What Is Faith?

What Is Faith?

Recently an atheist challenged me on the notion of faith. His definition was, “Faith is jumping to a conclusion when you don’t know the answer.” He went on to say that faith is not a virtue. He was following a version of the “god of gaps” concept, which says that God is what you invent when you can’t explain something. It views faith as a negative, blind response that stifles the individual and stops the thinking process cold. Truly, then, what is faith?

The definition of faith in the Bible is ambiguous. Two Greek words are translated “faith.” One is “elpis” used in passages like Hebrews 10:23. The other is “pistis” used in passages like Hebrews 11:1. The lexicon tells us that “elpis” refers to hope. If you look at Hebrews 10:23, you can see that the use is not blind, but general. “Pistis” refers to steadiness or steadfastness, but it is not blind.

Much of modern science is based on faith. The “big bang theory” is a faith concept. It is based on a great deal of evidence, but it cannot be tested or falsified in any way. We might be more inclined to call it a conclusion than a faith. Evolution is based on several acts of faith. One of those is uniformitarianism, which says that no process has operated in the past that is not operational today. Natural selection (survival of the fittest) is a faith concept. We repeatedly find situations where the fittest don’t survive, so we have to modify the concept. Evidence becomes a factor here. Can we find a cause for the fit not surviving?

Quantum mechanics started as a faith. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” As scientific research progressed, scientists saw evidence that led them to believe (have faith) that what they observed was being caused by things that they couldn’t see or detect at the time. What is faith if it is not built gradually on evidence?

Hebrews 11 describes in detail what it means to have faith in God and act on His instructions. Various cases are highlighted to illustrate people who acted by faith without a practical understanding of why they were doing what they were doing. Did they do it blindly? Abraham, for example, is one of those whom the Hebrew writer tells us functioned by faith. Did Abraham act blindly? As you read the history of the life of Abraham, you see that he had many experiences that built his faith. This history is reviewed in Hebrews 11:8-19. Reading his story in Genesis, you see Abraham having experience after experience, which gave him a steadfast faith to sustain him.

What is faith to us? Why is our faith different? The answer to that is evidence. Our experiences in life, our education, our study, our failures, our successes, and what we have seen, can all build our faith in God, or destroy it. Faith is never blind. Our faith is either something that works, builds us up, and blesses us, or leads us to despair and destructive actions. Hebrews 11 describes what faith can accomplish. Verses 33-40 tell us that through faith, people have “subdued kingdoms, brought righteousness, obtained promises … God having provided a better thing for us.”

This ministry exists to build up faith and give all of us confidence that ultimately we will have something better. That is our most enduring faith, and massive amounts of evidence support it.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Flood Geology and John C. Whitcomb

Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon

The co-author of The Genesis Flood, John C. Whitcomb Jr., passed away on February 4, 2020. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris wrote the book advocating Flood Geology and supporting Young Earth Creationism.

Morris was an engineer, and Whitcomb was a theologian. John C. Whitcomb was long associated with Grace Theological Seminary, where he received his degree and taught until 1990. Grace is located in Winona Lake, Indiana, and associated with the Grace Brethren Church, which has Anabaptist and Calvinist roots.

Whitcomb and Morris used the so-called Flood Geology to fit scientific data into their religious beliefs. Ronald Numbers, the author of the book The Creationists, says, “By showing how the deluge of Noah compressed earth history into no more than 10,000 years, Whitcomb and Morris at one stroke eliminated the need for ‘biblical gymnastics’ and deprived evolutionists of the time required for the natural origin of species.”

The problem with their approach was that neither of them was trained in geology. Many of those reading The Genesis Flood were also not trained in geology and had grown up in a religious tradition that demanded a young earth. Dispensationalists hailed the book as gospel, and end times teachers and preachers used it extensively as a source of information. The result was the wide acceptance of Flood Geology as the book became a best-seller.

