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Monday, October 23, 2017

Some considerations on the primacy of Peter

If Scripture really does imply or state that Peter was the primary/preeminent/most important/lead apostle, then how do you explain the following?

Thirteen or fourteen books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul and only two are attributed to Peter.

Saul/Paul is mentioned 181 times in Scripture and Peter is mentioned 158 times.

Despite Peter having received a vision about what God regarded as clean/unclean and claiming that God had chosen him to deliver God's message to the Gentiles, the New Testament reflects the fact that PAUL (not Peter) was the apostle most responsible for carrying that message to the Gentiles.

Paul criticized Peter's different behavior among Jewish and Gentile converts and openly opposed him on the issue within the church.

A council of apostles and elders was assembled at Jerusalem to settle the matter of just how much of the Law of Moses that the Gentile converts would be required to observe. And, although Peter spoke to the assembly, it is certainly implied in the account of this event that James concluded the matter.

Christ said that anyone who wanted to be preeminent within God's Church or Kingdom had to be the servant of all the others. He also said that he didn't want his followers lording it over each other.

Christ asked Peter three times if he loved him more than the other apostles did and instructed him to take care of his flock after he answered that question three times in the affirmative. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What if God created a MULTIVERSE?

As long time readers of this blog know, I have previously expressed my interest in a concept that has received some attention in scientific circles over the last several years:  That our vast universe (with all of its vast galaxies) is only one small part of a much bigger multiverse. For some physicists, mathematicians, cosmologists, etc., a multiverse explains many things that have puzzled them for years. Indeed, for some of them, it has even called into question what we define as reality.

In some versions of the multiverse, each one of us has a doppelganger (counterpart or exact duplicate) living in each of these other realms acting out a different version of our lives. The thinking is that each time we make a choice/decision in our life - the alternative(s) is/are acted out somewhere else by another version of us. Thus, in theory, we would be exposed to all of the possible outcomes for our lives based on the different choices/decisions that we make for ourselves.

Now most of the folks who subscribe to this view characterize it as endless, but what if it wasn't? What if the death of the individual was a constant in all of these universes? Yes, the length of the life would vary across the spectrum (depending on choices made), but what if all of the various manifestations of you had to end in death? The possibilities would still be staggering, but they would not be endless. And, when the last you drew its last breath, then what? Could this be indicative of some greater design and purpose?

What if the function of this life is to clearly demonstrate to us that we cannot make it on our own? What if this life isn't a matter of being tested, but rather being given an opportunity to prove to ourselves that all of our decisions/choices will end in the same place? Could this be the ultimate expression of free will? Are we all learning a profound lesson about our need for something greater than ourselves? Are we preparing ourselves to make the ultimate informed decision someday? What do you think?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Does God like guns?

As America faces the nightmare of what happened in Las Vegas, both sides in the debate over gun control are polishing up and reintroducing their arguments pro and con. For many, the question is whether ANY limitations on gun ownership are permitted under the Second Amendment. However, in a nation where many folks claim to be Christian, we have to wonder how many of them have considered what God thinks about all of this. For those who are interested in pursuing this line of thought, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few passages from the Judeo-Christian canon:

Thou shalt not kill. --Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17

And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou has shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. --I Chronicles 22:7-8

Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. --Ecclesiastes 9:18

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. --Isaiah 2:4

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. --Isaiah 11:9

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord. --Isaiah 65:25

And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. --Micah 3:3

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment... --Matthew 5:21-22

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. --Matthew 5:38-39

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you... --Matthew 5:43-44

And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. --Matthew 26:51-52

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. --Revelation 21:3-4

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Day of Atonement

As many Armstrong Church of God folks gather to "observe" the Day of Atonement, I thought it would be appropriate to offer my readers a few links to past posts on this blog. In short, from a New Testament Christian perspective, this day has absolutely NOTHING to do with Satan and much to do with Jesus Christ. Here are the links:



Monday, September 18, 2017

No Discrepancies in the New Testament?

Do you believe in biblical inerrancy? Are you a biblical fundamentalist? I believe that the book commonly referred to as the Holy Bible was inspired by God, but I don't believe that it is free of errors and contradictions. I believe in Jesus Christ, but I don't believe that the New Testament is free of discrepancies. What follows are just two examples of why I feel justified in making those statements:

Example 1:
In Matthew 27:28, we read that the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus, "and put on him a scarlet robe."
In Mark 15:17, we read that the soldiers "clothed him with purple..."
In John 19:2, we read that the soldiers "put on him a purple robe."

