A friend shared some experiences and asked me effectively,
"How should individual Christians give handouts to the needy?"
I'm thinking about what to say in response to your questions. Lots of thoughts come to mind. Here are some of them:
1. God freely justifies, so we should freely give the first time someone asks. God also sanctifies, so we should only continue helping if the needy person is willing to obey God's commands, and work to get the help they need. You have to be willing to say things like, "This is a free gift because God forgives those who repent of their sins and believe in Christ, free of charge," and "Friend, until you put in that job application I helped you get and you promised you'd fill out, I'm not going to help you further." Sometimes how they respond to such requirements will show you their true colors.
2. Don't give money to needy people; give food, clothing, buy their bus ticket. So many spend the money on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. If they want gas for a long trip, consider taking them by the police station first to be sure they're not on the run. If they're going on a long trip, they have the time.
3. Ask, "Do you go to a church?" If they say "Yes," ask which one, and send (or offer to take) them there (say "I'll help you, through your church.") If they say "No," ask "Why not?"
4. Instead of handouts, give money to your local church first, then a homeless shelter or some other such organization which is well-equipped to help, and is integrated into that locale. They have the ability to hold people accountable to change their lives, by the strength God provides through the gospel and practical counseling. Tell the needy, "I give through my church (or X homeless shelter). Come there with me and we'll help you out. On the way, let me tell you what God has done for me. Have you ever committed a sin?" Are you going to lead them, or are they going to lead you?
5. Bankrupt people can't keep all their promises, however sincere they are. They can't. They don't have the resources.
6. I'd hardly trust anything or anyone in Las Vegas. I don't have to tell you that, but maybe it bears repeating. I want to believe needy people's stories, and in a sense I do (I take them at their word), but I don't trust anything a needy person says. I trust solid evidence from two or more independent sources.
Also regarding Las Vegas, I don't think it's right to replace 1) gambling with money with 2) buying needy people's ears for the gospel with money. This is a subtle matter of priorities in your own heart, which may not actually change what you do on the outside. We should want to help people with money, and their greater need is for the gospel. Our intent should never be to bait and switch, but to address the person's true needs as a whole. There is a temptation in which needy people place me and other Christians, to substitute diaconal aid for gospel ministry. A needy person's request is an opportunity to share the word, as well as to help that person.
7. Whenever I pray with a needy person, I ask God to forgive their and my sins for Christ's sake, and to help us follow Christ as our Savior and Lord, for our good.
A friend asked me how I reconcile the Bible’s apparent teaching that the universe is young with star light’s indication that the universe may be very old. We understand that stars are millions or billions of light-years away from us. I replied as follows with the resources I have.
You might find the following article interesting in connection with considering the age of the universe.
"God made (not created) the expanse (v. 7a). From what did He make it? The form ‘expanse of the heavens’ may indicate the ‘what’, for it is used four times (vv. 14, 15, 17, 20) even after God called it ‘heavens’. Thus, ‘expanse of the heavens’ suggests ‘the expanded form of the (original) heavens’. That sounds like God started with the original heavens of v. 1—the substance or fabric from which to make finished heavens—and expanded or stretched them out to make places for the luminaries (space).
Thus, ‘the expanse of the heavens’ seems to be the stretched-out form of the original heavens. Confirmations are found in Scriptures written later, if stretching is identified with expanding. Job 9:8, Is. 40:22, Is. 51:13, Jer. 10:12b=51:15b, Zech. 12:1, ‘Who/He (alone) stretches (-ed) out the heavens’. Is. 42:5, He ‘created the heavens and stretched them out’ (created and made). Is 42:12, Is. 48:13, add the anthropomorphism: ‘...with His hands/My right hand...’. Ps. 104:2b, ‘stretching out the heavens like a tent curtain’. Some take such stretching as metaphorical, but equating ‘expanding’ with ‘stretching’ obviates any reason to do so and makes good sense."
My basic thought which might be useful to you is this: if God stretched out space, He may well have stretched out the star light within that space at the same time, ending with his fixing the locations of the stars (and so ceasing His work of stretching out the "expanse"?) on day 4. I don't think this provides a comprehensive answer to your question, but I find it satisfies my curiosity sufficiently, and on biblical grounds. The article's authors think in a similar way in regard to day 2, before the stars were made:
"God’s separating the matter droplets so far from each other caused their light to dim or go out temporarily, for a second night time. It also stretched out the first light in the universe, resulting in low-frequency background radiation. Hence, this second night was not utterly devoid of light, as was the first, but it was relatively dark as ours are now." (p. 74)
"The physical concept just described includes all these smaller blobs forming their own gravity wells then being separated from each other by expanses governed by gravity. There are 13 references in the remainder of the bible confirming that God stretched (Job 9:8, Psa.104:2, Isa.40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 51:13, Jer.10:12, 51:15, Zec.12:1) the heavens or spread out (Job 26:7, 37:18, Isa.48:13) the heavens and/or the earth . The stretching implies the expanding of the gravitational fields between the masses (blobs) as they are spread throughout the universe."
