The Need For a Blood Sacrifice

“Salvation” series (post #6)

In our last post, we looked at the concept of blood atonement. That is the idea of the innocent (sinless) dying by way of the shedding of blood for the guilty (sinful). Adam and Eve were the first people to learn about blood atonement as God killed two of Eden’s animals, quite possibly lambs, in the wake of the couple eating the forbidden fruit. The animals’ skins served as coverings for Adam and Eve’s bodies, while the animals’ shed blood served as coverings for their sins.

Following that event, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). Presumably, the killing of the animals and the casting out took place on the same day, the day the couple ate the forbidden fruit. The lesson here is that sin, even sin for which you have received atonement, always brings consequences.

Indications are that Adam and Eve settled in a place not far from Eden. Sometime afterward, Eve became pregnant. She gave birth to a son the couple named Cain. Then she bore a second son, and they named him Abel. That’s when things got interesting.

Genesis 4:3-5 says:

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (N.K.J.V.)

Now, the question we need to ask is this: How did Cain and Abel even have a clue that they each needed to bring an offering to the Lord? The obvious answer is that Adam and Eve had taught them about blood atonement. Apparently, Adam and Eve continued to periodically offer up sacrificial animals after they were banished from Eden. Then once Cain and Abel came along, the parents passed the practice down to the sons.

Abel, being a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2), did as he was instructed and sacrificed of the firstborn of his flock. But Cain, being a farmer (Genesis 4:2), went rogue by bringing an offering of his finest fruits and vegetables. And what was the problem with Cain’s offering? It was the same problem Adam and Eve’s fig leaves had once showcased: no blood. Therefore, God rejected Cain’s offering.

You say, “Oh, c’mon Russell, you are reading too much into the story. God could have rejected Cain’s offering for any number of reasons.” Really? Then how do we explain Cain being classified as an apostate in the Bible’s book of Jude? Remember that an apostate is someone who has fallen away from revealed truth. Think about it, the only way that Cain could have gone apostate is for his parents to have revealed the truth to him about forgiveness of sin only coming through blood atonement.

If you know your Genesis, you know that rather than kill an animal and bring it to God, Cain killed Abel. God cursed him for that, after which Cain left home and made his way to a place called Nod, which was east of Eden. At some point, he took a wife — a woman who had to be one of Adam and Eve’s daughters (Genesis 5:5) — and fathered a son through her. The son’s name was Enoch. Cain then built the world’s first city and named it after his son. Enoch was the beginning of the line of Cain, an ancestral line of spiritually lost people who were all doomed to die in the great flood.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Adam and Eve produced another son, Seth. Through Seth, Adam’s line of saved people continued. That line culminated in Noah. And did Adam and Eve teach Seth not only the concept of blood atonement but also the specifics of how to build an altar, kill and animal, and offer the animal up as a sacrifice? Yes, they did. Let me explain how we know this to be true.

One thing you might not have heard about Noah is that he knew about blood atonement and how to offer up blood sacrifices to God. The proof is found in Genesis 8:20. That verse tells us about the first thing that Noah did once the ark was unloaded in the new world. The verse says:

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed on it the animals and birds that had been approved for that purpose. N.L.T.

Someone might ask, “But if there were only two of each kind of animal aboard the ark, does that mean that Noah made those sacrificed animals extinct?” No, the explanation is that God had told Noah before the flood to collect seven (not two) of every type of animal that was “clean” and bring them into the ark (Genesis 7:2). A “clean” animal was a species that was eligible, in God’s eyes, for sacrificing.

The real question, though, is this: Who taught Noah how to build an altar, kill animals, and offer them up as sacrifices to God? Well, it must have been his father, Lamech, who had learned it from his father, Methuselah, who had learned it from his father, etc., etc., etc. all the way back to Seth.

Noah then taught the art to his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. How do we know this? We know it because one of Shem’s descendants, Abraham, periodically built altars in his travels (Genesis 12:7; 12:8; 13:3-4; 13:18; 22:9), and on at least one of those altars he sacrificed a ram (Genesis 22:13). From there on out, we find Abraham’s descendants building altars and, apparently, offering up blood sacrifices upon them. For example, Abraham’s son, Isaac, did so (Genesis 26:25) as did Isaac’s son, Jacob (Genesis 31:54; 33:20; 35:1-7; 46:1).

