Avoid Genealogies: When Family Trees Become a Problem

family-tree-imageTracing family roots is a fascinating project that can occupy countless hours. A few years ago, a personal friend and colleague in ministry, Glenn Tomlinson (Sovereign Grace Community Church, Sarnia, Ontario) did some research for me, tracing my family line (Daniels) back to 1640, when a Davy Daniels left Scotland for what became the New England colonies.

According to No1Reviews.com, the top ten genealogy sites for 2015 are:

My Heritage
US National Archives
The National Archives UK
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
Family Search

You can reach any of these sites through the links provided at No1Reviews.com.

Cultures, ancient and modern, have always been interested by ancestors – family trees. The Mormon church places significant theological importance in ancestors as living Mormons can practice proxy baptism for their dead, making possible for their dead relatives to have a second chance at Heaven. Here’s their answer to the question, “Why do Mormons perform baptisms for the dead?”

Jesus Himself, though without sin, was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and to show the way for all mankind (see Matthew 3:13-17; 2 Nephi 31:5-12). Thus, baptism is essential for salvation in the kingdom of God. We learn in the New Testament that baptisms for the dead were done during the Apostle Paul’s time (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This practice has been restored with the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith first taught about the ordinance of baptism for the dead during a funeral sermon in August 1840. He read much of 1 Corinthians 15, including verse 29, and announced that the Lord would permit Church members to be baptized in behalf of their friends and relatives who had departed this life. He told them “the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God” (Journal History of the Church, 15 Aug. 1840).

Because all who have lived on the earth have not had the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth, baptisms may be performed by proxy, meaning a living person may be baptized in behalf of a deceased person. Baptisms for the dead are performed by Church members in temples throughout the world. People have occasionally wondered if the mortal remains of the deceased are somehow disturbed in this process; they are not. The person acting as a proxy uses only the name of the deceased. To prevent duplication, the Church keeps a record of the deceased persons who have been baptized. Some have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed the names of deceased persons are being added to the membership records of the Church. This is not the case.

Small wonder that family trees play an important role in the Mormon religion. That I do not believe one can find adequate Biblical support for the legitimacy of proxy baptism is a question to be answered at another time.

The first full-fledged family tree in Scripture opens with these words: “This is the written account of Adam’s line” (Gen 5:1). Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, various genealogies and family lists appear. The book of Numbers is so named because of the two census lists appearing in the text – one at the outset of the wilderness wanderings, and one at the conclusion. Both Ezra and Nehemiah contain genealogical lists relating to the Jews who returned to Israel from the Babylonian exile. And who can forget the amazing family tree of our Lord Jesus recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

With such emphasis on family lines in the Bible, what are we to make of Paul’s warning to both Timothy and Titus, pastors of newly planted first century congregations?

“…command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work…” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).

“…avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).

[Scripture taken from the New International Version (1984) Emphasis mine]

With these stern warnings, is the Apostle Paul denigrating the value of all those family trees found in Scripture? Was it not Paul who wrote: “For everything that was written in the past” – and he refers here to the O.T. texts, including the genealogical lists – “was written to teach us, so that through the endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4)?

To answer that question, we need to consider the possible context of Paul’s warnings to Timothy and Titus. Perhaps a few Jewish believers were trying to use their family heritage to procure privileged positions within the churches. Paul himself had once taken great pride in his family tree: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more…of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews…” (Philippians 3:4-5). However, following his conversion experience, Paul declared his once-important lineage to be little more than “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ (Php. 3:8).

Further, the fact that Paul mentions “quarrels about the law” in the same warning, could mean that some within the churches were seeking to give permanence to what God intended to be temporary (See Galatians 3:24-25).

The biblical family trees remind us of God’s sovereign control of all history – that he works through free moral agents to accomplish his divinely decreed purposes. However, those same biblical genealogies were never meant to provide occasion for pride or presumed privilege within the New Covenant community of God.

