In Defense of Christian Liberty – 1

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What is written below is in response to another pastor within my community publicly condemning his congregation for exercising their liberty to drink alcohol in public or private – just so you know the context.

“Why even beat this drum?” you might ask, since I have publicly debated this topic multiple time’s online. I do believe passionately that if we begin to twist scripture to fit our own and every personal deep seeded conviction, and then pressure those around us to believe and practice the same, and especially if we are going to allow those who speak in our pulpits at our churches to do the same, we are going to:

1. Lose an entire generation of people and congregants who can see through the clouds of legalism that is spewing forth from this type of interpretation, even if they cannot articulate it. and

2. We are allowing our churches to produce accidental pharisees even though the intention was well meaning.

I cant even count the number of people I know and have met who are leaving the church or are discouraged and bewildered in their church because of the heavy handed doctrines that are being taught in regards to the topic of christian liberty. Pastors telling people what they can and cant do in life, in their families, in their careers. “Then what am I allowed to do?” Thus, the bewilderment of so many. 

As pastors, preachers or Bible teachers, we are not instructors on every detail of everyones life, but rather conveyors of truth. Once that truth is accepted, it is up to the individual to grow into maturity and make their own decisions that can glorify God. We help them get there through discipleship. Not making them into our image but Christ’s.

This topic (on restricting liberties) always comes up around the issue of alcohol (which I believe is a “non-issue”) which is why some have come to believe that I am defending only the believers right to drink alcohol (because I do enjoy my craft beer) but that is not the case at all. In fact, that is not even what this article is about (not about alcohol). I am defending the believers right to their God given, fought and died for liberties in general – all of them. 

Once you begin down the slippery slope of restricting others liberties (legalism), it becomes inevitable that you will produce in yourselves and in your church a horrific result of “christian superiority” over those who are not like you. That is dangerous and that is exactly where the pharisees erred. You and I cannot fill in the blanks where God has decided to keep silent or give liberty.

Which is exactly why my conversation began with the following verse:

(Following is my public online response)

“For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Cor 10:12

We all know that eating the food and where it comes from makes no difference (in relation to food offered to idols). But just because we know that we can eat it, lets not become, in our knowledge (or liberty), arrogant. Rather, in love we should consider the weakness or ignorance on these things (liberties) that those weaker or younger in the faith might display by their sensitivity to such matters. (1 Cor 8:1-8) These people’s conscience were still captive to the influence of these (false) idols. Thats not where we want to leave people. “their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (1 Cor 8:7)

Corinthians encourages us to grow in the grace and knowledge of God, not stay weak in mind and faith. Paul was concerned about those who still believed in the power or influence of idols (that they, the idols, are something when they are not – idols). He is concerned that the one mans knowledge (which is commended), that it is ok to eat meat, even if it was once offered to a idol, would encourage another (weak minded and confused) believer that its ok to worship Jesus and to continue to worship idols as well. The context is to say, “we don’t worship idols, but some still haven’t gotten there yet  – or figured this out yet” We should help them get there by getting our meat elsewhere if need be. He is not condemning the mature christians liberty but commending it by saying, “hey, we know better, and because of that, lets be mature enough not to send our weaker brothers and sisters, stumbling back into the idols temple and away from the one true God.”

But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?

And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 1 Cor 8:8-11

He is talking about leaving the faith and going back to idol worship. We are to raise up or disciple our congregations to believe that there is One true God only who is worthy of our worship and that idols are nothing, therefore eventually they will grow up, not stay weak, and realize, like those with knowledge, that the idols that the meat is offered to are literally nothing and that the meat is just that, meat. “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Jesus – Matt 15

This kind of teaching was at the core of Jesus’ teachings toward the pharisees and those trapped by legalism. Its about the heart. We encourage people to grow up! And in growing up in Christ, its becomes natural to make decisions based on our love for God and one another.