And you’ve heard of Moses, haven’t you? Sure you have. He was another of Abraham’s descendants. But have you heard that Moses understood the doctrine of blood atonement and the value of a blood sacrifice? What most people don’t realize is that Moses’ first request to Pharaoh concerning the Israelites was not that Pharaoh would release completely from their Egyptian bondage. Instead, the request was for Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to journey three days outside of Egypt and offer up sacrifices to God (Exodus 3:18; 5:3).

As we know, Pharaoh refused that request and dug in his heels against Israel’s God, but in the end God won the victory by laying waste to Egypt through ten devastating plagues. The tenth plague was one in which God killed all the firstborns in Egypt in one night. But none of Israel’s firstborns were killed. Why not? It was because God gave the Israelites highly detailed instructions as to how each family was to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the tops and sides of the door frame of their house. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). This was the beginning of the Jewish holiday known as Passover. Passover is really the celebration of the night that scores of lambs died so that scores of Israelites could live.

Following that first Passover night, Moses ultimately led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There God imparted to them His law. And you’d better believe that He built into that law various commands concerning the offering up of blood sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-17; 3:1-17; 4:1-35; 5:1-13). So, beginning in Exodus 20:1 and running all the way up through the end of the Old Testament, we find the Bible’s record of what we might call “the period of the law.” Naturally, those pages provide us with numerous descriptions of the Jews atoning for their sins by offering up blood sacrifices.

And so we see that what started in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve wound its way down through Noah and his sons, and eventually wound its way down through the centuries of the history of Israel. Even more than that, it continued on even into the early days of the New Testament. That’s when Jesus Christ came upon the scene. He would be the one to bring an end to the necessity of offering up blood sacrifices. He didn’t do away with the doctrinal concept of blood atonement, but He did change how the need for a blood sacrifice would be met. And that’s what we’ll talk about next time. See you then.

 

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Blood Atonement

“Salvation” series (post #5)

When Adam and Eve became sinners by eating of the forbidden fruit, God had all kinds of options as to how He could respond. He could give them a good scolding, pat them on the heads, and say, “Now go about your business.” He could throw down a couple of lightning bolts to kill them on the spot and create another man and another woman to pick up where they had left off in Eden. Or He could delete all of creation, including them, and start the whole Genesis chapters 1 and 2 process all over again from scratch for another try.

But God didn’t do any of these things. Instead, He personally came down to Eden and pronounced various judgments upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent (with the fallen angel Satan still being inside the serpent’s body). And then He did something completely unexpected: He killed a couple of Eden’s animals. Our best guess is that the animals were lambs, but the Bible doesn’t specifically say what type they were.

Okay, so why did God kill those animals? Well, He was working on multiple levels there. First, He wanted Adam and Eve to see firsthand what the horror of physical death looked like. Up until those deaths, they hadn’t had any visual reference on that subject.

Second, since their sinful state had now created a newfound shame within them concerning their nakedness, God had to address the practical need of them requiring clothing. They had tried to meet this need by covering themselves with fig leaves, but those fig leaves weren’t acceptable to God. So, He made them clothes from the skins (hides) of the dead animals. Evidently, He fashioned one set of clothes from each animal.

Third, however, and most important, God killed those two animals to provide Him with a way to forgive Adam and Eve for their sin. You see, what Adam and Eve did not know, because God had never told them, is that He holds to the concept of blood atonement. Blood atonement is the idea that the innocent can die to pay the sin debt owed by the guilty. What did those two animals do to deserve dying? Absolutely nothing. In that sense, they were innocent. So why did God kill them? They died as substitutionary sacrifices for Adam and Eve. It’s that simple.

As Adam and Eve stood there, watching the red blood ooze out from the lifeless bodies of those animals, they must have been aghast. Never before had they seen the stuff that flows through the bodies of humans and creatures. Perhaps they thought, “Oh, this is what God meant when He said concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ‘In the day you eat of it you shall surely DIE.'” Standing there looking down upon those animals, Adam and Eve undoubtedly had a whole new level of appreciation for that warning.

The husband and wife didn’t know it at the time, but God had just evidenced to them a couple of major theological truths that He would later on reveal more fully to the human race. One of these truths is summed up in Leviticus 17:11, where God says to the people of Israel:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. (N.K.J.V.)

This verse explains why God wouldn’t accept Adam and Eve’s fig leaves as coverings for them. Those fig leaves might have covered the couple’s nakedness, but they could never cover the couple’s sins. Why not? It was because those fig leaves didn’t have blood. It’s blood that indicates life, and the only way that God will accept a substitutionary sacrifice is upon the basis of life-for-life. Actually, Adam and Eve’s fig leaves have been called “the world’s first religion.” In other words, it was the human race’s first attempt at addressing the sin problem. But it didn’t work because it didn’t approach the problem in God’s way.

The other major theological truth that God killing those animals evidenced is very similar to the first and is summed up in Hebrews 9:22. There we read these vitally important words:

…and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (N.I.V.)

Here again we see that for Adam and Eve to receive forgiveness for their sin, blood had to be shed. If their problem had been no more than them needing clothes, God could have handled that by merely shearing a couple of sheep, without actually killing the sheep. But Adam and Eve’s problem ran much deeper than that. They were now sinners, and God only forgives sin on the basis of blood shed via literal death. The innocent must die for the guilty. Anything short of that, and the sinner still stands condemned in his or her guilt. In that regard, fleeces from sheep wouldn’t have helped Adam and Eve any more than fig leaves did.

And here’s where we will put a period on this subject for now. Rest assured, though, that we will pick things up from right here in the next post. Now that we understand the concept of blood atonement, how far back it goes for the human race, and the incalculably high value God places upon it in regards to the forgiveness of sin, we can trace the concept down through history. Trust me, it will be an interesting ride. And where will it end? It will end with a man named Jesus dying on a Roman cross. Stay tuned…..

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You Are a Sinner

“Salvation” series (post #4)

Now that we have Biblically determined that there is a God and that He is perfectly holy, we must next turn our attention to ourselves. That’s why I’ve entitled this 4th post in the “Salvation” series “You Are a Sinner.” But please don’t think that I’m singling you out for indictment. The post’s title could just as easily be “I Am a Sinner” or “We Are All Sinners.” The point is, the description “sinner” fits each one of us.

The human race became a race of sinners when its genetic, biological father, Adam, sinned by eating the fruit of the garden of Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While Adam’s wife, Eve, took the lead in that sin by eating the forbidden fruit first, Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam was right there with her when she did it and quickly joined her in the sin.

Actually, Adam eating the fruit was even more blatant sin than Eve eating it. I say that for two reasons. First, it had been straight from God Himself that Adam had received the command not to eat that fruit (Genesis 2:15-16). God hadn’t even created Eve yet when He had told Adam to stay away from that fruit (Genesis 2:18-25). Evidently, then, Eve had received the command from Adam rather than God.

Second, 1 Timothy 2:14 teaches that Eve eating of that fruit can be explained by the fact that she was deceived by the serpent (with the fallen angel Satan demon possessing the serpent’s body and speaking through it). Adam, on the other hand, was not deceived. In other words, Eve didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what they were doing, but Adam did. I’m in no way saying that Eve should get a free pass or that her lack of spiritual discernment should let her off the hook, but her sin really was the result of her being deceived. In Adam’s case, though, he knew perfectly well that biting into that fruit would set him in direct violation to God’s command.

Some have theorized that once Adam saw that his wife had eaten of the fruit, his motivation for joining her in the sin was his great love for her and his desire to remain with her, even in a sin-lessened existence. While this attempted explanation for Adam’s willful disobedience makes some sense on the surface, there is no clear scriptural support for it. What the Bible does is place Adam right alongside Eve standing before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, watching her take some of the fruit and eat it,  accepting the fruit when she hands it to him, and eating the fruit himself (Genesis 3:6). He never objects to what she is doing, and he certainly never stops her. His job as the head of the home was to do his best to keep Eve and himself innocent and righteous, but he failed at doing that.

And so it was with this one catastrophic act that Adam introduced sin not only into his own physical body but into the physical body of each of his future descendants. In doing so, he brought death into his race as well. God had warned him, “…in the day that you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This death is not only a physical death but also a spiritual one.

First, there is the fact of physical death. As Romans 5:12 says:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned… (N.K.J.V.)

It should be noted that the Hebrew wording of God’s warning to Adam literally means “dying you shall die.” This explains not only the fact of physical death itself but also the typical aging process that culminates in death. You see, Adam’s sin didn’t just introduce sin and physical death into his race, it also introduced weakening eyes, weakening hearing, heart disease, cancer, strokes, breathing conditions, backaches, mental disorders, gum disease, lost teeth, sore joints, and all the other physical ailments that we humans must deal with as the aging process takes its toll on each of us before we finally take our last breath. The Bible’s most descriptive and poetic passage on this aging process is Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. Those verses describe the aging body as a silver cord that becomes loosed, a golden bowl that becomes broken, a pitcher that becomes shattered, and a wheel that becomes broken.

But then, second, there is also the fact of spiritual death. Passages such as Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13, and 1 Timothy 5:6 teach that each person is born “dead in trespasses and sins.” To be “dead” in this way cannot refer to physical death because the people being described in these passages are still very much physically alive.

Here again we must take things all the way back to Adam to find the explanation. When Adam ate of that forbidden fruit, he didn’t instantly die physically even though the aging process that would eventually lead to his death was begun. He did, however, instantly die spiritually. What this means is that he instantly became separated from God. He was no longer walking in perfect relationship with God. He was no longer in daily fellowship with God. He was no longer in unity with God. Figuratively speaking, a great gulf now stood between him and his Maker. He was now cut off from God’s spiritual life (Ephesians 4:18) as well as God’s spiritual light (Ephesians 4:18; Romans 1:21; 1 Peter 2:9). For that matter, so was Eve. Thus began the sinful state of the entire human race.

One thing that most people don’t understand is that an individual doesn’t become a sinner the moment he or she commits their first sin. No, that individual commits that first sin because he or she is a sinner. Does a fish swim to become a fish or does a fish swim because it is a fish? You know the answer. Likewise, you don’t sin to become a sinner, you sin because you are a sinner.

And when did you become a sinner? It occurred at your moment of conception in your mother’s womb! In Psalm 51:5, David says of himself, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (N.R.S.V.). To be conceived in sin means that you had Adam’s nature of sin and rebellion against God coursing through you from the first moment the spark of physical life was struck in you. This is the consequence of being a product of the tainted seed that began in Adam’s body and has flowed down through his entire race ever since. A newborn baby might have its mother’s eyes or its daddy’s nose, but there’s no doubt that it has Adam’s sinful nature. And it’s this sinful nature that will inevitably cause the child to commit specific acts of sin as the child grows. For example, Psalm 58:3 says:

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. (N.I.V.)

The conclusion of all this, then, is that the entire human race abides under the sentence and doom of sin. As Ecclesiastes 7:20 says:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (N.A.S.V.)

Likewise, in Romans 3:23 we read:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (N.K.J.V.)

Friend, you’re in this sinking boat and so am I, and in light of the fact that our Creator God is perfectly holy, it’s the worst possible boat in which we could find ourselves. But thank God the story doesn’t end there. Thank God there are more posts to write in this series. Thank God that He loves us enough to have provided a way by which we can have all our sins forgiven and be brought back into right relationship with Him. This provision has come to be known as the plan of salvation, and in my next post I’ll lay out the details and particulars of this plan. So be sure to come back for that post, and we’ll discover together how unholy sinners can get to spend eternity with a holy God. Until then, hang in there fellow sinner. We’re getting to the good part now.

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God Is Holy

“Salvation” series (post #3)

If I traveled around America and asked each person to give me a one-word description of God, I’d surely get a variety of answers. I feel safe in saying, though, that the answer I’d hear the most is “Love.” And, for the record, that is a perfectly correct and thoroughly Biblical answer. As John 4:8 says:

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (N.K.J.V.)

