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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The problem with employing moral equivalency in an argument

The current occupant of the Oval Office (Donald J. Trump) has been roundly criticized by both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats for his comments in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville. In an attempt to blunt some of that criticism, the White House apparently issued some "talking points" for their allies to use. According to USA Today, one of the points stated: "The president was entirely correct – both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility." --https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/16/dismayed-president-trumps-charlottesville-comments-white-house-struggles-move-forward/571677001/

In their article on Moral Equivalence, The Logical Place informs us that "Moral equivalence is a form of equivocation often used in political debates. It seeks to draw comparisons between different, even unrelated things, to make a point that one is just as bad as the other or just as good as the other. Drawing a moral equivalence in this way is an informal fallacy, a special case of False equivalence." They go on to say that "A common manifestation of this fallacy is a claim, often made for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. Historical studies show that this is rarely the case. Wars are usually started by one side militarily attacking the other, or mass murdering non-combatants, with or without provocation from the other side."

Translation:  There is no moral equivalency between those Virginia natives who were protesting hate speech and the out-of-state White supremacists/nationalists, Klansmen and Neo-Nazis who were promulgating it. In this regard, I particularly liked Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich's statement. He said: "There is no moral equivalency to Nazis sympathizers. There can be no room in America - or the Republican Party - for racism, anti-Semitism, hate or white nationalism. Period." --http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/16/john-kasich-republicans-charlottesville-donald-trum/572054001/

And, even if we actually believed that there was bad/wrong on both sides, does anyone honestly believe that "they were just as bad as I was" is going to be an acceptable excuse before Almighty God?

Nevertheless, I guess this was to be expected. After all, Trump has always felt justified in going after his own critics full throttle. His modus operandi is to hit back twice as hard. For him, any criticism warrants swift and massive retaliation. In short, Donald Trump likes retribution. In other words, what he perceives to be the bad behavior of his critics justifies whatever he decides to unleash on them. Do you remember what happened at some of his own campaign rallies? Does anyone else discern a pattern here or is it just me? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Essentials of Christianity

Most of various groups/organizations which call themselves Christian have formulated some kind of official statement/summary of their beliefs. Indeed, for many of them, this statement can be very elaborate and detailed. Moreover, most of them attach a great deal of importance/significance to these statements. Many of them would go on to say that their particular statement represents the only correct understanding of Christianity, and that only those who find themselves in agreement with that statement have any real chance at salvation.

In surveying this cacophony of beliefs, however, one is apt to wonder if any of them could truly be said to represent the Christian religion. In thinking about these things, another good question comes to mind:  Are there any teachings/doctrines/beliefs that one could characterize as universal (or almost universal) in their application to the various groups?

In reviewing many of these statements, I have found that they often contain references to their belief in (and reliance on) the Bible as the basis/foundation for/of their other beliefs. Likewise, most of them talk at some length about their belief in (and reliance on) God, and many of them go on to give excruciating detail about what they think about "His" nature. Many of them also talk at some length about the rituals associated with their particular brand of Christianity. Finally, it could also be said that there is much diversity and little agreement among these different statements.

I, however, think that it is far more useful and constructive to try to focus/concentrate on those principles that seem common to all (or at least most) of them. In other words, to attempt to distill the essentials from what is superfluous. Hence, this post will attempt to compare and deconstruct some of these statements and arrive at a more general/universal declaration of what most Christians believe.

What follows is my distillation of some of those statements into a more universal creed:

1. a belief or faith in God and his ability/intention to reward those who seek/follow him
2. a belief that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are a reliable source/foundation for other beliefs
3. a belief that Jesus Christ was/is the fulfillment of the Messiah promised in those Scriptures
4. a belief that salvation is available to Christians via the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
5. a belief that Christians must repent of their sins, receive the Holy Spirit and live a new life in Christ
6. a belief that Christians are expected to practice love for God, each other and their fellow man
7. a belief that Christians are expected to practice forgiveness and not seek retribution/revenge for wrongs done to them
8. a belief that Christians are expected to assemble together for worship and fellowship on a regular (weekly) basis
9. a belief that Christians are expected to participate in certain rituals (some form of baptism, and some form of communion service/partaking of the bread and the wine)
10. a belief that those who adhere to these beliefs/practices will receive eternal life in God's kingdom (reward), and that the avoidance/neglect of them will result in some form of permanent separation from God (punishment)
11. a conviction that Jesus Christ will someday return to this earth, and that this present world/age will come to an end

What do you think of my list? Can you think of any other "essentials"?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

God still loves me - even if you don't!

One of the commentators on my last post encouraged me to tell a personal story about a friendship which had been adversely affected by the Philadelphia Church of God. After acceding to his request, it occurred to me that many of my readers will have never heard the story surrounding my own experience in leaving the Worldwide Church of God. As a consequence, for whatever it's worth, I've decided to tell that story here.

I had listened to Garner Ted Armstrong on my father's transistor radio as a child in the 1960's. Later, as a young teenager, I had made the decision to complete the Bible correspondence course offered by the WCOG and was eventually baptized into that church at the tender age of seventeen. Even before that decision, my grandmother had read the Bible to me when I was a small child and had instilled in me a strong desire to please God and do what was right in his eyes. Now, I believed that God had called me into "HIS ONE AND ONLY TRUE CHURCH," and that it was my responsibility to answer that call.

All of this, however, was complicated by the fact that I was a very naive and closeted homosexual who couldn't even admit the reality of my sexual orientation to my own self - let alone anyone else. Thus, over the years that followed my baptism, I attended festivals, paid my tithes and fervently prayed to God that He would take away my evil desires.

In the meantime, I was much too timid to ask anyone in the church for a date, and no one seemed interested in asking me for one either. Then, one day, I met a beautiful and very kind young lady in the state college which I was attending at the time. She was easy to talk to, and (much to my surprise) she seemed to like me.

I knew that I wasn't supposed to date outside of the church, but I wondered if God was providing a way for me to overcome my unnamed affliction. "Maybe this is my chance for a normal life and family," I reasoned.

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to tell my minister about the relationship. That was a big mistake. I was immediately and unceremoniously disfellowshipped for dating someone outside of the church. I was told that I would have to break off the relationship and "repent of my sins" before I would be allowed to return to services.

I was devastated. I had been cast out of God's one and only true church. "What am I going to do?" I asked myself. I was trying to fight my perverse tendencies and do what was "right" in God's eyes, and my minister had excommunicated me! The Lake of Fire yawned before me.

Although I loved the young lady and knew that I would miss her terribly, I ended the relationship. I cried and moped around for a week. I was in torment. Worse yet, when I informed the minister about what I had done, he wasn't impressed. He informed me that I would have to "demonstrate the fruits of repentance."

Fortunately, my dad had already started attending the Church of God International by then (he had never joined the WCOG). And, when I informed him about what was going on (I didn't admit my homosexuality to him until many years later), he reassured me that God still loved me and that no one could separate me from His love.

The young lady and I were eventually married by a minister of the CGI (ironically, she wasn't averse to my religion), and we had two beautiful children together. Over the years that followed, we attended CGI, Church of God Seventh Day and Seventh Day Baptist services and attempted to raise our two daughters in the Lord.

Although I continued to deny the reality of my own sexual orientation and remained physically faithful to my wife, we both knew that something was not right. My wife craved the kind of intimacy and fire that I could never offer her. Sure, I was able to perform the mechanics of sex, but the intense longing and desire could not be faked or manufactured. Eventually, that created too many problems for the relationship to continue as it had, and we divorced.

Fortunately, the rift between us was eventually healed, and we forgave all of the hurts which we had unintentionally inflicted on each other over the years. I was finally honest with myself and with her about my sexual orientation, and she decided to love me anyway. She remains my dearest friend, and a shining example of what God's unlimited love really looks like.

Anyway, that's my story, and I'm proud to stick with it and share it with all of you! And I now know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God still loves me - even if you don't!

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Key of David isn't a message!

Gerald Flurry, the founder and current leader of the Philadelphia Church of God, broadcasts his message to the world via The Key of David television program. Flurry claims that he and his followers constitute the "Philadelphia era" of God's Church, and that all of the other groups which attempt to adhere to the teachings of Herbert Armstrong are "Laodiceans." In other words, Christ has given his message to Flurry and the PCOG to deliver to the world.

Why did Flurry decide to call his church’s television program The Key of David? “We took that name right out of Revelation 3:7 and a couple other scriptures,” he explained in an article entitled “What is the ‘Key of David’?” (https://www.thetrumpet.com/10776-what-is-the-key-of-david)

In that same article, Flurry calls the key of David “one of the deepest truths in the entire Bible.”  He goes on to claim that “it is a message from God—the message that Jesus Christ gives His Church to deliver to this world in this end time.” Flurry then proceeds to summarize his teaching on the subject with seven bullet points (God named his message after King David, “Jesus Christ is the head of the church,” “Christ has the key,” Christ has set “an open door” before the PCOG, “No man can shut it,” PCOG has “kept His Word,” and they “have not denied His name”).

