Showing Gentleness and Humility

towards those who believe differently.

Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 21

One of the ways the Holy Spirit speaks to us is by highlighting. Whether we’re reading the Bible or using prophetic gifts to prophesy, the Holy Spirit often points out something important that we should pay attention to. This is called highlighting.

For example, when a person with prophetic gifts is getting ready to prophesy, they often start “people-watching” to see which people in the meeting catch their attention in a special way. When one person jumps out at them, they ask the Holy Spirit what he wants to say to that person. Often, the Holy Spirit uses the prophet to speak specifically to that person that he highlighted—just like the prophet expected.

In traditional churches, many people use the word “inspire” rather than “highlight.” For example, people may say, “God inspired me to read a certain verse,” or “He inspired me to call someone.” Both “inspiration” and “highlighting” describe ways the Holy Spirit speaks to us.

For example, when you read a chapter of the Bible, you may suddenly notice a verse you never paid attention to before. Or perhaps you had read the verse many times, but you never thought about all its potential meanings. But today, you glean more meaning out of it than you ever had before. You need to pay special attention to this verse; you can be sure the Holy Spirit wants to speak to you.

When a particular verse jumps out at you, you need to learn to be quiet and listen to God’s voice. In the book of Samuel, God tells a story of young Samuel, who heard God calling him during the night. He thought it was his guardian, Eli, who was calling him. Because he didn’t know how to distinguish God’s voice, he missed the message God was trying to send. But Eli instructed him that the next time he heard God calling, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (NIV, 1 Samuel 3:9). After old Eli taught him how to discern God’s voice, Samuel began to learn to communicate with God. We must learn to pay attention to the way the Holy Spirit speaks to us while we read the Bible and fellowship with the Lord. Otherwise, we may miss His message, as Samuel did at first.


Be gentle towards those who are different

The main story told in Acts 21 is about the trials Paul encountered in Jerusalem. As we’ve learned in previous Bible studies, Jesus stood by Paul and gave him strength, telling him that he must testify in Rome as he did in Jerusalem. Paul’s friends and acquaintances prophesied that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem. Through these prophetic voices, the Holy Spirit tried to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When Paul decided to go anyway, the Lord stood by him and gave him strength. We have already discussed in detail the spiritual significance of these seemingly contradictory facts, so we will not repeat this theme here.

In today’s reading of Acts 21, I feel that the Holy Spirit is especially highlighting a verse to me, which is, Acts 21:21: “They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (NIV)

Paul had gone to see James and the elders in Jerusalem and shared what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When these elders heard it, they glorified God. Then they said to Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law” (NIV, Acts 21:20). This verse provides the context for verse 21, the verse the Holy Spirit is bringing to our attention. The Holy Spirit not only highlighted verse 21, but he also emphasized a few words in particular: “teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses.” The highlight in these words is “Jews who live among the Gentiles.”

In other words, one of the main reasons for this uproar in Jerusalem was the concern of the Jewish elders (the “they” in verse 21). Tens of thousands of Jews who were zealous for the law had heard rumors that Paul was teaching the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses. They felt that what Paul was doing went against their interests, which caused this uproar.

When I read this verse, the Holy Spirit showed me that the Jews may not have been concerned that Paul taught the Gentiles themselves to turn away from Moses and abandon circumcision and Jewish customs. Their main concern was the rumor that said that the Jews who lived with the Gentiles were being taught to turn away as well.

According to the general logic of Christians, Paul did not do anything wrong here when he was preaching that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation” (NIV, Galatians 6:15). Paul had already said he regards everything as garbage because of knowing Christ (NIV, Philippians 3:8). Naturally, he regards “circumcision,” “customs,” and even “Moses” as garbage. I don’t think Paul is wrong, and I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is blaming Paul for the way he taught. But I think the Holy Spirit is encouraging us to be gentle with people who are different from us, or who have not yet recognized the truths that we’ve already realized. Let me explain.  