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Recognizing the Messiah’s Message

Recognizing-the-Messiah's-Message-J-LeathRecognizing the Messiah’s Message: A Layman’s Study of Matthew
Jeffrey Leath
WestBow Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-1- 4908-7078-6

This is Jeffrey Leath’s second book, and with it he continues demonstrating the valuable contribution diligent laypersons make in the biblical and theological education of our congregations. As with his first book, Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews, this study of Matthew was first presented to the Sunday School class he teaches at Pine Grove Church in Bowmansville, Pennsylvania.

Christians generally understand the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – to present four pictures of Jesus.

Matthew – Jesus as the King
Mark – Jesus as a servant
Luke – Jesus as the perfect human
John – Jesus as God incarnate

While Leath says he also studied the gospels through these four pictures, he now believes Matthew’s purpose is more extensive than simply presenting him as Israel’s King.

… I find that Matthew is being led by the Holy Spirit to reveal more than merely Jesus’ position as King and Messiah. Matthew is sharing with us the message of the Messiah and His message to the early church is still relevant today.

Through twenty-seven chapters, Leath unpacks the man and the message of this one who came as Israel’s Messiah and the Savior of all who believe in him.

Leath carefully puts readers into the context of the first century world of Jesus – both in terms of the occupying Roman government and the Jewish cultural and religious world in which Jesus lived. I hope readers won’t miss the way Leath willingly draws from all the resources available to him: his daughter’s knowledge of Jewish history and culture, received from an International Jewish Studies education through Friends of Israel and Cairn University, and from several classic texts focused on life in first century Israel. The background and color Jeffrey Leath brings to his study is available to any serious student of Scripture who is willing to invest to the time to research the sources available to North American Christians.

They study moves consecutively through Matthew’s gospel, unpacking the high points of the text, never losing sight of the imperative to apply the principles of Messiah’s message to our own lives.

In Matthew 24, when answering the disciple’s questions about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world, Jesus outlines a number of significant eschatological events:

The destruction of the temple
Wars and rumors of wars
Famines and earthquakes
Persecution of Christians (“account of my name”)
False Prophets
Increase in lawlessness
Abomination of desolation
A great tribulation
False christs
Loss of power from the heavens (sun, moon, stars)
Return of the Son of Man

Leath doesn’t succumb to the temptation to dwell solely on dates and timing of events, but rather emphasizes the spirit of Christ’s teaching to be ready and watchful. He writes:

These things will happen, and some have already happened. Jesus’ message to the disciples, however, was more than just to satisfy their curiosity. His message was:

know the signs,
be ready,
be faithful and prudent,
know the signs, be ready,
be faithful and prudent,
keep watch, and be prepared because you do not know the day or hour, and
administer what has been entrusted to you until the day of reckoning.

There is a lot of good teaching on how to live today in light of Christ’s return to this world. Leath quotes Michael Green:

Prophecy is not intended to give us a detailed picture of the future, but to lift up our hearts in expectancy so that we make ourselves ready for what is to come. … Jesus did not tell us to get out our calculators and polish our crystal balls, but to live a holy life in preparation for meeting Him.

If you are looking for a devotional study of Matthew’s gospel for personal study or a small-group setting, give Jeffrey Leath’s study guide consideration. He reads easily, is warmly evangelical, and consistently reminds us that good Bible study leads to changed lives.

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15 Reasons to take Genesis as History

Genesis-as-History--Batten-and-Sarfati15 Reasons To Take Genesis As History
Don Batten & Jonathan Sarfati
Creation Book Publishers, 2013, 2nd Ed.

While biblical truth has always faced attack, perhaps no attack has been as aggressive and unremitting as the attack on the historical reliability of the opening words of Scripture – the account of Creation. A growing body of scientists & theologians professing to be Bible-believing Christians have embraced an evolutionary understanding of origins.