The problem, however, with us Americans being so comfortable with God as a God of love is that far too many of us wrongly believe that His love always overrides His other characteristics. For example, the false doctrine of universalism springs from the depths of God’s love. Universalism is the idea that God loves each human being so much that, in the end, He will not allow even one of them to be separated from Him for eternity or to suffer everlasting punishment. Obviously, this teaching flies directly in the face of passages such as Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28; 25:46, Mark 9:43-48, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 1:7, and Revelation 21:8 just to name a few.

So, is God love? Yes, He is. But what we must understand is that the Bible doesn’t present love as God’s chief characteristic. That place of priority goes, instead, to holiness. Think about it, if love is all there is to God, the Bible wouldn’t include all its passages about hell fire and eternal judgment. God’s love would render those null and void.

I’ll cite some passages here that speak of God’s holiness, but I want it known that this is just a small sampling of a very long list. If you want to find the entire list, take a Bible Concordance and look up the word “holy.” These are just some that I’ve chosen:

  • As Moses spoke with God (in the form of The Angel of the Lord) at the burning bush, he was told, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:1-6).
  • God proclaimed His holiness when He said to Moses, “…for I the Lord am holy…” (Leviticus 20:26).
  • Joshua said of God, “…for he is a holy God” (Joshua 24:19).
  • When Isaiah, in a vision, saw God sitting on a throne, he saw seraph angels crying out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” (Isaiah 6:1-3).
  • When John, during his Revelation, saw God in heaven, he saw four living creatures, each having six wings, who do not rest day or night from saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”(Revelation 4:1-8).
  • The Old Testament prophets referred to God as “The Holy One” (Jeremiah 51:5; Ezekiel 39:7; Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 3:3).
  • God’s name is holy (1 Chronicles 16:10).
  • God sits on a holy throne (Psalm 47:8).
  • God speaks in holiness (Psalm 60:6; 108:7).
  • God cannot even be tempted to do evil (James 1:13).

And so now we know two facts about God. Fact #1: He exists. Fact #2: Everything about Him is holy. These are the two facts we need to secure the proper foundation for us to get a correct assessment of our standing with God. We’ll get to that in the next post, and so until then stay tuned…..

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There Is A God

“Salvation” series (post #2)

The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world… (Psalm 19:1-4, New Living Translation)

Any talk about salvation, a plan of salvation, or getting saved must begin with talk about God. After all, if atheism is correct, the very idea of salvation becomes pointless. Saved from what? Saved to who? Saved to where?

So how do we know that God exists? The go-to answer is still creation. The atheists hold to the formula: nothing + nobody = everything. Frankly, that formula is ludicrous. I mean, seriously, it’s ludicrous. They give me a hard time for believing in a Creator God when they believe that all this creation we live in just kind of “happened” on its own without any impetus, power, or intellect behind it. Please. That’s so illogical and nonsensical it makes my head hurt.

Elizabeth Howell, writing for space.com, says the following about the Big Bang theory:

The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it says the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.

Uh, hold on there a minute, Elizabeth. I have a quick question. Where did that “small singularity” come from? Am I not correct in stating the obvious that nothing will continue to be nothing endlessly unless some kind of Creator God creates that “something” you’re calling a “small singularity”? After all, a “small singularity” doesn’t just appear out of thin air. For that matter, thin air doesn’t just appear out of thin air!

Along the same lines, Matt Williams, writing for phys.org, writes:

Today, the consensus among scientists, astronomers and cosmologists is that the Universe as we know it was created in a massive explosion that not only created the majority of matter, but the physical laws that govern our ever-expanding cosmos.

Okay, Matt, so you are telling me that “nothing” suddenly exploded and out came a whole bunch of matter. Really? Doesn’t that theory raise more questions than it answers? I mean, “nothing” doesn’t just inexplicably explode and produce “something,” let alone produce the primordial elements of what would become our ENTIRE UNIVERSE. I’m no astronomist or physicist, but my head is starting to hurt again.

Somebody says, “But aliens created it all, even this universe in which we live.” Fine, let’s run with that idea for a second. All it does is set the fundamental question back further: Who created the aliens? Again, nothing will continue to be nothing endlessly unless a creator God interjects Himself into the process and creates something. As one fellow has said, “I’m amazed at how much stuff evolutionists (and I would add in atheists) start with to tell us how everything came into existence.”

