Predestination?

In our daily Bible reading, Susan and I  have reached Romans 9. Those who believe in individual predestination (i.e., unconditional election) as taught by John Calvin appeal to Romans 9:10-26 as proof. I thought it may be useful to post my comments on this section of Paul’s letter. These comments are from my book Living by Faith: A Verse by Verse Study of Romans. You can find out how to purchase a copy by clicking on “How to Buy Books I Have Written” in the menu bar of this website.

Here is my take on Romans 9:10-26:

(9:10-12) And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

Verses 10-12. The route of the promised seed became even more specific with each generation. Isaac, the promised seed of Abraham, fathered twins by his wife Rebecca. Through which would the promised seed come? Both? Further illustrating his point that ethnic Jewishness alone does not identify a person as a genuine Israelite (see comments on v. 6), Paul points out that even before Esau and Jacob were born, before either of them had done good or evil, God said to Rebecca, “The older shall serve the younger.” (See Genesis 25:23.) The promised seed came through one of the twins, the younger one, Jacob. It is possible, therefore, for a person to be the offspring of Abraham and even of Isaac, and still to not be an Israelite.

God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was made so “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.” This does not mean that God predestined Esau to forfeit his birthright or to be excluded from national Israel. It does mean that God, in His foreknowledge (see comments on 8:29), knew the choices Esau would make. God’s statement that “the older shall serve the younger” was not a sentence of judgment passed on Esau even before he was born, but a simple statement of fact: Because of the choices Esau would make, he would forfeit his privileges as the firstborn son. The statement concerning “the purpose of God according to election” must be understood to refer contextually to “the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). In His sovereign will, God has determined to count as elect those who respond to His grace. It is the grace of God that works to give right desires and right abilities. (See John 15:5; I Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13.) God extended His grace to Esau, but he chose an immoral and profane lifestyle and disregarded his birthright. (See Hebrews 12:15-17.) God, knowing Esau would do this, declared to Rebecca, “The older shall serve the younger.” This does not mean election is according to works; those things done by the influence and enablement of the grace of God are not “works” in which any man can boast. (See Ephesians 2:8-10.) The works which Paul disallows as a cause for election are the works done by the power of the flesh in an effort to gain favor with God. (See 3:27; 4:2-5.) He does not disagree with James that genuine faith will produce tangible results. (See James 2:21-26.)

If Esau and Jacob had been capable of doing good or evil in their mother’s womb, and if on that basis God had made His decision as to which He would elect, the election would have been of works. Both of the boys had the same father and the same mother. They were twins, thus they shared equally in the genetic influence of both parents. Theoretically, therefore, either could have been the one chosen by God to advance the Abrahamic lineage. God extended His grace to both; both were sinners. But Esau rejected the grace of God and Jacob received it. (See Hebrews 11:21.)

The inability of Esau and Jacob to do good or evil in the womb demonstrates that unborn children are not sinners. They do possess the fallen Adamic nature, the sin principle (see comments on 5:12), and they will sin, but at birth they are innocent. (See comments on 7:9.)

(9:13) As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Verse 13. Paul quotes from Malachi 1:2-3 to further demonstrate that the promised seed came through Jacob, not Esau, and to further illustrate that not all of Isaac’s descendants can be counted in national Israel. It must be noted that Malachi’s statement was not made at the same time as God’s statement to Rebecca that “the older shall serve the younger.” In other words, God did not say He loved Jacob and hated Esau even before they were born. In the context of Malachi, Jacob represents national Israel, and Esau represents national Edom. It must also be noted that the words “love” and “hate” must be understood according to their use in the Hebrew language and not the English. The Hebrew language has no equivalent to the many English words expressing lesser degrees of love, like fondness, affection, tenderness, or liking. In the Hebrew language, a person is either loved or hated. There is no middle ground. This does not mean the Hebrews knew nothing equivalent to affection or fondness or tenderness which was not as intense as love. The Hebrews experienced the same range of emotions as any other people. But as far as the Hebrew language is concerned, there was no way to express varying degrees of love. There was no equivalent to the Greek agape, phileo and eros. As with many other words, only the context can define the meaning of love and hatred in the Hebrew Scriptures. That God’s “hatred” of Esau was not the extreme hatred the English word evokes is clear from the fact that even with Esau’s failure, he and his descendants were promised special blessings. (See Genesis 27:38-40.)

(9:14) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

Verse 14. Paul anticipates his readers will question the righteousness (right actions) of God in view of His rejection of Esau and acceptance of Jacob. Since Esau and Jacob were both innocent in their mother’s womb, was it wrong for God to say, “The older shall serve the younger”? Paul again uses the strong me genoito to deny the possibility that God’s decision was unjust. The only way God could have been accused of unrighteousness would be if the tables had been turned, and Esau had responded to the grace of God rather than Jacob, and still God had rejected Esau.

(9:15) For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Verse 15. Paul quotes from God’s statement to Moses following Israel’s idolatry while Moses was first on Mount Sinai receiving the tables of stone. (See Exodus 33:19.) The context in Exodus indicates that God does not arbitrarily extend His mercy and compassion to some—without regard to their faith or their desire to know Him—and withhold it from others on the same basis. God had showed His mercy and compassion for Israel in delivering them from Egyptian captivity, and He continued to demonstrate it even after their idolatry by inviting Moses back up on Sinai to receive another set of the stone tables. So the point is not that God is erratic in sometimes showing mercy on people of faith and sometimes withholding it, or sometimes extending mercy to disobedient people and sometimes withholding it. God is consistently merciful; He extends mercy even to the disobedient. The significance of Paul’s quote is that, from a human standpoint, it seems God would not have continued to show mercy to Israel after their idolatry. But God alone will decide how long to continue to extend mercy.

(9:16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

Verse 16. Favor with God is not achieved by human effort; it is a result of God’s merciful nature. This is reminiscent of John’s statement, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, NKJV). Men do not become the children of God by human effort, but this does not mean they are predestined to be saved before they are born. To become the children of God, men must believe in His name. This is not a work, because it is God who gives all men the ability to believe in His name. (See II Peter 3:9; John 3:16.) Neither does Paul mean that, since salvation arises from “God who shows mercy,” men are responsible to do nothing. He means instead that no man can ever say he is saved because of his own effort; salvation is a direct result of the mercy of God. If an Esau rejects the mercy of God and thus loses his privileges, he cannot fault God for not showing mercy. If a Jacob receives the mercy of God and thus gains privileges, he cannot boast that he has been rewarded for his works; he is simply the recipient of God’s mercy.

(9:17) For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

Verse 17. To further illustrate his point about God’s sovereignty in showing mercy and compassion, Paul quotes Exodus 9:16, where Moses declares the words of God to Pharaoh: “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (NKJV). We must not too readily jump to the conclusion that this means that God raised up Pharaoh purposefully to hold him up to ridicule before all the earth through the ten plagues and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. God could have showed His power and declared His name by Pharaoh’s willing release of the Israelites at Moses’ first request. The first request Moses and Aaron made to Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go was a sincere request. Pharaoh had the freedom to respond positively to that request. Even when he rejected the first request, Moses and Aaron again pleaded with him to allow the Israelites to go three days’ journey into the desert. (See Exodus 5:1-3.) Pharaoh was not predestined by God to refuse the request, or the request itself would have been meaningless. The point Paul is making with this historical account is that God showed mercy even to Pharaoh; it was God Himself who raised Pharaoh up, and His intention was to demonstrate His power and to declare His name through Pharaoh. When Pharaoh rejected the request of Moses and Aaron, God’s intention to show His power and to declare His name didn’t change, but the way He accomplished these purposes did change.

