Monthly Archives: October 2015

2. The One True God — The Person of Christ

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife and I attend completed its study of “2. The One True God” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL). Three weeks ago we considered its introduction and what it says about the Trinity, and this week we considered what it says about the person of Christ.

Before we considered what the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths says about the person of Christ, I shared an explanation of that doctrine drawn mainly from a study that our family did of it a few years ago when we were working through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Essentially the doctrine says that although Jesus Christ was one indivisible person, he was fully God and fully man.

In our earlier study of the Trinity we considered the division that took place in the Assemblies of God between those who affirmed the traditional doctrine of the Trinity and those who accepted Jesus Only teaching. There has also been controversy among “Christians” over the person of Christ. Thus, after making my presentation on the person of Christ and before we read what the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths says about the person of Christ, I noted the views on the person of Christ (and on the Godhead) held by two cults active in our area, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Human Characteristics of Jesus

Jesus had a human body just like ours, as is shown in many Bible passages. For example, he was born (Luke 2:7), grew (Luke 2:40,52), became tired (John 4:6), became thirsty (John 19:28), became hungry (Matthew 2:4), displayed weakness (Luke 23:26; his displaying weakness would be the probable reason for the soldiers’ making someone else carry his cross), and died (Mark 15:37). The writer of Hebrews says that he had to “share in flesh and blood” so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:14-15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Jesus had a human mind. For example, as a child/youth he “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52; this suggests that he learned as other human beings learn) and even as an adult had limited knowledge (“Concerning that day or hour [the time of his second coming], no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32).

Jesus displayed human emotions. For example, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7; although this passage brings Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind, “in the days on his flesh” suggests that Jesus made such prayers throughout his life) and before his crucifixion even admitted to a crowd that he felt troubled (John 12:27).

Jesus’ brothers and neighbours viewed him as only a man. For example, the Bible tells us that after Jesus began his ministry his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5) and even tried to seize him thinking that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21). And, astonished by Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the people of Nazareth rejected him, saying, “Where did this man get these things?… Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and James and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3).

The Deity of Christ

Although in the New Testament “God” (theos) usually refers to God the Father, in several passages it refers to Jesus. Some of them are (I read only the first passage in the Life group meeting):
– “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV except where otherwise noted).
– “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
– “From their race [the Jews], according to the flesh, is Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:5).
– “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
– “But of the Son he [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'” (Hebrews 1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6).
– “Simon Peter…to those who have received a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).

Sometimes the word “Lord” (kyrios) just refers to a person who has power over others, but in the Greek Old Testament it also translates one of the words used in the Hebrew Old Testament for God, “Yahweh.” Thus a Greek-speaking person in New Testament times would have recognized “Lord” in appropriate contexts to refer to God. In many New Testament passages it is used in such a way of Jesus. Some of them are (I read only the first passage in the Life group meeting):
– “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11; the angel of the Lord to shepherds about Jesus).
– “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3; quoted from Isaiah 40:3 as referring to John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus).
– “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Matthew 22:44; quoted by Jesus from Psalm 110:1 as applying to both God and himself; quoted similarly by Peter in Acts 2:34-35).
– “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
– “You, Lord, laid the foundations of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10; quoted from Psalm 102:25 as referring to Jesus).
– “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16; describing Jesus in his second coming).

Besides using “God” and “Lord” of Jesus, the New Testament contains other passages that claim deity for him. A few of the ones discussed by Grudem are:
– When Jesus told some Jews that Abraham had seen his day, they asked him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). He replied, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), claiming for himself the name “I AM” that God gave as His name in Exodus 3:14.
– In the closing of the book of Revelation Jesus asserts, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). In light of God the Father’s declaration in the opening of the book, “I am the Alpha and Omega” (1:8), Jesus’ assertion constitutes a claim to deity.
– Although “son of God” can refer to all Christians (Romans 8:14, 19, 23), there are several passages in which it refers to Jesus as the unique Son of God, especially in the Gospel of John, including the ever-popular John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV, the version from which I memorized it as a child).
Grudem also discusses “the Word” and “the Son of man” (page 546), but we didn’t consider them in our family or Life group studies of the person of Christ.