We encourage christians to grow and mature in a way that helps them to make all their decisions in a way that glorify God. When teachings like this (“dont do this or that”, “god revealed to ME that this is a stumbling block and unwise for you”) are taught year after year as people sit under our guidance, it becomes confusing, harmful and non-beneficial. Its encouraging christians to sip on the pastors milk when they should move onto the meat – maturing and being able to make their own decisions based on the scriptures. Thats where we get true wisdom – not from pastors who make statements like: “when God revealed this to me.” Thats nothing but legalism and extra-biblical teaching. This leaves no room for maturing or discussion or differing opinions on the matter (which the Bible leaves open for discussion). What else can be said or discussed among the church if the pastor is claiming that his opinion is from God?

Example from the Video: “You think you have the liberty to drink?” You cannot practice liberties, even “in the privacy or your home” your liberty “is a stumbling block” expressing “liberty” in “air quotes” “thats how some of you started drinking” ….etc.

A fat person finally got themselves on a diet and grabbed an apple before heading to church only to find mature believers at church eating extremely unhealthy donuts that the church provided…. stumbled.

Where does this logic stop?

Paul was not discouraging liberties. For Liberty Christ has set us free! “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Gal 5:1

It is not beneficial as pastors to tell people what liberties they can and cannot partake in. The bible does not teach that alcohol is a sin. It does not discourage the use of alcohol. Rather, it encourages wise decision making and giving God Glory in all things with our liberty. Any teaching that makes a believer think that they are pleasing God by not doing this or that IS LEGALISM AND THERE IS NO OTHER WAY AROUND IT.  Stick to the text. trust God to grow up the believer. They WILL make decisions that prove their love for God and one another.

First of all, the context here was never speaking about alcohol.

Second, if your going to condemn others liberties in this one area, then you should discourage all liberties (like my donut example above). i.e. Christians shouldn’t use the internet because some people got save from porn. Christians shouldn’t  eat food because some christians were saved from eating disorders. Christians should not throw parties in their homes because a christian was saved from a party lifestyle. Christians shouldn’t be seen in malls because some christians were saved from excessive spending and vain lifestyles. You shouldn’t talk sports because that one guy was saved from gambling on sports…etc

This logic above is wrong because we were not saved from these things alone but from all sin and lots of those things (like the meat offered to idols) were not sin in and of themselves but it was the idolizing of them and rejecting God in order to do life on our terms that was and is the sin that we are all saved from. Idols.

If alcohol can lead to drunkenness, therefore we say “stay away!”, should the same reasoning be applied to everything? Because of the potential? If gaining wealth can lead to “the love of money” which is the root of all evil, should we not also say “stay away from money all together!” Should the church stop accepting tithe to avoid this temptation? Because it has certainly corrupted so many believers and churches. Certainly not. Instead we are encouraged and even commanded to walk in wisdom with our liberties not without them. We as individuals and churches should have a structure that allows accountability in these areas of our lives.

Don’t demonize “liberty” for the false assurance that it will keep people from sinning. Encourage people, that they have the liberty to Give God Glory in all things and in everything that they do.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

1 Cor 10:31

 [END]

Note: 

Though I do not think the following comment is necessary as a follow up, I have provided it for clarification due to a good brothers feedback. Thanks brother.

Sin is NOT liberty. If you cannot practice self-control or sobriety in any liberty than it has become an idol and a sin to you. You are better off abstaining from those liberties that cause you to sin. Drunkenness is Sin and cannot glorify God. Being high is the same, therefore drugs that cause you to lose your faculties and become intoxicated cannot qualify as liberty – they are sin and should be repented of and avoided.

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Simon The Magician and The Worship of Me

by Guest Contributor Josh Ragan

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The Spirit and the salvation of God were not a trade craft of the apostles, purposed to entertain, as they journeyed from town to town.

Acts 8:9-25

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles[a] performed, he was amazed.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall[b] of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”

“But there was a certain man called Simon.”

Who was Simon the Magician?

The purpose of this study is to explore the life of Simon the magician. The book of Acts only gives account of his life in 15 verses.

Was there more to be accounted for after this biblical story concludes?

These questions will be the topic for research and conclusion on the life of Simon the Magician.

Was Simon the Magician just the local magician or did he have a higher status in the Samarian society?

