This picture encapsulates so much of my childhood and the bond between my father and me. It is a candid shot of us at one of my father's epic house parties. He threw one every weekend but this one was unparalleled. It was my 5th birthday.Read More
This is an email response that I sent to a dear sister and fellow classmate who reached out to me after learning about the Grand Jury's decision not to indict Eric Garner's murderer. This came straight from the heart, so I thought I'd share with you all the emotions that many of my brothers and sisters are feeling at the moment. In all the cacophony of fellow Christians screaming, "facts!" There are people, like myself, who are image-bearers of the True and Living God, and we are hurting. Hear my heart and please disregard any grammatical errors.
I am speechless, sister! Thank you for taking the time to email me and mourn with me. Honestly, that is all we ask from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It has been so very difficult for me to be at WTS as of late. Especially this semester, as I am the ONLY African-American woman in the MDiv program. It is difficult to sit back and see everyone carry on with life as usual while my life is spinning out of control and has been turned upside down with each subsequent miscarriage of justice. It hurts, so I weep andI tweet. I tweet out my rage because it is too hard to face the raw emotions. I try to focus on school, but I just can't.
Just as I was finally turning the corner on the Mike Brown situation, it happens again, this time Eric Garner. I wonder who will be next? Will it be my cousins or nephews? What will their future look like? What does my future hold? While I was praying this morning, I can honestly say that for the first time, I feel fear about living in America. My own country has put me into a state of fear. That is an indignity no human being should have to undergo.
With each death of my unarmed brothers, I feel a palpable loss. I have shed too many tears, and I am tired of grieving for my brother and sisters. What is a black life worth? Can we live like everybody else? These are the questions at the root of these atrocities. Sadly, America has answered us with a resounding "nothing" to the former, and "no!" to the latter. These injustices threaten to eat away at my very soul. I am weary and I need your prayers. Thank you for your empathy and care, it is a balm to my soul.
Grace to you,
Three weeks ago, I began a mini-apologetic blog series on Rhonda Byrne's book entitled, The Secret. In part one, we examined The Secret on its own terms. In part two, we explored its framework, and now we have arrived at the third and final installment of this series, in which we will examine its plausibility and inevitable blasphemy.
I would be remiss if I failed to address the plausibility of the secret. After all, there is a reason why this book has sold over 19 million copies and has been translated in 46 different languages worldwide. First, let us define the term “plausible.” According to Merriam-Webster, it is defined as something “superficially worthy of belief.”In other words, plausibility has “the appearance of truth or reason.” Plausibility is one of the primary reasons why this book has been so popular and pervasive—even among Christians. Common Scriptures such as: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” (Prov. 23:7) and “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21) are just a few among several Scriptures cited by Christians, and false prosperity teachers in the Word of Faith movement, who seek to syncretize their Christianity with The Secret’s gnostic new-age philosophy.
Neither of the aforementioned Scriptures are affirming the false teaching of The Secret, namely that you can call things into existence. The first Scripture, Prov. 23:7 concerns a hypocritical person who is stingy inwardly, but outwardly he is encouraging you to eat his food in spite of the fact that he increasingly despises you with each bite you take. His thoughts about himself are not changing him ontologically; he is well acquainted with who he is, and is projecting an ideal picture of himself to his friend in an effort to mask his true feelings.
The second Scripture, Prov. 18:21 does not teach that our words are on par with God’s words. Ex Nihilo is a power reserved exclusively for the Godhead. As the Creator-God, He literally speaks things into existence and His words create reality as we know it (Gen.1). With that said, our words bring about real consequences; if that were not so, the Bible would not warn us to guard our tongues and the words we use (Jas 3:5-9; Matt.12:36). Nevertheless, even the consequences are subject to God’s providence and sovereign rule; which acts as bulwark against the superstitious tendency to anxiously fret over every word we speak. We are not demi-gods; our “positive” and “negative” words do not create reality.
Initially, a cursory look into The Secret may seem plausible, but upon further study the implausibility abounds. Observe the world around you; suffering is everywhere. No one asked for suffering to enter into his or her world—it is part and parcel of living in this fallen world. What of the starving children in India and Cambodia? You mean to tell me the reason why they are living in poverty is because they did not get on the “frequency of receiving” through “positive thinking”? Have they never “visualized” a better life that did not include going to bed hungry? In our American context, the structures of plausibility are in place, but even when the secret seems to be working, bear this in mind: a broken clock is right twice a day. Consider Jesus: His every thought is pure, holy, true, and “positive”—if you will. Yet, He was crucified, in spite of the fact that He never had one unholy, false, or “negative” thought. Remember, plausibility and truth are not necessarily bedfellows.