Besides containing passages that claim deity for Jesus, the New Testament contains passages that describe actions done by Jesus that point to his being divine. A few of the ones referred to by Grudem are:
– Jesus showed his omnipotence when he calmed a storm (Mark 4:39), multiplied bread and fish (Mark 6:41), and changed water into wine (John 2:6-10).
– Jesus showed his omniscience when he knew the thoughts of some scribes (Mark 2:8), saw Nathaniel under the fig tree from afar (John 1:48), and knew “from the beginning…who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64).
– Jesus showed his sovereignty when he forgave a paralytic’s sins (Mark 2:5), his demonstrating his power to do so by healing the man (Mark 2:8-12).
– Jesus showed his immortality by taking up his life (John 2:19-22; 10:17-18).
– Philippians 2:9-11 and Hebrews 1:6 refer to Christ Jesus as being worthy of worship, something that is true of no-one else, even angels (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), except God.

Views on the Person of Christ Held by the Mormons and by Jehovah’s Witnesses

In 1830 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or Mormon Church was founded in United States by Joseph Smith. He claimed to have received from an angel golden plates on which ancient scriptures were written (The Book of Mormon) and to have subsequently received continuing revelations from God (The Doctrine and Covenants). The Mormon Church claims that the entire Christian church was apostate until it was restored under Joseph Smith and, therefore, that it is the only true church.

The Mormon Church’s website states: ”Jesus Christ was both mortal and divine, being the Only Begotten Son of God, with a body of flesh and bone. He and His Father are one in purpose, but They are two separate beings.” (Belief 3: Jesus Christ)

Mormons agree with traditional Christians that the supreme object of worship comprises three distinct persons, but they disagree that the three persons constitute one being. They believe that God the Father and God the Son are distinct beings with bodies of flesh and bone and that the two of them, along with the Holy Spirit, form a heavenly council called the “Godhead.” They are one only in having a common purpose and being perfect in character.

Mormons call Christ divine but don’t view his taking human form as unique, their believing that all men were once spirits (and that all men can become gods). They believe that Jesus was the first spirit-child of God the Father and his wife (or one of his wives) and that he progressed in the spirit world until he became a god. When the time came for his birth on earth, he was begotten through sexual relations between the Father and Mary and inherited divine powers from the Father and mortality from Mary.

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society originated in United States in the 1870s under Charles Taze Russell and took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 under Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Russell made several predictions about the time of Christ’s second coming, which proved embarrassing when they weren’t fulfilled. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they alone are God’s true people and that all others belong to the devil’s organization.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website states: “Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son—and for good reason. He is called ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ for he was God’s first creation.(Colossians 1:15) There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.’ (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things. (Colossians 1:16) Then,too, Jesus is called ‘the Word.’ (John 1:14) This tells us that he spoke for God, no doubt delivering messages and instructions to the Father’s other sons, both spirit and human.” (Who Is Jesus Christ?)

Asserting that the doctrine of the Trinity originated with Satan, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that God exists in only one person, Jehovah, that the Son was created by Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit is neither divine or personal. The first creature Jehovah created was the Son, who may be called “a god” but not God. With the help of the Son Jehovah created angels and the universe. They view the Holy Spirit as God’s active force rather than as a third person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that the Son was the first and highest created being (Michael the Archangel) and that when he became man by being born of the virgin Mary he became only man. His birth on earth was accomplished when he willingly allowed himself to be transferred by God from heaven to the womb of the virgin Mary. After his death he appeared to his disciples, convinced them of his resurrection, and ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand until he becomes the king in God’s heavenly kingdom. After his death he was resurrected as a divine spirit, appeared to his disciples in materialized forms and convinced them of his resurrection, and ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand until he becomes the king in God’s heavenly kingdom. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ returned to earth spiritually in 1914 and is now proceeding to establish a theocratic millenial kingdom, which will arrive soon after the battle of Armageddon.

