Salvation | The Voice 12.39: September 25, 2022

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The Voice

Salvation

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Salvation, or being saved, represents a major aspect of the identity and message of Christianity. “Salvation” and its associated terms are used so freely and frequently as to become automatic and even trite. Many speak about how they “got saved,” and “Jesus saves” is one of the most common ways people attempt to communicate the Gospel.

“Salvation” is widely known and recognized, but how well and deeply is it properly understood and internalized? Many people think of salvation entirely in past terms, involving initial conversion and little else, and guaranteed without any caveat or possibility of loss; such a view is spoken of as eternal security or “once saved, always saved.” Others think of salvation primarily in future terms, involving the return of Jesus and the day of Judgment, and maintain great trepidation about their prospects of salvation; perhaps we can describe such a view as “if saved, barely saved.” Some presume God is the only Actor in salvation; others seem to presume that God’s salvation is mostly dependent on humans. Therefore, even though most people recognize that “salvation” and “being saved” are important aspects to Christianity, there is a lot of dispute and little agreement on what it means to be saved in Christ.

What is salvation? The basic concept, as expressed by Thayer in his definition of the Greek sozo, is “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” You do not participate in this kind of saving at a store; the core idea of salvation is “rescue.” When the New Testament speaks about salvation we do well to think in terms of rescue.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands the recognition by all people that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and on their own are not capable of regaining their standing before God (Romans 3:1-23, Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). While in the world we are all sinful, weak, ungodly, and hostile toward God; in His love, grace, and mercy, God provided the means of reconciliation back to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:4-18, Titus 3:4-8). Thus our salvation is really our rescue: we could not save ourselves, so God proved willing to rescue us through Jesus. This good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship was proclaimed throughout the known world in the first century.

Many who heard this good news recognized its truth and sought to respond accordingly (Acts 2:37, 16:30). The Apostles expected them to believe that Jesus is the Christ, to confess that belief, to change their hearts and minds so as to follow Jesus in repentance, to be immersed in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins, and to follow Jesus as disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Such people responded in faith to God on account of what He did for them (Ephesians 2:8-9); they recognized that they could not save themselves but knew that they needed to entrust themselves to God if they wanted to be saved, and trust demands response and effort (Romans 1:5, 6:14-23, James 2:14-26). We understand this in terms of rescue: if a person is drowning and is tossed a lifesaver, he or she must grab ahold of the lifesaver if s/he will be rescued. No one thinks they have rescued themselves simply by grabbing ahold of that lifesaver; they know their rescue was dependent on the efforts expended to get that lifesaver to them and to bring them to safety. But if they had not grabbed the lifesaver, they would have drowned!

The moment of conversion leads to “initial” salvation; at that point the Christian has been restored in relationship and reconciled back to God through Jesus, and is part of the “saved” (Acts 2:47). Even so there remains a real sense in which salvation is not yet complete. Peter captured this sentiment well in 1 Peter 1:3-9: the Christians of Asia Minor were “born again to a living hope” through Jesus’ resurrection and were being “guarded through faith,” yet “for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time,” standing firm and going through trials of faith so as to obtain the “outcome” of their faith, “the salvation of your souls.” Peter does not deny the reality of what we call “initial” salvation yet clearly is looking forward to the full consummation of salvation when the Lord Jesus returns: our “final” salvation.

We can again make sense of this picture by means of “rescue.” A drowning person who has taken ahold of the lifesaver has, in a sense, been rescued, but remains in great danger while still in the water. Their rescue is not complete until they are taken out of the water and given medical attention. If at any point the person let go of the lifesaver they would be back in the same danger they had been in before and could still perish!

Thus it is in Christianity as well. Despite the smooth words of many preachers the New Testament provides many and clear warnings about the dangers of falling away after receiving “initial” salvation: Matthew 7:21-23, 25:14-30, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among others. This does not mean God does not want to or is not able to save Christians; God wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Instead, as can be seen throughout the history of God’s involvement with mankind, the people of God have frequently rebelled against Him despite His faithfulness and covenant loyalty, and have received the consequences of their disobedience (Romans 11:17-22). Our rescue is not permanent or final until we have reached the end of our race and have obtained the crown of glory from God in Christ; we must persevere to the end (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

God does want us to be saved, and despite our propensity toward rebellion He has gone to great lengths to accomplish salvation for us (Romans 8:31-39). If we seek to follow Him according to His purposes we ought not live in perpetual fear of imminent condemnation; He loves us and is more powerful than the forces working against us (1 John 4:3-4). God is presently accomplishing our rescue in Christ, delivering us from the dangers of the world so that we may conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). We can know in Christ that we are saved now when we obey Him according to His purposes revealed in the New Testament; but we also must know that our salvation is not yet complete, for we have yet to obtain the glorious inheritance which comes as the outcome of our faith (Romans 6:15-23, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Let us entrust ourselves to God in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation | The Voice 12.39: September 25, 2022

Companionship, Humility, and Oblivion | The Voice 12.38: September 18, 2022

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The Voice

Companionship, Humility, and Oblivion

Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labor. For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm, but how can one person keep warm by himself? Although an assailant may overpower one person, two can withstand him. Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.
A poor but wise youth is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive advice. For he came out of prison to become king, even though he had been born poor in what would become his kingdom.
I considered all the living who walk on earth, as well as the successor who would arise in his place. There is no end to all the people nor to the past generations, yet future generations will not rejoice in him. This also is profitless and like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:9-16).

Not everything about life under the sun is ruinously depressing; humans can support each other and use wisdom well. Yet the Preacher still saw how it all ends in futility.

The Preacher’s main themes involved everything as hevel: vain, futile, even absurd, and all human pursuits as ultimately chasing after wind, attempting to grasp ahold of things which can never be reached or held (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14). He recognized history as cyclical: things come and go, and there is really nothing new on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:3-10). Despite our protestations we and all we have done will be forgotten on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:11). The Preacher considered pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw the futile end of all of them; none of them could provide humans with ultimate meaning (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26). There is a time and season for everything under heaven: the things we enjoy as well as the things we would assiduously avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). God made man to perceive things greater than himself, yet he is part of the creation, and subject to its limitations and corruption (Ecclesiastes 3:9-22).

Throughout Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 the Preacher would make observations regarding life “under the sun” which also connect and flow from premises and principles he has previously adumbrated. In Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 the Preacher lamented the continual oppression and futility of labor “under the sun.” Let us consider his observations on companionship, humility, and oblivion in Ecclesiastes 4:9-16.

In Ecclesiastes 4:8 the Preacher lamented the man who works but has no descendant to inherit the fruit of the labor; he then commended companionship in labor in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: two people gain more from their labor together, since they can help each other if they fall. Two people can help keep each other warm; one person cannot do that on his or her own (Ecclesiastes 4:11). A would-be attacker will have a much more difficult time with two people than one; a three stranded rope is not easily broken, thus commending a group of three (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

The Preacher’s wisdom remains consistent with the way God has created people. Humans are made in God’s image; God is One in Three and Three in One, one in relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 17:20-23). It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18); modern science also bears witness, since study after study demonstrates how important association and joint participation proves to human welfare. Despite modernist assumptions to the contrary, man is not made to be alone, and a human being is not sufficient or “self-made” in and of him or herself. Humans have not developed “civilization” as a bunch of individual autonomous units; any level of comfort humans enjoy derives from the efforts of joint participation and mutual care and concern. People work best with other people. How many forms of labor require the active participation of others in order to be accomplished? How many remain alive because of acts of care and/or medical treatment provided by others? Neither labor nor life exist unto themselves; we can only thrive when we labor and live together.

The Preacher then made observations about humility and oblivion. The Preacher saw how a poor yet wise youth was better than an old and foolish king who did not take wise counsel (Ecclesiastes 4:13). What exactly the Preacher is attempting to say in Ecclesiastes 4:14 is challenging: he may be speaking of the wise youth, and thus spoke of how he came from bonds, perhaps prison, to become king, even though he had been previously poor; or he may be speaking of the old and foolish king, which would turn the story into a morality tale, for he had himself come from similar humble means but had forgotten them. The Preacher imagined the people would have been with the successor of the king, perhaps this wise youth (Ecclesiastes 4:15); people have come, people have gone, but later generations would not rejoice in this successor/youth, and the Preacher saw how this was without profit and chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 4:16).

