of sinful attitudes and behaviors which cause great distress in relationships: enmities and strife. He continued, according to the same line of thought, with jealousy.

In English, jealousy is defined as:

1. That passion of peculiar uneasiness which arises from the fear that a rival may rob us of the affection of one whom we love, or the suspicion that he has already done it; or it is the uneasiness which arises from the fear that another does or will enjoy some advantage which we desire for ourselves…jealousy is awakened by whatever may exalt others, or give them pleasures and advantages which we desire for ourselves. Jealousy is nearly allied to envy, for jealousy, before a good is lost by ourselves, is converted into envy, after it is obtained by others. Jealousy is the apprehension of superiority.
2. Suspicious fear or apprehension.
3. Suspicious caution or vigilance, an earnest concern or solicitude for the welfare or honor of others.
4. Indignation (Webster’s Dictionary).

As indicated in the definition, “jealousy” and “envy” are closely related, and in common use often confused. Jealousy involves the suspicion or fear that another would take away something which we currently possess; envy, which Paul would mention soon afterward in Galatians 5:21, involves the desire to have what another has. To this end, we are jealous if we are the ones who have; we are envious if we want what another has. The jealous person is convinced of the envy of others.

The word translated in Galatians 5:20 as “jealousy” (some other versions “emulations”) is the Greek word zelos:

1) excitement of mind, ardour, fervour of spirit
1a) zeal, ardour in embracing, pursuing, defending anything
1a1) zeal in behalf of, for a person or thing
1a2) the fierceness of indignation, punitive zeal
1b) an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy (Thayer’s Lexicon).

As we can see from Thayer, zelos means “zeal.” Paul commended the Corinthian Christians and Epaphras for their zelos in 2 Corinthians 7:11, 9:2, and Colossians 4:13. Yet Paul also warned the Roman and Corinthian Christians as he did the Galatians against zelos in Romans 13:13 and 1 Corinthians 3:3; James the Lord’s brother considered zelos the fruit of demonic wisdom in James 3:14, 16.

How can the Apostle Paul both commend and condemn zelos? We could get flustered by the challenge, or we can consider it an invitation for deeper meditation. From Thayer’s definition we can tell how zelos is a passion: a great desire for something. The fact the passion can be both commended and condemned most likely speaks more to how we direct the passion than the passion itself.

The zelos which Paul commends, most often translated as “zeal,” desires what is good regarding the object of passion. As Christians, our greatest passion ought to be for God and the advancement of His purposes in Christ, as proved true of Jesus in John 2:17. We have reason to believe it was the extinguishing of this passion for God which endangered the standing of the church in Ephesus before Jesus in Revelation 2:1-8. Christians also ought to have passion to assist one another in love, either laboring together in advancing the purposes of God in Christ like Epaphras in Colossians 4:13, or in care and benevolence for one another in 2 Corinthians 7:11, 9:2. We could view this passion as a “holy jealousy,” a passion for the beloved in God and doing what God would have done, not unlike God’s own jealousy as an expression of His covenant loyalty (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24).

The zelos which Paul condemns, most often translated as “jealousy,” is a disordered distortion and perversion of “zealous” passion. Jealousy seems to exist when passion meets fear, insecurity, or covetousness. The Sanhedrin heard of all the powerful acts of God accomplished by the Apostles; they proved jealous in their fear of losing standing and renown among the people, and had the Apostles arrested (Acts 5:16-17ff). James rightly identified this disordered passion in the demonic “wisdom of the world”: if it is worth having, so the story goes, others will thus want it, and you have to be afraid of the envy of others to your own harm (James 3:14-18). It is a story as old as Abraham, who thus feared for his life among the nations regarding his wife Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18).

In Acts 13:45, the Jewish people saw all the Gentiles who came to gladly hear the Gospel of Jesus, became jealous, and opposed Paul’s message. Their passion for God and hostility toward those who were different from them led to such a tragic result (cf. Romans 10:2). Paul testified to having experienced the same passion: he persecuted the people of God on account of his zeal for the traditions of his ancestors (Philippians 3:6).

