The Principles of Quarantine

We take so much knowledge for granted. Too often we assume that what we understand from our twenty-first centurary perspective as self evident, has historically been known. The principles of Quarantine is an example of this. Historically modern scinece didn’t understand them until around 1500 AD.

Historic records tell us that when the Black Plaque was killing much of Europe, desperate nations turned to the church for guidance. Returning to the Old Testament laws, they instituted principles practiced by the Israelites for dealing with diseases like leprosy, for handling the dead and waste disposal.
1500 AD
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Bible:
“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp…”
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NLT) 1400 BC

It is amazing that almost three thousand years before modern society recognised and adopted the practices of quaratine, Israel had embraced them. How did they know about this? Their writings state that it was by divine instruction. These writings are authenticated as being from 1400 BC. This once again is an example of the finger prints of the divine author of the Biblical writings.

The Eating of Pork and Shellfish

An old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” The medical fraternity recognise this is a very true, and profound, statement of fact. Another way of putting it is, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What you eat can and does affect your physical health.Science:
Twenty first century science tells us that while “omnivores” eat just about anything, their alimentary canal is much shorter than other types of animals. As a result of these two characteristics, they are much more prone to be disease-carriers. The “pig,” is a prime example of this and can carry up to 200 different diseases, and 18 different worms and other parasites! They also carry large round worms, which can be 18 inches long, the gullet worm, three kinds of stomach worms, a tiny hair worm, a hookworm, and the thorn-headed worm, all in the small intestine. Several species of nodular worms, and one species of the whip worm, and the kidney worm, exist in the large intestine.

One worm parasite that infects many pigs is trichinella spiralis, which causes a disease known as trichinosis — for which even today there is no known cure.

In short, the pig which eats virtually anything and everything. It is a walking, wallowing “garbage can” on legs. It’s flesh is can therefore be unclean.

Shellfish, and other bottom-dwelling sea life, like the pig on land, are the scavengers of the “deep.” They are the “vacuum-cleaners” at the bottom of the sea, eating all the filth which filters down to the sea bottom. As “filters of filth,” they become “filth.”
They often contain high levels of cholesterol, mercury, disease, worms, parasites, and sometimes pesticides and other residue from man-made pollutants which they absorb from the waters where they dwell.

Herbivores however, who don’t eat meat, flesh or bugs, have two or three stomachs or secondary cud receptacles and a digestive tract that is 6 to 12 times the length of their bodies. As a result these animals avoid the multiple diseases as well as the worms and other parasites carried by omnivores. Their long alimentary canal also assures them of a much more complete digestion and detoxification of the food they eat.

The conclusion is that eaters of Pork and Shellfish risk ill health more than those who exclude them from their diet.

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The Bible:

You may eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud. You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. … The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean.
Leviticus 11:3-7 (NLT)

The animals described as suitable for consumption are Herbivores while those who are listed as having split hooves or who chew the cud but not both are Omnivors.

… you must never eat animals from the sea or from rivers that do not have both fins and scales. They are detestable to you. This applies both to little creatures that live in shallow water and to all creatures that live in deep water. Leviticus 11:10 (NLT)

Interestingly the ‘edible animals’ listed in the Old Testament are complete herbivores, while the animals it discourages people from eating are “omnivores”. Given their primitive facilities for raising and preparing of food, these restrictions were prudent. Here once again we see wisdom and knowledge being taught and practiced by Israel, protecting them from ill health, before they were understood and accepted by modern society.

More evidence of divine inspiration and authorship of the Scriptures.

Sermon 8 6 14. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst” – Andrew Monk

Since I accidentally deleted the audio of this message, I thought I would just post the transcript as a blog post.

Psalm 63:1-8
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving-kindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after Righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Truly understanding this beatitude and working towards having a heart that expresses what we just heard in Psalm 63 hinges not on how we understand hunger and thirst, but on how we understand righteousness. Most of us here who have grown up and lived in New Zealand do not truly know what it means to hunger or thirst. It is easy for us to accept that we are supposed to seek after this thing called righteousness as veraciously as we would seek after food or water if we were to experience a true hunger or thirst. The 40-hour famine happened recently, and having done it myself in the past, I know the small pangs of hunger that you get after about 8 hours of not eating. It usually hits Saturday mid-morning when your body realizes that you actually aren’t going to give it breakfast. Over the day, a slow increasing burn creeps into your stomach until it rages fiercely from about hours 30-40. The desire for food you have makes you say crazy things as that clock counts down the last 5 minutes. I believe that this feeling is about the closest most of us will come to understanding truly what it means to hunger or thirst.

And so for those of us who are satisfied in our own means most of the time, our experience of hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the same as our experience of hungering and thirsting after food. Most of the time we eat, not because we are hungry, but because the clock says it’s time to eat, and we know we are supposed to. Or maybe, we realize that we have missed a meal, or time has gotten away from us, and our stomach starts to grumble to remind us that we haven’t met or exceeded our caloric intake yet, and it might have to start utilizing some of our stored fat for energy if we don’t stop and eat. And so we treat our hungering and thirsting after righteousness in the same way, we seek God only when the clock says it is time to seek God, or because we know we are supposed to, or we seek him when we realize time has gotten away from us, and it has been a while since we have sought him. And I think this not only comes from our understanding of what it means to hunger and thirst, but also our view of righteousness. How can our lives reflect the earnest desire we hear in Psalm 63? I believe by seeking an answer to this question: What did Jesus mean when he spoke of righteousness?