We should treat others with love and inclusiveness, even if their beliefs seem like garbage to us. When we speak to them with gentleness, we show respect to them and their journey. What we see as garbage, others may regard as a treasure; and what we see as treasure, others may regard as garbage. When we treat a certain concept as garbage, and impose this view on others who value that concept as a treasure, it may harm the other person and cause conflicts between us. For example, many Chinese Christians believe that the people who have blind faith in Buddhism are idolaters and are completely “garbage.” Because I am Chinese and there are many people in China who worship Buddha (including my mother, who worshiped Buddha for many years), this attitude may be hurtful to my unbelieving friends. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the concept itself; compared to Christ, worshiping Buddha is indeed garbage. But I’ve observed that people who try to preach the gospel to Buddhists, while simultaneously proclaiming that their beliefs are garbage, do not have good results.

Similarly, my denomination’s prized Bible truths may seem like “garbage” to another Christian group. Let me give two extreme examples. When I used to take the train to Washington, I would often see Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. One day, I met a zealous Filipino Jehovah’s Witness on the train. We debated on the way to our destination. He told me that Christ is not God, but that he is just a human prophet. The man gave me a lot of examples from the Bible, trying to prove that Jesus is not God.

For me as a Christian, acknowledging Jesus is God and is the son of God is a basic prerequisite. A preacher in my former church said that one day, some people came knocking at his door. When he saw that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, he said to them, “Jesus is Lord” and closed the door. He also taught us that we must reject people like Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Bible says, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work” (NIV, 2 John 1:10-11). I accepted this teaching, so I treated Jehovah’s Witnesses quite coldly. But then I began to be introduced to a different way of treating Jehovah’s witnesses. This is not to say that what the Jehovah’s Witnesses are preaching is correct. Rather, we are saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses are like the Samaritans in Jesus’ time.

As you may know, the Samaritans were not considered orthodox by the Jews. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel (which was later destroyed). People there worshiped the golden calf and deviated from the true worship of God. Jews despised the Samaritans because of their heretical beliefs.

Because of this, Jesus’ response to the Samaritans might surprise you. John 4 records that when the Lord Jesus came to the well and met a Samaritan woman, He approached her with compassion and openness. Not only were the disciples surprised, but even the Samaritan woman was surprised. She said to the Lord, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)” (NIV, John 4:9).

Later, she even asked questions about theology: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (NIV, John 4:20). In previous lessons, we learned that the Northern Kingdom of Israel sinfully worshiped the golden calf. The mountain the Samaritan woman is referring to is not Jerusalem; likely, she is referring to the place where the Northern Kingdom worshiped the golden calf. The Lord Jesus explained, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (NIV, John 4:21).

Jesus not only challenged the theology of the Samaritan woman, but he also challenged the theology of the orthodox Jews. The theology of the Samaritan woman was undoubtedly wrong, but Jewish theology needed to be renewed as well. Later, we’ll see that one of the reasons the Jews could not accept the Lord Jesus was that He challenged their existing theology. For now, let’s consider how to imitate the attitude of the Lord Jesus towards the Samaritans. The Jews considered the Samaritan woman to be a heretic, just like most orthodox Christians consider Jehovah’s Witnesses to be heretics. But the Lord’s attitude towards the Samaritans was not one of rudeness. He did not reject them brusquely and close the door. After I understood this truth, I slowly changed my attitude towards Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I often take the train to Washington, D.C. Every day, rain or shine, I see Jehovah’s Witnesses outside preaching. Although almost no one pays attention to them, I am still quite moved when I see them standing there. They are more hard-working than any other Christian group I have seen. Now, whenever I see them, I give them a friendly smile. I know I cannot change their beliefs or theology. But at the same time, I have heard many prophecies that predict that the next move of the Holy Spirit will convert many Jehovah’s Witnesses to Christ.

Another time, a young man with a name badge pulled me aside at the entrance of a subway station. He told me that according to the Bible, humankind has fallen into sin and failure. Through the ages, God has sent prophets like Moses to save us. These facts were not wrong.