(9:18) Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Verse 18. The situation with Pharaoh demonstrates that God is sovereign in showing mercy on some and in hardening others. This does not mean that God refuses to show any mercy at all on some, but that He alone determines when to stop showing mercy and when to act in such a way as to harden the hearts of those who reject His mercy. It is true that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (See Exodus 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8.) It is also true that God told Moses and Aaron that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3). But before God is ever recorded as actually hardening Pharaoh’s heart, it is recorded that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. (See Exodus 8:15, 32.) Twice before it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart the simple statement of fact is made that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. (See Exodus 7:14; 9:11.) Although the KJV translates Exodus 7:13, “And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” the NKJV translates it, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard ….” When the entire context is examined, it seems that Pharaoh first hardened his heart against God and that God subsequently further hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I Samuel 6:6 records that both the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their own hearts. Though God at first extended mercy to Pharaoh by inviting him to release the people of Israel upon the basis of a request alone, Pharaoh rejected the appeal and hardened his heart. Shortly, God determined the time for mercy was past and He further hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

(9:19) Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

Verse 19. Paul anticipated that his readers would ask, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” This is a similar question to that of 3:5. It is the result of human reasoning. If God knows in advance what decision a human being will make, and if He makes pronouncements in advance of those human decisions as to what the decisions will be—as He did with both Esau and Pharaoh, and if He even goes so far as to say what He will do as a result of human decisions, and if He does not continue to show mercy on some as long as on others, doesn’t this indicate that men are merely puppets or robots who can’t help what they do? How can God find fault with men and hold them personally responsible under such circumstances?

If the doctrine of unconditional election were true, this would be a valid objection. All men would do exactly what they were predestined to do, and it would be valid to ask how God could find fault with anyone. But those among Paul’s readers who would ask this question misunderstood the difference between foreknowledge and predestination. (See comments on 8:29.) This must be the contextual background of Paul’s present discussion, and Paul’s detailed explanation of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification must have been intended by him to address a specific deficiency in the understanding of the Roman believers. Indeed, his discussion here in chapter 9 is designed by him to restore to the Roman believers the hope for which he could not commend them. (See comments on 1:8.) It is difficult to see how the doctrine of unconditional election (predestination) could restore hope; it contributes to a sense of hopelessness, for there is always the possibility that any individual is not included in the elect.

(9:20-21) Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Verses 20-21. Paul rebukes his readers for questioning the sovereignty and mercy of God. Human beings should no more question the work God is doing in their lives than the clay should question the potter. A potter can use a lump of clay to make either an exquisite vessel designed for honored use, or he can use it to make a plain utilitarian vessel. The clay is not consulted about the type of vessel it wants to be, but we should be careful to note that in both cases, the potter is making a useful vessel. The question here is not whether the potter makes anything of the clay; the question is what type of vessel does he make.

(9:22-23) What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

Verse 22-23. Now Paul, based upon the analogy of the clay and the potter, points out that God in some cases may wish to show His wrath and make His power known. Even then, however, He endures “with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” The idea in verse 22 is not that God shows no mercy on some people, like Pharaoh, in order to demonstrate His wrath. The idea is that, after God has endured the hardness of people with “much longsuffering,” He can—if He wishes—show His wrath and His power in any way He pleases. These “vessels of wrath” are “prepared for destruction,” not by being predestined to destruction, but by their own rejection of the mercies of God.

In form, the word translated “fitted to destruction” (Greek, katertismena) is a perfect passive or middle participle. The form is the same for both; translation is determined by context. Strauss has pointed out that there is “no justification for translating the word [katertismena] as passive, i.e., the subject is acted upon; rather, the translation should be ‘fitted themselves’ for wrath.” (See James D. Strauss in Clark H. Pinnock, Grace Unlimited [Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1975], 200.)

On the other hand, God makes known the riches of His glory “on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” This does not mean that God predestined some for mercy and ultimately for glory (see comments on 8:18, 21), but that He showers His riches on those who respond to His grace. That these vessels of mercy are “prepared beforehand for glory” does not mean they were predestined for glory, but that God in His foreknowledge knew what their response to His grace would be, so He determined in advance, based on His foreknowledge, that they would be glorified. This is the exact parallel of 8:29-30.

(9:24) Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Verse 24. The “vessels of mercy” were those “whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (NKJV). The reference to being “called” may be understood in one of two ways. First, it may simply be a reference to the fact that God calls both Jews and Gentiles to salvation, without suggesting that He calls only select ones and fails to call others. Obviously, all who came to Christ in Paul’s audience had been called, but this does not mean that there were none called except those who came. Second, it may be a reference to the calling of 8:28-29, which is a calling given to those who are already saved to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. (See comments on 8:28-29.)

Paul’s reference here to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews underscores his statements elsewhere to both concerning the error of feelings of ethnic superiority. (See comments on 2:1, 17-20; 11:17-24.)

(9:25-26) As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Verses 25-26. Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. This is an interesting example of the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. In their context in the Hebrew scriptures, these verses refer not to Gentiles but to unbelieving Israel who was not—at the time—living as the people of God. But Paul is inspired of the Holy Spirit to use these words in a new context to mean that the Gentiles would be called the people of God. This illustrates again the fact that God takes the initiative in showing mercy. If the idea of unconditional election were true, it would seem God would be obliged to call all Gentiles His people, because all of them were included in the number who were not His people. In other words, if God determined to call as His people those who were not His people, this would include all Gentiles of the world. But, just as “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (v. 6), so the only Gentiles who will be called the people of God are those who respond in faith to His mercy.

Binding and Loosing

Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 record the words of Jesus giving the disciples the authority to “bind” and “loose.” Does this mean the church has the power to initiate action on earth which heaven is obligated to endorse? Or do these promises indicate the church will, under specific circumstances, make pronouncements which echo the sentiments of heaven?

Some view the “binding and loosing” as having to do with spiritual warfare. It is not uncommon to hear of “binding” evil spirits and “loosing” the Holy Spirit. Some take their authority to include the “binding” of undesirable circumstances like poverty and the “loosing” of desirable conditions like wealth.

The Book of Matthew is written by a Jewish author to a Jewish audience, and it is rich in contrasts of the Old Covenant with the New. In it Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Just prior to the passage under consideration, Jesus is seen rebuking the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-5) and warning his disciples against the teaching of these religious leaders (Matthew 16:6-12). Now, in Gentile territory (Caesarea Philippi), Jesus asks his disciples what others are saying about his identity. They inform him that some think he is John the Baptist, others Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the prophets. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ [i.e., the Messiah], the Son of the living God.”