How do all of these claims square with the Bible? The short answer is:  they don’t!

Let’s take a closer look at the actual scriptures which Flurry is using to make his claims about himself, his television program and his church. In the third chapter of the book of Revelation, we read:  “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works:  behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it:  for thou has a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8)

First of all, it is interesting to note that the language employed in this verse was borrowed from a passage found in the book of Isaiah. This particular prophecy foretold that Shebna (the then administrator of the palace in Jerusalem) would fall and be replaced by Eliakim. Through Isaiah, God says that he would clothe Eliakim with Shebna’s robe and commit the government into his hands. (Isaiah 22:21). He goes on to say:  “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” (verse 22) Hence, Isaiah is saying that Eliakim will receive the position/power/authority which previously belonged to Shebna.

This language agrees with what Strong’s and Blue Letter Bible have to say about the Greek word translated here as "key." In their outline of the biblical usage of this word, we read:  “I. a key A. since the keeper of the keys has the power to open and to shut B. metaph. In the NT to denote power and authority of various kinds” (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2807&t=KJV). In this connection, it is interesting to note that this is the same Greek word which is used to denote “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19. It is likewise the same word that Christ employs in the beginning of the book of Revelation when he proclaims that he is in possession of “the keys of hell and death.” (Revelation 1:18)

Hence, just a modest amount of research clearly demonstrates that “the key of David” is not a message, but a symbol of Christ’s power and authority. Notice again in the verses that Flurry is using (Revelation 3:7-8) that it is CHRIST who possesses the key and is the one who has the ability to open and shut. Moreover, I can’t find anywhere in these scriptures where either the key or that ability to open and close is given to the Philadelphians (and they certainly aren’t given permission to give that key or ability to others). And, as for the significance of the key bearing King David’s name, doesn’t that clearly suggest that Christ is the chief representative and power within the House of David?

We will lay aside the arrogance implicit in claiming to be the Philadelphia era of God’s Church for the purposes of this article. We cannot, however, allow such a clear perversion of the obvious meaning of these rather obscure verses in the book of Revelation to go unchallenged. Once again, it appears to this writer that an Armstrongite has misapplied Scripture to himself and his followers and twisted it to reinforce his own message and agenda.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A closer look at the book of Leviticus

In my previous post, a critical part of my thesis was that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should not be regarded as eternal and universal spiritual principles. In that post (and as part of my response to the comments which it provoked), I expressed my belief that they are best understood as being applicable to the people of ancient Israel and as components of the covenant which YHWH made with them.

Gordon's comments, however, make clear that many Christians do regard these two scriptures as binding on both themselves and all of humanity. Of course, Gordon is not alone in this view. Indeed, it would seem that a majority of Christians favor this view of these two scriptures which clearly forbid sexual relations between two men.

This is part of a debate that has been raging since the founding of Christianity as a religion:  Just how much of the Law of Moses is still applicable to people living in the 21st Century? And, more specifically, how much of that law applies to Christians?

However, rather than revisiting this as part of that larger theological debate, I thought it would be more instructive to look at the particular context of these two verses in determining whether or not they should be regarded as binding on us. In short, lets take a closer look at the book of Leviticus and see just how much of it is actually applicable to the people of our time.

Consider the following outline of the book's contents by chapter (based on both the New Living Translation and King James Version of the Bible):
Leviticus
1: Burnt offerings
2: Grain offerings
3: Peace offerings
4: Sin offerings
5: Sin and guilt offerings
6: Further instructions about offerings
7: More instructions about offerings and the portion of the priests
8: Ordination of priests
9: Aaron's and his sons' performance of their duties as priests
10: The failure of Aaron's sons and instructions about priestly conduct
11: Clean and unclean animals
12: Purification for women after childbirth
13: Instructions about skin diseases and contaminated clothing
14: More instructions about skin diseases and how to treat contaminated houses
15: Male and female bodily discharges
16: Detailed instructions for the observance of the Day of Atonement
17: Regulations regarding the consumption of blood
18: Prohibited sexual behaviors
19: Various prohibited behaviors
20: Punishments for various offenses
21-22: Priestly conduct and acceptable offerings
23: Festival observance
24: Oil, holy bread and appropriate punishments
25: Sabbath years and Jubilee observance
26: Blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience enumerated
27: Redemption of things dedicated to the Lord

Now, looking over that list, how much of that material do you regard as carrying forward to us?

I think that most of us would agree that offerings and the ordination of priests are not applicable to us - that eliminates the first ten chapters of the book! A small minority of Christians and many Jews still adhere to the dietary restrictions (clean and unclean) found in Chapter 11, but the vast majority of folks have no problem eating bacon and shrimp. Most of us would agree that the instructions about purification rituals for females, the treatment of skin diseases and contaminated houses, and the instructions about bodily discharges don't have any applicability to us - that eliminates four more chapters! Even the small number of Christians and Jews who attempt to observe the Day of Atonement DO NOT follow the instructions given in Chapter 16. Jehovah's Witnesses and a few other fringe groups claim to follow the instructions regarding the consumption of blood in Chapter 17, but most folks don't have any religious objections to eating a rare steak or receiving a blood transfusion. Once again, most of us would disregard the instructions about priestly conduct and the acceptability of offerings - there goes two more chapters! For those Jews and Christians who still attempt to observe the festivals, it should be noted that they do not strictly follow the instructions given in Chapter 23 (dates, attendance at the central sanctuary, associated offerings, constructing temporary shelters out of tree branches, etc.). Most of us would agree that the instructions concerning oil, holy bread, Sabbath years, Jubilees and the redemption of things dedicated to the Lord don't have any applicability to us - three more chapters gone! I suppose we could make a philosophical case for the importance of the blessings and punishments which are enumerated in the book, but most of us would agree that these were meant to specifically apply to the Israelites.

That leaves most of us with THREE chapters to consider (18-20). Lets take a closer look at them:
Chapter 18 makes clear that YHWH expected the Israelites to NOT act like the former inhabitants of the Promised Land or the nations which would surround them there. It goes on to enumerate specifically prohibited sexual behaviors like incest, intercourse with a menstruating woman, man on man sex and bestiality.
Chapter 19 gives instructions for "the entire community of Israel." There are numerous proscriptions in this chapter which most of us would not have any problems with (e.g. not disrespecting parents, no idolatry, no stealing, no cheating, no mistreatment of the deaf and blind, etc.). Nevertheless, there are also a great many proscriptions in this chapter which most of us disregard (e.g. not harvesting the borders of fields, not mating two different kinds of animals, planting fields with two different crops, wearing blended clothing, no tattoos, etc.). In addition to these, there are instructions regarding sex with female slaves, trimming hair and harvesting fruit which most of us would regard as irrelevant.
Chapter 20 enumerates many sins/offenses which are regarded as capital offenses (things that most of us no longer regard as capital crimes). Moreover, most of us no longer regard burning, stoning and childlessness as appropriate punishments for anything.

Hence, for most of us, we are left with a few items from three chapters which we would characterize as being applicable to us today! Does that indicate to you that the principles and instructions found in the book of Leviticus were intended to have universal applicability? In fact, doesn't it make more sense for us to regard the fact that we can extract a few passages which we consider as still having applicability to us today as a fluke/coincidence?

It sure seems to me like the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that the book of Leviticus was intended for a specific time, place and people. What do you think?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Bible, Marriage and Homosexuals

As with some of the other topics related to religion and morality, many folks have wrongly assumed that the Judeo-Christian scriptures teach things about homosexuality and gay marriage which simply are not there! However, for those who are truly interested in what God's perspective on this issue might be, the traditional understanding of what those scriptures teach can be demonstrated to be too simplistic and clearly flawed.

The following statement by Focus on the Family is typical of that traditional view of the subject:
"As an evangelical Christian ministry committed to the authority of Scripture as the inspired Word of God, Focus on the Family believes that sex is given by God as an expression of love to be shared and enjoyed exclusively between a husband and wife. Further, we are convinced that the Bible leaves no room whatsoever for confusion or ambiguity where homosexual behavior is concerned. The Scripture both explicitly and implicitly regards it as falling outside of God's intention in creating man and woman as sexual beings who bear His image as male and female."
-- https://www.focusonthefamily.com

Well, that seems like a fairly straightforward statement of belief about what Scripture teaches on the subject, but I hope that the promulgators of that statement won't mind if we take our own look at what is explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture. After all, if we are truly seeking to know God's will on the matter (as revealed in the pages of the Bible), then we shouldn't mind a thorough and impartial review of what that collection of documents has to say about it.