But then he began to say that God had sent John Smith to carry out the same work. At this point, I couldn’t bear to listen anymore. Based on the truth, I certainly could not accept his statement. But even though I reject his theology, I should respect and love him as a person. God loves all people, even Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Throughout Christian history, we’ve failed to show love and grace to so-called heretics; we fail to treat them with the dignity they deserve as fellow image-bearers of God.

I cited these two extreme examples to illustrate that all people deserve to be loved—even those who are universally recognized by orthodox Christians as heretics. We should learn to respond the way Jesus responded to the Samaritan woman—with love. Unfortunately, many of the so-called heretics in history have been persecuted. Sometimes, the church persecuted people who later turned out to have true, biblical beliefs.

For example, in church history, the Catholics would not only burn Reformers, but also the Anabaptists. Anabaptists, the predecessors of modern-day Amish and Mennonite Christians, were against infant baptism. Because of this stance, they were considered to be heretics by Catholic and Reformers alike. The Reformers committed many atrocities against the Anabaptists, even drowning them to death. The massacre of Protestants by Catholics is widely known, but the massacre of the Anabaptists by the Reformers is less widely known. This example illustrates that we sometimes make mistakes; those we consider to be heretics may later prove to be orthodox, Bible-believing Christians.

This issue hits close to home for me because I was saved in a branch of the Local Church movement in the United States. Many Chinese Christians believe that the Local Church Movement and Witness Lee are heretics. Not only does the Local Church teach that each town should have only one church, but it also teaches that “Christ is the Spirit” and “God became man so that man might become God.” These teachings are controversial and condemned as heresy. The latter was not just said by Witness Lee, but also by the early church father Athanasius.
This issue should be considered to be a theological debate rather than a heresy.

Many Chinese Christians in mainland China are affected by this accusation of heresy. A Chinese Christian was very happy when I preached the gospel to her unbelieving husband. Later, when she learned that I was a member of the Local Church Movement, she told me on the phone that our church was “not good.”

In addition, I often used to participate in campus services at a campus of the University of Maryland. I would often invite Chinese Christians from other places, but after a while, I’d notice that they’d stopped coming. It turns out that other Chinese Christian groups were telling them behind our backs that our church is heretical. Christians often work overtime to destroy rival groups behind one another’s backs. They claim they are focused on preserving the truth, but sometimes there is also an element of competition.

Christian Research International (who originally called out the Local Church Movement as heretical) published a magazine in 2009, acknowledging that their initial judgment was wrong. They now accept the Local Church Movement as an orthodox evangelical movement. But the damage has been done, and the situation cannot be remedied in one day. Many people still see the Local Church Movement as heretics because of their original article.

God led me to leave the Local Church Movement in 2015 in order to come in contact with churches in the Charismatic movement and to learn the gifts of the Holy Spirit and other teachings of the Charismatic movement. Indeed, I did break with a lot of the ideas and teachings of the Local Church Movement. After learning the teachings and practices of the Charismatic churches and other churches, I no longer agreed with some of the teachings and practices of the Local Church Movement. For example, I found that the Local Church Movement, like other evangelical groups, lacks basic understanding of many of the truths that God has restored through the 100-year history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. But this does not affect my continued adherence to many of the good truths taught by the Local Church Movement. These principles have been of great help to me in my spiritual growth, and they continue to benefit me to this day. I think that some teachings and practices of Local Church Movement would be very beneficial to evangelical Christian groups and Charismatic groups. However, if they are labelled as heretical, many people will be fearful to learn from them. Of course, we also need to distinguish between the truths that are worth learning and those which are not worth discussing.

The point I want to make with these examples is that Christians are often wrong in their judgments and evaluations of other Christian groups. Our understanding of the Bible is often subject to bias.

Breaking away from Bias

Going back to the content of this chapter, did the Christians have a bias towards the Jews? Did they interpret Paul’s treatment of the converted Jews through a distorted or biased lens? Is there a bias that continues to affect our attitude towards the Jews today?

