Category Archives: Apologetics

Defending the Faith

Rayliu1

Pastor Ray’s blog Raykliu is continued in Rayliu1.

Please go to http://rayliu1.wordpress.com/ for future posts.Pastor Ray’s blog

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God or Science?

God & Stephen Hawking

A couple of weeks ago we heard a message on Christianity and Science by John Lennox, Christian apologist and Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. Lennox debated Stephen Hawking, world renounced theoretical physicists at Cambridge, on God or Science a few times, and pointed out several flaws in Hawking’s arguments. He talked too fast for slow thinkers like me to follow, but if you’re interested in apologetics and logic, here are the key points I jotted down.

Hawking is an atheist. He claimed that ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’ Lennox disagreed, because he believed Hawking committed a confusion of category. He gave an illustration by asking, “Why is the water boiling?” You can explain by saying that it is boiling because the electrical heating element in the kettle transmitted thermal energy to the water, which caused the water molecules to vibrate and rise in temperature. When the temperature reached 100 degrees Celsius, the water turns into steam and boils. That’s the “scientific” explanation describing what happened.

Or you might simply say, “It’s boiling because I want to make a cup of tea.” That’s a purpose statement. I caused the water to boil by turning on the kettle. Which is correct? They both are, there is no need to charge one is right while the other one is wrong. The first uses physical laws to describe the phenomenon. But laws don’t “cause” anything to happen. Someone or something must activate those laws. The second points out the agent, the person who “caused” the thing to happen. Hawking confused understanding some physical laws as negating the need for agency, the intelligence to put the laws into action. The two are not opposed to each other, they are complementary.

Hawking’s second error is non-sequitur (Latin for “it does not follow”) in formal logic i.e. an argument in which its conclusions does not follow from its premises. Because there is a law of gravity, it does not follow that the universe can and will create itself from nothing. The two are not related by necessity.

His third error is a violation of the law of non-contradiction – contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. For example, “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive. “The universe can and will create itself from nothing” is a contradictory statement. The universe must exist in order for it to create anything. This is a statement of the form “A (the universe) is B (exists)”. But for the universe to be created from nothing, it must NOT exist in the first place. This is a “A (the universe) is not B (does not exist)” statement. The universe cannot both “exist” and “does not exist” in the same sense at the same time! This is a very fundamental logical error.

Lennox had encountered many logical errors in his debates with atheists, but not so basic as these at such a high level. I can add a fourth logical fallacy here – argument from authority. When I’m sick, I go to the doctor. When my car is not running properly, I visit the mechanic. Each is an expert in his field. But I won’t see the mechanic when I’m sick, nor bring my car to the doctor. That would be outside their field. Hawking is an authority on theoretical physics. He makes statements about God and creation, topics outside his expertise as no science had gone beyond the Big Bang, yet people take notice because he’s world-famous. But that would be wrong as he’s claiming authority beyond his knowledge.

The Bible said:
Ps 14:1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps 53:1)
• Rom 1:20-22 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,

Do not be taken in by speculations of famous people. God’s word had stood the test of time and found to be reliable and trustworthy. Choose who you will follow wisely.

Is God Partial?

Joshua 9 14 a

Q. Achan took some of the things under the ban and God punished Israel (Josh 7:1). The men of Israel did not ask for the counsel of the Lord and made a covenant with the Gibeonites (Josh 9:14), but God did not punish them. Is God playing favorites?

A. No. There is no partiality with God (Rom 2:11). In Achan’s case, the Israelites were specifically warned right before they conquered Jericho:

Josh 6:17-18 The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.

Achan coveted and took the mantle from Shinar, the silver and the gold (Josh 7:21). He sinned defiantly and must be punished, which affected the whole community.

In Joshua’s case the rules were different. Cities of nearby nations are to be utterly destroyed, while cities of faraway nations are to be offered terms of peace and subjected to forced labor:

Deut 20:10-11, 15-16 When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. … Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.

The Gibeonites somehow knew of and took advantage of this law to deceive the Israelites. They lied about being from a far country, and provided dry bread, old wineskins, worn clothing and sandals as fake evidence. The Israelites did not ask for the Lord’s counsel and were deceived. This is a classic example of:
Prov 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.
which the Israelites failed miserably.

