In consideration of practices among local New Testament churches, for the most part, we often limit our vocabulary to one particular term as relates to those who have scriptural oversight regarding the local church. We usually limit our terminology to the term elder. Indeed this is a scriptural designation, however as one studies the New Testament one will find a plurality of terms used.
By the words of plenary verbal inspiration there are three significant terms that describe the work of elders. These words have been translated into six terms in the English translations of the New Testament: Bishop, Overseer, Presbyter, Elder, Shepherd, Pastor.
While all of these specific descriptive words correctly set forth the concepts regarding the nature, tasks, and authority of the responsibilities of elders we at various times have failed to note the merit of giving adequate study to properly deduce the meaning and correct application of these various terms. In order to enable us to better understand how God has designed scriptural oversight of local New Testament churches, let us give consideration to the basic definition and application of these terms.
Elder (Presbuteros). While this is the most commonly used of all New Testament terms regarding that of elders, such as an adjective describes and depicts the men serving is such a capacity rather than the work itself. We especially take note of this regarding the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
The term elder is used regarding comparative degree such as one being the older of the others (Luke 15:25; Acts 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 5:1-2). This term is also used regarding the rank or responsibility of persons (Matthew 16:21). As the church was established and the New Testament of Christ revealed to inspired men, the term came to be used of a plurality of men, who presided over local churches of Christ.
Inherent within the word is always the concept of age. In some instances the concept of age may be relative in which one may deduce that one is not older in the sense of being a senior citizen, but rather older than the one to whom compared. During the first century of the church the term elder was used regarding men who had reached the time of their years as being over forty years of age, and no longer subject to be conscripted to serve in the Roman Army. This term is used regarding men who are appointed to oversee local New Testament churches (Acts 20:28).
Bishop/Overseer (Episkopos). While this term is translated bishop in most English translations of the New Testament it is more literally translated as overseer. This word carries with it the idea of supervision or superintendence. It is inclusive of taking charge and oversight of affairs including the authority of management and that of giving proper direction.
Among the Greeks during the first century this title was given by the Roman government to magistrates, who were sent out to tributary cities in order to organize and properly govern them. The New Testament writers used this term concerning those who had been qualified and appointed to oversee the affairs of a local church. These overseers were to accomplish what needed to be done by the right individuals, at the correct time, and in the right way (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1).
The apostles of Christ were not legislators, but rather, were instruments through whom God gave revelation of His pattern. Overseers are not legislators, but rather supervisors and as executors to carry out the New Testament pattern. Because of the fact that elders are bishops and/or overseers, they thus have delegated authority from Christ to oversee local churches to which they have been appointed.
Pastor/Shepherd (Poimen). The term pastor is derived from the Latin term pasco which literally means to feed. It corresponds to the Koine Greek term as found in the New Testament poimen which means shepherd. This is the concept discussed is Psalm 23 and is metaphorically used of Christ (John 10; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 5:1-4).
Protestant Denominationalism has confused the proper usage of the terms pastor and shepherd applying it to preachers whereas the New Testament uses such terminology regarding elders. The only time a preacher should be considered a pastor is when he is appointed to serve with other men in the local church as one of the elders. Peter, the apostle of Christ, served in this type of capacity.
According to 1 Peter 5:1-4 elders are to oversee the local church in such a way that they direct it to accomplish those things desired by Christ and in the best interest for all concerned.
Elders, pastors, shepherds thus have the delegated authority to lead, watch, and protect the local church from harm. The work of elders is limited to the local church over which they have been appointed to shepherd.
– by Kent Bailey
Is all life on earth the result of an accident that caused an accident?
Instead of an accident, consider the design of the eye. Scientists believe they understand how vision works by comparing the eye to a camera and how it focuses an image on the retina. But, what happens after the image arrives on the retina? Science doesn’t know how that “message” is transported to the brain and how that message is recreated there.
Stephen Hawking, the great scientist, died last week believing that God is the product of fairy stories from people who are “afraid of the dark.”