The Greek word kokkinos is used in Matthew 27:28, and it means scarlethttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2847&t=KJV
The Greek word porphyra is used in Mark 15:17, and it is indicative of the color purplehttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4209&t=KJV
The Greek word porphyrous is used in John 19:2, and it is also indicative of the color purplehttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4210&t=KJV

Conclusion:  The robe that the Roman soldiers placed on Jesus just prior to his crucifixion is described by the author of Matthew as scarlet, while the authors of Mark and John describe it as being purple.

Example 2:
There are three different accounts of Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus recorded in the book of Acts.
In Acts 9:7, we read:  "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man."
In Acts 22:9, we read:  "And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me."
In Acts 26:14, we read:  "And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me..."

Conclusion:  One account has the men standing, another has them collapsing. One has them hearing a voice, but seeing no one; Another account has them seeing a light, but not hearing the voice.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

PCG on the needs of men and women

The Banned by HWA! blog recently did a piece on an article by Joel Hilliker of the Philadelphia Church of God. The post was titled "PCG: What A Woman Wants" http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/09/pcg-what-woman-wants.html. The original article was titled "The Basic Needs of Men and Women" posted on the PCG website at https://www.pcog.org/articles/4030/the-basic-needs-of-men-and-women.

In the original article, Hilliker stated that "God designed" certain differences between men and women. To support this assertion, he references Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:18-24. The two verses in chapter one clearly indicate that both genders were created in God's image. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that both genders reflect aspects of God's persona, but it does not necessarily follow that they reflect different aspects of that persona. In other words, it is possible that they shared some/many Divine traits. Even so, the verses from the second chapter suggest that the female was derived from the male to satisfy the man's need for a suitable "help meet." Now, I may be missing something, but it seems to me that it requires a great deal of speculation to conclude from these two passages that God designed specific differences (other than the obvious reproductive ones). And, it requires even more imagination to identify specific traits and assign them to one or the other gender based on these two passages.

Later in the article, Hilliker revealed this about the source of his lists:  "Years ago, a minister in the Worldwide Church of God produced an outline of a message titled 'The Basic Differences Between Men and Women.' Within that outline, he listed 10 basic needs of men, and 10 basic needs of women. These are excellent lists, rooted in the Bible and in practical experience." From this information, we learn that the lists originally came from a WCG minister that Hilliker claims are "rooted in the Bible" (without any supporting scriptural references), and "practical experience" (is that an admission that some of this didn't originate in Scripture?).

In looking over the respective lists for men and women, I was struck by the very traditional, misogynistic and paternalistic perspective that is reflected in them. In this view, the man is portrayed as the strong leader and protector; and the woman is portrayed as the weaker and submissive partner that craves attention. Indeed, Hilliker's summary of the needs of both genders is indicative of this view: "For the man: needs a sense of self-worth—treat with respect. For the woman: fragile—handle with care."

Now, all of us should be able to acknowledge that there are physical and emotional differences between the genders, but we should all be suspicious of such specificity in the emotional realm. After all, scientists are still actively investigating/studying the role that nature vs nurture plays in shaping each individual and men and women more generally. We know that both play a role, but it is still very much an open question as to just how much each of these factors contribute to the finished product. Scientists are still exploring the human mind and the influence of estrogen and testosterone in shaping our thinking. Moreover, we know that each and every one of us is so unique that generalizations can be very dangerous. In short, there is still a lot we don't know/understand about ourselves.

As a consequence, I think that it is more productive to talk about things that can be applied to both genders. I'm thinking about things like the need for companionship, physical intimacy, trust, respect, kindness, compassion, empathy and love. To me, those needs seem much more concrete and approachable than the needs imagined by a WCG minister many years ago. What do you think? 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Scriptural and Philosophical Basis for the Bloomington Statement

In an effort to precisely mirror the Nashville Statement, I did not provide any justifications for the affirmations and denials contained in my Bloomington Statement. However, a person whose opinion I hold in high regard suggested that it would accrue to the benefit of both my readers and myself if I would provide them. After some consideration, I agree.

