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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pearl Harbor as a metaphor for the Christian experience?

Seventy-six years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and rained down death and destruction on American military installations there. And, when Americans learned about what had happened, they were saddened, angry and dismayed. At that moment, the future seemed very uncertain. It was obvious that the nation was at war, but most Americans were very apprehensive about what course that conflict might take. (After all, the Germans and their allies were then in control of most of Europe and North Africa, and Asia lay prostrate before the Japanese onslaught.)

Nevertheless, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured the American people that they would gain the ultimate victory in this conflict. He summoned them to action and reassured them that their efforts and sacrifices would be rewarded in the end. Roosevelt told them that their cause was righteous, and he implied that their ultimate triumph was a foregone conclusion if they stayed the course.

We know, of course, that the United States and its allies were ultimately victorious in that war. From our perspective, that outcome even seems inevitable. We should, however, try to imagine what it would have been like for our parents/grandparents to face those challenges.

Today, you can stand on the memorial that has been erected over the sunken USS Arizona and look across the harbor to where the USS Missouri is moored. In other words, it is possible to stand on a symbol of death and defeat at the hands of the enemy and view the place where that same enemy signed the instrument of surrender! As someone who has experienced this phenomenon in person, I can tell you that the symbolism is powerful and compelling.

For me, Pearl Harbor is a kind of metaphor for what we experience as Christians. In this life, the enemy can often seem to be very powerful and often appears triumphant. However, God has assured us that we will gain the ultimate victory if we accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and remain faithful to the end. In other words, Jesus Christ has already got this one in the bag - he has already defeated the enemy that currently plagues us. Can you see the Missouri just across the harbor? What do you think?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Conspiracy Theories and Armstrongism

Why do many within the Armstrong Churches of God seem to be so susceptible to conspiracy theories? Don't think they are? Check these out:  Mark Armstrong's Weekly Update http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/fridayupdates.php and Bill Watson's Is Anybody Listening? https://static1.squarespace.com/static/50438d1dc4aa994481346f77/t/5a21ac80f9619a40c9b4fe9c/1512156292182/IN_vol_38_no_4%281%29.pdf

Think about it. Conspiracy theorists believe that the truth is hidden - that most folks are deceived about what is really going on in the world, and THIS IS A CENTRAL TENET OF ARMSTRONGISM.

Research into the psychology behind conspiracy theories informs us that they are generated by a lack of trust in institutions and political cynicism - see http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/11/conspiracy_theory_psychology_people_who_claim_to_know_the_truth_about_jfk.html In that article, we read:  "The common thread between distrust and cynicism, as defined in these experiments, is a perception of bad character. More broadly, it’s a tendency to focus on intention and agency, rather than randomness or causal complexity." Continuing:  "The more you see the world this way—full of malice and planning instead of circumstance and coincidence—the more likely you are to accept conspiracy theories of all kinds. Once you buy into the first theory, with its premises of coordination, efficacy, and secrecy, the next seems that much more plausible."

Hence, if one has already bought into the idea that Satan and the Catholic Church have hatched a grand conspiracy to deceive Christianity about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible and doctrinal issues, it is easy to believe that other actors have hatched other conspiracies designed to hide the truth about other issues. And this is NOT the kind of suspicion that evokes scientific research and critical thinking. Instead, it seeks information (or to interpret information in a fashion) that reinforces the suspicion!

This is the kind of stuff that turns someone like Donald Trump into a Christian savior and his opponents into maniacal deviants bent on a program of misinformation. If you are prone to this kind of thinking, then climate change can seem like a liberal plot to undercut our free market economy and George Soros can look like he's running the entire show. Nevertheless, for those who are still willing to think for themselves, I think that it is still possible to get back to reality. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Roy Moore and the Christian Right

As a Christian and a former Alabama Republican, I feel compelled to weigh in on the accusations of sexual misconduct against Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore. For many, the question seems to be:  Who is more believable? Do you believe Moore or his accusers?

The reasoning goes something like this:  Since the accusations against Moore have the potential for ruining his reputation and political career, he must be given the benefit of the doubt (or, at the very least, the statements of his accusers must be regarded with extreme skepticism). In other words, the stakes are simply too high to just accept the testimony of these witnesses.

