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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?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

There is nothing new under the sun

I have often been accused of being a nontraditional, modern or liberal Christian. And, while I don't mind any of those adjectives being used to describe my religious views, those who have employed them may wish to reconsider their use after reading an article over at The Daily Beast.

That website published an article by Candida Moss this morning entitled "Interpreting the Bible Just Got More Complicated. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/interpreting-the-bible-just-got-more-complicated). In the piece, Moss takes a look at the research of a scholar from the University of Salzburg regarding a Fourth Century commentary on the gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia. For those who are interested in reading an English translation of the original work, you can find it here:  https://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/469498

For those who don't have the time to invest, here are a few quotes from her article:

"What’s especially striking about this new discovery is that Fortunatianus is commenting on the content of the Gospels, the central component of the Christian message. This seems strange to modern readers because so much modern religious Biblical interpretation, especially among conservative Christians, assumes that Bible should be read literally. Houghton notes that literal interpretation did not become de rigueur until the mid-15th century, when the invention of the printing press brought precise uniformity and conformity to the Biblical text. Prior to this point no two manuscripts of the Bible were identical to one another, and literal reading of the text was just one (and not even necessarily the most important) interpretive method."

"Of course, allegorical readings of the Bible pre-date Fortunatianus. One of the most celebrated ancient interpreters of scripture, the third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who is a likely source for Fortunatianus), argued that the Bible could be interpreted literally (what he calls the “letter”) and spiritually (allegorical interpretation)."

Moss concludes with:

"For most people invested in the religious authority of the Bible none of this will be too shocking. After all, as Houghton himself points out, reading the Bible as allegory can actually solve some of the difficulties that readers encounter when they read the New Testament: “There's been an assumption that it's a literal record of truth – a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke.” What writers like Fortunatinus and Origen show is not just that you don’t have to read the Bible literally all the time, but that for most of the Christian Era nobody thought that you should."

Maybe some of the posts on this blog are more traditional and conservative than they've been portrayed by others? What do you think? Minimalist, are you still out there? 

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Bloomington Statement

You may have heard that some Evangelical Christians recently offered a series of affirmations and denials about human sexuality known as the Nashville Statement (https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/). What follows is the perspective of an Illinois Christian regarding those affirmations and denials:

Article I:  We affirm that God designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, family nurturing, lifelong union of two people and is meant to symbolize the relationship between Christ and his Church. We deny that marriage was designed to be an exclusively heterosexual relationship, or that it should be relegated to the status of just another human contract.

Article II:  We affirm that God has revealed that fidelity is the Divine standard in all human relationships, including those of a sexual nature. We deny that sexual desire is intrinsically evil or that same sex desires are always wrong.

Article III:  We affirm that God created humans in the Divine image, that both genders are reflective of that image, and that both genders are equal before God. We deny that the biological differences between the genders justify excluding either of them from participating in things that we normally associate with one or the other gender.

Article IV:  We affirm that God has ordained that both genders have equal access to God and have the same potential relative to salvation and participation in the Divine Kingdom. We deny that humans are subject to fulfilling any particular roles with respect to their gender as a consequence of the fall.

Article V:  We affirm that the physical aspects of the human reproductive system do not necessarily reflect the self-concept of the individual. We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions should be used to denigrate individuals or deny them the realization of their potential as humans.

Article VI:  We affirm that sexual orientation does not diminish the worth or potential of any individual, that they should be welcomed as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, and that they should embrace their God-given orientation (whatever that happens to be). We deny that a person's sexual orientation renders them incapable of living a productive and joyful life as a Christian.

Article VII:  We affirm that self-conception should be in accord with God's holy purposes as revealed in Scripture, the Natural world which God created and with our own experiences as humans. We deny that living as a homosexual or transgender person is inconsistent with God's purposes.

Article VIII:  We affirm that people who are attracted to members of the same sex are able to live an abundant and productive life that is pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that they are subject to following the same holy walk that is expected of all Christians. We deny that same sex attraction is inherently unnatural or inconsistent with God's original design.

Article IX:  We affirm that sexual desire can be distorted and twisted into sinful thoughts and behaviors, and that God expects mutual respect, consideration and fidelity be a part of all sexual practices. We deny that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are inherently evil or wrong.

Article X:  We affirm that it is sinful to deny homosexual and transgender people the same love, compassion, kindness and respect that is accorded to heterosexual people; and that such denial is an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and example to others. We deny that the rejection of homosexual and transgender people is a moral imperative, and that such behavior should be excused or overlooked by other Christians.

Article XI:  We affirm that it is our duty to love and support each other and to speak kindly to each other at all times. We deny that is our duty to judge and/or disparage each other.