Thus in Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 the Preacher either imagined how a poor, wise youth might be elevated to the throne over an old, foolish king, the people would love him, and yet he would still be forgotten in future generations; or the Preacher lamented how a king who had been elevated out of a humble station could still prove foolish in his old age, not heeding good counsel, and his kingdom would yearn for his successor. Nevertheless, neither he nor his successor would be particularly appreciated in future generations.

We can appreciate what the Preacher is saying regardless of how we understand exactly how he is proclaiming it in Ecclesiastes 4:13-16. Arrogance and presumption remain significant temptations for people with greater age and life experience, and all the more so when a person has great power and influence. One can be deluded into thinking one no longer needs to hear the counsel of others, particularly those who might be younger and have less experience; one might think one has gained one’s position based on one’s own skill, strength, and wisdom. Such a person can always find sycophants who will tell him what he wants to hear. It would be better to be younger and poor, having less access to experience, knowledge, insight, strength, and understand the wisdom which might come with such humility!

And yet no matter how wise or foolish a king might prove to be, no matter how beloved or hated, or anything else, future generations will not rejoice in them. As with Ecclesiastes 1:11, so with Ecclesiastes 4:16: we are tempted to want to find exceptions to this rule, especially as it relates to kings. We know the names and some of the stories of kings extending back thousands of years. We use the Preacher himself, Solomon, as a warning about not heeding wisdom and succumbing to folly (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-43). In so doing we miss the Preacher’s point. Have any of these stories or morality tales hindered kings from proving foolish and not heeding good counsel? Do we not see the same patterns develop time and time again? Are not kings and their ilk uniquely tempted to pursue the desires of the flesh, not heed good counsel, and exploit and oppress? The story repeated itself time and time again, from Egypt to Britain to China. And the descendants of the subjects of those kings rarely remember any of them fondly. They will tend to remember their own experiences and how they lived, and that colors their view of things. Americans can understand this with their Presidents; whether they are remembered well or poorly has much more to do with later ideological purposes than anything they actually said or did. In a way the Preacher anticipates the practice of history: what will be remembered is serving the purposes of those alive in the present.

Companionship is good; wisdom is good; but it all ends in oblivion, at least “under the sun.” What will be remembered is what future generations want to remember. Thanks be to God that He has reconciled us together in Him through Jesus His Son, and allows us to hope in Him so we might share in relational unity with God and His people forever. May we participate in God’s Reign in Christ and persevere in life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Companionship, Humility, and Oblivion | The Voice 12.38: September 18, 2022

Purity vs. Sin | The Voice 12.37: September 11, 2022

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The Voice

1 John 3:4-8: Purity vs. Sin

Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him. My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:4-8).

John is attempting to encourage his brethren in the late first century in the face of both persecution and the growth of the Gnostic movement. He has indicated to the brethren that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness, that Christians do not reach a sinless state but should strive to not sin, that Christians are not to follow after the world, and that those who set their hope upon the resurrection strive to keep pure (1 John 1:1-2:6, 2:15-17, 3:1-3).

Meanwhile, John has been providing strong warnings against the false Gnostic teachers, describing them as “antichrists,” those who oppose the truth regarding Jesus (cf. 1 John 2:18-26). In 1 John 3:4-8 he begins to return to some of these concerns.

While some Gnostic groups despised the flesh and renounced all forms of pleasure, many others took the opposite view toward the flesh. The flesh was of far less concern to the Gnostics than the soul: since many such Gnostics were heading toward “spiritual development,” at least in their own minds, what they did in the flesh would not matter. Therefore, Gnostic groups like the Carpocratians were well-known for their immoral conduct (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.25).

John, therefore, makes it abundantly clear to the brethren that this is not the way it should be! John identifies the practice of sin as “lawlessness,” that is, acting contrary to the established law and acting outside the boundaries of law (1 John 3:4). God has provided the appropriate boundaries for Christian conduct throughout the New Testament; lists such as in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21 provide a good starting place to understand these boundaries. Defining sin as “lawlessness” also serves to remind us that there remains “law” even in the new covenant: yes, God has provided us with a covenant of grace, but that is not an excuse for immoral conduct (cf. Romans 6:1-2, 2 Corinthians 3)!

John continues by establishing that Jesus came to take away sin and that in Him there was no sin (1 John 3:5). These realities are made abundantly evident from John 1:29, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and 1 Peter 2:21-22. John again mentions this here to emphasize how these Gnostic teachers have departed from the doctrines and example of Christ: they are promoting that which Jesus intended to take away through His death, and acting in ways entirely unlike Jesus (cf. 1 John 2:6)!

John goes on to say that those who abide in Christ do not sin while those who sin have not seen Him or known Him (1 John 3:6). On the surface, this seems to be a complete contradiction of what John said in 1 John 1:7-10: how can those who abide in Him “not sin” while those who say that they do not sin do not have the truth? The distinction is to be found in repentance: in 1 John 1:7-10, believers who stumble confess as much to God and ask for forgiveness. These Gnostic teachers promote sin without shame, repentance, or confession. Anyone who engages in unrepentant sin make it evident that they do not truly know Jesus!

John then wants to make sure that the brethren are not led astray, and therefore he makes another clear comparison: those who do righteousness are righteous while those who sin are of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). The devil sinned from the beginning, and Jesus came to destroy his works (1 John 3:8).

We should not pretend that John’s absolute statements give us license to be complacent, believing that as long as we engage in some righteous behavior that all will be well. Jesus makes it clear that we must be completely devoted servants of the Father (Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 10:35-39, Galatians 2:20, etc.). People who do a “little” righteousness and a “lot” of self-service are not justified! Nevertheless, we must understand John’s point: one will be able to discern the “spiritual father” of a given person by their deeds (cf. Matthew 7:15-20): those who try to obey God in all things are of righteousness, while those who sin unrepentantly are of the devil!

John speaks of the devil as sinning from “the beginning,” most likely a reference to the Garden (cf. Genesis 3). John shows that these Gnostic teachers are not really gaining “spiritual wisdom” but are in fact the servants of the devil, fully engaged in his work of evil. These Gnostic teachers are in fact working against Jesus, since He came to destroy the works of the devil. Let us be pure and not sinful!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Purity vs. Sin | The Voice 12.37: September 11, 2022

Institutions and Systems | The Voice 12.36: September 04, 2022

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Institutions and Systems; Powers and Principalities

Christians confess humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27); they also confess God as One in Three and Three in One, One in relational unity (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 17:20-23). Thus humans are made for relational unity with God and with one another (John 17:20-23); humans, by their very nature, will seek out fellow human beings with whom to share in life and advance their shared purposes.

To this end we find the existence of collectives, institutions, and their systems fairly intuitive. We inhabit a world full of such collective institutions: for governing, the United Nations, individual nation-states, departments, provinces, or states within nation-states, counties or parishes, cities, townships, and villages, and neighborhoods, all with their departments and ministries addressing all sorts of issues and matters of state; for commerce, family or small businesses, corporations, co-operatives, guilds, and trade unions; for communities, for education, schools, colleges, and universities, and all sorts of voluntary associations like churches and other religious organizations, youth serving organizations, sports clubs and teams, groups for people of like ethnicity, geography, hobby, or passion; and families. We also have learned to navigate the systems which these collective institutions have developed in order to leverage their power and resources: everything from obtaining licenses from, applying for aid or redress from, or petitioning various governmental authorities, to the process of being accepted and participating in a group or a school or a corporation, to the seemingly never-ending automated options when attempting to get satisfaction from a corporation or government.

What humans often find more challenging is any sort of existence of a collective beyond the “inputs” from its constituent individuals. Is there anything more to “the government” than all the various individuals who work as part of that government, and the people whom the government serves? If the “General Electric Corporation,” just to use one example, were to eliminate all its employees and executives, and become owned by a completely different group of shareholders, would it still be the same “General Electric Corporation,” or would it become something completely different? Or can “the government,” the “General Electric Corporation,” or any other collective institution take on a life of its own? How would such work? What would it mean for those who participate in such collective institutions or are significantly influenced by them?