The Doctrine of Christ in the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths

Finally we read Parts E-J of “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” Their titles are: E. The Title, Lord Jesus Christ; F. The Lord Jesus Christ, God with us; G. The Title, the Son of God; H. Transgression of the Gospel of Christ; I. Exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord; and J. Equal Honour to the Father and the Son. You can read them at either of the following:
PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
The Life group understood and agreed with each of the parts. If you have any questions about my presentation or about Parts E-J of “The Essentials as to the Godhead,” ask in a comment on this post.


Paul in Jerusalem – 2. Paul Arrested

My last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul concerned his meeting with James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem and agreeing with their proposal that he participate publicly in a Nazarite vow to dispel rumors that he was teaching Jews to abandon the law of Moses. Unfortunately some Jews from Asia who saw him in the temple in connection with that vow thought that he had brought into the temple one of the Gentiles they had seen him with in the city and stirred up a crowd against him. Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers who took him to their barracks to question him. When they were about to enter the barracks, Paul asked for and received permission to speak to the crowd. He told them about his conversion and call.

The situation is described in Acts 21:27-40 and the speech is given in Acts 22:1-21. In this article I’ll comment on the situation and compare Paul’s account of his conversion and call with Luke’s account of them in Acts 9. Later Paul gave another account of his conversion and call, to King Agrippa in Acts 26, but I won’t refer to it here.

Paul Arrested

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:27-36, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

When the seven days of Paul’s purifying himself to remove any ritual defilement incurred during his long stay in Gentile territory were almost over, some Jews from the Roman province of Asia who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost saw him in the temple and assumed that he had taken taken a Gentile whom they’d seen him with in the city, Trophimus of Ephesus, beyond the barrier that separated the outer court, the Court of Gentiles, from the inner court, the Court of Israel. This was forbidden according to notices at intervals along the barrier warning that Gentiles found within the Court of Israel could be killed, and the Jews of Asia cried out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (The latter was improbably because, knowing of the death penalty, Paul would hardly have brought a Gentile into the Court of Israel. Besides, if he had, surely the Jews of Asia would have attacked the Gentile rather than him.) The crowd which they stirred up seized Paul, dragged him out of the Court of Israel to the Court of Gentiles, and began beating him. Immediately the temple police shut the gates leading from the outer court into the inner courts to prevent further trouble within the sacred area.

News of the uproar reached the tribune commanding the Roman cohort (a cohort consisted of up to 1000 soldiers under several centurions, officers over 100 soldiers) stationed at the Fortress of Antonia, which was connected to the northern end of the temple area by two flights of stairs and overlooked the temple area. The commander took some centurions and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. Seeing the soldiers, crowd stopped beating Paul. The commander arrested Paul and ordered that his arms be bound by chains to soldiers, one on each side. He asked the crowd who Paul was and what he had done. Getting conflicting answers, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks (in the Fortress of Antonia) for questioning. However by the time that they reached the steps to the barracks, the crowd had become so violent that Paul had to be carried. The crowd kept shouting, “Away with him!” This was the same shout that an earlier crowd had made when Pilate told them that he intended to release Jesus (Luke 23:18; John 19:15).

Paul Speaks to the Crowd

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:
3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 21:37-22:5)

When the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he spoke to the tribune in Greek. Surprised by Paul’s speaking to him in Greek, the tribute surmised that he was the Egyptian Jew who had started a revolt a few years earlier. Claiming to be a prophet, the Egyptian had led 4000 terrorists into the wilderness and then to the Mount of Olives in preparation for an attack on Jerusalem. The Roman governor of Judea, Felix, had put down the rebellion, with hundreds of the Egyptian’s followers being killed, but the Egyptian himself had escaped. Apparently the tribute thought that Paul was the Egyptian returned to stir up another revolt. Paul identified himself as a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia, a “no obscure city,” and asked permission to speak to the people.