First of all, I think that we would find wide agreement among students of the Bible that the appropriate place to begin this study is in Genesis. In the account of creation related there, we are told that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)

As we look at this verse, several questions come to mind:  Isn't this an explicit statement that both men and women were/are created in God's image? Doesn't that imply that both genders reflect God's persona? Does this story suggest that God has characteristics that we associate with both genders? In other words, is God masculine and feminine - strong and tender? And, if so, does that preclude the male gender from having any characteristics that would "normally" be associated with the female one (and vice versa)?

In the following chapter, we are told that God observed that it wasn't good for the man to be alone and decided to make a suitable companion for him. (Genesis 2:18) The author goes on to inform us that God created many different kinds of animals and brought them to Adam "to see what he would call them." (verse 19) Alas, however, we are informed that no suitable companion for the man was found among the animals. (verse 20)

As a consequence, we learn that God decided to create a woman for Adam. (verses 21-22) In other words, the solution to Adam's loneliness was another human being. Moreover, this other human being was taken from him - was literally and figuratively a part of him. (verse 23) The story concludes with the author drawing this conclusion:  "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (verse 24)

Once again, in analyzing and interpreting the meaning of these verses, several questions come to mind:  Was this story intended to explain the phenomenon of marriage? Is the story an explicit statement about suitable human companionship? Does the story suggest/imply that man is made whole when he is reunited with that which was taken from him? or Does it imply that it is the humanity which they share that makes them suitable companions for each other? Does the story suggest that the physical act of sex makes two people one in God's sight? Is gender the critical component of the story? or Is it the fact that two individuals unite to form one? And, if gender is an essential component of the story, does that mean that it is OK for homosexuals to be alone? If so, doesn't that contradict God's original observation that it wasn't good for man to be alone? And, if this story is an explicit statement about God's view of marriage, doesn't that mean that a person is married in God's sight when he/she 1) leaves his/her parents' home, 2) commits to living with his/her spouse, and 3) engages in sexual intercourse with that person? or Does this scripture only apply to males?

It should also be noted that Jesus Christ is reported to have quoted this particular passage in his answer to a question from the Pharisees about divorce. (Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18) In that connection, it is interesting to note that Christ emphasized the fact that two people figuratively become one person as the reason that it is impossible for humans to dissolve a marriage. In other words, how can one person become two separate individuals?

Of course, my friends on the more traditional side of this question will argue that this story implies that marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. However, if that is truly what this story is suggesting, then we are faced with explaining a number of subsequent passages about marriage. In short, what are we to do with all of the scriptures which imply or explicitly talk about plural marriages? Doesn't Moses' prohibition of a man bedding/marrying both a woman and her mother or sister imply that polygamy was practiced by the Israelites? (see Leviticus 18:17-18) What about Jacob's, David's and Solomon's multiple marriages? (see Genesis 29 and 30, I Kings 11 and I Chronicles 3) And, what about Christ's parable about the ten virgins? (see Matthew 25)

Sure, we can say that God only tolerated this practice (polygamy), and that it did not represent "His" original intent for the institution. Even so, it does make us wonder what else God might be willing to tolerate for the sake of "His" people? After all, Jesus reportedly told the Pharisees that Moses had been permitted to included a provision for divorce in the law "because of the hardness of your hearts." (Matthew 19:8) Hence, while most of us would agree that the weight of scriptural evidence available to us strongly implies that God favors monogamy, it is also clear that polygamy was considered to be an acceptable practice among the ancient Hebrews.

Now we come to what my friends on the more traditional side of this question would say is the most compelling reason for characterizing gay marriage as illegitimate from a biblical perspective:  The fact that there are numerous explicit condemnations of homosexual behavior in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. They would point to Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Deuteronomy 23:17, I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46, II Kings 23:7, Romans 1:26-27 and I Corinthians 6:9. That's an impressive list, but the next question is obvious:  Is it accurate to portray these passages as explicitly condemning homosexual behavior?

Most biblical scholars would characterize Genesis 19 as a story about a complete moral breakdown amongst the people of these two cities. Also, the story fits into the recognized genre of stories dealing with failed hospitality that are found in numerous places in the Bible. Finally, the story is quite explicit in its account of an attempt by the men of the city to gang rape two angels - something that most theologians would have no trouble condemning. It is, however, neither implied or explicitly stated anywhere in this story that these cities were destroyed because of homosexuality.

The passages in Leviticus are very interesting in terms of the context in which they find themselves in relation to other laws. First of all, homosexuality is a modern notion - a concept that was unknown to the people of ancient Israel and the authors of these passages. These two scriptures clearly deal with sex between two men and are also clearly related to that society's notions about sex.

To the people of ancient Israel, a woman was "humbled" by a man when he had sexual intercourse with her. Thus, the notion that a man could be so "humbled" by another man was abhorrent to them.

It is also interesting to note that many of the other prohibitions which surround these two passages are no longer considered applicable in modern society (e.g. instructions pertaining to planting crops, wearing clothing and getting tattoos). Hence, one is forced to ask:  Do these passages reflect eternal spiritual principles or the societal norms of a people who lived three thousand years ago?

Likewise, a quick glance at Strong's Concordance (Blue Letter Bible - https://www.blueletterbible.org) would reveal that the scriptures in Deuteronomy and I and II Kings are dealing with male temple prostitution (another feature of life in the ancient Middle East). Check it out for yourself. Ask anyone who is knowledgeable about ancient Hebrew and the history of the people who used it. None of these passages state or imply anything approaching a blanket condemnation of homosexual behavior. Moreover, once again, most Judeo-Christian theologians would not have any problem condemning any kind of prostitution - especially any manifestation of that practice that also involved idolatry.

As for the passages from Paul's letters to the saints at Rome and Corinth, we must again look at the context - both within scripture and the times in which they were written. In his letter to the Romans, it is important to understand that Paul was speaking to them about Gentile failure to acknowledge God. This, he said, had led God to abandon them to their lusts. (1:24) People who sincerely wish to understand this passage would do well to read the entire chapter to get the proper context to the reference about same sex behavior. Likewise, the passage from I Corinthians involves a general condemnation of unrighteousness and lists numerous behaviors which would disqualify an individual from inheriting the kingdom of God.

And, before we move off of the subject of Paul's comments, we should note that what comes naturally to a heterosexual does not come naturally to a homosexual. If one is not attracted to a female, that person's perspective on the "natural use" of a female would be very different from someone who was attracted to that gender. Are the advocates of the traditional Judeo-Christian view of this subject suggesting that homosexuals should deny what is natural to them?

Finally, we would all do well to remember that Paul was not averse to giving his own opinions about social norms (appropriate dress, hair length and the role of women).  Is it reasonable to assume that his views on these subject were unaffected by having lived in the Jewish society extant in the First Century? Does anyone truly believe that Paul's views on these topics reflect God's views, and that they are applicable to life in 21st Century America?

What about the apostle's views on the institution of marriage? He wrote to the Corinthians that it would be "good for a man not to touch a woman." (I Corinthians 7:1) Nevertheless, to avoid sexual sin, he said that it would be better to marry. (verse 2) He then went on to say that married people were obligated to have sexual intercourse with each other on a regular basis so as to avoid the temptation to have sex with other people. (verses 3-5) Paul went on to say that he wished everyone could be celibate - like him (verse 7-8), but he generously concludes his comments with:  "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (verse 9) Does that mean that it is better for homosexuals to burn? Thankfully, Paul interjected into his commentary on marriage that he was speaking "by permission, and not of commandment." (verse 6)

To this student of the Bible, the "bottom line" on God's view of things sexual appears to be contained in the fundamental law known as the Ten Commandments. It is there that we read "Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14) Does this instruction against infidelity only apply to heterosexuals? or Does God also expect homosexuals to be faithful in their commitments to other people?

In the book of Hebrews, we read that "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whore-mongers and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4) Does that mean all heterosexuals? Are homosexuals excluded from the "all" in this verse? And, if they are excluded, doesn't that constitute a catch-22 situation for them? or Do advocates of the traditional view expect homosexuals to deny their own natures and marry someone of the opposite sex anyway? If so, how fair would that be to the individual they end up marrying?

Is marriage (and the sexual intimacy which is a natural part of it) the melding of two individuals into one? Does the institution of marriage provide a suitable companion/partner so that an individual doesn't have to navigate this life alone? or Was marriage instituted solely for the purpose of procreation? And, if so, why do some heterosexual marriages/relationships remain childless?

Hence, to say that the Bible explicitly or implicitly labels homosexual marriage as a sin is not supported by a thorough review of those scriptures which touch on the subject. In fact, I would say that the weight of the evidence demands the same standards of commitment and fidelity which are expected of heterosexuals - and that includes the institution of marriage.



  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is the biblical doctrine of salvation absurd/illogical?