Did he mean the same thing that we normally think of when we think of what it means to be righteous? I don’t believe so. I think that what we understand righteousness to be is an ingrained New Testament idea of the legal standing between God and ourselves. We are sinners, and therefore, we are guilty, we are unrighteous. We have failed to live up to God’s standards of right living; we haven’t earned our righteousness. This is how Paul has been interpreted from a Greco-Roman perspective and how it has been drilled into us through our experience of salvation. But Jesus, being a Jew, speaking to Jews, in a Jewish way wouldn’t express or understand the term in a Greco Roman way.
A Hebrew understanding of righteousness comes from a very different perspective. The Hebrew word for righteousness denotes faithfulness to a relationship. Righteousness signifies the meeting of obligations laid upon the individual by the relationship of which he or she is part. In other words, to be righteous is to be right in one’s relationship with someone else. For the Jew, righteousness is experienced within covenant. It is faithfulness to the covenant, to the relationship. Primarily, understood as being between God and a person, or God and the nation of Israel. This is why Jesus is able to reduce the whole Law to what Scot Mcknight calls ‘The Jesus Creed’. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Being righteous, for a Jew, isn’t following a system of rules and making sure that you don’t break any of them, but rather, they follow the law, because it outlines the expectations of the relationship that God has with Israel and the one he expects people within Israel to have with each other. This is the covenant of relationship. This is righteousness for a Jew. The Ten Commandments illustrates this covenant of relationship by laying out the way that a person is required to act towards God and towards others. And we see this idea that Jesus talks about played out even in the Old Testament in verses like, Isaiah 56:1-2,
“Thus says the Lord, Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness is about to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this and the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil”
In other words, blessed is the man who remains in right relationship towards God, and lives in right relationship with others. And Ezekial 18: 5-9.
“But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness, and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbours wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period – if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statues and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully – he is righteous and will surely live, declares the Lord.
So when we hear Jesus talking about hungering and thirsting after righteousness, he is making sure that we are taking seriously our relationship with God and with others. And as we see, the natural progression of the beatitudes continues. If you are poor in spirit, recognizing your relationship isn’t right with God and that you need Jesus to make that happen, then you begin to mourn for those things that you do, and the things that are on God’s heart. You become a biblically meek person of God, knowing your true worth is in God, and that leads to you breaking the Kingdom of God into the world, and the next step is that you continue to hunger and thirst in keeping your relationship right with God and with others. This beatitude is the predominant focus in your life, and the beatitudes that follow this one all flow from this desire to have right relationship with God and with others: to be righteous.
There are many illustrations of this in the Old Testament that play out this idea that being in right relationship with God and others is the key idea in what it means to be righteous for the Jew. There is a whole list of people in Hebrews 11 that are considered heroes of the faith, that have lives that would hardly be considered righteous overall. And so if we look at a couple of these people’s lives we can look to identify what it is that made them righteous.
Abraham is considered the ultimate role model when it comes to being someone who is considered righteous in the Old Testament. But when we look at the life of Abraham we see it was littered with indiscretions, things that we wouldn’t necessarily consider in a righteous person. The list of indiscretions includes: inciting Sarah to lie, causing her to sleep with another, and marrying his half-sister. Hardly a man most people would admire. Even when God promised him a son, he and his wife took matters into their own hands to try to fulfill this prophecy. So we have to ask ourselves, what was it that Abraham was considered righteous for?
In the same way David is called a man after God’s own heart, yet when we look at his life, the obvious question is, how could God call David “a man after His heart” when David was such a terrible a sinner. He is portrayed as a murdering adulterer and a pretty poor parent to boot. So what do we see in both of these men’s lives and others from the list of Hebrews 11 such as Noah and Samson that would lead us to understand how they fulfilled the term righteousness in the way of covenant relationship with God and with others?

Psalm 143
Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my plea! Answer me because you are faithful and righteous. Don’t put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before you.
My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave. I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear.
I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
For the glory of your name, O Lord, preserve my life. Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress. In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies
 and destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.

It seems that what made Abraham and David righteous was not that they achieved it through sacrifice, prayer, following the rules or the Law, but that their righteousness was reckoned to them when they put their faith in the promises that God made to them, and that they returned to God when they did make bad decisions or run ahead of God or try to achieve the promises through their own means. The essence of Psalm 143 is the Old Testament reflection of the Beatitudes. In it David recognizes that he cannot be righteous apart from God granting it to him by his love. In the same way, Abraham learns that his righteousness comes from trusting God to fulfill his side of the covenant relationship; In essence, to fulfill the promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars. This is what Abraham places his faith in when he leaves his country and begins his life in a land he did not know. And while he makes plenty of mistakes along the way, he learns that God is faithful, he continues to return to him, and to seek to uphold his part of the covenant. We see he has learnt, because when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac, he is ready to do it. He understands that righteousness only exists within right relationship, and his trust in God to fulfill his role of the covenant is why he is considered righteous.

In the same way with David, in spite of his many failures along the way, his faith rested in the promises that God had made to him regarding his lineage. He trusted God to fulfill his side of the covenant to himself and to Israel. This is what led him to pick up his sling when he was a boy to confront Goliath, the promises that God would be with Israel and fight for them. It is what led him to write these beautiful Psalms. It is what kept him from killing Saul when he had the chance, and this is what kept him coming back to God, hungering and thirsting after that right relationship with God and others when he failed.

So then, righteousness seen as being in right relationship with God and others becomes the desire of those who are poor in Spirit and recognize their need for right relationship, mourn for the separation with God and others, are meek because they know that their righteousness comes from God alone, and that they hunger and seek to maintain and restore that right relationship with God and with others, especially when they mess up. They seek that forgiveness, that restoration, not only to God, but also, in line with the Jesus Creed, others and the world. When we understand our continuing need for righteousness in these relational terms, while we can rest easy in the knowledge that our legal justification has been met by Jesus, we can continually hunger and thirst for that right relationship with God and with others.

Edwin Friedman once said that most people spend their life reacting to other people’s reactivity. Mr. A might be reacting to what happens in his life and gets angry at Mr. B; and Mr. B reacts back with vengeance. Reactivity is often what makes relationship turn sour. Stephen R Covey suggested that the opposite of being reactive is being proactive.

Some people live in the so-called stimulus-response condition. They react or respond to others based on the stimuli that they receive. But, Covey argues that there is a gap between stimulus and response. A proactive person is someone who can take advantage of the gap, which allows him or her to make a choice before they respond.

We often hear people say, “You pressed my button and that’s what you get.” That’s the sad nature of a reactive person because this person acts like a robot—responding to the pressing of a button. It is not an easy habit to change. Sometimes we just have a surge of rage when someone uses certain word on us, or when we hear someone doing certain things behind us.

When we keep our hunger and thirst for righteousness in mind—that is to desire healthy relationship with God and others, God can help us make good choices before we respond.