We can gain much from this contrast, for all of us have a desire or passion as it relates to ourselves and others. When we maintain a healthy disposition about ourselves, what we have, and others, this passion manifests itself as love and zeal for God, for His purposes, and for the good of those we love and all of those around us. Yet when our disposition turns unhealthy on account of fear, insecurity, chauvinism, hostility, or indignation, this passion devolves into jealousy. While jealous we cast aspersions on the character and purposes of others; jealousy proves toxic in relationships because it erodes trust. Jealousy also tends to feature a desire for control, either of objects or persons, and leads us to want to hold on ever more strongly to whatever object in our lives we presume others desire. In the process, we either make an idol of that object, or bleed it of the life, love, and joy it would bring to us. We cannot love those of whom we prove jealous, for we are concerned that whatever good they enjoy will come at our expense, and they might well take away the object of our jealousy. Even our passion for God can be thus corrupted into jealousy, as took place with Israel according to the flesh. We can easily become convinced of our election and the assured condemnation of the other, and zealously persecute and alienate in the name of Jesus, while acting entirely contrary to His purposes (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

All relationships require some passion for the good of the beloved. Any relationship can be fouled whenever fear or insecurity turns zeal into jealousy. May we trust in God in Christ and strive to maintain a healthy zeal and passion for God’s purposes in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Paul in Jerusalem | The Voice 10.6: February 9, 2020

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Apologies in Acts: Paul in Jerusalem

Paul traveled to Jerusalem despite his apprehensions and misgivings. The Spirit had warned him in many places through many Christians regarding the difficulties he might undergo. All had gone well with the Jewish Christians. But once Paul entered the Temple, and Jewish men of Asia saw him, the situation deteriorated quickly. Paul would have to stand firm and testify regarding what God had accomplished in Jesus, and what Jesus was accomplishing through him.

In the midst of his third missionary journey Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem (ca. 58-60; Acts 19:21). He would deliver a gift from the Gentile Christians of Macedonia, Achaia, and Galatia (Romans 15:22-33, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:13). He did not know how well he would be received in Jerusalem by either Jewish Christians or Jewish people who had rejected Jesus (Romans 15:22-33); the Holy Spirit warned him of the affliction and imprisonment awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24, 21:10-13).

Paul arrived in Jerusalem and received a warm welcome from the Jewish Christians there; James the Lord’s brother exhorted him to go up to the Temple and pay a vow to reassure everyone that he was not rejecting the customs of his people (Acts 21:17-26). Paul went up to the Temple for many days without incident; toward the end of his period of purification Jewish men of Asia saw him and presumed he had brought Trophimus the Ephesian beyond the Court of the Gentiles (Acts 21:27-28). In truth, Paul had done no such thing; he had been with Trophimus earlier, but had not brought him into the Temple (Acts 21:29). Regardless, the Jewish people of Asia stirred up the crowds so that they almost beat Paul to death had it not been for the intervention of the Roman army (Acts 21:30-32). Paul was then detailed by the Roman guard for his own safety (Acts 21:33-36). When Paul had identified himself Jewish, a speaker of Greek, and a citizen from Tarsus, he was granted the opportunity to address the Jewish people (Acts 21:37-40).

Paul asked the people to hear his defense (apologias); they quieted down since they heard him speaking to them in Aramaic (Acts 22:1-2). Paul then described himself as a Jewish man, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, brought up in Jerusalem, taught by Gamaliel, zealous for God according to the ways of their fathers, and who had been a persecutor of the Way (Acts 22:3-4; cf. Acts 8:3). He told the story of what happened to him as he traveled to Damascus: he went to bring back any Jewish Christians in Damascus to Jerusalem to be punished, but on the way saw the Lord Jesus in a great light; those with him saw the light but could not make out the voice speaking to him (Acts 22:5-10; cf. Acts 9:1-16). Paul entered Damascus and found Ananias who told him of God’s intention of making him a witness of what he saw and heard about Jesus, and exhorted him to be baptized to wash away his sins in Jesus’ name (Acts 22:11-16; cf. Acts 9:17-18). Paul then related how he saw the Lord in a trance telling him to depart since the Jewish people would not listen to his testimony regarding Jesus: Paul protested on the basis of the drama of his conversion and how the Jewish people knew how he consented to Stephen’s death, but Jesus told him to go to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21; cf. Acts 8:1, 9:26-31).