"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." --John 1:29*

"He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." --John 6:56*

"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission." --Hebrews 9:22*

*All of the above scriptural quotes are from the King James Version of the Bible.

In a piece that was perfectly timed for Christians to reflect on the meaning(s) behind their observance of Easter/Passover, one of the regular commentators over at the blog Banned by HWA (who goes by the moniker "Retired Prof") penned an article entitled "The Meat of the Gospel:  Salvation by Carnivory." You can read the entire article at this address:  http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-meat-of-gospel-salvation-by.html

In the piece, Retired Prof stated that "the doctrine that a god/man had to die to spare us from horrible punishment for our sins is absurd." R.P. then went on to ask:
"How can anyone claim, much less actually believe, that taking the life of an innocent person could restore the lives of guilty ones? Why would the kind of loving creator Christians believe in devise such a convoluted, irrational 'plan of salvation'?"

Retired Prof then proceeds to make some observations about what he characterizes as the "psychological/emotional sense" that the teaching makes when we consider the realities of the world in which we live. Nevertheless, R.P. concludes:  "I can’t see my way clear to turn loose of my preference for the literal over the symbolic, reason over emotion, flesh over spirit. It is impossible for me to believe sincerely that anything, not even a consecrated wafer and a sip of magic wine that represent the nutritive substance of a guy who died two thousand years ago, could keep me alive forever."

Having enjoyed the usually thoughtful.rational/logical character of most of his comments on this blog, I must say that I was a bit chagrined by the condescending tone he adopted in this piece. Fine, Retired Prof has reached a different conclusion from myself and other Christians about the biblical doctrine of salvation - I don't have a problem with that. But don't go on to characterize those of us who accept the doctrine as "irrational" or as employing "convoluted logic"!

For those of us who accept the biblical doctrine of salvation through the person of Jesus Christ, I believe that the professor himself points to a legitimate rationale for such a belief (the one he dismissed as "psychological" and "emotional").

For me, the logic of the biblical doctrine of salvation is found in our experience of the world around us. Consider the following facts as evidence:
1. The universe (including this planet) is governed by a series of fundamental laws (gravity, motion, thermodynamics, conservation, etc.), and the breaking of those laws always has consequences. For instance, if I walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and jump off, I am going to fall (which will almost certainly result in my injury and/or death).
2. For scientific study, all of the life on this planet is divided into kingdoms:  Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaebacteria and Eubacteria (there isn't complete agreement within the scientific community about the precise divisions, but what is listed here finds wide acceptance there and is sufficient for our purposes).
3. Every organism which is part of the kingdom Animalia (including humans) is a heterotroph (meaning that they obtain their nourishment from other organisms). It should also be noted that, in most cases, this nourishment requires the death of the other organism, which is very often accomplished by the organism doing the eating. You may think it unfortunate/savage/unfair, but the fact is that another plant, animal, fungi or bacteria almost always has to die to sustain and perpetuate the life of organisms within the kingdom Animalia!
4. All of the members of kingdom Animalia have some means of reproducing themselves or perpetuating the existence of their species. In fact, the perpetuation of life seems to be the main focus and preoccupation of all life on this planet. It should also be noted that this activity (as with all others) requires energy, and that energy is once again obtained from the nourishment those organisms receive by virtue of the death of another.
5. In the natural world, need is preeminent. Plants, animals, fungi, etc. are chosen to serve as food because some other organism needs them to sustain/perpetuate its own life. In other words, the plant, animal, fungi, etc. which is chosen to provide the nourishment for the organism in question can be completely innocent of any faults or mistakes - it may simply have been available.

From the above facts, I think that it is both logical and reasonable for a theist to conclude that:
1. God has established some parameters for what is/isn't acceptable behavior, and for there to be some consequence(s) for violating those parameters.
2. A single person's death could sustain and/or perpetuate the life of another. In fact, the symbolism of the Eucharist could be said to be an almost perfect representation/reflection of what happens on a daily basis in the natural world.
3. The innocence of that person is inferior to the need of the others to sustain/perpetuate their lives.
4. The same God who designed the laws which govern the universe, and the natural world of which we are a part, would devise some means to perpetuate the life which "He" created.

Thus, while the biblical doctrine of salvation may offend the sensibilities of some folks, I find it to be very logical and consistent with the world in which I live. What do you think?


   

Monday, April 17, 2017

I'm looking for a church to attend!

I'm looking for a church to attend. And, although my requirements are minimal, they are non-negotiable!

Before listing those, however, I feel that it's only fair to inform folks with potential suggestions of some extenuating circumstances. I live in a small village in the midst of a vast sea of corn and soybean fields in Central Illinois (I am, however willing to travel). To further complicate matters, I work most Sundays.

That out of the way, my requirements of any potential church are few. They are as follows:

1. It must be Christian - profess a belief in Jesus Christ as Savior.
2. It must be caring and friendly.
3. The pastor/priest/elder/congregation/etc. can preach and teach whatever they like as long as I'm not required to believe and teach it.
4. I must be free to make up my own mind about how much money I contribute to it.

That's it! Any takers?

Contact me at lc.hendrix@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Language as a problem for Biblical inerrancy

The Bible has been referred to by many as the "Word(s) of God." And the reasoning goes something like this:  If it is the "Word(s) of God," then it must be perfect - without any flaws.

Many of my readers, however, will at once see a major obstacle to the acceptance of this logic:  It may be the "Word(s) of God," but it is wholly composed of human languages. Now, admittedly, we have found language to be a very effective means of communicating with each other - of conveying ideas, concepts, feelings and their meanings to each other. But could anyone make a reasonably sound argument that human language is perfectly efficient in doing the things which it was designed to do?

Let us consider for just a moment the basic building blocks of language. If we Google the term language, we find that it is defined as "the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way." Now we could talk at some length about the formation of alphabets, and the dramatic differences which are apparent among the symbols used for the various languages of the world; but I think that it would be more productive to focus on the words which those symbols are used to form.

Once again, if we Google the term word, we find that it is defined as "a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing..." And who, we ask, is attaching a meaning to that element? Obvious answer:  we (humans) do. And think for just a moment about just how imprecise that exercise can be!

Within the confines of a single language, we have multiple dictionaries available to us (usually presenting a multiplicity of possible meanings for the object of our query). In fact, for the word word, Merriam-Webster enumerates eleven possible meanings (and that's not taking into account how some of those are further parsed into variations of similar meanings)! In other words, we can (and do) bring some very different meanings to the same word.

As an example:  For those of us who speak/write English, the word chair would conjure up a similar meaning for all of us; but it would not be exactly the same for you and me. An image of a recliner might come to your mind, while I am busy thinking about a wooden folding chair.

We also have available to us other words which can say the same thing (or something very similar. We call these synonyms. For example, when we Google the term word, the following synonyms are listed:  term, name, expression, designation, locution, vocable... And we haven't even addressed the subject of whether we are using the word in question as a noun, verb or some other part of speech!

Can we begin to see just how complex language is? Can we appreciate the different perspectives and shades of meaning which each and every one of us can (and do) bring to this exercise?

What about when we begin to string words together? As an example, let us consider the English "Merry Christmas" and the Spanish "Feliz Navidad." We could say that both are meant to convey, "I hope that you have an enjoyable celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth." However, a literal break down of the English words would reveal "Merry Christ Mass;" and a literal translation of the Spanish words would reveal "Happy Nativity!"

In the study of the Bible, we must always remember that the original texts were composed using mostly Hebrew, Aramaic, Babylonian and Greek words. In fact, regular students of Scripture will often employ a concordance to help them get the full range of a particular word's meaning. Likewise, most students of the Bible understand that the particular arrangement of words in the original language can have a profound impact on the meaning of some passage.

Hence, we can see that it is ridiculous to suggest that language can be perfectly efficient in conveying what I'm thinking to you. In the end, we all have our individual filters which inform our interpretations of the messages which we receive. Thus, it is the thesis of this post that the very nature of language makes Biblical inerrancy impossible! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why is it so hard for an Armstrongite to return to the fold?

An interesting discussion was launched by a post over at Banned by HWA! The post was entitled "Are the problems in the COG the result of bad leaders or its theology?" It was, of course, no surprise that many of the commentators laid the blame for the problems within the Armstrong Churches of God at the feet of their former/current leadership. For many current and former Armstrongites, it has to be about the flawed individuals who were/are in charge (it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the theology/teachings). As one would expect with such a post, prominent among the commentators was Ian Boyne of the Church of God International.

Mr. Boyne maintains that most of the critics of Armstrongism have focused their attention on the failed leadership within the various groups (he acknowledges that failure) and have ignored what he sees as the fact that Armstrongism provides "the best Christian option" available to believers. In fact, he goes on to say:  "I think after Armstrongism, my philosophical destination is likely to be agnosticism or some form of generic theistic existentialism." In other words, if someone were able to discredit Armstrongism, Ian sees himself as abandoning Christianity.