When the tribune gave him permission to do so, Paul spoke to the crowd in the “Hebrew language” (Biblical scholars disagree on whether this refers to Aramaic or to Hebrew) and tried to establish his faithfulness to his Jewish heritage. Addressing them as “brothers and fathers,” Paul told them that he was a Jew who had been born in Tarsus but brought up in Jerusalem, where he’d been trained in the law of Moses under Gamaliel, the most honored rabbi of that time. He went on to tell them that he had persecuted Christians and even been authorized by the high priest (Caiaphas) and Sanhedrin to go to Damascus to arrest Christians there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished. Then he gave an account of his conversion and call.

Paul’s Account of His Conversion and Call

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” (Acts 22:6-21)

As I observed in introducing this article, I’ll now compare Paul’s account to the crowd of his conversion and call with the account of them given in Acts 9. In particular I’ll identify how Paul’s account differs from the account in Acts 9 and consider why his account differs from that account.

Paul adds that it was “about noon” that he neared Damascus.

Paul adds that he asked Jesus what he should do.

Paul omits that his blindness lasted three days and that he didn’t eat or drink anything in that time (Acts 9:9).

Paul adds a description of Ananias, ”a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all tho Jews living there,” but omits the conversation between the Lord and Ananias in which the Lord told Ananias to visit Paul to restore his sight and, in response to Ananias’ objecting, told him that he had chosen Paul to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles and to the people of Israel (Acts 9:10-16).

The two accounts give different details about the encounter between Ananias and Paul. Acts 9 describes Ananias’ placing his hands on Paul so that he could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit and describes Paul’s being healed of his blindness, getting up and being baptized, and ending his fast (verses 17-19). Paul describes Ananias’ telling Paul to receive his sight, telling him that God had chosen him to be Jesus’ witness to all people, and telling him to get up and be baptized. Paul’s being able to see Ananias at the very moment that Ananias told him to receive his sight suggests that he got up and was baptized immediately after Ananias told him to do those things.

Paul omits an account of his ministry in Damascus, his life being threatened by the Jews, and his escape from Damascus (Acts 9:20-25).

The two accounts give different details about Paul’s return to Jerusalem. Acts 9 tells how the disciples were afraid of him until Barnabas mediated between them, how Paul witnessed in Jerusalem, how the Jews tried to kill him, and how the believers sent him to Tarsus for his safety (verses 26-30). Paul tells how he fell into a trance in the temple and the Lord appeared to him and told him to leave Jerusalem because the people wouldn’t accept his witness and told him that he would send him far away to the Gentiles.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any special reason for some of the additions and omissions in Paul’s account of his conversion and call compared to the account in Acts 9, undoubtedly he added some details because he thought that they would make his Jewish audience more sympathetic towards him. One would be his description of Ananias as “a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all tho Jews living there.” Another would be his attributing the communication of his commission to such a person. And another would be his sharing how that commission was reaffirmed in the temple.

In my next article in this series on the life of Paul, I’ll consider how the crowd reacted to Paul’s speech.

Why Pray?

“Why do people have to pray? What’s the actual meaning of prayer?” (Kaylin Cloete, commenting on my “Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer” posts of May 16-17, 2014)

Initially I replied (by e-mail), “Wow! I’ve often thought about that too. What makes me sometimes question the need of prayer is that if God is omniscient He knows everything we need and want, if He is omnipotent He can supply them, and if He is all-loving He will supply them if they would be good for us–all without our praying to Him about them.” However after making that reply, I remembered that prayer is more than asking God for things, its including all forms of talking with God, the commonest often being identified by the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Therefore when Kaylin asked “Why do people have to pray?” she may have meant “What point is there in talking with God?” rather than just “What point is there in asking God for things?” Thus I decided to try to answer both questions, answering “What point is there in talking with God?” first and then answering “What point is there in asking God for things?” However before doing either, I’ll provide a foundation by looking at the prayers made by our great example, Jesus Christ. Moreover, since this blog’s primary purpose is to explain open theism, I’ll close by showing how open theism encourages prayer.

