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Friday, February 27, 2015

A Few Questions About Sin

Herbert Armstrong and his followers liked to make religious issues plain, clear and simple. The problem with this approach is that things are rarely as plain, clear and simple as they seem - especially when one is dealing with a book as complex as The Bible. Armstrong was fond of quoting I John 3:4 as the quintessential definition of sin: "sin is the transgression of the law." He was also fond of reminding everyone about the penalty for sin: "For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23).

Well, that's plain enough isn't it?

Let's take a closer look at this topic by asking a few questions:

What "law" is referred to in I John 3:4? Does this encompass the entire law? Does this reference encompass the entire Pentateuch/Torah (the first five books of the Bible - the Law of Moses)? Does it refer to the Ten Commandments? OR does it refer to all of the commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgments contained in both the Old and New Testaments? Does the fact that YHWH gave Moses the Ten Commandments in a separate audience (and personally wrote them on two tablets of stone) suggest that they are God's fundamental and preeminent law?

Are some laws/commandments more important than others? If not, why didn't Jesus challenge the individual who asked him about the greatest commandment of the law (Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34)? Does his answer suggest that the entire law can be summarized by two principles (Matthew 22:40)? What did Paul mean when he told the Romans that love was the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10)? If love is the fulfillment of the law, does that mean that hate is the ultimate definition of sin? If the premise behind the law is love, does that mean that any behaviors that replace or supersede our devotion to God or hurt/harm us or our fellow man constitute sin? Did Paul tell the Galatians that the entire law is fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:14) because the way to demonstrate our love for God is by loving our brother (I John 4:7-21)?

What did Paul mean when he said "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5)? Is an awareness that something is wrong essential to that something being labeled as sin (James 4:17)? What did Paul mean when he said "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23)? Does that imply that anything that violates our conscience is a sin? Does God consider a person's intent when evaluating sin (Leviticus 4:2-3 and Numbers 15:22-36)?

If the Israelite notion that everything that pollutes a person should be regarded as an abomination and sin is correct, then why did Christ tell the multitude that it was "not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" (Matthew 15:11)? Is it possible to obey the letter of the law and violate its spirit or intent?

Does homosexuality always meet the criteria established above for defining sin? Does homosexual behavior always hurt or harm someone? If we are to regard Leviticus 18:22 (Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination) as a clear indication that all homosexual behavior is sin, why is it acceptable for Herbert Armstrong and his followers to ignore God's clear instructions regarding the Feast of Tabernacles? Wasn't the only appropriate feast site Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16 and I Kings 9:3)? Didn't all of the observances of the Feast of Tabernacles recorded in Scripture clearly take place in Jerusalem, including Christ's observance and those prophesied to occur in the Kingdom? Didn't God instruct His people to build temporary shelters out of the branches of various kinds of trees (Leviticus 23:40-43)? Is it acceptable to substitute tents, campers and hotels instead of following these clear instructions? Does deviating from God's clear instructions constitute a sin in this instance?

If the penalty for all sin is death, then what did John mean when he wrote: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." (I John 5:16-17)?

Do we begin to appreciate the PLAIN TRUTH about sin?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Bible as proof that I'm right and you're wrong!

Another Otagosh post caught my eye yesterday. The text of an article that originally appeared on Ambassador Watch by one Micah Royal entitled "Confronting Bible Abuse" was reposted to provide more context for exploring the issue of human sexuality. You can view that article here: http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/02/progressive-redneck-preacher.html In the article, Pastor Royal addressed the issue of how many Christian individuals and organizations use Scripture to browbeat and persecute certain minorities. He points to the treatment of women, inter-racial couples, gays and gender issues as evidence of this kind of abuse. Micah then goes on to ask a profound question: "Is the Bible’s purpose to cause such agony in the lives of others?"