Many, on account of cultural and political commitments, immediately prove skeptical of the existence, or need for accountability, of anything beyond individuals. They believe any difficulties we experience on a collective institutional level derive from the moral failings of individuals participating in those institutions. Problems within the systems developed within these collective institutions, such a view would reason, are really the fault of those who work within those systems. If such were true, it would stand to reason, the elimination of the “few bad apples” that have corrupted such institutions and their systems would lead to relieved oppression, and everything would work the way it should.

If only the failings of collective institutions and their systems could be so easily resolved! And yet the reality remains far more complicated. Collective institutions have never been merely groups of individuals all maintaining their full autonomy and integrity in every way; collective institutions have always had a habit of developing their own cultures and attitudes. As humans have fallen into corruption and sinfulness, so the collective institutions and the systems they build reflect corruption and sinfulness. Collective institutions often exist primarily to provide advantage to its constituent members to the active harm of those who are not its members: witness “hate groups,” nation-states, and the like. Institutions often leverage their authority and influence to avoid death and accountability which would cause it to lose integrity, standing, authority, and influence. Participants in collective institutions most often have every incentive to defend the “bad apples” as opposed to expose them; those who have the integrity to serve as “whistleblowers” are rarely lauded and rewarded, but most often alienated and “shown the door.” Everyone in the collective institution has learned the lesson: us or them. Corruption and oppression thus continue.

Nothing in the previous paragraph has presumed any kind of moral agency beyond the level of the individual. And yet on what basis would we conclude collective institutions and their systems have no existence beyond the individuals which comprise them, and no moral agency whatsoever? We can see how they develop their own cultures which might well continue to exist even if all the people involved were replaced. We are painfully aware how individuals might seem reasonable, but often in groups people are able to justify participation in horrific evils. If we have ever found ourselves disadvantaged or oppressed by a particular collective institution or its systems, we rarely find the difficulty to have come from a particular person; the disadvantage is made to seem very impersonal and to cause the person involved to feel less than human.

The Scriptures do provide us with a way to understand how collective institutions and their systems might have existence beyond their constituent individuals: the powers and principalities. We are given no systematic treatise explaining the powers and principalities; instead, God has given us fleeting glimpses of spiritual realities most likely holistically well beyond our understanding but remain important for us to know they at least exist. Paul spoke of them as our true enemy in Ephesians 6:12; Jesus triumphed over them in His death and resurrection according to Colossians 2:15. We see something similar at work with the elohim whom YHWH condemned as insufficiently establishing justice in Psalm 82:1-8 and the “prince of Persia” who hindered an angel from visiting Daniel in Daniel 10:1-14. Not all spiritual powers work against God in Christ; angels might be considered spiritual powers, since “the angel of the church” is the specific addressee of each of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Jesus’ letters in the Spirit in Revelation 2:1-3:21.

If we are to understand each local congregation has its own angel given authority to oversee it, and each nation has its own power or principality likewise given authority over it, it is not difficult for us to imagine how each collective institution of humanity has some kind of power or principality involved. We have no idea what kind of contest goes on among these powers and principalities in the spiritual realm except for the changes and fallout we experience in our material realm as a result. There is more beyond our understanding than anything we can understand, yet it remains good for us to consider such things lest we deny their existence in our folly.

What could we say about such things? God might well empower a power or principality over collective institutions of humanity. Those powers and principalities might seek to accomplish God’s purposes in upholding justice and righteousness in part or in whole; they likely have free will and many have used that free will, as humans have, in ways which resist God’s purposes, and commit injustice and oppression. They rise and fall according to God’s judgment. If the “good” powers are angels, then the “bad” or “corrupted” powers are likely demons, seeking their own power and benefit to the active harm of others. Paul warned Christians about the pernicious influence of deceptive spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1); we can see how this has worked out in terms of all the false teachings and practices prevalent in “Christendom,” but are we willing to see how they have worked in cultures, societies, and collective institutions in general? When a whole group of people have seemingly willingly given themselves over to lies and deceit, is it not possible they have come under the spell of a demonic delusion?

Such concepts and discussions are new to many Christians; they definitely seem weird, and many may dismiss them as outlandish. Nevertheless, if we all recognize that the world has come under the power of the Evil One who has deceived many (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19), why would the collective institutions of humanity not also come under his sway, or at least prove able to be tempted by him to work against God’s purposes? Has not God revealed enough for us to at least be open to the possibility that collectives have existence above and beyond their constituent members?

Christians are called to resist the powers and principalities and stand firm in Jesus and His power (Ephesians 6:10-18). Christians should be aware of the corruption of collective institutions and their systems, and work to call them to account. Such forces are likely beyond the power of individuals, but the reformation of collective institutions and systems have only been accomplished through the tireless efforts and advocacy of those who would hold them to account, and they generally are those either outside of the collective institution or who have been alienated from and/or oppressed by the institution. If nothing else, Christians should not actively advance the oppression and injustice perpetrated by collective institutions and the systems they have developed, nor should they commend or justify them. In everything Christians must look out for the deceit and temptation of evil spirits, demonic forces, and/or the powers and principalities, and overcome them through their commitment to Jesus and the ways of His Reign. May we all resist the injustices and oppression of collective institutions and the systems they develop, and in all ways work to glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Institutions and Systems | The Voice 12.36: September 04, 2022

Our Story | The Voice 12:35: August 28, 2022

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The Voice

Our Story

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by means of His Word. As part of that creation, on the sixth day, God created humans, making both male and female in His own image. His creation was very good; man lived in the Garden of Eden in full, unbroken communion with God, and it was good, and God rested from His creative labor.

Yet the first man and woman transgressed the commandment God had given them. They ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; their eyes were open; they had lost their innocence. As a result of their transgression, sin, corruption, decay, and death entered into the creation, and all that we can perceive has been made subject to them. Mankind was cursed to work the ground in futility and to die, returning to the dust from which he was made.

Sin increased all the more until the thoughts of man were only evil continually. God condemned all flesh to death by flood save Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. After the Flood mankind came together at Babel to make a monument to his own greatness. God confused their languages and scattered them. On account of sin people found themselves without God, without each other, without a nation, and without hope in the world.

God would have been in the right to simply condemn all mankind. Yet in His great love He began working to reconcile people back to Himself by choosing one man, Abraham, who trusted in Him. God promised Abraham that He would make of him a great nation who would inherit the land of Canaan; through his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. To Abraham was born a child of promise, Isaac, long after the years of childbearing had passed. Isaac, in turn, fathered Jacob, and Jacob fathered twelve sons, all of whom would receive the promise.

Jacob wrestled with an angel and was given the name Israel; he and his children sojourned in Egypt during a famine. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. In the days of strong Pharaohs in Egypt God rescued Israel from Egypt with a mighty hand, leading them out of Egypt and through the Wilderness at the hands of Moses and Aaron. Israel became God’s people as God had promised Abraham; He intended to make for Himself a holy nation who would uphold His Law and serve as a blessing for the nations.

But the nation of Israel continually proved rebellious. In the Wilderness they complained and doubted God frequently. After Israel conquered the land of Canaan the Israelites continually forsook God and served idols. At first God raised up judges to deliver Israel when they repented; they then wanted a king like the other nations. Saul was the first king, then David, a man after God’s own heart, who would never lack a man on the throne. Solomon, David’s son, would build a Temple for God, but after his days the kingdom was divided into two. Both kingdoms were plagued with idolatry; Israel was exiled to Assyria after two hundred years, and Judah to Babylon a century after that, all foretold by the prophets God sent to Israel.

