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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Your Group Isn't God's One and Only TRUE Church!

I was once a member of a group that claimed to be God's one TRUE church (Worldwide Church of God). The leader of the group (Herbert W Armstrong) claimed that certain understandings which the group possessed set it apart from all other groups and identified it as God's one TRUE church. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church (along with numerous other groups like the Church of Christ and Jehovah's Witnesses) makes the same claim. Are any of them correct? Do any of the numerous man-made organizations within Christianity deserve such a designation?

To answer those questions, I've identified ten understandings that one would expect God's one TRUE church to have. However, before I enumerate those understandings, it should be noted that individual Christians will exhibit a wide range of opinions and understandings. In other words, an individual human should not be expected to exhibit the same level of understanding as God's Church (as a spiritual entity supervised by Almighty God). I've said it before, we will not be judged by what we know - we will be judged by what we do with what we know.

That said, I am ready to enumerate those items of understanding that one would expect to find in God's TRUE church:

1. The nature of God - that God cannot be contained by our human notions or any statement(s) describing the Divine.
2. The nature of Christ - that Jesus was/is God's servant to bring salvation to us (humankind) - not whether Christ is God, a prophet or an archangel.
3. The nature of the Holy Spirit - that the Spirit does not control or dictate. It guides and prompts humans to follow God's precepts and will.
4.The nature of the Bible - that it is a book written by humans who were inspired by God - no more, no less. It is not the final authority (that would be God). It should not be regarded as infallible, inerrant or worthy of worship. It is useful in formulating beliefs, convicting us of sin, correcting us and instructing us in the ways of righteousness.
5. The nature of humankind - that we are not loathsome insects that God can't wait to punish or destroy. Human sexuality is a good thing, designed by God. Gender and race are not characteristics that God intended for us to use to exercise control or superiority over each other.
6. The nature of the church - that the TRUE church is a spiritual organism that belongs entirely to God. The Church is the assembly of called out ones - everyone that has God's Holy Spirit (nothing more).
7. The nature of the truth - that God and Jesus Christ define and personify truth - not some collection of doctrines that we hold dear. The truth is not a private possession of ours, or something that we will ever fully possess/comprehend in this lifetime.
8. The nature of the Law - that it was never intended to be a series of meaningless rituals or dos and don'ts. The ENTIRE purpose of the Law is to teach us how to LOVE - God and each other.
9. The nature of prophecy - that prophecy was intended to warn people away from bad/hurtful behaviors and
/or to give people hope for the future. It was never intended to be a commentary on current events, provide the means to identify modern nations with the ancient peoples of the Bible, or provide us with a chronology/timetable of world events.
10. The nature of worship - that God doesn't need our worship. Worship is something we need to do. It means fellowship with others, and TRUE worship involves helping those in need - that is what demonstrates our love for God and brings praise to the Divine.

Does your group understand these things? Or do they use God/religion to exercise control over each other and advance their own agenda?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If I was God, I'd set the record straight!

Speaking of creation, one atheist wrote: "...given that God is all powerful, he surely would not have left an obviously inaccurate account of his greatest work go to press, or was that just another sign of his fallibility?" --Logically Disproving the Christian God at www.the-atheist.com

Chet Prosser asked: "If God is real, wouldn't He want us to know it? Wouldn't He want us all to acknowledge His presence and worship Him?" --If God Exists, Why Doesn't He Throw Us, Like, A Really F-cking Sweet Party?" at www.the onion.com

Marshall Brain commented that "God has never spoken to modern man, for example by taking over all the television stations and broadcasting a rational message to everyone." --50 Simple Proofs That God Is Imaginary at godisimaginary.com

Adam Lee asked: "Why, if God exists, would he make it so difficult for people to find him by allowing so many false religions to come into being? Why would he cloak himself in such a surfeit of wildly disparate and hopelessly contradictory traditions?" --The Cosmic Shell Game posted on Daylight Atheism at www.patheos.com

These folks seem to be saying that a real God would do something (or provide us with some evidence) to demonstrate "He" is really there. I've written about this phenomenon before (Those who are interested may want to check out my post "Give us a sign!"), but I wanted to explore this topic from another angle.

Given the fact that my degree is in education, I thought it might be useful for me to draw upon that experience and ask a few questions about the nature of teaching people and how folks learn. In other words, here are a few questions to consider when we are evaluating God's performance in educating "His" people:

Does everyone learn in the same way? Are there different ways/methods of teaching something? Is lecturing the only way to teach something? What about reading? What about field trips? Is one of these methods always superior to the others?

Does each person receive a message in the exact same way? If you and I watch the same movie, will our experience of it be exactly the same? If we both listen to a sermon, will we hear the same message? If we read the same book, will my interpretation of the material match yours?

