“People of the Lie.” Further Thoughts on Holiness.

(I have moved the pod casts about holiness that were posted to this home page on March 8 and 15 to a newly created page entitled “Holiness.”

  1. If you want to access those podcasts, click on “Holiness” in the menu bar above.
  2. If you want to access the blogs of February 15 and 22 to which this post refers, click “Holiness” in the “categories” list to the right. Clicking there will show you the posts for February 15, February 22, and March 2 along with this post for April 26.)

Unconfessed Sin . . .

Scott Peck’s article “People of the Lie,” in The High Calling (pages 2 and 5 of the March-April issue, to access this issue click here ) recalled the concern I expressed in the February 22 blog about the tragedy of unconfessed sin in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. In that blog I suggested that the claim to be “without sin,” though nuanced, has often, in fact, led to unconfessed sin in the lives of people who professed to be holy.  In Peck’s article, which is taken from his 1983 book by the same title, he argues that refusal to admit that we have sin allows sin to go unchecked and produces wickedness. Peck writes as a psychiatrist, but his insight rings true in Christian experience.

produces wickedness . . .

It was Peck’s use of the word “wicked” that got my attention. When I began to reflect on my life-long experience within the Wesleyan-Holiness movement, it appeared that much behavior had been motivated by un-crucified self-centeredness. This seemed to be true not just in one context or institution, but in a broad range of contexts. Even when maintaining certain standards pertaining to matters of dress or entertainment, we have often let things like criticism of others, intimidation, flattery, manipulation, shading of the truth to protect our own image, insistence on one’s own way (often invoking “Biblical” authority), refusal to be reconciled, and refusal to ask for or give forgiveness, go unchecked. Does this list remind you of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21? We have also often failed to be “deeply kind, tender hearted, graciously forgiving one another and making allowance for one another as God in Christ has forgiven us” (Eph 4:32). We have not been “imitators of God, as dear children, walking in love as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us . . .” and thus we have not been “an odor of sweetness” before God (Eph 5:1-2, my own translation of these verses).

which leads to hypocrisy and abuse . . .

Indeed, Peck is correct. Our failure to admit the presence of sin has led to “wickedness.” In our case, often to a hypocrisy in which holiness was defined by certain external standards while sins of the flesh and spirit were ignored provided people used the right words when talking about “holiness.” As per the February 22 blog, this situation has been exacerbated by a superficial approach to sanctification which prematurely called people to a “second experience.” The result was the short-circuiting of a true death to self-centeredness and thus failure to experience genuine fullness of the Spirit and surrender to the lordship of Christ (blog of February 15). When leaders have acted in this way there has been much harm to the body of Christ and to the people under their care, sometimes causing them to turn away from the Lord. One might dare to use the word “abuse.” Scot Peck’s article helped me see the seriousness of this situation, which my former colleague, Dr. Carey Vinzant, has been raising for several years.  We have too often claimed holiness, while actually practicing wickedness.

and calls for true repentance.

In my blog of February 22, I suggested some changes in the way we think about and articulate God’s call for holiness in order to address these concerns. I am still convinced that we need to do some hard re-thinking, re-examining of Scripture, and re-articulation along the lines suggested. However, now I am also convinced that something even more radical is necessary. Sin requires repentance, restitution, and change. (That sentence is intentionally redundant for emphasis—restitution and change are part of true repentance.) God calls us (I’m including myself) to humbly seek His forgiveness and, by the power of His Spirit, to change and to bring healing and restitution to those who have been hurt. Did not the Asbury revivals come when people who claimed to be holy repented of their sin? It is time for triumphalism to end.

Peck’s article was the final link in a chain that has clarified my thinking. Many thanks to the Francis Asbury Society, and to the editor Stan Key, for publishing this article in The High Calling.