A remnant of Israel would return to its land after the exile, rebuild the Temple, and sought to serve God despite living under foreign kings. As Daniel the prophet had seen, in the days of the fourth empire to rule over Israel, the promised King of the Jews, the descendant of David, was born in Israel. Jesus of Nazareth accomplished all that had been spoken of Him in the Law, Psalms, and Prophets. He embodied the story of Israel: soon after birth He lived in Egypt, returned, was tempted in the wilderness, ministered in the land, teaching the people the truth about the Law and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom to come, was betrayed, suffered death (like an exile), but God raised Him on the third day. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God provided a means by which all men could receive forgiveness of their sins, reconciliation with Him, and victory over sin and death. After forty days Jesus ascended to the Father who gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth. On the day of Pentecost Jesus’ Apostles proclaimed the good news of His death, resurrection, and lordship, and thereby established the Kingdom of Jesus on earth. In Christ people could receive all the blessings which God wanted to provide through Israel; all could receive salvation and share in the faith and promise of Abraham through Jesus.

The Apostles would preach the Gospel through the power of God to both Jews and Gentiles throughout the Roman world in the first century CE. They established churches, local assemblies of people who sought to serve the Lord Jesus, in every city, and in those churches appointed elders to oversee the church and deacons to serve it. Evangelists went about proclaiming the Word, preaching the Gospel and exhorting and warning believers unto faithful belief and conduct in the Lord Jesus.

The Apostles and their associates recorded their testimony regarding what God had done through Jesus in what would become the New Testament. After the death of the Apostles their authority was not handed down to anyone; appeal was to be made to the witness which the Apostles had already established in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, before long, many began to revise and adapt God’s plan for the local church. False doctrines spread far and wide; many stood against such doctrines, but their arguments would soon be taken far beyond their intentions. Within a few hundred years after the death of the Apostles many churches had established an elaborate hierarchy of authority, had accommodated with pagan culture and re-introduced elements of the old covenant into Christianity, and had apostatized from the teachings of the Apostles.

For generations a few held firm to the truth of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture; they were harassed, persecuted, marginalized, and suppressed. Deviations from the truth grew ever greater; after over a millennium many began to seek to return to the ways of God as established in the New Testament. The Reformation shattered the hold of Roman Catholicism over Western Christendom; three hundred years later, in Scotland and America, many began working diligently to restore Christianity to its fundamental New Testament principles. Thus the Restoration Movement began in earnest.

Even then many in the Restoration Movement proved willing to go along with the innovations of the denominations around them. Many were seduced by the missionary society. The divisions among the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), independent Christian Churches, and churches of Christ were established by the beginning of the twentieth century. Among churches of Christ a similar impulse toward supporting institutions and rejecting appropriate New Testament authority led to yet another division a half a century later. To this day we stand upon the authority of God in Christ according to what He has revealed in the New Testament and seek to establish authority for all faith and practice.

We look forward to the day of resurrection and judgment. The Lord Jesus will return as He left, rendering judgment upon all men, saving those who trusted in Him and condemning those who did not know Him nor obeyed His Gospel. The saved will obtain the resurrection of life; the mortal will be swallowed up in immortality; they will have fully overcome sin and death and will remain in the presence of God in Christ forever in unbroken fellowship. All will be well yet again.

This is the story we should tell about who we are, who God is, and our place in all such things. Do we know the story? Can we affirm it as true? Are we willing to uphold this story and our participation in it? Or will we give into the temptation which so many before us did not overcome and renounce part or all of this story for a competing narrative propagated by the spiritual forces in control over this present darkness? May we uphold the story of how God has worked to save His people in Christ and participate in it so we may obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Story | The Voice 12:35: August 28, 2022

Oppression and Work | The Voice 12.34: August 21, 2022

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The Voice

Oppression and Work

So I again considered all the oppression that continually occurs on earth. This is what I saw: The oppressed were in tears, but no one was comforting them; no one delivers them from the power of their oppressors. So I considered those who are dead and gone more fortunate than those who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has not been born and has not seen the evil things that are done on earth.
Then I considered all the skillful work that is done: Surely it is nothing more than competition between one person and another. This also is profitless – like chasing the wind. The fool folds his hands and does no work, so he has nothing to eat but his own flesh. Better is one handful with some rest than two hands full of toil and chasing the wind.
So I again considered another futile thing on earth: A man who is all alone with no companion, he has no children nor siblings; yet there is no end to all his toil, and he is never satisfied with riches. He laments, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is futile and a burdensome task! (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8)

The Preacher looked upon the ways people work and treat one another in the world. What he saw was not good.

The Preacher’s main themes involved everything as hevel: vain, futile, even absurd, and all human pursuits as ultimately chasing after wind, attempting to grasp ahold of things which can never be reached or held (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14). He recognized history as cyclical: things come and go, and there is really nothing new on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:3-10). Despite our protestations we and all we have done will be forgotten on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:11). The Preacher considered pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw the futile end of all of them; none of them could provide humans with ultimate meaning (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26). There is a time and season for everything under heaven: the things we enjoy as well as the things we would assiduously avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). God made man to perceive things greater than himself, yet he is part of the creation, and subject to its limitations and corruption (Ecclesiastes 3:9-22).

Throughout Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 the Preacher would make observations regarding life “under the sun” which also connect and flow from premises and principles he has previously adumbrated. Let us consider his observations about oppression and work in Ecclesiastes 4:1-8.

In Ecclesiastes 3:16 the Preacher observed wickedness where there should have been justice and fairness. The Preacher again considered such continual oppression in Ecclesiastes 4:1: the oppressed cry out and lament in tears, yet no one liberates them from their oppressors.

Oppression and liberation have become very popular and salient themes in modern discourse. Many consider such discussion as inevitably Marxist; perhaps analyses of power differentials and the way power is leveraged in societies often prove Marxist because the rest of the schools of thought and disciplines would rather deny, ignore, or suppress concerns about power differential. Generally those who have time and space to consider such things have benefitted from relative advantage; the Preacher would exemplify such a person, as king in Jerusalem. When power differentials and the benefits gained from such power differentials are considered, one quickly perceives one’s complicity in such oppression. To work for liberation for others would thus come at one’s own expense; and not merely oneself, but also one’s associates, family, and others. Such is why it has always been easier to want to pretend power differentials do not exist, are rooted in other people’s bad or unhealthy behaviors, or to change the subject.

Yet, as the Preacher noted, “under the sun,” oppression continually exists, whether we want to admit it or not. Even when we are willing to see it, and want to do something about it, we find ourselves stymied by entrenched interests, the work of the powers and principalities. We would like to imagine liberation will not prove a zero-sum game: we want to find the “tide” that will “lift all boats.” Such proves a mirage; for others to be liberated, those with advantage and benefit will at least see the deterioration of their advantage and benefit over others. Equality looks like oppression to those who are accustomed to benefit from previous oppression. Such reinforces the wisdom of the Preacher’s observation: he perceived continual oppression almost 3,000 years ago. In the intervening period we have seen many oppressors rise and fall; we have seen oppressed groups obtain liberation only to oppress other groups. In the modern age we would imagine ourselves to be “civilized” and “enlightened,” and we might want to trumpet how well we have lifted many out of grinding poverty and how many more people enjoy a greater level of autonomy than in previous generations. Yet oppression still remains; our prosperity has been obtained at the expense of the creation, the exhaustion of its resources, and the pollution of its environment. Almost two hundred years of Marxist analysis has not led to the widespread liberation of the proletariat; Marxism has been used as a tool of oppression as much as a tool of liberation, if not more so.

Oppressors thus have every reason to keep oppressing in this world. We recoil at the injustice of it all; whereas we want to deny it and pretend we can do otherwise, the Preacher immersed himself in lament. He thought the dead were better off than the living; they are no longer oppressors or oppressed (Ecclesiastes 4:2). Like Job in his suffering, the Preacher thought it best to have never been born so one would not see the pain and suffering of life under the sun (Ecclesiastes 4:3).

The Preacher considered work again: he saw labor performed in terms of competition between people, as one envying another, and saw how such competition was ultimately without profit and chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:4). The Preacher did criticize the fool who did not do any work and thus could only consume his own flesh (Ecclesiastes 4:5); but the Preacher also criticized the workaholic, since it was better to have one handful and some rest rather than two hands full of labor chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

If the Marxist would despair at the Preacher’s expectation of continual oppression, the capitalist would resist the Preacher’s judgment on competition. Our modern economic system is predicated on a positive assessment of competition; many imagine the ideal economy to involve entirely unregulated markets allowing competition to determine the best price for labor, goods, and services. In this economic system the worst possible people are those who would not work and compete in the marketplace yet expect some level of quality of life; the system has every incentive to promote work and discourage rest. Yes, indeed; the Preacher saw all labor in terms of competition long before capitalism was ever imagined. But the Preacher also saw how futile it ultimately would prove. For good reason we have the modern adage, “no one on their deathbed wishes they spent more time in the office.” Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” remains a potent lament and warning regarding being consumed with work and effort and missing out on relationships with children. We should enjoy people, food and drink, and find joy in our labor; such are the gifts God has given us (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13); while people should find enjoyment in their labor, they must not allow their labor to define their lives, since it is ultimately profitless.

