Jerusalem and Athens

Holy Spirit Fire anointingThe Southern Baptist Convention is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant one in America. Yet it has repeatedly said “no” to Pentecostalism. Some leaders and aspects of this movement are flaky, but only Pentecostals who experience the real thing have the knowledge and authority to expose false prophets and their doctrines.

The SBC, however, ridicules what it does not know or understand. It throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, without bothering to see if the movement really is biblical. Knowledge has not ceased, so why should prophecy and tongues (1 Corinthians 13:8)? Why should miracles either? Regarding tongues, the church age has not ended. Prophecy and miracles began in the Old Testament! The God of the old is the God of the new. He does not change (Malachi 3:6). The belief among most Baptists (except “free” ones) that prophecy, tongues, and miracles were only for the first-century church is a gross lie and false doctrine. It should be exposed as such.

Ed_Stetzer sbc

Ed Stetzer

In contrast to Pentecost, which I want every Christian to experience, in the past twenty years some liberal SBC members have said “yes” to homosexuality and Islam. Thankfully, church leaders shot down the gay trend in 2000. However, few have called out SBC leader Ed Stetzer for his desire to see the church mainstream Islam. Balfour’s Jim Fletcher is an exception.

What I found this week at Houston Baptist University (HBU) may not be as horrific as homosexuality and Islam, but the trend is still deeply disturbing. HBU’s new 12-year vision is called “Ten Pillars: Faith and Reason in a Great City.” One is called “Bring Athens and Jerusalem Together.” I wonder why the university didn’t follow the seven pillars of wisdom (Proverbs 9:1).

HBU endeavors to bring together Athens, the world of academic learning, and Jerusalem, the world of faith and Christian practice. Faith and learning, so often seen as separate, and indeed as contraries, are deeply embedded in each other at HBU. In fact, instead of two different worlds, they are part of the same world – twin gifts given to humanity by the Creator and Redeemer. Since the book of nature and the book of scripture have the same author, the rigorous study of nature, what otherwise might be called “secular” learning symbolized by Athens, is a unique act of worship. …

We aim to make HBU a place that is both Christian and a University, compromising neither. It is our belief that no compromise is necessary. Athens and Jerusalem share the same Founder, and we dwell in both cities.

Jerusalem fills the pages of the Bible. It is an ancient city, beloved of God. Jerusalem existed before the days of Abraham, c. 1900 BC (Genesis 14:18). Athens, however, is a little newer, at least when one looks at ancient history. This Greek city was founded c. 1400 BC, when the walls of Jericho fell. It appears only once in the Bible (Acts 17), on Paul’s second missionary journey. The Bible contains some of his letters to churches in Galatia, Corinth (a city near Athens), Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Rome. However, we have no record of Paul writing a single letter to Athens. Based on his experience there, I don’t think he founded a church.

paul mars hill athensAthens, the former home of Plato and Aristotle, was “given over to idols” during Paul’s visit c. AD 50 (Acts 17:16, NKJV). One altar was marked “to the unknown God” (17:23). Not only did the citizens of Athens not know Jesus Christ, they did not even have a name for him. They just filled the marketplace with idols because they were “very religious” (17:22). The citizens “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (17:21). Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers wanted to know about Paul’s “foreign god” (17:18), but when they heard the truth of Christ in his stirring “Mars Hill” speech they rejected it.


Raphael, “The School of Athens”

In its heyday, Athens was filled with Matthew Arnold’s idea of culture, “the best that is known and thought in the world.” Yet this ancient city mocked and rejected the founding doctrine of Christianity, the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:31-32). Only a few listeners believed. By the time Paul wrote his first letter in AD 57 to the church in Corinth, he had learned that the “Greeks seek after wisdom” and consider “Christ crucified … foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, NKJV). However, “the foolishness of God is wiser than” they (1:25). So God uses “the foolish things of the world … to shame the wise” (1:27). He uses the spiritual citizens of Jerusalem (Christians) to shame those of Athens (unbelievers).

Athens’ rejection of Christ is to be expected. The world always has and always will reject the person and truth of Jesus. Its ruler is the prince of the air, Satan (Ephesians 2:2). We should not love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15). Those who do love it don’t love God the Father (2:15). The world will pass away, but those who do the will of God will remain (2:17).

We’re marching to Zion
Beautiful, beautiful Zion,
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.
— Isaac Watts

As Christians, we’re headed for Zion – the New Jerusalem. Our destiny is heaven, not hell or even earth. Maybe sinners are wise in earthly things, but in heavenly things they are fools. This heaven is all that matters. Did Plato and Aristotle go to heaven? Were they men of God prior to Christ? No. Did the Victorian critic Matthew Arnold go to heaven? No. All three men, and others like them, rejected the faith. So does the spirit of Athens have anything to teach Jerusalem? No.

new-jerusalem city-of-goldSo why would HBU choose Athens? Why would they choose any worldly city and place it alongside Jerusalem? Contrary to what HBU believes, Jerusalem and Athens do not have the same founder. The one is God, the other man. The spirit of the age is the spirit of anti-Christ. God has no cosmic future plan for cities like Athens. Only Jerusalem figures in biblical history, the Great Tribulation, and the millennium (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 3:12, 21:2, 10). Not only that, the book of nature and the book of scripture do have the same author – God. However, nature is fallen. Scripture is not. We cannot worship nature, only its author. Anything else is heresy and idolatry.

If we want to aim at heaven, the world’s cultural and natural best is not enough. It’s still short of divine perfection. That’s the lesson of “Babylon the great,” home to the anti-Christ (666) and the scarlet woman “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Revelation 17:6, NKJV). The ungodly world will love this city during the Great Tribulation, but God will destroy it in righteousness (ch.18).

Houston Baptist University, like the rest of the SBC, has rejected Pentecost and embraced the world. They’ve exchanged the truth of God for a lie and the fullness of the Holy Spirit for cheap trinkets. Yet HBU refuses to acknowledge that choosing Athens is really rejecting Jerusalem. If they continue in this course they will pay a great price, both in this world and in the next.


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