Since this is not a case of willful defiance but unintentional sin, the Lord did not punish them for their disobedience, but allowed them to suffer the natural consequences of their folly. Apparently they learned their lesson well, as:
Josh 11:19 There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle.

Are Pentecostals a Cult?

Pentecostalism

Q. Should I warn people against going to Pentecostal churches? I know that Pentecostal is a cult. Can these church goers still claim salvation if they don’t partake in speaking in tongues and faith healing?
In your experience, is distributing Christian tracts a waste of time?

A. It depends on which branch of Pentecostal churches you’re referring to. There are about 740 known Pentecostal denominations in the world, not counting independent churches not grouped as denominations. Of these, 630 denominations (85%) are considered evangelical, 30 (4%) as fringe, and 80 (11%) as cultic. We can’t generalize by looking at the minority and say all Pentecostals are cults.

Historically, Pentecostalism originated from the Holiness Movement at the beginning of the 20th Century. The doctrines were Wesleyan or Methodist, and the main denominations include the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God, Cleveland, and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. A second branch developed from those with a Baptist background, and included the Assemblies of God, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and the Open Bible Churches. These two branches make up the evangelical arm above.

A third, smaller branch started in the UK, consisting of the Apostolic Church which some consider fringe, as they claim living apostles and prophets. Finally there is a fourth branch called Oneness Pentecostals which reject the Trinity and believes in Jesus’ Name only. They include the United Pentecostal Church and the Apostolic Pentecostal Church (not to be confused with Apostolic Church), and are considered cultic.

Can the church goers claim salvation if they don’t partake in speaking in tongues and faith healing? Of course they can. Salvation is granted by grace and received by faith in the finished work of Christ alone. It is never based on tongues or healing. Countless Christians trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior and became children of God, but never spoke in tongues or had the gift of healing, or received it.

In my experience, distributing tracts is not the best evangelistic tool, but it is not a waste of time. We have seen seekers coming to faith in the Lord through reading tracts. I prefer doing evangelistic Bible study, or using Evangelism Explosion. or using the Gospel Bridge myself, but I distribute tracts too. God can and will use whatever means to bring people to Himself. Hope this helps.

Catholics and Protestants (2 of 2)

5 solas 4

(Continued from yesterday)

3) Sola Gratia – Grace Alone. Our justification and salvation are by God’s grace alone, and not dependent on any condition or action by man. The RCC holds that man’s work is meritorious.
a Rom 3:24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
b Tit 3:7 so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
c Acts 15:11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
d Eph 2:5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
e Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
f 2 Tim 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,

4) Solus Christus – Christ Alone. Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Our salvation is possible only through His death and resurrection. The RCC believes Mary to be Co-Redeemer and Mediatrix with Christ, and that priests are intermediary intercessors between God and laity.
a Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
b 1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

5) Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone. All glory and honor is due to God alone. The RCC ascribes glory and honor to Mary, saints, and popes.
a Isa 42:8 I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
b Isa 48:11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.

There are many other differences, but these are the fundamental ones that led to the Reformers breaking away from the RCC tradition and back to the Bible. They affect a person’s understanding of the gospel and whether they are truly saved or not. But you can present the gospel without dwelling on differences from Catholic teaching. They are a digression and only divert attention away from the true gospel.

Catholics and Protestants (1 of 2)

5 solas 5

Q. My brother improved a lot ever since he started attending a Catholic church. I’m concerned that he does not know the difference between what Catholics and Protestants believe. Can you tell him?

A. It’s good that your brother started paying attention to spiritual things. Many people are content with enjoying life and ignore the eternal issues. However, it’s more important that he has a proper relationship with God through Jesus Christ than knowing the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, which can come later. I would share the gospel with him first, then explain the difference.

