Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “religious

The Canberra Declaration

Canberra declaration 1This document was drafted in 2010 by a number of concerned Christian leaders from various backgrounds. It is a national declaration about the Judeo-Christian foundations which have made the West and Australia free, prosperous and democratic. It directs us to some of the key issues and values facing not just this nation, but all nations. The values listed here are very much under threat, and need to be vigorously and courageously championed.

The Preamble to the Australian Constitution contains the words, “Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. As Australian citizens we continue to declare that we too put our trust in Almighty God.

For centuries, to speak of Western civilization was to speak of Christian civilization. The two were in many ways synonymous. The values that we have cherished and sought to strengthen are in large measure founded on the Judeo-Christian belief system. The many freedoms, advantages, opportunities, values and liberties which characterize the West owe much to the growth of Christianity with its inherent belief in the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God and the code of behavior that flows from this belief.

The Canberra Declaration follows on from the 2009 Manhattan Declaration and the 2010 Westminster Declaration. It declares that when Christian values are respected and allowed freedom of expression, not just confined to so-called sacred spaces but in the public arena as well, society is richer and healthier.

We wish to emphasize three areas that demand particular attention in our contemporary Australian society, namely religious freedom, marriage and the family, and the sanctity of human life. Were we to undermine any one of these values, the social fabric of our nation would be seriously weakened, to our personal and collective detriment.

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom includes freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. The importance of these freedoms is shown in countries where they are threatened or absent. Police states and totalitarian nations inevitably begin with the curtailment of basic liberties, including religious freedom and the right to speak one’s mind and conscience. This includes the right to change one’s religious beliefs.

We affirm the basic necessity of freedom of conscience, having the liberty to speak publicly about one’s faith and beliefs, and having the right to practise the religion of one’s choice. If these freedoms are removed – even in the name of supposed benefits – the prized values of democracy and liberty are seriously undermined.

In Australia today these freedoms are being restricted by laws which, although appearing positive on first reading, have the potential to lead to unintended and unacceptable consequences. These laws include anti-discrimination legislation, hate crime laws and legislation on religious and sexual vilification – each of which may be interpreted in a way that effectively works as a barrier to religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Thus the signers of this declaration affirm the fundamental right of Australians to religious freedom and freedom of speech, and we oppose legislation which denies such freedoms. We likewise oppose laws subjugating our nation to foreign powers and instrumentalities which restrict these freedoms.

Marriage and Family

Another vital package of values and social benefits is the long-standing institution of the natural family resulting from marriage between a man and a woman – as affirmed by the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act: “…the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

No other social institution has done so much good for people and for nations, yet marriage is being undermined, to the detriment of children, individuals, and society itself.

Lifelong marriage between a man and a woman guarantees children their biological birthright to a mother and a father and has a proven track record of providing them with protection, education, welfare, support and nurture. No other arrangement has improved upon the benefits of marriage.

In the face of competing alternatives and moves to redefine marriage, we affirm the importance and social utility of marriage between a man and a woman and the families formed thereby.

Human Life

The third important set of values revolves around the sanctity of human life which is being undermined in much of the Western world, through abortion, euthanasia, and some of the new reproductive technologies.

We believe that all human life, being made in the image of God, has intrinsic and equal value from conception to life’s natural end.

The very heart of a humane and civilized society is based on the way it treats its most vulnerable and innocent members including the unborn and the disabled. We therefore insist on the right of all persons, including those who are vulnerable or dependent, to protection from conception to natural death. We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people, since to do anything less is to weaken our humanity and despise our personhood.

We will not comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves the intentional taking of innocent human life.

Conclusion

Religious freedom, marriage and family, and the sacredness of human life have provided the foundations enabling Western democratic societies to flourish. We erode these foundations at our peril.

The faith which is at the heart of many of the values and strengths underpinning the Australian nation now compels us to speak up in their defence.