Although Micah came to the conclusion long ago that the answer to his question was a resounding NO, it appears that too many "Christians" still employ Scripture in this fashion. Ironically, many of the folks who do so are among the most vociferous defenders of Scripture and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. They, however, seem completely oblivious to what the various authors of Scripture reveal about the purpose(s) of their writings. They ignore these clear references to purpose within the text and employ Scripture as a weapon against each other and the groups or individuals who challenge, contradict or provoke them.

Since many of these folks love proof texts, let's take a quick look at some of the internal evidence provided by Scripture relative to purpose. We know, for instance, that the four Gospel accounts were written by individuals seeking to bring some order and clarity to the oral traditions about the life of Christ and preserve them for future generations. The author of Luke tells us that he wrote his account "to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us," (which, incidentally, he was doing for the sole benefit of someone named Theophilus). Luke 1:1 In the "Gospel According to John," we read: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." John 20:31 Likewise, we know that Paul composed his letters to correct and encourage some of the congregations of the First Century that he was personally familiar with or had played some role in founding. The author of II Peter wanted his readers to remember the things which he had taught them after his death. II Peter 1:13-15 Finally, John tells us that he wanted the writings that we know of as the book of Revelation (or The Apocalypse) to be an accurate record of the vision he had been given so that they could serve as a warning and a blessing to his readers. Revelation 1:1-20

Yes, Scripture does serve to convict people of sin and bring them to repentance, but its authors (including God) clearly never intended that these writings be used to browbeat, punish or torture sinners. Moreover, even in those instances when Scripture appears to be employed as a "weapon," it is always deployed in a defensive fashion. Christ withstood Satan's attack against him by relying on Scripture. Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 When Paul told the Ephesians to "Put on the whole armor of God," he clearly told them to do so as a defensive measure so that they would "be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." Ephesians 6:10-17 In short, Scripture is always employed within Scripture in a positive fashion - to help and protect. It is never employed as an offensive weapon to hurt or destroy others.

Remember, it was always the Pharisees and Sadducees who used Scripture and religion in an attempt to triumph over Christ with one of those "gotcha" moments. Christ always employed Scripture to underscore God's sovereignty, righteousness and compassion.

Unfortunately, I don't see many of the folks who employ Scripture as a club laying down that weapon any time soon. It has simply been much too effective when used in that capacity. They will continue to use Genesis 19:1-29, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9 as clobber scriptures - to demonstrate just how wrong, wicked and abominable homosexuals really are in God's sight. They will continue to use the first three chapters of Genesis to argue with scientists and prove that they are wicked and wrong. Oh well, I guess all that we can do is pray for these poor souls and continue to try to expose the "TRUTH" about the proper use of Scripture.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You didn't choose to be a heterosexual!

As part of its Armor of God series, the Church of God International has produced a message by Bronson James and Bill Watson entitled "What choice do I have?" (http://cgi.org/armor-of-god) Unfortunately, like many of their brethren within the Christian community, they have confused the difference between a lifestyle and a characteristic. According to Merriam-Webster, a lifestyle is defined as "a particular way of living: the way a person lives or a group of people lives." They also define a characteristic as "a special quality or trait that makes a person, thing or group different from others."

Christianity is a lifestyle. One can choose to be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist. Within the realm of Christianity, one can choose to be a Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Armstrongite, etc. Moreover, the choices that people make in this regard can (and many would argue should) have a profound effect on the way one conducts his/her life.

On the other hand, you possess a great many characteristics that required no choice from you. You had no choice in the color of your skin, hair or eyes. You had no choice in whether you would be tall or short. You had no choice in whether you would be male or female. Likewise, you had no choice in your sexual orientation.

Your attraction to the opposite gender is a natural part of who you are - it is a characteristic of you. Think about it for a moment. Do you remember ever making a decision to be a heterosexual? When you started into puberty, were you torn between same sex attraction and an attraction to the opposite sex? OR Did an awareness of and attraction to the opposite gender come naturally to you? Do you remember a time when you decided that Jill was desirable and Jack wasn't? Do you remember deciding that breasts were more attractive than pecs?