And Jesus says that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be satisfied. The word means sated, bloated, or filled to overflowing. The metaphor expresses absolute and utter satisfaction. Those who pursue the righteousness Jesus promises will experience the kind of satisfaction that David expresses in the Psalms, and find the kind of kingdom society where love, peace, justice, and holiness shape the entirety of creation. When a group of Christ followers truly adopt the Jesus Creed and accept the beatitudes and create a community that lives out a kingdom society, all needs will be met, both relational and spiritual. But it begins with understanding that righteousness that leads to this spiritual and relational satisfaction will not be experienced in isolation from the other beatitudes. Nor will it be experienced in isolation from deep involvement in the community of faith. Deep involvement where we share our lives, our hurts, our weaknesses, our anger, our struggles. Where we are more honest with each other than just the idol chit chat we talk about on a Sunday morning, or even in cell groups. Where we let our real selves be know. The church cannot be the church to you, if the church does not know you. But we don’t open ourselves up to one another in our vulnerability and then we complain or leave when the church doesn’t respond to our relational and spiritual needs.

Do you really want to experience this satisfaction? Do you really want to be filled, sated, overflowing with the joy that David expresses in the Psalms? To be filled you first need to hunger, you first need to be thirsty. You first need to seek, desire and trust God like David did, like Jesus did. Having the right relationship with God will lead into having a right relationship with others. It will lead to mercy, peace, love, grace, healing, and demonstrate to the world the type of Kingdom that Jesus rules over. It will give them a reason to stop and take notice of what we say about God, because we will be living out what we say we believe, and we will be bringing a glimpse of that glorious kingdom to them, and they will believe us when they see our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Psalm 42
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

Stop Boiling Jesus

I like the title of this blog I read this morning, which really hits on our tendency to turn Jesus into what we want him to be. We like to make Jesus comfortable for ourselves. We don’t like to be challenged with who Jesus really is or why he came. Reducing Jesus into something comfortable means that we can live our lives the way we want and never progress spiritually and never get involved with God’s work in the world. It also hinders our ability to share the TRUE message with others. Instead we share the message that allows people to continue to live their lives and think that they are following Jesus.

 

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Along these same lines, this blog post challenges the idea that God has a plan for every detail in our lives. When we hold this kind of view it removes the choice and responsibilities that we have to work at the relationships in our lives. It allows us to avoid any blame that should be placed upon ourselves when something doesn’t work out right; we chalk it up to not being a part of God’s plan for our lives. While this may be true in some instances we tend to use this excuse far too much.

It is time for us to give up pop theology and really start to see Jesus for who he is and to recognise what God’s plans for our lives really are: Jesus came to glorify the Father and to do his will and God’s plan for our lives is to become more like Christ. As the blogger says, “The rest is frosting.”

Work and Faith

A great article on how our faith should affect our work (or the time we do not spend in church or at church related activities.) Enjoy

 

How Faith Affects our Work by Tim Keller

Christmas not Christian?

Here we go again. Another December; another crazy Christmas Season. And as usual the Christmas tradition of trying to wrestle Christmas out of the hands of Christianity begins. “Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th;” “You know, Christians just stole a pagan holiday and its traditions;” “We need to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas because it is more inclusive and less offensive to non-Christians who celebrate the holidays.” And while it is essentially true that just about all of the Christmas traditions that we know and enjoy every year were adopted from non-Christian sources, and sometimes reinterpreted with a Christian message (although more not than often, apart from coming under the overarching banner of Jesus’ Birthday), I would question whether or not this really matters.

(For a rather extreme – and I do mean extreme – view and interpretation of the origin of the Christmas symbols, see here.)

If we are really honest with ourselves and took a look at our Christmas seasons from an outside perspective, most of us would have to admit that we don’t really think about Jesus any more than we do throughout the year, especially if we are regular Church attendees and “committed” Christians. It would be hard to differentiate what we do at Christmas from what “average Joe” down the road does.

So what is Christmas all about? Family? Giving? Getting? Eating? Celebrating? Sharing?

Should I bust out the good old, “Jesus is the reason for the season” on you?

Or do we need to take a deeper look at what our faith means, and what this one day a year represents to us? What does is it really mean to someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

While Family, Giving, Sharing, and Celebrating are all great things to remember at this time of the year (even though we only usually focus this on our immediate family and I would encourage Christians to take a much wider view with these aspects that I will elaborate on soon) I would point to the Christmas story in the book of Luke, specifically Chapter 2:10-11, where the Angel is speaking to the Shepherds. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The reason we celebrate this day (regardless of whether it is the correct day or not) is because it is a reminder of the “good news of great joy” that we have received! And while we could start a discussion about how we should remember this every day of the year, and not just on Christmas, I think we have a unique opportunity at Christmas to highlight the Gospel message through how we celebrate Christmas.

The way we celebrate needs to be different from average Joe next door! In our celebration of family, in our giving, in our sharing, we need to be reminding the world of this “good news of great joy!” And so, we need to consider how we can do this! Should we be inviting people into our celebrations who are disaffected, alone, unable to celebrate themselves? In our giving should we be less interested in presents for our kids and one another, and more interested in giving of our time and resources to help someone in need, to bless a charity, a neighbour, or even maybe a stranger (and to teach our kids some real values about what is important in this life)? And if we can escape the trap of what we have come to believe Christmas is, and get back to the root of our celebration of this day; the root of our faith, and our calling, maybe, just maybe we will have the opportunity through giving of our times and resources to share this “good news of great joy” with someone who may see a bit of difference in the way we celebrate this one day a year, and the way we live our lives the rest of the year!

Merry Christmas (Happy Holidays) to you all. May you all celebrate the real “reason for the season” this year!

 

Jesus- the new controversy which really isn’t

Some of you may have heard or seen about the recent discovery of a papyrus fragment probably from the 4th or 5th century CE in which there is a saying attributed to Jesus where he refers to “my wife.” The media lives on sensationalising discoveries like this, making great leaps of assumption to conclusions that have absolutely no scholarly foundation to rest upon. The title being given to the fragment “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is amusing in and of itself given the dimensions of the papyrus fragment. (The  fragment is a small, honey-colored piece of papyrus, measuring only four centimeters in height by eight centimeters wide, with writing in Coptic script on both sides. On one side there are eight incomplete lines of script (with illegible traces of a ninth line), and on the reverse side, there are six lines, but that side is badly damaged and the ink so faded that only three words and a few individual letters are still visible. Since there is writing on both sides of the fragment, it most probably belongs to an ancient papyrus book (codex) rather than a scroll, which would have had writing only on one side. Since there are no margins preserved and no other known copies of the same text that would help with reconstruction, it is not possible to estimate the original size of the page, let alone of the whole gospel.) In fact, the text on this papyrus is such a small amount and from many different lines, that the is no way to even formulate a solid theory about what the conversation could be about, let alone the context of the discussion to the rest of the “book” that is missing.