Hence, what follows should be considered my offering of the scriptural and philosophical underpinnings of each article:

Article I:  Genesis 2:24 makes plain that sexual intercourse was intended to be an integral part of the marriage covenant between two people. Christ makes it very clear in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9 that God originally intended that a marital commitment be for life, that it is a Divine institution and that the contract is not subject to human nullification. Hebrews 13:4 makes plain that marriage is an honorable estate that is available to everyone. Moreover, Genesis 2:18 establishes the principle that it is NOT good for a man to be alone - that the help and support of another HUMAN was anticipated by God as a basic need of each individual (see Genesis 2:19-20).

Article II:  Exodus 20:14, one of God's great fundamental laws (known popularly as The Ten Commandments), clearly states that God ordained fidelity/faithfulness as "His" standard for human relationships (and marriage in particular). As sexual desire is an integral part of the way we are biologically hardwired to function as humans, it must be a part of the creation that God described as being "very good" in Genesis 1:31. Moreover, when we take a close look at the scripture which is most often used to denigrate sexual attraction (Matthew 5:28), we see that Christ was speaking about the commandment related to fidelity. Hence, it is clear that Christ was referring to sexual lust for someone other than one's wife/husband. In other words, this is not the blanket condemnation of all sexual desire which some Christians have attempted to make it. Indeed, in Genesis 2:25, we are informed that Adam and Eve were not created with sexual shame about their bodies.

Article III:  Genesis 1:27 makes plain that both genders were created in the image of God. Galatians 3:28 makes clear that both genders are considered equal before God through Jesus Christ. Galatians 5:22-23 strongly implies that things like love, kindness, goodness and gentleness are universal values that can and should be attributable to both genders. Likewise, things like anger, selfish ambition, jealousy, hostility and drunkenness are not the exclusive purview of men (see Galatians 5:20-21).

Article IV:  Once again, Galatians 3:28 makes it very clear that both genders are equal before God. Romans 2:11 also makes it very plain that God does not show favoritism when it comes to who is given an opportunity to be in "His" Kingdom. Moreover, to further underscore this point, we know that Christ indicated that marriage would not be a part of our experience in the Kingdom (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25 and Luke 20:35). Since Jesus Christ is responsible for reconciling everything to God (including humankind), it follows that any and all consequences of the fall are removed by that reconciliation.

Article V:  Since both genders reflect God's persona (see again Genesis 1:27), it follows that all of the traits which WE normally associate with one or the other gender are not exclusive to either. As it is theoretically possible to enter the Kingdom without some of our body parts (see Matthew 5:29-30), we must conclude that being physically or emotionally whole is not a prerequisite of entering that Kingdom.

Article VI:  As the Bible is silent on the question of sexual orientation, we must conclude that it is inconsequential to any of the great issues addressed therein. And, before anyone starts quoting Leviticus 18:22 or Romans 1:26-27, we should all be able to agree that those passages refer to BEHAVIOR. They have absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation - a concept that was wholly unfamiliar to the ancients. In fact, Scripture indicates that it would be wrong for someone to go against their own nature (Romans 1:26-27) or conscience (Romans 14:23).

Article VII:  Paul told the saints at Rome that we should measure ourselves in accordance with the faith which God has given to each one of us (Romans 12:1-3). Likewise, he told the saints at Corinth that if they would judge themselves, they would not be judged (I Corinthians 11:31). The standard is God's, but it is the responsibility of each and every one of us as individuals to interpret that standard and apply it to ourselves by employing the light which God has given/placed within us.

Article VIII:  We read in John 3:16 that Christ told Nicodemus that God loved humankind so much that "he gave us his one and only Son, so that EVERYONE who <whosoever -KJV> believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." It is logical to assume that EVERYONE/WHOSOEVER is inclusive of EVERYONE or ANYBODY who believes in him (including homosexuals and transgender people). Later, when Christ was explaining that he was the only way into the sheepfold, we read that he told his audience that his purpose was to give everyone an abundant life (John 10:10). Later still, the author of the gospel tells us that his purpose in writing the book was to facilitate a belief in Jesus as the Christ, and that that belief will lead to life (John 20:31). In many places, Paul admonished ALL Christians to walk in holiness (see Romans 6:4, 8:1, I Corinthians 7:17, Galatians 5:25, Ephesians 2:10, 4:1, 5:2, 8, etc.). Finally, if we observe same sex attraction in both humankind and the animal kingdom, it cannot be unnatural (contrary to nature) and calling it an anomaly does not negate or remove its existence in nature (e.g. we could say that tornadoes and hurricanes are anomalies, but that does not alter the fact that they occur in nature from time to time).

