Bible Gateway's Verse of the Day


Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

28 January, 2011

Unpacking Galatians 3

When asked for Biblical evidence of the sacredness of Sunday as opposed to Saturday, many Christians come up dry, and the Catholic Church acknowledges that there is no Scriptural evidence for the change. But the one verse I hear cited most often is Galatians 3:23-25, which states that the Law was as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. In verse 25, it states that since Christ fulfilled the Law, it is unnecessary. This is, however, a passage that is very frequently taken out of context. In order to truly understand it, one must read the entire chapter of Galatians 3.

Paul begins this section of the epistle by admonishing the Galatians' thinking that salvation was by works and not by faith (also one of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses). He asks repeatedly whether they had received the Spirit by "the works of the law" or by "the hearing of the faith". He then goes into a complicated series of explanations about how the Law is impossible to follow, and yet must be followed perfectly in order to receive eternal life:
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” (NKJV)
To paraphrase, because the Scriptures say that everyone who does not follow the Law is under a curse, then everyone is under a curse (cf Deut 27:26). But because the just shall live by faith, nobody can please God simply by keeping the Law (cf Hab 2:4). Then, as the CEV states in v12, "The Law isn't based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands" (cf Lev 18:5). This duality between the requirement to fulfill the law and the impossibility to please God by following it can be quite discouraging and frustrating if taken out of context, but v13 brings encouragement:
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Yet another example in the Bible of Christ, perfect and sinless, dying for us and taking our place so that we could be saved. There are those that would argue that Christ came as an example, to show us that we could live sinless lives, but that negates the need for a Savior and highly emphasizes what Paul has said here is patently wrong: that the Law can grant salvation. In fact, because it is impossible for us to keep the Law perfectly, it required the Lamb's sacrifice. In order for us to receive redemptive grace, Perfection had to take our place.

In v15-18, Paul explains even more how the Law does not beget blessings; it is instead our unchangeable covenant with God, the original promise to Abraham.
15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Verses 17 and 18 especially important; they reinforce that Abraham's blessings ("inheritance") came over four hundred years before the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai. And if the blessings come from the Law, then what good is the blessed Promise that God would deliver the land unto Abraham's Seed (cf Gen 12:7; 13:15; 24:7).

So if the Law does not beget salvation, then what, exactly is it? This us brings us back to the passage many misquote, starting in v19:
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Especially because of the corruption of Egypt, the Israelites needed the Law to teach them what was right and what was wrong. They needed all those little nitpicking guidelines laid out in the Pentateuch so that they could have a structured life. They didn't have committees, juries or judges (at least, not in the modern sense). They had the Word of God and that was it. Since the shedding Christ's innocent, perfect blood eliminated the need for this tutor, this reminder of what was right and what was wrong, the Law was fulfilled. And that means all of it. Oftentimes we Adventists look at two "parts", and see the one fulfilled as being the sacrificial system. But the Ten Commandments are indeed a part of the greater Mosaic Law that was fulfilled. Before you scream, "blasphemy!", I want to point out that the Ten Commandments, the guidelines for right and wrong, have not changed. What is right in the eyes of God will always be right, and what is wrong in the eyes of God will always be wrong.

This brings me all the way back to the issue of the Ten Commandments and their fulfilled nature being cause for justifying Sunday sacredness and non-observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. The Ten Commandments were a set broad and specific statements from God's own hand of what is right--honoring one's parents and keeping the Sabbath holy--and what is wrong--murder, sexual immorality (under the umbrella word "adultery"), theft, perjury, idolatry, the cursing of God (and I might add falsifying claims in His name, which is also a form using His name in vain), and the wrongful or inordinate desire for another's property (which could fall along the lines of theft as well as coveting). Due to this fact alone, they cannot change.

Finally we come to the end of the chapter. And I think I should let Paul finish out this article.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Your Brother in Christ,

21 January, 2011

A message to the Antichrist

It would seem that in today's world, so many are adamant about replacing God with science. They seem to argue that one cannot serve two masters: one cannot serve Science and Religion. But it would seem that these are just lies perpetuated by the Father of Lies himself, Satan the Great Deceiver. I have heard numerous avowed atheists and science worshipers profess that religion is outdated, archaic, defunct. They posit that Christians are lying to themselves and wasting their lives. But ask yourself this question, ideology of the Antichrist: If it's about openness and freedom, why won't you accept Christianity as viable? If it harms neither you nor its followers, then is it bad by your standards? And if we are lying to ourselves and wasting our lives for a false hope, then why should you care? What are we missing? STDs? Cirrhosis? Emphysema or COPD? Diets with too much protein and not enough carbs?