After listening to some of the Christian Right's commentary on this affair, it occurs to me that they are not following the directives given in their own scriptures. What is the Biblical standard? What is the Biblical standard of guilt?

In Deuteronomy 19:15, we read: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."

Christ also instructed his disciples to make sure that two or three witnesses would be present to establish exactly what was said. (Matthew 18:16) Paul told the Corinthians that his third visit to them would satisfy the requirement that "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (II Corinthians 13:1)

Six women have accused Roy Moore of inappropriate sexual conduct.

Roy Moore has said that he first noticed his present wife when she was a teenager.

According to the Christian Bible, is the matter established?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Take me to your leader!

A friend of mine recently forwarded to me an article which appeared on the Psychology Today website. The article was written by former FBI Agent Joe Navarro and was entitled "Dangerous Cult Leaders." You can read the full article here:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/201208/dangerous-cult-leaders

After reading through Navarro's list of traits that dangerous cult leaders often display, I was struck by how many of them apply to many Armstrong Church of God leaders (including the founder, Herbert W. Armstrong). At any rate, I think that folks of a religious/spiritual bent should be familiar with this list and ask themselves how the leader of the group which they associate with (or are interested in joining) compares to this profile.

Here is Navarro's list:

He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.
Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
Has a sense of entitlement - expecting to be treated special at all times.
Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives putting others at financial risk.
Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.
Sex is a requirement with adults and sub adults as part of a ritual or rite.
Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others.
Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.
Makes members confess their sins or faults publicly subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation while revealing exploitable weaknesses of the penitent.
Has ignored the needs of others, including: biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs.
Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.
Needs to be the center of attention and does things to distract others to insure that he or she is being noticed by arriving late, using exotic clothing, overdramatic speech, or by making theatrical entrances.
Has insisted in always having the best of anything (house, car, jewelry, clothes) even when others are relegated to lesser facilities, amenities, or clothing.
Doesn’t seem to listen well to needs of others, communication is usually one-way in the form of dictates.
Haughtiness, grandiosity, and the need to be controlling is part of his personality.
Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.
When criticized he tends to lash out not just with anger but with rage.
Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
Refers to non-members or non-believers in him as “the enemy.”
Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.
Believes himself to be omnipotent.
Has “magical” answers or solutions to problems.
Is superficially charming.
Habitually puts down others as inferior and only he is superior.
Has a certain coldness or aloofness about him that makes others worry about who this person really is and or whether they really know him.
Is deeply offended when there are perceived signs of boredom, being ignored or of being slighted.
Treats others with contempt and arrogance.
Is constantly assessing for those who are a threat or those who revere him.
The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.
Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly - when he does he acts out with rage.
Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong nor does he apologize for his actions.
Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.
Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.
Rigid, unbending, or insensitive describes how this person thinks.
Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
Has isolated members of his sect from contact with family or outside world.
Monitors and or restricts contact with family or outsiders.
Works the least but demands the most.
Has stated that he is “destined for greatness” or that he will be “martyred.”
Seems to be highly dependent of tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments.
Uses enforcers or sycophants to insure compliance from members or believers.
Sees self as “unstoppable” perhaps has even said so.
Conceals background or family which would disclose how plain or ordinary he is.
Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself – in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”
Has taken away the freedom to leave, to travel, to pursue life, and liberty of followers.
Has isolated the group physically (moved to a remote area) so as to not be observed.

Yes, I've seen these traits before - What about you?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Some considerations on the primacy of Peter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What if God created a MULTIVERSE?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Does God like guns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Day of Atonement

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



Monday, September 18, 2017

No Discrepancies in the New Testament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

PCG on the needs of men and women

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Scriptural and Philosophical Basis for the Bloomington Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

There is nothing new under the sun

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

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

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

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

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

Moss concludes with:

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

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Bloomington Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Where are the Israelites in 2017?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Closer Look At Christ's Atonement

On his Theology Musings blog, Gordon Feil recently posted "The Atonement:  Was It Penal Substitution?" --http://gordon-feil-theology.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-atonement-was-it-penal-substitution.html#comment-form  This post generated an interesting discussion between its author and myself. The short version of my answer to the question Gordon posed was:  NO, the atonement was not penal substitution. This post will serve to represent the longer version of my response to that question and will employ my comments on Gordon's blog, previous posts regarding the subject on this blog, and some additional thoughts on the subject generated by Gordon's responses to my comments.