At this point the crowd refused to hear anything more, raising their voices and shouting that Paul did not deserve to live (Acts 22:22-23). The captain of the Roman army had gained no more information about what the cause of the difficulty was; he commanded Paul to be scourged to this end, but was frustrated in this design when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:24-29). Thus the chief captain summoned the Sanhedrin the next day and brought Paul before them so as to learn what the commotion had been all about (Acts 22:29-30).

Paul began by declaring that he lived before God in good conscience to that moment (Acts 23:1). For it Ananias the high priest commanded him to be struck on the mouth; Paul railed at him as a whitewashed wall, having commanded him to be struck contrary to the Law while presuming to judge according to the Law (Acts 23:2-3; cf. Leviticus 19:35, m. Sanhedrin 3:6-8). He was then asked if he reviled God’s high priest; he answered that he did not know he was the high priest, and drew back, quoting Exodus 22:28 (Acts 23:4-5). He perceived the partisan divisions within the Sanhedrin, and cried out that he was a Pharisee, and on trial regarding the hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:5-6). This led to a great argument between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection and the angelic realm, and the Sadducees, who denied it all; some among the Pharisees ended up protesting the proceedings, not only finding nothing wrong with Paul, but even wondering if a spirit or angel had spoken to him (Acts 23:7-9). The commotion might have led to Paul’s demise; the captain of the guard took him away by force (Acts 23:10). The next evening the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and encouraged him: as he had testified about Jesus in Jerusalem, so he would testify of Him in Rome (Acts 23:11).

Thus Paul gave a defense in Jerusalem. He attempted to explain to them how it had come to pass that he proclaimed Jesus among the Gentiles: he had wanted to preach Jesus in Jerusalem based on the dramatic story of his conversion, yet Jesus had other plans based upon the intransigence of the Jewish people of Jerusalem. He artfully recognized the situation of the Sanhedrin, and emphasized his heritage as a Pharisee: he was a Jewish person among Jewish people, and understood how partisan loyalties might provide an opening to soften hearts to consider Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes of the Pharisees. All of this satisfied the Lord Jesus: Paul had testified about all Jesus had done in and through him to those in Jerusalem.

Many times we focus on Acts 22:1-21 in terms of how it bears witness to Paul’s conversion in light of related conversion narratives (Acts 9:1-18, 26:2-23); we can consider those parallels and contrasts profitably, but Luke did not record Paul’s defense in Jerusalem for this purpose primarily. We can see how Paul proclaimed the Gospel to Israelites who had not heard it in Acts 13:15-41. The Israelites in Jerusalem had heard of Jesus; Paul then testified to them about Jesus by setting forth what Jesus had done to and through him. The Sanhedrin had heard from the Apostles in years past; now Paul testified to them about Jesus by sharply focusing on the resurrection, a dividing wedge between Pharisees and Sadducees, and opened up the minds of some Pharisees in the process. The Gospel of the Kingdom thus includes what Jesus is doing in and through His servants; His servants do well to think shrewdly regarding how to encourage people to reconsider their frameworks, assumptions, and biases so as to hear His message. May we prove willing to testify regarding Jesus as Paul did, and share in life in God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Performance Evangelism: The Voice 10.5: February 02, 2020

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The Voice

Performance Evangelism

When walking into some church assemblies these days a person can be forgiven for wondering if they have walked into some kind of experiential theater. Lights are kept low; smoke or fog machines run; the band plays to provide a particular experience or feeling; everything is tightly scripted and precisely performed. The whole experience is designed to impress and entertain those who would attend.

Performance evangelism involves the attempt to promote the Gospel and increase church membership and attendance through a strong emphasis on audiovisual experiences. For generations many preachers have relied on rhetorical polish, compelling song leading, and association with the newest fads in entertainment to attract listeners to their messages. And yet we should not be surprised to find forms of performance evangelism becoming all the more prevalent in modern American society. We have witnessed the explosion of increasingly technical and imaginative forms of audiovisual entertainment in music, television, and films. Entertainment has become a more important part of the way Westerners spend their free time. We can easily understand why many who profess Christ would feel the need to compete in such an entertainment marketplace; after all, most people would rather spend one or two hours watching a good movie, sporting event, or enjoying some other form of diversion than to sit and be bored in a church assembly. A strong drive exists to give the people what they want in seeking to meet them where they are.