Now we venture into the delusional pits of profound despair in Byrne’s illusory world. “You can never not be.You are eternal life. You are God manifested in human form, made to perfection.You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are the creator.”This litany of heretical statements and blasphemy is so steeped in utter wickedness and falsehood—it would be a sin for me not to contend for and defend the faith (Jude 3; 1 Pet. 3:15). Byrne has equated the creature with the Creator, by ascribing to the creature incommunicable attributes such as: pre-existence, eternality, condescension, omnipotence, omniscience, and creative power; all of which belong exclusively to the Triune God.
Contrary to Byrne’s “make-believe” universe, we are finite creatures—here today and gone tomorrow. We are like the flower of the field; when it withers away, its place knows it no more (1 Pet. 1:24). Rhonda, who are you to darken the Lord’s counsel without knowledge (Job 38:2)? Were you there when He laid the foundation of the earth (Job 38:4)? We are not eternal life; there is only one name under heaven by which men must be saved, and that is the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). In fact, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Moreover, He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man, for He became the “God-man” when He took on flesh (Luke 1:35; John 1:14; 1 Tim. 2:5). He upholds all things by the word of His power—we do not (Heb. 1:3). He is the power and wisdom of God (1Cor: 1:24). He is the Creator and we are the work of His hand (Is. 64:8).
“Why doesn’t everyone know this?” A burning desire to share The Secret with the world consumed me.” This seems so noble, but then again, all false teachers have a burning desire to share their new insights with the world. Perhaps that is why The Secret has bewitched so many: it gives off an air of innocuousness much like an “angel of light” and once it has you in its grip, you are mangled beyond description. This is the nature of idolatry. It holds out a false promise of satisfaction, security, and happiness, but it reneges on said promise once it lays hold of you, and leaves you worse off than you were before. Byrne is not revealing a secret that has been kept hidden for ages; conversely, The Secret is nothing more than repackaged “doctrines of demons”: gnosticism, pantheism, and new-age philosophy and the like rolled into an anthology. There is nothing new under the sun, and the idolatrous worship The Secret promotes finds its impetus in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3). “Any god that is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not God but an idol.”-Cornelius Van Til
“Merriam-Webster Dictionary,” http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/plausible .
 “Dictionary.com,” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/plausibility?s=t .
 “ BibleGateway,” accessed April 16, 2014, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+23%3A7&version=NKJV .
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 159.
 Lisa Nichols, quoted in Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 164.
 Ibid., 164
 Ibid., 4.
 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 79.
Last week, I embarked on a three-part apologetic mini-blog series on Rhonda Byrne's book entitled, The Secret. In part one we examined The Secret on its own terms, and now in part two of this series, we will explore its framework, or blueprint if you will.
Ask, Believe, and Receive
Rhonda Byrne’s blueprint for how to create your reality is lifted out of the pages of the New Testament Bible, Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24. On what grounds does Byrne cite Scripture for the framework of the secret, given that she does not exclusively posit Christian theism anywhere in the book? As mentioned before, the term “Universe” can be substituted for any higher being you are comfortable with, so long as you recognize that “there is something bigger than us.” Byrne’s illusory universe is drowning in contradiction. To assert that the “Universe” can be substituted for any god (including self) is to equate the Triune God with His creation—which is pantheistic. What’s more, it is fallacious, because the Creator-creature distinction is obliterated. Consequently, once we are relegated to a self-referential understanding of ourselves, all knowledge of self ceases, because we cannot know ourselves apart from our Creator God in whose image we were created. He is necessary; we are contingent and derivative. Additionally, it is fundamentally incoherent for Byrne to make Christian Scripture the authority for her worldview without affirming the author of Scripture, the Triune God.
Another contradiction in her worldview is captured in the following statement, “you are the Master of the Universe,” but in the same breath, she admits that there is something bigger than us. Why, even her deliberate capitalization of the common noun, “Universe” indicates a deference and respect for a god—albeit a false god. Byrne is using “stolen capital” which means that she has taken the Scripture, Mark 11:24, from the Bible and the Christian worldview in order to establish her unbiblical worldview without submitting to the lordship of the Triune God. Stolen capital is inevitable in the unbelieving position, because Christianity is true and its interpretation of the phenomenal and noumenal world is true as well. There is no way for the unbeliever to make sense of the world apart from the Ontological Trinity, because He has created the world in which facts, science, and biblical truth exists—so unbelievers are always stealing capital from Him; even if it is not an explicit biblical reference as is Byrne’s stolen capital.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
All men know God—including Rhonda Byrne—but they suppress the truth they know in ungodliness and unrighteousness. Byrne presupposes the Triune God as all men do, but she is engaging in what Dr. Oliphint refers to as the “sensus/suppression dynamic” which means that God’s covenant creatures are “knowing while suppressing.” This further illuminates Romans 1:18-23 and shows that Byrne is not simply denying “a god” within her illusory universe—No! She is in willful rebellion against the Triune God whom she is in covenant with; this renders her a covenant-breaker in Adam and without excuse. Rather than bend her knee in submission to the Triune God who was, and is at every moment revealing Himself to her, she prefers to expend useless energy devising ways to shut Him out of her world, but she does so unsuccessfully, because her world is contained within God’s world; therefore the center of her illusory universe cannot hold apart from God’s revelatory import. Hence, the stolen capital of Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24.
Now that we have established the reason why she has imported biblical Scripture into her illusory universe, let us examine her use of the principles she draws from the text. In order to create your reality, first you must “ask.” “Make a command to the Universe,” and be clear on what you want. Herein lies a classic case of adding to and taking away from Scripture (Rev. 22: 18, 19). According to the Scripture, you are to make your request known to God in prayer. Notice two things about this first step: the first is that “ask” has been exchanged for “command,” and the second is that “prayer” has been discarded. These eisegetical changes comport with the Genie metaphor spoken of earlier and also help to maintain the illusory universe Byrne has created. Note that the things asked for in The Secret, and the examples cited primarily concern health, wealth, and happiness. No one is asking for more self-control, kindness, gentleness, patience, and the like.
The second step is to “believe” that what you ask for—or “commanded” in this case—is yours the moment you ask for it. “Make-believing”is how you get to the point of believing; become a child again. Essentially, you must lie to yourself by pretending that you live in an illusory universe in which everything that you want and ask for is yours right now, though you do not see it. Byrne goes on to say, “have faith. Your belief that you have it, that undying faith, is your greatest power.” This begs the question, why should one have faith? A master does not need faith to believe that his servant is going to do as he commanded him; that would contradict the master-servant dynamic. Faith in someone or something indicates an admission of limitations and the need for “someone bigger” than yourself to bring about your desired end. Christian faith is “belief in the verbal direct revelation of God as it explains the facts of the universe here in this world: ourselves, and the world as created, the world as providentially controlled, the world as coming into judgment in history.” Faith is not fideism and superstition, which is essentially what Byrne is advocating.
The third and final step is to “receive,” by feeling the way you will feel when it arrives, because feeling happy and positive about what you ask for brings you into the frequency of receiving. The way to get on this frequency is to say, “I am receiving now. I am receiving all the good in my life, now. I am receiving [fill in your desire] now. And feel it. Feel it as though you have received.” Here you can see that Byrne is now plumbing the depths of delusion within her illusory universe. In her world, the sensory experience reigns supreme; you must feel in order to receive. So if you do not feel it, you must recite the statement above in vain repetition until you are placed on the frequency of receiving and feel it. Then and only then will you receive.
Now that we have looked at Byrne’s exegesis of Mark 11:24—or lack thereof—let us see what this Scripture has to say on its own term. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will have received it, and it will be yours.” Jesus is not saying that you have unilateral power to bring any and everything you want into existence. On the contrary, He is teaching that your requests must be made known to the Triune God in humble submission to Him through prayer with godly motives, believing that if it is His will, it will indeed come to pass. This is a beautiful picture of the creature’s reliance on the Creator, not a license to have a cosmic shopping spree to fulfill all of your covetous desires.
 James Ray, quoted in Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 46.
 Greg L. Bahnsen Van Til’s Apologetic: Reading and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), 297.
 K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 44.
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 50.
 Ibid., 50.
 Cornelius Van Til, “History and Nature of Apologetics: Faith, Reason, and Theistic Proofs - Part: 1” (lecture, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, January 1, 1980).
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 53.
