Sunday, August 13, 2006

God is impotent, or perhaps just incompetent

I am sure the subject line caught your attention.

That is perhaps how I could sum up a sermon I heard at church today! See the sermon link here with text, audio and video. The gist of the sermon was that God could do nothing without our help. God needs our partnership or all else is doomed! Oh, how impotent, or perhaps just incompetent God must be to these people?!

Let's start with the sermon, then.

The sermon is part of a series called Breakthrough. This series has gone on for many months now. The sermon itself is called Breakthrough in Fruitfulness: Praying God's Purpose. It is based on 1 Tim 2:1-4:

(1) First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, (2) for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (3) This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (4) who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

In the introduction the old Arminian mantra is thrown to the audience that asks, "What does 'all' mean?" The expected reponse from the audience is "ALL!" "'All' means 'all'!" is a mantra that's been used here many times before, yet, in almost every case it is used, it can be demonstrated that "all" does not always mean "all!" This of course refers to verse 4 which says that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

This leads to the first point in the sermon: God has purposed that ALL people be saved.

Many would say "all" means "all." Sure "all" means "all." Yet, only as related to the context in which it is used can we find the scope of "all." When Jesus told Paul "for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard." (Ac 22:15 ESV), did Jesus mean Paul was going to be a witness to every single individual, or to all kinds of men? When Paul was accused of preaching to "everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place" (Ac 21:28 ESV), did they mean that he was preaching to every single individual in this world, or to all kinds of people? Paul sets up this generic use of "all" elsewhere too.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
(Col. 3:11 ESV) .

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(Galatians 3:28 ESV)

It is consistent with the context of Paul's writings to recognize this use of "all." This is Paul's way of including all kinds of people. "All" in the above two passages cannot mean every individual, but all kinds or groups of people!

Coming back to 1 Timothy 2, knowing how Paul sometimes used the word "all," we need to have another look to see what Paul meant in verse 4 when he used "all people." In order to find this out we need to look at the context. In verse 1 Paul tells Timothy that we should be praying for "all people." Does he mean here every individual everywhere? I contend that he does not! Although the Bible tells us to pray for all people everywhere, I do not believe that Paul is telling us to pray for every individual everywhere in this verse. The meaning of "all people" in verse 1 is unambiguous. Paul sets up the scope of the meaning of "all people" in the very next phrase from verse 2: "for kings and all who are in high positions."

(1) Therefore, I urge first of all [for] petition to be continually made, prayers, intercessions, [and] thanksgivings, on behalf of all people: (2) on behalf of kings and the ones being in positions of authority, so that we shall lead a tranquil and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity.
(1 Tim 2:1-2 Analytical-Literal Translation)

We have to remember the reason Paul wrote this. It was at this time that Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. It was a time of intense persecution for Christians, and not very long after this Nero had Paul and Peter executed. Paul reveals to us why we need to pray for "all these people:" "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." It would be the "kings and all who are in high positions" who would be able to ensure the peace of all in the land apart from God as its first cause. Paul was trying to make a point here. "Even pray for those in authority who seems to have your future in their hands. God even wants to save those types!" These "kings and all who are in high positions" are represented as classes of men. Now, having seen Paul's use of "everyone" or "all men," we can come to some conclusion about the phrase "who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:4 ESV). God desires all kinds of people to be saved.

To find out more about Paul's meaning of "all" we need to also look at verse 5-6. For what reason do we need to pray for "all men" to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? Verses 5-6 tell us this reason. There is only one way of salvation without which no one can be saved. Now, let us get back to Paul's meaning of "all." First, if in verse 4 we take "all men" to mean "all men individually," then the conclusion here in verse 5 has to be that Christ must be mediator for "all men." If Christ then mediates for every individual, then He fails as mediator everytime an individual denies Christ as Lord and Saviour by his almighty free-will. It is absurd to assert that Christ mediates for "all," but fails to save "all." Second, the ransom - His own sacrifice - that Christ gives in verse 6 is either a saving ransom or not a saving ransom. If that ransom is a saving ransom, and it is made in behalf of "all men", then "all men" would be saved. Is the intention of the ransom for "all men" to be saved? Then the ransom has failed miserably when the result is compared to the intention.

Just thinking of the first point--God has purposed that ALL people be saved--makes me think how absurd and irrational that statement is, and these people do not even see it! If God purposed that ALL people be saved, then He must be an impotent God, or at least incompetent not to be able to make His purposes come to pass!