In one of my comments on Gordon's blog, I wrote:  "To me, the atonement is all about reconciliation. Our sins have alienated us from God - not that "He" has turned "His" back on us, but that we have turned our backs on "Him." Our sins blind us to God and "His" love."

This is consistent with what I previously published on this blog as part of the post entitled "To be at one with God." --http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2014/05/to-be-at-one-with-god.html  I wrote:

"In the theology of the Old Testament, it is a common theme that the people's sins separated them from their God. This concept is apparent from the very beginning of the story of mankind's interaction with the Divine. Notice that Adam's and Eve's sins resulted in their expulsion from the garden and God's presence. (Genesis 3) By violating God's commandment, they effectively rejected God's offer to reveal/define right and wrong and decided to usurp that prerogative for themselves. In other words, they turned their backs on God, and their sins separated them from God.

If the Israelites followed God's instructions and obeyed "His" commandments, God promised to live among them and be their God. (Exodus 29:45) When Moses outlined the blessings associated with obeying the terms of the covenant, it was implicit in everything he said that God would be actively blessing the people in all aspects of their life. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) Likewise, when he outlined the curses associated with disobedience, Moses made clear that the people would not enjoy God's favor, protection and blessings. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) In other words, their sins would separate them from their God.

When David sinned with Bathsheba, he understood that his sins could separate him from his God. He prayed: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me." (Psalm 51:11)

The prophets were also very familiar with this concept. Isaiah wrote: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2) When the Israelites persisted in their sins throughout the kingdom period, God's glory (presence) eventually departed from the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 8-10) When the prophets looked to the future, they often spoke of a time when God would actually live among "His" people. (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:20, 37:23, 27; Zechariah 8:8) The clear implication being that God was currently separated from them.

In addition to this understanding, Old Testament theology clearly anticipated the need for a reconciliation between the sinner and his God. David wrote: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) He continued: "Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:9-10) David clearly understood that the sins were the problem in his relationship with God, and that those sins had to be removed to effect a complete reconciliation with the Divine. Indeed, he praised God for removing our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west."

In this connection, one could also say that the entire sacrificial system (such an integral part of the Old Covenant) looked to the removal and forgiveness of the people's sins. This was nowhere more apparent than in the ceremony prescribed for the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16)"

Regarding that day (Atonement), in a post entitled "The New Testament perspective on the Day of Atonement" --http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-new-testament-perspective-on-day-of.html, I quoted the book of Hebrews:

“For there was a tabernacle made, the first…which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all…Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. BUT INTO THE SECOND WENT THE HIGH PRIEST ALONE ONCE EVERY YEAR (ON THE DAY OF ATONEMENT), not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience…But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” –Hebrews 9:2-12

Clearly, Aaron was symbolic of Jesus Christ in this ceremony. Nevertheless, the symbolism was not perfect. For obvious reasons, Aaron was unable to offer his own blood to sprinkle on the altar to make atonement for the people. He had to use the blood of a goat.

“And he shall take the two goats, and present THEM before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” –Leviticus 16:7 Notice that these goats are paired in the ceremony, and BOTH of them are presented before the Lord. Hence, it is obvious that these goats are RELATED to each other. “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot FOR the Lord, and the other lot FOR the scapegoat.” –Leviticus 16:8 In context, it is clear that one of the goats was chosen to be presented to God as a sacrifice/offering (Leviticus 16:9), and Aaron (who was the type of Christ) was to use that goat’s blood to sprinkle on the altar to make atonement for the people. (Leviticus 16:15) Likewise, the other goat was to be used for the scapegoat, or goat of removal. “But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:10)