This morning I am embarking on a three-part apologetic mini-blog series on Rhonda Byrne's book entitled, The Secret. I will examine The Secret on its own terms, its framework, plausibility, and blasphemy. In so doing, I will uncover the presuppositions that Byrne holds, while simultaneously demonstrating the inevitable incoherence of The Secret in view of the Christian faith, which interprets the world as it truly is.My sole intention for writing this blog series is for the edification and upbuilding of the universal church. Jude exhorted us long ago, "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).
Since the release of Rhonda Byrne’s, The Secret in November 2006—coupled with a significant endorsement from Oprah Winfrey—the new-age philosophy it propagates has infiltrated the church.The Secret has shipwrecked the faith of many and rendered the faith of some anemic at best. The author gathered twenty-four modern day teachers, philosophers, and authors to share their insights regarding “the secret.”
“The secret” is the “law of attraction,” which teaches that our thoughts have a frequency, and what you send out to the universe, either positive or negative thoughts, is what you will receive. You can be, have, or do anything you want through the power of positive thinking, visualization, and action, because you are God. There is no sphere of life that is exempt from the power of “the secret”. Money, health, and wealth are a few of many areas which are governed by the law of attraction. You are in control of your destiny, and only you have the power to create and reconstruct your present reality.
The Secret Examined
Rhonda Byrne uses the mythological story of Aladdin and the Genie as a metaphor to explain what the secret is and how it works. Aladdin asks for what he wants, and the Genie is there to do his bidding. Metaphorically speaking, you are Aladdin and the law of attraction is the Genie. According to Byrne, “the law of attraction is always present and always listening to everything you think, speak, and act. The Genie assumes that everything you think about, you want! That everything you speak about, you want! That everything you act upon is what you want! You are the Master of the Universe, and the Genie is there to serve you. The Genie never questions your commands.”
Observe the way that Byrne describes the law of attraction, by ascribing to it anthropomorphic and transcendent capabilities. She assumes that it has the ability to hear all things and is also omnipresent. But how does she arrive at such a conclusion, given her admission that “the law of attraction is a law of nature. It is impersonal and it does not see good or bad things. It is as impartial as the law of gravity”? Her metaphor betrays her earlier claim that the law of attraction is impersonal, for if it is as she claims, then it cannot “listen” or regard anything said by you or anyone else for that matter, because to do so would contradict the impersonal and impartial nature of said law.
Let us briefly consider the law of gravity, since Byrne makes mention of it. In order for a law of nature to be such, at the very least it must be universal and empirically observable. For example, if I drop a glass of water from my hand in America and did the same thing in Africa, the result would be the same—shattered glass and water would be strewn on the floor. When Byrne describes the law of attraction, she is not describing a law of nature as she purports. Rather, she is explicating her subjective belief in the non-empirical, the law of attraction—which by the way is not named among the laws of nature. How did she come to import God-like attributes into a supposedly “impartial” law of nature? Could it be that she is projecting the attributes of the one true God she knows into the so-called law of attraction? We will answer and explore these questions in greater detail as we progress, but for the moment, suffice it to say that there is more to the proverbial story.
Let us continue to examine the rest of Byrne’s statement. Based on her metaphor, the Genie is there to serve you and give you everything that you think, act, and speak about. You are the master and the universe is your servant; it does not question your command, but fulfills it. In this statement, there is self-deification language, not unlike what happened in Genesis 3:5 when the serpent said, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In their pride, Adam and Eve willfully dethroned God as their Master and Lord—and ascribed to themselves the title that is His alone. This sinful act resulted in the Fall, and with it, all humanity has inherited sin, guilt, shame, misery and separation from the God with whom our first parents once walked intimately. The noetic effects of sin are evident in Byrne’s statement. She is espousing an idolatrous mode of thinking in which the creature (self) is to be worshipped rather than the Creator, to whom all worship is due. If this idolatrous thinking is left unabated, she will inevitably plunge deeper into her delusion—and incur the judgment of eternal separation from God.
Byrne is truly a chip off the old block, following in the disobedient footsteps of her first parents. In order for her to live in the alternate universe of her own making, she has chosen to disregard and deny God’s self-revelation. This is what sin does: it makes us utterly irrational. “It is what robs us of being truly human; it is what is always at work to dehumanize us.” We exchange what the Triune God has revealed to us as true, good, and perfect for that which is false, despicable, and corrupt. Byrne is correct when she says, “you are the Master of the Universe.” Indeed, you are the master and creator, but only of the illusory universe within God’s Universe which He created in the beginning (Gen. 1:1). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in this illusory world, the Genie—which is an idol—never questions your command, because he has been created by Byrne and made in her own image and likeness (Exod. 20:3-4).