Having said that, the simplest way to explain the difference is to tell him the five pillars of the Reformation, the five “solas”. The five solas are five Latin phrases that summarize the Reformers’ conviction in contrast to that of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Sola (from which we get “sole”) is Latin for “only” or “alone”. They are:

1) Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone. The Bible is the only infallible authority sufficient for all matters pertaining to doctrine and conduct. The RCC believes also in the authority of tradition, and accepts the ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope to be infallible and authoritative. This is a foundational difference as from it arose many divergent doctrines not found in the Bible.
a Mt 15:3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
b Mt 15:6b … Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
c Mk 7:8-9 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
d Mk 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

2) Sola Fide – Faith Alone. Our justification before God is by faith in Christ alone, not by works. The RCC believes in faith plus good works.
a Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
b Ga 2:16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

(To be continued)

Be Angry and Do Not Sin (2 of 2)

Eph 4 24-26

(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we looked at grammar, today we examine the context and theology of the text.

Context
The paragraph starts with “therefore” in 4:25, which links the verses following to the principle preceding. Paul taught the Ephesians the principle of putting off the old self (4:22) and putting on the new self (4:24). The verses following named 7 areas in which this principle is to be applied:
1. old – falsehood (9th commandment) vs. new – truth (4:25);
2. old – anger (6th commandment Mt 6:22) vs. new – letting go (4:26);
3. old – steal (8th commandment) vs. new – work, share (4:28);
4. old – unwholesome word vs. new – edification (4:29);
5. old – bitterness, wrath, anger (6th), clamor, slander (9th commandment) vs. new – kind, tender-hearted, forgiving (4:31-32);
6. old – immorality, impurity (7th), greed (10th commandment) vs. new – what’s proper (5:3);
7. old – filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting vs. new – giving of thanks (5:4).
Note that the structure of the seven pairs is always putting off something bad first, then putting on something good. Secondly, except for 4 and 7 concerning talk, the other 5 all deal with the 6th to the 10th commandments.

Theology
Is anger always wrong? Not necessarily, because anger or wrath is God’s response towards ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), as God’s nature is diametrically opposite to sin. Jesus drove out the money-changers and dove merchants from the temple (Mt 21:12; Mk 11:15; Jn 2:15). He looked at the Pharisees with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart (Mk 3:5). He had righteous indignation, but He did not sin (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). So anger in and of itself is not wrong, it depends on the motive.

How did God manifest His anger? Did He take action immediately so as not to let the sun go down on His wrath, or did He delay judgment? In Jesus’ examples cited, He acted right away, because that was the right time. In the Father’s case in OT history, He delayed until the fullness of time (Ga 4:4). Rom 3:25 This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. So in God’s case judgment need not be immediate to avoid the sun setting on His wrath.

Having said that, Jas 1:19-20 says:
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
While man can and do follow God’s example by being angry with unrighteousness, in general man’s anger is sinful and do not achieve God’s purpose.

Opinion
You interpreted “be angry” as an imperative, having a righteous indignation against unrighteousness. This avoids the apparent contradiction with v 31, which commands we put away all wrath and anger. Theologically you can separate anger from sin, so this is a possible interpretation, though I think not likely in view of the context.

The structure of the passage consists of a principle followed by 7 applications. Putting aside 4:26 for the moment, the framework of all the other 6 follow an “eliminate the negative, cultivate the positive” pattern, with the negative behavior being what’s prohibited in the second half of the 10 commandments. While 4:26 could go against the pattern and be a positive command to have righteous indignation, the evidence on “angry” being negative is stronger. This is especially in view of v 27, “do not give the devil an opportunity”. Had righteous indignation been the intended meaning, it would not have given the devil an opportunity. However, if negative anger was meant, it most certainly would. So based on the context I believe the traditional interpretation is the correct one. The alternative is possible but unlikely. Hope this helps.

Are Christians “little gods”?

exegesis 3

Q. I heard a prosperity gospel preacher say Christians are “little gods”, because they are God’s children and share His divinity. Is this valid?

A. No, it’s not valid. He is the Creator; we are His creatures. He is divine; we are human. God alone is God. Besides Him there is no other gods:

Deut 4:35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.
• Isa 44:8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
• Isa 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,
• Isa 45:21b-22 Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
• Isa 46:9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

exegesis 7

The error arises from a misinterpretation of Jn 10:34 quoting Ps 82:6:

Jn 10:34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’?
• Ps 82:6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’

Jesus quoted Ps 82:6 to argue from the lesser to the greater (Jn 10:35-38). If God called rulers on earth (v 7) “gods” because they represent Him, then Jesus whom the Father chose and did the Father’s work can rightly call Himself “God’s Son”.