Hey, listen, I don’t claim to have God all figured out myself. I don’t know why He does do this and doesn’t do that. I don’t know why He allows one thing but doesn’t allow another. Trust me, He drives me nuts sometimes too. But me turn atheist and believe that our mind-numbingly structured and ordered creation — a creation that operates in finely tuned orchestration like a gigantic machine with a zillion moving parts — just happens to be here apart from a Creator God? Sorry, that ain’t happening. No, there HAS TO BE a God out there somewhere. You can love Him or hate Him. You can agree with Him or disagree with Him. You can believe in Him or not believe in Him. But He’s out there somewhere, and He’s very much real. And to know that, all you have to do is look around at the creation in which you find yourself.

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The Gate Into Heaven Is Still Narrow

“Salvation” series (post #1)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, N.K.J.V.)

There’s an old negro spiritual that contains the famous line: “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t agoin’ there.” Incorrect grammar and spelling aside, that line gets it dead right. That’s why I want to use this post to begin a new series on the subject of “Salvation.” And I’m calling this first post from the series: “The Gate Into Heaven Is Still Narrow.”

According to Pew Research, in 2015 there were 2.3 billion Christians in the world. That number accounted for 31.2% of the world’s total population. By way of contrast, 24.1% of the world were Muslims and 15.1% were Hindus. So, despite the fact that in many places Islam is growing faster than Christianity, Christianity remains what it has been for centuries now: the largest religion in the world.

One hundred years ago Europe was home to the world’s highest percentage of Christians. Now, however, that title is worn by the Americas as 804 million Christians (37% of all Christians) live somewhere in North America or South America. In the United States alone, there are 247 million Christians, and there are similarly high numbers in Brazil (176 million) and Mexico (108 million).

Europe still comes in second in terms of Christian population at 566 million, but Sub-Saharan Africa is closing ground fast by seeing the largest explosion in Christianity in recent years. In 1910, 9 million Christians lived in that part of the world. Now there are 516 million living there. The other regions named by the Pew Research group are Asia-Pacific (285 million Christians) and Middle East-North Africa (13 million).   

Okay, all these statistics are interesting, but how do we reconcile Christianity being the largest religion in the world to Christ’s words about the gate that leads to life being narrow and there being few who find it? That’s a good question. Let me try to answer it.

For one thing, even if 31.2% of the world’s population are Christians, that means that 68.8% aren’t. Putting it another way, there are more than two lost people to every one Christian. That means the vast percentage of the world’s population are lost. They are walking the broad way that leads to the wide gate that opens into destruction. Proportionately speaking, that would have to make the gate that opens into life narrow by comparison.

For another thing, though, we simply must take into account the Catholicism factor. You see, the world’s Catholics all get classified under the general heading of “Christian” even though Catholicism isn’t the same as biblical Christianity. It is, instead, a bizarre mix of biblical Christianity and Roman paganism that was begun when Rome’s emperor Constantine set himself to the task of “Christianizing” his empire.

Constantine knew that him forcing his citizens to completely do away with their pagan practices would result in chaos and uprising, and so he skillfully enacted a shrewd plan by which he and his bishops, over the course of many years, took those practices and figuratively baptized them into Christianity. This baptizing extended to Rome’s pagan worship services as well as its pagan holiday celebrations. I won’t take the time here to say any more about all that, but under this site’s category labeled “Catholicism” you’ll find several posts where I delve into the subject much more extensively. Read those if you like. For the purposes of this post, suffice is to say that any study that regards Catholics as Christians skews that study to a point of making its numbers useless.

Do I believe that all Catholics are lost? No, I don’t. But I do believe the majority of them are, including the majority of their priests. At the bottom line, Catholicism is a man-made, works-based religion that elevates Peter to the status of the first Pope, Mary to the status of perpetual virginity, and the Catholic church to the status of the “true” church. Not one of those doctrines holds up in the light of scripture, and that casts serious doubt on anyone who supposedly becomes a Christian via that religious system.