While studying for my pre-Doctoral program at the United Theological Seminary in the United States, I took “Introduction to the New Testament” for two consecutive terms. During this course, we analyzed the story of Galatians 2. In this chapter, Peter was pretending not to care about the Gentiles and refusing to eat with them.

In my homework for this project, I wrote that the Jews were trying to be justified by the law through the efforts of their own flesh, while Christians were justified by faith. Here, Peter clearly understood that we are relying on God’s grace to be justified. But because of fear, he pretended that adherence to Judaism was required for salvation. The Jewish Christians sent by James were overly influenced by Judaism. They pressured Peter because they had not fully broken away from the concept of keeping the law. This is not in line with the teachings of the New Testament.

I did not expect my teacher to disagree with my point of view. She asked me a serious question. She said, “Why did you say that the Jews are all trying to be justified by their own efforts, by keeping the law through the flesh? What is your reason for saying this? Many modern Bible scholars disagree with this idea. You are seriously prejudiced against Jews.”

She said that for Jews, keeping God’s law is a way they can please God and live in the grace of God. Just like Old Testament saints kept God’s law and pleased God, she believes modern-day Jews can live in God’s grace through keeping the law. Her explanation was completely opposite to mine. I explained that my view was justifiable, based on the way I’ve been taught.

I am instinctively suspicious of modern seminary and modern Bible scholars. Although I was led to a seminary by God, I didn’t have a good impression of seminaries. I feel that many seminaries are full of liberals and religious scholars. Many theological dissertations are barely touched or read. They are nearly covered with dust.

Additionally, I have heard that seminaries are a cemetery. Many excellent Christians and pastors never studied at a seminary, yet do an excellent job. After studying at a seminary, however, their spirituality becomes suppressed. Some even become unbelievers.

Because of my suspicion, I couldn’t accept my teacher’s point of view at first. There were some tensions between us, but I told myself that I should be humble and listen to her logic.

I was also taking two consecutive terms studying Christian history, which taught me how Christians persecuted the Jews after their rise to power. Previously, I knew nothing of this historical persecution. For example, some people developed a theory that since the Jews killed Christ, all Jews were cursed and should be exterminated. Even during the first Crusades, many Jews were annihilated.

What’s more, after Martin Luther’s reformation, when anti-Semitism was on the rise, most German Christians did not step forward to stop Hitler from using this line of thought to incite hatred against Judaism. Only a few Christian scholars stood up for the Jews.

I began to understand that theological errors among Christians were exploited by the enemy to cause great harm to the Jews. Unbelievers often ask, “Where is God? If there is a God, why did the Jews, God’s chosen people, suffer such a massacre?” God did not want the Jews to be massacred; this was done no doubt by the Enemy. But the enemy has taken advantage of our Christian theological errors.

In particular, Christians have misunderstood Matthew 27:25. In this passage, the Jews were preparing to have Christ crucified. Rather than blaming Pilate, the Jews shouted, “‘His blood is on us and on our children’”. Many believe that the Jews were bringing down trouble upon themselves. For this reason, hateful people over the centuries have subjected Jews to a series of punishments and massacres, saying they were meting out the divine punishment the Jews asked for.

Oh my God! In the past, I accepted this teaching as well. As I thought about it, I realized that this view is not in keeping with Jesus’ prayer on the cross. Before Jesus died, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (NIV, Luke 23:34). Were the Jews more evil than other Gentiles, thus making them unworthy of the forgiveness of Jesus? Were the Jews not included in the “they” that Jesus prayed here?

Should we blame God for all the massacres, saying he was punishing the Jews? I do not deny that God sometimes punishes people. But now that Jesus has taken the full wrath of God upon Himself on the cross, we should think seriously before concluding that God is punishing someone. We are no longer in the Old Testament. The hostility and intolerance that Christians have shown towards Jews has furthered Satan’s goals of persecuting the Jews.