It is clear that Aaron (THE TYPE OF CHRIST) needed blood to complete the symbolism of the ceremony. Continuing in Hebrews, we read: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. IT WAS THEREFOR NECESSARY THAT THE PATTERNS OF THINGS IN THE HEAVENS SHOULD BE PURIFIED WITH THESE; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. FOR CHRIST IS NOT ENTERED INTO THE HOLY PLACES MADE WITH HANDS, WHICH ARE THE FIGURES OF THE TRUE; BUT INTO HEAVEN ITSELF, NOW TO APPEAR IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR US: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year WITH BLOOD OF OTHERS; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared TO PUT AWAY SIN BY THE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF.” –Hebrews 9:22-26

Clearly, Aaron was symbolically playing the role of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament ceremony. In that ceremony, there were two goats which were presented before the Lord. One of those goats was designated to be used as a sacrifice/offering to God, and Aaron used the blood of that goat (since he could not use his own) to take before the mercy seat of God and use to symbolically make an atonement for the sins of the people. The other goat was designated to bear the sins of the people into the wilderness. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21-22)

Hence, NEITHER GOAT WAS DESIGNATED TO REPRESENT GOD OR JESUS CHRIST IN THIS CEREMONY!!!!!!! Remember, Aaron represented Christ. The Holy of Holies represented heaven. The mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant represented Almighty God’s presence. One of the goats was used to represent Christ’s blood, and the other goat was used to represent the removal of the people’s sins from the camp and from the presence of Almighty God! The very thing that Christ’s shed blood accomplished! “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” –Hebrews 9:28"

In that first post (To be at one with God), I went on to say:

"This is where Jesus Christ comes into the equation. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:3-6)

When John the Baptist saw Christ approaching him, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) In other words, he saw Jesus Christ as the one who would remove our sins - the very things that had separated us from our God. Hence, this act would effect our reconciliation to God.

Interestingly, this conclusion finds overwhelming support in the theology of the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Romans: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." (Romans 5:8-11) Likewise, Paul wrote the saints at Corinth that God had reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:18)

How did he reconcile us to God? The answer should be obvious at this point: Christ reconciled us to the Father by removing the things that had separated us from Him - our sins! Paul said that Christ died for our sins. (I Corinthians 15:3) He told the Galatians that Christ gave himself for our sins. (Galatians 1:4) The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote that Christ had purged our sins. (Hebrews 1:3) Peter said that Christ had borne our sins in his body. (I Peter 2:24) John called Christ the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2), and that Christ "was manifested to take away our sins." (I John 3:5)"

Finally, in Gordon's responses to my comments on his blog, he disagreed with my assertion that “We simply cannot imagine forgiveness without something/someone paying for the sin.” He went on to say:  "If someone slights me and then pays for it, what need is there for forgiveness? Forgiveness is letting them off the hook. And I have often forgiven people with no need that anyone pay for their sin."

First, I think that there is ample scriptural evidence to suggest that WE are the ones who harbor these harsh notions about forgiveness. It is asserted over and over again in the New Testament that Jesus Christ instructed his followers to forgive each other (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25-26, Luke 6:37, Luke 17:3-4). Sure sounds to me like Christ believed that we (humans) have a problem with the concept of forgiveness!

And I strongly disagree that forgiveness is letting anyone "off the hook." Forgiveness doesn't necessarily remove the consequences of bad behavior. At its core, forgiveness is about giving someone a second chance. If someone does something horrible to me and is arrested and imprisoned for it, I still need to forgive them. The fact that they have paid for the offense has little or no bearing on my willingness to forgive them, their willingness to forgive themselves or their willingness to accept my forgiveness!

Hence, I stand by my original statement on Gordon's blog:

"Sacrifices aren't for God - they're for us. God doesn't need sacrifices - we do. It is our psyche that needs to appease. We simply cannot imagine forgiveness without something/someone paying for the sin. It is our notions about justice that demand this (Thank God that we aren't judging each other!).
As for how the sacrifice cleanses our consciences, read Hebrews 9 and 10 again. However, this single verse provides a good summary: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (9:14)"

For this blogger, Christ's sacrifice removes the very thing that separates us from our God:  OUR SINS. In accepting the wages that our works have earned (death), he satisfied our demand that someone/something must pay the "penalty" for the wrongs that were committed. In other words, God used Christ to remove the obstacles that we have placed in the way of a good relationship with "Him." God used Jesus Christ to defeat our own psychology on the subject and reconcile us to himself. What do you think?

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 the 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):
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?