In fact, Byrne’s god sounds eerily like Satan when he said to Jesus, “all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). And worship she does. Regardless of Byrne’s futile attempts to uphold her illusory universe and deny the Triune God, He does in fact question our requests when they are riddled with selfish motives (Jas. 4:3). Ironically, in her illusory universe, there is a feeble attempt to uphold the Creator-creature distinction while simultaneously rejecting this reality in the Triune God’s universe. She is recapitulating what she knows to be true, yet she suppresses this truth by erecting an illusory universe—in which she is the creator and God is the creature. Coram Deo is an inescapable reality for all image-bearers; therefore, this illusion is nothing more than an exercise in futility, because the Triune God is revealing Himself to His creation at every moment.
Additionally, embedded in Byrne’s metaphor is a presupposition of sinlessness and autonomy. The idea that sin has stained our whole being and hindered our ability to think, act, speak, and emote is absent from her metaphor and the pages of The Secret. “Trust your instincts. It’s the Universe inspiring you. It’s the Universe communicating with you on the receiving frequency. If you have an intuitive or instinctive feeling, follow it, and you will find that the Universe is magnetically moving you to receive what you asked for.” What would happen if everyone were to follow Byrne’s advice and fulfill every instinctive desire they felt? This world would be thrown into complete and utter anarchy. Only animals live by instincts alone. This is exactly what our first parents did; they trusted in themselves and the serpent over against the Triune God and the Fall was ushered in (Gen. 3). Byrne is advocating the same, when she says you should trust your instincts. “A little autonomy involves absolute autonomy, and a little reality set free from the plan of God involves all reality set free from the plan of God.” Our fallen world is still reaping the sinful effects of autonomy.
What Byrne fails to acknowledge is that we are all born in sin and shaped in iniquity (Ps. 51:5; 14:2-3). We are descendants of Adam, united to him, and enslaved by sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:16, 17). We are all guilty before our Holy God and our conscience bears witness to this truth (Rom. 2:15), but God being rich in mercy sent the second Adam, Jesus Christ, to fulfill righteousness on our behalf (Rom. 6:17-19), so that those who believe in Him are no longer slaves to sin, but to righteousness (Rom. 6:18). Those who receive this salvation are given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26, 27) and are a new creation; the old man has passed away and the new man has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Though we are made new, we live in the “already-not yet.” We have been made holy in the sight of God due to Christ’s finished work, but we still have indwelling sin that remains (Rom. 7)—we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Consequently, we do not rely on our autonomous reasoning, because it is fallen. Instead, we are “fearlessly anthropomorphic” and rely wholly on the self-revelation of the Triune God given to us in the Bible. Cornelius Van Til elucidates this point when he says, “man as the creature of God needs supernatural revelation, and man, become a sinner, needs supernatural redemptive revelation.”
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), 11.
 Since the Byrne uses the terms, “the secret,” and “the law of attraction” synonymously, from this point forward, I will do the same.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 13, 43.
 Also known as “the Universe,” “the law of attraction,” “god” or any label you choose is fine, so long as it works for you (page 46).
 K. Scott Oliphint, “The Irrationality of Unbelief: An Exegetical Study,” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, ed. K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 70.
 Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008),134.
 Van Til asserts that the problem is not with God’s revelation to us, rather our sinfulness is the problem. Therefore, when it is difficult for us--as creatures—to reconcile God’s eternal decree and His will of command we must be “fearlessly anthropomorphic,” that is embrace our creatureliness and fully trust our Creator-God when there are things we don’t fully understand. In so doing, we honor Him and recognize our finitude; this is the sense in which I use the term.
 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 194.
In Spring 2014, I had the privilege of taking Theology and Secular Psychology with David Powlison Westminster Theological Seminary. In this particular assignment, I had to read, "The Berenstain Bears: Get the Gimmies," and engage in an apologetic assessment of the ideas propagated in this book.