 

 

 

When There is No Light

Mike and Deanne

Mike and Deanne

Mike and Deanne, our son-in-law David’s mom and dad, were with us last weekend. We all had a wonderful time. Rosa and I remembered the summer of 2013 when they took us to Ephesus. We took them to Vicksburg and the Old Country Store Restaurant. Somehow the two—Ephesus? Vicksburg?—weren’t quite equal!

Since Mike and Deanne have served for many years in many different parts of the world, we asked them to share in our Sunday school class. Mike began with Isaiah 50:10: “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (ESV).

After reading, Mike asked, “According to this verse, what do we need?” Several class members answered, “light.” “No,” Mike said, “we need trust.” The verse tells us that when we “walk in darkness and have no light” we are called to “trust in the name of the Lord and rely on [our] God.”

God has given us light for right living—remember Ps 119:5: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He has shown us how to “walk in his ways” (Psalm 119:3, ESV) and “obey the word of his servant.”

But we have no light that shows us tomorrow. We strain our eyes in the attempt to pierce the future’s darkness. We plan for various contingencies, but as we move forward into the coming day, we “walk in darkness and have no light.” But our God sees clearly, “the darkness and the light are both alike” to Him (Ps 139:12, NKJV). It is ours to trust Him. Trust includes humility before His majesty, gratitude before His grace given us in Christ, rest in His character as our Savior, and obedience to His will. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV, emphasis added). This is the message of the Bible.

Check out “The Grumpy Theologian”

“The Grumpy Theologian” is a fitting name for my colleague who has begun writing a blog by this title (http://grumpytheologian.blogspot.com/). “Grumpy” in the best way–he is “grumpy” with anything superficial or self-serving. You will be rewarded if you check out his post entitled “What makes good theology.” Here are several quotes to whet your appetite:

Good theology is theology that is good for the soul.  In other words, theology that points us to the God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is good theology.”

“Every so often someone comes along who claims to have figured out everything and rendered the concept of mystery irrelevant by hiding it behind highly technical but thoroughly mundane-sounding terminology.”

Good theology “drives me to think seriously and carefully about my own ideas, and to be vigilant in seeking to meet God as He is rather than some fiction of Him as I would like Him to be.”

Good theology “drives me to ask for God’s help in speaking well about Him to my neighbor because I want my words most of all to be good for my neighbor’s soul.”

The Grumpy Theologian ends this essay most appropriately with:  “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.”

Once again, The Father of mercies and God of all comfort—focus on 2 Corinthians 1:7

The Amphitheater at Ephesus

The Amphitheater at Ephesus


Since my previous post by this title we have continued studying 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in two more Thursday night classes, with four or five of us in the room and our three friends joining us by Skype from Seattle, greater Mobile, and Mexico City. We have become acutely aware that Paul is talking about the severe real-life suffering that he has endured in the Roman Province of “Asia” (verse 8) for the sake of Christ. From Acts we know about the riot in the Amphitheater at Ephesus that was caused by the success of Paul’s Asian ministry (Acts 19:21-41). You can see a bit of this Amphitheater in the attached picture.

When we realize the severity of Paul’s suffering—he says that he had “despaired of life” itself—verse 7 becomes all the more shocking: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (ESV). How can Paul be so sure that the Corinthian believers will share in God’s “comfort” because they share in the same kind of sufferings that Paul has endured? Is “suffering” a guarantee of “comfort”?

Paul is confident that the faithful believer will receive God’s “comfort” in the midst of suffering because God is faithful. As the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” He is the “Father of mercies” and thus the source of the truest and deepest “comfort.” Since He is the “God who raises the dead” He is able to provide “comfort” for those toward whom “the sufferings of Christ” abound. No situation, however dire, is beyond his reach.

Paul is talking, first of all, about the affliction through which we identify with Christ’s suffering because it is endured for the sake of Christ and in order that we might be faithful. Suffering from other sources, however, may well threaten the faithful endurance of the believer. God’s “comfort” is there first of all in the form of grace and power to faithfully persevere in obedience whatever we may face (verse 6). God’s “comfort” may also be expressed in deliverance from peril and danger, as it was for Paul “in Asia” (verse 8). Resurrection life is the ultimate “comfort” offered by the “God who raises the dead.” As Paul says in verse 9, suffering is the occasion for deepening our trust in God.