“This “Simon” was a man who had once mystified the people of this Samaritan city. By his magic arts Simon had managed to “pull the wool over the eyes” of the Samaritans for years. He made claims of being someone great, but it seems that he allowed the people to come to their own conclusions, and their conclusion, skillfully suggested and orchestrated by Simon, was that he was “the Great Power of God.”2

The book of Acts gives credit to Simon as being considered a great man by the Samarian people. “And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.” 3 Simon fooled the people with magic to gain high stature within the Samarian society. This leadership gave him favorable control over the people and made him a man of great importance. “Such scholars have viewed magic ‘functionally’, as in some cases serving to relieve certain social stresses, but in other cases as being disruptive actions of deviant sorcerers.”4

He was able to mystify the masses with his powers, but they were man made and they had their limits. Simon would realize this later after a strong rebuke from Peter.

Philip was the first to come into contact with Simon the Magician.

As persecution in Jerusalem was rising, the followers of the “Way,” or Christians would begin to scatter throughout the world, taking the gospel with them. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”5

This would set Philip and Simon on a “world collision” as the multitudes hearing the truth in the sermons of Philip would also see real miracles performed (not simply magic). The local magician was being upstaged in his own territory – by an “out of towner”.

Simon, probably out of curiosity, would go to see this “out of towner” perform or speak. “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”6 Simon was one of these people who believed and was baptized after hearing the truth Philip spoke in Samaria.

Was there a hidden agenda behind the “salvation and baptism” of Simon? 

Simon as well as the multitudes where all amazed by the miracles that happened whenever and wherever Philip went. “Simon seems to have been more taken by the ministry and the power of Philip than with his message. Wherever Philip went, Simon tagged along, constantly amazed at the evidences of the hand of God in this man’s life and ministry. The power of Philip seems more fascinating to Simon than the person of Christ and the practical out workings of the gospel…” Though Simon claimed a new birth as evidenced by his being baptized, it would seem that… “the magician lived on, focusing on a bigger and better power, rather than on a whole new way of life.”7 This will become very obvious to all when Peter arrives from Jerusalem.

“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”8

The Holy Spirit was the one performing the miracles through Philip that the Samaritan people had seen. Was his power the reason Simon was always around Philip or was he truly committed to “the way (Jesus)?”

“Luke gave us more reason to question his commitment. There is no desired object given for his believing—no “kingdom of God,” no “name of Jesus Christ.” In fact, the only response connected with his baptism was his following Philip everywhere, totally entranced by his miraculous signs.

Could this have been Luke’s way of indicating that Simon’s commitment was lacking? That it may have been more based on Philip’s miracles than his preaching? More oriented toward the tricks of his own trade?”9

Peter being full of the Holy Spirit would see through Simon’s intentions especially as Simon asks to pay for the “power” that only comes by the Spirit of God. “Give me this power also,” said Simon, “that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”10 The power that is the Holy Spirit is what was promised to those who believe in Jesus. The Spirit and the salvation of God were not a trade craft of the apostles, purposed to entertain, as they journeyed from town to town. Peter sternly rebuked Simon saying, “your money perish with you because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!”11  Of this admonishing toward Simon, Peter would almost command him to repent, speaking to the heart condition that Simon was suffering from. “Simon Magus wanted a supernatural gift for his own personal glory not just for the glory of God.”12

This is where the biblical account of Simon the magician would end.

Is there a historical record of Simon the magician after the biblical account? 

In fact, Historically, there may be.

Simon unfortunately is considered to be the founder of the Gnostic movement – That movement which elevates self by worshiping self-sanctification, our own performance, special knowledge, and removes God from his exalted throne, making him simply a faulty God, who himself is needing of improvement.