But, if that’s true, then where did life originate? Hawking believed life originated from dead matter but does life come from something dead? Such is inconsistent with common sense.
The Bible teaches life comes from the giver of life — God. When God’s son came to the earth, he healed the sick and raised the dead because the son had the father’s gift of life in himself (John 5:26).
The crippled man at the pool of Bethesda was healed by Jesus’ word because the Lord had this wonderful power of life given to him by the father.
Jesus also has the power to raise human beings from the grave. He demonstrated this before his critics by raising Lazarus in John chapter 11. He has the power to raise all of us from the dead if we will but hear his word and obey it (John 5:25).
Do you want to live eternally? Then, obey the word of the son of God. Obey the gospel!
It has been slightly more than four years since she sat across from me, both of us with our Bibles opened. After a number of previous studies she had obeyed the gospel, and she was still hungering and thirsting for knowledge of God’s word. It was almost as if she could not get enough. Her capacity to learn was outpaced only by her desire to learn, and so whenever she had the opportunity, she would stop by the office and we would study the only thing that could satisfy that spiritual hunger in her soul.
On this particular occasion our conversation turned to the moral depravity that seems to characterize our nation more and more with each passing day. At some point in that conversation I reflected upon what society was like a mere 60 years ago. I told her I could remember when it we could leave the house unlocked, and have no fear of someone burglarizing your home while you were away. Her reply manifested her utter amazement: “Really?!” Yes, “really!”
I can remember when it was safe to walk the streets, at night, without fear of being mugged or assaulted. How many of you can remember when a “Club” was something you carried with you when you went walking to beat off the dogs? Can you remember when families usually remained together for more than just a few years, when divorce was shameful, and single parent families were almost unheard of? Can you recall when “gay” meant happy, and “rap” was something someone did on your front door when they came calling? Or can you remember when the problems we faced in schools were chewing gum, getting out of line, or skipping classes? If you do, then likely you can also remember when each school day was begun with a devotional and prayer, piped into each class room via the intercom; when neighbors talked to each other over the fence; when two week gospel meetings were common and cottage classes were conducted on a regular basis; when church attendance on Sunday morning, Sunday evening AND Wednesday evening were the norm; when we discussed religion with our neighbors, and encouraged an open examination of one’s belief in the light of the Bible; when mission work was increasing each year; when preachers gave a “thus saith the Lord” for all that we do in religion; and when the majority of the churches of Christ were united, standing upon the Bible, and preaching and teaching the same.
Alas, I fear that the words in the opening scene of the movie, “Gone With The Wind” are an appropriate description of our changing times:
There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind.
When that movie was made in the late 30’s there may have been a few still living who could remember the simpler times of the Old South, and the moral fiber of a nation that seemed to rule the land and its people. If a generation is calculated to be 40 years, then four generations have come and gone since those dark and dreadful days of the mid 1800’s.
My father was born in 1927. He passed away last year at the age of 91. He was less than two generations removed from that war that almost destroyed our nation from within. In his lifetime he witnessed the passing of his generation often called, “the greatest generation.” His generation consisted of men and women who loved this nation, loved the Bible, practiced their faith, and were willing to make great sacrifices for the preservation the same. Yet, somewhere along the pathway to the present generation the moral restraints have been cast off, the Bible rejected, and Christianity relegated to the status of “just another religion.” I have fond memories of the 60’s and 70’s; a period much unlike the world in which we now live. I will confess that if I could recapture the innocence of those former days, I would not hesitate to do so. So far as that past generation of a bygone era is concerned, it can also be said, “Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind!”