 

It seems that we need to be informed to temper the media hype that accompanies discoveries like these, and so here is a good summary of the situation as it stands. It is also important to understand that extra-biblical information about Jesus does not invalidate the historicity or reliability of the New Testament if it is not in direct opposition to what is recorded there (remember that the Bible doesn’t record everything that happened, or that Jesus did in his life).

In any case, it is always exciting to find new early documents that can better inform us on how things developed in the first few centuries after Jesus lived. This is not the first extra-biblical writing claiming that Jesus was married (or that has been interpreted that way), and I’m sure it certainly won’t be the last. And if we did someday discover proof that Jesus was married, the question I would ask is, does it even matter?

Scripture and Homosexual Practice

An article from the Christian Standard Website that is particularly relevant this week.

Regardless of your personal views about the current discussion, we must look objectively (as much as we can) at the entire textual argument, rather than pick and choose verses to support our debate on either side.

Belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, and belief in God’s order of the world, does not equal bigotry and hate, and it does not discount genetic predispositions! As followers of Christ, we are all called to live and act in certain ways. We are also called to love one another as Jesus did, which is to be forgiving and grace-filled, understanding that we are all fallen creatures in need of his forgiveness and grace to overcome our sin and shortcomings, and that we are all on this journey called life together. The main thing we are called to do is to not hinder the spread of the gospel. Our actions, attitudes, and our response to all issues and people must be subjected to the test of whether or not saying, doing, and participating will or will not hinder a person coming to the gospel (apart from what we believe to be the inherent truth of the gospel message of course, which is, that God desires to be reconnected with people in relationship and sent Jesus to die in order for this to be accomplished!).

Please note, the issue here is not support or opposition for the current bill before parliament, but rather a discussion of a deeper more ontological issue.

 

By Robert A.J. Gagnon

While many Christians are firm in their objection to homosexual activity, our culture continues its trend toward normalizing it. While many Christians are certain homosexual activity is wrong, fewer Christians can answer secular claims that the Bible doesn’t really forbid it.

Here is a concise (although longer than usual for this magazine) treatment of five key issues raised by defenders of homosexual practice.

You will hear, or have heard, some of these claims. Until now you may not have read the straightforward reasons to refute them.

Issue: JESUS

Claim: Jesus had no interest in maintaining a male-female requirement for sexual relations.

What the evidence really shows . . .

Jesus believed a male-female requirement for sexual relations was foundational, a core value of Scripture’s sexual ethics on which other sexual standards should be based, including the “twoness” of a sexual union.

Jesus predicated marital twoness—the restriction of the number of persons in a sexual union to two, whether concurrently (no polygamy) or serially (no cycle of divorce and remarriage)—on the fact that “But at the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6; Genesis 1:27) and “for this reason a man . . . be united to his wife, and the two will
become one flesh” (Mark 10:7, 8; Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). In other words, the fact that God had designed two (and only two) primary sexes for complementary sexual pairing was Jesus’ basis for a rigorous monogamy position. He reasoned that, since the union of the two sexual halves creates an integrated, self-contained sexual whole, a third sexual partner was neither necessary nor desirable.

We know that this was Jesus’ reasoning because the only other first-century Jews who shared Jesus’ opposition to more than two persons in a sexual bond were the Essenes, who likewise rejected “taking two wives in their lives” because “the foundation of creation is ‘male and female he created them’” (Genesis 1:27) and because “those who entered (Noah’s) ark went in two by two into the ark” (Genesis 7:9) (Damascus Covenant 4.20–5.1). The appeal to the “two by two” statement in the story of Noah’s ark is significant because, apart from the repetition of Genesis 1:27 in 5:1, 2 that is the only other place where the precise Hebrew phrase zakar uneqevah (“male and female”) appears, and there it is strongly linked with the emphasis on a natural pair.

The twoness of the sexes is the foundation for the twoness of the sexual bond. There is no other logical or nature-based argument for an absolute rejection of all polyamorous unions—even those unions that are adult-committed and show no scientifically measurable harm—than that the fundamental duality or twoness of the sexes precludes sexual unions involving three or more persons concurrently. In short, according to Jesus, if you think that limiting the number of partners in a sexual union to two persons at any one time is an important requirement for sexual unions, you should regard a male-female requirement as even more important.

There are many other arguments that one can cite as evidence of Jesus’ rejection of homosexual practice, including the fact that the Old Testament that Jesus accepted as Scripture was strongly opposed; that the man who baptized Jesus (John the Baptist) was beheaded for criticizing Herod Antipas for violating Levitical sex laws (the incest prohibitions, even in adult-consensual relationships); that the entirety of early Judaism out of which Jesus emerged believed homosexual practice to be a gross violation of foundational sexual ethics (there are no extant texts within centuries of the life of Jesus indicating any openness to homosexual relationships of any sort, in contrast to the existence of such texts among “pagans”); and that the early church that knew Jesus best was united in its belief that a male-female prerequisite for sexual unions was essential.

The supposition of a Jesus supportive of, or even neutral toward, committed homosexual unions is without historical analogue in Jesus’ immediate cultural environment. It is revisionist history at its worst. Moreover, although we have no extant saying of Jesus that loosened the Law’s demand for sexual purity, we do have sayings where Jesus closed remaining loopholes in the Law’s sexual commands by further intensifying God’s demand (adultery of the heart; divorce and remarriage) and warning people that sexual impurity could get one thrown into Hell full-bodied (Matthew 5:27-32). The trend of Jesus’ teaching on sexual ethics is not toward greater license but toward fewer loopholes.

 

Issue: EUNUCHS

Claim: The positive treatment that “eunuchs” receive in some biblical texts provides grounds for supporting homosexual unions, as does Jesus’ attitude toward the woman caught in adultery and toward other outcasts.

What the evidence really shows . . .

