Written by Dan LaValla Monday, 27 May 2013 00:00

It is interesting to observe attitudes and listen to comments from pastors and church leaders with respect o how churches should approach and utilize strategic planning and numbers in a church context. Thomas S. Rainer’s March 4thblog post is very relevant to this topic, which he titled, “Ten Rules of Thumb for Healthy Churches” (http://thomrainer.com/2013/03/04/ten-rules-of-thumb-for-healthy-churches/). Here, he writes, “Using rules of thumb to guage church health is problematic because they are, well, rules of thumb. There will always be exceptions, extenuating circumstances, and even disagreements on the right metrics….Please let wisdom prevail.” Ironically, the same day he posted this piece, in response to a reader’s post outside of the states, he admittedly changed his title to “Ten Rules of Thumb for Healthy Churches in America.”

A personal friend who is a leader in his church recently said to me with respect to the declining numbers in his church, “Looking at the numbers (attendance and giving) is not a healthy way of managing or growing a church; it is important that we keep our eyes on the Lord to see what He is doing and discern if we are doing what He wants us to be doing.” Personally, being a numbers guy, I thought to myself in an unspiritual manner, “Yeah, a good way to keep your church on the decline it to keep your head in the sand and ignore the numbers until your church has to close its doors one day.” Instead, I replied with a much more compassionate tone, “While it can be unspiritual to look to numbers in a selfish manner or in a way that puffs up pride and provides a means of confidence independent of who we are in God (much like King David in 1 Chronicles 21 when he took the census of Israel), looking at numbers to help make a strategic decision and devise a plan of action can also be a wise thing to do (as Jesus commends the King who counts his troops before going to war against another king in Luke 14:31-32 as a metaphor for illustrating the importance to counting the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus before one decides to go down such a path).

So here are four guiding principles from Proverbs that should be kept in mind with respect to strategic planning and tracking numbers in the context of managing a church or parachurch organization:

  1. In a missional context, the emphasis is on discerning God’s mission for your church or parachurch organization and what its role is in fulfilling God’s mission within its specific context. See the importance of discerning God’s Spirit in my earlier post “When God Interrupts Your Day” http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/faculty-blog/96-regular-content/600-when-god-interrupts-your-day. Proverbs 16:3 highlight this point, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.”
  2. While it is true that while people have the ability to make their plans, and the Lord has the final say to approve or thwart such plans (Proverbs 16:1). This does not mean that we should not plan! Proverbs 14:22 tells us that planning does facilitate results, “Those who plot evil will go astray, just as those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness (Proverbs 14:22).
  3. While it is important to establish strategic plans and work to achieve the goals laid out in these plans, people must be willing to be flexible and adjust such plans in response to what God is doing as Proverbs 16:9 states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord directs their steps.”
  4. In the management of churches and parachurch organizations, leaders should not use numbers as a means of selfish gain or defining personal success, failure, or prestige; rather, as a means of discerning the health of one’s church or parachurch in relation to God’s calling. As Proverbs 16:2 states, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves as vice chair of the Ministry Board and chair of the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church in Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.


Written by David Lamb Friday, 24 May 2013 00:00

“Are you excited about Psalm 137?” 

I was asked this question during a job interview in England in the spring of 2005.  (I didn’t start teaching at Biblical until 2006.) 

People generally aren’t excited about Psalm 137 since it ends with a blessing being pronounced upon people who bash babies against rocks. 

“Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9).

Shocking, I know.  Why is this in the Bible?  We’ll come back to this question. 

Psalms 137 is called an imprecatory psalm because it includes a curse or imprecation against evil doers or enemies of the psalmist.  Previous blogs in this series have looked at Psalm 1, Psalm 23 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), Psalm 13 (a lament) and Psalm 51 (a repentance psalm).  There is only one psalm that generally characterized by imprecation (Psalm 109), but many psalms have imprecatory sections in them (e.g., Psa. 35:4-8; 55:15; 58:6-10; 69:22-28; 109; 139:19; 143:12). 