To be sure, one does have lifestyle choices to make in the realm of sexuality. One can choose to be celibate, monogamous, polygamous, promiscuous or faithful. We all make choices in this regard. One can choose to associate or disassociate sex and love. You can decide to live the lifestyle of a playboy or to be the faithful husband of one wife. These are choices.

You do not, however, have much control over whether or not you will lose your hair in the course of your lifetime or whether or not it will turn grey or white. In similar fashion, we don't make conscious choices to develop cancer or Alzheimer's disease (although our lifestyle choices can certainly impact these things).

You can choose to live your life as an omnivore or vegetarian. You may live your life as one of the rich and famous or as one of the poor and anonymous. You can choose to be a Capitalist or a Socialist. You can choose to belong to a political party, be an independent or abstain from participating in any political system. These can all be described as lifestyles, and you have some role to play in deciding on which course to adopt or follow.

Nevertheless, for most of the folks reading this post, I think that it is safe to say that you never made a decision to be a heterosexual. You didn't wake up in college one day and decide "I think I'll like girls." Isn't sexual attraction a natural part of who you are? Oh sure, you had to decide whether Betty was prettier than Jane or Connie; but you never had to decide whether she was prettier than Bill or Henry. It would have gone against your nature to make such a decision - and that, according to the Bible, would have been clearly wrong.

You can choose to live your life in conformance with God's will or not - that is a choice. However, the question immediately arises: who gets to determine what is God's will for your life? Do you as an individual get to interpret God's will for your life as you yield to the Holy Spirit? OR Does some church hierarchy or group of men get to decide what is God's will for your life? What does your conscience tell you?

Do we begin to see the difference between the two terms: lifestyle and characteristic? Do we begin to see just how wrongheaded it is for groups like the Church of God International to associate a choice with a characteristic? I wonder if they've ever heard about the serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Is that your prayer?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A few questions about God and homosexual behavior