The references to eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3-5 and Acts 8:27-39 refer to persons who were physically castrated against their will, not to persons who willingly removed their marks of masculinity, much less actively engaged in sexual relations forbidden by Scripture. Jesus’ saying about eunuchs in Matthew 19:12 presupposes that eunuchs are not having sexual intercourse at all, let alone having forbidden sexual intercourse. Both Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery and his outreach to sexual sinners were aimed at achieving their repentance so that they might inherit the kingdom of God that he proclaimed.

Isaiah 39:7 makes clear that the eunuchs mentioned in Isaiah 56:4, 5 were Israelites who, against their will, were taken to “the palace of the king of Babylon” and made eunuchs, but had now returned to Israel. According to Isaiah 56:4, 5, God will not cut them off from his people so long as they “choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant.” There is no way the author would have regarded someone engaged in same-sex intercourse as still pleasing God and holding fast to the covenant.

These are persons who had a portion of their masculinity taken away from them against their will. Why should they now be penalized if they do not support erasure of their own masculinity and have no intent to violate any of God’s commands regarding sexual behavior?

A first-century Jewish text, The Wisdom of Solomon, both extols a eunuch who does not violate God’s commands and condemns homosexual practice (Wisdom 3:14; 14:26). Another Jewish work presumes that eunuchs are not having any sexual intercourse (Sirach 20:4; 30:20).

This is exactly what Jesus presumes when he compares “eunuchs who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God”—that is, Christians who opt out of marriage and choose a celibate life in order to have more time and freedom of movement and action to proclaim the gospel—with “born eunuch” and “made eunuchs.” The analogy only works on the assumption that eunuchs do not have sexual relations. So if “born eunuchs” included for Jesus not only asexual men but also men who had sexual desire only for other males, then Jesus rejected for them all sexual relations outside the covenant bond of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, the whole context for the eunuch saying in Matthew 19:10-12 is Jesus’ argument that the twoness of the sexes in complementary sexual pairing, “male and female,” is the basis for rejecting sexual relationships involving three or more persons. He can hardly be dismissing the importance of a male-female requirement for sexual relations immediately after establishing the foundational character of such a requirement—certainly not in Matthew’s view of the matter.

When Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery from being stoned, he did so with a view to encouraging her repentance. Put simply, dead people don’t repent. Jesus wanted to give the woman every last opportunity to repent so that she might inherit the kingdom of God. So he warned her: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

A similar statement is made by Jesus in John 5:14, followed up with the remark: “something worse may happen to you.” That something worse is loss of eternal life through an unrepentant life. Whereas the Pharisees didn’t care whether sexual sinners and persons who exploited the poor for material gain (first-century tax collectors) went to Hell, Jesus cared enough to make them a focus of his ministry so that he might, through a proclamation of love and repentance, call them back to God’s kingdom (hence Mark’s summary of Jesus’ ministry: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” [1:15]).

When the church calls to repentance those who engage in homosexual acts and does so lovingly, with a desire to reclaim lives for the kingdom of God, it carries out the work of its Lord.

 

Issue: ROMANS 1:24-27 AND THE ERRONEOUS ‘EXPLOITATION ARGUMENT’

Claim: The Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice in Romans 1:24-27 applies only to exploitative and hedonistic forms of homosexual practice such as sex with slaves, prostitutes, and adolescents.

What the evidence really shows . . .

Every piece of evidence that can be culled from the text’s literary and historical context confirms that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice, like its prohibition of adult incestuous unions, is absolute, rejecting all forms of homosexual practice regardless of consent and commitment.

Five lines of evidence make this point clear.

• First, Paul in Romans 1:24-27 rejects homosexual practice because it is a violation of the God’s creation of “male and female” as a sexual pair in Genesis. In Romans 1:23-27 Paul intentionally echoed Genesis 1:26, 27, making eight points of correspondence, in the same tripartite structure, between the two sets of texts (humans/image/likeness, birds/cattle/reptiles, male/female). Paul was rejecting homosexual practice in the first instance because it was a violation of the male-female prerequisite for sexual relations ordained by the Creator at creation, not because it was somehow done improperly in his cultural milieu.

• Second, the kind of nature argument that Paul employs in Romans 1:18-27 isn’t conducive to a distinction between exploitative and nonexploitative forms of homosexual practice. Paul contended that female-female and male-male intercourse was “unnatural” because it violated obvious clues given in the material structures of creation that male and female, not two males or two females, are each other’s sexual “counterpart” or “complement” (to use the language of Genesis 2:18, 20) in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology. What Paul says regarding the vertical vice of idolatry (1:19-23) is equally true of the horizontal vice of same-sex intercourse: male-female complementarity is “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (1:19, 20).

Some have argued that the ancients had no comprehension of a complementarity argument. Yet as classicist Thomas K. Hubbard notes in his magisterial sourcebook of texts pertaining to Homosexuality in Greece and Rome(University of California Press, 2003): “Basic to the heterosexual position [among Greek and Roman moralists in the first few centuries AD] is the characteristic Stoic appeal to the providence of Nature, which has matched and fitted the sexes to each other” (p. 444). Hubbard is supportive of homosexual relationships, yet admits the point.

• Third, the fact that Paul in Romans 1:27 specifically indicts male homosexual relations that involve mutual, reciprocal affections—“men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another”—precludes any supposition that Paul is thinking only of coercive relationships.

• Fourth, Paul’s indictment of lesbianism in Romans 1:26 further confirms that his indictment of homosexual practice is absolute, since female homosexuality in antiquity was not primarily known, or criticized, for the exploitative practices of sex with slaves, prostitutes, or children. And there can be little doubt that Paul was indicting female homosexuality, as evidenced by: (1) the parallelism of the language of 1:26 (“women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones”) and 1:27 (“In the same way the men also abandoned natural relationswith women”); (2) the fact that in antiquity lesbian intercourse was the form of female intercourse most commonly labeled “contrary to nature” and paired with male homosexual practice; (3) the fact of nearly universal male opposition to lesbianism in antiquity, even by men engaged in homosexual practice; and (4) the fact that lesbian intercourse was the dominant interpretation of Romans 1:26 in the patristic period.

• Fifth, contrary to false claims that people in the Greco-Roman world had no concept of committed homosexual unions, there is plenty of evidence for the conception and existence of loving homosexual relationships, including semiofficial “marriages” between men and between women. Moreover, we know of some Greco-Roman moralists who acknowledged the existence of loving homosexual relationships while rejecting even these as unnatural (indeed, we can trace this idea back to Plato’s Laws).