Perhaps the most shocking example comes from a familiar psalm.  Psalm 139 begins with “you have searched and known me” (139:1), moves into the pro-life section in the middle, “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (139:13) but then ends with, “Oh, that you would kill the wicked…I hate them with perfect hatred” (139:19, 22).  Apparently they weren’t fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Why is this type of language in the Scripture?  I didn’t have a good answer about Psalm 137 during my interview that day (and it may have cost me the job). 

If someone were to ask me today, “Why is baby-bashing blessed in the Bible?” I’d say, “I don’t know.”  But here are three things to think about. 

First, just because someone does or says something in Scripture doesn’t mean that God authorizes that act or speech.  Abraham deceives Pharaoh about his wife and sleeps with his wife’s servant Hagar but neither of those deeds is endorsed by God.  Job’s friends say a lot of unhelpful things to their friend, some which sound good, yet their speech is condemned by God at the end of the book (Job 42:7).  Before we decide to model our behavior on Psalm 137:9, we need to ask, “How does this message fit in to the rest of Scripture?”  Scripture does not endorse baby bashing.  The psalmist, not God, is speaking in Psalm 137:9

Second, even though Jesus reminds us that evil thoughts matter (Matt. 5:28), it is better to speak about doing something violent, than actually performing a violent deed.  Yes, focusing on violence by speaking about it can lead to violent behavior, but speech can also be a way to vent and express violent thoughts, which can reduce the likelihood of violent outcomes.  Also, the psalmist is expressing this infanticidal idea in the midst of a psalm of lament to God (“Remember, O LORD…” Psa. 137:7).  God isn’t turned off or shocked by this type of language.  God welcomes our deepest, darkest and most intense thoughts and emotions.

Third, we need to be cautious about condemning the speech of people who recently witnessed the violent deaths of their own children.  The previous verse makes it clear that the Israelites were just asking for an eye-for-an-eye type justice, “Blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us!” (Psa. 137:8).  I can’t imagine how these parents would have felt about the people who committed atrocities against their beloved sons and daughters.  By praying about their thoughts of retribution, giving them up to the righteous judge of the earth,these people are taking a first step which willhopefully lead them to a place called forgiveness.

We may feel uncomfortable with this type of cursing language, but it’s in the Bible, so we need to figure out what to do with it.  In the May 2013 edition of Christianity Today, Russell Moore compared hip-hop music (some Christians also feel uncomfortable with hip-hop) to imprecatory psalms (check out the link here): “If country and gospel music are in the company of psalms of lament, hip-hop is in the territory of psalms of imprecation.”

Jesus teaches that we should bless those who curse us (Luke 5:28), but he also curses, and not only fig trees (Mark 11:12-24), but also people who are religious hypocrites (Matt. 23).  Jesus seemed to save his most extreme language toward people who would have been considered religious. 

What are some worthy targets of a prayer of imprecation?  If you were to pray a prayer of cursing like the psalmist during your next church prayer meeting, might that wake up a few of your fellow prayers?

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.


Written by Derek Cooper Wednesday, 22 May 2013 00:00

In my recently published book, Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths, I discuss the six major non-Christian “stories” or religions of the world. As I teach these religions in classrooms and churches and discuss them with friends and neighbors, I have consistently uncovered several myths many Christians believe about each of these religions. 

In the first two blogs, I wrote about the false belief that Christianity is the only religion with a Savior as well as the common notion that Hinduism believes in many gods. As I showed, both of these assumptions are not true. 

In this blog, I will discuss the third myth: All, or at least most, Muslims are Arabs.

Of all the different religions today, Islam is the one that receives the most attention. No matter whether you are listening to the radio, reading a newspaper, or watching the local news, reports of Muslims, ostensibly violent ones, are rampant. Many of these reports focus on Arab Muslims, especially in light of the recent Arab Spring and the Syrian war. Because of such media attention in the Middle East, coupled with the basic knowledge most people have that Muhammad, the father of Islam, was Arab, many assume that Islam must be an Arab religion. 

Now, of course, it is true that Muhammad was Arab and that Islam is the dominant religion, by far, in the Middle East. However, nobody assumes that because Jesus was Jewish, Christianity is exclusively, or even predominantly, a Jewish religion. Nor do most people regard Buddhism as an Indian religion despite the fact that the Buddha was Indian and that Buddhism emerged out of India. Instead, most people assume that Christianity is a non-Jewish religion—mostly European—and that Buddhism is a southeastern or eastern Asian religion, originating perhaps in China or Tibet. 