In truth, anything that is to be done has an element of performance in it. Every lesson preached, every song sung, every conversation about the Gospel is, in some way or another, a performance. Furthermore, there is no Gospel imperative for the performance of the acts of the assembly and in the proclamation of the Gospel to prove intentionally bland or mediocre. As Christians we ought to strive to glorify God in everything that we do: to this end we ought to participate in the assembly and proclaim the Gospel to the best of our ability and with excellence.

It is one thing to seek to participate in the assembly and proclaim the Gospel well and with excellence; it is quite another to make the assembly and evangelism about the performance. The very real dangers of performance evangelism involve confusing entertainment for edification and presence for participation.

The meaning of “edification” has become distorted in modern Evangelicalism. All too often, when people speak of an experience as having been “edifying,” they mean it provided a great emotional high. The light show, types of band music, and other special effects are all choreographed to produce this kind of entertainment experience. People walk away feeling good, and believing they have received edification. Paul did indeed declare that all things in the assembly should edify in 1 Corinthians 14:26. Yet “edifying,” Greek oikodomen, means “to construct, erect, build up.” Spiritual edification is the means by which a spiritual house is constructed; therefore, edification must involve more than a feeling. Edification, therefore, takes place when substance is added to a person’s faith: when the dust settles, there is now something present in the construction that was not there before. A person can experience spiritual edification in the midst of an experience that produces an emotional high if there is spiritual substance being communicated and exhorted in the process. Unfortunately, all too often, little substance is being communicated in such experiences, and people become habituated to seeking after the feeling of emotional highs and call it edification. No building of faith is erected in their souls, and shipwreck comes all too easily. They have been entertained and enjoyed a great experience, yet they did not receive true edification.

An even greater danger in performance evangelism centers on what life in Christ ultimately is all about. God has called us to share in life in Christ with one another (John 17:20-23). Christians assemble to reinforce and display their joint participation with one another, that which they share in common, in Christ (Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). To this end the assembly of Christians is designed for all to participate jointly: the Lord’s Supper is a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ, Christians speak, teach, and admonish one another in song, Christians give of their means to further their joint participation in the work of God in Christ, Christians are directed in prayer together and assent to the prayer for one another, and even as the Word of God is proclaimed, all are to jointly share and participate in the message and its applications (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 14;14-17, 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:13, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:14-4:6). We do well to note how Paul had expected Christians to have a message or a song or a prayer when they came together, and all were to be done unto edifying (1 Corinthians 14:26). In performance evangelism, however, joint participation would be a hindrance to the professional level of quality demanded of the experience. Singing is mostly for the band and/or the choir. The expectation for most of those present is to serve as spectators, absorbing the experience on offer. An illusion of participation might be given for those present, but not the substance thereof. Furthermore, the quality and professionalism of the experience reinforces the spectator and participant distinction: I am not nearly as good of a musician, singer, or speaker as those up on the stage; therefore it is right and appropriate for me to watch and not to participate, for my participation would only lessen the quality of the experience. To this end many are given every reason to believe and feel that their participation in Christianity is as one present as a spectator, and less as one jointly participating with others in service to God in Christ.

We live in a world which prioritizes performance over meaning and participation; it is tragically sad to see so many in Christ follow after it. In Christ performance is never for its own end or purposes; performance exists to manifest, enhance, and strengthen meaning and participation. A most beautifully presented message is worth nothing if no one really receives the meaning and acts upon it; the most exalted performance profits little if it does not bring people together in joint participation in the Lord Jesus. Performance is thus a vehicle, and as with all vehicles, it does best when it is out of the way: performance should never get in the way of meaning and participation, either in being so vapid, bland, or mediocre as to hinder the meaning and participation, or as being so superb and sublime as to overshadow the meaning and participation.

Performance will always be a part of the proclamation of the Gospel and the acts of the assembly. The question is whether we will privilege performance to the detriment of meaning and participation, or seek excellence in performance to enhance and reinforce meaning and participation. Neither Christianity nor its assemblies are spectator sports; we must constantly display, in all that we do, how Christianity demands joint participation with God in Christ, and therefore should encourage participation by all in the acts of the assembly and the proclamation of the Gospel. In all we do we ought to see the spiritual edification of those who hear and participate: not merely to entertain, but to teach, exhort, and encourage so that real, substantive construction has taken place in faith. May we glorify God through our evangelism and participation in the assemblies, jointly participating in the faith unto edification, and obtain life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry