Sunday, February 24, 2008

Humanism v. The Centrality of God

Chairman Justin led our discussion the fortnight ago (February 9), on the first of his series entitled “End Time Deception in the Church.” We learned that the term “end times” pertain to the times of Paul and the early church, to now, all the way until The Lord Jesus Christ returns physically.

Websters-Online dictionary defines Deception “a misleading falsehood.” In other words, it is falsehood that will mislead. If it were an obvious falsehood, it would not be so deceptive. That’s why this subject of Deception in the church can be very tricky.

Sometimes we will sound like we’re just splitting hairs. Sometimes, it will challenge us to question teachings or doctrines that we thought were right or correct.

This is why we desperately need God's Holy Spirit to ground us firmly in the Bible: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12; written to Jewish followers Christ, who were being tempted/encouraged to return to Judaism or at least to water down their belief in the absolute supremacy/Lordship and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.)

Let's pray that these difficulties will convince us of how insufficient we humans really are and how badly we all need to depend on God, always.

The primary text that Justin used was 2 Thessalonians chapter 2: 1-4. (Please right-click on the link for the option to open in a new window.) This passage clearly instructs its readers not to believe false reports about Christ (particularly about His “early” return) that seem so believable. Verses 3 and 4 commands:

3Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”

Note how this “man of lawlessness” intends to put himself at the very center of all that is worshipped. Yet shouldn’t God alone be at the very center of our worship (worth-ship)?

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." (Colossians 1:16-18)

Should anything else be of greater concern to us than Christ’s Lordship? Christ’s Supremacy over all things? Should we have a greater passion for anything else than Christ’s Dominion and Authority?

Chairman Justin’s original plan was then to talk about the deception or falling away that will happen, as manifested in particular movements or groups: Liberation Theology/Social Gospel (which stresses freedom from neediness and injustice); Prosperity Gospel/Name-It-And-Claim-It/Word of Faith Movement (which stresses how God wants you to be happy); Ecumenical Movement (stresses unity above doctrinal purity); the New Age Movement (stresses how mankind can benefit from the powers of nature/creation) and so on.

(Due to unexpected changes in work schedules, Justin had to beg off developing and leading the second study for this Friday night. So I was assigned to prepare this night's session, picking up where we last left off.)

What we noticed with all of the groups mentioned above (Liberation Theology, Prosperity Gospel, Ecumenical Movement, etc.) was that their errors (as well as whatever errors we may have, ourselves) can be traced to “Humanism,” or putting mankind/ouselves above everything else; or putting mankind’s interests as our Number One priority, instead of Jesus Christ’s Lordship. defines Humanism as “a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests…”

It’s as if, what matters to man (mankind) is what matters the most.

Even worse, we might sometimes be led to believe that we are truly being Godly when we put mankind first. (Ever notice how some people are regarded as “good” or "truly Godly" Christians by how good they are with people, regardless of whether they actually believe that Jesus Christ rose from the grave or not? Or whether they believe in the Trinity, or Jesus' Virgin Birth or not? or in Christ's glorious physical return or not?)

By the way, the term "humanism" was coined in 1808. It was based on the 15th century Italian term umanista, which was used to designate teachers or students of classic non-religious literature. Humanism in the West has since evolved into philosophies and movements "placing the human being as the central value and concern, in such a way that nothing is above the human being and no human being is above another." (Please right-click on the link for the option to open in a new window.)

However, “humanist” philosphies can be traced back to Confucius, and of course, all the way back to the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 (when Adam & Eve put their interests over & above their obedience to God, their gracious Creator).

Remarkably, “Humanism” isn’t just for humanists (atheists/agnostics). Religious leaders themselves can have attitudes or doctrines that are centered primarily on human interests.

Read Matthew 22:15-40 for our discussion. (Please right-click on the link for the option to open it in a new window.)

What comes to mind when you hear the word Pharisee? Who were the Sadducees? What is a Herodian? What were they experts on?