Previously the Preacher had considered labor, how his descendants would inherit the fruit of all he did, and it would ultimately be wasted (Ecclesiastes 2:18-24); but in such a scenario the Preacher had descendants who could inherit such benefits. In Ecclesiastes 4:8 he considered the man who worked hard yet had no such family who would enjoy those benefits. Such a man would lament, wondering why he worked so hard. It would be a futile and burdensome task.

Unsolved Mysteries was a popular television series in the late 20th century. Occasionally it would profile unknown inheritance cases. These stories would generally feature a man who was profoundly shaped by his experience in poverty, often during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Such a man would not have any known family, would live alone, and would seem to be a miser without much money. Yet after he would die it would be discovered they had saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, quite a princely sum at the time. Their cases were profiled at the behest of state governments looking for some remote descendant to be able to claim the inheritance.

Such stories exemplify the Preacher’s lament in Ecclesiastes 4:8: these types of men spent their whole lives consumed in the pursuit of labor and toil. They denied themselves almost every worldly enjoyment and additional luxury in order to store up wealth in case another economic crisis arose. When they died, what testimony did they bear? What came of it all? A government agency had to appeal to a wider public audience to try to find someone, anyone – a person with whom the deceased had no relationship – to obtain the estate. How terribly sad!

Life under the sun was and remains harsh, cruel, nasty, brutish, and short. Oppression is a given; labor ultimately proves futile. But we can find some enjoyment in people, our work, and the little things, and we should absolutely do so. Thanks be to God for the hope of liberation from such futility and oppression in Christ and the resurrection of life; may we put our trust in God in Christ so we may overcome futility in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Oppression and Work | The Voice 12.34: August 21, 2022

Children of God | The Voice 12.33: August 14, 2022

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1 John 3:1-3: Children of God

Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).

John has been writing to Christians regarding the Word of Life and the message that He is the light and in Him is no darkness, and thus we are to walk in the light (1 John 1). We do so by following His commandments (1 John 2:1-6). To be in the light means that we love one another (1 John 2:7-14). Christians are not to love the world or the things in it, and not be disturbed in faith on account of those false teachers, the antichrists (1 John 2:15-27).

John charges the Christians to abide in Jesus so that they would not be ashamed when He returns, and to continue practicing righteousness, for those who practice righteous are born of Him (1 John 2:27-29). John now continues by speaking of the great love God has for us and how that love is manifest.

John indicates that God’s great love is made evident toward us in that we can be called His children (1 John 3:1). We become children of God by adoption, as Paul indicates in Romans 8:14-17 and Ephesians 1:5. The basis of our adoption is the blood of Jesus Christ that allows for the cleansing of sin and the restoration of association with Him (1 John 1:1-7). Our adoption, therefore, came at great cost for God; this is why we may have constant confidence in God’s love toward us (Romans 8:31-39). If His love for us was not great, why would He have sacrificed His Son on our behalf?

John indicates that the fact that we have become children of God explains why the world does not “know” us, for it did not know God, either (1 John 3:1). John is not acting as if the world is ignorant regarding Jesus, His claims, and the claims of those who follow Him; instead, John is saying that those in the world do not really understand what Jesus is all about. John records for us in John 7-9 many of the reactions of the Jews to Jesus, and most of them involve a lack of faith in Him as the Son of God. Thus John indicates that the world did not receive its Creator, the darkness did not comprehend the light, and hearts were hardened against Him (John 1:5, 10-11, John 12:37-43). Paul teaches that the world with its fleshly ways of thinking cannot understand the spiritual reality of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2), and Peter told the Jews that they did not know what they were doing when they crucified Jesus (Acts 3:13-17). Since Jesus experienced all these things, why should we be surprised when people do not understand why we stand so strongly for God’s truths and serve Jesus? If people do not “get” Jesus, how will they “get” us (John 15:18-27)?

John affirms that Christians are presently children of God, but indicates that it is not precisely known what we will be, except that we will be as Jesus (1 John 3:2). John might well have in mind the image of God in Christ which should be manifest within God’s people: living righteously as Jesus, manifesting sonship of God, and thus remaining pure as Jesus is pure (1 John 2:29-3:3). We can know we are in Jesus when we manifest Jesus and become like Jesus.

Yet many believe John spoke of the “ontology” of the resurrection body, and question whether we can understand what will happen in the end. If John is speaking of the resurrection, he is considering Jesus’ transformed resurrection body: He was able to eat and drink and be touched (Luke 24:38-39), yet able to transcend time and space (Luke 24:25-37). Nothing John says here contradicts Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-58; we can confess the truth of what Paul has made known about the resurrection, all rooted in how Jesus was manifest in His resurrection, yet we still likely have many questions and cannot fully understand it all until it all takes place. Yet John’s ultimate purpose, however, is to provide assurance for the believer: as Jesus now is, so believers will be. It will be good, if nothing else, in the end.

John then makes evident that those who share in the hope of the resurrection and transformation purifies themselves just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3). When Paul speaks about the groaning in hope for redemption, he makes it clear that such is for those who walk according to the spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:1-25). Peter says that we are born again to a living hope, and later how we must be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:3, 13-16). We cannot hope for the resurrection and yet live according to the ways of the flesh: if we really want to be transformed and to be with the Lord forever, we must act according to righteousness and avoid sin (Romans 12:9). Let us appreciate God’s great love for us, and live our lives as transformed in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29, Romans 12:2)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Children of God | The Voice 12.33: August 14, 2022

Institutional Power | The Voice 12.32: August 7, 2022

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Institutional Power

We often speak of people and power in terms of individuals and the authority God has given to them: over their individual lives, in their responsibilities as parents, children, spouses, among friends and associates, in the community, etc. Such is well and good in light of Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 5:21-6:9, and 1 Peter 2:11-17, among other passages. Nevertheless, if we only view power in terms of individual human beings and their autonomy and standing before God, we neglect how people cultivate and leverage power in collectives.

People developed such collectives as soon as a sufficient number of people existed to create them. Cain built a city, and Noah’s descendants became the eponymous ancestors of the nations of the world (Genesis 4:17, 10:1-32). Ever since, humans have cultivated and developed a multiplicity of collective forms to suit various purposes. Extended families developed into clans, tribes, and ethnic nations, and built villages and cities. Leaders of these communities and groups gained greater power and built out infrastructures to leverage their authority with ministers, secretaries, developing the bureaucratic state; at different times and different places, multiple levels of such a bureaucratic state would develop. People who labored in specific crafts and disciplines would collaborate and form guilds and eventually trade unions. Merchants would work and share profits together, ultimately developing the business and corporate models we find today. Where other forms of connection were absent, people would often form various voluntary associations or societies based on shared religious beliefs, geographical location, class standing, political or philosophical positions, or shared hobbies or passions.

In short, people have sought to associate and connect within collectives throughout time and space. As Christians we should not find this tendency surprising. Humans are made in the image of God, the God Who Is Three in One and One in Three, One in relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 10:30, 17:20-23); thus, man is made yearning for relational unity with God and with people (Genesis 2:18, John 17:20-23). Humans have only been able to leverage dominion over the earth and develop what they deem “civilization” because of their penchant for collective action. As individual humans we are rather weak and frail, and predators would find us easy to hunt; when humans communicate and work together, nothing they plan to do will be beyond them (cf. Genesis 11:6). The “self made person” imagined by middle class Western philosophically liberal values remains a mirage and a myth; beyond the inescapable fact all we have and are comes from God, success in hard work and entrepreneurship still demands good training, infrastructure, and functioning cultures, markets, and societies to lead to any kind of material benefit. People need people in order to succeed.

While each human being has authority and power in their own lives, whenever humans band together to form a collective, these collectives inevitably cultivate and manifest their own kind of authority and power. We therefore find ourselves compelled to grapple with the existence and influence of collective, or institutional, power.

Institutional power represents the authority and influence leveraged by and within collectives of people. Institutional power, by necessity, also includes systemic power: the way collective power is leveraged to benefit or harm certain individuals or types of individuals within a greater society. The systemic power flows by necessity from institutional power on account of the nature of institutions, particularly those with some kind of legislative or regulatory authority over others. A ruler over a small group may be able to personally hear and address every challenge or difficulty in his community; yet, like Moses in Israel, at some point the ruler will have to delegate authority to sub-rulers in order to determine matters (cf. Exodus 18:13-26). As the people expand in size and the difficulties grow in complexity, authority becomes ever more delegated to more and more agents. To maintain standards, said agents will be expected to follow certain protocols in addressing difficulties and challenges. Such is how systems inevitably grow within collectives and become their own form of power within collectives.

Yet the challenges of collective, institutional, and/or systemic power have remained evident since the Tower of Babel: in our corruption, we humans tend to build things in order to make a name for ourselves and to resist being scattered about (cf. Genesis 11:1-5). As with individuals, so with groups and systems: they work to preserve themselves and advance their own interests, even and especially when those interests come into conflict with others. Collectives like making names for themselves: they want to be known for who they are, what they do, and the benefits joint participation can bring. They want to enjoy good press and a good reputation no matter what they are actually doing, since they want to cultivate their power and legacy. If participation in the collective does not provide life enhancement, why bother participating in the collective? In our corruption humans often look for ways to gain advantage and superiority, in pretext or substance, over others, and we often find outlets for these in our collectives: everything from nationalism and patriotism regarding our nation-state to “the sports team from my local area is superior to the sports team from your local area.” Collectives want people to invest them with some level of ultimate meaning: by participating in them you share in something greater than yourself, something nobler, something which will bring honor and glory to you. Such is generally the appeal of everything from religions to military service to corporate mission statements. Furthermore, the making of a name for one collective generally comes at the expense of other collectives: for one group to win, often one or more other groups must lose, as can be seen in anything from sports teams to corporate competition in the free market to nation-states at war.

Humans deeply fear alienation and isolation, and so it is with collectives. Collectives exist to insulate individuals from the dangers and difficulties which arise from alienation and isolation; thus collectives work diligently to perpetuate and advance themselves. Collectives resist the premise they will die; instead, they will arrogate and presume for themselves a form of immortality which humans as individuals cannot aspire in their subjection to death. Individuals die, but collectives might continue on; therefore, collectives encourage individuals to expend their energy and power to perpetuate and advance the collective so it might thus carry on. How much effort and labor have people invested to perpetuate a given club, sports team, community group, corporation, or nation-state?

Let none be deceived: collectives, groups, institutions, and their systems are not intrinsically good or bad, right or wrong. God has established many such collectives: families, clans, tribes, nations, nation-states, and of course the church (Genesis 10:1-32, Matthew 16:18). Christians have collaborated in families, community groups, corporations, and in various aspects of the governing of nation-states and have found ways to glorify God in so doing (Acts 18:1-3, Romans 16:23, Ephesians 5:22-6:9). Yet, as with individuals, so with collectives: they decide whether to leverage their efforts and power in ways which glorify God, or in ways which work against God and His purposes.

We will inevitably be part of and work in collectives, institutions, and their systems. We may primarily benefit from the ways in which those collectives leverage their power; we may find ourselves at a disadvantage or oppressed by the leveraging of that collective power. As God will judge each individual for what he or she has done in the body (Romans 2:5-11, 14:10-12), so God also will judge collectives, institutions, and their systems; they will all ultimately fall, undone by their sinful oppression, and others will rise to take their place, and this cycle repeats until the Lord Jesus returns (cf. Revelation 12:1-19:21).

What shall we do, then? We must be aware of the existence of collective and institutional power and the systems which they develop. If they advantage and privilege us, we do well to advocate for those who find themselves disadvantaged and oppressed by them. We must call out such collectives for their arrogant presumptions, for they will not endure forever, and they cannot provide ultimate meaning; only Jesus through God’s Reign can. Just as no individual is intrinsically superior to any other, so also no collective, institution, or their systems are intrinsically superior or should be more advantaged than any other. The people of God must always be on guard lest they are distracted by the collectives of this world to prioritize them and their interests over the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (cf. Matthew 6:33). In the end, only one collective will endure: the collective of God’s people saved by Christ living under the Reign of God (Revelation 21:1-22:6): if we are God’s people, we must do all we can to ensure the church does not act like the world in its corruption and does not try to re-create the Tower of Babel in its own way, but in humble love and service continually embodies Jesus to the world (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). May we seek to glorify God in all we do as individuals and in various collectives, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Institutional Power | The Voice 12.32: August 7, 2022

Moab and Ammon | The Voice 12.31: July 31, 2022

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Moab and Ammon

They were brothers and brother kingdoms, born in disgrace. They would endure in hostile environments for many years. They would go as it had been prophesied; yet one brother persevered in his own way, and his legacy endures to this day.

Moab and Ammon represented small kingdoms in the Transjordan region of the Levant. Their fortunes waxed and waned; in general, the Kingdom of Moab was centered on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, bordered by Edom on its south, the Amorites and then the Transjordan parts of Israel and Ammon on its north, and some Aramaean and Nabataean tribes on its east. Its capital was Dibon and the Hebrew Bible testifies to the existence of many cities of Moab; Moab was particularly mountainous and its plains were a plateau rising high above the Jordan River. The Kingdom of Ammon (literally “sons of Ammon” throughout the Hebrew Bible) lay to the north and east of Moab, bordered by the Amorites and then the Transjordan parts of Israel on its west and southwest, the Kingdom of Aram on its north, and Aramean tribes on its east. Its capital was Rabbah, which is modern day Amman, Jordan, capital of Jordan and named based upon its Ammonite heritage; its land was part of the same type of plateau as found in Moab. The regions east of Moab and Ammon were particularly inhospitable; nevertheless, the plains of Moab and Ammon provided sufficient sustenance for flocks, herds, and humans, and the presence of the King’s Highway through their lands provided sources of revenue, access to trade, but also the interest of larger empires.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Moab and Ammon were the sons of Lot through their half-sister mothers in the wake of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; “Moab” means “from the father” and “Ben Ammi” means “son of my people” (ca. 2000 BCE; Genesis 19:30-38). Such a scandalous origin story explained why they were tolerated in their lands yet held in contempt: Moab and Ammon are Abraham’s great-nephews, but remain the product of incest. The Moabites and Ammonites would dispossess the Rephaites (called Emites by Moabites and Zamzummites by Ammonites) akin to the Anakites and known as giants, in order to dwell in the lands of the Transjordan between Damascus and Seir at some point before the Israelites approached their lands (ca. 2000-1450; Deuteronomy 2:9-22). The land which would eventually become the Israelite holdings in the Transjordan seems to have been Ammonite and Moabite before it was overrun by the Amorites and ultimately conquered by the Israelites (cf. Judges 11:12-27). Archaeological and other historical documentation attest to the presence of both Moabites and Ammonites in their respective lands in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1300-1100).

The Moabites and Ammonites did not take kindly to the specter of the presence of the Israelites; on account of their lack of hospitality, YHWH decreed Ammonites and Moabites could not enter into His assembly, and Israel was not to provide them with material aid (Deuteronomy 23:2-6). Balak, king of Moab, infamously hired Balaam to curse Israel as they dwelt on the plains of Moab; Balaam ended up blessing Israel, yet undermined Israel with the advice for the Moabites to seduce the Israelites into serving other gods (Numbers 22:1-25:3). After the Conquest, Eglon king of Moab, in alliance with the Ammonites and Amalekites, dominated over and oppressed Israel until he met his end at the hands of Ehud (ca. 1375?; Judges 3:12-30). In the twelfth century the Ammonites would grow strong and oppress the Transjordan portions of Israel and beyond, claiming sovereignty over the Transjordan; they were defeated by Jephthah (ca. 1175; Judges 10:7-11:33), yet remained a source of consternation for Israel, since Nahash king of Ammon oppressed Gad and Asher and had laid siege to Jabesh-Gilead which was fortunately relieved by the rise of Saul and his army (ca. 1050; 1 Samuel 1:1-11, and 4QSama, which preserved the following, also attested by Josephus in the Antiquities of the Jews 6.68-71: “Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead”).