After understanding this, I pondered over what my teacher had said again. She said that Jews who seek to be justified by the law may not be doing it out of fleshly motivations. Further, Christians living under grace may not be living fully in the faith they profess; they may have adopted a legalistic motivation as they pretend to live only by grace.

She said Jews in the Old Testament were justified by the law, and that Christians often live in the flesh as they try to save themselves by their own efforts. She believes it is more accurate to say that whether Jews keeping the law or Christians relying on faith, both of them have a sincere side that seeks God through the law or faith, and they also have a ritualized and religious side. The key is to see if a person is really keeping the law (or seeking God through faith), or is just pretending. Every Christian denomination contains people who have true faith in God, and others who pretend.

She believes this principle also applies to Jewish groups. In other words, we can’t throw out one particular system as completely evil and problematic. Rather, every system can be abused. It’s true that many Jews keep the law out of their flesh, but we cannot say with 100% accuracy that every Jew of all times has kept the law out of one hundred percent fleshly motives. In the Old Testament, many diligent law-keepers were accepted by God because of their faith.

I understand what she meant, and I still can’t fully figure this problem out. Christian theologians have different understandings about how Israel is saved in the end times. Some say that in the end, Israelites are saved because they were God’s chosen people. According to God’s covenant, all families of Israel will be saved in due time. Others hold that before the world ends, Israel will experience a great spiritual revival; many Israelites will come to know Jesus Christ and will be saved.

Working together in the Body of Christ

The verses I mentioned earlier, which the Holy Spirit highlighted, mention that the elders of Jerusalem were accusing Paul of teaching the Jews who lived among the Gentiles to abolish circumcision. Paul seems to teach that since Christ has come, the Jews don’t need to be circumcised. As I mentioned earlier, Paul said, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation” (NIV, Galatians 6:15). It seems that Paul is against the continued circumcision of the Jews.

But in drawing this conclusion, we may have overlooked other verses. For example, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:18-20, “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” (NIV) Many people believe that Paul is saying this to avoid offending the Jews. But what Paul means here is circumcision or uncircumcision is not important. If a Jew is circumcised and saved, there is no need for him to become uncircumcised. If a Gentile is not circumcised, then he should not be circumcised. Why do I say that the latter statement may refer to the Gentiles? Because the Jews are generally circumcised on the eighth day. They do not wait until they are saved to consider whether or not to be circumcised. So Paul’s statement that they don’t need to be circumcised is referring to Gentiles.

When Paul mentions becoming uncircumcised, what is he referring to? We know that circumcision refers to cutting off the foreskin. Becoming uncircumcised would mean growing the foreskin back. Anyone who has relevant medical knowledge knows that one can’t grow the foreskin back. Only modern skin grafting could replace a lost foreskin, but this wouldn’t have been possible in Paul’s time.

Why were some of the circumcised Jewish Christians thinking about becoming uncircumcised in the first place? We can suspect that in places where there were many Gentile Christians, the Jews felt the pressure of public opinion “to make the Jews like the Gentiles”.

We know that there was pressure placed on Gentiles by Judaizing believers. In churches dominated by Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, the pressure of this public opinion was so great that it led to Peter’s pretension in Galatians 2. He used to eat with the Gentiles, but after the people sent by James came, he pretended to not eat with them. Why? Because eating with the Gentiles does not conform to the laws of the Jews. This pressure had led some Jewish Christians to believe that Gentiles should also obey the law and be circumcised. A similar pressure existed in today’s chapter. The elders referred to it in Acts 21:10 “Brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law” (NIV).

We all know the pressure of “Judaizing the Gentiles,” but we may have not noticed another kind of pressure, which is, “to make the Jews like the Gentiles.” Paul may have faced both of these pressures. So when the Jews in Jerusalem accused Paul of “teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses” (NIV, Acts 21: 21), it was not groundless. I personally think that it was not Paul who was teaching the Jews to abandon the law and circumcision. Likely, in the Christian community dominated by the Gentiles, there was an atmosphere that denied all of Jewish tradition and law. As an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was wrongly accused by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. In other words, Paul became a scapegoat here.