The PhariseesReligious leaders and experts on both the written and oral Jewish laws. They were mostly looked up upon by the Jewish masses as the preservers and guardians of Jewish heritage and traditions, upholding the purity of Jewish identity in the light of their occupation by the Hellenistic and pagan Romans. Generally, they were more egalitarian, popular and democratic than the aristocratic Sadducees. This is exemplified by their assertion that "A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest." (A mamzer, according to the Pharasaic definition, is an outcast child born of a forbidden relationship, such as adultery or incest, in which marriage of the parents could not lawfully occur. The word is often, but incorrectly, translated as "illegitimate" or "bastard.") Anyone could join their group as long as they shared the same passion for upholding Jewish laws and traditions, equating these as love for God. Jesus however, exposed their preoccupation with law, tradition, duty and performance in the name of God, as hypocrisy.
(Please right-click on the links for the option to open them in a new window.)

The SadduceesReligious leaders and experts on the Torah, the five books of Moses that make up the first five books of the Old Testament. Generally speaking, the Sadducees were more conservative (or strict) in their religiosity, but more liberal (or progressive) in their politics, than the Pharisees. They were very strict in rejecting beliefs (both oral and written) that cannot be found in the five books of Moses. This is why they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead nor were they expecting any sort of Messiah. They espoused a very literal interpretation of the Torah. To the Sadducees, when the Torah says “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” they will literally expect an eye as the only legitimate replacement for a plaintiff’s injured eye. (The Pharisees though would be more practical in pointing out that what this passage was trying to say was that all punishment must fit the crime: an injured eye should be compensated with something of equal value, but not necessarily a literal eye. Of course, it was how Jesus put this subject in its proper perspective that should remind us of how much we need God's Holy Spirit, to do what is truly right.) While they were less popular with the masses and were a much smaller group than the Pharisees, the Sadducees came from very aristocratic families and were more financially powerful than the Pharisees. This made them very influential in the Sanhedrin. Because they came from the upper classes, they could afford to enjoy the finer things in life. Their "sophistication" meant that they were more appreciative of Greek history, art and philosophy (just like their Roman conquerors), than the Pharisees. Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time the Sanhedrin interrogated Jesus before his crucifixion, was a Sadducee.
(Please right-click on the links for the option to open them in a new window.)

The Herodians Priestly sect of political opportunists, supporters and cronies of King Herod’s dynasty, the puppet leader of Israel under Roman occupation. They were legal and political experts who collaborated with their Roman conquerors, who in turn made the Herodians very influential in government and society (even if they were largely despised by the Jewish masses).
(Please right-click on the link for the option to open it in a new window.)

What were the concerns that these people were confronting Jesus with? Can you see the difference in priorities between the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees on the one hand, and Jesus Christ on the other?

Taxes? International and interpersonal politics? The use of Mosaic law to try and disprove the resurrection? Legalistic priorities?

How does Jesus Christ respond?

When asked about paying taxes to oppressive foreign conquerors, did Jesus engage them with the intricacies of geo-political relationships? Or did He use their question to point them back to God? (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.”)

When asked a silly question to try and disprove the resurrection, Jesus again used their query to point them back to God. (“…Have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”)

When asked about what a legalist's priorities should be, Jesus does the same thing again: use the question to point people back to God. (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.”)

Whatever their differences, the Pharisees, Herodians and the Sadducees shared a desire to entrap and humiliate Jesus by using subjects and topics that they were comfortable with. What Jesus did however, was to expose how far away from God their interests really were.

Interestingly, in v. 36-40, Jesus was only asked which one of the Commandments is the greatest. But he makes a very important distinction by instructing us on the 1st and 2nd Greatest Commandments. Why do you think he makes this distinction between loving God first and foremost with everything you’ve got on the one hand, and loving others as you love yourself on the other?

We should not confuse the two, or neglect one for the other. We do not fulfill the 1st and Greatest Commandment by concentrating on the 2nd. Rather, obeying the 1st should result in us being humbled into observing the 2nd. The Greatest Commandment is to love the LORD your GOD with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself, is very important. Jesus would not have mentioned it if it weren’t. But it is still only secondary. What Jesus was telling the man-centered religious leaders was that they should be GOD-CENTERED: Stop treating God as if He were a given or just a footnote in the background. God has center stage—not us!

Anytime God is not central in our lives, we are guilty of Idolatry. The main problem with Humanism is that it is a form of Idolatry—something or someone else has become the center of our interests, concerns, thoughts or feelings besides the Lord Jesus Christ.

Does being God-centered mean we shouldn’t care for our fellow man as much as we used to, anymore? (Think carefully before you answer…)

When the Gracious Sovereign Provident God of the Bible—the same Holy God who reigns over the minutest details of our lives, the God who works in us to both will and do of his good pleasure, the God whose love compels us—whenever He is at the center of our hearts and minds… that’s usually when we find ourselves less afraid to become vulnerable to our fellow man and to love our enemies… that’s when we become less timid about doing to others what we would have them do to us… to forgive the most painful wrongs done to us… to share the most remarkable truths revealed to us by God in His Word. Being truly GOD-centered should not result in apathy towards our fellow man. Being God-centered does not mean that we love others less, but that we love God even more--more than anyone or anything else, anytime, anywhere.

Does this seem unreasonable? Only if you're god doesn't really deserve that much adoration, maybe.

Does this seem humanly impossible? Exactly! May the Holy Spirit use the weight of these great commandments to bring us down to our knees before God, fully convinced that whatever God the Father requires, only God the Son Jesus Christ can truly fulfill! And may He graciously fulfill it in us for His glory!

The God-Centeredness of God’s Word: Reading The Bible with God at its Center (Application)

According to the International Bible Society-Send The Light website (, the Bible is:

▫ A guide for living… It gives us a road map for the perilous journey of life…
▫ A storehouse of wonderful stories for children and grownups.
▫ A refuge in trouble. People in pain, in suffering, in prison, in mourning, tell how they turned to the Bible and found strength there in their desperate hours.
▫ A treasury of insight as to who we are... We did not come about by chance…
▫ A sourcebook for everyday living... providing standards for our conduct…

But first and foremost, they say that “The Bible is the account of God's action in the world and His purpose with all creation.” (Pls. right-click on the link, for the option to open it in a new window.)

Welsh theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) said: “The Bible is not a book with just an appeal to us to do this, that, or the other—to accept certain ideas and put them into practice… It's not a book teaching morality or ethics or anything else… I'll tell you what it is—it's not a book, I say, that asks us primarily to do anything—it's a great announcement of what God has done! It's God acting!”

He did not say that there is no appeal in the Bible for us to do what we ought to; he did not say there were no commands to follow; he did not say that we cannot learn ethics or morality from the Bible. What he was trying to say was that the Bible is primarily about God. It is God-centered. It is about the God who reveals to us what is right, what is wrong; what is good, what is evil. It is about God revealing His Holiness, His Grace, His Power, His Love, His Wrath, His Dominion, His Lordship, His Authority that knows no end. This is what we should always humbly keep in mind whenever we open our Bibles. It is not about us or what we have to do "for God." Rather, it is about God and what He is doing in all that He created.

"...O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)

The Bible is above all else, about the All-Mighty All-Knowing Holy GOD, the Creator and Sustainer of all things; who is Graciously revealing Himself and patiently gathering unto Himself the objects of His Righteous wrath, to bless or dispense with as He wisely planned. The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself. Keeping this in mind should result in us becoming just a bit more God-centered… which should result in us being able to better discern truth from error… which should result in us seeing how desperately far away from God mankind really is… which then should cause us to reach out to people with The Way, The Truth and The Life, even more.

While being more God-centered ought to humble us into becoming more forgiving of errors, this is no excuse for us to become more tolerant of errors: sinfulness, self-centeredness and disregard for Christ’s absolute Lordship, Supremacy and Sufficiency in all things. Being more forgiving is not the same as being more tolerant. In fact, God-centeredness should make us even more passionate in proclaiming and contending for God's truths: His everlasting Dominion, Authority and Lordship as clearly revealed in Scripture!

Being humble does not make us more God-centered. Being more forgiving, more patient, more passionate in reaching out to others do not make us any more God-centered either. Rather, these traits are merely among the results of being made able to see the centrality of God in all things (that all things and events revolve around Him who caused them into existence for His purpose and Glory). God-centeredness is by grace. A not-so-positive result of becoming God-centered though, is seeing how un-God-centered we all really are--yes, including ourselves. All of us need to become more and more God-centered, moment by moment. It is a life-long learning experience, and it can be a very tumultuous heart-breaking process. Becoming more and more God-centered is not very popular in this man-centered world that we live in.

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, 'Where is their God?' Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." (Psalm 115:1-3)

"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." (Isaiah 46:9-10)

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his path beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his councilor? Who has ever given to God, that Gos should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36)

Ignacio Lacsina

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