This is also true of the church fathers. For example, Clement of Alexandria (late second century) referred to “women . . . contrary to nature . . . marrying women” (Paidagogos 3.3.21.3). Obviously marriage implies commitment (else there is no need to marry), yet commitment does not change the unnatural and sinful character of the relationship. And it should go without saying that Jewish writers in Paul’s day and beyond rejected all forms of homosexual activity. For example, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus stated the obvious to his Roman readers: “The law [of Moses] recognizes only sexual intercourse that is according to nature, that which is with a woman. . . . But it abhors the intercourse of males with males” (Against Apion 2.199).

It is hardly surprising, then, that even Louis Crompton, a homosexual scholar, acknowledges this point in his massive work, Homosexuality and Civilization (Harvard University Press, 2003):

However well-intentioned, [the interpretation that] Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships . . . seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian (p. 114).

Also worth noting is the falsity of claims that the ancient world knew nothing akin to our understanding of a homosexual orientation or of congenital influences on at least some homosexual development. As classicist Thomas K. Hubbard (cited above) notes:

Homosexuality in this era (i.e., of the early Imperial Age of Rome) may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation (p. 386).

Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar who has written the most important book on lesbianism in antiquity, also acknowledges this point. She states that “Paul could have believed” that some persons attracted to members of the same sex “were born that way and yet still condemn them (better: their behaviors) as unnatural and shameful. . . . I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God” (Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism [University of Chicago, 1996], 244).

Issue: ANALOGIES

Claim: The closest analogies to the Bible’s opposition to homosexual practice are the Bible’s support for both slavery and the oppression of women and its opposition to divorce, all positions that we now reject.

What the evidence really shows . . .

The alleged analogies cited above are far more remote than the analogies of the Bible’s opposition to incest and the New Testament’s opposition to polygamy—behaviors that would disqualify any candidate from ordained office, even when the relationships in question are adult, consensual, committed, and exhibit no scientifically measurable harm.

Scripture’s opposition to incest and (in the New Testament) polygamy or polyamory (sexual love for multiple persons concurrently) is related in key ways to its opposition to homosexual practice. Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all sexual behaviors proscribed absolutely in one or both Testaments of Scripture, despite the fact that all three can be conducted as caring and committed adult sexual relationships. Incest is ultimately prohibited on the grounds that it is sexual intercourse with a person who, in terms of embodied existence, is too much of a same or like on a kinship level (compare Leviticus 18:6: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations”). The higher risks of procreative difficulties that attend fertile incestuous unions are merely the symptom of the root problem: too much identity between close blood relations.

Similarly the inability of persons of the same sex to procreate is merely the symptom of the root problem: too much embodied identity, here as regards gender or sex, between persons of the same sex. If anything, the identity is more keenly felt in same-sex intercourse than incest since sex or gender is a more integral component of sexuality than blood relatedness.

As regards polygamy or polyamory, we have already seen in point 1 above that Jesus predicated his rejection of such behavior on God’s creation of two sexes for complementary sexual pairing. So a two-sexes prerequisite for sexual relations and a limitation of the number of persons in a sexual union to two are related as foundation and superstructure (the latter being built on the former).

These links indicate that the Bible’s prohibition of incest and the New Testament’s prohibition of multiple-partner sexual unions, even for males (note that the Old Testament never allowed women to have multiple husbands concurrently [polyandry]), are very close analogies to the Bible’s strong prohibition of homosexual practice.

Slavery is a bad analogy to the Bible’s opposition to homosexual practice because, first, the Bible shows no vested interest in preserving slavery but rather at a number of points has a critical edge against slavery (for example, having mandatory release dates, maintaining the right of kin to buy loved ones out of slavery at any time, insisting that fellow Israelites not be treated as slaves). Relative to the slave cultures of the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman Mediterranean basin, the countercultural thrust of the Scriptures is against slavery. However, as regards a male-female requirement for sexual relations, the Bible’s critical edge and countercultural thrust is decidedly opposed to all homosexual practice.

Second, whereas race or ethnicity is a 100 percent heritable, absolutely immutable, and primarily nonbehavioral condition, and so inherently benign, homosexual desire is an impulse and, like many impulses, it is not 100 percent heritable (there may be congenital influences, but these are not absolutely deterministic), is open to some change (even if only, in some cases, a limited reduction in the intensity of impulses), is primarily behavioral (here for unnatural, i.e. structurally incompatible, sexual activity), and therefore is not inherently benign.

Third, the parallel with slavery lies with support for homosexual unions, not opposition to such, since those insisting that homosexual desires be affirmed by the church are promoting enslavement to impulses to do what God in Scripture expressly forbids.

The Bible’s stance toward women’s roles is a bad analogy for similar reasons.

First, proposing an analogy between being a woman and having homoerotic impulses confuses categories. Being a woman, unlike a homosexual impulse, is a condition that is 100 percent congenital, absolutely immutable, and not a direct desire for behavior that Scripture expressly forbids.

Second, there are plenty of positive views of women in Scripture (e.g., the roles played by Judge Deborah and Ruth in the Old Testament, Jesus’ commendation of female discipleship, and Paul’s salute to women coworkers in the New Testament), but only strongly negative assessments of homosexual practice. As with the issue of slavery, the counter-cultural thrust of Scripture leans in the direction both of supporting egalitarian roles for women and of opposing homosexual practice more stringently and consistently than anywhere else in the ancient world.

Divorce and remarriage after divorce also have serious problems as analogues to the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice, for three reasons.

First, in Scripture divorce and remarriage is simply not viewed as negatively as homosexual practice. Jesus predicated his opposition to divorce and remarriage on the foundation that God created us as “male and female,” a self-contained sexual pair. The foundation is always more important than the superstructure built on it. Logically it is not possible to justify license in a greater matter by limited license in a lesser matter. For example, it would be illegitimate to argue that greater tolerance toward divorce and remarriage should lead to greater tolerance toward adult-committed incest or “plural” marriages, for the latter two offenses are regarded as more severe. Moreover, there is no virtue to being more consistently disobedient to the will of Christ.