"The setting of the luminaries could explicitly refer to the positioning (including relativity and time dilation) of all the heavenly objects in their time and space and limiting their movement with respect to Earth. Most likely it also refers to the stopping of the stretching. Job 37:18 in the NIV translation captures both these concepts in one verse. Other references in the Bible confirm God's act of setting the luminaries in their locations in the sky (e.g. Psa.8:3, 148:6, Pro. 3:19, 8:27, Isa.51:16)."
Russell Humphreys wrote the following book which seeks to directly answer your question:
Humphreys, D.R., Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, Master Books, Colorado Springs, CO, p. 53, 1994.
DeRemer, Dobberpuhl, and Amunrud replied to Russel Humphreys' response to their article at https://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j22_1/j22_1_56-58.pdf. Humphreys advocated the view that time dilation is the explanation for light coming from distant stars in a young universe - that is, "young" from the perspective of earth, because according to the theory of time dilation, time has not moved at the same rate from the perspective of every location in the universe. So far as I have read, it appears to me that the primary evidence for the theory of time dilation has been given a much simpler explanation, leaving the theory of time dilation without convincing evidence (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Humphreys#New_Cosmology; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_anomaly). Nevertheless, you may find Humphrey's book useful, because it attempts to directly answer your question.
This appears to be an attempt at a serious critique of Humphreys' theory: Conner, Samuel R., and Don N. Page. “Starlight and Time Is the Big Bang.” CEN Tech. J 12, no. 2 (1998): 174ø e194. Available at http://www.trueorigin.org/rh_connpage1.pdf.
Personally, I am inclined, because of scripture's statements that God "spread out" the "expanse" (which can mean something which has formerly undergone an action of being spread out; the article by DeRemer, et. al. led me to see this as significant), to think that God may have created each star's light on day 2, while He also was--as an act of extraordinary (not ordinary) providence--greatly expanding the universe, which would be a reason to consider that the stars' light may have traveled "faster" or "further" in proportion to the size of the universe than it does today, and if that is not the correct or full explanation, I am inclined to think that God could have created not only each star, but also the full extent of each star's light, on day 4, and it is possible God caused that light to travel "faster" or "further" on day 4 by an act of His extraordinary providence.
The Bible distinguishes four blessings of the Holy Spirit: the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" was a once-for-all redemptive historical event where Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on the whole church at Pentecost (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5) and in the subsequent extensions of the Pentecost event in new geographical areas during the time of the apostles' founding the NT church (Acts 11:16), the "gift of the Spirit" is a one-time personal event which happens for all believers at their conversion (Acts 2:38; 10:45), the "filling of the Spirit" is a variable blessing (more at one time, less at another) God gives to believers on occasion for a particular purpose, but which we should actively seek as a matter of keeping in step with the Spirit we were given at our conversion (Ex. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Micah 3:8; Luke 1:41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9, 52; Eph. 5:18), and the continued, unmitigated state of being "full of the Spirit" is a blessing God gives only to some individuals, but also which should be desired because it is a state of spiritual maturity and is the right state in which all believers should be (Deut. 34:9; Luke 1:15?; Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24).
Offhand I don't think my church's confessional documents (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, see http://opc.org/wcf.html) make these distinctions explicitly, though ch. 20.1 of the Westminster Confession says NT believers receive "fuller communications of the free Spirit of God." However, I can say the theology of these confessional documents agrees with the fourfold distinction I described above. Particularly, we do not believe Christians should seek a "second blessing" of the Spirit beyond the "gift of the Spirit" at conversion in the sense that the second blessing brings new blessings (such as "sinless perfection" or "entire sanctification," tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.) which are different in quality than the "fruit of the Spirit" in Gal. 5:22, or the corollary, that scripture approves in any way of (e.g., permits) the state of being a so-called "carnal Christian." Rather, by the Spirit's power and work, we should keep in step with the same Spirit we received as a gift at our conversion (in this regard, Phil. 2:12, 13 puts the two sides of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility together). Because He is the all-powerful, sovereign God, the Holy Spirit is sufficient to fill us (we have only God to thank for His gift!), but in our (ir-)responsibility, we sinners quench the Spirit (we have only ourselves to blame for not being "full of the Spirit" every day!)