Five frogs are sitting on a log. How many are left on the log if three decide to jump off? The answer is five – because deciding to jump off and actually jumping off are two very different things. That story illustrates that one of the biggest words in the English language is the two letter word “if.” The word “if” is commonly used to introduce a conditional clause in a sentence. That is to say, a certain thing or course of action or result will or will not happen based upon whether this or that factor or condition occurs. As in,”I will go fishing Monday if it does not rain.” Or, “I will mow the yard tomorrow if I feel better.” Or, “I will go to church Sunday if I wake up in time.” Or, “I will read my Bible if I have time after checking Facebook.” Examples are limitless. “If” plays an important role in the English language – try talking for a day as if there were no if! “If” is a big word. Our world is kind of an “iffy” place – as in too many “ifs, ands, and buts” – and “if” we let it, “if” can very easily become a smokescreen for excusing ourselves from some activity or responsibility we want to wiggle out of.
There are some really big “ifs” in the Bible. The first time the word occurs in the King James Version of the Scriptures is at Genesis 4:7. After God refused to respect Cain’s offering of “the fruit of the ground,” Cain grew angry. God warned him, “ If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” Whether or not Cain stayed right with God all hinged on the word “if!” The huge little word “if” occurs hundreds of times in the Bible. Through Moses God told Israel they would be unimaginably blessed in numerous ways “if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments” (Deuteronomy 28:1-15). “But“, conversely, “it shall come to pass, if you do not obey” – and then Moses uses up the next 52 verses of Deuteronomy 28 (verses 16-68) to lay out in horrifying detail the awful things that will fall upon their nation. The destiny of their nation hinged on the huge little word “if!” Romans 8:9 is an outstanding New Testament example of how big a little “if” can be – “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” And again at 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” These passages have to do with the eternal destiny of our souls – and if read carefully you see it all hinges on the word “if!” I was fascinated recently to recognize what may be the most “iffy” passage in the Bible! The 13 verse stretch from Romans 11:12-24 contains the word “if” at least eleven times (NKJV)! The passage is an exceedingly sobering one where the apostle Paul discusses whether people will be saved or lost. He lays it out that Gentiles will experience God’s “goodness” because “you stand by faith” – but warns that is true only “if you continue.” On the other hand, “Because of unbelief they [that is the Jews] were broken off” and experienced God’s “severity.” Yet, “they also, if they do not continue in ubelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (verses 20-23). It all hangs on “if!” There are some big “ifs” in life. But of a truth, Bible “ifs” are the biggest ifs of all! Won’t you think about it?
By: Dan Gulley, Smithville, TN
“Woe unto you lawyers! For ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” (Luke 11:52).
This charge against the Jewish leaders, came at the time Jesus’ popularity was growing among the people. Every where that Jesus went the people came to hear the great lessons that he taught. The “lawyers” were trying in every way to keep the people from going to, and listening to Jesus. Jesus had the “key”, the teaching that would lead the people to the Kingdom of God. By keeping the people away from Jesus they were keeping them away from the “key of knowledge.”
The “Lawyers” were those who had given their life to a study of God’s Word. When one became a “Lawyer” or “Scribe” he was given a “wooden key”. This was symbolic of the power that was now his. He could open the truth, and the message of God for the people. How terrible it would be for one to withhold this information from the people. Yet this is exactly what Jesus said they were doing.
The use of the term “Key”, By definition: it is “To open”, as a key opens a door or a lock. It is “Authority”, to open or reveal, or unlock information. It is the right to access or make known the content of the message. This was the power the “Lawyers” had, but instead they were keeping the message from the people.
The seriousness of “Taking Away The Key of Knowledge” is seen in the history of God’s people. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children. (Hosea 4:6). This message from God came to the Northern Kingdom of Israel just before their utter destruction. Lack of knowledge is a terrible thing.
Who Takes Away the Key to Knowledge Today?
- The False Teacher: Those who teach error and know they teach error. They are familiar with God’s Word, but had rather teach their own. To them God’s Word doesn’t matter today, here is something better.
- The Unprepared Teacher:
One who presumes to teach without proper preparation. A teacher without learning. (James 3:1).
- Parents: Parents take away the key of knowledge by not teaching as they should. (Eph. 6:4). By keeping their children out of the learning situation. From the assembly, for Bible Class, etc. Sometimes by action and example they teach the wrong thing.