All of us have either had first-hand experience or have witnessed the melodramatic face-off between a child and their parent at the checkout stand of a grocery store. You cannot help but watch as the battle of the wills ensues, because the child’s incessant whining and crocodile tears has captivated you; indifference is no longer an option. You are all ears, despite the fact that this contentious exchange is painfully awkward to witness. They have your undivided attention until one of the parties is crowned the victor. This is the tension brilliantly captured by Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Get the Gimmies.
The authors have an adept understanding of children’s insatiable desire for more, their coercive tactics used to subject their parent’s will to their own, and the inner turmoil of the parents who wrestle with the choice to either deny or oblige their child’s request. Yet, for all of the authors’ brilliance, with their assessment of what motivates the “gimmies” and the solution offered to cure the “gimmies” is devastatingly hollow. The superficiality is indicated in three ways: first, by the nomenclature, “gimmies”; second, by the moralistic message given by their parents, and third, by the final solution.
Throughout the book, Mama and Papa Bear say their cubs have, “the worst case of the galloping gimmies,” or “a bad case of the gimmies.” These phrases—as cute as they are—tacitly suggest that “the gimmies” is an external phenomenon that lays hold of the cubs, without warning, in the same way the chicken pox afflicts a child. The gimmies is nothing more than a euphemism for what the Bible calls covetousness, greed, and selfishness, all of which are subsumed under the biblical term “sin.” The problem does not lie in that the candy is cleverly positioned near the checkout stand at the grocery store, nor does it lie with the marketers who target their advertisements to little children who have an inordinate desire for more —although this deserves its own biblical assessment. No, Scripture puts the onus in the human heart. Jesus said there is nothing external that can enter into the body and defile the individual, but it is what comes out of the heart that defiles us (Mark 7:15). The greed, selfishness, and covetousness displayed by the cubs are an outward manifestation of an inward allegiance to the sin that has enslaved them and their parents, who have bowed their knee in submission to their sinful desires.
“Of all the outrageous, disgraceful, embarrassing behavior I have ever seen,” he roared, “that selfish, greedy performance by our cubs was the worst! Brother and Sister have the worst case of galloping greedy gimmies I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed Papa Bear, Mama Bear nodding in agreement. They both rightly identify the sin which has entangled their cubs, but they have also erred, because they described the selfishness and greed as symptoms of the gimmies, when in reality the opposite is true. A symptom is nothing more than a physical feature of an internal disease. Mama and Papa Bear have misdiagnosed the disease their cubs are afflicted with; they are suffering from an internal disease of which no man is exempt, and it is called sin.
An improper diagnosis of this disease leads to an improper treatment, which inevitably leads to an eternal death if left untreated. Papa and Mama Bear exhort their cubs with moral platitudes of this sort, “count your blessings,” “selfish, greedy cubs can never be happy, because you just can’t have everything you want all the time—life isn’t like that.” These two altruistic statements are borrowed capital from the Bible. The cubs have been given no grounds for why they should stop being selfish, greedy, and covetous. Mama and Papa Bear believe that the “gimmies” is an innocuous condition, and as a result, they have essentially said to their cubs, “take these two moral lessons to heart and call me in the morning!” Not knowing the cubs’ their condition will only worsen with time, because the disease which lies in their hearts is terminal (Rom. 6:23).
As stated before, a misdiagnosis leads to improper treatment. Consequently, Mama and Papa Bear heed the counsel of their parents, and implement a behavior modification strategy which seeks to quell the gimmies. From now on, the cubs must choose one treat prior to their trip to the grocery store. The plan went off without a hitch, or did it? What happens when the cubs return home and see a commercial for a brand new toy? Behavior modification seeks to change the behavior of the cubs, without regard for its determinant. Sin is the determinant of the disease state, and also the suppression of it which only prolongs the inevitable. We were born in sin and shaped in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), and no amount of moralism or behavior modification can eradicate this insidious sickness—no! The cure lies in Christ alone, who by His active obedience fulfilled righteousness on our behalf, and now that we are in Him and have His Spirit dwelling within, we desire to walk in righteousness—in fact, we are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18)—and put to death the sinful desires of selfishness, covetousness, and greed. The cubs need change from the inside out, and the gospel is the only effective cure for this deadly disease.
When you hear “church membership,” what word comes to mind? Perhaps, “enigma”? After all, there is no commandment that says “thou shall be a member of the local church.” We are living in an age where people call themselves Christians and believe themselves to be a part of the invisible church, yet refuse to join the visible, local church. In fact, many of these people believe that their “Me and Jesus” approach to Christianity is more “spiritual” than those who are committed members of the local church. This individualistic approach to Christianity is not supported anywhere in Scripture, and is an unbiblical phenomenon that is wholly rooted and perpetuated in individualistic American culture. The pervasiveness of this message cannot and should not be underestimated.