For the future of this nation, and for our children’s future, we call upon all like-minded citizens to support and sign this declaration.

Posted, April 2017


The greatest

Ali 7 400pxMuhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion, died recently.

The greatest boxer

Born in Louisville, Kentucky as Cassius Clay, he won an Olympic gold medal at Rome in 1960. At the turn of the millennium, Ali was voted man of the century, sportsman of the century, and personality of the century. In 1999 Ali was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

After beating Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the world heavyweight boxing champion, Clay boasted, “I am the greatest!” Then he changed his name to Muhammed Ali. Ali dominated boxing in the 1960s and 1970s and held the heavyweight title three times. His fights were among the most memorable and spectacular in history, but he quickly became at least as well known for his colorful personality and his showy antics in the ring.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was one of many phrases Ali used to describe what he could do in the ring, while “I am the greatest” was a common catchcry. He was a charismatic boxer with a flair for showmanship. His courage inside and outside the ring and his verbal taunting of opponents were legendary, as were his commitment to justice and his efforts for the sick and underprivileged.

Muhammad Ali was an entertainer. He leaves behind a legacy of thrilling fights, trash talk poetry and taking a stand against racism, inequality and war.

Bill Clinton praised his stunning gifts: his strength and speed in the ring, his wit and way with words and managing the public and his mind and heart. And he said that Ali was smart.

Although Ali received many accolades, he wasn’t the greatest man to have lived. Here’s what the Bible says about Jesus Christ.

The greatest ever

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through Him and for Him.
He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So He is first in everything.
For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Col. 1:15-20NLT).

Because He is “first in everything” and “supreme over all creation”, Jesus Christ is indeed “The Greatest!”. He is supreme in creation (He created everything and holds it all together) and in redemption (He died to enable us to be reconciled and have peace with God).

Jesus Christ is not only supreme in the physical world, but also in the spiritual world. He’s the source of spiritual life, the first to be resurrected with a glorified body and the leader of a new creation.

So, Jesus is supreme and unique in greatness.

Lessons for us

Although Ali was called “A man of faith” who was “deeply religious and spiritual”, he wasn’t spiritually smart. Everyone has some kind of faith, but it’s what we are trusting in that counts. At his Muslim funeral service (jenazah), there were prayers for his sins to be forgiven, for him to be “surrounded by light”, and for him to be accepted into heaven. Unfortunately, it’s too late to pray for these after someone’s death. These are matters to be decided during one’s life, not afterwards. It seems that Ali rejected the strong spiritual foundation of the Bible which he knew about as a youth and accepted a weaker one instead.

Ali 9 400px

Although Muhammad Ali was a great boxer, his achievements are insignificant compared to those of Jesus Christ. While, Ali’s body rests in Cave Hill Cemetery, Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Ali was praised in eulogy, but Jesus Christ will be praised universally: “To Him … be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13). Over time Ali will be forgotten, but Jesus will be praised eternally.

Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mt. 16:26). So, wealth doesn’t help our eternal destiny. Fame doesn’t help our eternal destiny. Religious observance doesn’t help our eternal destiny. And good works (and it seems as though this was how Ali thought he would get to heaven) don’t help our eternal destiny. All these can take so much of our time and energy that we can miss the central purpose of our life (eternal life and following Christ) and spend eternity in hell. In the big picture nothing matters without faith in Christ.

Let’s be spiritually smart and trust in Jesus Christ. He’s the greatest of all, not Muhammad Ali.

Written, June 2016


Strong and weak spiritual foundations

Storm 2 400pxHeavy rain, strong winds and high tides battered the eastern coast of Australia recently. Sections of some seaside homes in Sydney were washed into the ocean during huge swell. And floods caused extensive damage in Tasmania.

This reminds me of the story that Jesus told about two builders (Mt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49). The wise one built their house on a strong rock foundation, while the foolish one built their house on a weak sandy foundation. When a storm came, the house on the strong foundation wasn’t damaged, but the one on the weak foundation collapsed and was destroyed.