- All Christians Who Do Not Live The Life! They stay away—and that keeps others away. Their example is the only key to knowledge that some people have.
WHAT A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY THE “LAWYER” HAD. To be able to teach the people the Word of God. To bring them to the “kingdom of God.”
WHAT A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY WE HAVE TODAY! To teach the people (see the Great Commission, Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19-20). To be able to bring them to the Kingdom of God.
WHAT A TERRIBLE THING IF JESUS ADDRESSES US AS HE DID THE LAWYER.
- Woe unto you lawyers! For ye took away the key of knowledge”.
- Woe unto you teachers —- you failed to teach the truth.
- Woe unto you Christians —- you failed to live the life.
- Woe unto you Parents —- you took away the key of knowledge.
May we all live And Teach in such a way as to hear Him say “Well Done Good And Faithful Servant.”
All who espouse Christianity live in hope of eternal life. I have discussed the concept of eternal life recently in the WCAC digital newsletter. But, together with God’s promise of eternal life for the faithful (see John 3:16; 1 John 2:17; 5:13; John 4:14; 17:3; 2 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:10; Matt. 25:34, 46; Tit. 1:2; etc.) is a corresponding promise of eternal destruction and punishment for the rebellious sinner and unfaithful Christian (see Isa. 66:22-24; Matt. 18:6-9; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Jude 7, 13; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10, 14-15; etc.). It is certainly not pleasant to speak of everlasting punishment (understanding, of course, that this is a reference to timelessness rather than a duration of temporal punishment), however, there are several reasons for us to have such a discussion. For one thing, if hell is not eternal, then neither is heaven, for both are described in the same way (see Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46). Furthermore, both spiritual reward and punishment are logical extensions of the principle of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8; more on this shortly). Moreover, we are told that eternal reward was prepared for us from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34), but that the “accursed ones” will depart to a place “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). It is called the “eternal fire” and if it can’t be conceived as eternal, then it would be difficult to conceive of the devil and his angels being punished forever also.
Now, let’s return to the principle of sowing and reaping. The apostle Paul said:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal. 6:7-8)
This is an inviolable principle of the natural world. If we sow, we shall also reap. We always reap what we sow. We reap longer than what we sow, and we always reap more than we sow. No one would plant a single seed of corn, expecting only to reap one single seed of corn in the harvest, after making all the necessary preparations both for the planting and the harvesting, This would be incredibly foolish. But, this principle is even more important in spiritual matters. If one sows to the spirit, then he/she reaps eternal life, but if one sows to the flesh, then the result will be corruption, otherwise described as the “eternal fire.” The same truths are in force here. We reap what we sow, longer than we sow and more than we sow. Both heaven and hell are extensions of this principle. I will mention this again later in this article, but I wish to state now that not one single person will be in heaven who does not belong there. Too, not one single person will be in hell who does not belong there. As finite creatures, we frequently make mistakes. I am thankful that my destiny is in the hands of a righteous judge who does not make the mistakes that we humans make (Gen. 18:25; Rom. 3:23-26; 6:16-23). Now, let’s take a look at those who would oppose the thesis of this article, namely, that “hell is a tribute to God’s love.” In his book, The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins gives us his idea of God. He says:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (31)
It seems that Dawkins goes out of his way to pile up negative adjectives in his description of the Lord. I suppose that he thinks that his pejorative language will be convincing to those who read the book. Not to be outdone, though, Dan Barker seemingly tried to outdo his colleague in his latest book. The first part has a chapter on each of the words that Dawkins uses and carries the caption, “Dawkins was right.” But the second part of the book has the caption, “Dawkins was too kind,” followed by a string of adjectives of his own used as chapter headings for this part of the book. I wonder if Barker is seeking to have as great an influence as the more well-known Dawkins. Perhaps this is his motivation, but no one can really say except for Dan Barker. Now, I could easily extend this discussion, but my point is to show you, dear reader, that these individuals want nothing whatever to do with God! But, to show this even more convincingly, I mention two skeptics who were asked what it would take to convince them that God existed. Bertrand Russell addressed this question in his 1953 essay answering the question, “What is an Agnostic?” Russell said:
I think that if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next 24 hours, including events that would have seemed highly improbable, and if all these events proceeded to happen, I might perhaps be convinced…. But as far as I know no such evidence exists. (203)