In fairness to Mr. Boyne, such a conclusion does not appear to be rare among former and current Armstrongites (Dennis Diehl, Gerald Bronkar and others have professed their rejection of Christianity). Moreover, one only has to look at the history of the Worldwide Church of God to see that this type of reasoning is not uncommon among Armstrongites. When faced with a return to the more traditional form of Christianity offered by Joseph Tkach Jr, many of the folks within the WCOG jumped ship. Some went to another Armstrong Church of God, but many decided to abandon religion altogether. In other words, for so many of these folks, it was either Armstrongism or NOTHING!

Why? Why is it that many of these folks will not even entertain the possibility of adopting some other form of Christianity?

The answer lies in the way that they were originally indoctrinated into Armstrongism. It wasn't simply a matter of learning a set of doctrines. A large part of Herbert's and Garner Ted's appeal was their focus on discrediting "traditional" Christianity. They talked at great length about the pagan influences on that religion, and the deleterious effect which that had on Christian theology (things like the immortality of the soul, trinity, Sunday observance, holiday observance and idol worship). They focused on just how unfair and unreasonable the teachings on heaven and hell really were, and only introduced their alternative after they had thoroughly discredited the old model.

The reasoning went something like this:  If we can discredit everything else and demonstrate that we have discovered the only legitimate way to put all of the pieces together, then we have to be the one and only possibility! Hence, for many of these folks, when the Worldwide Church of God crumbled, there were only two alternatives:  find another Armstrong Church of God or abandon Christianity entirely. After all, if Armstrongism was ever truly discredited, why would you return to the other forms which you had previously discredited?

Does this begin to sound a little like circular reasoning? Since we have already concluded that traditional Christianity is a worthless pile of $#&!, why would we ever revisit that conclusion?

HWA was also fond of the all or nothing approach. Believe it all, or you have to reject it all. There was no room for discernment or nuance in his theology. Everything was a package deal. It was all truth or all error. Catholics and Methodists were wrong - period. They couldn't possibly be right about some things. We disproved that system - time to move on! We certainly don't want to be like the dog that returns to its vomit!

Armstongism is a mental straitjacket. It was designed by its founder to be a self-reinforcing/self-perpetuating system. It is, therefore, no wonder that so many of its victims find it almost impossible to find their way back to the fold.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

God, Christians and the Jewish Bible

In numerous posts, this blog has explored the question of whether or not the Christian Bible has any value in our quest to understand the Divine. Longtime readers of this blog know that the author has commented on the authorship, writing processes, editing, inspiration, reliability and internal consistency of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
In that tradition, I found a Roman Catholic study of the relationship between Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament to Christians) and the New Testament (writings of the early Christian era) to be very interesting. Hence, I am including a quote from the preface to the results of that study which was written by the man who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI:

"From this viewpoint, the Fathers of the Church created nothing new when they gave a Christological interpretation to the Old Testament; they only developed and systematised what they themselves had already discovered in the New Testament. This fundamental synthesis for the Christian faith would become problematic when historical consciousness developed rules of interpretation that made Patristic exegesis appear non-historical and so objectively indefensible. In the context of humanism, with its new-found historical awareness, but especially in the context of his doctrine of justification, Luther invented a new formula relating the two parts of the Christian Bible, one no longer based on the internal harmony of the Old and New Testaments, but on their essential dialectic linkage within an existential history of salvation, the antithesis between Law and Gospel. Bultmann modernised this approach when he said that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ by foundering. More radical is the proposition of Harnack mentioned above; as far as I can see, it was not generally accepted, but it was completely logical for an exegesis for which texts from the past could have no meaning other than that intended by the authors in their historical context. That the biblical authors in the centuries before Christ, writing in the Old Testament, intended to refer in advance to Christ and New Testament faith, looks to the modern historical consciousness as highly unlikely.
As a result, the triumph of historical-critical exegesis seemed to sound the death-knell for the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament initiated by the New Testament itself. It is not a question here of historical details, as we have seen, it is the very foundations of Christianity that are being questioned. It is understandable then that nobody has since embraced Harnack's position and made the definitive break with the Old Testament that Marcion prematurely wished to accomplish. What would have remained, our New Testament, would itself be devoid of meaning. The Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission introduced by this Preface declares: “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an unintelligible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and wither” (no. 84)."

-- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 2001, from the preface to The Pontifical Biblical Commision's The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html#INTRODUCTION

What do you think? Did the Jews introduce God to the rest of the world? Can Christianity's appropriation and interpretation(s) of their Scriptures be justified?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Is God responsible for this shit?

Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (NKJV)

Isaiah 45:7 - " I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." (KJV), "I make peace and create calamity" (NKJV), "I bring prosperity and create disaster" (NIV), "I send good times and bad times" (NLT)
The English word "evil" was translated from the Hebrew "ra" meaning bad, evil, wickedness, misery, calamity, adversity, etc. (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H7451&t=KJV)

Proverbs 16:4 - "The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil." (KJV)

John 1:3 - "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (KJV), "God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him." (NLT)

I Corinthians 8:6 - "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." (KJV), "But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live." (NLT)

Ephesians 3:9 - "God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (KJV)

Colossians 1:16 - " For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible..." (KJV)

Revelation 4:11 - "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (KJV)

In the light of this impressive list of scriptures, a few questions come to mind:

Does all things/everything really mean all things/everything?

How did bacteria and viruses originate?

How do genetic mutations arise?

How did cancer and disease originate?

Did God create hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis?

Did God design humans, lions, bears, alligators and sharks to eat other animals?

Is God the author of war?

Is God the author of death?

How do birth defects arise?

What is the origin of neuroses, psychoses, other pathological behaviors and insanity?

And, if we allow that humans and angels have the ability/potential to pervert or corrupt that which is good and whole, who gave them that ability/potential?

And, if we answer that question in the affirmative, does that have any implications for how we define evil?

Is it possible that many of the things which we consider to be evil might not be characterized as such by Almighty God?

In other words, is it possible that we cannot discern the ultimate purpose of some things?

And, if we are living in a hologram (as some cosmologists, philosophers and theologians have suggested), doesn't that imply that someone/something has placed/programmed the "bad/evil" stuff into the equation/system/projector?

In other words, if God truly is the First Cause/Creator/Master Programmer, doesn't everything that is exist at "His" pleasure?

In the light of these questions, we have to ask:  Did God really create all things/everything?

And, if we answer that question in the negative, what does that imply about the reliability of the scriptures quoted above?

What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is My God Your God?

There was an interesting editorial yesterday in The Charlotte Observer. Isaac J. Bailey's viewpoint is summarized in the title of the article:  "Franklin Graham's God isn't mine; is he yours?" -- http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article134819004.html In that editorial, Mr. Bailey points out that "There’s a long tradition of conservative Christian leaders making it plain that Christians don’t serve the God Muslims serve, because there is only one God, and you can’t get to him by following Muhammad, only Jesus." However, instead of excoriating the premise, Mr. Bailey accepts it and declares "I don't serve the God Graham serves."

But, if there is only one God, doesn't that make "him" the God of everyone? Isn't Franklin Graham (and his conservative allies) really arguing against alternative conceptions/perceptions of God? Likewise, Mr. Bailey points out the unloving, petty and spiteful nature of the God whom Graham and his associates worship. Don't atheists often make the same argument about the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible? In the final analysis, does our conception/perception of God change the reality of who and what God is?

Personally, my own perception of God is much closer to Mr. Bailey's view; but I don't believe that implies/means that Mr. Graham worships a different god. On the other hand, it does suggest to me that Graham and his associates have a distorted/flawed view of God. Nevertheless, isn't it a wee bit arrogant and self-righteous to suggest that someone isn't worshiping the TRUE God because their conception/perception of "him" isn't perfect? If perfection is truly the standard, aren't we all in trouble?

Mr. Bailey quotes Franklin Graham as saying:  "Jesus wasn’t real loving sometimes. He called the Pharisees vipers, snakes, white-washed tombs.” Mr. Bailey goes on to point out that the Pharisees were the religious conservatives of that age and that they "didn't notice the Messiah in their midst." He concludes his editorial by pondering what Christ might call Graham if he were walking the Earth today.