Both Moab and Ammon would be defeated by and made subject to David and were incorporated into the Israelite Empire (ca. 975; 2 Samuel 8:11-12, 10:1-11:1, 12:26-31). Nevertheless, Moab and Ammon would feature prominently in Israel at this time: Ruth the Moabitess became part of the family of Elimelech of Judah, and became the great-grandmother of David, and Naamah the Ammonitess was the wife of Solomon and mother of, and likely significant influencer upon, Rehoboam king of Judah (Ruth 1:1-4:22, 1 Kings 14:21).

Moab and Ammon would remain subject to the Israelite kings until after the days of Ahab. Although not attested in Scripture, it is recorded how the Ammonites were allied with Ben-Hadad of Aram and Ahab of Israel against Shalmaneser (III) of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar in 854. Mesha king of Moab rebelled against Israel after Ahab died; the battle between Mesha and the alliance of Jehoram, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom is set forth both in 2 Kings 3:1-27 and the Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele, and it would seem Moab suffered greatly, Mesha sacrificed his own son to Chemosh his god, but was able to secure his independence (ca. 850). At some point around this time the Moabites and Ammonites allied with one another and the Meunites and planned to attack Judah under Jehoshaphat; they apparently feuded with one another and destroyed one another (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). Moab and Ammon would no longer be subject to Israelite or Judahite kings; whether they maintained full independence or came under the subjection of the Arameans is not explicitly revealed, but the latter remains highly likely.

The prophets testified against Moab and Ammon and spoke of their doom (Isaiah 15:1-16:14, Jeremiah 48:1-49:6, Isaiah 25:10, Ezekiel 21:28-32, 25:8-11, Amos 1:13-2:3, Zephaniah 2:8-11). The Kingdoms of Moab and Ammon attempted to negotiate the convulsions of the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian Empires, but with mixed results. Shalman king of Moab (cf. Hosea 10:14) submitted to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. Sargon (II) listed Moab among the nations which rebelled against him, but then Chemosh-nadab would submit to him and bring tribute, as would Mutzuri and Kaashalta after him. Yet by 400 BCE no more mention is made of the Kingdom of Moab, for its territory was overrun first by Kedarite Arabs and then the Nabataeans, just as Ezekiel had prophesied.

The Ammonites enjoyed better fortunes than the Moabites. The Ammonites did join the revolt against Sennacherib king of Assyria, but otherwise remained loyal vassals to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. The Ammonites would feature prominently in the destruction of Jerusalem and its immediate after effects; bands of Ammonites (and Moabites) raided Judah between 609 and 599 (2 Kings 24:2), Baalis king of Ammon conspired against Gedaliah the caretaker of Judah on behalf of the Babylonians, had him killed, and gave refuge to the conspirators who survived (Jeremiah 40:12-41:15); as a result a good number of the remaining Judahites fled to Egypt (Jeremiah 41:16-18). By this time the Ammonites had most likely re-incorporated the Transjordan lands of Israel into its territory. One of Nehemiah’s implacable enemies who had profited handsomely at the expense of Judah was Tobiah the Ammonite who had married into the family of the high priesthood and even maintained a storeroom in the Temple in Jerusalem (ca. 445; Nehemiah 4:1-11, 13:1-9). Ezra and Nehemiah lamented how many of the people had taken wives from among the Ammonites, Moabites, and others (cf. Ezra 9:1-10:44, Nehemiah 13:23-29). The Ammonites would persist into the Hellenistic period and would assist the Seleucids against the Maccabees and Hasmoneans. Much of the Ammonite territory would become the area of the Decapolis in the days of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Roman Empire; Rabbah would become known as Philadelphia, and the Ammonite and Aramean residents would generally assimilate into the Greco-Roman milieu.

The Moabites and Ammonites culturally and religiously lived as Canaanite people. They would have served the Canaanite pantheon; Mesha recognized Chemosh as the specific god of Moab, and he may also be highly regarded by the Ammonites as well (Judges 11:24, 2 Kings 3:1-27). Otherwise Milcom is attested as the specific god of Ammon (1 Kings 11:5-7, 2 Kings 23:13, Jeremiah 49:1-3). The Moabite of the Mesha Stele/Moabite Stone demonstrates it as a Canaanite dialect closely related to Hebrew; the few shards of Ammonite texts suggests the same for Ammonite, although the latter may have some more influence from Aramaic. Mesha’s sacrifice of his son might seem barbaric to us but is a practice attested in Levantine religion; witness the passing of one’s child through the fire to Molech (cf. Jeremiah 32:35), possibly related to Milcom of the Ammonites, and the archaeological discoveries of many child bones in the temple to Melqart at Carthage in Tunisia, a colony of the Phoenicians.

Neither the Moabites nor the Ammonites were ever exiled from their lands; many of the inhabitants of the modern nation of Jordan likely prove direct descendants of the Moabites and Ammonites. Many of them would have heard the Gospel of Jesus in the first few centuries CE and may have come to faith in Jesus. God proved faithful to His declarations regarding Moab and Ammon. May we trust in God in Christ and obtain life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moab and Ammon | The Voice 12.31: July 31, 2022

The Unholy Trinity | The Voice 12.30: July 24, 2022

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The Voice

The Unholy Trinity

For some time now we have heard dire warnings about the “faith crisis” in America. Even though our country continues to grow in population, church membership and attendance, on the whole, remains flat or in decline. Warnings are sounded about the dangers that come from so many atheists and others in our society who seek to denigrate God and anyone who would believe in Him.

While it is true that there are such people out there, their numbers are few; around 2 to 9% of the population. Others may believe in God but not in Christ or Christianity and have hard feelings against Christianity and/or Christians. Yet such people are not that much more populous; no more than 20% of the population.

Statistics reveal that about 82% or so of Americans believe not only in God but also that Jesus is His Son. Slightly fewer (78%) agree with the premise that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not the picture that is normally presented about America; then again, we should remember that it is conflict and sensational claims that sell books and get promoted on television and in movies, and therefore we should not be surprised that the reality does not seem to be as dire as the promoted story.

Nevertheless, the statistics should give us pause. If over three-quarters of Americans believe in Jesus and even the resurrection, where are they? Many, no doubt, are active in denominations and their assemblies. But that still leaves plenty of people who believe and yet are not affiliated with any church and/or infrequently, if ever, attend any assemblies of churches. Considering the message of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture, how can this be? What leads to so many people professing the faith without abiding by its substance?

At least part of the reason can be found in what we will deem the “unholy trinity.” The unholy trinity represents the combination of three pernicious doctrines that have, at some level, led to the spiritual inertia and malaise that affects America today. These doctrines are faith only, ecumenism, and “once saved, always saved.”

The first doctrine is faith only. “Faith only” comes about during the Reformation as a distortion of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Paul did teach that since everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23), no man is able to be justified before God based on his works, merit, or attempts to keep law (Romans 1:18-3:21). Man cannot atone for his own sin. Nevertheless, Paul demonstrated that the proper response of faith in God in Christ demanded obedience to the truth (Romans 1:5, 2:5-11, 6:1-23); the Reformers distorted this into the doctrine of faith only, excluding any concept of works or obedience as necessary for salvation. According to the doctrines of faith only, God is the only Actor: He provides the means of salvation in Christ, He provides believers with faith, He compels them toward righteousness through the Spirit, and so on and so forth. It is an understandable reaction against the excesses of Roman Catholicism but is a distortion of the Gospel message, and flatly contradicted by Acts 2:36-38, Romans 1:5, 6:1-23, 1 Peter 1:22, and a host of other passages.