God’s grace is prior to believers’ obedience, because God is 100% sovereign (Eph. 2:8, 9—even faith is a gift). This is fundamental to the biblical doctrine of salvation, and must be emphasized, as it is in Reformed theology. But Reformed theology also rightly emphasizes the complementary biblical teaching that believers’ obedience to God’s law must flow from God’s grace through faith, because man is 100% responsible (Heb. 12:14—without sanctification no one will see the Lord, and James 2:17—faith without works is dead).
Tullian Tchividjian appears to emphasize grace, but not obedience, and the first and second uses of the law, but not the third. The third use of the law (it is a rule for believers’ obedience) is briefly stated in one paragraph at http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=165, which also summarizes the other two uses, and some of the vital importance of the third use of the law is stated in the Westminster Confession 19.6, 7 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_19 - this shows how God’s moral law functions now not as a covenant of works, but as a covenant of grace. Dr. David Murray carefully expresses some concerns about Tchividjian’s errors of emphasis, omission, and implication at http://headhearthand.org/blog/2012/12/11/tullian-keeps-digging/. Admittedly, errors of these sorts are difficult to perceive, admit, and correct, yet they are real, and can and do have the consequence of leading people into error, as in this case, Tchividjian rightly opposes legalism, but wrongly leads people toward antinomianism.
Another person replied to my comment, “If you got antinomianism out of that, then you and I read different articles.”
I replied: You’re right that I read other articles by Tchividjian, and about his teaching, and they influenced my opinion that his teaching leads toward antinomianism. But his teaching in this particular article does as well.
He said, “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. As J. C. Kromsigt said, ‘The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.’”
However, the Bible says “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. 43 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:42-44) “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:29) “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5)
How is Tchividjian’s phrase “forgetting about yourself” not contradicting (saying the opposite words of) Jesus’ words “your own eye,” “own fruit,” and Paul’s words “Pay careful attention to yourselves”? How is Tchividjian’s word (quoted from Kromsigt) “examining” not a contradiction of Paul’s use of the word “examine,” particularly in his command, “Examine yourselves”?
In the context of the quote from Kromsigt which follows it, it would appear that Tchividjian’s statement “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself” means sanctification is intentionally forgetting about examining yourself to see whether you are obeying God’s law, which sure sounds like giving up on intentional obedience to God’s law. Opposing this right use of the law is antinomianism.
My interlocutor replied, “In other words, you’re focusing on a single phrase without addressing his elaborating explanation. That’s called a strawman argument. I could use such tactics in what you’ve said to rather humorous ends.”
I addressed his words in two sentences, not “a single phrase.” I did not directly quote or interact with his elaborating explanation, though I have it in view, as I indicated in my words “I read other articles by Tchividjian.” That’s not a straw man. It would be a straw man argument if I mischaracterized his view, but you give no evidence that I have done so.
Would you like me to address his words (and their meaning) in his elaborating explanation?
As I’ve thought about his article linked above, it appears to me that at points he is making the mistake of claiming every view in the church other than his is legalistic. His expressions are too absolute; they may be true as generalizations, but are not true of every Christian’s life or doctrine. I appreciate that he qualifies his statements at the beginning of the article with phrases like “too many people” and “too many churches,” but at several points, notably later in the article, he acts as if legalism is every church’s and every Christian’s problem in every part of our being, like when he says “But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done.” The “we” here is, apparently, every Christian, without distinguishing carefully that while in our flesh we wrongly think we can, but in fact we cannot, do good without God’s grace, yet in our new heart, by the Spirit’s work, we also rightly know we can do good by God's grace. This is an error of omission due to his error of so emphasizing the unconditionality of God's sovereign administration of grace that he does not give proper expression to the subsequent conditionality of its responsible reception by man. So a further problem in what Tchividjian said here is this: Is it really true that grace “tells us that there’s nothing we can do”? No. I’m sure that elsewhere Tchividjian proclaims Paul’s teaching, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But he doesn’t do so here, in the words “it tells us that there’s nothing we can do.” He should be more fully biblical than this, to avoid leading people into antinomianism. Grace tells us there is nothing we can do to cause or add to the sovereign, saving work of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Grace does not tell us there’s nothing we can do, absolutely considered. But Tchividjian’s statement was absolute. That is the problem. I would be delighted to learn that Tchividjian’s books and preaching express the fuller biblical teaching which I see lacking in his articles online, but what I’ve read by him shows a consistent pattern of absolute statements of an antinomian and Lutheran sort. As a pastor under whom I did an internship taught me to do in my sermons, the problem needs to be corrected in those statements themselves, not only in qualifications and explanations added after the fact. Otherwise, people follow the error, and go even further into error as they misinterpret what you said.