We are dealing with a different population in the 21st century. Young people today have had academic training in geology and earth science. National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Scientific American have popularized modern understanding of the facts of astronomy and geology. Most of us know that the cosmos is larger than 6,000 light-years, indicating that the light from distant stars has been traveling for far longer than 6,000 years. In places such as the Grand Canyon, we can see rock layers that contain fossils that were clearly not produced by a flood. Anyone with basic geology knows the difference between a clastic sedimentary rock and a chemically precipitated rock. That understanding tells us that a flood did not produce structures like the Grand Canyon since they are mostly made up of rocks that are never associated with a flood.

Flood Geology, which Whitcomb and Morris wrote about in 1961, will not stand up in 2020. Students of the Bible today know that the Genesis account is not dated or timed. They know that attempts to use the Bible as a clock of history are not only bad theology but violate the intent of the writers. For more on this discussion, please read “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word,” which is available free at THIS LINK.

We need to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris spoke where the Bible is silent. Today many of those who believe that their message accurately presents what the Bible teaches are leaving the Christian faith and looking for more plausible explanations. The “Does God Exist” ministry is dedicated to showing people that God does exist, that He is the Creator, and that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. We do not defend the claims of those who have twisted God’s Word to fit their human theological beliefs.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Holy Spirit’s Work and Nonsense

Holy Spirit's Work and Nonsense

Skeptics of Christianity frequently challenge the concept of the Holy Spirit. That criticism is mainly due to the denominational world’s claims of miraculous acts by their religious leaders. There is no question that God can perform whatever miracles He chooses. However, many claims of the Holy Spirit entering and taking over a person are not only illogical, but they violate biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit’s work.

Numerous books have been written on the Holy Spirit, but from an apologetic standpoint, we must see what the Bible says:

1) In Acts 2:38-39, Peter promised the Holy Spirit to all those who are baptized into Christ, not just to an elite church group.

2) Jesus promised to send the Spirit as a “Comforter.” The Greek word is “parakletos,” which means “one called alongside.” The Holy Spirit helps us in our Christian life but does not make us robots (John 14:15-17).

3) The Holy Spirit’s work is primarily spiritual, not physical (Ephesians 3:16-20). The Holy Spirit is not here to allow us to handle poisonous snakes, raise the dead, or calm physical storms today. The Spirit helps our prayer life (Romans 8:26-28) and helps us to be patient (Galatians 5:22-26). The Holy Spirit enables us to us give freely (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, Acts 20:35) and to live moral lives (Galatians 5:16-26, Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-17). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can reach out to others (Romans 8:16), and use the gifts we are given (1 Corinthians 12:1-13).

4) The Spirit gives us the power, but He doesn’t force us to act. He nudges us but doesn’t overpower us (Acts 7:48-51, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22). John 14:15-17 tells us that the skeptic will not accept the Spirit. Rejecting God’s help makes life become a burden, not a joy.

The promises of Jesus, such as Matthew 7:7-11, are primarily spiritual. Becoming a Christian to get rich or have political power is a nonsense understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Equality of Women in Christianity

Equality of Women in Christianity

One of the challenges that we see in the media is that Christianity treats women as second class citizens when just the opposite is true. The New Testament shows the equality of women in Christianity. People are well aware of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but a score of other women are spiritual giants in the Scriptures. The equality of women in Christianity shines through several biblical examples:

ANNA: She was an 84-year-old widow who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem. She was one of the very first witnesses of the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about Jesus. Luke 2:36-38 tells us about her and promotes her as a leader in the testimony about Christ.

THE TWO-COIN WIDOW:
When Jesus wanted to hold someone up as an example of what true giving is, He chose a widow who contributed two small copper coins to the Temple treasury. Christ denigrated the wealthy who gave for show and held up the widow as a person who gave out of love. (See Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.)

THE WOMAN OF FAITH. This was a woman who had a major medical problem causing her to bleed for twelve years. All medical treatments had failed. Her faith in Christ was so strong that she believed she would be healed by touching the hem of His garment. Jesus called her a “daughter” and commended her faith. She is an example of real faith today. (See Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, and Luke 8:43-48.)

MARY OF BETHANY. This woman was the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, who lived in Bethany. She took an alabaster jar of costly perfume and poured it on the head of Jesus. We see her showing an example of love for Jesus and His raising of Lazarus back to life. The males present, including the disciples, complained about the waste of money. Jesus commended her, saying, “She has done a beautiful thing for me.” (See Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8.) Mary had earlier sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching while Martha was busy with household things. Martha criticized Mary, but Jesus commended Mary for having the correct priorities. (See Luke 10:38-42.)