I often fret in the middle of difficulties because I cannot see God’s solution (come to think of it, if I could “see” the solution, what need would there be for faith?). Paul, however, would have us take “comfort” in God’s “comfort”—even when we don’t see His solution—because we know He is faithful, and we know that the “Father of mercies” “knows our frame” and “remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).

The Book Christian Faith in the Old Testament is here!

I was so excited to get the first copies of my book: Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, February, 2014.
Below is an imaginary interview that highlights the benefit and unique character of this book. I say “imaginary,” because I actually wrote both parts–both the questions, attributed to “Jim,” and the answers, attributed to me.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, 2014, by Gareth Lee Cockerill

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, your book has an interesting title, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. Just what is the purpose of this book?
Cockerill: Thanks for asking that question, Jim. I wrote this book to help ordinary Christian lay people understand the Old Testament as a whole and the vital message of each part of the Old Testament. Modern Christians are often woefully ignorant of the Bible’s first thirty-nine books!

Jim: But why is it so important to understand the Old Testament? Doesn’t the New Testament give us all we need to know about Jesus?
Cockerill: To read the New Testament without the old is like reading only the last chapter of a novel. The New Testament claims that what it says about Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old. The Christ of the New Testament fulfills the promise of God to Abraham, the history of God’s Old Testament people, the longings of the Psalms, the message of the Prophets, and more (see, for instance, Luke 24:27 and Acts 17:2-3). In fact, the Old Testament was the only Bible that the first Christians had.

Jim: I see, that is the reason for your sub-title, The Bible of the Apostles.
Cockerill: Yes, the Apostles began preaching Jesus with no Scripture but the Old Testament.

Jim: What led you to write this book?
Cockerill: Jim, for more than thirty years I have been fascinated with the study of how the Bible fits together and especially with the role of the Old Testament. This passion began in the 1970’s when I was doing my Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. It was fueled by my study of the Book of Hebrews, which draws so heavily on the Old Testament, and nurtured by my teaching of the Bible, both at seminary level here in the United States and while I was serving in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I began to see how grasping the Bible as a whole enriched my understanding of each Biblical book and passage. I saw how comprehension of Scripture’s unity facilitated my students’ understanding. Most of all, I saw how God could use this grasp of the whole Bible to make us more godly.

Jim: I see that you are pretty passionate about the Bible and about its unity! What, exactly, will a lay person get by reading your book?
Cockerill: This book offers three important benefits: (1) The reader will grasp how the Bible as a whole fits together. (2) The reader will come to understand the contribution that each part of the Old Testament makes to the whole. (3) The person who reads this book will gain insight into how each part of the Old Testament applies to us today and helps us live the Christian life. Christian Faith in the Old Testament helps us to identify with God’s people throughout history and to be reshaped by the word of God.

Jim: There are a number of recent books on the meaning of the Old Testament. What makes your book stand out from others?
Cockerill:
• First, this book is written for lay people. It is both understandable and engaging. I was blessed to have several pastors and lay people read the manuscript. Then I took out anything that they did not understand. My son-in-law, Carey Vinzant, who is an excellent stylist, helped me. Thomas Nelson provided excellent editorial service. Furthermore, very chapter has helpful charts and diagrams. My students know that I am very visual!
• Second, the reader can use this book to go straight through his or her Old Testament. Many books on the meaning of the Old Testament rearrange the books in some supposed historical order.
• Third, this book tells you not only how each part of the Old Testament fits into the whole, but how each part applies to us today.