The Bible tells us how to eat: healthfully. The Bible tells us to live pure lives and take care of our bodies. The Bible tells us to love people, so why must you denounce it? Face it, you're never going to kill us. You couldn't do it physically during the Dark Ages. You can't do it mentally in the 21st century. When something has survived for thousands of years like this, there's really no hope in destroying it; it's far too powerful. We know that good will triumph and the world's problems will be solved, but until then we do what we can to make others' lives better. It's rather pathetic of you to try and crush us by calling us Fundies, by calling us closed-minded, by spreading anti-religious Marxist philosophies. Sticks and stones may break our bones. And you may crucify us. But the truth is that we're too strong to fall because all the host of heaven is encamped around us.

Try as you may, this is as wall that you cannot breach. It is a fight you cannot win. We have the victory, and every second we endure puts us one step closer to hearing those words: "Well done, good and faithful one." As it was in the days on Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. And as we trek further into the 21st century, the days of Noah are making a comeback. The knowledge of man is increasing exponentially, and so is man's wickedness. There are wars and rumors of wars. It won't be long at all before the trumpet sounds and the mountains crumble. Until then, the faithful among us are going to hold against your attacks, Antichrist. The harder you try, the stronger we get. You can do nothing to stop us.

A Man Following Christ,

14 January, 2011

09 January, 2011

Sunday blurb: Time Taken

This is an age of noise. From the hustle and bustle of the streets to the constant din of our iPods, TVs, computers and cell phones. In this day and age, it is hard to take time to spend with God every day. It's all we can do to finish our studies, make enough money to squeak by, and get enough rest to fend off illness. Because of all this busyness in our lives, it is crucial to take time every day to spend with God. Look at me, telling you to spend time with God every day when I can't even find five minutes to do so myself. You see, this is why it's so important. Time spent with God is always a good investment and the more time you spend with God the better you will feel. And I know that from experience.

Tonight instead of playing computer games until it's time to go to bed, I'm going to spend half an hour or so reading in Patriarchs and Prophets, and then I'm going to spend a few minutes in prayer. Then tomorrow morning I'm going to start the day with prayer, which I haven't done once in the entire span of my memory. I'm going to do this every day. Let's see where this road takes me, shall we?

Your Brother in Christ,

05 January, 2011

Update/More Like Falling in Love?

As I was home for two weeks over Christmas Break, I found it hard to get into the swing of things. Having just touched down from a particularly stressful quarter (which explains my lack of regularity in posting entries), I was expecting to relax, to have two weeks to spend with myself and my family. What I got was the most hectic and stressful break of all time. In short, both my parents were gone most of the day attending to essential business and family matters, and I was left without a car or really the time to go and relax.

We did, however, get to spend Christmas Eve together. We opened gifts, as is our tradition, and then went to bed in preparation for the rather unique church service the next day. When all was said and done, at least the Christmas weekend was restful in some respects.

Speaking of Christmas Day, I got to drive my aunt to the airport on Christmas morning. On the way back to collect my tie, I listened to Air 1, my favorite radio station (and almost the only one I listen to). As per the holiday at hand, the station was playing a marathon of Christmas music. I rejoiced as the obligatory Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was played, and enjoyed hearing arrangements of my favorite carols and songs by my favorite bands, as well as hearing some of the "less favorable" songs. But I listened anyway.

Later the next week, as I was driving back from the grocery store after picking up some cottage cheese for an Adventist staple, Special K Loaf, I heard a song that I've heard on occasion. The chorus philosophizes, "It's gotta be more like falling in love / than something to believe in / more like losing my heart / than giving my allegiance." Of course, it is referring to the nature of the Christian's relationship with Christ. And it is, of course, wrong...or at least, partly wrong.