THE WOMEN WHO FUNDED THE MINISTRY OF JESUS. Did you ever wonder how Christ could travel and teach with 12 disciples and no visible source of income? Luke 8:1-3 tells us that it was a group of women who supported the ministry of Christ from their own income.

OTHER KEY WOMEN. In John 4:4-42, we read about the Samaritan woman who broke down sexual and racial barriers. In Acts 16:13-18, we learn of a businesswoman named Lydia who believed the gospel, was baptized, and welcomed Paul and his associates into her home.

The equality of women in Christianity is unique, unlike the society of that day. Galatians 3:28 says it best, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Magnitude of Hate and the Love of Christ

Auschwitz Entrance - Magnitude of Hate and the Love of Christ

Jesus taught many unique ideas. Perhaps the most unique and astounding are his teachings about how to deal with those who differ from you. One of the major problems with atheistic evolution is the “survival of the fittest” motivation. That philosophy justifies acting superior to those who are different from you and destroying them because they are less fit than you. People have used that excuse to justify slavery. We have to contrast the magnitude of hate and the love of Christ.

When the liberation of Auschwitz occurred on January 27, 1945, (75 years ago), the world saw the result of “survival of the fittest” when applied to humans. It is hard to comprehend that Nazis murdered 1,100,000 people at Auschwitz during World War II. Russian liberators told of battle-hardened soldiers vomiting when they saw the magnitude of human tragedy in that Nazi death camp. Can you get your mind around over a million people being slaughtered in one human-controlled camp?

Try as we can to comprehend the magnitude of hate and the love of Christ, we find that His teachings are also beyond the ability of most people to understand. Consider the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus not only taught this radical concept, but he lived it. When Peter took out his sword and started to defend Jesus against those who would crucify him, Jesus not only told Peter to put the sword away but healed the man Peter had attacked. (See Matthew 26:51-54, Luke 22:49-51, and John 18:10-11.)

Sadly, people who claim to be Christians will leave the Bible behind and embrace “survival of the fittest” to justify doing violence to others. As the world veers away from faith in Christ, we can only anticipate more violence and more killings. The magnitude of hate and the love of Christ are in sharp contrast. The one thing that can change the trend is to reach out to the world with the teachings of Christ. I don’t mean what human tradition has done in the name of Christianity, but what Jesus actually taught.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Scientism, Literalistic, Literal

Scientism, Literalistic, Literal -Definitions

As you read articles written by creationists, atheists, and apologetics authors, you sometimes see words that need an explanation. We must understand the meaning of the terms and what the author intends to convey. There are three words that you should understand the meaning of: Scientism, Literalistic, Literal.

#1 SCIENTISM. Scientism is the idea that science is the only reliable way to determine truth. It is used to exclude any consideration of the supernatural or metaphysical. Because they can not be falsified, scientism rejects miracles or claims about the divinity of Christ. Those of us who argue that science and faith support each other are sometimes accused of preaching scientism. The fact is that the scientific method prevents any consideration of many questions that are important in life. The Winter 2020 issue of God and Nature published an article by Terry Defoe titled “A Pastor’s Journey in Search of Consensus.” He wrote that, “Science can be compared to a fisherman’s net that can’t catch small fish because the holes in the net are too large.” Science is NOT the only source of truth.

#2 LITERALISM. Literalism is the approach of reading ancient documents and merely reading the words on the page in their most basic sense, not considering the context. Long ago, Augustine warned against Christians presenting their literalistic interpretations of Scripture as if they were experts in areas where they are ignorant.

“The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.” Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) (Read more HERE.)

In literalism, there is no attempt to ask what the author intended his message to be, or to apply modern knowledge in understanding the documents.

#3 LITERAL. Literal means to understand a text as the original author intended. Here is an example of how a literal interpretation of a passage might differ from a literalistic interpretation. In Revelation 7:1, John writes, “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth …” If you just lift the passage off the page (literalistic), you would maintain that Earth has four corners, and therefore it is flat. Some groups actually support that view and use this passage to prove it. A literal translation would ask, “What is John attempting to say?” If you look at the context of the passage, the answer is obvious. We have a Lamb opening seals and displaying wrath in chapter 6 and 144,000 people sealed in chapter seven. Obviously, the passage is not written to give scientific data on the shape of the Earth.