Based upon all this, let’s dismiss out of hand the nonsense that 31.2% of the world’s population are authentic Christians. How can that be when a recent report done by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project showed that no less than 50% of the world’s professing “Christians” are Catholic? For example, of Brazil’s 169 million “Christians,” 123 million of them (over 88%) are Catholics. Likewise, of Mexico’s “Christians,” over 82% are Catholic. All told, 65% of all the “Christians” who live in the Americas are Catholic, and that means that the Americas aren’t home to anywhere close to 804 million spiritually saved people who are bound for heaven.

And so how many genuine Christians are there around the world? Only God knows that answer. Without doubt, though, it is a relatively small number when compared to the world’s population of 7.6 billion. Again, even if we gave every Catholic automatic credit for being a true Christian — and we shouldn’t — the world’s Christian population would still only sit at 31.2% of the total population. Doing a bit of math then, if 31.2% claim to be Christians, but 50% of those are Catholic, we can reasonably assume that the true percentage of Christians around the world is no higher than 15%. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it’s much lower than that. I say that because it’s not like every person in all the other subcategories of Christianity (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.) is truly saved either.

But, of course, the real question comes down to you, doesn’t it? Are you a genuine Christian? Well, that’s the question that I want to help you answer over the course of this series. I don’t mind admitting that this series is going to focus on doctrine, doctrine drawn directly from the Bible’s teachings. We have to make it a doctrinal series because, when it comes to the all important subject of salvation, only the Bible’s teaching will do. So, I hope that you’ll click your way into each of these upcoming posts, and even more than that I hope that you are right now on your way to heaven.

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Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

The idea that divine favor manifests itself by way of worldly success goes back a long way. History shows us two things about the races of antiquity. #1: They all worshiped some form of god or plurality of gods. #2: They all believed that when your god (or gods) liked what you were doing, it would be evidenced by things going well for you in life. And the items on the list of evidences were always the same: rain, abundant crops, plenty of food, protection from enemies, victory over enemies, health, women bearing children, and good times in general.

But we don’t have to consult history to understand this, do we? The fact is that most people around the world today still believe this basic premise about God. For that matter, I’ll even go so far as to say that most CHRISTIANS believe it.

Let’s say that we polled each Christian right now and asked the question, “How do you know when God is pleased with a person’s life?” What answers would we get? I think you know. Those answers would typically involve health and wealth, not necessarily in that order.

Similarly, in terms of how God makes His favor known upon a local church or a national denomination, the answers would involve “big” things: big attendance, big offerings, big budgets, big buildings, big reputation, etc. This especially holds true here in America, where we Christians have concocted a bizarre potion that combines religion and consumerism to create our own version of church. As we tend to see things, the bigger the church or the denomination, the more God is blessing it. In other words, if you want to find where God is really working and pouring out the highest levels of His favor, follow the crowd.

Of course, the problem with this basic premise is that even a cursory study of the Bible disproves it. Consider the following ten classic examples:

  1. God didn’t start the human race with hundreds of people. He started it with one man, Adam.
  2. God didn’t save the human race from the flood by loading thousands of people into an ark. He did it by loading the immediate family of one man, Noah, into an ark.
  3. God didn’t mass convert an existing race of people and make them the nation of Israel. He started with one man, Abram, and started a new race.
  4. God didn’t use a large number of people to sustain Israel in the midst of an unprecedented seven-year famine. He used one man, Joseph.
  5. God didn’t raise up a team of elders or an army of soldiers to lead the people of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage. He raised up one man, Moses.
  6. God didn’t send a team of prophets to bring about a mass revival in the city of Nineveh. He sent one prophet, Jonah.
  7. God didn’t save all the Jews in Medo-Persia from certain extinction by organizing thousands of them to protest. He saved them by using one woman, Esther.
  8. God didn’t send the Messiah into the world by way of a vast army. He sent Him by way of one teenage girl, Mary.
  9. Jesus didn’t begin His missionary efforts in the Samaritan city of Sychar by calling together all the citizens of the city. He began by having a conversation with one citizen, the woman at the well.
  10. God didn’t impart His singular revelation about the future to a team of apostles. He imparted it to one apostle, John.

Continuing with this theme, God’s chosen nation of Israel in Old Testament times was small in comparison to other nations. Even when Israel was at its zenith under King Solomon, its size wouldn’t have come close to rivaling the coming sprawling empires of Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Israel rose to prominence because God fought for it, not because it was so spectacular in geographical size.