Once again, while I agree with Mr. Bailey's implication that Jesus may have some choice words for the good reverend, I do not agree with the underlying premise that "Jesus wasn't real loving sometimes." Scripture tells us that Christ had great compassion and love for the people who killed him. He was, after all, still willing to die for them (despite all of their misconceptions, ignorance and maliciousness. Shouldn't that give all of us some pause about suggesting/making statements that people who hold alternative viewpoints about the nature of God are not worshiping THE ONE AND ONLY GOD? What do you think?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

God, Earth and Those Pesky Exoplanets

We earthlings have harbored an exalted/distorted image of ourselves and our place in the cosmos for a long time. Our ignorance in this regard is underscored by our history and the current pace of exploration and discovery. The discovery of 3,453 exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) in the last twenty-five years underscores the fact that we are just beginning to truly understand our place in the cosmos. -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/ And, to place our comprehension of the cosmos in the proper perspective, we still don't know for sure how many planets/planetoids are orbiting our own sun!

Many ancient cultures pictured the earth as being flat and existing under a great dome (or "firmament" in biblical language. In this view, the sun, moon and stars were positioned in the firmament exclusively for the benefit of us folks here on earth. The account of creation in the book of Genesis is a classic example of this view:  "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so...And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:6-9 and 14-18 -- https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=KJV)

Eventually, man came to understand that the earth was a sphere - that it wasn't flat. Even so, the ancients still saw mankind and earth as being at the center of everything. In this view, the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth. Later still, we realized that this Geocentric Model was also incorrect.

On this 25th day of February in the year 2017, we understand that our solar system is not unique - that there are other planets orbiting other stars. In other words, we now know that those stars do not exist just to help us distinguish between night and day, serve as signs, demarcate seasons/times or provide light here on earth. Moreover, the very existence of those 3,453 planets beyond our solar system suggests that we have much more to learn:  There are bound to be more of them out there. And, as we find more of them, it becomes more likely that some of them will be able to harbor life.

This possibility (probability?) was underscored earlier this week when NASA announced the discovery of seven "Earth-sized" planets orbiting Trappist-1. According to NASA, "Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water." -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1419/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around-single-star/ To be clear, we don't know yet that these planets have liquid water on their surface (and we don't know whether or not they harbor life). However, once again, the very existence of these worlds makes these things a possibility. We may still be engaging in speculation, but don't these discoveries necessarily make our ability to speculate more intelligent?

All of this brings to mind a few questions about the subject of this blog:  Does your concept of God depend on outdated understandings of the cosmos? Could God have other children elsewhere in the universe? Does it matter that we may not be as unique as we formerly understood ourselves to be? Does God have the ability to care for and sustain more than one world at a time? If there is life on other planets, is any of it intelligent? If so, do they have the same spiritual potential that we do? What do you think? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Implications of Extreme Life

Yesterday (17 February 2017), Victoria Jaggard published a piece for National Geographic entitled "Weird Life Found Trapped in Underground Crystals." (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/crystal-caves-mine-microbes-mexico-boston-aaas-aliens-science/) As related in that article, scientists have apparently discovered microbial life within fluid that has been trapped inside of giant crystals for millennia. The crystals were found inside of caves which lie deep beneath the Naica Mine in Mexico. Scientists have also noted the extreme environment in which the microbes were discovered (the caves are so hot that explorers have to wear special insulated ice suits that permit them to stay in the caves for only minutes at a time). Moreover, after successfully extracting the microbes and culturing them, scientists discovered that they were genetically distinct from any other life on earth.

As the article points out, these microbes suggest once again that life on earth can exist in extreme conditions/environments and can remain dormant for long expanses of time. Think about the implications of that for the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and the likelihood that our own exploration could contaminate other worlds!

We know that there has been much speculation in the genre of science fiction (literary and film) over the years about how life on earth began. Did life on earth get its start from microbes that originated on other worlds? Did a meteorite or asteroid crash into this planet and seed life here? Did aliens either intentionally or unintentionally seed our planet with life in the distant past? Could our own exploration of the universe unintentionally seed other worlds with earth life? What would happen to these microbes if the earth exploded one day and hurled debris into space? If the microbes survived on a piece of debris or some man-made spacecraft, could they seed life on some distant planet or moon that provided an environment which was hospitable enough for its survival? Over millions and billions of years, would such life evolve into more complex forms (maybe even humanoids like us)?

And, finally, if the discovery of these microbes makes all of these scenarios seem a little less far-fetched, does that suggest anything about the purpose of life itself? If so, does that imply some design or designer? At any rate, I believe that the existence of these microbes on this little orb we call home gives us a few more things to think about and possibilities to consider. After all, why is life so tenacious? Does the impetus toward self-perpetuation suggest any answers to some of the most profound questions that we have? What do you think?  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Godly perspective on REVENGE?

It has been widely reported in the press that Donald Trump recently offered to destroy a Texas Senator's career for opposing certain policies which he supports. (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2017/02/07/trump-offers-destroy-texas-senator-help-rockwall-sheriff) By now, most of us have also heard about his reaction to the judges who ruled against his so-called "Muslim Ban." This brings to mind many past Trump statements and actions which have been focused on attack and revenge.

Just before the election last year, David Corn of Mother Jones reminded all of us that "Donald Trump Is Completely Obsessed With Revenge." (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/donald-trump-obsessed-with-revenge) In his article, he pointed out that:  "Following the first presidential debate, he spent days of valuable campaign time (and hours of valuable sleep time) slamming Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe. At other times during this contest, he could not let go of his feud with Rosie O'Donnell. He tried to smear Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born federal judge hearing a fraud case against Trump University, as a "Mexican" unqualified to preside over this litigation. For days, he derided Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, after Khizr criticized him during a speech at the Democratic convention. He launched misogynistic attacks against Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly. Rather than attempt to unify his party after a divisive primary fight, he threatened to finance future campaigns against GOP rivals, most notably Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. And there were the mean and nasty nicknames: Lyin' Ted, Little Marco."

Corn went on to point out that these incidents were not random or isolated events, but that they represent an integral part of the man's philosophy and modus operandi. Indeed, Corn used Trump's own words to make his point. At the National Achievers Congress in Sydney (2011), he said:  "Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it." The following year, Trump said:  "One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you've got to hit 'em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You've got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important…The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can't take advantage of you." In 2013, Trump tweeted:  "Always get even. When you are in business, you need to get even with people who screw you. – Think Big." In 2014, he referenced a famous quote by Alfred Hitchcock:  "Revenge is sweet and not fattening."

So we know what Donald Trump thinks about revenge, but we would do well to ask:  What does the Godly perspective on revenge look like." Throughout history, there have been a good many statements on the subject that most of us would characterize as inspired. Here are just a few examples:
“The ultimate revenge is living well and being happy. Hateful people can’t stand happy people. Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”-- Confucius
"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury." -- Marcus Aurelius
"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Revenge... is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion." -- Jeremy Taylor
(https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes)
"When another person wrongs you, your typical first thought is one of revenge. We think that by inflicting similar pain onto this person, we’ll make ourselves feel better. While that may make our sick-minded selves feel better for a little while, it most likely will not in the long run. Seeking revenge doesn't cancel out the behaviors that hurt you. It just perpetuates the cycle of pain." -- Ashley Fern (http://elitedaily.com/life/why-we-need-to-stop-seeking-revenge/)

And then there is this one attributed to Jesus Christ:  "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles...You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:38-45, NLT)

A little later, in that same Gospel, we read:  "Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)

Hmmm, sure seems like God is not in agreement with Mr. Trump on this one. What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thanksgiving is a pagan holiday, and Clinton and Obama are the Two Witnesses of Revelation!

We all know that God's Word says:  "You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (Deuteronomy 4:2 - King James 2000 Bible) Moreover, secular history tells us that: "In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November." (http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving) We also know that "Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims' menu." (same source)

Hence, it is clear that the celebration of Thanksgiving is a holiday which was ADDED by men - it was not instituted or commanded by Almighty God! Moreover, secular history teaches us that the people who engaged in that first Thanksgiving were deceived by Satan the Devil! (Revelation 12:9) The Puritans were the ultimate Protestants (daughters of the Great Whore, Revelation 17:5), and the Native Americans were PAGANS! We can also see that they ate unclean foods which God has declared unfit for human consumption! (Leviticus 11) Moreover, the holiday was made a national holiday by a secular leader - a President of the United States who was then engaged in one of the bloodiest wars in human history! Knowing these things, how can any of us ever celebrate this holiday again with a clear conscience?

Having dispensed with Thanksgiving, we all need to be aware of what's going on in the world around us. (Mark 13:35) We all know that at the time of the end there are going to be Two Witnesses whom God will use to warn the world. (Revelation 11:3) We are told in Scripture that:  "4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire." (Revelation 11:4-6, New King James Version)

Notice that these individuals are described as olive trees and lampstands who STAND "before the God of the earth." Olive trees are indicative of those who feed the people, and lampstands are indicative of those who give light to the people. It is clear that these are actual humans who are standing on the earth and performing these functions. Hence, these verses make plain that these are human leaders who are responsible for "feeding" people and supplying them with information (or light). Notice that we are also told that "fire proceeds from their mouths and devours their enemies." This makes clear that these individuals have the ability to use wit and sarcasm to defeat their political enemies in debate. Likewise, reference is made to the fact that they have power to influence the weather and control the spread of disease.