Many Christians, anxious to be seen as intelligent, rational beings, are succumbing to the accepted wisdom of evolutionary thinking – whether full-blown Darwinian evolution or some form of theistic evolution. However, there is another way. There are many scientists, philosophers and theologians who have not given up on Genesis. And you do not need to give up either.

Creation Ministries International (CMI) is one of several evangelical ministries devoted to reminding Christians that the Bible they hold in their hands is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In this vein, CMI has produced 15 Reasons To Take Genesis As History, a helpful, accessible defense of the historical veracity of Genesis.

Believing Genesis to be a true record of what actually happened negates all forms of evolutionary theory – theistic evolution included. If Genesis is true, Adam & Eve are historical persons – the very first people to populate the planet. If Genesis is true history, then God did create our world in six 24-hour days, resting and contemplating a perfect creation on the seventh day.

Don Batten & Jonathan Sarfati present these fifteen reasons for understanding Genesis as true history:

  1. Jesus understood the Old Testament as history.
  2. Jesus regarded Adam, Eve and Noah as historical people.
  3. Genesis was written as history.
  4. The rest of the Old Testament takes Genesis as history.
  5. The New Testament takes Genesis 1-11 as history.
  6. Genesis history is consistent with God’s nature.
  7. Genesis as history explains the origin of death and suffering.
  8. The Gospel presupposes the historical events of Genesis.
  9. A consistent Christian worldview depends on Genesis as history.
  10. Denying the history of Genesis disconnects Christianity form the ‘real world’.
  11. The early church leaders accepted the timeframe and global Flood of Genesis.
  12. The Reformers understood Genesis as history.
  13. Atheism requires naturalism – Christians should not deny Genesis as history to accommodate it.
  14. Abandoning Genesis as history leads to heresy and apostasy.
  15. Why not take Genesis as history? Only the fallible speculations of historical ‘science’ stand in the way.

Each reason is followed by a simple, to-the-point explanation, complete with biblical references and footnotes to other supporting resources.

We might expect a resource like this to be written by theologians, but in this case, Don Batten (Ph.D. in biology/plant physiology) & Jonathan Sarfati (Ph.D. in chemistry/physics) are scientists with a passion to equip Christians in answering the challenges posed by materialistic, humanistic, and atheistic worldviews. Both men are published scholars in secular scientific journals as well as apologists for biblical creation and Christianity.

I am aware that there are many sincere Christians who hold that the opening chapters of Genesis are not meant to be read as literal history, but as a metaphor or story given to an ancient people who would have no understanding of the complex scientific categories and explanations. Though sincere in their desire to find a harmony between science and the Bible, the trajectory of such a view, if followed to its logical conclusion, will inevitably erode their confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Word of God. Tragically for some, it will lead to renouncing the Christian faith.

This is a great introduction to a critically important topic. Indeed, if we cannot believe that the biblical account of our origin and human condition is as recorded in Genesis, we can have no real confidence that the solution offered is true and reliable either.

I recommend this resource as an introduction to a conversation that needs to be taking place in our homes and churches.

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Get a free copy of John Piper’s new biography of C.H. Spurgeon

John-PiperJohn Piper is a household name among conservative evangelicals, particularly within the reformed community. He was the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota) for more than 30 years. Along the way, he established desiringGod.org, where he still serves as leading teacher. A sought-after speaker and prolific author (more than 50 books), John Piper has had, and continues to have, a remarkably effective and influential ministry.

Another equally well-known name, certainly among those knowing Piper, is the 19th Century English Baptist preacher and ardent five-point Calvinist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. With a ministry record of baptizing over 14,000 believers, training scores of men for ministry, establishing hundreds of Sundays Schools and preaching points across England and beyond, Spurgeon dispels the threadbare caricature that Calvinists don’t care about evangelism and rarely build ministries of any significance.

Over at the desiringGod blog, Jonathan Parnell, informs us that John Piper has recently released a small biography of Charles Spurgeon which is being offered for free in three digital formats, and for purchase in print.