Article XII:  We affirm that the grace of God is all about forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, and the power to transform a person's life. We deny that the grace of God does not extend to homosexual and transgender people.

Article XIII:  We affirm that God's grace is sufficient to save anyone who comes to Christ and accepts his sacrifice for their sins, and that it also enables them to come to terms with whatever circumstances in life they happen to find themselves at the time of their conversion. We deny that the grace of God is at odds with those who identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual or transgender.

Article XIV:  We affirm that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that his death and resurrection make reconciliation with God possible for those who accept Jesus as their Savior and repent of their sins. We deny that the Lord does not have the power, ability or desire to save anyone who desires that. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Where are the Israelites in 2017?

Herbert Armstrong (along with many of the men he ordained as ministers) taught that white Europeans were the descendants and heirs of the ancient Israelites. Over the years since his death, however, many individuals have pointed out the many mistakes he made in interpreting the historical evidence; and our rapidly expanding knowledge of DNA has conclusively proven that those people are not biological Israelites. Even so, a few diehards have continued to point to what they call the "biblical evidence" to insist that Armstrong was correct.

According to the folks who subscribe to this view, they see what they characterize as the physical fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham in the peoples of the United States and Britain as proof of their identity as Israelites. They are fond of pointing out that these promises were never fulfilled by the ancient Israelites (a point on which we can all agree), but the next step in their reasoning process is where they run into trouble.

The thinking goes something like this:  Since God made those promises to Abraham and God always keeps his promises, we must sift through the histories of the nations of this world to see where those promises found fulfillment. Then, when we find the nation(s) who have inherited the promises, we must conclude that those folks are the descendants of Abraham - the heir(s) of the promises.

Let us lay aside for a moment the question of whether or not that reasoning is flawed and illogical. Instead, let us appeal to the very same scriptures which they say prove their point - the Bible. In short, we will examine in this post the nature of the promises themselves and what the Bible has to say about who is and isn't an Israelite.

According to Scripture, God made a series of promises to Abraham over the course of many years. The record of these promises begins in the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. After telling Abram to leave his native homeland, God says:  "I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." (verses 2-3) Notice that some of these promises are very personal and apply specifically to Abram - not any descendants. Christians have traditionally understood the promise about all of the families of the earth being blessed through Abram as referring to Jesus Christ. (see Acts 3:25-26) Later, in that same chapter, God promises Abram that he would give the land of the Canaanites to his descendants. (verse 7) That promise was later ostensibly fulfilled when Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land.

In the next chapter, we read that God told Abram to "Look as far as you can see in every direction - north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants <seed> as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted!" (verses 14-16) As we all know (or should know), the Israelites never received permanent possession of that land, and they were never so numerous that they could not be counted. Hence, if one puts any faith whatsoever in the Bible, it is reasonable to conclude that these promises must find fulfillment at some point in the future.

Later, in chapter fifteen, we learn that God promised Abram a son to be his heir. (verse 4) Afterwards, we are told that the Lord took Abram outside and instructed him to try to count the stars that were scattered across the night sky. "That's how many descendants you will have!" the Lord promised. (verse 5) Then the Lord predicts that Abram's descendants would be oppressed by foreigners for four hundred years, but that they would eventually return to the land of Canaan. (verses 13-16) In his final communication to Abram that evening, we are told that the Lord made a covenant with him and promised that he had "given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border <river> of Egypt to the great Euphrates River..." (verse 18) Of course, we all know that the Israelites never controlled all of that territory (not even during the time of David's and Solomon's kingdoms). Hence, once again, we are left to conclude that this promise must point to the future.

In chapter seventeen, the Divine promises to Abram are further delineated and summarized. We read there:  "This is my covenant with you:  I will make you the father of a multitude of nations...I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God." (verses 4-8) There are a couple of points to be made here:  1) Abraham (God changed his name during this episode) and his descendants were never in possession of the "entire land of Canaan" and 2) the promise of perpetual possession of any portion of that land must again refer to the future.

Interestingly, in this same chapter, we learn that the sign of the covenant - the physical symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants was the circumcision of every male child born into his family. (verses 9-14) The significance of this sign will become apparent later on in our discussion.

In chapter twenty-two, we read of the test of Abraham's faith. According to this account, God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering, and then relented at the last minute. (verses 1-15) Then, as a consequence of his obedience, we learn that God swears an oath by his own name to fulfill certain promises to Abraham. (verse 16) We read:  "I will multiply your descendants <seed> beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed - all because you have obeyed me." (verses 17-18) Once again, we can all hopefully agree that these promises have not found fulfillment in the past or present and apply to the future.

