Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Southern Baptist Calvinist...on life, the world, and java: The Church is on the Rock

A Southern Baptist Calvinist...on life, the world, and java: The Church is on the Rock

The Church is on the Rock

For years, every summer, My wife, my girls and I spent long hours working on sand castles. We build these big ornate castles with lots of turrets and staircases. And on a few rare occassions people have decided to stomp on them after hours of work. Of course they’re ruined when that happens.

I heard* of a guy who put cinder blocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of his castles. Then when the stompers would show up, their bare feet suddenly met their match. Some people see the church in grave peril from stompers like secularism, humanism, socialism, post-modernity, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock (Mt. 16:16), over which the gates of hell (and the original stomper) shall not prevail.

*Original story from Gregory P. Elder

Monday, April 5, 2010

What will happen to me when I die? Soul Sleep or conscious existence?

Will I cease to exist or sleep till the resurrection?
Does the resurrection happen immediately?
Will I go to be with the Lord without a body?
What is it!!?

An Examination of the Scriptural teaching on the Intermediate State,
Or, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

What will happen to me when I die? This is a question many have asked, or at least wondered about during a critical moment in their life. Unfortunately, many consider the answer unknowable and therefore live in denial that there might be an afterlife. But the Bible is quite clear that there is in fact an afterlife; both for the elect and for those who die rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
This is where the debate begins. While the Bible is quite clear that there have been and will be resurrections, many important details are still debated. When does it happen for the individual?When will it happen in the overall, “end of the ages?” Who will be resurrected? And will people be conscious between their physical death and their resurrection with a new immortal body? It is this last question I want to address primarily.
Many Christians have come to believe that the soul lies dormant after death. Some refer to this as Soul-Sleep. Others simply say the soul is non-existent until the resurrection power of God reestablishes the whole person. This would mean that the human takes his last breath in this life and a nanosecond later is experiencing the glorious resurrection of the dead and the presence of Jesus Christ. Hence they would interpret Philippians 1:21, the 2nd passage listed below, To die is gain, like this: You will experience only this life, and then “POOF” the next life, no Matter how many centuries your body lays in the ground. While most of Christendom, at this point in time, rejects this in favor of a conscious and sentient state after death[i], the advocates of the “Blank State”[ii] (not to be confused with the Blank Slate), are not heretical in this belief because it is separate from their understanding of the nature of Christ, salvation and other vital doctrines. And, they have their reasons to believe this. Here are a few of the reasons they disagree with the conscious state theory:
1. A conscious Intermediate State presupposes that a soul (or spirit) can exist without a body.
2. It is contradictory to the Old Testament emphasis on death as a condition of quiet unconsciousness.
3. It seems to downplay: a) the seriousness of death as a curse, b) the importance of the resurrection as a time of reward or punishment, c) the significance of the body, and d) it emphasizes individual blessing above the redemption of the whole cosmos and the perfection of the church as a whole.

Here are some of their biblical arguments:
1. Passage 1 listed below could be translated, “”I say to you today, (comma) you shall be with me in paradise.” Instead of “Today you will be with me...”
2. The Old Testament emphasizes death as sleep, implying a lack of consciousness. See passages #15 and #16 below.
3. In the New Testament the theme of death/sleep is continued. See passages in #17 below.
4. Statements such as the one found in 2 Cor 5:8 (#4 below) may express the lack of consciousness between death and resurrection rather than an intermediate state.
5. In Peter’s sermon in Acts (see #18 below) he says that David has never ascended to the heavens, implying that he is still unconscious in the ground.