I personally think that Paul didn’t completely condone the Jews who wanted to abandon all their laws and Jewish characteristics to become a complete Gentile. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” (NIV) Paul did not completely deny the Jewish law; he recognized it as a part of Jewish identity. When Paul came to Jerusalem, he brought some people into the temple and paid for them to fulfil their vows. All of these behaviors are in keeping with the rules of the Jewish law.

It is true that Paul opposed the Jewish Christians who tried to impose the law on Gentile believers. We know that Paul did not advocate for Gentiles to be circumcised. But he also refused to allow Gentile Christians to completely annihilate the Jewish characteristics from the Jews in their communities.

In other words, the Jews who lived among the Gentiles did not have to eliminate all of their Jewish characteristics to be pleasing to God. Paul often advocated for the Jews to continue to be faithful to their religious duties.

This discussion will help us understand how to accommodate different opinions within the body of Christ. We need to learn to be gracious to people who are different from us. We don’t blindly talk about inclusion for the sake of inclusion. We don’t go to the opposite extreme of saying that Christians must embrace all religions, condone homosexuality, or agree that all religions bring us to God.

On the one hand, we Christians should be tolerant towards each other when we have differing understandings of certain passages. On the other hand, we should not accept those who deny basic Christian principles. We should not be inclusive just for the sake of inclusivity. We must maintain a healthy balance of being inclusive without losing our principles. This is the way Christ lived. As we face disputes with other groups of believers, we should contend for the faith but never lose sight of love.


Pastor Bill Johnson said that when God works in a mighty way in the world, the people He uses are often persecuted by the people God used previously. This is absolutely true. Whether we look at Jews persecuting Christians, Christians persecuting the Jews, Catholics persecuting Protestants, Protestants persecuting the Anabaptists, the state church persecuting the Puritans, Evangelicals persecuting the Charismatics, or early Charismatic sects persecuting new Charismatic sects, we see this pattern playing repeatedly. If you study church history, we see that the people used by God in His previous move end up persecuting the people and groups used by God in His next move.

When God’s next move comes, will you be the persecutor or the persecuted? Will you be used by God, or will you seek to destroy those whom God is using? Larry Randolph, an American prophet, said that sometimes our posture determines whether or not God brings revival. The distance between revival and lack of revival may be the width of a fishing boat: a few feet. When Peter cast the net on one side, he caught nothing. But when he changed his posture and cast his net on the other side according to the Lord’s command, he was able to catch a lot of fish.

If a tornado is coming, and you are in it, you will become very dizzy. You’ll think the earth and sky are spinning around. But if you are not in the tornado, you can just stand by and watch, without having the slightest damage. Will you be a member of the new move that will be persecuted and used by God, or will you be a member of the group who is persecuting people used by God in His new move?

A prophet prophesied that when the next revival comes, it may come from a place like Galilee, a place you don’t expect God to come from. We must be careful. Many people in history missed God’s move because of their prejudices. The Jews missed Jesus because they weren’t expecting him to come from such humble circumstances. Many Christians have also missed God’s revival. I hope that we can be alert now.

Returning to our passage, I believe that in the end, the early Christians realized that they should not force the Gentiles to become Jews. However, in church history, the pressure of “annihilating Jewish characteristics” still exists. This pressure caused many Christians to misinterpret Paul’s attitude towards the Jews. It even caused the tragedy of Christians persecuting and even killing the Jews. I think the way that all Jews will eventually be saved may not be the way we imagine. Let us learn from history to accept the differences of other members of the body of Christ and help each other fulfill God’s will.

Each of us must realize that our own personal view only represents one side of the matter. We do not have the vantage point of God, who looks down at His body in a holistic manner. We must be alert to the enemy’s temptation to use our narrow-mindedness to reject others and force them to be like us. We must have an inclusive attitude towards other races, cultures and Christian groups. We should learn from, tolerate and accept each other in order to avoid the mistakes made by many Christian groups throughout history.