For the sake of space and time, we will not include the reiteration and refinement of these promises to Abraham's son (Isaac) and grandson (Jacob). (See Genesis 26 and 28) For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that the promises which had been made to Abraham were confirmed to his immediate heirs. Thus, having established the nature of the promises, we will now turn our attention to what the New Testament has to say about them and the true identity of Abraham's descendants/heirs.

First, it should be noted that prior to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ, the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke inform us that John the Baptist told the Jewish religious leaders of that time not to rely on their physical descent from Abraham as any guarantee of God's favor. (Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8) Instead, he warned them that God had the ability to create descendants for Abraham from the very stones that were strewn over the ground surrounding them! (same verses)

In the gospel according to John, we are informed of an incident where Jesus spoke to this same phenomenon (Jews relying on their physical descent from Abraham). We read there:  "'Our father is Abraham!' they declared. 'No,' Jesus replied, 'for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example...Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.'" (John 8:39-41)

Paul further developed this concept about Christians being the true descendants of Abraham in his letter to the saints of Galatia. The apostle began by reminding his audience that "God gave the promises to Abraham and his child <seed>. And notice that the Scripture doesn't say 'to his children <seeds>,' as if it meant many descendants. Rather it says 'to his child' - and that, of course, means Christ." (Galatians 3:16) He continued:  "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children <seed> of Abraham. Your are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you." (Galatians 3:26-29)

Later, he expanded on this theme in his letter to the Christians at Rome. Paul wrote:  "For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God's Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people." (Romans 2:28-29)

Finally, this message about Christians being Abraham's true children and the heirs to the promises made to him is further reinforced in the letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia recorded in the book of Revelation.  We read there:  "Look, I will force those who belong to Satan's synagogue - those liars who say they are Jews but are not - to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love." (Revelation 3:9)

Hence, when we look at the very scriptures from which Armstrong and his followers claim to derive their teachings, we see that the bulk of the promises to Abraham have found (or will find) their fulfillment in Christ and his disciples. In short, the New Testament casts the promises made to Abraham in a spiritual light and says that they will find their fulfillment in Christians, not in the physical descendants of Abraham. In other words, it was NEVER about a specific ethnicity or nationality - it was ALWAYS about a people derived from every nation, kindred, language and people on the face of the earth!   

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Church of God International's Take on Racial Tensions in America

Church of God International pastors Bill Watson and Adrian Davis have posted their discussion on "Racial Tensions" in the United States as part of that group's "web chat" series (http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2017/8/26/racial-tensions). The piece was designed to offer some timely commentary on racial divisions across the U.S. in the context of recent events in Charlottesville and elsewhere.

First, while Mr. Watson's choice of a black colleague for this discussion is certainly understandable, one wonders why he chose a Canadian pastor over an American one. Was Pastor Bronson James unavailable or unwilling to participate in this discussion?

Second, if you were expecting the pastors to denounce white nationalists, klansmen and racists, you're going to be disappointed with this discussion. Instead, the principals launch into an attack on Barack Obama, whom they characterize as a "Neo-Marxist." For good measure, they talk at some length about folks like George Soros and Saul Alinsky and hint at "nefarious" activities and conspiracies. Pastor Watson alleges that protesters are being paid and trained by these kinds of folks to stir up trouble, and Pastor Davis says that protesters are being "played" by Marxists.

Next, they turn their attention to groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and speculate about how they went wrong. According to Mr. Davis, the oppression of black folks in America is a "false narrative." He goes on to point out that BLM is intent on destroying heteronormative thinking and was founded by lesbians and Marxists. This all apparently made Mr. Watson a little skittish as he felt compelled to declare "I like black people."

When the pair finally turn their attention to Charlottesville, Mr. Watson opens the discussion with a reference to an article that appeared on YourNewsWire.com. Sure, he admits the article "sounds conspiratorial," but then goes on to assert that he believes it. For those who are not familiar with this site, it should be noted that YourNewsWire.com is cited by most reputable news organizations as a notorious purveyor of fake news and conspiracy theories.

Finally, the pastors warn us against getting caught up in this stuff. They don't want us to unwittingly become involved in bringing down America (apparently the principal agenda of these left-wing groups). They go on to assert that those who are involved in this movement are "drunk and asleep," and that such folks have the potential for causing divisions within the church. Mr. Watson and Mr. Davis want their parishioners to keep their eyes on the Kingdom and follow the Golden Rule.

After listening to this web chat, it occurred to me that Pastor Watson and Pastor Davis would do well to follow their own advice. My suggestion is that they avoid this topic in the future and concentrate on the Kingdom and the Golden Rule. What do you think?