Relevant Scriptures
(Both sides of the debate, bolding mine)

1. Luke 23:42, 43, 46: And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." ... Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.
2. Philippians 1:21: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
3. Philippians 1:23: But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better:
4. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8: Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.
5. Luke 16:22-26: The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'
6. Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
7. Mark 12:26-27: And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong."
8. Matthew 17:2-3: And he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
9. Revelations 6:9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete...
10. Hebrews 12:18,22-24: For you have not come to what may be touched... 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 11. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
12. Acts 7:59: And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 13. 2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know,
14. 2 Peter 1:13-14: I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.
15. Psalms 6:5: For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 16. Psalms 115:17: The dead do not praise Jehovah, nor do any who go down into silence.
17. Mark 5:39: And going in He said to them, Why do you make a tumult and weep? The girl is not dead, but sleeps. John 11:11: He said these things; and after that He said to them, our friend Lazarus sleeps. But I go so that I may awaken him out of sleep.
18. Act 2:29, 31-34: Men, brothers, it is permitted to say to you with plainness as to the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day... (31) seeing this beforehand, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor would His flesh see corruption, God raised up this Jesus, of which we all are witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you now see and hear. For David has not ascended into the heavens, but he says himself, "The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand.

Countering the “Blank State”
Let’s go back through those arguments:
1. Passage 1 could be translated, “”I say to you today, You shall be with me in paradise.” Instead of ,“Today you will be with me...” Having looked at various translations, KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, Wuest’s, Zodhiates’, and J.B. Phillip’s, not a single one sees the translation going that way. They all uniformly translate that Jesus was promising the thief paradise today! You’ll notice a few verses later Jesus says, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” He didn’t commit His spirit to Sheol or Hades or to the tomb but to God’s hands. If He was going immediately to the presence of God, why shouldn’t the thief get what Jesus promised? In fact, the 19th century Baptist John Gill used some strong language about the “nonsense” of those who would attempt to translate that verse incorrectly.

Let’s take the next two together:
2. The Old Testament emphasizes death as sleep, implying a lack of consciousness.
3. In the New Testament the theme of death/sleep is continued. (Statements regarding resurrection of the small girl and Lazarus) The theme of death as sleep usually refers to the cessation of involvement with life on earth. Just like the sleeping one is not interacting with earthly life, neither is the dead one. When those who believe in the “Blank State” point out that the dead do not praise the Lord it is a bit more difficult. It may be that they truly believed in the annihilation of the soul or spirit. For rather than thinking that after death the soul is silent until resurrection, many of the Old Testament saints didn’t believe in any life after death.[iii] (David refers to one day going to where his late son had gone, but that may just reply to the grave, not to heavenly bliss.) Eventually in Isaiah there is a reference to continued life after death. If the revelation of the Lord has been progressive, it makes sense that the later prophets understood more than the former, and that the New Testament would have a more thoroughgoing eschatology than the Old. When referring to the dead girl and the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus says they are sleeping and it is clearly a euphemism for physical death. It may - or may not - not say anything about the state of the soul.

Which brings us to the fourth argument of the “Blank Staters:”
4. Statements such as the one found in 2 Cor 5:8 (absent from the body, present with the Lord) may express the lack of consciousness between death and resurrection rather than an intermediate state.
This is true, this verse could support either side of the argument. If those who believe that physical death renders the soul unconscious are correct, it would be an instantaneous leap from earthly life to presence with Lord. The movement from this life to the presence of the Lord is instantaneous; less than a blip of time. But this is not evidence for their case either.
When Paul says to be “absent from the body” is to be present with the Lord, there is an implication or at least an ease of inference, that the soul can leave the dead body and go to Christ.
Absent from the body could mean the body is on earth the spirit with Christ.

The fifth and last argument:
5. In Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 he says that David has never ascended to the heavens, implying that he is still unconscious in the ground. Yes, David’s tomb was still there at that time, but in verse 31 it is clear Peter is talking about the resurrection of Christ. David has most certainly not ascended to the right hand of God, because Christ is at the right hand of God. This is not a statement about where David is but where the Messiah is. Not to mention, if David is laying unconscious in the ground somewhere, then how can Moses and Elijah be up and walking around? (Matt. 17:2-3) Was it Soul-sleep Walking? (A touch of benign humor for my Blank State brothers and sisters.)