As you can probably imagine, Russell would never have received such evidence, nor will anyone else. I insist that the evidence for God is sufficient, but not compelling. What this means is that God is not going to violate our freedom that permits us to learn to love, honor and obey Him. Along with this, it must also be possible for individuals to despise, dishonor, and disobey Him. Some refer to this as an “epistemic distance.” This means that the evidence is not such that no one could possibly deny it or reject it. At the same time, it is sufficient for one to come to a knowledge of the truth on this subject. Another example of this was recorded by Peter Boghassian in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. He referred to Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who was asked the same question. He had claimed during his presentation that he was open to changing his mind, or, to be convinced. However, he also proved that this supposed “openness” was just an elaborate deception. He opined:
Once they’ve given their response (i.e., the ones whom Boghossian is counseling), I thank them. If they’ve asked me what it would take for me to believe, I’ll use a variation of American physicist Lawrence Krauss’s example in his debate with William Lane Craig: if I walked outside at night and all of the stars were organized to read, “I am God communicating with you, believe in Me!” And every human being worldwide (presumably including Boghossian) witnessed this in their native language, this would be suggestive (but far from conclusive as it’s a perception and could be a delusion). (82)
Several problems ought to suggest themselves to you at this point. For one thing, delusions are not shared experiences. In other words, all human beings worldwide would not have precisely the same delusion. Another issue is the fact that such universal evidence would be far greater than either of these men require for almost everything else. For instance, do either of these men deny the existence of electricity, even though we know it essentially through the effects. We do not have an empirical perception of electricity itself, and it will not be a universal experience, because electricity is not available throughout the whole world. No matter; these men don’t require any more than their own individual experience, and perhaps a lab experiment or two in order to accept the reality of electricity. When it comes to the question of God, however, our skeptical friends have told us that, really no evidence of any sort would convince them that God does, in fact, exist!
John Loftus, a former preacher turned atheist, expressed what most skeptics believe about hell. In fact, he likely put a voice to what many Christians think as well. He says: “I’ll argue that the whole notion of . . . punishment after the grave is uncharacteristic of a loving God.” (447) Loftus asserts that it is incompatible for God (if He is a Being of infinite love) to punish people as is generally held to be the Biblical position. A much more assertive (I would even go so far as to say militantly aggressive) posture was taken by Wallace Matson in his 1978 debate with Dr. Warren. He said:
(W)e are talking about something different tonight (than his book entitled, The Existence of God, D.S.). There is nothing in the book about punishing some individuals eternally in hell. That is what makes all the difference. I assert that that being does not exist. I cannot possibly be mistaken about it. So if that is the kind of dogmatism that Dr. Warren wants me to espouse, well, he is welcome to it. I will do it. On that issue, I am a complete atheist and I am not apologizing, retreating, hedging, bluffing, or anything. Is that perfectly clear? I hope so. . . . That is to say, what I am maintaining is that Dr. Warren’s God is a self-contradictory being like a four-sided triangle and therefore can’t possibly exist. In fact, I shall maintain this God is a doubly self-contradictory being, a really grotesque logical monster. (36-37)
Matson also argues from Matt. 25:41, 46, that both heaven and hell are placed on an equal footing in Scripture. This means that they are the same in duration, given Biblical teaching. (39) In cases like the two I have just mentioned, these persons have defined love differently than the Bible as well. They suggest (by implication) that “love” means something like, “this action isn’t repugnant to me,” or “I am not comfortable with it,” or “I don’t like this doctrine.” In other words, we are leaning more toward the subjective side of feelings, inclinations, desires, or wishes, rather than an objective correlation to reality.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of theologians and denominational groups who have jumped on the same train in order to either deny the reality or hell, or, in some way, to mitigate its duration. This has long been the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the like (without mentioning individual theologians from other religious groups), who are called “annihilationalists” to indicate the position. They argue that the lost (unblievers) will either be completely destroyed or will suffer only a very minimal punishment, especially in its duration. They sometimes base this position on the “Golden Text” of the Bible from John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There is a difference, they say, between “eternal life” and “perish.” Believers inherit “eternal life,” while unbelievers simply “perish.” Obviously, perish is not taken to mean what Scripture says elsewhere, but is taken instead to mean “destroyed” or something closely akin to this. However, as I have argued earlier, both heaven and hell are logical outgrowths of the principle of sowing and reaping. And, Scripture speaks rather plainly of eternal punishment. As Dr. Matson put it, both heaven and hell are put on equal footing in New Testament teaching. In other words, if one is not eternal, then neither is the other. Or, said differently, if there is such a thing as eternal life, and if eternal punishment is on an equal plane, then there is also such a thing as eternal punishment.