When I heard this song the most recent time, it gave me a mixed feeling. Part of me was disappointed and part of me was cynical. As somebody who has "fallen in love" before but whose affections haven't really ever been returned more than a little bit, I'm very cautious when people talk or sing about loving Jesus like loving a significant other. Because love is such a complicated thing when it is brought outside the safety and security of something like a familial relationship (and even then it can be complex and nuanced), it feels like sometimes these songs or sermons idealize the relationship with God. Instead of bringing it down to simplest terms--Jesus died for us so that we could go to heaven--they complicate things. In addition, this "falling in love" and the losing of one's heart generally suggests infatuation, which (as I have much experience) is rarely a genuine, enduring love. If it needs to be more like an infatuation with Christ, than an unquestioning obedience, then I want out.

The reason I would want out is a product of my present relationship with God. It was forged in the throes of a deep depression (also the source of my caution against falling in love); all the heat and pressure crystallized it from an amorphous blob of coal to a diamond. No, the stone isn't perfect, but it is harder and stronger than anything the Devil can throw at me. Why should I make capricious something that is founded on bedrock?

The last line of the chorus finishes the contrast: "...than giving my allegiance". All right, let's look at this for a second. To give one's allegiance is to vow loyalty and devotion. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Now there's something you probably haven't said in a long time. I haven't said it in years, not since eighth grade. And yet it is something I mean every time I say. I love my country and would gladly die for its (original) ideals. Likewise, I am a soldier for Christ. I love Him such that I would sooner die than recant my beliefs. And it appalls me that this song seems to suggest that allegiance comes from dogmatism or being proselytized. That's what the anti-Christian world thinks, those militant atheists who openly mock us. But I know better. My allegiance comes from the same place my love does: trial by fire.

This "something to believe in" is my lifeblood. This giving of my allegiance is everything I care about. If the world were to end today, I would be confident that my struggles have brought me closer to God. But if I were to make it more of a turbulent roller coaster of emotions, such as the feeling of falling in love, then I know I wouldn't stand.

The wise man built his house upon the rock (and was as gold refined in the fire)
The wise man built his house upon the rock (sing it with me)
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came a-tumbling down.

And the rains came down and the floods came up (more trials and tribulations)
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand (flighty nature of falling in love, a mere emotion)

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came a-tumbling down.

And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went SMASH!

Yes, we need to love God. But it needs to be strong and rooted. A tree whose roots go deep will fall, but if it is rooted in shallow soil, a strong wind can topple it. It needs to be devotion, not infatuation. It needs to be a diamond, not cubic zirconia.

Your Brother in Christ,

Modern-day Tropes: dredging up ancient history

It was the ninth century AD before Gregorian Chant was standardized in the Catholic Church. But the addition of new feast days and other occasions called for the addition of new music to the repertoire. Old texts and melodies were reworked and expanded, forming tropes. New sacred but nonbiblical texts were added to the liturgy, and melodies were written for them, making what are called sequences. Dramatic retellings of stories and allegories used melody to form liturgical dramas. All of these are ways to take the existing liturgical music and make it new and fresh. All of these are things we could use to revitalize music in the Adventist Church.

No, I'm not saying we should rewrite all the hymns in the book or throw some out (though some of them we might as well since nobody ever sings them). I'm saying that if the more traditional half of the Church--and I absolutely hate to think of our denomination as divided--would accept a reboot, if you will, of some of the classic hymns, things won't be so uninteresting (I'm going to address lack of interest and why interest matters in a future article).


The "Praise and Worship" repertoire in modern Christian music consists of original songs by artists such as Delirious?, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong United and many others. Many of the songs are less recent, traveling all the way back to the founding of CCM and before. Still others trace their roots to Christian hymnody, but they all share a characteristic style and instrumental color. Many of them have been simplified to remove pesky things like syncopation, much to the detriment of the song itself. (If there is one thing I hate about amateur and hobbyist praise teams, it's when they take syncopation out of songs that must be syncopated.) It seems, though, that much of the CCM Praise and Worship repertoire is standard, and the number of songs is small compared to something as encompassing as the SDA Hymnal.