Second, the Bible shows a limited canonical diversity toward divorce (permitted for men in the Old Testament; in the New Testament, allowed in cases of sexual immorality or marriage to an unbeliever who insists on leaving) but no diversity on the matter of homosexual practice. There are also ameliorating factors in the case of some divorce situations that simply don’t apply in the case of a consensual homosexual union. For example, a spouse can be divorced against her or his will or be subject to regular and serious abuse, which creates perpetrator vs. victim distinctions irrelevant to a voluntary entrance into a homosexual union.

Third, and most importantly, the church’s stance toward divorce/remarriage on the one hand and homosexual practice on the other are alike in this respect: the church works to end the cycle. The church would not ordain any candidate for office who expressed the view: “I’ve been divorced and remarried a number of times and would like to continue the cycle with the fewest negative side-effects.” Such a person could not be ordained because that person has an unreformed mind. Why, then, should the church ordain someone who not only engaged in homosexual practice on multiple occasions in the past but also intends to continue in such behavior in a serial, unrepentant way?

Often church proponents of homosexual unions also cite the story in Acts 10, 11, and 15 about the church’s inclusion of Gentiles without requiring circumcision and observance of dietary law. This too is a bad analogy, for many reasons.

First, a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations is grounded in creation whereas a circumcision requirement and dietary commands are not so grounded.

Second, whereas circumcision was a Jewish ritual prescription enjoined only on those Gentiles who became proselytes to Judaism, affecting the body only superficially, the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice was regarded as a universal moral proscription enjoined on all Gentiles because sexual immorality affects the body holistically. Both Jesus (Mark 7:14-23) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) forbade comparisons between food laws and prohibitions of sexual immorality, and yet proponents of homosexual unions continue to make such comparisons.

Third, whereas Gentile inclusion in the first century was about welcoming Gentile believers while rejecting the sexual behaviors that Scripture categorically regards as immoral, today’s efforts at normalizing homosexual practice are about accepting precisely such behaviors.

Fourth, whereas Scripture only incidentally links Gentiles to sin (i.e., it recognizes the category of righteous or God-fearing Gentiles), Scripture intrinsically links homosexual practice to sin.

Fifth, whereas Gentile inclusion has significant Old Testament precedent (for example, the stories of Rahab, Ruth, the widow at Zarephath, Naaman, and Jonah) and uniform New Testament support, homosexual practice is totally rejected in all parts of Scripture. It is absurd to argue for affirmation of homosexual unions as the Spirit’s new work inasmuch as it puts the Spirit at odds with Scripture’s core values in sexual ethics.

A principle of good analogical reasoning is this: The closest, and thus best, analogies are those that share the most substantive points of contact with the thing being compared. Honest analogical reasoning does not prefer far analogies over close analogies.

Consequently, it is inappropriate to stress the alleged analogies of slavery, women’s roles, divorce, and first-century Gentile inclusion while ignoring both the enormous differences with the Bible’s stance on homosexual practice and the more substantive parallels to the Bible’s position on incest and polyamory.

 

Issue: SIGNIFICANCE

Claim: The Bible is not particularly interested in homosexual practice, as evidenced by the fact that it is only mentioned on a few occasions.

What the evidence really shows . . .

All the contextual evidence indicates that ancient Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity viewed homosexual practice of every sort as abhorrent to God, an extreme sexual offense comparable only to the worst forms of adult incest (say, a man and his mother) and superseded among “consensual” sexual offenses only by bestiality.

A male-female prerequisite is powerfully evident throughout the pages of Scripture. Every biblical narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, metaphor, and poetry that has anything to do with sexual relations presupposes such a prerequisite. Even the male-dominated society of ancient Israel imaged itself as Yahweh’s wife so as to avoid any connotation of a marriage between members of the same sex (an image replicated in the New Testament as regards Christ and his bride, the church).

There are plenty of laws in the Old Testament delimiting acceptable and unacceptable sexual relationships between a man and a woman, but not between two persons of the same sex. The obvious reason: No homosexual relationships were deemed acceptable.

Those who contend that the Bible condemns homosexual practice only in “a handful of passages” at best (Sodom; the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10) usually neglect a number of other relevant texts: the Genesis creation narratives; the Noah and Ham story; the narrative of the Levite at Gibeah; the texts from Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history dealing with cultic figures known to play the female role in sex with men (the qedeshim); the interpretation of the Sodom story in Ezekiel, Jude, and 2 Peter; and Jesus’ discussion of marriage in Mark 10 and Matthew 19.

More importantly, they overlook the problem with equating frequency of explicit mention with importance. Bestiality is mentioned even less in the Bible than homosexual practice, and incest gets only comparable treatment, yet who would be so foolish as to argue that Jews and Christians in antiquity would have regarded sex with an animal or sex with one’s mother as inconsequential offenses? Infrequency of mention is often an indicator that the matter in question is foundational rather than insignificant. You don’t have to talk a lot about something that most everyone agrees with and that few persons, if any, violate.

Scripture’s male-female prerequisite for sexual relations and its attendant rejection of homosexual behavior ispervasive throughout both Testaments (i.e., it is everywhere presumed in sexual discussions even when not explicitly mentioned); it is absolute (i.e., no exceptions are ever given, unlike even incest and polyamory); it isstrongly proscribed (i.e., every mention of it in Scripture indicates that it is regarded as a foundational violation of sexual ethics); and it is countercultural (i.e., we know of no other culture in the ancient Near East or Greco-Roman Mediterranean basin more consistently and strongly opposed to homosexual practice).

It is also grounded in the creation texts in Genesis 1:27 and 2:21-24. In the latter, woman is portrayed as man’s missing element or other half, hence the repeated mention of woman being “taken from” the human and being the human’s “complement” or “counterpart,” a being both “corresponding to” him as a human and “opposite to” him as a distinct sex. Man and woman may become one flesh because out of one flesh man and woman emerged—a beautiful illustration of the transcendent point that man and woman are each other’s sexual counterpart. As noted in issue 1 above, Jesus treats the two-sexes requirement for sexual relations as foundational for his monogamy principle. And Paul cites homosexual practice as a particularly egregious instance of “sexual impurity,” “indecency,” and a “dishonoring” of the integrity of maleness and femaleness, an egregious suppression of the obvious facts of God’s design evident in the material structures of creation comparable on the horizontal plane to idolatry on the vertical plane.