Is learning a process? If you were the Teacher, would you tell your students everything at once? Or, would you present a series of lessons that built on the foundation of previous understanding?

How do children react to their parents' instruction? Do they always understand it or follow it? Do they ever feel the need to try out something for themselves before they are willing to accept it?

Is there a window of opportunity for learning, or a time and setting that is more propitious for it than others? Is there a time during each person's life when they are more susceptible to learning?

Does each generation build on the learning/experiences/accomplishments/failures of its predecessors? In other words, is learning evolutionary in nature?

If you were given the task of educating a tribe of primitives that lived deep in the jungle and had never been exposed to the outside world, how would you do it? Do we have any examples of similar situations in human history? What if your audience was predisposed to magical thinking? Would you indulge them? Or would you immediately correct their folly?

Is everything that you have to teach your students superior to what they already know? Is it more effective to do everything yourself or to work through others? Why do most schools divide learning into different subjects/disciplines (e.g., history, math, science)? Is it helpful to specialize or give special attention to a specific subject matter?

Isn't it helpful to remember that the giving and receiving of information is a very complex process with many steps/layers? Does the diversity of opinion we see around us represent failure on God's part, or evidence that "He" doesn't exist? What do you think?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Evangelical Atheists

My most recent posts have hit Evangelical Christianity pretty hard. While I certainly believe that my observations were warranted by the facts (and my criticism was fair), I don't want to let their atheist counterparts off the hook!

First, I'd like to underscore the fact that many atheists (just like their Christian counterparts) are not evangelicals. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that there are a large number of atheists who could justly be characterized as evangelicals (e.g. John Loftus of "Debunking Christianity").

Of course, we're speaking of atheists who are "marked by militant or crusading zeal." (www.merriam-webster.com) Moreover, I'm not the first person to make this observation. The "Urban Dictionary" has an entry for "Evangelical Atheist." Under the entry, we read: "see asshole, An evangelical atheist is one who not only believes there is no god or other supreme being, but is obsessed with convincing everyone around them to become an atheist too, usually through hard line intolerance (the kind they accuse other religions of)." (www.urbandictionary.com)

Like their Christian counterparts, these folks can be very hateful and obnoxious (and do it with a smile). In fact, one notices several similarities between the two groups when we take a closer look.

The Evangelical Atheist seems to believe: 1. My way of interpreting the available evidence is the only legitimate way to do so. 2. I'm smarter, more rational and more logical than those theists. 3. I'm right, and they're wrong. 4. It's my duty to challenge and/or denigrate theists. 5. It's my mission to convert others to "The Truth."

I've noticed too that evangelical atheism has been particularly attractive to some of the former followers of Herbert Armstrong. I guess it's a way for some of them to maintain their unique status as one of the enlightened (one of those who is not deceived). In short, they get to maintain their superiority over the ignorant, unquestioning masses. After all, it feels good to believe that my understanding is superior to yours. Moreover, ridicule and scorn are considered appropriate because the other side is ignorant and wrong!

Hmmm, evangelicalism isn't any more attractive in atheists than it is in theists - is it?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hatefulness With Joy!

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." --Blaise Pascal (17th Century mathematician & philosopher)

A friend sent me this quote, and it inspired a great deal of thought about how religious conviction can give birth to extreme hatefulness and cruelty. Some of us are regularly surprised and astounded at the spectacle of just how vicious "God's servants" can be to those who don't agree with them or those whom they consider to be heathens. Even more unsettling, many of them are able to do it with a smile and a soft voice. We wonder: How can they justify this kind of speech and behavior?

In attempting to understand this phenomenon, I was able to draw upon my own experience as a Fundamentalist Christian (I'm no longer a Fundamentalist). This enabled me to identify several key components of the reasoning that allows some of us to be hateful and cruel with joy and gladness in our hearts.

First, it is essential that the person regard him/herself as God's servant. As God's devoted servant, one is expected to follow God's lead. If God hates something or someone, then I should too. If God regards something or someone as an abomination, then I should too. If God intends to destroy/damn something or someone, then I should too.

But how do you get around the fact that God is supposed to be the personification of love? By believing that God is entitled to love or hate whatever or whomever "He" pleases! And an essential corollary to that belief is that God never makes mistakes or errors. Hence, if something seems illogical, contradictory or inconsistent, it's because I (or you) don't understand it. That way you can avoid asking yourself questions like: Is it possible for love to hate? Isn't love the opposite of hate? Are things like mercy, compassion, kindness and gentleness compatible with condemnation, cruelty, meanness and harshness?

Next, as God's servant, I am "His " agent or representative. Hence, I am obligated to defend and enforce "His" position. I am obligated to see that "His" will is carried out. I am obligated to do "His" work. And one should always carry out God's work with happiness and joy! God is not mean-spirited or cruel. Therefore, I cannot be mean-spirited or cruel if I'm carrying out "His" will. This is starting to sound like circular reasoning isn't it?