Ironically, though they are poles apart on the question of God’s existence, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the Deity of Jesus the Christ, both the skeptics mentioned and the “annihilationalists,” both agree to some extent that eternal punishment in hell is incompatible with a God of love. They might be willing to say that hell is an outgrowth of God’s justice, holiness, and righteousness, but they can’t seemingly bring themselves to say that hell is based upon God’s love. It is this position to which I shall respond in the balance of this article. Not one single person will be in heaven who does not belong there, nor will one person be in hell who does not belong there. God does not make mistakes (see Rom. 2:1-16; etc.). God judges on the basis on His standard of righteousness, without respect of persons being involved at all (see Rev. 20:11f.; 2 Cor. 5:10; etc.). Everyone is on equal footing before God! Now, we argue that heaven is a tribute to God’s love, mercy, and grace. But, it is also a tribute to His justice, righteousness, and holiness. Hell is a tribute to God’s justice, righteousness, and holiness. But, I maintain that hell is also a tribute to God’s love, mercy, and grace. You might be thinking to yourself, or even saying out loud, “Sztanyo, you have completely lost your mind.” “How could it possibly be loving for God to punish anyone in hell?” “This makes no sense at all to me.” I can understand a person’s reluctance to accept my position. So, let me tell you why I say that it is true. First, we have looked at a couple of examples of individuals who have made no secret of their avid hatred and opposition to God, and, by extension, all of us who submit to Him. They want nothing to do with Him, nor do they wish to entertain even the possibility of being in His presence. They certainly have no desire to be with any of us who submit to Him. I have read enough of their writings to say that this is what they wish as they have expressed it. We argue that God honors our freedom, and does nothing to violate it. So, would it be gracious and merciful to force those who hate God and His people to have anything to do with them? Can we conceive of it being a loving thing for God to totally overlook and ignore what these people want more than anything else in life? Should God force them to be in His presence? The prophet Ezekiel said of God: “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezek. 33:11) It is clear that God does not want anyone to be lost, but if that is their choice, He will honor that choice!
Second, would anyone think that it would be loving for force bitterest enemies (say, Hitler and the daughter of a Jewish family that he had murdered in front of her eyes) to be married at the point of a gun? Take any illustration you can imagine, and ask yourself, would such behavior be loving at all? Could such be considered merciful or gracious? If not, then how could such behavior be considered loving if God does it? After all, “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). He taught us what (agape) love means, and how it is that we show it to others. To wish the best for all people and to act to help bring that about, is the way one should understand agape love. Sometimes the best thing for a person to do is to change their lives and/or suffer the consequences of their chosen behavior. For instance, think of mass murderers (like the infamous “unabomber”). Would it be loving to ignore his behavior or to pretend that it doesn’t really make any difference? Third, would it be loving on God’s part to force those who hate Him to worship Him for eternity? Or, to continually sing His praises? Or, to be so in love with Him that they want to bask in His presence forever? If none of these things can be conceived as loving behavior, then you can understand why I say that hell is actually a tribute to God’s love, mercy, and grace. He has made it possible to completely honor one’s deepest aspirations and the greatest goals they have for their lives. For those who have ignored Him and any of His overtures toward them, He has made it possible for them to continue to ignore Him. And, while in this life, some feel the need to fight against Him relentlessly, and to repudiate any and all who follow Him, there will be no need for any of this in eternity. Thus, the God of love will not force anyone against his/her will to do what they simply do not want to do at all!