The Prayers of Jesus

Jesus was probably brought up to give thanks to God before meals and to say the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Eighteen Benedictions at sunrise and sunset, the times of sacrifice. And no doubt he joined with others in prayers when he attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, which it was his custom to do (Luke 4:16). In addition the Gospels record fifteen specific occasions on which he prayed, which I’ll give descriptions of from the ESV (all Biblical quotations in this post are in the ESV) in the order in which they appear in Luke.

Luke 3:21 – Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.
Mark 1:35 – And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Luke 5:16 – But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Mark 6:46 – And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. (also Matthew 14:23)
Luke 6:12-13 – In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:
Luke 9:18 – Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Luke 9:28-29 – Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
Luke 10:21 – In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (also Matthew 11:25-16)
Luke 11:1 – Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
John 11:41-42 – So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 12:27-28 – “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
John 17:1-26 – When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him…..”
Luke 22:39-46 – And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (also Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-42)
Luke 23:34 – And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Luke 23:46 – Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Reasons for Praying

The passages listed above show both that Jesus prayed in connection with important events in his life–his baptism (Luke 3:21), his choosing of the twelve (Luke 6:12-13), his Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-19), and his vigil in the Garden of Gethesemane (Luke 22:39-46)–and that he regularly withdrew from others so that he could pray by himself. Thus they suggest that we should pray both in connection with important events in our lives and as a regular part of our lives. However Jesus encouraged his followers to pray not only by example but also in his teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount he instructed the crowd on what they should do “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5, 7), implying that they should and would pray.

But why should we pray? Certainly a key reason is that through His spokesmen God has told us to. For example, Paul told his readers (and us) to “be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “pray… at all times” (Ephesians 6:18), “[c]ontinue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “[make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings … for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1).

ACTS expresses four other major reasons for our praying: to adore God for His greatness, to confess our sins to Him, to thank Him for what He has done for us and others, and to ask Him for things for us and others. The book of Psalms contains stirring songs written by David and others for each of those reasons.

However my reading and thinking about prayer showed me that there are even more reasons for our praying than God’s telling us to and ACTS. Seven are them are described in an article by Dan Hayes at Cru Press Green:

1. builds our relationship with Jesus
2. helps us overcome temptation
3. helps us determine God’s will
4. accomplishes God’s work
5. is a weapon in spiritual warfare
6. is a prerequisite to spiritual awareness
7. is valuable to God

Hayes concludes, “There they are. Seven (of many) reasons for us to give much more thought and attention to prayer than is common among Christians. Even in this writing, I found myself pausing often to take prayer action based on these motivations.” (Seven Reasons To Pray). I urge you to read his article and hope that doing so affects you the same way as his writing of it affected him and my reading of it affected me.

Asking God for Things

The passages listed above show that Jesus prayed for both himself, as when he agonized in the Garden of Gethesemane (Luke 22:39-46), and for others, as when he prayed for those responsible for crucifying him when he was on the cross (Luke 23:34). Thus they suggest that we can make requests of God for both ourselves and others.

Certainly we don’t pray to tell God what we need because He already knows that, Jesus’ telling his disciples, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Rather we pray because prayer expresses our trust in God to provide for us in the way that parents provide for their children. On the same occasion in which Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples he told them, “Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11) Thus James encourages us to ask God for what we need, telling his readers, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2), implying that they (and we) would receive more from Him if we’d ask.