The first point carries on... It was said that we are not always successful at evangelism since people constantly tell us not to preach to them. The sermon's answer to this is that "they can stop us from talking, but not from praying for them." This is true, but then a further absurdity sets in. "They can run from us, but they cannot hide from God and our prayers." Is that not amazing? People have so-called free-will only until we start praying from them? Can their theology be more incongruous than this? How can these people believe in the free-will of people and still believe that they can pray God into violating that free-will?

Next it was said that "we need to pray prayers that are in line with God's Word." What does this really mean? Is it like taking a total unknown, such as Jabez, of which almost nothing is known, but for ONLY 2 verses in the Bible, and to form a whole prayer doctrine around it? Does it become a formula, that when this formula is prayed that we can with absolute certainty expect results? Simply pray the right verses from the Bible and all our loved ones will be saved?

Lastly, we were told to "soak our prayers in faith." What does that really mean? Are we to have faith in our faith like Kenneth Hagin, Sr. used to say? Should we not rather soak ourselves in the Word of God and let faith be resident in us, and when we pray we pray with faith?

The second point was really a question: Does prayer really work?

There was a positive among all the weird stuff. The preacher mentioned the old saying that "prayer changes things." He called this "buncum!" Good for him.

Yet, a few minutes later he makes a troubling statement. "Prayer is so powerful. Prayer that is executed correctly." What I felt earlier in the sermon, that prayer here is a formula, was here uttered almost in so many words. All that we need to do is find the correct execution of our prayers and its done! All we have to do is stand on Jn 14:13-14 and 15:7! Execute them correctly and we will have everybody saved! If only Paul had known this almost 2000 years ago. He would've prayed the right prayers with the right execution, and then the whole world would have been saved, albeit against their free-will, but saved nonetheless!

The fact is that prayer does work, as it aligns itself with the sovereign work of God and as God providentially works in us and through our prayers.

Point number three: Your partnership with God in prayer is vital!

This is a very troubling point. Many statements are made that were obviously not thought through!

"Why did He make Himself dependent on our prayers?" He did? I thought that God was the Sovereign One, and He was in control! I thought that the "king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will?" (Prov 21:1 ESV) What kind of God are we serving if He can only do things which we request? Surely, this is not a God with His own free will, but a God who is bound by the free-will of man. How is it that God "created all things, and by [his] will they existed and were created," (Rev 4:11) yet we are to believe that He cannot act of His own volition? Is God the genie in the lamp that we rub with our prayers to make Him do things for us, or is He in fact the Sovereign God of the universe? If he acts only upon our prayers, then he is not the God that Paul taught in Col 1:16-17:

(16) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

To confirm this image of a god who is locked up behind some cosmic gate (or a genie stuck in a lamp) until we release him with our prayers, it was also said that "he is waiting for your prayers to open up the gate to make his power flow." All of this is so typical of the free-will mantra that it is actually not so weird when they say that "God is waiting for your partnership in prayer." God is waiting, and until then He is stuck between a rock and a hard place? What must God be thinking while stuck in the genie lamp. "Oh my! How will I save so-and-so if so-and-so does not start praying soon?" The God I serve will, in His sovereign wisdom and power, get so-and-so to pray for so-and-so! My God is not passively sitting in heaven waiting for us to move Him around like a pawn on a chess board. NO! My God is actively in control of every single situation on this planet, from me waking up in the mornings to the wars in the middle east. He has written the script and He is directing the play to bring it to its desired end result!

The statement was also made that "God's listening to my voice depends on me listening to His voice." Of course, no scripture was even given to back this up. Not even one out of context. I find that very strange. People would sit in the pews saying "Amen!" without thinking even once about what is being said. So, before I can pray I must first let God tell me what to pray for? I thought the Bible already told me who to pray for? What about passages like the scripture text for this sermon that was preached (1 Tim 2:1-4)?

Next, to prove that God needs our prayer partnership, the preacher hauled out Elijah and his rain episode from 1 Kings 17-18. After a bit of explanation of what happened there, the question was asked: "If God intended to send rain anyway, why in the world did He want Elijah to pray?" I would say that it is quite evident! If God sent the rain anyway, people would not have known that it was God who sent it. It would simply have been another day of rain after a period of drought! The fact that God used Elijah in this scene is because He wanted a spokesperson to explain what was going to happen in order to prove to them that God indeed did send the rain.