So, what does all this mean to their three primary reasons for not believing in a conscious soul after death? Let’s look at those again: Conscious state presupposes that soul (or spirit) can exist without a body. It is contradictory to the Old Testament emphasis on death as a condition of quiet unconsciousness. And, it seems to downplay a) the seriousness of death as a curse, b) the importance of the resurrection as a time of reward or punishment, c) the significance of the body, and d) it emphasizes individual blessing over the redemption of the whole cosmos and the perfection of the church as a whole.
Number 3 first. These speculations are weak at best. For instance, if an intermediate state and presence with the Lord, “waters down” the significance of a joyous resurrection, then so does having assurance of salvation in this life. Furthermore, a time without a body might be blessed, but I would speculate that the state of complete and ultimate resurrection will be too great to even compare with the intermediate state.
Death is still a very serious concern especially for those left behind. It is the living who find in death a harsh reality of separation. The importance of the church as a whole is seen in the common communion and worship of the heavenly church. This image should help inform our view of the church militant, right here on earth.

Number 2. As we have seen together, the Old Testament emphasis on death being quiet unconsciousness flowed significantly from the belief that death was the end of existence.
Then, as greater revelation came forth, (Isaiah etc.), people started to believe in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.

Concerning Number 1, we do presuppose that the soul can exist without the body. That presupposition is based partly on the fact that God is Spirit, not man, and we are created in His image. Not to say the body or brain is unimportant, but it seems we were created to be existent and sentient without a body and brain.

All in all, the case for a conscious intermediate state is strong, but maybe not conclusive for many people. The most profound and clear passages are focused on the doctrine of resurrection, not the state between death and the new body. That being said, let’s consider a few more of our relevant passages before stopping.

In passages 2 and 3, why is it “gain” and “far better” to die, if death is just unconsciousness in the ground?

Some say that the story of the rich man in Luke 16 (#5) is a parable and not suited for teaching on the intermediate state. If it is a parable, it is the only one I know of where Jesus names a person (Lazarus). And why would Jesus invent a situation that did not exist and so imply a fallacious understanding of the after-life? I would submit that while secondary – or tertiary - to the point of the story, the example of people who are conscious after death is still compelling.

Passages 6 through 8: The enemy is incapable of killing the soul. God is the God of the living. And, Moses and Elijah were conscious pre-resurrection.

Passage 9: The souls of the dead are crying out to God! They are not unaware. Are they sure this is metaphorical not literal?

Passage 11: God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. Does “asleep” mean they don’t know they’re being brought? Are they going to awaken in the face of Battle? I would submit these dead are wide-awake.

Passage 12: Stephen at his stoning fully expected the Lord to receive his spirit instantaneously at death, just as Christ did.

While clear texts about the intermediate state are absent, there seems to be enough implication, without groundless inference, to believe certain things. Namely, to hold to the doctrine that the dead in Christ experience His presence before they are raised from the dead in a new body.
However, to believe in some form of the “Blank State” is not a heretical stance. Considering the ambiguity of many texts, it is an understandably held doctrine. This is not an issue to divide Christians. Like tithing, the reach of election, and infralapsarianism, (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry), there are issues on which we may agree to disagree.
Other doctrines such as the dual nature of Christ and grace-based salvation are critical to orthodox Christianity and should be defended at all costs.

One Final Word
One will never know the joy of the presence of God for eternity unless they know the gifts God has given them.
First, there is the gift of Jesus. Jesus, completely God, took on human flesh and experienced all the frailties and temptations of humanity, but never sinned.
Since He was sinless, he could give you a gift as well; he could die in your place and pay for your sins against God.
Because we have ALL sinned, our sins have separated us from God and have condemned us to Hell.
God offers other gifts as well. The gift of repentance from sin and living life against the will of God. The gift of faith, to trust in Christ as our Lord and Master, and as our Savior, a rescuer.
We must seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on him for repentance and faith, then turn from our wicked ways and trust in Jesus to save us forever.