Charles-Spurgeon---John-PiperThe book is an edited and formatted version of a sermon John Piper delivered years ago to a group of pastors, entitled Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity. It presents an “inspiring vision of gospel ministry and offers practical counsel for how pastors keep going when the times are toughest.”

You can read Parnell’s post here, where you will find instructions on how to download a free digital copy of the book. There is also a link to Amazon if you prefer to purchase a print copy of the book.

While you are at the desiringGod site, take a few minutes to browse the wide range of biblically-rich resources available to the public – much of it free of charge, though I’d enourage you to consider a donation to help the ministry continue. With 10,000 resources already available – sermons, articles, papers and books – it is a rich and growing repository of sound, biblical teaching.


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Becoming Reformed: Breaking with the past

change-just-aheadBecause of its requirement that members annually sign the doctrinal statement “without reservation”, my growing unease with a confident pretribulationalism inevitably led to resigning from WEF Ministries. It was a decision reached with great reluctance. I loved the mission and had developed good friendships with quite a few of its members.

But in a turn of events I did not anticipate, the members of the church we had planted requested that I stay on as their pastor. It was an awkward moment for the mission leaders and my coworkers, but the decision stood and I remained with the congregation who severed its ties with the mission. This required an adjustment of the church doctrinal statement, removing the requirement of embracing a dispensationalist hermeneutic.

Because the church was not yet self-supporting, and because my resignation from the mission meant that I would no longer receive financial support, I immediately began looking for a job to supplement the income the congregation could provide.

I wrote all of our supporters – virtually all of them holding a similar dispensationalist hermeneutic – informing them of my growing reluctance with pretribulational dispensationalism. I had discovered an organization that facilitated U.S.-based donors in providing financial support for Christian workers unaffiliated with mission organizations. While the majority of supporters declined to continue sending support, enough did to provide the shortfall in funding so that I did not need to take a job. God wonderfully provided all that we needed.

breaking-with-the-pastLittle did I know that the decision to leave WEF Ministries would constitute a genuine break from the past. It closed more than a few doors to friendships and relationships. For some, I had “denied the doctrines of the Bible.” However, letting go of a tightly-held, confident dispensationalism enabled me to freely explore a wonderfully rich Christian heritage that I had previously held aloof.

Opening myself to fellowship with a wider body of believers led to meeting others who were already well along the road to rediscovering the richness of a reformed soteriology. I am thankful for all those men who, while recognizing I was not fully reformed as they were, nevertheless patiently encouraged me in my pilgrimage toward a reformed understanding of salvation.

By this time I was already committed to the doctrines commonly described as total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Like many who had traveled this road ahead of me, I struggled with the doctrine of limited atonement (I prefer the term definite atonement).

During these developments in 1980, in a remarkable display of divine providence, God brought David and Pamela Bugden to serve the congregation of First Calvinist Baptist Church (now Sovereign Grace Baptist Church) in Oromocto, New Brunswick. Remember it was David Bugden who had introduced me to the Westminster Fellowship during our years in England.

Along with serving the congregation at Oromocto, David Bugden encouraged reformed men in the maritime provinces by hosting a monthly pastors fellowship where men of reformed persuasion could meet for study, prayer and fellowship. Despite the meetings being a five-hour drive, I rarely missed an opportunity to attend that fellowship.

the-sovereignty-of-grace--aurthur-custanceIn late 1980 or early 1981, I don’t now recall, a package arrived by mail containing nothing but a book: The Sovereignty of Grace by Arthur Custance. Though I am not certain, to this day I believe the book came as a gift from David Bugden. The book described Arthur Custance’s journey into a full-fledged reformed soteriology. I am grateful for the gift because it was the final piece that brought me fully into the fold of a five-point Calvinistic soteriology. You can read this book online here.

In future posts I will explain why I believe the five-points of Calvinism faithfully reflect the Biblical doctrine of salvation.

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