Third, right is right, and wrong is wrong! And God has CLEARLY delineated which is which! There is no such thing as extenuating or mitigating circumstances.

Fourth, it is essential to denigrate and dehumanize the object of your scorn or persecution. I'm saved, you're damned. I'm one of God's elect, you're a heathen - a sinner. I'm one of God's children, you belong to Satan. I'm enlightened, you're deceived. God's ears are attentive to my prayers, but "He" doesn't hear theirs. God cares about what happens to me, but "He" is indifferent to the people of this world. In other words, an object of God's affection is confronting an object of wrath or indifference.

Fifth, if I fail to speak up, that is tantamount to denying God. Does that mean that Christ was guilty of denying God when he refused to speak during his trial? Does God need me to defend "Him" and "His" agenda?

Finally, what if a twinge of guilt manages to penetrate the defenses erected by all of these notions? If a voice inside my head is telling me that I'm being cruel and hateful, how can I squelch or suppress that? Remember, doubts and second thoughts are planted in our minds by Satan. Hence, what appears to be pity or compassion may be wickedness creeping into our minds! (What does it mean to sear one's conscience?) After all, I'm only quoting God's Word (Satan can quote Scripture too).

Several objections to these notions now come to mind: 1. Just because you claim to be doing God's work doesn't mean that you are. 2. You can still be wrong even when you're sure you're right. 3. If Satan really has deceived the whole world, that includes you. 4. Even if you have God's Holy Spirit, you can still make mistakes and sin. 5. Just because something is done in God's name that doesn't mean that "He" has approved or sanctioned it!

Still, I have to admit that it's not very likely that this little post will prick anyone's conscience. Acknowledging the points made here would mean that the individual engaging in such behavior is wrong. It would be an admission of guilt. It would make their speech/actions unchristian. It would mean that the person had been acting in the capacity of an Antichrist!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

God and Rest

The God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is very concerned with the subject of REST. In fact, the author of the book of Genesis tells us "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (Genesis 2:2-3, http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-2/, here and throughout this post) A little later, in the book of Exodus, God makes rest part of "His" great law - what we refer to as the Ten Commandments: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Exodus 20:8-11)

Interestingly, the Bible almost always associates Divinely sanctioned rests with an emotional or physical withdrawal from ones normal routine or place of habitation. The Hebrew patriarchs are often depicted as being in an isolated place or sleeping alone when they receive visions or otherwise communicate with their God. Moses faces God alone in the wilderness and is depicted as walking up into the mountain alone to receive God's laws and instructions. Likewise, the prophets are often depicted in similar circumstances when they are interacting with God or receiving "His" messages. Moreover, this phenomenon is not confined to the Old Testament.

The New Testament is also preoccupied with the subject. There are several references within the gospels to the fact that Jesus Christ was in the habit of observing the weekly Sabbath, and that he also often withdrew from the public to recharge his spiritual battery. In the Gospel of Mark, we read: "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he [Christ] went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." (Mark 1:35) We read in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus "withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed." (Luke 5:16) After his disciples returned from the preaching missions which he had assigned to them (Mark 6:7-12), we are told that Christ ordered them to withdraw from the hubbub and get some rest. We read: "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." (Mark 6:31)

Just before his arrest, trial and death, we are told that Christ withdrew with a few of his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to prepare for the ordeal ahead of him. (Matthew 26:36-46) In this account, Christ is pictured as going on ahead of his disciples to be alone, collect his thoughts and pray. In doing so, Christ reinforced the notion that Divine rest involved a withdrawal from the normal company, routine and place. He underscored the fact that man needs time apart - time to rest, recuperate and recharge his battery. Jesus even told the religious leaders of his day that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27) According to the Gospel of Matthew, Christ's offer to mankind was "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

In this connection, I think that it is very interesting that modern scientific research into human physiology and psychology has reinforced the fact that humans need periods of rest. In fact, this research has underscored just how essential rest is to normal functioning (physical work, bodily functions, thinking, emotional coping).

Finally, the author of the book of Hebrews has a great deal to say about the subject of rest and connects it to the original commandment to keep the Sabbath. In the third chapter of that book, God's rest is equated with the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land. In other words, the Promised Land was pictured as a type of Sabbath rest. Although history informs us that most Christians had ceased to observe the Sabbath day by the time the book of Hebrews was written, the author concludes his discussion of the subject with this interesting statement: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Hebrews 4:9-11) This seems to echo Christ's words to his own disciples and the principles laid down so long ago in the Old Testament: We must stop doing our own work and occasionally withdraw from this world (place, routine and people) and seek to focus our minds/energy on the things of God - to find our rest in God.