Ps 82:5 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
• Ps 82:7 But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.”

The “gods”, kings and judges who represented God, were really ignorant (v 5) and mortal (v 7), not gods at all, mere fallible human beings who perverted justice. If they can be called “gods”, then the Jews were wrong in accusing Jesus of blasphemy.

Yet this proper interpretation did not prevent people from twisting God’s word and imposing their own meaning onto the text. The Word of Faith movement had argued from this and other misinterpreted Scriptures that Christians are “little gods”, and that they can “name it and claim it” because as gods their words have power. This “prosperity gospel” or “health and wealth gospel” is really a perversion of the true gospel and heretical. It is dangerous to go beyond what the Bible actually said, and twisting Scripture to inject your own ideas into the text, which cults do all the time. Every text then becomes a pretext.

eisegesis 1

Our goal should be exegesis, drawing out from the text what the word of God actually said. To do otherwise would be eisegesis. And if you torture a text long enough it will confess to whatever you want it to say. Let me borrow from Rev 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. Do exegesis, not eisegesis.

All Roads Lead to Rome?

all roads lead to Rome 2

Q. Aren’t all religions basically the same, teaching us to do good? Isn’t it simply everyone looking at God from his cultural perspective, like the proverbial blind men and the elephant?

A. No, all roads do NOT lead to Rome, only those surrounding Rome. And while we are all limited by our culture and knowledge, the blind men and the elephant is a false analogy, as God had revealed Himself to us and we are NOT blind and can see:

Rom 1:19-20 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

God has revealed Himself to men, through His creation (general revelation), and His word the Bible (special revelation). Everything has been made plain, clearly seen and understood, so that people are without excuse. When they refuse to accept, they are suppressing the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18). It is an act of the will, not out of ignorance.

All religions are NOT basically the same. Some are non-theistic e.g. pure Buddhism; some polytheistic e.g. Taoism, Mormonism; and some pantheistic e.g. Hinduism, New Age etc. Only Christianity, Judaism and Islam are monotheistic. And among them only Christians believe in the triune God.

The way of salvation is also very different. All religions teach men to do good to earn God’s approval i.e. the way of works, by self effort. Only Christianity tells people no matter how hard you try, your best efforts are not good enough. Our righteous acts are like filthy rags, and our sins sweep us away (Isa 64:6). The only way to be reconciled to God is by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6).

Don’t get fooled by generalities that seemed true but are in fact false. They only provide people an excuse not to face the truth. You owe it to yourself to find out what’s real, reliable, and trustworthy. Don’t be deceived.

Trusting, not Trying

trusting trying 1

Yesterday we saw Paul concluded, in no uncertain terms, that the whole world is guilty before God. What can we do then to deal with this sin problem? The natural reaction of most people is to try harder to live a good life, to do more good than bad, which to them somehow tips the cosmic balance in their favor. But this is not the way according to God. The proper way, in fact the only way, is to trust, not try – to believe God, not in your own efforts. It makes the difference between heaven and hell. One little word appears a total of 9 times in Rom 4:3-24 in the NIV- “credit”:

4:3-5 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
• 4:9-11 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them,
• Rom 4:22-24 Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,

The word means “to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over“. It is simply given to us, free! Did Abraham do anything? None whatsoever, absolutely nothing! He simply believed God, took God at His word, placed himself completely in God’s hands, and God reckoned him as righteous, in right relationship with God. He did not count his sins against him.

Some feel that being righteous must be based on some ritual, in Abraham’s case circumcision, in order to have this right standing before God. Nowadays that ritual might be changed to joining a church, or temple in other religions, or baptism, or becoming lifelong vegetarians etc. But that is not the case. Abraham was counted righteous while uncircumcised, before any ritual, which came later only as a sign that he had faith. So not works, not rituals, only faith, trusting in God alone.

That’s good news! Because we gentiles can believe in God who justifies the ungodly, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, and our faith is credited as righteousness. We too, can be right with God, no longer alienated from God because our sins have been forgiven. We no longer have to live under the burden of guilt. Have you done that, trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and reconciled to God? Don’t delay. That’s the most important decision you can make. Do it now.