This response of Peter was a confession of Jesus as the fulfillment of all the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning a coming Messiah and that, as such, Jesus was the Son of the “living” God, as opposed to the false deities of the Gentiles in whose territory Jesus and the disciples were at the time of this encounter.

Jesus responded to Peter’s confession by pronouncing him the blessed recipient of divine revelation. Then he addressed the building of his church and the inability of the gates of Hades to prevail against it.

This contextual background serves to provide the framework of meaning for verse 19. Because of Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, he qualifies to be a recipient of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This does not imply that Peter alone had access to these keys. Since the immediate consequence of receiving the keys is the ability to bind and loose, and since in Matthew 18:18 this ability is possessed by the collective church, it is reasonable to see the actions of the church in chapter 18 as an authoritative use of the keys to the kingdom.

When Peter made use of the keys on the Day of Pentecost, he concluded his address to the Jewish multitude with these words: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ [Messiah]” (Acts 2:36, NKJV). The news that Jesus was both Lord and Messiah cut his hearers to the heart and prompted them to cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer is an obvious use of the keys to the kingdom.

To the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, Peter’s message was the same. After confessing that God shows no partiality but accepts those of every nation who fear Him and work righteousness, Peter said, “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know … how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power ….” (Acts 10:36-38).      For a Jew to say “Jesus Christ” was to say “Jesus the Messiah.” So, to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews, Peter declared Jesus of Nazareth to be both Lord and Messiah. Peter’s claim that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit” was a Messianic claim. The acceptance of this message by Cornelius and his Gentile peers resulted in the door of the kingdom swinging open wide to them. Peter had again used the keys given him by Jesus.

Peter’s use of the keys in a negative way which resulted in the barring of unbelievers from the kingdom is seen in Acts 3 and 4. As he explained the healing of the lame man, he identified Jesus as “the Holy One and the Just,” “the Prince of life,” and “the Christ [Messiah]” (Acts 3:14-18). Peter’s use of Moses’ prophecy of a coming prophet seems a foreboding recognition of the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders:

For Moses truly said to the fathers, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren, Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22-23).

Later in his discourse, Peter declares Jesus to be the “Servant” of God (Acts 3:26). The “Servant” theme is another Messianic motif from the Hebrew Scriptures. (See Isaiah 52:13.)

The Jewish religious leaders who rejected Jesus as the Messiah demanded of Peter, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:8). Peter, apparently recognizing the unbelief of his questioners, came quickly to the point by again identifying Jesus as the Messiah apart from whom there is no salvation (Acts 4:9-12). The door to the kingdom was accordingly closed to these Jewish leaders because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

The historical narratives of Acts thus serve to inform the meaning of Matthew 16:19. The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” are used to admit or bar entrance pending one’s confession or rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The genitive case of tes basileias  implies that the keys belong to the kingdom in the same sense that keys belong to a house. If we say, “These are the keys of the house,” it is understood that the keys are to the house and that they allow entry. This use of the genitive is the closest to its basic meaning, the genitive of description. The point is that the keys are described by the “building” they open: the kingdom of heaven.

The use of these keys by Peter will apparently result in some kind of binding and loosing on earth. Although “binding and loosing” are rabbinical terms, their meaning here must be discovered in the immediate context. We cannot legitimately leap from Jesus’ instructions about the kingdom of Heaven to the arguments of Shammai and Hillel purely because of similarity of phrasing. Words are defined by their contexts. Jesus is discussing the matter of access to or prohibition from the kingdom itself.

Perhaps the most significant issue to be addressed in the passage is the translation of the perfect passive participles dedemenon and lelumenon. The English perfect tense is not an adequate translation of the Greek perfect. The idea of the Greek perfect is that the action began at some point in the past and continued to a point of completion, with results that continue on into the future. (See H.E. Dana and J.R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1955], 200-205.) The closest literal translation, though awkward in English, of the phrases estai dedemenon and estai lelumenon would be “shall be having been bound” and “shall be having been loosed.” A smoother translation would be “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed.”

When a translator of New Testament Greek sees a perfect tense, he asks himself why the perfect is used instead of the aorist. Everything about the past can be said by the aorist tense. But the perfect means that the results of some past action continue into the present. If the point of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 is that some future action by the disciples would result in something being bound or loosed in the future, it would be appropriate to ask why the simple Greek future tense was not used. Since we believe in the inspiration of the very words of Scripture, even to their tenses, we must believe there is some reason Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit to construct a phrase using the future tense estai (“shall be”) with the perfect passive participles dedemenon (“having been bound”) and lelumenon (“having been loosed”). There is no legitimate grammatical reason why these perfects should lose their perfect force in this context.

The awkwardness of translation of this Greek tense into a receptor language must not be allowed to dull the force of the original language. Grammatically, Jesus’ point is that in the future, Peter will bind and loose on earth that which has already been, and remains, bound and loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:15-22, a passage knit tightly with Matthew 16:19 by the use of the terms “having been bound” and “having been loosed,” provides an example of Jesus’ meaning in the previous passage. The context is that of the discipline of sinning brothers. In the larger context, Jesus shows concern for “little ones” who are caused to sin (Matthew 18:1-6) and for the one sheep who goes astray (Matthew 18:7-14). Only against this backdrop of tender care for even the most “insignificant” does Jesus give direction for the discipline of erring brethren which could result in their excommunication from the fellowship of believers.

The instructions given by Jesus seem intended to safeguard against the possibility of false accusations and hasty judgements. First, the sinning brother is to be confronted personally and privately by the one against whom he has sinned. If there is no resolution to the problem, the offended brother is to seek a second audience with the offender, but this time in the company of one or two more persons. Jesus supports this step by the Mosaic requirement of a minimum of two witnesses, and preferably three, before any accusation is heard. That is, the word of one witness is not sufficient to condemn a man.

If there was no resolution of the problem at this point, the case was to be presented to the collective church. If there was still no resolution, the last effort to gain the sinning brother’s attention was apparently to bar him from the privileges and      benefits of Christian fellowship.

It is in this context that Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18, NKJV). Clearly, the point is church discipline.

This is the background of v. 19, where the promise is the assurance that the believing community, however small, will be led by the Holy Spirit as they are conscientiously faithful to the teachings of Jesus in matters of church discipline. Where the church agrees in matters of the discipline of professing believers, heaven’s support will be found. But it would do violence to the context to suggest that heaven counts the sinning brother as faithful as long as he remains undisciplined, or even that heaven would support an erroneous decision by the church, whether in retaining or excommunicating a member. A member of the church could be practicing secret sin and never be discovered by the church at large. In this case, heaven has already taken note and acted accordingly. God does not wait on men to make his decisions as to the state of the souls of other men. Since the church is made up of fallible human beings, it is always possible that the church could judge an innocent man guilty and thus excommunicate him. This does not mean God concurs. The teaching of Jesus has to do with general principles and results which can be expected to be forthcoming when those principles are followed, but it does not impart infallibility to any human being or assembly of men.

