Apostasy

Apostasy

Apostasy is a term that  has dropped out of usage for most Evangelicals.  After all, “once saved always saved,” would make apostasy virtually impossible.  Yet there are others who also live under the Evangelical umbrella who believe that a person, once truly saved, can nevertheless lose one’s salvation.

Is it possible for someone to lose their salvation?  John 15 is one portion of Scripture that is frequently cited to support this idea, particularly verses 5-6,

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

To teach eternal security, so the argument goes, is to encourage slovenliness in the Christian life.  Once someone has accepted Christ as Savior, that person, because they cannot lose their salvation, can now live the way they want to live—once saved always saved.  On the face of it, this is a compelling argument against eternal security.

The conclusion is not warranted however, least of all by this passage.  Those who argue that one can lose his or her salvation, do so on the assumption that one becomes a believer in Christ by an act of free will.  (By free will we mean an autonomous and neutral force within our inner being that is free to choose or not choose God.)   Even though the Holy Spirit may exert pressure on the person to believe, so the argument goes, God waits for that person to say yes.  In the final analysis, it is up to the individual to accept the gift of salvation that is offered to all.

This emphasis on free will is  invoked to vitiate the once-saved-always-saved position.  The doctrine of eternal security is then made to look ridiculous:  You prayed the sinner’s prayer and God is now stuck to you like fly paper and no matter what you do later in life, you’re still saved.  This is wrong.  There is another point of view.

First, we must jettison the phrases, “eternal security” and “once saved always saved.”  Technically, they are correct but only partially so.  They do not convey all that the Bible says on this subject.   Partial truths can lead to distortions of the truth.   Moreover, they present a truncated view of what is more accurately referred to as the “perseverance of the saints.”  A true Christian is one who perseveres to the end and we persevere by grace (Phil. 2:12-13).

Second, we do not choose God; He chooses us (John 15:16).  This changes everything and the objections above fall to the ground. When God sets out to do something, He does it and He does not make a mistake, nor does He change His mind (Romans 11:29).

The argument turns on the effects of the sin inherited from Adam on our inner being which includes the will.   The effects of the fall are such that we are born with a disposition that, left to ourselves, we would never choose God (Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:18; 8:7).  Left to ourselves, we would do what Adam and Eve did after they had sinned and they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day—hide.   We were born with a disposition that naturally hides from God, sometimes in church.   We cannot choose God because it is contrary to our nature, inherited from Adam, to do so.  We cannot choose God because we don’t want to.

You didn’t choose God; He chose you.  True, in an act of the will (yes, we have a will), you heard the offer of the Gospel and you responded.  But in reality, the Spirit of God had been at work in your heart as the Word of God was being proclaimed.   He changed your heart to enable you to respond to His call.  In the final analysis, God chooses us, not we Him (John 1:12-13; 6:44; 10:26-27).

Third, and most important, this eliminates our tendency to presume on God.  If we are one of His chosen, then we cannot live the way we want to live.  If we are content to live an ungodly life then it is quite likely that we are not one of His chosen.

Ironically, if we are the ones that choose God, quite the reverse is true.  Despite God’s prodding, in the final analysis, we call the shots. We can live the way we want to even if there is the possibility of losing one’s salvation.  After all, nobody’s perfect and so one has to be really bad to lose one’s salvation and we’re not that bad, or, we will just be careful to stay away from the precipice.  This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “extending grace to ourselves.”

Where is that line that one could cross to lose one’s salvation?  Who knows?  Those who hold that view unwittingly think they know.   What happens when the emphasis is on the freedom of the will is that we are placing ourselves in control, dictating if, when, and under what circumstances we are saved and continue to be saved.

Consider the effects of God’s choosing, “. . . children born not of human decision, nor of a husband’s will but of God” (John 1:13).  He changes these hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, by the Holy Spirit writing God’s law on our hearts: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26); “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

Since salvation is all of God’s grace, we look to Him for assurance of salvation.  It begins by repentance and faith and it proceeds by repentance and faith.  To condone sin or otherwise excuse it, is out of character for the elect of God.  He does the choosing not we.  The effect of His choosing is a holy life, “I will be their God and they will be my people.”

But, comes the rejoinder, what about those passages that speak about falling away including this one in John 15:6, are they mere hypotheticals?  Let it be stated here that we take apostasy seriously. One can appear to be a Christian and the ethical teachings of the Gospel can have, outwardly at least, a positive effect on a person.  A dead branch on a grape vine can look alive and can even draw life from the vine.  That is why it is cut away.  It is dead.  It doesn’t bear fruit.

In other words, it is possible to come under the influence of the Gospel such that one manages to outwardly conform, as long as he finds it beneficial, to its ethical standards and otherwise derive blessings and benefits from it and yet not be saved.  (See Romans 2:28-3:2)

There can be a falling away for those whose lives were influenced by the Gospel but never really transformed by it.  Ironically, free will promotes presumption; election undermines it.  “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things [Christian virtues], you will never fall” (II Peter 1:10).  It removes presumption while providing assurance, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).