If all this doesn’t qualify the Bible’s male-female requirement for sexual relations as a core value in Scripture’s sexual ethics (the flipside of which is opposition to all homosexual practice), there is no such thing as a core value in any religious or philosophical tradition.

 

Robert A. J. Gagnon, PhD, is author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001) and coauthor of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Fortress Press, 2003). This article was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Enrichment Journal.

How God Builds GBC through the Home Group

I thank the Lord God Almighty for the ministry of Glenfield Baptist Church through her home groups.  The home group made our integration with GBC very easy and smooth.

As migrants from Philippines and newcomer in Auckland, particularly at Glenfield, living would have been lonesome and incomplete without joining in the community of believers.  The home group completes our need for community and spiritual fellowship.

Growing up worshipping, fellowshipping and serving in the Baptist Church, we believe that having an active church life is as important as having a good job and meeting basic needs. That’s why we were quite elated when we learned from Boyet that we will find our faith sanctuary in Glenfield Baptist.

While we always feel the warm welcome since we first attended church on 13 November 2011 until now, it is in the home group where we have the chance to share testimonies, prayer concerns and develop strong belongingness.

Of course, the songs, foods, laughter and tears are the very icing on the “home group” cake.  At the core of it all is the peaceful knowledge that everyone is related to one another by the blood of Jesus Christ.

The caroling at rest homes in December made our first Christmas in Auckland closer to home.

Oh boy, I almost believed that my body English has some power to guide the ball and make those strikes (or gutters) when the home group went out bowling in July.

Who can forget Grant’s Bible quizzes and chocolate prizes? I’m glad after failing to answer some questions I finally stopped thinking that some home group members were giving me that “you’re-a-pastor-you-should know” stare.

Rotating the hosting of the gathering makes it very hard for me to predict what foods will be served after our spirits have been filled. Yeah, despite the hosting having come full circle several times I decline from judging who’s the best cook and baker.  All I can say is the hospitality of every home makes the food very delicious.

In the home group, we came from many nations and yet we can relate, show concern, share encouragements and material things like real brothers and sisters in one big family. Isn’t it great miracle and power to show God’s amazing love through this small church unit?

The home group fulfils what Jesus mentioned in John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.  Indeed, through the home group God builds His Church stronger and ever.

Jonan

“God Particles” and Other Smart Sounding Stuff

A few days ago I watched a program called “Stephen Hawking’s, Grand Design.” Based upon his 2010 book of the same name, the first episode (an hour including commercials) focused on the question of “Do we need God to explain how the universe began?”

Of course, being a scientific programme shown on the discovery channel, I already knew what the answer to that question would be, but I always find it interesting to see how the shows like this (and in this case Hawking) arrived at and presented the conclusion.

His premise relied on three points (just like a good sermon) that built upon one another. The first had to do with the total sum of the energy of the universe equalling zero (hence nothing) based on the view that the amount of energy (matter or mass is included in the energy equation because of E=MC2) was equal to the amount of negative energy that exists.

His illustration was a man who builds a hill on a flat piece of land must dig a hole, thus creating a negative or an inverse of the hill. He built upon this with his second point which was to argue, that at the subatomic level, things do pop into existence out of nothing. Therefore, the Big Bang did not violate the laws of nature.

Finally, his third point (and for Hawking the nail in the coffin) was that before the Big Bang, the universe was contained in essentially an infinitesimally  small and infinitesimally dense black hole, and in black holes time slows to a halt.

Therefore, because the Big Bang was the beginning point of the universe and hence the beginning of time (because time was standing still before the Big Bang), there was no time before the Big Bang for God to initiate the Big Bang, plan, create or design the Universe.

I immediately found it interesting that such a great mind would base the crux of his argument on the assumption that in order to create, God must exist within time and cannot function outside of time. This assumption is made because Hawking begins with the belief that nothing can exist outside of the laws of nature, nor break the laws of nature (like a miracle, or the supernatural).

However, as Gerald Schroeder notes in his book The Big Bang Creation: God or the Laws of Nature, that Hawking himself builds his case upon the very assumption that he criticizes (and subsequently argues against).

“The Grand Design breaks the news, bitter to some, that… to create a universe from absolute nothing God is not necessary. All that is needed are the laws of nature. … [That is,] there can have been a big bang creation without the help of God, provided the laws of nature pre-date the universe. Our concept of time begins with the creation of the universe. Therefore if the laws of nature created the universe, these laws must have existed prior to time; that is the laws of nature would be outside of time. What we have then is totally non-physical laws, outside of time, creating a universe. Now that description might sound somewhat familiar. Very much like the biblical concept of God: not physical, outside of time, able to create a universe.”

Yesterday, the exciting news about the Higgs Boson emerged (well, probably super exciting for Sheldon Cooper, now he can imagine an even deeper level of the universe naked). However, the name the ‘God Particle’ has been confusing (and yes even scientists hate it). Read a great summary of what the Higgs Boson is, and why it shouldn’t be called the ‘God Particle” here.

So why do I bring both of these things up? A lot of times we as Christians begin to shake in our boots when a new scientific theory is espoused or discovery is made because we believe it erodes a little bit more of the belief that we have that God created the Universe, the world and us in his image!

However, like Science (or good science anyway) we as believers need to be fluid in how we understand the creation. The first thing we have to do is let go of the belief that Genesis is a scientific textbook. We also have to learn not to be afraid of Science. It can be very eye-opening in how God works in the universe.

Most of the time I find that a new aspect of science actually enhances my understanding of how God built this universe and holds it all together. And it is AMAZING! In fact, more often than not, when I learn something new about the universe, it actually strengthens my belief in the fact that God created and sustains the universe and our world.

So don’t be afraid of science! Embrace it.

There are plenty of resources out there that can enhance your understanding. Two such resources are Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John C. Lennox, and The Language of God: A Scientist Provides Evidence for Belief  by Francis Collins (who happens to be the head of the Human Genome project). Both of these resources are written to make the science easy to understand, and to explain how science and faith can coexist.

Once we have assimilated and embraced the way our world and universe works in relation to our faith, we are free to be in awe of God’s creation, and in awe of the smart guy God is!

And we won’t need to run for the hills when a conversation comes up about the current science of the day that engages us and our faith!