Jesus told his disciples the following parable to encourage them to pray continually and persistently: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” Then Jesus told them, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:2-8)

However sometimes even when we pray continually and persistently our prayers for things aren’t answered. Why aren’t they? Maybe God wants us to wait for our answer, as the souls of the martyrs whom John saw under God’s throne in heaven were told to do in answer to their prayer for God to avenge them (Revelation 6:9-11). Or maybe God intends something else for us, as Jesus recognized when he closed his prayer that God remove “this cup” from him with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Or maybe we haven’t met the conditions for praying effectively, such as forgiving others their trespasses against us (Matthew 6:14-15), praying in faith (Mark 11:24), and praying according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).

What should we do when this happens? We should make sure that we’re meeting the conditions for praying effectively. We should accept God’s answer as David did when the child for whom he was praying died, resuming his normal life with the explanation that “while the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). And we should continue to trust God, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Open Theism Encourages Prayer

Although whether a person holds a traditional or an open view of God would seem to be irrelevant in most types of prayer, it certainly is relevant in supplications or prayers for request for ourselves and others. According to traditional theism, God has already determined (or at least already knows) what is going to happen and can’t change what is planned. Really believing this discourages our making meaningful prayers for ourselves and others. According to open theism, the future is not entirely settled and God’s plans can be changed. Believing this gives us the hope that God will respond to our prayers for ourselves and others and encourages us to pray more passionately and urgently.

The Bible contains several examples of prayers being answered for a change in what God had said would happen. I’ll give just two, one of prayer for oneself and one of prayer for others. In 2 Kings 20:1-7 God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that he would not recover from his sickness, Hezekiah prayed with weeping to God, and God told Hezekiah through Isaiah, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life” (20:5-6). In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14). Later, in Psalm 106:23, David referred to this incident when he observed that God “said he would destroy them–had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.” Hezekiah and Moses prayed for God to change what He had said would happen because they thought that the future was open for Him to change. And what changes their prayers brought! God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life and He didn’t destroy the Israelites as He had threatened to.

Sometimes I think of how wonderful it would be if I could talk directly with God as Adam did in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9-19), Moses did when he turned aside to see the burning bush (Exodus 3:4-4:17), and Elijah did when he was in a cave on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:9-18). However the truth is that I can talk with God at any time and in any place through prayer. I can share my joys and my sorrows with Him, knowing that He will rejoice with and comfort me. I can confess my failures and sins to Him, knowing that He will forgive and strengthen me. I can ask Him for guidance and help, knowing that He will make things work together for good. And of course I can adore and thank Him for who He is and what He does. What a marvellous gift prayer is!

2. The One True God – The Godhead

One night in 1913 a participant in a Pentecostal camp meeting near Los Angeles woke everyone up by shouting the name of Jesus. He had just received a vision of Jesus that made him feel that Jesus needed to be given greater honour. Then one of the pastors began teaching that the way to give honour to Jesus was to be rebaptized in his name. Both men had been influenced by a sermon by evangelist R. E. McAlister in which he claimed that the apostles had baptized in the name of Jesus only rather than in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The view spread rapidly, and many leaders of the Pentecostal movement were rebaptized. Soon after the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914, it decided that it had to take action on the matter. Its General Council met in October, 1916, and approved a Statement of Fundamental Truths which included a lengthy truth affirming the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” It also demanded that the Jesus Only faction accept the Trinitarian baptismal formula and the doctrine of the Trinity or leave the Fellowship. About a quarter of the ministers withdrew.

The above quotation from a paper that I wrote when I was doing graduate studies with Louisiana Baptist University, “The Assemblies of God Trinitarian-Oneness Controversy,” brings out the importance that the Assemblies of God places on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL) places the same importance on it.