Similarly in the New Testament, Jesus chose 12 men to be His apostles. That number stood in contrast, for example, to the 70 men of the powerful Jewish Sanhedrin Council. Also, the churches described in the New Testament were house churches (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:1-2; James 2:1-4), with the sum total of all the house churches in a single city constituting the “church” of that city (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 1 Thessalonica 1:1; 2 Thessalonica 1:1; Revelation 2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14). Church buildings accommodating large congregations didn’t come into existence until Emperor Constantine “Christianized” the Roman empire in the 4th century.

The New Testament’s only mention of a church of thousands being assembled together in one place occurs in the years immediately following the birth of the church, when the entire church was content to abide in Jerusalem. Those Christians met daily in the courts of the Jewish temple because that was the largest meeting place in the city (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Luke 24:52-53). They started with approximately 3,000 members (Acts 2:41), grew to approximately 5,000 (Acts 4:4), and kept growing from there (Acts 5:14, 6:7). However, it should be noted that even though those Christians met daily in the temple, they did their “breaking bread” (a reference to Communion, the Lord’s Supper) from “house to house.” (Acts 2:46; 5:42). 

As might be expected anytime you get that many people trying to work together as one, problems arose. First, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira sold one of their possessions but secretly held back a certain portion of the profits for themselves. Normally that kind of thing wouldn’t have been a problem, but the early church in Jerusalem operated by way of a communal system in which all the members sold their possessions and gave all the profits to the church treasury. The apostles oversaw that treasury and took from it to distribute as each Christian had need (Acts 2:44-47; 4:37). So, by contributing only a portion of their profits to that communal treasury, Ananias and Sapphira, in essence, lied about their offering. What followed was the exposing of their deceit, which resulted in God striking both of them dead (Acts 5:1-11).

A second problem arose when some of the church’s Greek-speaking Jews registered a complaint against some of the church’s Hebrew-speaking Jews. The complaint was that the Greek-speaking widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. This charge may or may not have been legitimate, but either way it served as the impetus for what many believe was the first “deacon election” as seven qualified men were chosen to oversee the daily distribution (Acts 6:1-7).

It is obvious, however, that the Jerusalem church was a unique situation and wasn’t intended to be God’s ideal for what churches should look like going forward. For one thing, as I said, those thousands of Christians all sold their possessions and put the earnings into a communal treasury for the apostles to oversee and use to meet the needs of the church members. No other mention of such a setup is made in regards to any other church in the New Testament. For that matter, such a setup wouldn’t have even been possible once the apostles all died out.

For another thing, it couldn’t have been God’s will for all those Christians to permanently remain in Jerusalem under that big church umbrella because Jesus had clearly left instructions for His followers to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49). Looking back through the lens of history, it seems obvious that this is one of the reasons why God allowed them to be uprooted by way of intense persecution. That persecution began with Peter and John being arrested (Acts 4:1-22) and culminated in Stephen being stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60).

Following Stephen’s stoning, a young Jewish zealot named Saul of Tarsus took the lead in persecuting the Jerusalem church, and the unrelenting persecution inflicted by him and others finally forced many of the Jerusalem Christians to flee the city and scatter to Samaria and other regions of Judea (Acts 8:1-4). Not surprisingly, the verses that immediately follow that scattering find Philip preaching Christ in Samaria and many Samaritans believing in Christ and being baptized (Acts 8:5-25). Clearly such an expansion of the gospel was what God had always had in mind, but it never would have happened had Phillip and all the rest of those earliest Christians remained in Jerusalem as one local church.

You say, “But Russell, don’t you believe that God can bless a large congregation and use it in His service?” Yes, I do. I’m not suggesting for one moment that large congregations are automatically wrong in God’s eyes any more than I’m suggesting that every small congregation is automatically right in His eyes. The point I’m trying to make is that we Christians need to lose the mentality that bigger must make better, might must make right, and affluence must make godliness. Friends, it just doesn’t work that way. That’s what human nature teaches, not what the Bible teaches.

Posted in Church, God's Work, Greed, Ministry, Money, Persecution, Prosperity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment