The Holy Ghost: A Ghost Story…

“The Holy Ghost: A Ghost Story…”

Christopher Neiswonger at Branch of Hope OPC

On Gossip in the Church

Someone asked me, “What do you think about gossip?”

I said, “It’s one of the most destructive forces in the church. I’ve seen churches nearly destroyed by it; one of Satan’s most effective tools against Christ.”

“When do we know it’s gossip?”

“If a man speaks poorly of another he speaks poorly of himself. That’s how and when. In most controversies the one speaking poorly of his neighbor is the one in the wrong, regardless of the content.”

“Well what do you do?”

“For the most part there’s not much to do. Thoughtful people will refuse to hear, or see through the fog of words, or recognize the bitter waters flowing from the source. Gossip is the most undependable, biased and devious method for manipulating the hearts of one’s hearers. It has the devil’s editorial fingerprints all over it. We need to rest in the Holy Spirit’s power to lead the hearts of His people and not our meager attempts at self defense. Let people say what they will, trust Christ and live a life obedient to God and let Him save you, because in due time, He will.”

Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Proverbs 16:28
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.

Proverbs 6:16-19
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Neiswonger JD, MA

The Sonship of Christ

The Sonship of Christ

How is Jesus Christ the Son of God? What does that mean? How was he human? What does that have to do with the Gospel of Jesus? What is it to “believe” in God? Can one be saved without believing that Jesus is the Son of God?

Click link to hear

The Virtues of Revenge

There’s a deep theology of vengeance taught in sacred scripture.

“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord” is famous enough but the prohibition against our little revenges are just awkward.

It’s hard to teach our kids to not take revenge because people will treat them badly and we want to protect them, to teach them to “defend” themselves. These are often little lessons in revenge. Self defense can only occur in the immediate moment of the event of possible harm, so any guidance as to later response is unmistakably a lesson in revenge. A child’s first response to being let out of “turning the other cheek” is a strange mixture of euphoria and glory; it’s not good for them.

But that’s exactly what we’re trying to teach them. To not take revenge when treated badly. If people were always treating them goodly there would be no reason for the lesson? It’s all part of our expectation that they have a better ethic than the world, which thrives on revenge with a healthy dose of treating each other badly.

I remember meeting a family that taught their kids that the not getting vengeance and turning the cheek things were only for the Jews under the law, and that Christians didn’t need to follow those rules. Consistent with the claim, they did little to restrain their children and so the other kids and parents had to carry the burden . As far as I know, neither the parents nor the children persevered in the faith. I’m not writing this as an example of cause and effect but as an observation of the wounded conscience. The laws of God, especially those concerned with compassion, forgiveness and magnanimity train the conscience. Even the recognition of sin necessary to repentance can be spoiled through faulty interpretations of the morality of God.

You can’t grow faith without the waters of Repentance; they require each other like cloud and rain. So if we miss the law we might miss faith itself.

Remember the lawyer came to Jesus and asked him how to enter eternal life. Jesus asked the counter question, “What is the law? What is your interpretation of it?” The man then said to love God and to love your neighbor and Jesus told him that he had given the right answer. Do that and you will live. But then, Luke writes that the man, “wanted to justify himself” and so he asked a follow up question… “But who is my neighbor?” Now the motive of the question is the key to understanding the passage. If his neighbor was identified one way then the man would be able to justify himself and say that he had obeyed the law and could claim eternal life, and if it were defined another way, he could not. So Jesus told him the parable of the good Samaritan which identified the neighbor as not only a Samaritan but as the one that loved him regardless of religious or ethnic identity. Then Jesus told the man to go and do likewise.

The implication being, that the man was not able to justify himself.

Another implication being that the duty to be a good neighbor was as important as knowing a good neighbor when you see one.

Jesus told him the truth, that if he perfectly kept the law in thought, word and deed he would be right before God and could justify himself on that basis. But when the scope of who his neighbor was opened up to the whole world his self justification collapsed and he was left with the need for a savior.

To love our neighbor is a complicated kettle of fish, but if we would like to be forgiven and not have people take vengeance on us we should at least have an absence of vengeful attitudes and behaviors towards others.

To teach people to not take revenge might be misunderstood as teaching them some kind of runny pacifism. But the sermon on the mount is theology for this world, not for the next. It’s not at all the ethics of Heaven; it’s only use is here in the dust and toil. Turning the other cheek is good teaching. A forgiving heart is a good sign of spiritual transformation.

The protection of ourselves and others bears no conflict with the teaching of Jesus. If an armed man breaks into my home in the middle of the night, intending mayhem and murder, God help me, I will have a divinely ordained duty to defend innocent blood, if necessary through bloody violence. The police are also ordained to that end, they being the agents of God after me and my neighbors. That’s good theology but also good common sense.

In this there would be no revenge at all, and no moral error. Pacifism is of course the sin of making the innocent pay the price of our bad theology.

Ah, but vengeance? Vengeance is His. Getting someone back; making them pay; getting that pound of flesh. It’s not in our job description. It’s one of the worst things that can ever happen, especially in a marriage. Once one has been offended and decided to punish the other for the offense, unless the attitude of self glory and high status can be quashed the intimacy and fellow-feeling fades fast.