This blogpost looks and our spiritual foundations and how these can be strong or weak.

Types of spiritual foundations

An awareness of the spiritual aspect of life can help us get through tough times. This can give us a different perspective on life and help us see the big picture. But what sort of foundation is our spirituality based on? Obviously, strong robust and reliable foundations are better that weak fragile and unreliable foundations. As a building’s foundations affect the building, so our spiritual foundations affect our spiritual life and thereby our physical life.

In many ways our spirituality and our interpretation of doctrine and theology is based on what we believe is the source or foundation of our spiritual authority. This authority or foundation depends on our assumption about God’s revelation to humanity. There are two main viewpoints or paradigms. The first is that God has revealed Himself only in the Christian Bible. And the second is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible.

The Bible also says that God is revealed in a general sense in His physical creation (Rom. 1:20) and in the human conscience (Rom. 2:15). But these types of general revelation aren’t addressed in this post.

Only Biblical revelation

The first main viewpoint about how God reveals himself to us is based on the historical record in the Bible, which was written between 1430 BC and AD 95. There are two main sections in the Bible. The Old Testament is God’s revelation before the birth of Christ, when the Israelites were God’s people. It was written by prophets who received the message from God “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21NIV). The New Testament is God’s revelation in the first century AD. It has two subsections: the gospels describe the final years of the old Jewish covenant, while the remainder describes the early church, when Christians were God’s people. The Bible teaches that together the Old and New Testaments provide all we need to know about God and His interaction with humanity.

Although the Bible wasn’t written to us, it contains information and principles that are still relevant today. When we apply a Bible passage to our lives we need to discern who it was written to, the era being described and the universal principle being taught. In particular, we need to be careful interpreting and applying passages written about the Jewish era because we live in the Christian era, not the Jewish one. We will now look at some Bible passages that support this viewpoint.

In the context of persecution of Christians and dealing with false teachers, Paul told Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17). So the words of the Bible are the words of God Himself. Also, the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to show us the way of salvation and to equip us for Christian living. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not via any of the teachings given below under “Continual revelation”. The gospel of Jesus Christ described in the New Testament is the only strong spiritual foundation (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20).

In the context of disunity within a local church, Paul quoted the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written” (2 Cor. 4:6). He wanted the believers in Corinth to evaluate everything and everyone by the Scriptures. He didn’t want them to put other teachers or other teachings above Scripture. Their authority was to be Scripture and nothing else or no-one else.

Canon complete

The last commandment in the Bible is a warning, “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” (Rev. 22:18-19). There are similar warnings in the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6). As the subjects of the book of Revelation are woven throughout the Bible, this passage condemns any tampering with Scripture. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete.

Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” and “guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). We have this truth recorded by the apostles and their associates in the New Testament. Today the Holy Spirit can use Scripture to guide us into all the truth. Paul told the Ephesians “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27), which was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” and written down in Scripture (Eph. 3:4-5).

Jude said that the Christian faith documented by the apostles was “once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). This means it’s complete and not subject to change. So the Bible is a closed system of truth, with no new revelation being given through inspired prophets or apostles. It’s God’s complete revelation, containing all the spiritual truth that God wants us to know. Through it, God has revealed everything He wants us to know about spiritual matters. And nothing has been lost from God’s revelation.

go-kart-tragedy 2 400pxIn April 2010, a 26-year-old woman was driving a go-kart at Port Stephens, when part of her clothing became entangled in the drive axle of her vehicle, strangling her and resulting in her death. The operator was fined $32,000 with costs of $18,000 for failing to comply with two Australian Standards for amusement rides and devices. The standard says go-kart riders were required to “not wear loose fitting clothing that could become entangled in any part of the kart” and the moving parts of the go-kart must be covered. Failing to follow this safety standard was physically dangerous. Likewise, failing to follow the Bible is spiritually dangerous because the Bible is God’s spiritual standard for us.