Think about the way these two individuals are described in God's Word! Who can you think of that is skilled in the use of sarcasm and sophisticated arguments to defeat their enemies? Who has been responsible for taking care of the people of this country for eight years and controlling the dissemination of information to them? Who has been involved in attempting to focus everyone's attention on climate change and impose policies that will impact global weather? Who has been actively involved in overhauling the nation's medical system and was over the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for eight years? Of course, the two people who come immediately to mind are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton!

Isn't this amazing! See what a little proof-texting and creative thinking can accomplish! And, only those of you who are reading this post have been given this understanding! You are special! You have been called by God to understand these things! Send in your money right away - WE MUST GET THIS MESSAGE TO THE WORLD!

If you've finished reading this post, you should check out the post by Dennis Diehl over at Banned by HWA! You can see it at this address: http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/02/musings.html  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A man after God's own heart!

Among the comments about my last post, Dixon Cartwright made an astute observation about the double standard inherent in the insistence of many Christians that David was "a man after God's own heart." Moreover, if one takes the time to survey the many Christian commentaries and sermons on the subject, the truth of this observation becomes apparent. Dixon's point also suggests some other questions:  Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership? These questions demand answers, not justifications or apologies!

In beginning to answer these questions, I think that it is important to acknowledge that most of the folks who hold David up as a fine example of Christian leadership view Scripture through the lens of Fundamentalism. For them, there can't be any contradictions or intrusions of political/cultural bias in "God's Word." However, for those of us who do not share that perspective, it is obvious that the folks who wrote the history of the kingdom period were partisans of David. In other words, they were clearly writing in the capacity of apologists for the man and his actions. If we are willing to acknowledge this and look at the material recorded there with this in mind, we can begin to get a better understanding of David, the men who wrote about him and God's perspective on both.

In short, the folks who wrote the "history" which appears in our Bible had a powerful incentive to justify David's acquisition of the throne and embellish his reputation and accomplishments for the sake of his successors and their continuing rivalry with the northern kingdom. After all, one has to explain the displacement of God's original choice as king:  Saul. And, as all serious students of history know, kings have always been interested in justifying their legitimacy as ruler - their right to rule.

With these considerations in mind, we begin to see that God was one of many props that were employed to buttress the claims of the House of David to the throne. Hence, while David may have been God's choice, it does not follow that God approved of everything he did or supported him in every instance. Indeed, if we give any credence whatsoever to these accounts, we are forced to admit that the chronicler(s) acknowledged that God was displeased with David's adultery, murder and continuous warfare. After all, according to the biblical account, God allowed David's child with Bathsheba to die, permitted him to be temporarily displaced (Absalom) and didn't allow him to build the temple (that honor was reserved for his son).

It also occurs to me that most of the folks who like to talk about David being "a man after God's own heart" fail to look at the context of these remarks within Scripture. In the book of Acts, we are told that Paul was speaking to a Jewish synagogue in Antioch (13:14-16). In this account of his remarks there, we are told that he briefly summarized the history of the Israelites to introduce them to Jesus (verses 17-23). It is in the midst of this summary that Paul quotes from the book of I Samuel about David, Christ's ancestor.

Paul told them that God himself had testified:  "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart." (verse 22). In the remarks that follow this quote, Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's choice - that he (not David) was God's ultimate choice to complete his plans for Israel (verses 23-41). In other words, David is part of a more important story and is really only incidental to the central figure of that story (Jesus). Paul makes David the means to an end.

Now, let's take a closer look at the place in the Old Testament from which Paul extrapolated this quote. In the book of I Samuel, we read that Samuel told Saul:  "Thou has done foolishly:  Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee:  for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue:  the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." (verses 13-14)

Notice first that Paul has attributed to God something that was originally attributed to Samuel. In this passage from the Old Testament, it is Samuel who is describing what God has done. In other words, "Because of your disobedience (Saul), God has decided to find someone who is closer to him - one who thinks more like he does." A little later in the story (chapter 16), we are told that God chooses Jesse's youngest son, David. So Paul gathers all of this together and puts it into the mouth of God (not an illogical conclusion, but the original author does not tell us that these were God's own words).

More importantly, look at the timing of these remarks. Aren't they made at the beginning of David's story - at the time God chose him to be king? In other words, this remark was made prior to the adultery, deception and bloodshed! As a young man - as a shepherd, David was a man after God's own heart. It does not say that the corrupt and lecherous old man who occupied the throne of Israel many years later was a man after God's own heart!

As a matter of fact, the only way that we could possibly hope to make this statement continue to apply to the man he became is by appealing to his willingness to acknowledge his many sins and REPENT of them! Thus we return to the point which Paul was making to the Jews at Antioch: David is not the model/example/end - Christ was/is! According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ was the only man who has ever lived who was truly "a man after God's own heart." Hence, it is inappropriate for Christians to hold this man (David) up as a model for anything other than an example of the way that we should face our sins and repent of them.

In conclusion, my answer to both of the questions which were asked at the beginning of this post (Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership?) is NO. David was a secular leader - he was not a priest or minister. Moreover, even in the biased accounts of his life which we have received via the Bible, it is clear that YHWH expressed "His" displeasure with this man on a number of occasions - most notably in the fact that "He" did not allow David to build "His" temple. We can say that God used him as an example of what not to do and of the way to acknowledge sin and repent of it, but I believe it is a perversion of Scripture and logic to make David a model for what a Christian leader should look like.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

What should a Christian minister look like?

Over at Banned by HWA, several of the most recent posts on that blog have provoked a great deal of thought about what constitutes a genuine Christian minister. While most of us would readily admit that an adulterer and murderer would not qualify, agreement seems to break down when other issues are considered. In other words, what are the things that qualify a person as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? How important are things like gender, training and credentials?

For many Fundamentalists, Paul's statements in some of his epistles about female participation in church services exclude the possibility of that gender serving in the ministry. Of course, that assumption ignores all of the scriptural evidence that contradicts such a conclusion. What about Mary? What about Priscilla? What about Lois and Eunice? Is it correct to exclude half of humanity from participating in the ministry of the church because Jewish society in the First Century had a strong misogynistic and paternalistic bias?

What about the training of the ministry? How did Christ train his apostles? Did he send them to colleges and seminaries? Weren't most of the apostles and ministers of the early church mature individuals who had years of exposure to Christ's teachings and more years of life experiences under their belts? How many young men or recent converts were elevated to the ministry? Is Christianity a spiritual or intellectual exercise? Can love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, compassion, etc. be learned in a college or seminary? How important is one's understanding of complex theological, philosophical and doctrinal matters to being a successful/effective minister of Jesus Christ?

Does a license from a man-made organization make one a minister of Jesus Christ? Does an appointment by some board or some single individual (like someone claiming to be an apostle or prophet) make one a minister? Does obtaining a degree or completing some course of study qualify one to be a minister of Jesus Christ? Does recognition by the State entitle one to perform the functions of a minister of Jesus Christ? Does the vote of a congregation entitle one to be recognized as such? What kind of official credentials did Peter, John, Barnabas or Paul have?

Didn't Paul say that exceptional character was an essential element in one qualifying to be considered as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? Did he have anything to say about the marital status of the individual and the harmony evident within his/her household? Did he say anything about the candidate's reputation in the community at large and within the church? Did he say anything about how the person conducted him/herself in public (e.g. displays of temper and the consumption of alcohol)? Didn't Paul say that the candidate must be able to teach and provide a hospitable/friendly environment? Indeed, even if Paul hadn't (or didn't) write those epistles to Timothy and Titus, wouldn't common sense demand that a minister of Jesus Christ exhibit exceptional character (over and above that of his/her brothers and sisters in the faith)?

And, perhaps the most important consideration of all:  What is a minister? Doesn't the very word evoke the word servant? Didn't Christ say that those of his disciples who wanted to be in leadership positions would have to become the servant of the others? Didn't Christ make clear that he didn't want the leaders within his church lording it over each other? Doesn't he use the symbolism of the care and nurture of a shepherd for his/her flock over and over again? Didn't he tell Peter three separate times to feed/take care of his sheep? Were ministers intended to rule? Were minsters intended to be repositories of authority and discipline? What does servant leadership mean?