The God depicted in the Bible is infinite in all His attributes. None of them cancel another one of them out, or somehow war against the others. All of them are in complete and perfect harmony one with the other. As a good example, consider the following passage:
22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom. 11:22-23)
If we conceive of God at one end of the choices of men, and humans at the other, we find that God acts with “kindness” toward those who are walking in harmony with His will. But, to those who “fell” from that position, He visits them with “severity.” And, the promise is to those who do not continue in rebellion against His will, that He will bring them back and once again visit them with “kindness” rather than “severity.” It is also possible for those who are walking in harmony with His will to cease doing so, and if that occurs, then they would also “fall” according to what this passage is teaching. On the line of human behavior with God at one end and all of us at the other, it is crystal clear that the changes take place on the part of men. God is not moving at all! And, His “kindness” and “severity” are in perfect harmony with one another.
With respect to the character of God, there are complex issues to be sure, however, these are mainly due to the fact that God is infinite and we are not! He is non-contingent in all respects, and we are contingent beings. That being said, we cannot do away with hell because some think that such would be beneath or incompatible with the God of love who freely offers us salvation from and freedom from sin and an eternal home with Him. We cannot define love differently from the way that it is defined and described in Scripture. And, nothing that we read suggests that the God who is love (1 John 4:8) could not send some to hell because such would be unloving conduct. Instead, He is honoring the strongest aspirations and desires of those who freely reject Him, without in any way compromising His character!
Barker, Dan. God: The Most Unpleasant Character in all of Fiction. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2016.
Boghossian, Peter. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham: Touchstone, 2013.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Loftus, John W. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2012.
Russell, Bertrand. “What is an Agnostic?” Religions in America. 8th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
Warren, Thomas B. and Matson, Wallace I. The Warren-Matson Debate on the Existence of God. Jonesboro: National Christian Press, Inc., 1978.
By Dick Sztanyo
When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate, the Roman judge, one of his responses was, “. . . for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate cynically replied, “What is truth?”
Sadly, I admit to being sympathetic with Pilate. Do you suppose that there is anyone in the world who gets lied to more than a judge? Pathetically . . . from people who have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! His responsibility is to sift through all the lies and discover the truth! What an indictment when a judge is cynical about truth!
Some things never change. In a world of lies, spin and hype, it’s really difficult to know what the truth is. Our generation echoes the same sentiment when we hear, “You have your truth and I have my truth.” So obviously the world has decided there is no absolute truth.
One thing that makes it so very difficult to ferret out the truth is, “Error often borrows the wings of truth.” A lie can be cloaked in one thousand words of truth. In fact, the more truth it contains, the more effective it is. A single drop of poison in an entire glass of water can kill. And how many times is a lie preferable to truth? Speaking of those who will be punished at the Lord’s return Paul tells us “They perish because they refused to love the truth . . .”
The world is filled with lies because the people of the world prefer to believe lies rather than truth. Let me illustrate: Have you ever heard someone say, “A loving God would never send anyone to Hell.” Is that truth or a lie? If you are saying that no one is going to hell, it’s a lie; if you are saying that God doesn’t “send” anyone to hell, it is the truth. God allows people to choose to go to hell, but it is never God’s fault if someone ends up in hell. It is sin that causes one to be lost! . . . But error often borrows the wings of truth!
It’s not a game. Don’t play with truth. The world says Truth doesn’t exist . Jesus says, “I AM the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.” – Jn. 14:6
In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, we see a man (Paul), who is not a slave to the circumstances of life. There was something within the “inner being” of Paul that kept him from despair even when his life situations were confusing and perplexing. Something that kept him calm even in the midst of continuous persecutions. Something that kept him getting back up every time he was knocked down. What was it?
