Preaching the Gospel to Abraham

Paul makes this interesting observation in Galatians 3:8:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

So what was this gospel? “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

Paul goes on to explain that this promise (and others made to Abraham) were spoken to Abraham and his main Descendant:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Galatians 3:16.

It is hard to overstate the extraordinary impact of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, on our society, morals and culture. Moral norms that we take for granted are enforced using principles of law keeping and justice that are all based on the Word of God, in particular the 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Peace treaties and the principles that save nations from war and bring healing are based on Christian thinking, specifically the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6 & 7). Nearly everyone’s sense of fairness in Christian countries is modelled on what Jesus considered fair. His Name, that is, his attitude of compassion, humility and justice to the poor are the ideals we all look up to whether we call ourselves Christian or otherwise. The roots of Western Civilisation are deeply inspired by Jesus Christ and grounded on the Word of God.

As you look around the world, or even out your front door, you realise that most people live in peaceful families, enjoying the common comforts of warm homes, good food and friends. The extreme examples of domestic violence that the news stations and many people’s minds seem to love to focus on are the exceptions rather than the rule. Our nations are generally not at war with each other and most people rest secure in their beds at night. Christian charities are effective the world over in reducing poverty.

I believe all this is the fulfillment of the gospel, good news, preached to Abraham: “All the families on the earth will be blessed through you.”

For some reason, Evangelical Christians can sometimes be the last people to see things this way. I think one reason may be because of the pre-tribulation rapture and the great tribulation yet to come eschatology that so many people have been taught. Unless things are really terrible in the world it is hard to justify God bringing the literal apocalyptic terrors of Revelation upon our neighbours. So people who believe that they will be taken out from the trouble that is coming, and that the Lord is returning soon, must see things as getting a lot worse in the world despite all the statistics that say the opposite. I only wish I didn’t have to link to a humanist book to prove that point. I will address this downside of pre-tribulation rapture thinking in another blog.

Another thing Evangelical Christians can do a lot is downplay the general good to the “unsaved” that the gospel brings. The reasoning goes something like this: Eternity is long and this life is vanishingly short by comparison. Therefore why try and improve people’s lives in this life when we have a so much more important thing to do, that is, preach the gospel to them so they get saved?

It is not an either/ or thing though. Preaching the gospel so that people can believe and appreciate the salvation Jesus has won for them is critical if they are really to know peace, joy and love in this life and to have assurance of eternal life. But there is a danger it will just be words and as James says:
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 3:18

My wife and I go to a church which majors on the evangelical aspect of things and we support it fully as do our children. We are also involved in other types of Christian charity (as are our children and the church itself) which don’t make telling people that they have to be saved a precondition to doing good to them.

In the same letter to the Galatians Paul explains how he first met with the other apostles in Jerusalem and what they thought was important when preaching the gospel:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. Galatians 2:9 & 10

Don’t underestimate the preserving power of the Gospel for all of the world’s peoples.

Conceiving the Inconceivable

There is a story of twins talking to each other in the womb which is going about the internet in various forms.  Here is my take on it.

The babies are not far from birth and well developed but still completely ignorant of what is to come.  They cannot conceive of what they are about to experience since they have absolutely nothing in their current existence that they can relate to it.  So that is why I have called this blog “Conceiving the Inconceivable” and also because I love puns and playing with words.

The first problem you experience when you start to try and write this is that the twins don’t have words.  They are immersed in water so they cannot speak.  We know that babies in the womb can hear and respond to sounds and that the normal existence for a baby in the womb is to be on their own.  Even this is analogous to our existence now in comparison to what we will be.  Now we are profoundly disconnected from one another because of time and space.  In the next life I believe there is no time nor space in the way we understand those terms and so perfect intimacy and knowledge of one another and God is the inevitable result.

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“So you still think there is some existence beyond this?”  Thomas was having his daily tete-a-tete with John.

“Undoubtedly” John replied. “Don’t you hear all those sounds and Mom’s singing?”

“Nah, that is just the vibrations of this watery world we live in.  You move around and I move around and we disturb the waters and they make noises.”

“Beautiful, coherent noises which can only point to someone greater than us.” John was in his usual philosophic mode.

“No, they happen by chance.  It is like everything else in here, it all started with us being nothing and then the fluids and all the chemicals interacted together and here we are.  You know that we evolved out of creatures which were smaller and less intelligent than we are.”  Thomas had an answer to everything and usually answers that made as little out of any idea of a Mom and Dad as he could.  “We grow up in here until we can no longer fit and then, Boom!, it all explodes and our pitiful existence comes to an end in a terrible mess.”