Jim: Great, but is this book only for lay people? What about pastors and students?
Cockerill: This book was written with clarity and without technical jargon for the benefit of lay people. It was, however, written for intelligent people. Theological students and pastors will find it useful for themselves and for ministry. Steve Schellin, Senior Pastor of Southland Community Church, Greenwood, Indiana, has this to say: “As a pastor, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles really connects with me. I will use this well-written and informative book often in my reading, preaching, and teaching. In addition, I will encourage my congregation to read it! Dr. Cockerill helps everyone to grasp the wholeness of Scripture and provides aids to help us live an obedient life that reflects the full-scope of the bible’s teaching.”

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, just one more question. What about the difficulties that some people find in the Old Testament? Do you deal with them?
Cockerill: Jim, this is not a book about Old Testament “difficulties.” It is my conviction that we cannot deal with these “difficulties” until we have a grasp on the Old Testament’s unity and message. Only then do we have a context for deal with these questions. I have focused on helping people grasp this unity. Occasionally, however, when appropriate, I address problems some have raised about the Old Testament.

Jim: Thanks, Dr. Cockerill, for sharing with us about Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. We appreciate what you have done to help us deepen our knowledge of Scripture. I look forward to reading this book.
Cockerill: Thanks, Jim, for the encouragement. There is one more thing I would like to say. I have written with a sense of vocation and the conviction that God wanted me to share the insight he has given me with his people. He has confirmed this conviction with what appear to have been a series of miracles—getting the contract for the book in the first place, completing the book on time despite added responsibilities, and getting the fine endorsements for this book from so many people that I respect. It is a privilege to lay this book at the feet of Jesus to use as he wills.

“The Father of Mercies and God of all comfort”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor 1:3-4 (ESV)

Last night’s Wesley Biblical Seminary class on 2 Corinthians was rich. We were studying 2 Cor 2:3-11 using both the English and Greek text. This class is a wonderful mix of people, men and women of various ages involved in various ministry contexts—all motivated to understand and obey God’s word. There were five of us in the room and three more who joined us by Skype—one in Portland, Oregon, one near Mobile, Alabama, and one in Mexico City. Their three faces on the large TV screen at the end of the room reminded us of news correspondents—we had our correspondent on the west coast, our correspondent on the gulf coast, and our correspondent in Mexico City. We, however, were not interested in the evening news, but in the unchanging but every relevant truth of the Gospel found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.

Together we traced the logical structure of this passage. The God of all comfort who comforted Paul was also the God who would comfort and sustain the Corinthian Christians in the middle of their sufferings for Christ (2 Cor 1:3-7). Paul adds his own testimony to the faithfulness of God in verses 8-11. He begins by praising the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” and ends by urging the Corinthians to join in prayer for his deliverance so that, when God delivers, they, along with many others, will give God thanks.

Our study reminded me of that summer day in 1978 when this Scripture became so precious. I said “summer” day, but I should have said “rainy season” day, for we were in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The person who had been mission coordinator had been forced to return to the US because of a heart problem. There was no one else to do the job but me. The responsibilities were intimidating. My wife Rosa, who knows me well, was afraid that the responsibilities would tear me apart. I had taken the former mission coordinator and his wife to the airport—a round trip that took about six hours. The next day I returned to the airport to meet a visiting General Superintendent. His plane was delayed—when it finally came, he wasn’t on it. I arrived back where we were staying about two o’clock in the morning. The next morning I arose late, preparing for another airport run, but began the day by filling the tub with hot water—this was the only place in our mission where we had hot running water. I was going to have a soaker. It seemed a good idea to have my devotions while sitting in the tub. There I was, reading 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. . .” (ESV). “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” spoke to me and said, “That’s who I am, and, if you will let me, I will give you the “comfort” you need to “comfort” your colleagues and to do this job I have given you for the next year.” I looked up and said, “Lord, that’s a no brainer. If you will give that comfort, I’ll take it!” God did! The year that followed was one of the best in my life. He gave me strength and joy, he enabled me to support my colleagues, and he blessed our ministry.  At the end of our previous term of missionary service I had gone home sick. After that year of God’s comfort we returned to the states with both health and joy. I bear witness—the God of our Lord Jesus Christ is, indeed, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”