Think of the “cause and effect” axiom. That is, there can be no effect without a cause. The “effect” was Paul staying on the surface of his life situations. Therefore, something had to be “causing” this effect.
The answer, and it’s so simple that many refuse to believe it, is stated in 2Corinthians 4:6. The “cause” for Paul staying on the surface of his burdensome responsibility to preach the Gospel was the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
On the other side of the coin, we must conclude: If the knowledge of Jesus Christ does not shine in our hearts, we will be troubled and distressed; we will be perplexed and in despair; persecuted and forsaken; cast down and destroyed.
If we want to have problems in this life, all we have to do is live. There will be times when we run out of answers; times of great pressure, stress, and affliction. These things will strike us and often strike hard. Will we be able to withstand? After Jesus had gone through the wilderness temptations, “angels ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11). When Jesus was under the burden of Gethsemane, “an angel strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43).
We are told to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). This corresponds with “…the knowledge of the glory of God…” which God has put in our earthen vessels (2Corinthians 4:7). But “God gives the Spirit only to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). In other words, if you are ignorant of, or have not obeyed, or are unfaithful to the Lord, you are still an “empty vessel,” and you will have no recourse when life tumbles in. Study your Bible and believe it. – – Stay Hungry (Matthew 5:6)
Loneliness is a lousy feeling, and if you’ve ever felt alone, you know how lousy it can be. In 1969 the rock group Three Dog Night made famous a song that said,”Number one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” The song was one of countless others that lamented lost love. But the lyrics resonated with millions and the song reached number five on the U. S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. Everybody needs somebody. American comedian Rich Hill said, “In Montana, a policeman will pull you over just because he’s lonely” (I hope you get that!). Even the Bible’s greatest characters suffered when they felt alone as they struggled to stand up for God and what was right. A powerful example is the Old Testament prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 18 he stood bold as a lion but stood alone alone in a life and death struggle against hundreds of false prophets of Baal. Those prophets were supported by King Ahab and his devilish wife Jezebel who was seeking to destroy all the prophets of the true and living God. With God’s help, Elijah totally triumphed in that dramatic showdown with the forces of evil. But keep reading. On the heels of the mountain-top victory in chapter 18, the prophet goes into an emotional nose-dive. We hear him complaining to God from a cave in 1 Kings 19:14, “I alone am left, and they (Jezebel and her wicked ‘yes-men’) seek to take my life.” Shortly before that, lower than a snakes’s belly and feeling like he was the only faithful man left in Isarel, Elijah had spouted off to God, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). But in 1 Kings 19:15ff we learn God still had a number of important tasks for Elijah to complete. And in verse 18, the Lord informed the lonely prophet, “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Things were 7,000 times better off than Elijah thought they were! He felt alone – but he wasn’t! God was still alive and well, and He wasn’t worried or wringing His hands or feeling threatened over how bad things were! But Elijah had a complex. His faith was temporarily dimmed by a fog or fear and discouragement.
The apostle Paul refers to Elijah’s complex in Romans 11:1ff. There the apostle is making his case that although the Jews largely rejected and refused to obey the gospel preached by His apostles, all is not lost – far from it. God still has a chosen, elect group of people! After noting how Elijah misread his situation, thinking “I alone am left,” Paul quotes 1 Kings 19:4 where the Lord told Elijah, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the rest of the chapter Paul proclaims that God’s people are those who come to Him through Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentile! How about you? Do you ever suffer from the “Elijah complex?” Do you ever feel “I alone” am the only faithful Christian / elder / deacon / preacher / parent left in the “good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12)? If so, take heart. There are many of “like precious faith with us” (2 Peter 1:2). You can cure the Elijah complex by constantly “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). You are not alone. There are many who have not “bowed the knee to Baal.” God’s faithful people will win in the end. Think about it.
By: Dan Gulley, Smithville, TN