We maintain that this ministry takes the Bible literally. Much of the Christian community takes selected passages such as Genesis 1 literalistically. The result is they present the Bible in a way that makes it look foolish and ignorant. Scientism is not our approach. We use all of the tools God has given us to understand His Word. That approach is essential when talking to young men and women growing up in the 21st century. One of the tools we use is science, and that is not Scientism.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christian Seminary Students in Same-sex Marriages

Christian Seminary Students in Same-sex Marriages and Lawsuits

Yesterday we reported on the LGBT conflict which is breaking the United Methodist Church apart. The dispute over sexual morality is also affecting one of the oldest and most highly regarded theological seminaries in the United States–Fuller Theological Seminary. The conflict involves Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages.

Fuller has a “Sexual Standards Policy,” which states that the seminary “holds marriage to be a covenant union between one man and one woman.” The policy also says that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” are “inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Two students, one man and one woman, were expelled because the seminary learned that they were in same-sex marriages. They are both suing the school for one million dollars each.

The problem here is that Fuller and many other Christian colleges and seminaries receive government assistance in scholarships and other educational funding. Title IX government funding rules bar “discrimination based on sex.” The original intent of this rule was that women could not be refused participation in educational programs just because they were women. Now LGBT supporters are mounting legal efforts to expand Title IX protections to gender identity and sexuality.

What happens here will have a profound effect on Christian colleges who participate in any scholarship program where government grants or loans allow students to get an education. This would include those with minority and military scholarships. It will also affect those schools and churches that use government commodities in benevolent programs or minority support programs.

Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages is only one aspect of a growing problem. It seems that the government’s beliefs about morality are dictating what Church programs can teach. The only option is for churches and schools not to use government support in any way, or else they must change their moral teachings.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can read about this on the Christianity Today website at THIS LINK.

Witch Hunts and Bible Translation

Witch Hunts and Bible Translation

Many of the atheist diatribes do not try to counter the massive evidence for God’s existence. Instead, they criticize things that have been done by people who claim to be Christians. From the Crusades to inquisitions to witch hunts, people claiming to be Christ-followers have conducted themselves in un-Christlike ways.

King James 1 had a major role in the effort to eradicate witchcraft from 17th century England. The Lancashire witchcraft trials in 1612 were a part of his legacy. Of course, he also commissioned the 1611 King James translation of the Bible into English. There is no Hebrew or early Greek word for “witch,” but because of the cultural climate of the day, the term “witch” was used in passages dealing with idolaters, mediums, or sorcerers.

Denominations who came to America with the King James Bible in their hands used the word “witch” to deal with even such things as a charm or remedy. Galatians 5:20 uses the Greek word “pharmakia” to describe sorcery, which refers to casting spells. It is translated as “witchcraft” in many Bibles. In 1 Samuel 15:23, the Hebrew word “qasam” is translated “witchcraft” in the KJV. A better translation is “divination,” which is the pagan parallel to prophesying.

In the Old Testament, anyone who was into astrology or enchantments was dealt with harshly. (See Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, and Micah 5:12.) When Jesus canceled the old law by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), He did away with the violent retaliation that the law prescribed.

Witch hunts resulted in the terrible things that happened in the witch trials of Salem, Massachusets, in 1692 and 1693. People were tortured and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus dealt with the opponents of His teaching. God is a God of love, full of compassion and care for all human beings. Those who claim to be witches need the same love and care that all humans seek. Instead of condemning them to torture and death, Christians should show them that Christ’s love can meet their real needs.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Whom or What Do You Worship?

Whom or What Do You Worship?

Whom or What Do You Worship? For many people, the immediate reaction is to say something like, “I don’t worship anything. I am a self-made person.” A more degrading answer might be, “Worship is for sissies, and I don’t need that junk.” Webster’s dictionary defines worship as “rendering of homage to something or someone” or “rendering religious reverence to something or someone.” Worship is not confined to an activity done in a church building. Some people worship nature, some worship an experience, others worship celestial objects or animals, or even their job or their mate. God doesn’t need our worship. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s.

