Presiding Bishop Calls Demon Possession a Spiritual Gift

It's been almost a month now since The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, preached one of the most offense and appalling sermons landing it in Michael Bird's category of possibly the worst sermon ever. Intrigued?

If you care about biblical truth, responsible and careful exegesis, the state of the Church, and the purity of the gospel, then you will be intrigued. I was intrigued and infuriated. Why?

Because she called demon possession a spiritual gift of "awareness" and something that is "beautiful and holy." And Paul? Oh he is someone who is "annoyed," someone who is "put in his place," someone who tries to destroy her and her gift, and someone who refuses "to recognize that she, too, shares in God's nature." Basically Paul is the bad guy who is sinning against God in Acts 16:16-24 while the demon-possessed woman is the one who is being wronged but most like God. This is all in the name of unity and not "discounting and devaluing difference."

This is heretical. Simply put she equates having qualities and affiliation with Satan as the same as someone who has qualities and affiliation with God. The question for me, then, is who is God.

I'd like to know what you think.

Here's the link to her sermon. And then here's a link to an excellent article written by my former professor and dean of Beeson Divinity School, where my husband also is a professor, about this sermon.

Rest.

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:8-9 “God’s people witness to their participation in the covenant by ceasing their labors and joining the believing community in the celebration of the LORD’s Sabbath rest.” Allen Ross, Holiness to the Lord

When you hear the word rest, what immediately comes to mind? Maybe you think of rest in terms of sleep, watching TV, being silent or just doing nothing. All these are terms associated with not doing work. We see this idea of rest involving ceasing from normal work activities in Scripture, like in Genesis chapter 2 where God rested from His work of creating. Then in the giving of the law, God commanded His people to cease work. Old Testament scholar Allen Ross wrote in his book on Leviticus that the word “refers to a person’s occupation, what one was assigned to do as the daily task.”

But the Bible doesn’t stop there. For those called by God and in covenant with Him there is a more nuanced meaning of the word rest. For “to rest” is not only to cease from physical labor but also is to celebrate and worship the Lord. Rest is not only intended for the body but for the spirit as well. This is a gift from the Lord.

Sabbath belongs to the Lord: “It shall be a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:3c) Ross says that the preposition “to” connotes possession, meaning it is His. “Because the day was his, he graciously invited his people to share his Sabbath rest,” wrote Ross.

And how is it that we enter God’s rest? Through Jesus Christ. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) It is only because Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity, that he can offer and actually give Sabbath rest.

I wrote an article for The Alabama Baptist in 2011 about the idea of Sabbath rest. You can read that article: here.

This is what Ken Mathews, Old Testament scholar and professor at Beeson Divinity School, said for the article, “Even though we may be resting from our activities in worship or in recreation, ultimately we will only have a satisfying rest when we place our faith and trust in God.”

Also for the article, Dale Younce, professor of Christian studies at the University of Mobile, said, “[Rest] is a spiritual reality in which a believer rests in confidence in what God has done in salvation.”

Like so many Old Testament laws, they were abolished and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath is not Sunday. The Sabbath, although it had a wonderful, practical, literal place in the life of a believing Jew, also served as a sign of something greater – a future rest. When Jesus Christ came, He inaugurated this futuristic rest. How? True rest with God means that you are at peace with God. Jesus Christ was the peace offering so that through faith in Him, crucified and resurrected, we enter into the presence of God, at peace with Him. And once one is at peace with God, one rests with God.

But what does this rest look like for us Christians today?

1. In the article you will read that scholars are in agreement that it definitely involves corporate and private worship (praise, prayer, reading of Scripture). Although the Sabbath is not Sunday, we set Sunday apart as a reminder of the inauguration of the new covenant, the forever rest through Jesus Christ. But we don’t stop there. “Christians are not merely to give one day in seven to God, but all seven. Since they have entered the rest of God, every day should be sanctified,” Ross says.

2. Rest from work. In our fast paced society that values work, it is more difficult for us to stop working. But ceasing from physical work goes hand in hand with worship of God. Think about it. Intentional prayer, reading of Scripture, reflecting on His creation involves undivided attention. Work divides our attention. Social media, family, friends, TV, Internet divides our attention. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).

3. When praying and thinking about this topic, church ministers came to the forefront of my mind. Ministers will always be busy and underpaid for all their work (with the exception of those like Joel Osteen). They have dedicated their lives to serving the Lord. But I often feel (having been a pastor’s daughter, seminary student and church member) that ministers are overworked to the point that it is unhealthy. Sundays for many ministers are not just days of worship but business meetings, visitations and events (fellowships, concerts, etc). Many times this is caused by demands of church members, of traditions (this is how it’s always been done), or of ministers themselves. Your church will only be as healthy as your ministers.

What are some ways you incorporate biblical rest in your life? Thoughts?

He lives!

Have you ever heard of Rudolf Bultmann? Bultmann was a liberal theologian who lived in Germany during World War II and Nazism. His biggest contribution was a belief that the Gospels needed to be “demythologized,” meaning that the stories of Jesus were filled with myths and it was our job to separate the myths from the truth and split history from faith. For example, one of the biggest myths Bultmann saw in the Gospels was the resurrection of Christ, simply because people do not come back from the dead. He would say something like the following: even though I might not believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, Christ is raised in my faith, in the preaching, and in my heart. (Bultmann is much more complex than this, but I have to summarize here.)

So maybe you never heard of Bultmann until now but maybe now you can recognize his impact on the academy, church and believers. Let me focus on one example of how, if not careful with our words, we can fall into Bultmann’s trap.

There are two Christian songs you probably have heard and even sing. Although these songs can help us worship, the choruses are worrisome to me in light of what I have told you about Bultmann above.

One is an older hymn called, “I Serve a Risen Savior,” and the other is a recent song by the Newsboys called, “God’s Not Dead.”

“I Serve a Risen Savior.” Chorus: “He lives; He lives; Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me; He talks with me, along life’s narrow ways. He lives; He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart.”

“God’s Not Dead.” Chorus: “My God’s not dead. He’s surely alive. He’s living on the inside. Roaring like a lion.”

  • Problem #1: The question put forth in the hymn is, “How do you know He (Jesus Christ) lives?” The answer the song gives is, “Because He lives in my heart.” The Newsboys’ song is very similar. The way we know God is alive is because “He is living on the inside.” The first problem, then, with these answers is that they are not biblical. When the apostles were asked how they knew Christ is God and is alive they said, because He was resurrected from the dead! Peter, in the sermon at Pentecost, said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:23-24, 32) When Paul preached Jesus he said, “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the father, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus… .” (Acts 13:30-33) Nowhere do you find the apostles saying we know Jesus is alive because He lives in our hearts. How is it that the Spirit of God, of Jesus, lives with us? Because Jesus was raised from the dead! One of the purposes of the Spirit is to testify to the resurrection of Christ. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come and enable His disciples to be His witnesses. Witness of who, of what? Of Christ resurrected from the dead! In John 13 and 16, Jesus tells His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will, yes dwell with them, but will be their Helper and testify to Truth.
  • Problem #2: The theology found in both these songs makes it all about ME! The reason I know God is alive is because “He walks with ME. He talks with ME. He lives within MY heart.” “I am lost in your freedom. And this world I’ll overcome. I need a resurrection somehow.” These songs are meant to testify to the world that the God we serve is alive and has conquered death. But instead they promote a self-centered view of worship and of God. According to the choruses of these songs, this God is a God for my purposes and I will testify only what He has done for me. It is not a bad thing to testify to God’s faithfulness in your life; it’s biblical. But if it is done apart from the witness of Scripture, apart from a historical Jesus who was raised from the dead, then your testimony won’t stand. It will crumble.
  • Problem #3: The theology of these songs sounds more like modern day spirituality or mysticism than they do about faith in a risen Christ. I think Bultmann would have gladly sung these songs because he would not have had to claim that Christ was literally raised from the dead. Instead, he would sing these songs gladly because it is about a faith that you make it to be; it’s internal. What does it mean that, “Christ lives within my heart?” What does it mean that, “He’s living on the inside?” Think about it. I could take the hymn to mean that Christ only is alive in my heart, in my faith. He’s not necessarily alive anywhere else in a literal way or in a literal place. Or, I could take the Newsboys song to say that God and I are one. There is a spirituality belief that says each one of us is part of the “divine” and we each have the “divine” living within us. In fact, if I held this belief, I could sing, “God’s not dead,” gladly with no understanding that the song is meant to refer to the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity.

I have sung these songs with a joyful heart before, and I encourage you to do the same. I also encourage you to proclaim the literal resurrection of Christ in your preaching, teaching and singing. If your only answer is that Christ is alive in your heart then someone could take that to mean He lives in your wishes, your dreams, your hopes and your aspirations.

Ask me how I know He lives and I’ll tell you because there were disciples of this Jesus who left Jesus when He was taken to be crucified and hid in an upper room scared that they too would be put to death. Only after seeing Jesus three days after being crucified, after touching His wounds, watching Him eat and drink, and after watching Him ascend to the heavens, did they come out of hiding and risk imprisonment, exile and death. Because there was a man who was leading in the imprisoning and execution of Jesus’ disciples and followers only to become a follower and preacher of Christ because He encountered Jesus, resurrected from the dead. It is because of the testimony of these and many others who saw Jesus in the flesh after death that I say with faith, “He lives.”

Grace.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” – John Newton

“[T]he greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely – and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say – I am that I am.” – Matthew Henry

I became a Christian at age 6, responding to an invitation to give my life to the One who died for me at a Billy Graham crusade. I had grown up in a Christian home, with my dad serving as a pastor of small Baptist churches. Grace was clearly explained to me, and when I responded to Jesus' invitation to follow Him, I accepted His free gift of grace. Ashamedly, however, a few years later I had some unbiblical thoughts that until now I have not told anyone. I remember around the ages of 7 and 8 thinking, “I am probably God’s favorite person.” “I must have done something good for Him to save me.” It’s no surprise then that I took pride in my goodness, lived as if I was somehow perfect and looked down on others who I thought were not. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I truly grasped that I was a sinner and that any goodness in me was not because of me but because of Christ working in me.

Has that ever happened to you? Maybe not at first. Maybe you accepted Christ later in life and your life before was such a wreck that you never lost sight of the fact that any goodness in you was God’s grace at work in your life. But as time passed you no longer thought that grace was enough. You needed to do more, become a better person on your own to remain in God’s grace.

I believe grace is a simple yet profound concept that takes only a second to accept but a lifetime to understand.

Grace acknowledges that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23). If we were perfect, completely good in our human nature, we would not need grace. To receive grace implies that grace needed to be given.

Although we confess and believe this, sometimes we struggle with being consistent in our interpretation of Scripture. How? I have seen this happen when interpreting and applying God’s choosing of Abraham, for example. People ask, why would God only choose Abraham and his descendants as “His chosen people?” Isn’t that unfair or biased of God? So we answer this question by pointing to things about Abraham that would make God choose him. If we can say Abraham was just a good guy, then God doesn’t come out as unfair and biased (so we think). We thus title sermons or lessons in this way, “The kind of man (or person) God uses,” or “The three qualities God values.” We preach a good man whom we can follow, which results in applications that are works-driven and manipulative (if I do this then God has to do this).

This is why Paul says to Jews in his day who believed this, “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:1-3) A few verses later Paul further clarifies that this righteousness was a “righteousness of faith.” Faith is a response to grace, to God calling people to Himself. So even faith isn’t something that one can boast about!

Grace is cheapened when we have the perspective that we deserved it. I’ve noticed that when we start trying to examine the qualities of Abraham that made him the person God chose, we end up with this idea that Abraham deserved to be chosen. The reason the concept of grace is so powerful is because we do not deserve it. When we realize there’s no reason, nothing good that we have done, that even one fault, one sin is enough to make us underserving of a relationship with God, then we see the act of God in Jesus Christ on the cross for what it truly is – the greatest act of love and grace.

God is not unfair or biased in grace. He was just by paying for sins upon the cross, by taking the penalty of death so that those who accept His grace have already had their sins paid. And it is because “the wrath of God was satisfied” that He offers grace to you and to me.

So let’s remember:

1. Any goodness we have is because of the grace of God! Do not mistake your goodness as something apart from God’s grace.

2. When you preach or teach about Abraham or anyone else God used in Scripture, preach that the person did not deserve to be chosen but was chosen because of God’s grace! What followed from grace was faith and good works, not the other way around. Be consistent and careful in your interpretation of Scripture.

3. Remember that God’s grace keeps you in His grace. Yes, grace results in worship, righteousness, good works, and praise, but good works does not keep you in God’s grace. His grace is big enough to carry you until that day when you meet Him who set you free.