Copyright by Clark Dunlap and First Baptist Smithfield 4/1/2010

[i] Usually called the “Intermediate State.”
[ii] The “Blank State” is a term I coined to include those that believe in soul sleep or in the cessation of the soul’s existence after death. This includes cultists and those who are orthodox in their theology.
[iii] In Jesus’ time the Saducees, who held Torah/Pentateuch in highest esteem, did not find basis for life after death, angels, etc. in scripture.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

10 Reasons To Believe In The Resurrection, and 10 reasons Why it Matters

10 Top Reasons To Believe In The Resurrection:

#10- Broken Roman seal
The Roman seal stood for the power and authority of Rome. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution. People feared the breaking of the seal and
Jesus' own disciples were showing themselves as cowards by hiding. Peter even denied Christ three times.

#9- The guarded tomb. The punishment for a Roman guard falling asleep was punishable by death. For one to fall asleep, maybe, but they were too well trained to all fall asleep.

#8- The Graveclothes- The tomb was not totally empty. John, the disciple, looked over to the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, in the form of the body, slightly caved in and empty--like the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar's cocoon. The head cloth was rolled up separate just as it shoule be. That's enough to make a believer out of anybody. John never did get over the empty grave clothes--undisturbed in form and position.

#7- If there was a dead body, Rome and the chief priests would have produced it to squelch the mounting evidence of the resurrection. The people knew what he looked like, All they had to do was produce it.

#6- Women given place of honor, Jesus showed his resurrected body to women first. Only Jesus would have given women, especially in that day, this honor: Jesus told them to, "Go and tell my brothers, the disciples, the good news." If this was a fairy tale, men would have been the culturally accepted ones to first discover the empty tomb.

#5- Eye witnesses: over 500 people saw Jesus' resurrected body at the same time!
(1 Corinthians 15:6) When that was written most of these people were still alive and could testify to this.

#4- The disciples changed from being cowards, to being willing to die for what they saw. If Jesus Christ wasn't raised from the dead, if it weren't true, Peter, the other disciples, and the rest of the early Christians, would have remained silent to protect themselves from persecution, torture and death!

#3- The Apostle Paul, a well-known, devout Jew, who hated Christians and wanted to kill them; until he met the risen LORD. Think of someone in today's world who hates Christians. What would it take for them to become evangelists? A miracle?

#2- His own brothers become followers- If Jesus did not rise from the dead why did His own brothers become followers when they weren’t before?

And, the #1 reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus: Because he said so! (John 2:19-20) Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. Jesus cannot be 'just a good man', or 'a prophet'. He was either a liar and has deceived millions of people for centuries. Or, he was crazy to call himself God. Or he is the Risen Christ, and he told the truth! You decide.

So, OK, I make a good point that Jesus rose from the dead but why does that matter to me?

Mat 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Jesus said He MUST rise again. Why?

#10 Jesus set an example of self-denial, and New Life comes after you give it up- Mat 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, and whoever desires to lose his life for My sake shall find it.

#9 Death could not hold Him in the grave- Act 2:23 this One given to you by the before-determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by lawless hands, crucifying Him, you put Him to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it...

#8 So that Jesus could enable people to repent from sin- Act 3:26 Having raised up His son Jesus, God sent Him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you away from his iniquities.

#7 So that Jesus could take away our sins and sin’s punishment- Act 5: 31 This One God has exalted to be a Ruler and Savior to His right hand in order to give repentance and remission of sins to Israel.

#6 For God’s prophecy of His Son not seeing decay- Act 13: 34 And that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He spoke in this way: "I will give you the holy promises of David." 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, "You shall not allow Your Holy One to see corruption."

#5 To demonstrate that Jesus was in fact the Son of God- Rom 1:3 about His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 who was marked out the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead;

#4 So that we might be fully justified before God- Rom 4:24 but for us also to whom it is to be imputed, to the ones believing on Him who has raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 who was delivered because of our offenses and was raised for our justification.

#3 To guarantee to all beleivers new and eternal life with God- Rom 6:4 …we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been joined together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection… 8 But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that when Christ was raised from the dead, He dies no more; death no longer has dominion over Him.

#2 So that Jesus would be our intercessor- Rom 8:34 Who is he condemning? It is Christ who has died, but rather also who is raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

#1 The Number one reason The Resurrection of Jesus Christ matters to us: Jesus IS the Resurrection and the Life. Joh 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"