I’ve written this rather lengthy article (for this publication) because of my own disquiet over the moral decline in the church in general and no ministry or church is exempt including BHOF.

BHOF_smallHousehold Words

This segment is dedicated to Hope Academy, our school now  in its third year.  We present to you a partial wish list for equipment and supplies and we thank you in advance for your generous support:

  • Set of prepared microscope slides for high school Biology (1)
  • iPad Pro (2)
  • Graphing calculators (2)
  • Chess sets (4)
  • Finances for field trips

For a more complete wish list and ordering details, go to the following Amazon link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/38074E9SB32WW/ref=cm_wl_huc_view

As always we are so grateful to the Lord for your love and support.

Bob Hall for Naomi Woodmansee, Head of School

If you would like to receive this letter and other communication from Bronx Household of Faith electronically, please send an email to moc.l1487661874iamg@14876618741pjst1487661874reboR1487661874with the subject line “City Lights by email”. Please indicate in the message if you would like to stop receiving the hard copy.

City Lights is a publication of The Bronx Household of  Faith, an urban church committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the streets of New York.

         Co-pastors: Bob Hall, Jack Roberts,
         Phone: (718) 220-3652,
         Email: gro.f1487661874ohb@f1487661874ohb1487661874; Web: www.bhof.org

This Is My Father’s World

This Is My Father’s World

This is my father’s world
and to my listening ears 
all nature sings, and round me
 rings, 
the music of the spheres

Somehow, riding the subway at 6:00 in the morning in mid-winter darkness, a couple of days a week (to do lap swimming), doesn’t lend itself to hearing the music of the spheres

I look at the other people on the train.  Those who are not sleeping are on their cell phones, either reading their messages or heads are bobbing up and down with the music that, presumably, is very far from the rustling grass where I hear him pass

God is very distant from our general culture.  What is worse are the many attempts to remove all traces of Him together with the self-destructive, futile attempts to remake our world into something other than what God has made it to be.

I have often said that I don’t need the classical arguments for God’s existence.  Just look at the choices people make in this world and observe the outcome of those choices.  People try to make their own way, disregarding God’s way as something outmoded and not in keeping with the twenty-first century as if modernity represents the best in human history.  Someone once said to me with a straight face, “Standards are different today.”  This is a secular article of faith that is uncritically assumed and one that needs to be challenged. 

This is God’s world.  It’s His design and whenever we try to say that it is something other than what God says it is, we’re in for trouble.

Nowhere is that more evident in God’s design for marriage and the family.  Dr. David Ayers, Dean of Arts and Letters at Grove City College, a sociologist and who also happens to be former member of our church, put it most profoundly.  “We’ve separated things that were always supposed to be united.  We’ve separated sex, marriage and children.”  As a result, pre-marital sex is okay and so is gay marriage.  Biblically speaking sex, marriage and children are conjoined.  That is God’s design and whenever we try to alter God’s design or try to circumvent it, we create serious problems. 

I’ve said this before in a previous article.  In one of our outreach ministries where we had about 30 to 40 children from the neighborhood, most of whom I did not know, I got to the point where I could observe the group and fairly accurately guess who is being raised by their biological father and mother.  Granted you can give me a zillion exceptions but generally speaking I noticed a calmer spirit and a more self-assured demeanor in those who were raised by their biological father and mother.

The effect of sidestepping God’s order involves more than just the individual.  I don’t need to invoke chapter and verse to prove that society in general is affected by an individual’s wrong life-altering choices.  We all pay for the shop lifter as the merchant’s loss is added to the cost of doing business.  Think of the many people who are directly affected by one person’s life-controlling problem: wives, children, siblings, neighbors, employers, creditors.  It is common knowledge that out of wedlock births means poverty in that child’s future.

Much of our ministry is remedial.  We would like it to be more preventive. We thank God for the transformed lives of those who have been saved out of the darkness of gross sin.  We have also seen the tears over what could have been, had they come to Christ earlier in life. 

I was chatting with one man who had recently come to Christ.  He told me of a lengthy phone conversation he just had with a childhood friend who was a believer.  He related to me how, as children, he and his friends used to make fun of him for his faith in Christ.  That child is now a grown man and still faithfully following our Lord being blessed with his own business.  He quoted his friend to me, “You could be where I am today had you started following the Lord back then.”   My new brother in Christ readily agreed. 

Choices produce consequences because it’s God’s world.  Part of the evangelistic task is to get people on the road to thinking God’s thoughts after Him, as He has revealed Himself through His Word.  It’s called repentance.   There can be no genuine faith without it.  When we engage people with the Gospel, we endeavor to help them make the connections between their choices and their consequences.  It takes a firm but gentle hand along with a heavy dose of humility and most of all, the work of the Holy Spirit, to touch that point of rebellion in a person’s life.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God but how can one exercise true saving faith without answering what the Word says about our inbred desire for autonomy which must be repented of?    Anyone can pray the “sinner’s prayer” or the equivalent thereof but faith and repentance must go together. 

Without the exercise of both, we sadly watch people walk away from the Gospel as they choose to act as if they can create their own reality and choreograph their own happiness only to discover later that they have fallen into a pit they have unwittingly dug for themselves.

I don’t need the cosmological and teleological proofs for God’s existence.  The ungodly choices that people make, together with the consequences thereafter, convinces me more than ever that this is my Father’s world.  There is no other way, no other answer to the fallen human condition.

Thank you for your part in enabling us to remain here to point people to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Household Words

It’s not even spring yet but it’s time to talk about summer camp scholarships.  Our choices of camp venues are more than in years past.  The main ones continue to be Northern Frontier for boys and Camp Cedarbrook for girls, also Worldview Academy for our older high school and post high school young people.  Thank you for considering this opportunity by praying about it.

Years ago in my home church in Minneapolis a married woman who, with her husband, missionaries to Africa, preached the message at the evening service.  This was before the days of the women’s movement.  Her title: “Where are the men?”  She was lamenting the fact of the shortage of men so badly needed in their field of ministry. 

I ask the same question today.  One of the greatest needs in urban ministry is male role models and mentors.  We feel this keenly in our associate ministry New York City Christian Athletic League, our Battalion ministry to teenage boys and most of all, our school, Hope Academy. 

We have the men now and we are grateful for them.  They know the urban environment. They’ve grown up here.  They understand the kids with whom they work.  They have a heart for the youth of this city.  But how long can we keep them in their current position?  I’m thinking particularly of Hope Academy teachers.  They are about to be married or they have young families that they need to support.  Housing is becoming increasingly expensive in this neighborhood which, I can personally attest, was once much more financially accessible than it is today. 

Hope Academy is half way through its second year and it’s been a wonderful year.  It’s our opportunity to work with kids on a daily basis who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the educational system.  Our head of school Naomi is the anchor of HA but how I long to see her and the teachers, especially the male teachers receive a living wage so that they can do what they’ve already been doing very effectively. 

You have been very generous with your support and for that we give thanks to God.  We are asking you to help us find new people who would be interested in partnering with a ministry such as this, or, perhaps, as some have done in the past, direct us to foundations which would be a potential source of funding.

As always, our confidence continues to be in the faithfulness of our precious Lord.

Three Card Monte

Three Card Monte

Fordham Road, a very busy street just around the corner from me, I encounter a game called Three Card Monte. It’s a version of the old shell game. The game is usually played with a red ace and two identical black cards. You watch closely for the red ace as the dealer moves the cards around, side to side in quick succession. When he stops you place your bet and point to the red ace. If you get it right, you “win.”

In this particular episode that I witnessed, they managed to garner quite a boisterous crowd, the more the merrier and better the likelihood of finding a mark and fleecing him of his money.

The scam involves lookouts (for the police) and a couple of confederates. They use an upturned box for their table, something they could easily abandon in case they would have to hot foot it out of there.

The ones in on the scam play the game, lay down their bet and lo and behold they win, doubling their money.   The unsuspecting mark is enticed by their success. He steps up places his bet and loses. Oh, they might play with him a bit and give him a “chance” to win his money back but this only serves to draw him in deeper. Ultimately he has to lose in order for the scam to be profitable.

Like a magician with card tricks, the dealer is quite good at slight of hand. He always wins in the end. If anyone should begin to smell a rat, well, there are ways to deal with him. What do I do? I look for the police to alert them.

The game is a microcosm of life in a fallen world. The kingdom of this world draws you in, promising a life of chuckles and grins, but fails to deliver the goods. It’s amazing to me how people can still be taken in by the time-worn Three Card Monte scam. Then again, it’s amazing to me how people can still be taken in by the parody of happiness that the world offers.

For years television advertising has been selling the idea that people out there are having a great time and you’re missing out. More recently the electronic narcissism that is the social media gives the particular individual the opportunity to show what a great time he or she is having. Are you missing out? It’s all about fun, don’t you know!

The problem with making fun the goal in one’s life is that when it’s over it’s over. Yes, it’s fun to go to a Yankee game but then you have to ride the number 4 train back home.

The world entices with its multifarious voices but it doesn’t suffice. It cannot give what it promises yet like the mark in Three Card Monte, people keep coming back for more, the end result being more disillusionment and the amplification of cynicism. What is worse is that each choice seems to dig a deeper hole.

This thought came home to me in a recent conversation I had on the street with a young man who, as a boy, had attended one of our youth clubs. His life has gone nowhere. Every time I run into him he is involved in another new philosophy or plans to “help” the youth in the community, something to give him meaning and purpose in life. This time it’s tapping into the energy fields that permeate the universe (!).

“Why is it?” I asked him, “That you’ve tried just about everything except the one answer that can give meaning to your life.” “I’ve been there,” he said, “I’ve been to church with my grandmother.” I’m not certain of this but I have a feeling that the Christianity he was exposed to was more of the folk religion type than the real thing. Yet he, like most people, do not want reality, it’s too costly.

He’s not the only one. You and I rub shoulders with people like that all the time. There are those who have come to the end of their rope and are ready to respond. We need to be ready and available to offer the good news. Opportunities abound.

Our conversation ended rather abruptly but I know that I will see him again. We pass each other on the street and chat regularly. By the way, this is one of the ways we do evangelism here. We live in the community, get to know people and then when the opportunity presents itself, we speak to them about the Lord.

Thank you for praying for us as we continue to bring the Gospel to the streets of New York.

Household Words

What a mighty God we serve! The Bronx Household of Faith is totally debt free! There was a small, “no pressure to pay it back any time soon,” private debt remaining on the building.

That has now been fully paid. We continue to be amazed at the Lord’s miraculous provision through people like you. The property on which it stands was once a place of Voodoo occult and criminal activity. They seem to go together. It is now a place where people are hearing the Gospel—a true lighthouse.

We had a great summer and a great Vacation Bible School, presenting the Gospel through the life of Jonah. It’s a real BHOF team effort.   It’s now fall and our club ministries are in full swing:

With an average of nine 6- to 12-year-old girls per week, Pioneer Girls has gotten off to a great start. Bible memory, games, crafts, songs and more are packed into two hours of fun, fellowship, and learning. This year we are starting with a 13-week journey through the Bible to discover God’s plan for salvation followed by a study on staying on God’s path instead of choosing to walk the way of the world. Please pray for these girls as they become increasingly curious about God’s word and seek to gain a better understanding.                

After a rocky start with some unruly teenage boys, our Christian Service Brigade “Battalion” ministry is off and running. Almost all of the 20 plus teens who attend have been coming to our clubs for years. We are studying various aspects of what it means, through the Scriptures, to have a relationship with God. Please pray for their salvation and opportunities for us to develop deeper bonds that consistently point them to our Lord and Savior.

Hope Academy of the Bronx welcomed 16 scholars to our classrooms this fall.  What a privilege to daily work with students who struggle academically or behaviorally, helping them persevere through difficult circumstances and cultivating a love for learning about God’s Word and His world!  Our staff of 5 is committed to teaching our scholars diligence and discernment not only in their academic studies but in all of life.  

Please pray for God’s transforming work in the lives of our scholars and that He will raise up partners to pray and give, building a strong foundation for our new school and impacting our community for the years to come. 

We are excited about the start of Pacesetters this year! Pacesetters is a club for young women, ages 12-18, to grow deeper in their knowledge of God. The club meets every other Friday night at The Eagle’s Nest, where the girls enjoy a home-cooked meal, engage in a Bible study, worship together, and have fun playing games! This year’s study is focused on Scripture as God’s Truth, allowing the girls to think about the importance of seeing all of life through the lens of Scripture. The highlight of the month for Pacesetters was adventuring through a corn maze during a “flashlight night.” It’s a joy to see young women deepen in their relationships with one another and with the Lord. This year’s leaders are Sarah Rybaltowski, MeiLing Roberts, Vilmaris DeHoyos, and Zuleima Reyes. 

New York City Christian Athletic League is in the middle of its fall flag football season. There are about 40 to 50 teenage boys involved. This year we have broken down II Corinthians 5:17-18, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation . . . ,” into six lessons. The young men hear a Gospel presentation. They then break up into their respective teams where there is a discussion of the talk. What encourages the leaders is how attentive these otherwise rambunctious teens are. What is discouraging is the shortage of mature Christian men to be mentors for these teens. Where are the men! Please pray for mentors and for the teens to respond to our Lord’s call to come to Him for salvation.

            As always, thank you for standing with us.

City Lights: Spring, 2015

Church Membership

by Bob Hall

In the grand scheme of issues facing Christianity these days, it’s a rather banal, somewhat boring topic, right?  Wrong!

All of a sudden, in light of the impending decision from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding same sex marriage (caveat: same sex marriage is no marriage) we are being told, not only (more…)

City Lights: Winter, 2015

Fragmentation

“Dorothy wanted to see more of the princess, so she ran after her; but the [made of] china girl cried out, ‘Don’t chase me.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because,’ answered the princess, also stopping a safe distance away, ‘if I run I may fall down and break myself.’ ‘But could you not be mended?’ asked the girl (more…)