“The church fathers of the second and third centuries are practically unanimous in attributing the origin of Gnosticism to Simon Magus. No subsequent discovery of Gnostic materials offered any evidence to deny this allegation. From Simon Magus the line is traced to a Samaritan named Menander, then to two teachers at Antioch named Saturninus and Cerinthus.”13 The gnostic movement mixed pagan rituals with some of Christianity and is considered by many to be heretical in the sense that it is not the doctrine that Jesus taught while on the earth and passed along to the apostles. “The Gnostic may add that secret revelation gives them this” hidden “insight, but there must still be a standard. How does the Gnostic know his private revelation is correct if there is no absolute truth to which to compare it? Gnostic doctrine isolates humans from God and creates spiritual elites who alone have the answer to human needs. Gnosticism is an unusual aberration in Christian history, but the doctrines of this religion were rejected by the church fathers and should be rejected today as well.”14

After the rebuke from Peter, history sheds light on this Simon the Magician, going back to what made him a leader in Samaria. He adopted some of the views the apostles brought with them to the region, but then mixed it with his belief in magic – once again pulling the wool over the people’s eyes, placing himself back in the spot light. Peter told Simon to “repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”15 But as the historical record shows, that unfortunately does not seem to occur in Simon’s life.

In Conclusion, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary sums up the life of Simon the magician, saying, he was, “A man who practiced sorcery in Samaria, often referred to as Simon Magus. The deacon/evangelist Philip encountered him in a town, probably Sebaste, the capital of the province. The magician himself became a convert, was baptized with many others, and was amazed at the miracles of Philip, which apparently surpassed his own. The externality of Simon’s faith seems indicated by his bold attempt to bribe the apostles into imparting their “power.” The name of Simon Magus occurs frequently in the early history of “Christian” Gnosticism.”16 

Simon the magician was given the truth and even a second chance to be forgiven by the apostles. Rather, it would seem that he chose the path of fame and fortune – even using a form of spirituality to deceive a multitude of people. Jesus would warn the disciples of false prophets and what would happen to those who try and enter His kingdom based upon a false doctrine or a twisting of the doctrine; “And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”17

The story of Simon the Magician is a story that comes with a warning to all who would seek to have their own glory and power, yet miss the opportunity to have a relationship with the person who gave His life for them.

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Citations:

Bible, New King James Version

1 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:9a
2 Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and-simon-acts-81- 25.

3 Bible, New King James Version , Acts 8:11
4 Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Magic in the Biblical World.” Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983): 169–200.

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5 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:4-5
6 Bible, new King James Version, Acts 8:12
7 Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and-simon-acts-8:1-25

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8 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:14-15
9 Polhill, J. B. (1992). The New American Commentary: Acts Volume 26. B&H Publishing Group. 10 Bible, New King James Version Acts 8:19
11 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:20
12 Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Acts.” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes. (2014). http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/acts.pdf.

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13 Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.

14 Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 15 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:22

Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.

16 Tenney, D. a. (1987, 2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 17 Bible, New King James Version, Matthew 7:20

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Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Acts.” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes. (2014).

http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/acts.pdf.

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and- simon-acts-8:1-25

Polhill, J. B. (1992). The New American Commentary: Acts Volume 26. B&H Publishing Group.

Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Magic in the Biblical World.” Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983): 169–200

What Are The 5 Solas?

As a church we have been going through a beautiful and invaluable faith building study through the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. As I mention this study to friends in conversation around town, I get the same response everywhere I go: “What are the five solas?” or “I’ve never heard of that before.” Yet everyone seems excited about the topic as soon as they learn more. Therefore, I thought I would put a very brief article out informing those who’s interest  seems to be peaking about the 5 Solas. Hope this helps a bit.

0665 Solas were 5 Latin phrases, popularized during the Protestant Reformation, making clear the distinctions that set the reformers and Protestant believers apart from the long standing Roman Catholic Church (or the Universal Church).

The 5 Solas are known as follows:

1. Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone

2. Sola Fide: Faith Alone

3. Sola Gratia: Grace Alone

4. Solo Christo: Christ Alone

5. Soli Deo Gloria: To The Glory Of God Alone

The Solas are much more than a correction to the extra biblical practices of the Roman Catholic beliefs and teachings.

More importantly, they are essential biblical declarations of the Christian Faith, each one building upon another, a Gospel foundation, finding its apex in the Glory of God alone.

According to John Piper, These truths have clearly defined the Gospel for the church for five hundred years.

The Gospel, in the Solas, can be defined

“As revealed with final authority in

Scripture Alone,

the Gospel is the good news that

by faith alone

through

Grace alone

on the basis of

Christ alone

for the

glory of God alone

sinners have full and final joy in

God alone.”