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I attend began a study of the truth in the PAONL’s Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths which affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. Called “The One True God,” it consists of an opening paragraph about God and “The Essentials as to the Godhead” (see above). Both parts come from the Statement of Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God, where they were originally separate truths but were later combined under the name “The One True God.” I distributed to the group a copy of the truth as it is in the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths. It appears at:
PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths

As for the meeting of our Life group in which we began our study of the truth, only four were present. Leonora opened with singing, including our theme song “We’re Together Again,” and prayer. I distributed a sheet containing a summary of my presentation and made the presentation, our discussing throughout it the questions which I posed in it (see below). Leonora took prayer requests and Roland led us in prayer. We closed with lunch, which consisted of muffins, fruit, and tea.

I opened my presentation by reading the opening paragraph of “The One True God” and giving the following summary of and expansion on it.

The statement affirms that there is only one true God, that He has always existed and always will exist, that He reveals Himself, and that He consists of three persons. Among the many other things that God has revealed to us about Himself are that He is Spirit (John 4:24), perfect (Matthew 5:48), immutable (Malachi 3:6), self-existent (John 5:26), omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:23-24), omniscient (Psalm 139:1-4), omnipotent (Jeremiah 32:17), holy (Leviticus 11:44-45), righteous or just (Deuteronomy 32:4), loving (1 John 4:8-10), truthful (Titus 1:2), and faithful (Numbers 23:19).

I asked, “Does anyone have a question about any of the characteristics of God identified in the above?” The only questions were on the meanings of “immutable” (unchanging), “omnipresent” (present everywhere), “omniscient” (knowing everything), and “omnipotent”(having all power). If you have a question about any of the characteristics, ask in a comment on this post.

I introduced our consideration of the “The Essentials as to the Godhead” part of “The One True God” by reading the quotation with which I opened this post and asking, “Do you agree with the decision of the Assemblies of God to affirm the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and to expel its Jesus Only pastors?” Although the group recognized that differences in beliefs and practices often exist in congregations, it expressed agreement with the decision of the Assemblies of God. I observed that the insistence of Jesus Only ministers on rebaptism in the name of Jesus and aggressive pushing of Oneness doctrine was so divisive that it might have destroyed the young fellowship if it had been allowed to continue.

I explained to the group that “The Essentials as to the Godhead” presents what the PAONL (and of the Assemblies of God) believe about the Trinity and about Christ. I told them that in this week’s meeting we would consider what it says about the Trinity and that three weeks from now we’d consider what it says about Christ. Next week we won’t have a Life group meeting because some members are involved in the Disability Association Gospel Concert being held at our church, and the following week Ray will be leading us in a study of Romans 3:21-31.

Then I shared some of what I’d said about the Trinity in my “The Assemblies of God Trinitarian-Oneness Controversy” paper. In the paper I quoted from the KJV, but here I’ll quote from the ESV.

The Old Testament emphasizes that God is unique and undivided. For example, Isaiah 43:10 records God as declaring, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me,” and Deuteronomy 6:4 records Moses as telling the Israelites, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The New Testament also teaches the unity of God. For example, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 when answering a scribe’s question (Mark 12:29) and James tells his readers, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder”(James 2:19).

However, although the New Testament attests the unity of God, it also recognizes three things—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as God. Moreover, several times it refers to the three together as if they are separate entities. For example, after Jesus was baptized by John and praying, ”the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:21-22). And in his farewell discourses to his disciples, Jesus promised them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). And in one of his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus commissioned his disciples to “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Reconciling these apparently contradictory views of God—that He is one and that He is three—poses a problem for which many solutions have been proposed. The solution adopted by the church in the early Christian centuries was the doctrine of the Trinity. According to it God is “one Being of three Persons.” The Father is God in such a way that He constitutes the whole undivided substance of God; thus, He is identical with, not just part of, God. The Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God in the same way. Yet, the Father is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to have personal relationships with them. Similarly, the Son is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. Despite recognizing its mysterious nature, the vast majority of Christians still accept the doctrine of the Trinity as making best sense of what God has revealed to us about Himself in the Bible.