“I don’t believe all that dystopian future nonsense you seem to indulge in all the time.” John replied.  “For me it is obvious we are here because our Mom and Dad wanted us to be here.  They have wonderful plans for our lives after we are delivered.  Even in here I can hear their loving words and concern for us.  I have felt them on the walls of our barriers, telling me not to fear.  In Mom, we live and move and have our being.  She is love and tells me about love.”

“You can’t prove any of this,” John retorted.  “It sounds great but you know that we are going to die.  You have said yourself that you believe that after delivery (as you call it) we will no longer have water to breathe in.  So what then?  All your stories are just optimistic fairy tales designed by your clever mind just to make this cramped existence more bearable.”

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You can see where I am going with this.  It seems to me obvious that a thoughtful meditation on our existence before delivery can be very useful.  It is a way of helping to explain the enormous gulf in our understanding between where we are now – in time and space – and where we will be after we die (or after we are raptured) in eternity.

Eternity is not lots more time and infinite space.  Eternity is a different state of things altogether, as expansive and as inconceivable to us now as being able to breathe air, talk and walk is to babies in a womb.

This is just one of many possible conversations that our two hypothetical twins can have.  I hope to create a few more conversations in future blogs.

Historical Eschatology

Eschatology is the fancy name for the study of the end times.  There are quite a few theories out there about how things are going to work out usually involving a rapture, a great tribulation, a millennium and an Anti-Christ.  One of the popular theories includes a significant tribulation to come at the end lasting 7 years out of which the Christian church will be raptured, usually before the great tribulation starts (conveniently).  There was even a film called “Left Behind” starring Nicholas Cage produced recently based on this particular view of the end times.

However, had you been born into a Protestant family anytime in the 3 hundred years following the start of the Reformation in 1518 your ideas of the end times would have followed a different tack, one that is not at all popular these days.  In those days the Anti-Christ and the great tribulation were in your face and unmistakable.  A pre-tribulation rapture was not even a consideration.  Your country was possibly in a war with the forces of the Anti-Christ.  If not you were quite possibly struggling to survive in a country under his control.  In those countries the Bible was a banned book and if you were found with one you could be imprisoned or killed.  These are times that many Protestants today seem eager to forget.

But pick up a King James Version of the Bible today from your shelf and you will read these words in the preface:  “…by writing in defence of the Truth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of sin, as will not be healed,)”

The man of sin referred to here was the pope of the time.  There was very little disagreement among the reformers as to who the Scripture said the Anti-Christ was, i.e. the popes of Rome since about the 4th Century.  They had ample evidence in front of them to come to that conclusion and there are several Scriptures which support this assertion.

The Reformation was an amazing move of God affecting hundreds of millions of people which changed the course of history.  One of the expectations of the Reformers (as mentioned in the KJV preface) was that the Reformation would prove to be a fatal blow to the Anti-Christ but this didn’t happen.  In fact, the papacy has somehow survived that fatal blow (see Revelation 13:3) and spread even further abroad afterwards.  However, it has been much weakened by the Truth that the Reformation and the accompanying printing press made abundantly available through the Bible. It has not the civil power it used to be able to wield but its nature hasn’t changed.

There are several places in the Scripture to which the reformers would refer when it came to explaining the mystery of the Anti-Christ to their listeners.  Here is an institution – the Roman Catholic church with the pope at its head – which ran the lives of the people from birth (baptism) to death (final unction) and all stages in between.  It took their money, ran their schools and hospitals, determined who their kings were and, if required, would withdraw all or any of these services in response to an order from their hierarchical heads based in Rome.

Their adherents considered Canon Law (as laid down by the pope) of greater authority than the civil law (as laid down by their parliaments and kings) and used it to justify the most immoral behaviour.  And if you think that was for then and not now just remember what the Bishop of Cloyne John Magee did when he covered up for paedophile priests in the Diocese of Cloyne during the early part of this century.

And, if you can, read a few good books on the subject.  Here are a couple of my favourites:

  1. D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation (try and get an unedited and unabridged version) originally written in French with lots of Latin in the notes.  This is a massive work (thankfully available on Amazon) which has been translated into English by Henry Beveridge.  If you are from a Roman Catholic background like me or just need to get a good understanding of what happened during the Reformation from a believer’s standpoint these volumes are the best reading I know of out there.
  2. His Waiting Bride by Edgar F. Parkyns (out of print but there are a few copies available on Amazon).