In point of fact, I must first clarify that the Middle East does not equal Arab. Two of the largest countries in the Middle East—Turkey and Iran—are not Arab at all. The term Middle East is unfortunately amorphous; if we reasonably broadened it to include Central Asia, the percentage of Muslim Arabs would dwindle even further in relation to the non-Arab population in countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. 

Here are the facts. Nearly 80% of Muslims are Asian or African. Stated differently, of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, less than 20% are Arab. In fact, the countries with the five largest numbers of Muslims worldwide are all non-Arab countries. 

Ranking by Size


Population by Millions
















As these statistics indicate, it is more accurate to conclude that Islam, if anything, is an Asian religion. In fact, according to the Pew Forum on Religion (pewforum.org), predictions for the next couple of decades indicate that Asian countries will continue to boast the largest populations of Muslims worldwide. Of the ten countries to have the largest Muslim populations, only two of them—Egypt and Iraq—contain sizeable Arab populations which speak Arabic. 

Throughout Islamic history, it is indisputable that Arabs—including their Arabic culture, thought, and language—have played a significant role in the development of Islam. And the very fact that the Qur’an was given (and later recorded) in Arabic and that the Kaaba, a holy shrine in Mecca, is located in Saudi Arabia ensures Arabic influence. Yet Arabs are today a small percentage of Muslims in the world today. 

Truth be told, much of the historical antagonism between Muslims and Christians during the medieval and modern periods did not necessarily pivot on an inherent antagonism between say, European Christians and Arab Muslims. In many ways, today as in the past, Islam has been an Asian religion. For it was Central Asians like the Turks who ultimately wrested Christian control out of the eastern Mediterranean, and it was the Mongols who were the architects of one of the largest and most powerful empires in world history, stretching from Japan to Russia, and wiping out the (Nestorian) Christian population in the process. 

In the future, Christianity and Islam will continue to be the two most influential religions on the planet. Because these religions both believe in their universality and that they alone convey the truth about God, humankind, and the world, competition between them will fiercely persist. The tension, in other words, has less to do with ethnic differences and more to do with their common and singular vision for universality. In the end, and unlike inclusive religions like Hinduism or Baha’i, either Christianity or Islam is true. 

In this three-part series, we have dispelled three common myths many people believe about world religions. If you would like to read more about other religions and learn how to respond to them as a Christian, I encourage you to read Christianity and World Religions. You won’t be disappointed!

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of World Christian History at Biblical, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. Derek’s most recent book, which was written for classroom use, church groups, and for lay readers, is titled Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths. His faculty page can be found here.


Written by Sam Logan Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is absolutely no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins.

My first blog on this subject explored briefly the “no” answer and my second blog examined biblical evidence for the reality of just such a hierarchy.  The point of this blog will be to make a few very tentative suggestions about the specific nature of this hierarchy.

I emphasize “very tentative.”  My previous blog was based on general “deductions” from Scripture but those deductions seem to me to be good and necessary (to use the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith).  I believe that the deductions contained is this blog are, indeed, “good,” but I would hesitant to say that they are “necessary.”However, since this is precisely the area where “the rubber hits the road” in terms of the actions and attitudes of individual Christians and of the Church of Jesus Christ, I will nevertheless suggest some possible “good” deductions.

Before I do, however, I would like to be open and frank about one thing I will NOT be doing.  I will NOT be basing my deductions on the frequency with which a certain sin is mentioned in the Bible.  Rightly or wrongly, I interpret the frequency (or infrequency) with which some sins are mentioned as being one of those matters which are directly related to the specific cultures within which God gave His word to His people.   Many doctrines which the church (and I) regard as crucial (the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, etc.) are not mentioned frequently but this does not mean that they are less important because of their infrequency.  Similarly, some actions that can be taken today (for example, genetic and gender manipulation) were unknown to the cultures of the Bible but this does not mean that those actions are therefore biblically “neutral.”

1.  The consequence of Acts 5

I mentioned this passage in my previous blog.  It is both evidence of a hierarchy and a suggestion about what the “worst” sins may entail.  Here is the relevant section of that passage:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  [Emphases added.]