Another example of his tendency to overgeneralize: while Kromsigt and Tchividjian both focus on one particular kind of self-examination, Tchividjian claims this unbiblical kind of self-examination which he terms “spiritual performancism” is the only kind of self-examination by identifying it as not just one variety of, but simply identical to, works-righteousness, and the one in which whole church is engaged. This is to commit the fallacy of the excluded middle, by ignoring the third, middle option (between legalism and antinomianism) of the full teaching about the third use of the law found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, to which he subscribes as a minister in the PCA. Tchividjian also uses such exclusive language in the following quote: “So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear people react to grace with suspicion and doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that when people talk about grace, I hear lots of ‘buts and brakes’, conditions and qualifications. That’s just the flesh fighting for its life, after all.” I recognize that by the word “grace” he both 1) rightly means God’s sovereign administration of grace is not conditioned on the merit of man's works in justification and is not conditioned on man's works as its first cause in sanctification, and I regret that he 2) wrongly (apparently--and we could explore whether his words actually substantiate my claim here) means man’s responsible reception of grace is not conditioned (in regard to secondary, not primary, causes) on man’s works as part of that reception in sanctification (as expressed in the Westminster Confession 19.6, quoted below). I react to his error in point 2) above by saying Tchividjian ought, but fails, to affirm there is a conditionality in man's reception of God’s grace in sanctification (as well as in justification, as the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 32 says, “The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him....”) The problem with his saying “That’s just the flesh fighting for its life” is that the word “just” excludes the possibility that there is a third view, such as the “condition” in LC 32, and the qualification expressed in the word “yet” in the Westminster Confession 11.2, which reads, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” Such a qualification is also expressed in the word “although” in the Westminster Confession 19.6, “It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.”
Tchividjian is rightly fighting a battle against legalism, but wrongly, and I would expect mostly accidentally, fighting a battle with the third use of the law as it is expressed in scripture, the Westminster Standards, and the churches which subscribe to them, including his own. As such, though he attempts to lay the blame for his battle wholly on legalists within the church, part of the blame is also Tchividjian’s antinomian tendencies.
If I had someone who could watch the church building enough hours to do it (which I don’t), I’d be in favor of opening our fellowship hall to Caney residents wanting free wireless internet access and maybe a little coffee (but not as a coffee shop), because it would help our church make contact with more people in Caney, and there is no free wireless hotspot in Caney so far as I’m aware. I agree to a certain extent with the article that it is important to build a Christian community within the church--bonds formed through corporate worship, mutual edification in Bible teaching and study, Christian fellowship, and mutual service, and corporate gospel witness (OPC FG II.4http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II). But I don’t mean I’m on board with what the churches in the article are doing. The article’s focus on the outward ways these churches are attempting to be “relevant” or otherwise pander to what unbelievers want other than the gospel leaves me with the sense that these churches, or at least the article’s author, cares more about these outward means than about the truly effectual means of grace--the word, sacraments, and prayer (WSC 88 http://opc.org/sc.html), used in public, family, and private worship, in preaching, catechizing, counseling, visiting, witnessing, maintained under the presbyterian form of government, and with biblical discipline (as described in the OPC Book of Church Order http://opc.org/order.html). These latter means are essential to the true life of the church; buildings, instruments, and lighting are circumstantial (WCF 1.6 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_01, OPC DPW I.B.6.bhttp://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html#Chapter_I); coffee shops, art galleries, and business incubators are good works for Christians and Christian communities, but are not “the work of the church” (OPC FG II.4 http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II).
Doug Pagitt is one of the thought-leaders of the Emergent Church movement, which DeYoung & Kluck's book “Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)” (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Were-Not-Emergent-Should/dp/0802458343) rightly labels as a new liberal theology and ecclesiology. Its difference from classical liberal theology is that it is founded on postmodern, rather than modern, philosophy. Considering this connection, I believe it is appropriate to say that this NYT article attempts to portray American churches’ decline from 1) drawing people through spiritual worship through the means of grace, to 2) megachurches’ drawing people by means of the circumstances of worship, to 3) Emergent churches drawing people by that which is not worship and not the work of the church. While the article perhaps tries not to tip its hat too far toward praising or condemning the activities of Emergent churches, yet it sounds a note of condemnation softly by including the phrase “as Spirituality Wanes” in its subtitle.