Finally, the last point in the sermon: What can our prayers accomplish?

According to the sermon, it accomplishes a few things:
- "Help to remove spiritual blindness." The verse to prove this is 2 Cor 4:3-4:

(3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I must be blind, but I cannot see how this passage speaks of our prayers. In the context it clearly speaks of the preaching of the gospel that was handed to Paul. It is the preaching of the unadulterated gospel that opens eyes. Prayer is a preparatory "tool" (for a lack of a better word). It prepares the hearts of those we preach to. It doesn't accomplish the work of the gospel.

- "Our prayers bring revelation, conviction of sin and repentance." No Biblical proof is given. It is in the preaching of the gospel that revelation comes to the hearts of men (Rom 10:14-15). Jn 16:8 says that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts the world of sin, not our prayers. Once again, we must not confuse prayer and preaching. Prayer cannot do the work of preaching the gospel. Further, it is God's knidness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25)

- "Help to line up divine circumstances." I suppose that this is true in a sense. However, my comments further up (genie?) should clear up any thoughts on this issue.

- "Release people as harvesters." This is true in a sense. We need to pray that the the Lord sends out harvesters. God will be the One to send the people out as harvesters. We all understand that prayer cannot do this directly, but God will do so in response to our obedient and faithful prayers in this regard. Does God do this anyhow, even when we are not praying? Of course! Yet, we must still pray!

- "It breaks down Satan's stronghold." The scripture text here is 2 Cor 10:4-6.

(1) I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!-- (2) I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. (3) For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. (4) For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (5) We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (6) being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
(2 Cor 10:1-6 ESV)

When it comes to spiritual warfare, there have been many abuses, obviously encouraged by books like This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti.

As we turn to our passage in 2 Cor, we find that Paul is answering a complaint against his ministry in verses 1-2. Some in the Corinthian church have said that Paul is "meek when face to face" with them and "bold toward [them] when absent." They therefore concluded that Paul was not walking in the Spirit, but "according to the flesh." It is from here that Paul writes in verses 3-6 concerning spiritual warfare.

First, "we are not waging war according to the flesh," meaning that Paul did not execute his ministry in the flesh, since he was divinely called by Jesus Christ Himself (Ac 9:1-19). Paul?s preaching is not in the flesh, but it has "divine power to destroy strongholds."

It is only through the preaching of the gospel that people can come to a saving knowledge of Christ. There are no mystical ways through which God works! God has chosen the base things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:27). The teaching of the cross is foolishness to the unsaved; yet, it is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor 1:18). Our spiritual warfare is not based on human wisdom (1 Cor 1:21). The warfare we are speaking of here is not based on commanding demons everywhere to leave (would that not be great, since we would simply command them to leave the earth? Why stop at our cities?), but it is based on the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel which is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16), not the wisdom of men (1 Cor 1:25) which is simply warfare in the flesh.

When Paul writes that "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ," (2 Cor 10:5) he clearly does not mean we are binding demons everywhere. Paul?s language here seems to refer to subtle philosophical rhetoric and arguments with no basis in the gospel. He refers to the godless opinions of men raising themselves against "the knowledge of God." How are these thoughts taken captive for Christ? It is through the preaching of the gospel that God?s power works to take "every thought captive to obey Christ."

It was said on this point, that "if you don't pray, they stay in prison." There is a bit of illogic here in this sermon. It seems that because we are told to pray for the unsaved, it is believed that if we don't they won't come to believe! Scripture does not say this at all. It simply says that we must pray for the unsaved. It never says that if we do not pray they will not come to believe!

This sermon, in my opinion, shows a lack of knowledge as to how and when God works. It shows a certain level of indoctrination by groups such as the Word-of-Faith crowd, I believe, since this is their trademark. Yet, on the other hand, this is also very much what Arminianism believes as a whole. No level of exegesis was demonstrated in this sermon.

Do not get me wrong, I believe that we should pray, at every opportunity. However, prayer is not a formula that we can use to release the genie or move the pawn.

Is God impotent, or perhaps just incompetent that He cannot get His purposes to be fulfilled in the earth?

This is not my God! My God, Jesus Christ, is in control of everything and everyone, and holds the destinies of all people in His hands!

Just thinking...

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