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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...

Sunday, October 27, 2019

On Being First

My thanks to Gary Leonard over at Banned by HWA! for publishing my last post (That Great Day of the Feast). I am always surprised and grateful when he thinks that one of my pieces is worthy of sharing with his readers. For many years now, Gary has sought to challenge the followers of Herbert Armstrong's theology to reexamine their belief system and reclaim their ability to think for themselves.

Nevertheless, A few of the commentators on my post took exception to my remarks about their pride in being first - that my argument wasn't really with them but with God! One person even suggested that my own future in that regard may be uncertain because of those remarks.

This is a classic example of the kind of circular reasoning and mental straitjacket that has kept people in the clutches of Armstrong's theology for the last seventy years. They believe that God has revealed "His" TRUTH to them, and that if you don't see what they see you're WRONG. Worse yet, in their estimation, is anyone who has formerly accepted their position and now rejects it - that person is clearly not going to be first!

Nevertheless, in attacking me, these commentators failed to address the point that I was making in that post and my responses to them. Frankly, it DOESN'T matter what you or I think about what is going to happen to us when we die! It is what actually happens to us that matters. Likewise, our belief about the ordering of when we receive our invitation to accept Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins is a small matter when we compare it to the issue of whether or not we accept that invitation. The question is: Do we rejoice in the fact that ALL will/or have receive/d that invitation, or that we are the first to receive it?

Jesus Christ warned his disciples that "many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." (Matthew 19:30) He went on to say: "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." (Matthew 20:1-16)

I am thankful to have received an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and I hope and pray that I will be ready when the door to that celebration is opened! The order in which I received my invitation does not (and should not) matter to me. And, as long as I am there, I don't care if I'm the last person through that door! Does that make sense?

Monday, October 21, 2019

That Great Day of the Feast

In the seventh chapter of John, we read that "the Jew's feast of tabernacles was at hand." (John 7:2) In the verses that follow, we are told that Christ's family urged him to avail himself of this opportunity to reveal himself to the world. (3-4) Jesus, however, sent his family on to Jerusalem without him - planning to quietly attend after the festival had commenced. (8-10) In fact, according to John, he didn't begin making public declarations or teaching until about midway through the festival. (14) And, as he had anticipated, his comments engendered a great deal of controversy and resentment. (15-36)

Then, we read: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (John 7:37-39) How ironic is that? On this last day of the ACOG's attempt to celebrate the FOT, Jesus Christ invited ANYONE who wanted God's Holy Spirit to come to him!

The ACOG's love to quote John 6:44 "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." In the very next chapter, however, we have Christ issuing this invitation to everyone on the Last Great Day of the Feast! Did Christ really mean that salvation through him was open to everyone? What does that do to the exclusivity narrative promulgated by Herbert Armstrong and his successors? It appears that some folks are concerned with being first, and that Christ was thinking about salvation for EVERYONE! Hmmmmm, I seem to recall Christ having something to say about those who wanted to be first!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Beliefs and Opinions

I was recently thinking about some of the principles that I have learned about over the course of a lifetime relative to the formation of beliefs and opinions. As I try to apply these principles to myself, it occurred to me that others may find some (or all) of them useful in understanding their own beliefs/opinions. Anyway, here they are:

1 Your beliefs/opinions were shaped by your education, experiences, emotions, prejudices and perspective at the time you formed them
2 Everybody has beliefs/opinions
3 Those beliefs/opinions may or may not be true
4 It is not your responsibility to persuade, convert, condemn or punish people whose beliefs/opinions differ from your own
5 You have probably changed your mind about something in times past
6 There is nothing wrong with modifying/changing some belief/opinion based on new experiences or information received
7 It is OK to entertain the notion that you may be wrong about something – especially relative to the important stuff
8 If your belief/opinion appears to be very unique or in the minority, you owe it to yourself to take a second look at that opinion and/or take a closer look at the majority opinion

What do you think? Can you think of others that you have discovered that would be helpful to others?

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Real Reason Fundamentalists Believe God Is on Trump's Side

Folks on both the Right and Left have assumed that many Christians support Trump because of his stance against abortion and his appointment of people to the judiciary that support that position. However, the Pew Research Center's report on views among Evangelical Protestants regarding abortion suggests there may be something else behind it. According to the PRC, somewhere between 30-50% of the members within each organization actually support legalized abortion! https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/compare/views-about-abortion/by/religious-family/among/religious-tradition/evangelical-protestant/ So, if that's the case, what else might be motivating that support?

Think about it for just a moment - Fundamentalists believe that men should be in charge. It is an integral part of their theology! God put Adam in charge. Man was to rule over woman. The husband was to be the head of the wife. After all, God is a HE! God is a FATHER!

And, like most people of a paternalistic inclination, they view masculinity as being synonymous with control and power. Real men are expected to be decisive, aggressive, assertive and dominant. Likewise, women are often viewed as being the exact opposite of all of those things. In other words, women are supposed to be indecisive, submissive, deferential and subservient. In this view of the proper roles of men and women, men bully and women nurture. And, finally, they think that anyone who dares to step outside of these "norms" is acting in defiance of Almighty God.