Continual revelation

The second main viewpoint is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible. These extra-biblical revelations may include religious teachings, religious books, traditions, or ongoing revelation via dreams, visions or prophecies.

In this case it is assumed that Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” implies that new truth will continue to be revealed after the Bible was complete (Jn. 16:13). However, this promise was written to people who attended a Jewish synagogue, so it wasn’t written directly to us today (Jn. 16:2). Instead the new truth was revealed after the day of Pentecost and written in the New Testament for us to learn about today.

Other religious teachings

Some religious teachings aren’t consistent with the teachings of the Bible. For example, the teachings: that salvation is by grace plus works, that salvation can be obtained after death, that Jesus isn’t God, that God isn’t a trinity, that baptism is necessary for salvation, that infants should be baptized, that hell isn’t eternal punishment, that Sabbath worship is for the churches today, that Revelation 6-22 is not about the future, that God has finished with Israel and the church has replaced Israel, that Mary was sinless, that the Pope is infallible, that prophets are infallible, and that God decides who will be saved and who will be condemned.

Because they differ from what the Bible teaches, these beliefs should be rejected. To accept such teachings as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. In the previous section we saw that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these other religious teachings, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious teachings should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other religious books

Religious books like the Book of Mormon, the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Shruti, the Buddhist Tripitaka, “Science and health with key to the Scriptures” of Christian Science, Education in the New Age, and the Scientology Handbook, claim to be the word of God. And the evolutionary ideas of Darwin’s “On the Origin of species” are used to promote atheism. But these books always contradict the Bible in some way. For example, the Koran teaches that Jesus was just another prophet, whereas the Bible teaches that He was the divine Son of God -– the way, the truth and the life. Only one of these can be right. They can’t both be right! If you try to combine the two, then you must disregard some of the teachings of the Bible. So to accept another religious book as a spiritual authority or foundation, means giving it more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to the other religious books, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

None of these sacred books can meet even one of the standards on which the canon of the Bible was established. For example, their authors don’t satisfy the biblical definition of a prophet or an apostle or have a direct link to such a person (like Mark, Luke and James).

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious books should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other human traditions

After the Jewish religious leaders asked “why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders” … Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mt. 15:1-6). So Jesus placed Scripture above tradition. In this case, a tradition had been developed to avoid supporting aged parents.

Paul warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). Here he writes against religious teachings that aren’t based on the Bible. These human speculations become traditions when they are adopted as customs.

To accept such traditions as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to other traditions, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all traditions should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical visions

Paul warns those in Colossae: “a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Col. 2:18-19). They loved talking on and on about their spiritual experiences (which probably included visions of angels), but in reality these were only coming out of their own mind. Dreams and visions are subjective experiences. In those days, the Gnostics entered into ecstatic experiences which had no basis in biblical revelation. Since the canon of Scripture (the list of books that belong in the Bible) has closed, there is no further need for more revelation from God.

In contrast to the written word of God, spiritual experiences and feelings are also subjective and can’t be verified. And when interpreting Scripture, we need to ensure our experiences and biases don’t distort the process. Instead, we should test our experience against the Bible.

To accept dreams, visions and spiritual experiences as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to dreams, visions and experiences, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all dreams, visions, and experiences should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical prophecies

The Bible says that prophecy is a direct message from God (Dt. 18:18). In the chapter on love, Paul wrote “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease … For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The Corinthians had been occupied with spiritual gifts like prophecy but Paul says love is more important because it lasts longer than prophecy.

So, before the completion of the New Testament, God gave messages to the church by prophecies, but sometime after that the prophecies would cease and disappear. When is that time? The Bible says it’s “when completeness comes”. There are two main views about this.
– When there is perfection, which occurs when we go to heaven.
– Or when the New Testament was complete, which was about 40 years after Paul wrote this letter.

