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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!