This repertoire is so small, in fact, that many of our younger churchgoers have hardly ever used a hymnal. I grew up singing out of the hymnal. It taught me an invaluable skill, sight-singing. And it taught me songs that I remember to this day, songs that are well written and have fantastic lyrical content. Without singing from the hymnal, or at least singing hymns, the old ones will die, replaced my the simpler, more--dare I say it--trite hymns of modern Christian hymnody. Just a little housekeeping: I call contemporary songs hymns because they are used as hymns; many Adventists distinguish hymns in our hymnal from more contemporary music and I feel it improper to do so. All of them praise God, so why not call them what they are? (Hymn, being defined by the Greek hymnos, and by Thomas Aquinas as a song of praise to God.)

So this brings us to a the ultimate question regarding repertoire: should we abandon traditional hymns for modern style and compositional methods, or should we abandon modern music to save the only divinely ordained manner of singing? An affirmative answer to either option is, in my personal yet educated opinion, completely and utterly wrong. Not only is calling traditional hymnody the only divinely ordained form of song, as the Catholic Church did in their following of Greek music theory, but modern compositions deserve as much status as hymns as the older compositions do. On top of this, calling the older hymns hackneyed and stale is using the same prejudice that is used to justify alienating and condemning newer compositions.

The answer to the question is simple to say the least: instead of alienating one genre of hymn in favor of the other, we should take both and use both. We should teach the older hymns to those who don't know them, and teach the new ones likewise. They are all viable songs. They are all songs to God. The only difference is in the style of composition and performance. To merge the styles, we have to rely on something that sounds easy but is far from: arranging.


Arrangement is an art. It's not something you can sit down and do. In order to do so, you have to have enough command of your internal ear that you can hear in your head what you put down on paper. On top of that, you have to have a broad enough knowledge of music theory and arranging techniques that you can know what chord progressions to stay away from, what functions the original chords have, what implied harmony may be present in a monophonic, unaccompanied piece, and so on and so forth. Only after you are competent in these things can you use more unorthodox methods; only an extremely gifted composer can throw notes at a page and create gold.

Fortunately for the average musician, arranging isn't quite rocket science. All it takes is a basic knowledge of music theory and a good ear to take a song and spice it up. For instance, if your ear tells you to put in a few color chords or a different progression, as long as you can communicate that on paper, you're good. But it usually boils down to a glorified transcription that oftentimes doesn't quite match the original song. Sometimes the "avant-garde" arrangement is stylistically opposite of the original song and does more harm than good. Other times still, it's just a bland take on an otherwise great song.

Successful arrangements are impossible without practice and patience. Nobody is going to arrange something overnight (unless it's Gioachino Rossini; he wrote the entire opera The Barber of Seville in only 12 days, or so he claimed). And the lack of talented arrangers in today's age (and throughout history) has led us back to our traditional roots of singing and playing verbatim from the hymnal. While many of the arrangements in there are great, the Lutheran style just lacks some of the modern colors we're used to. Rarely do hymns in our hymnal use anything but the standard major, minor, dominant and leading-tone chords. Great is Thy Faithfulness is an excellent example of "non-standard" arranging: it uses numerous predominants, a IV/ii, and even an emb: a #ii°7/I. They add a certain amount of intrigue, making the song not just another well-worn melody; they instead make it an unforgettable gem of Christian hymnody. These techniques and others are as important of tools in the arsenal of the arranger as an armada of brushes and paints in the hands of a painter. And without the skills to use them properly, all the color chords in the universe aren't going to do a lick of good.


Unfortunately, a perfect arrangement is an idealistic fantasy that is far from possible, except in the Divine courts. But we can get something that sounds good enough to be interesting, yet isn't so dolled up that it's unlistenable. Again we come to a balance between the old and the new, a synergy of artistry and liturgy. That, my friends, is how it should be done. Instead of our traditional hymnody being a bitter pill for some and a sweet elixir for others, or the same with more contemporary hymns, we should be using the entire repertoire. It's saddened me that in my experience, it's been one extreme or the other. Either a congregation refuses the contemporary style in favor of the Church Hymnal, or the old one is thrown out for a new set of hymns that have themselves become trite. This ecumenical division will kill our Church if we let it. And that is something that we simply cannot do.

Your Brother in Christ,

*This is the fifth and final of a series of articles about music in the SDA Church and other denominations.*

All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version, © Thomas Nelson, Inc.