The second view is the best explanation. Two situations are being compared in this passage, the “partial” and the “complete”; the “now” and the “then” (v.9-10, 12). The gift of prophecy in the New Testament church was God’s partial revelation before His full revelation was available when the Bible was completed. Paul gives two illustrations of this (v.11-12). The first compares childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity). The second compares seeing something in a dim mirror to seeing it in a clear mirror (or limited sight to full sight, or indistinct to distinct). Then he says, “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (v.12). As the “know in part” was individual prophecies, the “know fully” was the complete collection of prophecies. So at a future time this knowledge changes from being partial to being complete. The complete revelation in the New Testament gives us all we need to know from a divine viewpoint.

Then he says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v.13). So, after prophecy has “ceased”, faith hope and love “remain”. They last longer than prophecy. How long? Faith and hope last in our lifetime; that is until we get to heaven, which means when we die or when Christ returns at the rapture. That’s when our faith will be replaced by sight and our hope will be realized (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1). But love is the greatest because it goes on for eternity when we will be with God, who is love.

Why is this a better explanation than saying that prophecy continues until the rapture? First, it’s obvious that all physical activities such as spiritual gifts finish when we die. That’s a no-brainer! So if this was the meaning, why mention it all? Second, the text implies that prophecy ceases before faith and hope. They don’t cease at the same time. Third, it’s consistent with the canon of the Bible being complete. Because new revelations (or prophecies) would be adding to what’s in the Bible. Fourth, the context is revelation from God, not fellowship with God. Fifth, “complete” (or “whole”) is a better match for “partial” (they are both quantitative words), whereas “perfect” (or “unblemished”) doesn’t match “partial” (one is quantitative and the other is qualitative). Sixth, the Greek word translated “complete” (teleios Strongs #5046) is also used in James 1:25 to describe Scripture.

So the spiritual gift of prophecy was temporary for when the apostles were writing the New Testament. During this period divine guidance was provided through gifts such as prophecy. Each prophecy provided only a part of the complete revelation given in the New Testament. For example, Paul didn’t have the writings of John. In the Bible, the Old Testament is called a “prophetic message” and the New Testament “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26; 2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Going back to the builders mentioned at the beginning of this message. The wise builder is like those who obey Scripture, while the foolish builder is like those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:24, 26). In the same passage, Jesus also said that true and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit, where good fruit symbolizes those who obey Scripture and bad fruit symbolizes those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:15-20). So Jesus taught the Jews to use Scripture to test prophecies. Likewise, we should use Scripture to test prophecies.

As the Scriptures are final and complete, there is no need for new prophecy (direct revelation from God) today. The revelation God has given in Scripture is totally adequate to instruct us in the things of God now. As Scripture is complete, any teaching or revelation that’s not consistent with the Bible is not God-given. There’s no ongoing new revelation.

To accept new prophecies as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these prophecies, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all prophecies should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Lessons for us

In the age of the internet and the credit card, we are warned about financial scams. Recently one of our credit cards was cancelled because of a rouge transaction of $970. But what about spiritual scams? Are we spiritually intelligent to distinguish the true from the false? Or are we gullible? Do we reject error?

We have seen that the only strong, robust and reliable spiritual foundation is the Christian Bible. Do we base our spiritual life on Scripture? Do we trust objective Scripture more than we trust our subjective feelings? This is the only spiritual foundation that can help us survive the storms of life. It’s important because our view of Scripture can affect our eternal destiny.

Other spiritual foundations which rely on religious teachings, religious books, traditions, dreams, visions, experiences or modern prophecies and are inconsistent with Scripture are weak, fragile and unreliable. Are we confused with all the foundations available in the spiritual supermarket? Do we test everything against Scripture? Do we only accept what is consistent with the Bible? Or in the spirit of tolerance (which is the spirit of our age), do we accept these weak foundations and risk our lives collapsing in the storms of life?

Let’s take the safe option of a strong spiritual foundation (Eph. 2:20).

Written, June 2016