Hmmmm, when we begin to ask ourselves a few questions about what a Christian minister should look like, it becomes clear to me that many of the denominations, sects and cults who call themselves Christian don't have a clue! Maybe it's time we all take another look at this topic and rethink some of the traditional attitudes that have developed about it? What do you think? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recommended reading for students of the Bible

As with many of his previous posts, Paul Davidson's recent analysis of biblical alternatives to the Exodus story of Israelite origins is fantastic! You can read the post here:  https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/the-story-of-ezer-and-elead-and-what-it-means-for-the-exodus/

I have speculated for some time (see past posts on this blog) that the account of the exodus from Egypt may only be suggestive of the actual history of the Israelites. In particular, the fact that they were dominated by the Egyptians for many years. This would make much more sense than acceptance of the story in the Bible as literal history. Archaeological findings and contemporaneous accounts simply do not support a literal understanding of the Pentateuch account of Israelite origins. There is almost always, however, a few grains of truth present in any myth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A few more observations about God's Festivals

In my final comments on the previous post, I issued a challenge regarding the impact of the Roman's destruction of the Temple in 70 AD:  "My point is: No one told them to adapt and change the modalities when that happened. Can you cite any scriptural or historical evidence to contradict that?" A friend replied "No" to that question and proceeded to explain why that was impossible.

He pointed out the dearth of writings from the period following the destruction of the Temple, including the fact that most of the documents in our canon were written prior to that event. For the sake of my argument, I will not speculate about when the gospels or epistles were authored. Nevertheless, I would argue that the epistle to the Hebrews attempts to explain many of the Old Testament religious symbols (including the Sabbath, Temple, sacrifices and Day of Atonement) in the light of Christ's life, work and death. For me, this epistle demonstrates the continuing significance of these symbols even if a Christian was not actually observing them anymore.

As for the account of the Jerusalem Council in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, I think that the text makes very clear that Jewish Christians decided to exempt their Gentile brethren from any obligation to keep the Mosaic Law. In fact, we are told there that it was those Jewish Christians who belonged to "the sect of the Pharisees" that insisted on Gentile circumcision and had commanded them "to keep the law of Moses." (verse 5) Later, we are told that Peter pointed out that God had given Gentiles the same Holy Spirit which he had previously given to them. (verse 8), and that He had made no distinction between the two groups (verse 9). He concludes with this statement:  "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (verses 10-11) After confirming that it was God who made the decision to call Gentiles into His Church, James reminds the assembly that there are still plenty of synagogues extant where Moses is preached every Sabbath (verses 13-21). In other words, it is unnecessary to introduce that subject into the new circumstances. Moreover, it is made very clear in the letter which was sent out to the Gentile congregations summarizing the Council's decision that the Jewish Christians did NOT expect Gentile Christians to observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law (verses 22-19).

My friend went on to point out:  "When I read that he <Christ> fulfilled the law, to me the plain meaning is that he kept it." Yes, it means the same thing to me. Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly keeping and personifying every aspect of it - something that NO MAN before him or since him has EVER done! This is the very thing that enables us to be reconciled to God and saved! Christ's complete innocence before the Law enabled him to pay the penalty that our breaking of it incurred! It was/is HIS WORK which has saved us - the only thing our works have earned us is DEATH! That does not give us a license to go out and intentionally violate the Law, but it does free us from the fear of facing the punishment which would otherwise await us. There are many scriptures which also make clear that Christians are still obligated to adhere to the SPIRIT of the Law - the two great principles behind all of it (love for God and love for each other).

I also agree with my friend that there is nothing wrong with shadows. I wish to reiterate my conviction that all Christians would benefit from a greater familiarity with the festivals and other features of the Mosaic Law. I believe that a greater awareness of these things would invariably lead to a greater appreciation/understanding of Jesus Christ and the role which he plays in God's plans to save mankind. Likewise, I agree with the Apostle Paul:  whether one attempts to observe these festivals or observes some other holidays, he/she should do so to the honor and glory of God; and that we shouldn't be judging each others actions in this regard.

Finally, I think that it should be pointed out that Purim (see the book of Esther in our canon) and the Feast of the Dedication (see the books of I and II Maccabees) are not observed by most of the Christians who attempt to observe the Holy Days. While it is true that these two festivals are not listed among those in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, it is clear that Christ observed them. Doesn't it seem a little inconsistent or odd that one would observe seven of the festivals given to the Israelites and dismiss two others as Jewish? In the final analysis, aren't all of them Jewish? If we admit that Jewish Christians of the First Century kept the Jewish festivals, how likely do you think it would be that they ignored Purim and Hanukkah?

Thus, for all of these reasons and more, observance of these festivals cannot and should not be regarded as a tool for evaluating who is/is not a TRUE Christian! I am confident that Almighty God will bless anyone who seeks to worship "Him" with a sincere and adoring heart. What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another look at the Law of the Central Sanctuary

In previous posts regarding whether or not Christians are obligated to observe the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, I have discussed the importance of the Law of the Central Sanctuary to that issue. However, as some have suggested that this is not a valid theological argument against such observance because of Israelite practice prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place" which God eventually chose to place his name, I thought it would be appropriate to study the issue in more detail.

Some folks have pointed out that the Israelites observed these festivals prior to the establishment of any central sanctuary, and that they (the festivals) are consequently not dependent on this requirement which was added much later. They cite the fact that the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were observed by them in Egypt (Exodus 12 and 13). Likewise, they point out that the festivals were observed by the people throughout their sojourn in the wilderness and for many years after they actually arrived in the Promised Land (see Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and I Samuel). So what about this argument? Does this demonstrate that the observance of the Holy Days was/is not linked to the Law of the Central Sanctuary?

In this regard, I think that it is instructive to note what the widely respected theologian Dr Peter Pett had to say about this issue:  "This fact that Yahweh is present where He chooses is important to their understanding of Him. They cannot make Him appear anywhere that they want by erecting images and making altars. They can only meet Him where He chooses. He had chosen to do it at Sinai. Now He does it in the tabernacle in the midst of the camp. In the future it will be in a suitable place chosen by Him as He wills. But there must only be one sanctuary because He is one (6.5).
That such an idea could be established while travelling together in the wilderness, with the focal point of all the tribes being on the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh and the sacred tent containing it in their midst, makes good sense. There would be less of an incentive once they were spread over a wide area facing problems in their own localities, but the fact that they did maintain their Central Sanctuary at all emphasizes the fact that the idea had been so firmly implanted within them well before they actually reached the land and spread over it, that it never died out." --http://www.angelfire.com/ok/bibleteaching/centralsanctuary.html

In other words, the concept of a central sanctuary was present from the beginning. Even in the observance of that first Passover in Egypt, we can argue that the Israelites were assembled together in one place (Goshen), the place which YHWH had chosen for the observance (For the sake of this argument, we will assume that the events recorded in Exodus are actual history as opposed to representative history). In similar fashion, throughout the period prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place," we can see the principle being employed by YHWH through the Tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, and at Shiloh. Thus, for the Israelites, the principle was clearly established:  YHWH wasn't like other Gods - it was NOT OK to worship him wherever THEY chose to do so - it had to be at the place of HIS choosing - the place where he was present.

Moreover, it is made very clear by the scriptures already quoted in Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles, Lamentations and Zechariah that the place which was eventually designated to fulfill this requirement was JERUSALEM. The "history" of what happened prior to that event cannot negate or nullify the fact that YHWH designated Jerusalem as "the place" which HE had chosen to place his name - the only acceptable site for festival observance. Thus, the link to the Law of the Central Sanctuary is shown to be inviolable.

We must also not forget that the principle was carried forward into the New Testament as well. Please note that there is NO answer from the critics of this argument to the challenge that Jesus Christ and his disciples ALWAYS observed these festivals AT JERUSALEM. Remember too that we see this principle at work even at the founding of the Christian Church! In the book of Acts, we read:  "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord IN ONE PLACE." (Acts 2:2, emphasis mine)

Finally, the scripture which many regard as the foundation of this principle, Deuteronomy 12, clearly dismisses all activity prior to its implementation. Notice that we read there:  "Ye shall not do after the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." (verse 8) The implication is clear:  After the establishment of "the place," all other observances would cease to be valid or acceptable to YHWH! There is no wiggle room on this one! Many folks (Herbert Armstrong among them) have attempted to reason around this principle, but human reasoning is still human reasoning in the final analysis. What do you think? Where is the Scripture based challenge to the Law of the Central Sanctuary's claim on the Holy Days?

Is the theological argument against this principle to be grounded in Christ's statement recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew? We read there:  "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) For the sake of argument, let's put aside the fact that many folks have taken this scripture out of context (Christ was purportedly speaking of how to handle a brother who offends you). If we are to accept this verse as sanctioning festival observance at any place where Christians may choose to gather together, what is to stop us from making the same argument for the observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship? Philosophically, theologically and logically YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! As my grandmother used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander!" If this is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the place, it is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the time!

If you have an argument to present that refutes the points I've made here and elsewhere concerning the Law of the Central Sanctuary, please do so in the comments section. I am more than willing to entertain a scripture based argument against linking the Holy Days to this requirement, but I don't expect any takers.