The phrase “in My name” in Matthew 18:20 is significant. It does not imply mere repetition of a magical formula. To gather in Jesus’ name requires more than simply to say, “We gather in Jesus’ name.” The significance of  “name” in Scripture far surpasses a mere appellation; one’s name was essentially identical with one’s person or being. To believe on Jesus’ name was to believe on Jesus (John 3:18). Thus, to pray or gather in Jesus’ name requires more than the vocalization of words; it requires prayer or assembly in accordance with Jesus’ character, mind and purpose. When Jesus assures his disciples, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” he does not give them carte blanche. Instead, he limits his approving presence to those gatherings which convene in full accordance with his character, mind and purpose. In the context of Matthew 18, such gatherings are those which result from careful adherence to the disciplinary procedures outlined by him. It is another way of saying, “When church discipline has been exercised according to my will, it has my approval.” The meaning of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 is the same, though Jesus’ remarks    to Peter relate to the initial admission to or rejection of people from the kingdom of Heaven, while his remarks to all the disciples have to do with the reinstatement or excommunication of sinning brethren from fellowship. In both passages, the initiative is not with men, but with God. That is, God does not await the decision of a man or group of men before He permits a person to enter His kingdom; nor does He await human decisions before banning unbelievers or ejecting unrepentant sinners. The privilege given to men is not that of initiating action heaven is bound to endorse, but of being led by the Holy Spirit to act on earth in harmony with the prior decisions of heaven.

 

Speaking in Tongues: Evidence or Sign?

At first glance, it may seem to be splitting hairs to ask whether speaking in tongues is the initial evidence or the initial sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We tend to think of the words “evidence” and “sign” as synonyms. Indeed, depending on what we mean by these words, it may make no difference which we use.

But to some early twentieth century Oneness Pentecostal pioneers, like Andrew D. Urshan, it was important to distinguish between these terms. He wrote,

“There have been in the past and there are now some Pentecostal people who have insisted that speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance is the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or that it is the only Bible evidence. This is absolutely unscriptural, and no one can prove it from a biblical standpoint. Why should we not call the speaking in other tongues a sign of the faith and the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, since the scriptures teach it so clearly” (Andrew D. Urshan, My Study of Modern Pentecostals [Portland, OR: Apostolic Book Publishers, 1981, reprinted from original 1923 edition], 48-49).

Urshan’s thinking ran this way: There is a difference between a sign and evidence. A sign on a store window may advertise certain products, indicating that those products are found inside, but until a customer goes into the store and sees the products themselves he or she does not know if the sign is true. The actual products are the evidence.

Urshan declared that speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance is the sign of the baptism of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence. In his words,

“They both go together, just as on a tree, there are leaves and the fruit growing together” (Urshan, My Study, 49).

In view of this distinction, it is interesting that the language that found its way into the fundamental doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church International reflects the concept of sign:

“. . . the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.”

The word “initial” is important to understanding the use either of “initial sign” or “initial evidence.” The point is that speaking with tongues is only the initial, or first, “sign” or “evidence” of the baptism of the Spirit. To speak with tongues is not the only sign or evidence, it is simply the first sign or evidence. As Urshan pointed out, a person who is baptized with the Holy Spirit will not only speak with tongues; that person will also bear the fruit of the Spirit.

It has been suggested that the four most influential early twentieth century pioneers of Oneness Pentecostalism were Frank Ewart, G. T. Haywood, Franklin Small, and Andrew D. Urshan. (See David A. Reed, “In Jesus’ Name”: The History and Beliefs of Oneness Pentecostals [Blandford Forum, Dorsett, UK: Deo Publishing, 2008].) Of these four, Urshan alone was not influenced by the Western Enlightenment mindset. This may be significant in his choice of “sign” over “evidence,” for “evidence” is the scientific language of the European Enlightenment. The word suggests an experiment that can be duplicated in a laboratory. For Enlightenment thinkers, there was little room for mystery. Everything could be figured out and reduced to rules or laws guaranteed to reproduce desired results.

Urshan was much more willing to embrace the concept of mystery. His cultural heritage in Persia and his religious roots in the Church of the East worked to create a very different worldview than that held by Ewart, Haywood, or Small. Although Urshan’s father was a Presbyterian minister, this was a result of the work of American missionaries in Northwest Persia in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Urshan family lived in one of many Assyrian villages that valued the traditions of Syrian Christianity, and the goal of the Presbyterian missionaries was not to proselytize from the Church of the East but to contribute to spiritual renewal within the church. Urshan’s continuing appreciation for his heritage in the Church of the East, popularly known as the Nestorian Church, can be seen in Andrew D. Urshan, The Life Story of Andrew Bar David Urshan (Stockton, CA: W.A.B.C. Press, 1967), 9-16.

When Urshan first visited a Pentecostal church in Chicago, one of the things that provoked him to investigate further was that he heard Swedes, Italians, Germans, and Americans speaking in the Syriac language. Urshan understood the language and wrote,

“These foreign words proceeding from the trembling lips of these people made us think a great deal of this phenomenon” (Urshan, The Life Story, 12).

On another occasion, during a prayer meeting, one of the young Persian men among whom Urshan ministered

“suddenly spoke fluently in the ancient Syriac language which he had never learned.”

Urshan wrote,

“Knowing Syriac I interpreted to the others what he was saying. The message was one of comfort and of encouragement to continue to seek God’s face; and He told us that He intended to fill us all with the Holy Ghost and use us for His glory, for Jesus was coming very soon” (Urshan, My Study, 18-19).

From the earliest days of the twentieth century Pentecostal outpouring, there has been a typical approach to explaining the idea that baptism with the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by the phenomenon of speaking with tongues. This approach points out that the Book of Acts specifically says on three occasions that those who received the Holy Spirit spoke with tongues. (See Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6.) Although the episode in Samaria does not say that those who received the Holy Spirit spoke with tongues, there are strong contextual indicators that they did. (See Acts 8:14-23.) If we understand the didactic function of the Book of Acts, this argument alone is convincing.

But there are other indications of the association between speaking with tongues and baptism with the Holy Spirit. When Peter connected the events of the Day of Pentecost with Joel’s prophecy, he placed baptism with the Holy Spirit squarely in an ancient trajectory that links the work of the Holy Spirit with supernatural vocalization. In other words, even before the Day of Pentecost, it was typical for those upon whom the Spirit came to speak out immediately under the influence of the Spirit.

For example, when Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary’s greeting, she “was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” (Luke 1:41-42). When her husband Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied, saying, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:67-68).

Joel anticipated that when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon people, they would prophesy. Although there are other phenomena that accompany the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, like visions and dreams, the Day of Pentecost was characterized not by visions and dreams, but by prophetic utterances in languages never learned by those who received the Holy Spirit. The visions and dreams would come, but the initial sign that the Spirit had come was not visions or dreams, but prophetic words that – in a variety of languages – declared the wonderful works of God. (See Acts 2:4, 8, 11.)

Since we believe that Peter was inspired in his use of Joel, we must also believe that Joel prophesied that tongues would accompany the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Although Joel did not use the word “tongues,” his promise that those upon whom the Spirit was poured would prophesy provides an inspired anticipation of tongues. Otherwise, Peter could not have accurately said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” At best, he would have been reduced to saying, “This is something like that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” The connection between the Day of Pentecost and Joel firmly roots speaking with tongues – as the initial sign of Holy Spirit baptism – in Old Testament prophecy.