This passage makes no comment about the eternal destiny of Ananias and Sapphira but it does seem to indicate that lying to God and testing the Spirit of the Lord are, in at least some ways, especially heinous and, on that basis, warrant the specific temporal judgment of physical death. 

2.  The consequence of Joshua 7

The story of Acts 5 is foreshadowed in Joshua 7.  There, the Israelites are repulsed by the army of Ai and Joshua falls down before the Lord and asks why He was not with His people.  Here is the Lord’s response to Joshua:

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.  [Emphasis added] 

Again, temporal punishment is directly related to “lying to God.”  Here, of course, the Lord offers a “way out” but that way is no more available to those who had been killed by the forces of Ai than way any “way out” available to Ananias and Sapphira.  So again, “lying to God” seems to be especially heinous and, on that basis, warrants a specific temporal judgment.

3.  The consequence of Isaiah 58

Finally, there is a very different emphasis throughout Scripture, one found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It finds especially clear expression in Isaiah 58, where, in the context of threatening temporal judgment on the Northern Kingdom, God says this to and through His prophet:

Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.

The Lord tells Isaiah that His people will protest like this:

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

And the Lord responds to this protest with these words:

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

Clearly (I think!), the Lord is basing His temporal judgment of the Northern Kingdom at least in part on how His people treated the weak, the oppressed, the hungry.

And the importance of this issue is reflected in the following words of Jesus from Matthew 25 which, though probably relating to eternal judgment rather than to temporal, makes it unmistakably clear how the Lord sees these matters:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

In these passages and in many others as well, the kind of active obedience that Scripture requires focuses specifically on care for those who are weak . . . exactly as Jesus cared for us when we were mired in our own weakness and sin.

My conclusions from all of this?  There are two:

First, in terms of temporal realities, which is where we all live now, any affirmation regarding the things of the Lord that we know to be false is especially heinous and is grounds for severe temporal judgment, both by God Himself and by God’s people.  We are not talking about mistakes or errors of judgment or even faulty doctrine here.  We are talking about conscious lying in the specific context of the faith.  One example – consciously and intentionally exaggerating the effectiveness of one’s ministry.  Sharing encouraging facts is one thing; intentionally overstating ministry success is something else entirely.

 Second, in terms of temporal realities, which is where we all live now, ignoring or failing to minister adequately to the weak, the poor, the hungry, the sick – such delinquencies are especially heinous and are grounds for severe temporal judgment, both by God Himself and by God’s people.

Thank God (and I mean that literally) that the judgments mentioned in the previous two paragraphs are temporal, not eternal.  Thank Jesus that He has borne the eternal judgment for ALL the sins of ALL of His people (see my first blog in this series).  But temporal judgment is real and, even more important, temporal judgment reflects the fact that the behavior being judged is an offense, a “slap in the Face,” to the very God who has redeemed us by the blood of His only begotten Son.  And it just doesn’t get much worse than that!

As I said, these are truths that I deduce from Scripture.  I think they are good, though perhaps not necessary, deductions.  But I am really eager to hear back from readers of this blog.  What do YOU think Scripture teaches?  Are there “temporal” judgments in the post-New Testament era?  If there is enough interest in this topic, I may continue exploring such issues as the possibility that God has temporal judgment in store for the United States because of things that we, as a nation, have done or are doing.   

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  


Written by Sam Logan Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins.

My previous blog explored briefly the “no” answer while this blog and the next one will explore the “yes” answer.

We must admit that there is no direct and specific Scriptural evidence in support of answering “yes” to this question.   But that, of course, is true of many doctrines which we regard as clear Scriptural teaching.  One example of this would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  That doctrine is, correctly in my judgment, deduced from numerous Scriptural passages such as Genesis 1:26  [“Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness”], where the “us” and the “our” are grounds for deducing, at the very least, plurality in God.

Further, many of the historic orthodox statements of faith specifically provide warrant for using deduction in the formation of doctrine.  The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture “ (emphasis added).  Of course, all churches, including (perhaps especially) those for which the Westminster Confession is regarded as authoritative, provide numerous examples of in-fighting over just what is and what is not “good and necessary consequence,” but my point is that all churches do, at some point, utilize deduction in reaching doctrinal conclusions. 