From a biblical perspective, there is an easy answer to why we do these things. God created us in His image, and God is a Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27 and John 4:24). We all have a spiritual component which is a part of our makeup. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Atheists have this spiritual makeup, and they express it in their obsessions in life. I have known atheists who worshipped sex or their material possessions or an activity like fishing. They would render homage to the object of their worship that would shame any preacher.

What is unique about Christian worship is that it can be controlled and directed to productive uses. Jesus warned his followers to avoid worshiping “the traditions of the elders” (See Mark 7:1-8). Paul reflected on the same idea in Colossians 2:8 warning about making philosophy the object of one’s worship. He goes on in verses 16-23 about making religious rules an object of worship. In Romans 1:25, Paul talks about “worshipping the things made instead of the maker.” Thus we must ask, “Whom or what do you worship?”

How we express the spiritual drive that is built into all of us is essential and within our control. To establish meaningful worship, 1 Timothy 4:12-13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 encourage reading and learning. James 1:27 points out that pure religion and worship comes in meeting the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Our worship as Christians is not just a Sunday morning thing. Worship is a continual activity. Hebrews 13:15-16 talks about worship through voices. James 5:13 talks about personal prayer, and in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus talks about private prayer worship as a part of daily life. Even giving is an act of worship, expressed in Hebrews 13:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7, and Acts 20:35.

Worship with the wrong attitude can be destructive, even for Churches. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul says the worship of that congregation did more harm than good. Those with no relationship to God are likely to find whatever they worship is disappointing and unfulfilling. Learning to look to a higher power is widely recognized as a technique to help us find satisfaction and overcome problems in life. Ephesians 2:18 tells us that Christians have access to the Father. Worship in private and in corporate service can be a tool to bring us great satisfaction and solutions to the major problems of life.

Whom or what do you worship? Other worship alternatives don’t benefit the worshipper or anyone else in such profound ways as when we worship God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christmas Card Picture

Christmas Card Picture

We have just finished the Christmas and New Year holiday, and Christmas cards are piled up on my desk. It isn’t that I have so many people who send me Christmas cards. Most of the cards are from organizations wanting a donation. They send a “gift” of a bunch of cards and hope it will shame me into giving to their cause. What is interesting to me is the Christmas card picture of baby Jesus in the manger.

I have Muslim and Buddhist friends who laugh at that Christmas card picture. Muhammad was an upper-class, wealthy military man who married into money and lived in comfortable conditions. Buddha was a Hindu prince who was not even allowed to see a diseased or suffering human. Sometime after the age of 29, he left the palace behind and became a wandering ascetic.

In contrast to these founders of major faiths, Jesus Christ was born in a town in which He was an alien. He grew up in Nazareth, a low-class village in the occupied territory of Galilee. (See John 1:46.) When you read passages like Matthew 5:41, you realize how much Rome controlled everything. John 19:10 points out that the Romans knew they had control. Christ had no political power and no army. He was born an “illegitimate child” to a mother who left town when she realized she was pregnant. (See Luke 1:38-39.) People wondered why Jesus spent His time with the poor, despised, and downtrodden. (See Matthew 9:11-13.) Unlike Mohammed or Buddha, Jesus came into a world of misery, war, prejudice, pain, strife, and violence and did not associate with political leaders or the social elite.

Because of the birth and upbringing of Jesus, people were amazed at His teaching. (See Matthew 7:28-29.) It is also because of the background of His life that we cannot have a problem that Jesus doesn’t understand. He had no money – only his cloak. He was “born on the wrong side of the tracks.” He was born an “illegitimate child.” Unlike followers of all other faiths on Earth, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

I have seen mangers. They are dirty with mouth slime from cattle plus insects and worms and unprotected from the elements. The sterile, clean, neat, ordered Christmas card picture is not reality. However, but it can remind us of how God in His wisdom provides for us and understands our needs. The birth and upbringing of Christ provide an apologetic for the validity of Christianity.

— John N. Clayton © 2020