Article IX:  Any sexual desire/ behavior that supersedes or comes before our duty to God could be said to be idolatrous (see Exodus 20:3-5). Likewise, any sexual desire/behavior that violates our commitment to another person is an expression of infidelity (see Exodus 20:14). Any desire/behavior that violates our own conscience or doesn't originate in faith is sinful (see James 4:17 and Romans 14:23). Any sexual desire/behavior that violates our obligation to treat others the way in which we would like to be treated is a violation of Christ's Golden Rule (see Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). And sexual desire/behavior that results in some hurt or injury to another does not fulfill God's law and should be labeled as sinful (see Romans 13:10). In other words, there are broad spiritual principles outlined in Scripture that define whether a desire/behavior is wrong/sinful. Finally, there is no explicit statement anywhere in Scripture that forbids sexual intercourse before marriage. The best argument that anyone has been able to muster for the understanding that premarital sex is contrary to God's purposes, is based on the assumption that a collection of certain scriptures implies it.

Article X:  Christ did not place any qualifications on our obligation as Christians to love each other (see John 13:34 and 15:12, 17). Likewise, his apostles affirmed this obligation of Christians to love each other (see Romans 13:8, I Thessalonians 4:9, I Peter 1:22, I John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11-12, etc.). Paul also told the saints at Corinth that love NEVER fails (see I Corinthians 13:8). Moreover, to treat homosexuals and transgender people in ways which we would not appreciate being treated is a direct violation of Christ's Golden Rule (see again Matthew 7:12). Finally, we cannot find ANY instruction or Divine directive to disparage these people in Scripture (there is NONE, and don't bother offering up an instruction to Old Testament prophets to show God's people their sins - that was not addressed to you, and the folks to whom it was addressed were instructed to concentrate on sins, not to disparage people).

Article XI:  The instruction to Christians to edify/build up each other is repeated several times in Scripture (see Romans 14:9, Ephesians 4:1-11, I Thessalonians 5:11 and Hebrews 3:13). Paul told the saints at Rome to "be kindly affectioned one to another" (Romans 12:10, KJV). Christ instructed his followers not to judge each other or be focused on spotting and correcting each other's sins (see Matthew 7:1-5).

Article XII:  Paul makes plain that grace is about acceptance before God, the forgiveness of sin and our ultimate salvation (see Ephesians 1:6-7, 2:5-8, II Timothy 1:9, Titus 2:11 and 3:7). There is nothing in Scripture that states or implies that grace is not available to homosexual and transgender people.

Article XIII:  The prophet Isaiah said that God had the unqualified ability to save (see Isaiah 59:1). Paul said that God told him that God's grace was sufficient to save him and that God's power was perfected in Paul's weakness (II Corinthians 12:9, KJV). He also told the saints at Philippi that he was confident that God had the ability to finish what he had started in them (Philippians 1:6). He told the Romans that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). A little later, in the same epistle, he said that God alone makes the determination as to who will stand or fall, and that with God's help "they will stand and receive his approval" (Romans 14:4). There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that God's power/ability to save anyone is limited by any circumstance or other power.

Article XIV:  Paul told Timothy that Christ came into the world to save sinners (I Timothy 1:15). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture to suggest that any individuals or groups are excluded from this general category of "sinners." When John saw Jesus approaching him, he is reported to have said: "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) That sure sounds like all sins to me. Paul stated over and over again that we are reconciled to God by the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10, II Corinthians 5:18 and Colossians 1:21). Christ himself is reported to have told his followers that "God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17).

All of the above referenced scriptures were taken from the New Living Translation, except those where I have specifically stated that they were derived from the King James Version of the Bible. Hence, as you can see, the Bloomington Statement was not some flight of fancy based on thin air or a slight of hand. On the contrary, each of the affirmations and denials that comprise the fourteen articles are founded in Scripture and philosophical premises that are both logical and sustainable. Moreover, any scriptural foundation which can be supplied by the proponents of the Nashville Statement must be seen as contradicting the scriptures referenced here (which I would think creates quite a dilemma for fundamentalists). What do you think?