So we must “deduce” a “yes” answer from Scripture.  But can we?  If so, which specific Scripture passages?

1. The Book of Leviticus

The Book of Leviticus is full of God’s commandments to His people.  Chapter and chapter after chapter provides direct and infallible instruction with regard to what God’s people are to do, what they are not to do, and what happens if they disobey.  And over and over again, God Himself makes distinctions among the sins in terms of what is needed to “pay for” each of the sins.  Chapter Five is particularly specific in indicating that different sins warrant different sacrifices.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

2.  Acts 15

The entirety of this chapter seems to deal specifically with the question of what ceremonial laws are SO IMPORTANT that even the Gentiles must keep them.  And the conclusion is equally clear:  “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”  Whatever the reason for this particular distinction, there can be no question that a very specific distinction is being made.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

3. I Timothy 3

The same is true on the “positive” side.  As Paul outlines the qualifications of “overseers,” he mentions numerous spiritual characteristics that are required of such persons.  He could simply have told Timothy that overseers must conform to all the commands mentioned in Scripture; instead, he identifies certain qualities which must be present in those who would lead Christ’s church.  Of course, overseers should obey the whole law of Christ but they must have these specific qualities.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

So there does seem to be Scriptural grounds on which to deduce that there is a hierarchy of sins. 

But one final point needs to be made before moving, as I will do in my next blog, to discuss what sins seem to be “worst.”

That final point picks up on my argument in the previous blog that ANY sin renders an individual personally disqualified for eternal life in the presence of the Triune God.  If that is the case, what difference does it make if some sins are more “serious” than others.  All three of the above-cited passages help us to answer this question.

Eternal punishment for sin is not the only punishment about which the Bible speaks.  Some sins, whether committed by the regenerate or by the unregenerate, bring temporal judgment on the sinner.  Take, for example, the story of Ananias and Sapphirain Acts 5 (which I will discuss more fully in my next blog).  They sinned by lying to God’s representative and, by inference, to God Himself.  And they received temporal punishment for that sin – they both were killed.  Scripture does not comment on their eternal destiny and we should not either.  But it is clear that this particular sin produced particular immediate temporal judgment.

Similarly, as in the I Timothy passage quoted above, certain forms of obedient behavior are regarded as essential for temporal offices and/or activities.  Paul is not telling Timothy in I Timothy 3 that only those possessing the qualities he names will go to heaven.  He is simply saying that those qualities are necessary for the office of an overseer.  Therefore, we should, I believe, regard those specific forms of obedience as related to temporal, not eternal, realities. 

So arguing that there is, in one sense, a hierarchy of sins does not involve us in any form of “salvation by works” theology.  It simply reflects accurately Scriptural teaching.

But what are the “worst” sins?  I will try to address this question in my next blog.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  











Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 15 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is absolutely no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins. 

This blog will explore briefly the “no” answer while my next two blogs will explore the “yes” answer.

So – in defense of answering “no,” to our question, here are a few points:

1.  The nature of God

Here is where all discussions of subjects such as these must begin, with the character of the Lord God.  He is not “largely good.”  He is not even “mostly good.”  He is, in His very nature, absolute perfection.  Part of that perfection is His holiness, His purity, His righteousness.  J. I. Packer’s Knowing God is the best book I know in terms of giving a clear picture both of who God is and what this means. 

Isaiah gives a clear picture:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In light of who God is, even the slightest sin is an abomination.  Any sin is sufficient to separate us from God precisely because the Lord of hosts is holy, holy, holy.  No hierarchy here!

2.  The need for absolute and constant obedience

Jonathan Edwards, in his treatise on “Original Sin” provides two superb examples in response to theoretical claims that a “preponderance” of obedience is adequate.