Even Moses weighs in on the connection between receiving the Spirit and speaking out immediately under the influence of the Spirit. When the Lord took of the Spirit that was upon Moses and placed the same on the seventy elders, they prophesied (Numbers 11:25). Although Eldad and Medad were not with this group, they too prophesied when the Spirit rested upon them (Numbers 11:26). When Joshua urged Moses to stop Eldad and Medad, Moses answered, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them” (Numbers 11:29).

The Book of Joel lets us know that God heard Moses’ prayer, promising to answer it. On the Day of Pentecost that promise was fulfilled. Although people had previously spoken out under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost introduced a new era, an era experientially superior to what went before. In biblical terms, a New Covenant was now in effect, going beyond the spiritual provisions of the Old Covenant. (See Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:31-32; Hebrews 8:8-13; 12:24.) Even though people before the Day of Pentecost had spoken under the influence of the Holy Spirit, a signal of the superiority of the New Covenant era was that when they now spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they spoke in languages they had never learned.

To deny that an immediate consequence of being filled with the Spirit is to speak under the influence of the Spirit is to be at odds with a long line of biblical testimony. (In addition to the Scriptures we have examined, see I Samuel 10:10; 19:20-21, 23; II Samuel 23:2.) Even after the Day of Pentecost, among those who had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit and who had spoken with tongues upon their initial baptism, there was a consistent pattern of speaking out under the influence of the Holy Spirit as a consequence of fresh fillings.  (See Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9-10; Ephesians 5:18-19.)

So is speaking with tongues evidence or a sign? We certainly shouldn’t make this a point of contention, but we do know, as Andrew D. Urshan said, that when a person has been genuinely baptized with the Holy Spirit, there will be both the initial sign of speaking with tongues and the following evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.


My book, Andrew D. Urshan: A Theological Biography, is available at www.amazon.com and www.pentecostalpublishing.com

 

 

The Bible of the New Testament Church

For many years I have been fascinated with the use of the Old Testament by the New Testament church. For at least about the first fifteen years of the first century, the only written revelation the church possessed was the Hebrew (and a bit of Aramaic) Scriptures.

The Old Testament is quoted, paraphrased, or alluded to some 800 times in the New Testament. Some scholars place this number much higher by including thematic references to the Old Testament which do not quote or paraphrase specific texts. The majority of quotations follow the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, commonly referred to in print as the LXX.

My interest in this subject has resulted in two books, Reading Between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, and The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places. Both are published by Word Aflame Press.

Recently, a question came into my mind, How often are key words used in the New Testament to refer to the Old Testament, even when specific Old Testament references may not be quoted, alluded to, or paraphrased?

I’m not ready to answer this question yet, but I have taken a step toward it. The key words used in the New Testament to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures are these: scripture, scriptures, written, wrote, prophet, prophets.

My initial work on this reveals the following, with the key word and the number of appearances following in parentheses: scripture (31); scriptures (21); written (86); wrote (4); prophet (37); prophets (60).

All together, there are about 239 references to the Old Testament by means of key words in the New Testament. Many of these will fall under the category of quotations, paraphrases, or allusions, but this list will enlarge the number of references to the Old Testament in the Bible of the first century church.

We must not minimize or ignore the importance of the Old Testament for the church. The Old Testament was the only Bible our earliest brothers and sisters in Christ possessed until the first New Testament Scriptures began to be written, resulting in an enlargement of the inspired canon. We are blessed today to have the entire body of Scripture, a blessing that could not be enjoyed until nearly the end of the first century.

My Father, the Poet

My father, the late Glen Segraves, was a poet. He completed the ninth grade in school. His father, the late L. D. Segraves, finished the third grade. Both were pastors. Grandpa pastored two churches, Dad five.

After pastoring for thirty years, Dad earned his G. E. D., enrolled in Christian Life College, and earned the degree B.A. in Bible and Theology, including two years of New Testament Greek.

Dad wrote simple poems for many occasions . . . celebrations like weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and even funerals.

I thought you might enjoy this poem he wrote for me.

The Three Dollar Hoe

There is a need in the land today

     And the future of youth is at stake

The need is a good education

The thought makes good parents quake

 

How do you get kids to study

To prepare themselves for a job

When they are told the world owes them a living

And of their youth they are being robbed

 

Then when they get them to study

The price of education is so high

When they count all their other expenses

The parents just sit down and cry

 

There is an answer today, my friend

I will share this great truth with you

The answer is motivation

This method is not something new

 

Young folk must be motivated

To improve their desire to learn

There must be a goal set for them

For which their heart does yearn

 

There are many ways to motivate

Some expensive and some not so

It is according to the parents’ finance

And only those parents will know

 

It was the summer of ninteen-sixty

When a lad of thirteen said to his dad

This is my last day in this cotton field

This way of making a living is bad

 

Tomorrow I’ll start working at Walsh’s grocery

And I won’t have to work in this sun

The air-conditioned coolness of that building

Will make a hard job turn into fun

 

My feet are burning in this sand

My hands are calloused from using this hoe

Tomorrow I’ll put on a white shirt

And when I’m paid I will have more dough

 

On that day a goal was set

And there was no turning back

He had had enough of sun burned blisters

And dry parched lips that cracked

 

So you see, a hoe, a cotton field and a hot burning sun

Is a motivator that makes wise men act

It is not that they are lazy and will not work

They have just become wiser in fact

 

Dr. Segraves has applied himself since then

He finished high school and W. A. B. C.

Now with two doctorates and a masters in view

His dad is as pleased as can be

 

The kind of education he has received

Has cost thousands of dollars we know

But the amount he cost his cotton-chopping dad

Was the price of a three dollar hoe

 

 

 

 

The First Day of Retirement

Today is the first day of my retirement. I am 71 years old, and I will attempt to retrace the history of my working career.

Other than mowing lawns for 75 cents, attempting to sell the Grit newspaper door to door, and pumping gas and washing cars in a service station operated by my father [customers would pull up to the pump and say, “Give me a dollar’s worth], it all began in the cotton fields of Northeast Arkansas in the late 1950s. I may have been 12 years old, but no older.

In 1959, my family moved 14 miles from Rector, Arkansas to Kennett, Missouri, where I continued to work in the cotton fields, picking and chopping. We were paid $3.00 per hundred pounds to pick. I can’t remember what chopping paid, but I now own the last farm where I worked.

In 1960 I moved from the fields into an air-conditioned grocery store, Walsh’s Big Star, beginning as a sack boy, also known as a carry-out. I worked in that store for four years, through high school, for 50 cents per hour. I did take two brief breaks to check out other careers. I worked for two weeks in an automobile repair shop. The owner didn’t tell me up front what my pay would be. When the two weeks were up and he handed me five dollars, I figured out that the pay scale was 29 cents per hour. I decided that was not my calling and went back to groceries, working briefly at the IGA before returning to Walsh’s.