Hence, it is no great wonder that Fundamentalists would flock to the banner of a powerful and successful entrepreneur and executive, who is acknowledged by almost everyone as a misogynist and bully. Trump isn't seen as weak and indecisive, and he never apologizes (even when he's obviously wrong). When Trump is attacked, he hits back and hard. In short, for many Fundamentalists, Trump is close to being the perfect specimen of the starring role in a paternalistic system. Who else would they support?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Is God/Nature the Greatest Abortionist?

Many of us think of Planned Parenthood or seedy clinics on the wrong side of town when we hear the term "abortion." Among medical professionals, however, an abortion is defined as "the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus. It is the loss of a pregnancy and does not refer to why that pregnancy was lost." https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2091 Hence, if a woman miscarries, a doctor or nurse might refer to the event as a spontaneous abortion.

According to American Family Physician, "Spontaneous abortion, which is the loss of a pregnancy without outside intervention before 20 weeks’ gestation, affects up to 20 percent of recognized pregnancies." https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/1001/p1243.html However, because most spontaneous abortions occur within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, many of them go unrecognized and unreported. In fact, many of the women who miscarry during this period don't even realize that they were ever pregnant! They chalk up their experience to a late or heavy flow period. As a consequence, some researchers have suggested that the real rate for spontaneous abortions is closer to fifty percent of all pregnancies! https://www.sciencealert.com/meta-analysis-finds-majority-of-human-pregnancies-end-in-miscarriage-biorxiv

Now, according to the CDC, the therapeutic abortion rate in the United States (pregnancies terminated by doctors and reported to them) was 188 abortions per 1000 live births in 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm I'll let my readers do the math, but it should be apparent to everyone that there are more spontaneous abortions in any given year than there are therapeutic abortions (even if we take the lowest possible percentage listed above)! Thus, whatever we might personally believe about the morality of therapeutic abortions, we must admit that pregnancies are terminated quite regularly by God or Nature (depending on whether you're a theist or an atheist).  

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Soothsayers and Prophets

How can one discern a false prophet from a real one? Folks have worried over the answer to that question for thousands of years. Why? Because the answer to that question is not a simple one! If it were, we wouldn't have such a hard time distinguishing between the two.

If we are going to address the issue in a serious and sincere fashion, it is imperative that we understand exactly what a prophet is and his/her function/purpose. I say this because I have observed that many folks have a tendency to confuse soothsayers and prophets (and I think that this applies to prophets of both a religious and a secular nature). If we Google the term "prophet," we read that this is " a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God." In other words, a prophet has a message (from God or some other source). Likewise, when we Google the term "soothsayer," we read that this is "a person supposed to be able to foresee the future." Unfortunately, the two are very often regarded by most folks as synonyms - They are NOT!

Now, while it is true that both prophets and soothsayers will have things to say about the future, the prophet's predictions are almost always contingent upon the behavior of the folks who are receiving his/her message. And that is why evaluating the legitimacy of a prophet is much more complex than determining whether or not what was predicted actually happened. If that were our sole standard, then Jonah (along with many other prophets) would have to be judged failures or false prophets (after all, the things which he predicted would happen to Nineveh did not come to pass because the people repented of their sins). Thus, when the prophet's message is heeded, and the behavior of the principals is changed/modified, the predicted outcome is frustrated or altered. In short, the message of the prophet is directed at altering the behavior of his/her audience.

There is also the issue of the motivation of the prophet to consider. In other words, what has inspired the prophet's message? If we are speaking of a religious prophet, it is essential that we ask ourselves whether or not the individual is representing God and "His" will and truth. I'm thinking about questions like: Does the person have God's Spirit? Does his/her life reflect the fruits of that Spirit? Does his/her message agree with what is revealed in Scripture? Likewise, if we are speaking of a secular prophet, it is essential that we ask ourselves whether or not the person is representing sound reasoning and the legitimate findings of scientific research. In this instance, we might ask ourselves: What are the person's qualifications and credentials for making his/her predictions? Does his/her life's work reflect a serious and objective search for truth?

In terms of prophesying, it is also interesting to note that we are almost always concerned with the naysayers and those who predict doom. We all tend to enjoy it immensely when a prediction that the world will end on such and such a date doesn't come to pass. Still, it is incumbent upon us to ask ourselves whether or not the prophet's message modified the predicted outcome. Did the people repent? Did people modify some environmentally harmful behavior which they had been engaging in prior to receiving the prophet's message? Did they stop using DDT? Did they stop/reduce their use of fluorocarbons? Did food production increase? Were new medicines/vaccines discovered in the interim? Were greater and more efficient means employed to control population growth? Did better farming practices lead to a reduction/elimination of soil erosion?