And in friendship it is absolutely devastating. I have a lot of old friends (not calling you personally “old” but you know what I mean). To me it’s great evidence of their capacity for being forgiving. I try to be the kind that can throw aside my natural bias and squarely face my sins but were it not for the graceful and easy going nature of my friends how long could we last in those great bonds of mutual affection?

That we face our sins between ourselves and God does not entail that others will forgive every foible. All of us, Christian and Pagan alike, are full of madness. We like to think it’s just someone else, the other, the neighbor, the stranger, but we have it too and we sin every day in thought, word and deed. Vengeance is in this, generally tied up in an inflated sense of self. “How dare you offend me? There will be a reckoning!” That kind of shakespearean tragedy type of trouble. It’s all very Hatfields and McCoys but never very Christian.

(As an arbitrary aside, Alexander Hamilton was killed in a gentlemanly duel by Aaron Burr. Apparently Burr had offended him. And then he was dead.)

But if we recognize that we’re just a little dust and the breath of God how highly would we estimate our import?

Perhaps we’d be less likely to let offenses bother us and rest appropriately in the inevitability of Divine justice, because we are poor at measuring and poorer still at dispensing a good revenge.

But with God vengeance is rooted in justice and love.

He has the perfections that make sins into virtues (at least, that which would be sins for the creature).

Even the jealousy of God is sublime.

There is no vanity in the perfect, true and good thinking himself perfect, true and good. For the All-Mighty to laugh at the rebel and the reprobate makes a strange kind of sense. Of course, for us to laugh would be inappropriate, even laughing with God might verge on self exultation (we are not to take pleasure in the fall of our enemies even when the means is the hand of God).

Accusations against the Divine character overlook that man is just a little wind and dust.

A little water or fire erases us entirely.

If the Father were to call back His breath to Himself, all flesh would cease.


Happy Reformation Day

To say we value the Reformation is just to say that we value the Gospel.luther-1

The Gospel has fallen on hard times of late, causing as it does division, revulsion, violence, even in the church finding no safe harbor. The doctrines of grace cause churches to split, every man defining himself for or against the grace of God; denominations to rise and fall by her measure.

Sola Fide is the line of demarcation defining true church from false, Luther calling “Justification” the doctrine by which the church “stands or falls”. We live in an age of a falling church, first drifting but now intent upon finding a goodness in man requiring divine reciprocation.

In once sense, everything is changing while in another nothing has changed. The Gospel is still the winnowing fork of history separating the faithful from the faithless and religious man from divine religion.

Make no mistake: When Martin Luther stood before the Diet or Worms and made that famous speech he was being judged by “the christian church” but not by christian men. The church is an institution of this world toward a spiritual end that can easily become the reverse.

There is a relation between the visible and the invisible church but that relation does not imply identity. One is not reducible to the other, and church membership will neither save the infidel not sanctify the reprobate. Moreover, there is salvation outside of the visible church but none outside the invisible church, which includes the definite number of God’s elect.

The visible church on earth had been overtaken by the vain philosophies and pagan religions of this world, by lust for worldly power and temporal wealth, by human merit and the genius of man. Worse, the merits of Christ had become negotiable instruments of human dispensation; the grace of God a commodity capable of distribution by popes, priests and princes.

When Luther stood saying plainly that the visible church is no proxy for the divine favor and that the the church holds no graces for redistribution according to worldly status, and that faith was believing God and not the cowering wickedness of cultural abnegation nor the enrichment of the clergy, they had him indicted and he stood trial.

He responded as a sheep being led to the slaughter:

“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns or teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not believe in the authority of either popes or councils by themselves, for it is plain that they have often erred and contradicted each other) in those Scriptures that I have presented, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

People often ask why we are Conservatives in regard to Government and “suspicious” of the State in any presumptuous exercise of power.

People often ask why we are Conservatives in regard to Government and “suspicious” of the State in any presumptuous exercise of power.

We have our reasons:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Washington

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson

“Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Madison

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Adams

“When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Franklin

“This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” Reagan

“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Madison

“A government of laws, and not of men.” Adams

“Even the striving for equality by means of a directed economy can result only in an officially enforced inequality – an authoritarian determination of the status of each individual in the new hierarchical order.

If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.” Hayek

“Families are the Nurseries of all Societies; and the First combinations of mankind.” Cotton Mather

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Lincoln

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.” Adams

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” Lincoln

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” J. Quincy Adams

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” Madison

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Jefferson

“It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.” Washington

“Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” Hamilton

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.” Lincoln

“The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.” Adams

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true to fact. The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right.” Hamilton

“I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and to the ruin of our children. I give you this warning that you may prepare your mind for your fate.” Adams

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles.” Lincoln

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Lincoln

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” The Declaration of Independence – Jefferson and the Congress


Holiness: Seeking the Savior’s Likeness

Class Calendar

I am currently teaching through a class on holiness. You can see the class calendar above. If you are interested in listening in each week, the class audio will be posted at the link below.

Bethel Grace Baptist Church – Holiness Seeking the Savior’s Likeness.

God bless,