As I neared high school graduation, Bill Walsh raised my pay from 50 cents per hour to $50 per week. This was a good thing, because Judy Miller and I were planning to marry on June 14, 1964. Between the two of us we had about $60, and our rent would be $35 per month for a small house owned by a local doctor, Dr. Cash.

About two weeks after our marriage, we decided to move to Stockton, California, where I would enroll in Western Apostolic Bible College. I was not immediately successful in finding work. I did not belong to a union, and that was a requirement for employment in the grocery stores. Eventually I was hired by Pop Stoltz, who operated a janitorial service. I received my first paycheck six weeks after we arrived in Stockton.

Before I had worked long enough to earn my first check, Judy and I were down to less than three dollars. One of my responsibilities was to clean the suite of offices at the Libbey-Owens-Ford [LOF] glass plant, located in Lathrop, California. As I emptied the trash one evening, I glimpsed something green. It was a $20 bill. I reported it to the office manager, who assured me that anyone who lost $20 would be sure to notice it. He told me, however, that I could keep it for one week. If no one reported the loss, I could keep it. No one ever did. In today’s market, that $20 would be worth $156.59. It tided us over until I received my first check.

After working for Pop Stoltz for only a few weeks, I checked with the employment agency in Stockton for job opportunities. Burt’s Shoes, located on Main Street in Stockton, had an opening. I applied and was hired. Burt’s was part of the nationwide chain operated by Edison Brothers Shoes, with headquarters in my hometown, St. Louis, Missouri. I call St. Louis my hometown because I was born there.

Edison Brothers also operated Leed’s, Baker’s and Chandler’s. Salesmen were required to wear suits (not sports coats and slacks) and ties. Wing tip shoes were preferred. I had only one suit, which I had worn to our wedding.

My birthday occurred shortly after I went to work at Burt’s. On the day Judy gave me my birthday gift, she took me behind a door in our small apartment. There hung a suit. She had made it by hand.

I should point out here that Judy never worked a full time job in our 46 1/2 years of marriage. Instead, she turned our home into an income producing resource by baby sitting, ironing, and making clothing for other people. For instance, she made all the ladies’ dresses for the choir at the school I attended. (By the way, Judy reminded me for years that one of the choir members still owed her about $3.00 for her dress. You know who you are.) In terms of financial benefits, I’m sure Judy’s frugality contributed more to our economic wellbeing than if she had worked full time outside our home.

My job as a ladies’ shoes salesman paid minimum wage plus commission. I was part time, but with Judy’s help, we were able to make it through my first year in school. Edison Brothers had developed an approach to selling called Multimatic. When a customer pointed out the kind of shoe she wanted, the salesman presented four pairs: the shoes requested, two similar pairs, and a fourth pair that was completely unlike the requested shoes. For example, if she wanted a dress shoe, she was presented with three styles and, perhaps, one pair of house slippers. We did not ask women the size of their feet. We measured them. When our customer stood before the mirror to admire her shoes, we also presented her with matching handbags, if possible. If not, a bag that contrasted in some way would do. If the color of the purse was not precisely the same as the shoes, we could assure them that due to the distance between the purse and her feet, no one would ever notice.

I became adept at Multimatic and at selling what we called findings. These were various straps and bows that could be attached to the shoes to make them look like a second pair. I was also enthusiastic about selling shoe care items, like a special spray for patent leather shoes. My passion was driven by the commission that could be earned.

I learned to be very patient with my customers. One lady said to me, “You have the patience of Job!” I really did not, but I did have the patience required for the job.

After completing one year in school, I decided that I had all the education I needed. Judy and I returned to Kennett, where my father was pastor of the First United Pentecostal Church. Judy and I got involved in the work of the church, but we still needed income. To supplement his income, my father carried out various projects related to building construction and repair. I worked with him to earn the money we needed. It may have been while I was crawling around under a house and on its roof that I remembered my true calling. Judy and I moved back to California, Burt’s took me back, and I enrolled in school again.

I continued working at Burt’s during my second year in school and into the beginning of my third year. In addition to my job as a shoe salesman, I was given the responsibility of the window man. This means I arranged shoes and handbags in the display windows so customers could view our products before entering the store. The job paid an additional $15 per week.

At some point during my career with Edison Brothers, the company made the decision to close Burt’s. Employees would be transferred to Leed’s, located across the street. Leed’s sold higher priced shoes, so this was a good thing. But in the meantime, the assistant manager at Burt’s, Ron Tachera, was moved to Leed’s while Burt’s was still in operation. Ed Simas, Burt’s manager, would stay in place until the move was completed. This meant Burt’s needed an assistant manager. Mr. Simas recommended me to the regional manager, Mr. Balmaz. He interviewed me on the telephone and promoted me to the position of acting assistant manager.

During my last year of college, I was still working for Leed’s. Judy and I lived in an apartment house located at 349 East Wyandotte Street in Stockton. It was a large old house configured into four apartments, two up and two down. We had moved into one of the upstairs apartments upon our return to Stockton for my second year in school. As time went by, Mr. Nelson, the owner, asked if we would be interested in managing the apartments. If so, we could move downstairs into the largest apartment for $50 per month. We would be responsible for lawn care. We accepted his offer.

One day while I was at work, two men came to our door. They were selling the Family Record Plan. For $70, we would receive a photo album and certificates we could use to have studio photographs made. The company targeted homes where young children were present. We had no children yet, but it was clear to the salesmen that Judy would soon present me with our first. Judy bought the plan, but the lead salesman sold her on something else as well, the idea that I should quit my job at Leed’s and work with them selling albums and photos. He told her I could earn two bills per week. We assumed this meant $200.

The training for my new job consisted largely of being told to look for signs young children lived in a home, like tricycles and various toys on the lawn. Salesmen were also given leads, provided, I supposed, by some government agency who kept track of babies born. I worked for the Family Record Plan for two weeks and earned $18 by selling the plan to a fellow who had worked with me at Leed’s. I don’t remember anyone else I convinced to buy this product.

So now I was out of work, with a wife to support and a baby on the way.

Several other students at Western Apostolic Bible College worked at Libbey-Owens-Ford, the same place I had worked as a janitor. These students were employed, however, by the company itself. The pay was excellent, including even retirement benefits. Openings were available. I applied and was hired. For the rest of my final year in college, I worked full time, swing shift. This enabled me to support my family and to buy our first new car, a 1967 blue metallic Plymouth Fury III, for $3700. Students were happy to ride to work with me.

After graduation, we returned to Kennett, where I worked as co-pastor with my father. It was not possible for the church to employ both of us full time, but Dad co-owned Rector Feed and Seed in Rector, Arkansas with Donald Thompson. Dad and I traded off. On the days he worked at the feed and seed store, I worked at the church and vice versa. I earned $60 per week, with no retirement plan.

At the General Conference of the United Pentecostal Church in 1967, my father responded to an appeal made by J. T. Pugh, Director of the Home Missions Department. He challenged pastors to respond to the need to plant churches in cities without a church. Dad received a call following the conference inviting him to plant a church in London, Ontario, Canada. He accepted this challenge, leaving Judy and me to wonder about our future. We would not go with my parents to Canada. There was some talk about me becoming the pastor in Kennett, but I was not prepared for this responsibility.