From the outset, it is important to note, that church membership did not begin in the New Testament; rather, it began in the Old Testament. Before we discover what the Bible has to say about church membership, it is necessary to define the church. According to the Bible, the church consists of those who have been effectually called by God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit and have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb through faith in Christ Jesus. The Bible affectionately refers to the church as: the elect (Matt 24:22; Rom 11:7), the bride (Rev 21:9, 22:17), beloved (Ps 60:5, 2 Cor7:1), the people of the God (Judg 20:2; 2 Sam 14:13), and the body of Christ (Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 12:27). God’s love for the church is from everlasting to everlasting, nothing can separate the church from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:39). Jesus Christ came to earth in order to save His bride, the church.
I. Church Membership in the Old Testament
The story of the church begins in the Old Testament. Exodus 19 is considered the first church gathering in the Bible, because God commanded Moses to consecrate and assemble the people of God before His presence. Deuteronomy 33:2-3 describes church gathering at Sinai in this way, “The Lord came from Sinai…he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,…yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand” (Deut 33:2-3). This passage captures an eschatological glimpse of future glory; in it, heaven meets earth there at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 also presents an eternal reality which cannot be overlooked. That reality is the dynamic of the visible and invisible church. Edmund Clowney defines the invisible and visible church in this way, “the church invisible is as God sees it, and the church visible is as we see it.” Church members only interact with the visible local church, and have no access to the invisible church, because God alone knows His elect ones. A profession of faith does not necessarily indicate a possession of faith. Those who are members of the invisible church will indeed be members of the visible church if they are not already, but membership in the visible church does not guarantee membership in the invisible church. Therefore, the redeemed and the unredeemed will remain in the visible church until Christ returns.
II. Church Membership in the New Testament
Jesus gathers the members of His church. During His earthly ministry, He was determined to preach the message of the kingdom to sinners so that by faith, they would be saved and become members of His church. Upon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ in Matt. 16:18, Jesus says that He will build His church. The great commission in Matt 28:18-20 is another passage that shows the necessity of church membership. Jesus’ great commission presupposes the existence of the church; if this were not so, then baptism and teaching the whole counsel of God—as set forth in the great commission—would not be possible. In order to teach the full counsel of God, the people of God had to gather together consistently, so that new converts would learn to become disciples of Jesus apt to teach and fulfill the great commission. Jesus said, “I will build my church…” (Matt 16:18) and He is still building His church, through the gathering of the elect until the full number have been brought in; He will not lose one (John 6:39).
Acts 2:42-47 describes a glorious picture of the early church. The members of the early church were committed to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship with those of like precious faith, prayers, and the breaking of bread—which is the Lord’s Supper. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This passage describes the church, the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. The members did not neglect to meet with one another; they were unified and shared all that they had, so no one wanted for anything. Again, we see that the Lord is the One who added the members of the church through His sovereign election. The members of the church were not added, for the sole purpose of enjoying their union with Christ exclusively, but also in communion with fellow believers in the church. God’s people are to glorify Him and image Him in all that they do; God is primarily glorified when His people assemble together in the community of the church.
III. Church Membership is Not an Option
Though our salvation does take place individually, there is a corporate aspect to our salvation clearly demonstrated in the canon of Scripture. When an individual is saved, he is saved unto Christ and brought into the community of the church, this is the divine pattern laid down in Scripture. The church is a corporate entity comprised of individual people whom God has elected with the intent to be glorified within the community of believers. Just as a mosaic tile piece is only a mere tile apart from the collective body of tile pieces, so it is with those individuals who practice their Christianity apart from the community of the church.
There is no salvation outside of the church. Individualistic Christianity is nowhere to be found in the pages of the Bible. If you say you love Jesus, you will love what He loves—His church. Church membership is required for those who name the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. He died for His bride and gave Himself up for her. Those who insist on practicing their Christianity individualistically are separated from the church. Hear the words of early church theologian, Cyprian, “whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”
 Edmund Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 109.
 Cyprian, “The Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise 1—Treatise on the Unity of the Church,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed October 30, 2013, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iv.v.i.html.
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