However, as evidenced by the Jesus only controversy in the Assemblies of God, not all agree. Oneness Pentecostals also view God as one Being. However, they differ from Trinitarians by viewing Him as just one Person rather than as three Persons. To them, God is one Person, Jesus, who manifests Himself in three different ways—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as the occasion demands.

Finally we read Parts A, B, C, and D of “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” Their titles are: A. Terms Defined; B. Distinction and Relationship in the Godhead; C. Unity of the One Being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and D. Identity and Cooperation in the Trinity. The group understood and agreed with each of the parts. If you have any questions about the above quotation or about Parts A-D of “The Essentials as to the Godhead,” ask in a comment on this post.

Paul in Jerusalem – 1. Paul Visits James and the Elders

My last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul ended with him and his companions leaving the house of Philip the evangelist in Caesarea and arriving at the house of Mnason of Cyprus in Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-16). The following day they visited James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem. James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem rejoiced over Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles but expressed concern over rumors that Paul was teaching Jews to abandon the law of Moses. They proposed that to dispel the rumors Paul participate publicly in a Nazarite vow, which he did.

17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. (Acts 21:17-26, ESV; all Biblical quotations are in the ESV.)

When Paul and his companions reached Jerusalem, “the brothers” (either Mnason and his associates or James and the elders) received them, probably in the house of Mnason. The next day Paul and his companions visited James and the elders, and Paul described to them his ministry among the Gentiles. Undoubtedly, although Luke doesn’t mention his doing so, Paul also presented to them the money which he’d collected for the poor in the Jerusalem church (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; Romans 15:25-28).

Since none of the apostles except James (although not one of the twelve, he was recognized as an apostle; see Acts 15:13-21) is mentioned in Luke’s account of this visit of Paul to Jerusalem, they were likely away doing the missionary work that Jesus had commissioned them to do (Matthew 28:19-20). Apparently the elders of the church in Jerusalem, which may have numbered seventy (the traditional number for elders in Israel), shared the leadership of that church with James.

James and the elders praised God but shared with Paul their concern over the probable reaction of Jewish Christians of Jerusalem to his visit. They had heard rumors that Paul was teaching Jewish Christians to abandon the law of Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe Jewish customs such as their food laws. The rumors were false, Paul’s having had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3) and telling the Corinthians to “remain in the condition in which [they were] called” (1 Corinthians 7:20), and James and the elders seemed to realize this.

However they felt that Paul should do something to demonstrate this to the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem. They told him of four men who had taken a Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6:1-21). When the thirty days of the vow were over, the men would cut their hair, which they hadn’t cut during the vow, and present an offering in the temple. The elders proposed that Paul purify himself (to remove any ritual defilement incurred during his long stay in Gentile territory; seven days were required of Nazarites), accompany the men when they made their offering, and pay the cost of the offering. This would demonstrate that he didn’t object to Jewish Christians following the law of Moses voluntarily.

The elders also reminded Paul of the requirements for Gentile Christians agreed upon in the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28-29). This reminder was probably to assure Paul that although they wanted him to recognize the law of Moses by participating in the vow, they weren’t asking his Gentile converts to take upon themselves the law of Moses.

Paul did what the elders suggested. Not only had he himself undertaken a Nazarite vow at Corinth five years before (Acts 18:18), but also his paying the expenses of the four men who had undertaken such a vow would be regarded as an act of piety, not as a means of acquiring merit before God. Moreover the action would demonstrate his willingness to “become all things to all people, that by all means [he] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22; see verses 19-23).

What does this mean to us? Life Application Bible observes, “Often a church is split over disagreements about minor issues or traditions. Like Paul, we should remain firm on Christian essentials but flexible on nonessentials. Of course, no one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to exercise the gift of mutual submission for the sake of peace” (New International Version, Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan Publishing House, 1991, on Acts 21:23, 24).