After returning to Kennett from Stockton, Judy and I had thoroughly renovated the Sunday school department at our church. We incorporated Center of Interest, the latest development, championed by J. O. and Mary Wallace. Brother Wallace was the Director of the General Sunday School Department of the United Pentecostal Church.

Not long before Mom and Dad’s departure from Kennett, the Wallaces visited our church and observed the operation of the Sunday school program. Brother Wallace was looking for a Director of Promotions and Publications for the General Sunday School Division. He offered the position to me, and I gladly accepted. Judy and I moved to St. Louis in March of 1968. I met Brother Stanley Chambers, General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church, in his office. He informed me that my salary would be $125 per week.

That is the last time in this post that I will reveal my specific salary.

My new job involved producing the Sunday school magazine for the United Pentecostal Church and traveling with the Wallaces to conduct Sunday school training workshops called Operation Demonstration. We conducted Center of Interest and Team Teaching training in local churches, with attendees coming from other area churches. The “demonstration” part involved not only teaching, but also going out on the streets and knocking doors to invite people to Sunday school. Judy participated with me in my work.

In 1968, the United Pentecostal Church did not yet produce a Sunday school curriculum for all age levels. I was invited to produce and write a complete curriculum for junior high students. I accepted. The pay was four dollars per lesson.

In 1969, Word Aflame Publications came into being. This was the vision to develop an entire Sunday school curriculum for all ages, developed and written by those whose shared our beliefs. I was asked to serve as the editor of the Junior High level. I was not the only writer; I assigned others to help me with this responsibility. We produced visual aid packets, trying to be as original and creative as we could in order to effectively communicate with this age group. I remember including a Resurrection Plant in the packets. Google it.

I resigned my position in December 1970 and accepted an invitation by Ron Simmons, pastor of the First Pentecostal Church, located in Maplewood, Missouri, to serve as Minister of Christian Education in this historic church, the first Oneness Pentecostal church to exist in St. Louis. Not only did Judy and I renovate the Sunday school program, the church also operated a fleet of highly decorated buses that combed the neighborhood on Sunday morning, bringing in many children. Gary Gleason was also working for the church, and the two of us would work on the streets on Saturdays to invite children to Sunday school. We tried to be as creative as we could, like dressing up in clown suits and, in general, acting goofy. It worked. On one Sunday in particular, euphemistically called “Heaven Sunday,” we had a reported attendance of 700 for a service held on the football field of a Maplewood school.

In 1972, Ron, Gary and I formed a trio called The Watchmen. We recorded two LP albums and also sang on two albums recorded by the General Home Missions Department of the United Pentecostal Church. All together, we recorded 25 songs. We traveled, singing in local churches, at special meetings, and twice at the general conference of the United Pentecostal Church. In the meantime, I continued producing promotional materials for various departments at our headquarters.

In 1974, Gary accepted the call to serve as pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Oregon City, Oregon. I received a call from W. C. Parkey, the founding president of Gateway College of Evangelism, who was returning to the presidency for the second time. He invited me to serve as the Director of Christian Education for the school. I accepted and went to work for the fall semester that year.

Shortly before the semester’s end, I had a phone call from W. I. Black, superintendent of the Missouri District of the United Pentecostal Church. He asked if I were interested in pastoring. I was. Brother Black told me the First Pentecostal Church in Dupo, Illinois was looking for a pastor. I learned much later that Ed Harper, the former pastor of the church, had suggested that Brother Black should call me.

We went to Dupo to “try out,” as they say. The church elected me, and I resigned my position at Gateway College, taking the pastorate early in 1975. When I received the call from David Ham, a member of the church’s pulpit committee, to inform me that I had been elected, I grabbed Judy, and we danced all over our apartment on Keeven Lane in Florissant, Missouri, just across the road from the college.

Dupo was located about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis. We moved in a dump truck belonging to one of the church members. The membership of the church increased by four immediately upon our arrival. Our daughter, Sharon Kay, had been born on November 13, 1966, and our son, Mark Alan, was born on March 13, 1970. In 1970, November 13 and March 13 were both on Friday.

We remained in Dupo until 1982. For a couple of years, I had the impression that I should return to Bible college work. I told no one, not even Judy. That was a big mistake. I didn’t know where it might be. I didn’t think of Stockton. That was still about 2,000 miles away, just as it had been in 1964. So I created something called Word Institute and offered extra Bible classes to interested people on Saturdays.

I can’t reproduce here all the details about our pastoral work, but I should mention the radio work I did, because some of it did produce additional income. While I was still working for the First Pentecostal Church in Maplewood, the United Pentecostal Church operated bookstores, one of which was located in the headquarters building in Hazelwood, Missouri. The bookstore bought one hour of time on a St. Louis FM radio station, KRCH, every Sunday morning. An employee of the radio station played records provided by the bookstore and advertised the store’s products. Judy and I listened to the programs and enjoyed them. When the bookstore decided to discontinue this program, I talked to Ron and suggested that it might be a good idea for the church to take over the program to advertise our services. He agreed. I served as the DJ from 7:30 – 8:30 on Sunday mornings. Shortly after we took over this program, KRCH was sold to Bartell Broadcasting, the call letters were changed to KSLQ, and the format was changed from easy listening music to rock. The new manager called me to his office and suggested we extend our program another thirty minutes. The entire ninety minutes would be free, as a public service. KSLQ became the number two station in St. Louis, and for about three years I hosted this program. The music format was largely what at that time was called Contemporary Christian Music. It was a successful venture. The church gained several new members who first learned of the church through the program, called Hymns of Praise. One year, when the Missouri District of the United Pentecostal Church offered a free trip to Israel for the person who raised the most money for Sheaves for Christ, I solicited contributions on air. The response was sufficient to send me to Israel free of charge.

When we moved to Dupo, Ron took over the DJ duties on the radio program. The previous pastor in Dupo had a thirty minute radio program on Sunday mornings on WCBW, an FM station located in Columbia, Illinois. I continued that program and added another one hour program, called Afterglow, following our Sunday evening service. It wasn’t too long before the station management approached me about converting their daily morning programming, from six to ten o’clock, Monday through Friday, to gospel music. It had been easy listening. I worked with them to create recordings of my voice introducing the songs. The station paid me for my services. Eventually, however, WCBW was bought by another company and converted to an all Christian format. The new company asked me to work a live shift, Monday through Friday, from six to ten each morning. I was paid for my services.

In May 1982, Kenneth Haney called my home. I had known him when I was a student in Stockton but had little contact with him after I graduated in 1967. He asked if I had ever thought about Bible college work. I acknowledged that I had. Brother Haney invited Judy and me to fly to Stockton to look at the school, now named Christian Life College, and to preach at the local church. Keep in mind that I had told Judy nothing about my interest in teaching in a Bible college. I can’t comment on this now in more detail, but I advise all men who believe God is leading them to share this with their wives so it will not be a surprise to her. The two of you can pray about this together well in advance.

After our trip to Stockton, I believed God was directing our steps and accepted Brother Haney’s offer. We spent 25 years there. I served as executive vice-president and chairman of the department of theology for 19 1/2 years. When Brother Haney was elected as general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, he asked me to serve as president of the school. I did this for 5 1/2 years, while still serving as the chairman of the department of theology.

Not too long ago, I looked through the Christian Life College yearbooks. I was missing about four of them, but I estimate that during our years in Stockton I was privileged to teach around 2,000 students, many of whom are now involved in a wide spectrum of ministries: pastors, teachers, missionaries, district superintendents, district secretaries, and headquarters staff. I thank God for the opportunity to invest a major part of my life in training others for the ministries to which God has called them.

In 2007, I resigned my work in Stockton, and Judy and I moved back to St. Louis, Missouri. From the first year of its operation, I had served as an adjuct professor at Urshan Graduate School of Theology, owned and operated by the United Pentecostal Church International. Before our return to St. Louis, I had accepted an offer from David K. Bernard, president of the seminary, to serve as a part time faculty member. I described what I was doing as semi-retirement. This description was not accurate for long.

Brother Bernard asked me to also function as chief academic officer beginning with the 2009 school year. For 2010, he also requested that I would serve as dean of administration, along with my duties as academic dean and assistant professor.

In the Spring of 2009, Judy was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, which took her life on January 16, 2011. I cannot adequately describe here the impact of this experience on us. Judy was a woman of faith who knew that upon her passing she would be in the presence of Jesus. I know that is true, and this gives me great comfort. The last week of her life, Judy said to me, “I want you to remarry. You need a wife.” I could not imagine remarriage. We had enjoyed such a blessed relationship, and I couldn’t comprehend the possibility of that happening again.

During the time of her suffering, Judy’s well being was my first priority. I accompanied her to every treatment and rarely left her side. I did teach my classes, and I thank God for the excellent, supportive staff at Urshan, especially Gayle Yoder, Marjorie Truman, and Ashley Chancellor, each of whom did everything possible to lighten my work load. May the blessings of our Lord rest upon them.

I remember the day I first prayed that God would direct my steps about the possibility of marrying again. This prayer request was answered on June 13, 2013, a Thursday. Susan and I have written our story, which was published in the Pentecostal Herald, since renamed Pentecostal Life, the official magazine of the United Pentecostal Church. I will share a bit of that story with you here.

On that day in 2013, I was in my home office preparing to write an article for the Pentecostal Herald. Before I started, I prayed that God would direct my steps in writing. I also told the Lord, “You know that the Ambassadors of Harmony concert is coming up on Saturday, and I would appreciate it if, when I’m finished writing this article, You would tell me who I could invite to go with me who would enjoy the concert.”

The Ambassadors of Harmony is an all male a capella choral group consisting of about 150 members. I had learned about them while still in Stockton, and I was delighted to discover that they were based in St. Charles, Missouri. All members volunteer their time, and their singing is beyond description. The Ambassadors of Harmony are four time international champions of the Barbershop Harmony Society and offer concerts each year in June and December.

It took me about an hour and a half to write the article. When finished, I opened my email program on my computer to send the article to the magazine editor. The first thing I saw on the screen was the words, in bold, black letters: Susan Fuller.

Susan had not sent an email to me. We had a common acquaintance, Larry Mazyck, who had been a student of mine at Urshan and who attended the same church as Susan, New Life, in Bridgeton, Missouri. In a Greek class I taught, Larry requested prayer for employment. He was from the east coast and had been able to work online, but that opportunity was no longer available. Larry had also requested prayer at New Life. When he secured an excellent position in his skill area, Larry sent an email to everyone on his list to let them know. Susan responded to congratulate him and did something she never does. She clicked on “reply all.” She thought why did I do that? Well, it doesn’t matter.

But it mattered. When I saw Susan’s name on my computer at the precise time I had asked God to let me know who I could invite to the concert, it gave me the courage to send her a text message. The message said, “Would you receive a call from me? Daniel Segraves.”

Susan’s husband, Robert Fuller, had passed away in 2008. He had a long history of ministry in the United Pentecostal Church and at the time of his death was serving as the organization’s editor in chief. Susan thought she would never remarry. As in my case, she and Bob had enjoyed a wonderful marriage of 41 years, and she couldn’t imagine it could happen again. I’ve often heard her say, “I couldn’t believe I could hit the jackpot twice!”

When Susan received my text message, she was driving to an evening prayer meeting. The technology on her car informed her that she had a text, but revealed only my phone number. I still have the California number, which she did not recognize, and her practice was to not respond to unknown numbers.

In addition to the prayer meeting she attended that evening, Susan had experienced an unusual visitation of the Lord in her home during the day, as she prayed for a specfic mission field. She sensed that a major change was about to happen in her life, so she thought the Lord might send her as a missionary. She had worked at the headquarters of the United Pentecostal Church for 32 years and had recently retired. She was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do, but she was concerned about the bugs she might encounter doing missions work in a foreign land. She now says she was delighted to discover God was going to give her the “love bug.”

When Susan got home that night, she looked at her text message and saw that it was from me. We knew each other, because Bob was my friend, and they pastored the church in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada while my parents founded and pastored the church 25 miles away in London. But Susan couldn’t image why I would want to call her. She assumed I was interested in Bob’s 15,000 volume library, so she responded to my text to say that I could call. I didn’t have her phone number, just her email address, so I texted again to ask for it and to ask when I could call. She sent me her number and said I could call right then.

When I first heard Susan’s voice, I knew good things were about to happen. We talked about twenty minutes, and I didn’t ask about Bob’s library. Since then, others have observed that what I was interested in was the librarian, not the books. Susan had heard the Ambassadors of Harmony, and she said she would love to go again.

Our first date was at the concert on June 15, 2013. Nine days later, I asked her if she would marry me. She said, “Yes, I will.” We were married on September 28, 2013, right before the general conference of the United Pentecostal Church. We got a couple of honeymoon nights in at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, Missouri, then spent the rest of our honeymoon at the general conference, enjoying the many congratulations of our friends.

After our marriage, we learned that in the early twentieth century, it was not unusual for newly married couples to spend their honeymoons at general conference.

For Susan and me, we’re living under God’s richest blessings. After almost five years, we still marvel at how God has brought us together and the love He has given us for each other.

I continued to teach at Urshan after we married and retired on July 1, 2018.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth lesson in a series of four

Last evening I finished writing the fourth lesson in a series of four for Word Aflame Publications. The series is titled “The Early Church.” The biblical texts include Hebrews, I and II Peter and Jude. I have written verse-by-verse commentaries on each of these books.

Lesson 4 is titled “The Better News.” The focus thought is “because we were in need of hope, God gave us good news.” The focus verse is Hebrews 1:8, and the Scripture text is Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Matthew 1:18-23; and Luke 2:1-20.

The lesson will be published for the Winter 2019-20 quarter.

The concluding paragraphs include this observation:

As shocking as it may be to say, the Law of Moses was not good news. Paul described it as the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” which was passing away (II Corinthians 3:7-9, NKJV). It had “a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things,” and it could never perfect those who followed it (Hebrews 10:1-10, NKJV).