These days people hear preachers from Protestant and Evangelical churches in churches and on television telling them that all they need to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. A suggested “sinner’s prayer” is often given that “converts” can pray and thus “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” and “accept Jesus into their hearts.” Sure, most of these preachers will suggest, perhaps even strongly, that believers need to live like Christ did, avoiding sin and clinging to the good, but they would never make it an imperative. To make becoming Christlike an imperative would be adding “works” to Christ’s “finished work.”

People get this message from friends and neighbors, past church experiences, or through television or other media. This “cheap grace” is very enticing and seductive: all you need to do is believe! Accept the premise that Jesus is the Christ and Lord and you will be saved! That’s all you need to do! Many prove willing to do that, but nothing more. There is no real incentive toward growth and development as disciples of Christ because it is not made strictly necessary. No wonder, then, that people can profess Jesus Christ and yet never darken the door of any church building or actively grow in their belief system; they do not have to! After all, if all you need to do is believe that Jesus is the Christ, why bother with anything else in Christianity?

We then come to ecumenism. There are two strands to ecumenism: “general” ecumenism and Evangelical ecumenism. The latter seems to have come first. In the wake of the “Second Great Awakening” in nineteenth-century America, while doctrinal differences remained among groups like the Methodists, the Holiness churches, the Baptists, and the like, they began to develop an uneasy peace with each other. They would present their versions of truth without necessarily condemning one another to hell, yet most remained uneasy with Roman Catholicism and the “mainline Protestant” denominations.

Around a hundred years ago the “general” ecumenical movement began to pick up steam as different “Christian” denominations wanted to work out whatever differences they could and to work together according to their understanding of Jesus’ petitions in John 17:20-23.

The ecumenical movement has powered through the twentieth and early twenty-first century with great steam. Now most denominations agree that the doctrinal disputations among them involve matters of “liberty,” and thus they are free to “agree to disagree,” while they are in agreement on “essential” matters. It is too bad that the definitions of “liberty” and “essential matters” are not based on God’s definitions (cf. Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:6-9). Nevertheless, since most denominations are “on board,” the voices proclaiming the need to follow the One True Faith are fewer and denigrated as divisive, contrary to the spirit of unity, and cantankerous.

This ecumenical movement has led to greater “acceptance” and “tolerance” of members of churches of Christ. The number believing we are some kind of “cult” has diminished; many books now speak of churches of Christ as part of this “greater church” despite its distinctive doctrines. Nevertheless, ecumenical forces work to negate the call for the restoration of New Testament Christianity and the appeal to be of the same mind and judgment based in the Scriptures.

Most people who believe do not know much about ecumenism or the ecumenical movement but they certainly believe that “we are all the same.” Under ecumenism, the difference between churches of Christ, Baptist churches, the Roman Catholic church, and other churches is akin to the differences between the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, and the church in Jerusalem. Each denomination has its distinctive heritage that has “value” in the “greater church,” according to this viewpoint. In such a climate, one can hear the message that, say, faith alone is not according to Scripture, and yet remain free to “agree to disagree.” Evangelistic efforts are thus directed toward unbelievers, “cultists,” or members of other religions; it is seen as bad form to proselytize members of other denominations.

We should not wonder, therefore, why it is difficult to gain an audience about the importance of following God according to the New Testament. If all churches are the same, after all, why does anyone need to truly investigate New Testament Christianity?

The final dogma in this unholy trinity is “once saved, always saved.” This doctrine derives directly from faith only, as its adherents often promote: if you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to lose it.

In reality, “once saved, always saved” is an offshoot of the Calvinist system. In Calvinism, the idea of the perseverance of the saints follows logically from its earlier principles: man’s sin and inability to seek God on his own (total depravity), God thus specifically chooses whom He will save (unconditional election), the chosen ones will come to faith (irresistible grace), and they are the select few (limited atonement). Thus, the particular chosen ones will be saved no matter what (perseverance of the saints). Calvinism has a ready answer for any who fall into sin and depart from the faith: they were never really part of the elect.

Many evangelical preachers in the nineteenth century objected to the heart of the Calvinist system (unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement), but firmly preached its bookends (total depravity, perseverance of the saints). Thus we have the modern Evangelical synthesis: man is sinful by himself. He must hear God’s message, and accept Jesus into his heart through the “sinner’s prayer.” Once he has been saved there is nothing he can do to lose his salvation. Some will go so far as to say that people who become agnostic or atheist, explicitly rejecting and insulting Jesus, will still be saved if they believed in Him when they were younger!

“Once saved, always saved” is a theologically half-baked argument based on faulty premises. This is evident if an adherent is questioned about what will happen to a Christian mentioned above or who is caught in some other gross sin without repentance. All kinds of answers are given, and all the answers cheapen the idea of “salvation” terribly. “Once saved, always saved” is powerfully refuted by Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among other passages. We must add that “if saved, barely saved” is no better a doctrine than its contrast; believers can have assurance in their standing before God, but only when they are seeking to walk as Christ walked and to do His commandments (1 John 1:5-5:21).

If “faith only” is a seductive and enticing doctrine, how much more the idea of “once saved, always saved!” It is a powerful narcotic: no matter what you do or what happens to you, you will be saved. This doctrine is greatly cherished by its adherents, and the truth of the matter is a bitter pill to swallow in comparison.

Many people hear about “once saved, always saved” through preachers on television or in churches, from friends, or in the media. It sounds quite alluring and satisfies the carnal, worldly mind. All you need to do is believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and no matter what happens, you will be saved! How great is that!

“Once saved, always saved” is a powerful disincentive for true faith and discipleship. Why follow the moral guidelines of Christianity if you are saved no matter what? Why bother getting up on Sunday mornings, or why bother sitting in a stuffy auditorium when you can be elsewhere, if you are saved regardless? Why bother investing any effort into faith or Christianity when you are saved whether you do or whether you do not?

As bad as each element of the unholy trinity is, when we put all three together, we truly have a Satanically designed monster. We find that people believe that they all they need to do is believe to be saved, and then they are saved no matter what. Furthermore, since all Christians are the same, your difference in opinion will barely impact their belief system. What can we say? If we emphasize what God in Christ teaches about baptism and obedience (cf. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-23), we will hear the dogmas of faith only and how we cannot work for our salvation. If we proclaim the distinctive truths of the New Testament church and the need to teach the first century Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), we will hear that we are all the same, an influence from ecumenism. If we warn about the condemnation coming to those who prove disobedient to God (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), we are told that once a person is saved, they are saved no matter what.

In such a climate the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is left unheeded because it represents an entirely different picture of faith and reality than is presented by the unholy trinity, and one fraught with far more uncertainty and challenge. The idea of mandated obedience is strange for the one accepting faith only. The importance of distinctive doctrines seems foreign to the one raised in ecumenism. Concern about the condemnation of Christians is strange to one believing in once saved, always saved. It is a lot easier to believe that we are saved by faith only, that all Christians are the same, and that we will be saved no matter what. These doctrines are much more comforting and much less controversial.

And that is exactly what Satan, the god of this world, intends (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has blinded the eyes of millions in America and around the world. This is the environment in which we must continue to preach the Gospel from of old. Faith alone never has saved and never will save (James 2:14-26); yet faith alone sounds great and makes fewer demands than obedience. Much of the New Testament, especially Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 2-3, are nonsensical if all churches are the same and doctrine does not really matter; yet ecumenism will remain popular as long as “tolerance” is the name of the game. Far too many who accepted “once saved, always saved” will learn too late that doing the will of the Father was also necessary (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); yet it remains a powerful narcotic and a most wonderful lie.

The truth is comparatively more bitter, more challenging, and more controversial. No one has ever been saved by a lie, and that will prove true on the day of Judgment. We must accept and proclaim the truth because it is true, and because God will lead those who live according to the truth in love to eternity in the Kingdom of Christ (2 Peter 1:11, 2 John 1:5-6)!

Perhaps it is clearer now why so many millions believe and yet do not practice Christianity. The unholy trinity provides all kinds of disincentives to believe and accept God’s truths. Nevertheless, let us stand firm in God’s truth despite its challenges and proclaim them to all in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Unholy Trinity | The Voice 12.30: July 24, 2022