Therefore how absurd must it be for Christians to object, against the depravity of man’s nature, a greater number of innocent and kind actions, than of crimes; and to talk of a prevailing innocence, good nature, industry, and cheerfulness of the greater part of mankind! Infinitely more absurd, than it would be to insist, that the domestic of a prince was not a bad servant, because though sometimes he contemned and affronted his master to a great degree, yet he did not spit in his master’s face so often as he performed acts of service. More absurd, than it would be to affirm, that his spouse was a good wife to him, because, although she committed adultery, and that with the slaves and scoundrels sometimes, yet she did not do this so often as she did the duties of a wife. These notions would be absurd, because the crimes are too heinous to be atoned for, by many honest actions of the servant or spouse of the prince; there being a vast disproportion between the merit of the one, and the ill desert of the other: but infinitely less, than that between the demerit of our offenses  against God, and the value of our acts of obedience.   

No hierarchy here!

3.  The need for active internal as well as external obedience

Because of who God is, it is required that His creatures not only avoid those behaviors which He proscribes; it is equally required that they perform every single one of the duties which He commands.  And even THAT is not all – it is further required that God’s creatures do all that He commands out of a heart’s disposition which “relishes” His glory most of all.

In his discussion of “Original Sin,” Jonathan Edwards makes this point:

The sum of our duty to God, required in his law, is LOVE; taking love in a large sense, for the true regard of our hearts to GOD, implying esteem, honor, benevolence, gratitude, complacence, etc. . . .  But it is manifest, that obedience is nothing, any otherwise than as a testimony of the respect of our hearts to God: without the heart, man’s external acts are no more than the motions of the limbs of a wooden image; have no more of the nature of either sin or righteousness. It must therefore needs be that love to God, the respect of the heart, must be the sum of the duty required in his law. It therefore appears from the premises, that whosoever withholds more of that love or respect of heart from God, which his law requires, than he affords, has more sin than righteousness.  [Emphasis added] 

Whoever, therefore, does not love God as much as God should be loved is a living offense in the sight of God.  The slightest “want” of love to God is, in itself, sin.  No hierarchy here!

4.  The necessity of Jesus

Because of items #1 and #2,

“None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3: 10 – 12)

And Paul’s argument through the rest of Romans 3, 4, and 5, is that precisely because ANY sin condemns the sinner,  Jesus’s life and death and resurrection were all necessary if anyone was to be saved: 

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  (Romans 5: 18) 

Just as the very character of God demands perfect obedience and just as that demand includes positive action and motivation, so the redemptive work of Jesus Christ makes it clear that the price He paid is both essential and adequate for every single sinner who turns to Him.  No hierarchy here!

Therefore, it seems completely clear that, in one sense, the answer to our question must be, “No, there is no hierarchy of sins.”

And yet, . . . 

Check back tomorrow to see if there might be another way in which this question should be answered.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  











Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 13 May 2013 00:00

A few years ago, in a meeting of a few Christian prosecutors, I learned that these individuals (from 5 different states) had never remembered a pastor attending court with a victim of sexual abuse. However, these individuals remember numerous times when pastors attended hearings in support of the alleged offender. One of the prosecutors recalled one sad conversation while sitting in court with a young victim. This child said, “Does this mean that God is on his side?” (since her pastor was sitting with the offender).

You can understand how this kind of thing happens. The offender is in dire need of character witnesses to mitigate the evidence of their abuse. They need others to stand up for them and swear that such things could never be true of an upstanding person such as this offender. The victim usually makes no such demand/request and so, often fails to be supported.

Think this is just something that happened in the past? At a sentencing hearing for Rev. Jack Schaap, it was noted by the DA that the courts had received more than 100 letters asking for leniency and providing excuses (e.g., work, medical problems) for why he sexually abused a teen girl.  

Ways Pastors Can Support Victims

I want to commend this document for you to consider 12 ways a pastor/theologian can participate on a multidisciplinary team to care for victims. What are some of these ways?

  1. Clergy support to victims during criminal proceedings
  2. Supporting the work and purpose of abuse protection officials to the congregation
  3. Empowering victims to divulge; empowering offenders to confess
  4. Educating the larger world as to how offenders use distortions of faith to abuse
  5. Presiding over prevention strategies for churches and communities.

This paper does a great job illustrating many ways church leaders and theologians can be deeply involved in the healing and preventing of sexual abuse of children.

It is time for us to improve the image of the church in the protection and care of victims of abuse.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical and the Seminary’s newest initiative, Global Trauma Recovery Institute. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.



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