Did God create both men and women in "His" image?
If so, does that mean that both genders exhibit Divine traits in their appearance and personality?
Is reproduction the only legitimate purpose for human sexual behavior?
If so, why does God permit childless marriages?
Should men and women who have no chance of reproducing be allowed to engage in sexual behavior?
Did God also design human sexual intercourse to be an expression of affection/love between two individuals?
If so, why is it only acceptable for a male and a female to express affection/love in this manner?
Did God design sexual attraction in humans?
Does sexual attraction serve to facilitate the reproduction of the species, the formation and maintenance of human relationships or both?
Does unfettered reproduction ensure the survival of any species?
Could same sex attraction serve to prevent the overpopulation of the species in the same way that childless couples serve to prevent it?
What are the elements of sexual attraction in humans?
Is sexual attraction related exclusively to the genitalia?
Does sexual attraction ever encompass other parts of the body (eyes, hair, mouth, shoulders, back, breasts/pecs, arms, abdominals, hips, buttocks, legs, feet) or the human body/shape/form as a whole?
If oral to genital contact is an inappropriate sexual behavior, then why do heterosexuals engage in the practice?
Likewise, if genital to anal contact is an inappropriate sexual behavior, then why do heterosexuals engage in the practice?
Is the missionary position the only acceptable sexual behavior for humans?
Does the human mind/brain play any role in human sexual behavior?
If so, does that make the brain the most important sexual organ in humans?
How many of the five senses are engaged in sexual behavior? If we acknowledge that all five senses are employed in human sexual behavior, does that imply anything about the nature of the act?
Do hormones play any role in human sexual behavior?
If so, did God design the human body to produce these various hormones? Doesn't that suggest that "He" designed the whole system?
Do both genders experience sexual attraction?
Is sexual attraction in humans immoral or wrong?
If so, then why did God place it in humans? If God didn't place it in humans where did it originate?
If Satan inspired sexual attraction, then why did God allow the Song of Solomon to be included in Scripture?
Did Christ say that all sexual desire is wrong or did he suggest that sexual desire is wrong after one is committed to another in marriage?
Is fidelity God's standard for human relationships (see the Ten Commandments, specifically "Thou shalt not commit adultery")?
If so, does this commandment only apply to the institution of marriage?
If marriage is only appropriate for one man and one woman, why was polygamy permitted in the Old Testament?
If marriage is truly an honorable estate for everyone, then what is the justification for excluding homosexuals from participation in the institution?
If two individuals of the same gender are not permitted to be married, does this mean that they are exempt from the fidelity standard outlined in the Ten Commandments?
If every man should have his own vessel (receptacle for his semen - as the Apostle Paul suggests), does that mean that only a woman could serve in that capacity?
Is it possible for heterosexual sex to become an idol - something that is more important to a person than God?
Is love sometimes inappropriate?
Is it inappropriate for two men or two women to love each other?
Does sexual contact always require the consent of both parties?
If so, why is it inappropriate/wrong for two consenting adults of the same gender to engage in sexual contact?
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then how can one standard apply to everyone relative to the evaluation of beauty?
If a male is attracted to other males, doesn't that make it unnatural for that individual to be attracted to females?
If homosexuality is unnatural, then why do so many creatures in the animal kingdom engage in the behavior?
Do the prohibitions against homosexual behavior in the Bible reflect God's will or what humans have imagined to be God's will?
Why are these prohibitions underscored while others are ignored?
If everyone is individually accountable to God for his/her behavior, then why are we so interested in each other's behavior?
Doesn't the principle of individual accountability/responsibility suggest that we should be concerned with whether or not our own behavior conforms to God's will?
Do human cultural biases and prejudices ever intrude on Scripture (I'm thinking about things like genocide, slavery, misogyny, gender roles, racism, etc.)? If so, is it possible that the views that are expressed there relative to homosexuality derive from similar sources?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Are we a bunch of loathsome insects that God abhors?

Gavin Rumney (author of the Otagosh blog) recently resurrected an old quote from Garner Ted Armstrong where he is talking about how vile humanity is in God's sight. This view of mankind is not a new one as the following quote from one of the most prominent leaders of American Christianity during the colonial period vividly demonstrates:

"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell." --Jonathan Edwards from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html

Is such a view consistent with the following scriptures? You decide:

"Then God said, 'Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us...So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." -- Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

"Then God looked over all he had made (including mankind), and he saw that it was very good!" -- Genesis 1:31 (NLT)

"When I look up at the night sky and see the work of your fingers...what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made..." -- Psalm 8:3-6 (NLT)

"You (God) made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it." -- Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." -- John 3:16-17 (NLT)

"But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." -- Romans 5:8 (NLT)

"And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love." -- Romans 8:38 (NLT)

In the second epistle of Peter, we are informed that God doesn't want anyone to be destroyed - that he wants everyone to repent of their sins. (II Peter 3:9)

"God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love - not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." -- I John 4:9-10

I think that these verses contradict the views expressed by Jonathan Edwards and Garner Ted Armstrong. What do you think?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God and Religion: Are they headed for extinction?

A friend recently sent me a link to Rachel Nuwer's "Will religion ever disappear?" at http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141219-will-religion-ever-disappear, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in this topic. In short, her answer to the question posed in the title is "NOT LIKELY."

This conclusion will undoubtedly unsettle some folks and disappoint others, but I believe the evidence provided and her analysis of it are sound. Nuwer points out that there is evidence that we (humans) are hard-wired or genetically predisposed by evolution to need God, religion, the supernatural (or whatever other similar term you may wish to plug into the equation).

My friend also pointed out this verse: "He (God) has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT) Christ once said that the gates of hell would never prevail against his church. (Matthew 16:18) Hmmm, I think that Christ and Ms. Nuwer may be right. What do you think?