In short, a true prophet (religious or secular) is interested in changing the behavior of his/her audience and averting or ameliorating the predicted consequences of that behavior. A true prophet hopes that his/her message will avert catastrophe, not make it inevitable. And the question that we, the audience, need to be asking ourselves about these messages is: Is this a reasonable/probable outcome for us on our present course - given our present circumstances? If it is, it's probably worth paying attention to what the "prophet" has to say! What do you think? 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

All Along the Watchtower

"All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view,
While all the women came and went —
Barefoot servants too.
Outside in the cold distance,
A wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching, and
The wind began to howl." --Bob Dylan

There are a great many religious leaders who have/do fancied/fancy themselves to be watchmen for the world. They see their mission as one of protecting Christian values against the wiles of the devil and the society which "he" has inspired. They stand along the wall and sound the alarm when they see threats approaching the city of the saints.  Of course, they believe that they have been assigned this task by Almighty God. Moreover, most of these Divinely appointed sentinels believe that they will personally welcome the king back into the citadel when he returns.

Did they get all of this from a burning bush? Did God speak to them in a dream? Did a voice from heaven thunder these instructions? NO, they claim to get their commission from Scripture!

Chief among the passages which they love to quote are several from the thirty-third chapter of the book of Ezekiel. One of their favorites is "Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself." (Ezekiel 33:7-9) Of course, they often fail to mention that they are referencing a record of the story of a long dead prophet's message to the people of ancient Israel. Likewise, they often fail to account for why their message is needed when almost everyone in the world today has access to the exact same Scriptures that they do!

Continuing with Ezekiel, the message which the prophet was instructed to deliver was that "The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins." (verse 12) Now that does seem like a worthwhile message, and one that could fairly be said to apply to all times - including our present day. Even so, the message has been delivered! There it is in Scripture. We just read it together. You can go get your Bible and read it for yourself in one of several English translations of the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic (or in one of the hundreds of other languages into which those same Scriptures have been translated).

And many of these self-appointed watchmen ignore the principal focus of Ezekiel's commission which is recounted in the very next chapter of the book!  We read there: "Then this message came to me from the Lord: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey." (Ezekiel 34:1-10) Hmmm, that sure sounds like the political and religious leaders are a big part of the problem! In fact, it sounds like the people should have been watching them (we are told that God was watching them)!

 It might, therefore, behoove some of these shepherds/watchmen to reconsider their decision to apply Isaiah's commission to themselves: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." (Isaiah 58:1) Notice too, Isaiah's commission was specifically addressed to "my people" or  "the house of Jacob" - not to the world at large or society in general. Perhaps, these shepherds would be better served by taking a second look at the commission which Jesus Christ gave to his church?

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) Maybe I missed it, do you see in this commission anything about serving as a watchman?

To be sure, Jesus Christ did instruct ALL of his followers to "keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected." (Matthew 24:42-44) Why must we (Christians) ALL be watching world events? So that false preachers and prophets won't deceive us! (Read the entire chapter)

As for Christians pointing out other folks' sins, I seem to recall that Christ had something to say about that as well. In the seventh chapter of Matthew, we read that Christ instructed his followers: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you." (Matthew 7:1-6) Seems like pretty good advice to me, and consider the source!

Finally, just as Dylan implies in the song for which Jimi Hendrix is remembered, many of us (Christians) believe that someone is approaching the walls of the citadel and "the hour is getting late." Nevertheless, many of us believe that he's coming to overthrow what's behind those walls, not protect and perpetuate it! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Contribution to Modern Christian Theology

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have been highly critical of Herbert W Armstrong, his teachings and the organization which he founded. Many of my posts have underscored the things of his which I have rejected, and I have described in some detail the hurts and damage which I and others have endured as a consequence of our affiliation with the church that Armstrong founded. Even so, it may interest some of my readers to know that I believe HWA made at least one positive contribution of note to modern Christian theology.

It is the thesis of this post that Armstrong did contribute to the phenomenon of the modern Christian Church taking a fresh look at their Hebrew roots, though most of us would say that the role he played should be placed in the context of a larger trend and was very imperfect in its understanding of that heritage. Nevertheless, I believe an objective evaluation of the evidence forces us to conclude that HWA did contribute to the impulse to reexamine the Old Testament and its meaning for Christians. Moreover, I would argue that that impulse was a very positive development and has the potential to generate a greater appreciation for (and a deeper understanding of) the spiritual foundations of Christianity.

In particular, HWA's insistence that Christians were obligated to keep the Sabbath and observe the Hebrew festivals forced many within the Church to take a fresh look at these fixtures of the Old Covenant. After all, it was impossible to refute Armstrong's observation that Christ had kept the Sabbath and observed these days (this served to remind many folks that Jesus was a Jew). Likewise, Armstrong insisted that these observances still had symbolic meaning for Christians, and that all of them pointed to God's great plan for humanity. And, although mainstream Christianity largely rejected Armstrong's conclusions and regarded him as part of a cultic fringe, it did force Christian leaders to confront a part of their past that many of them had previously ignored and/or dismissed as unimportant/insignificant.

Like many others who have studied this topic before me, I came to the conclusion some years back that Christians are NOT obligated to keep these institutions of the Old Covenant. However, just as others who have examined these issues and celebrated these festivals, I came away from my experiences and studies with a profound sense of the symbolic spiritual meanings/implications of them. In short, it has led me to a greater appreciation of the fact that the only Scriptures that the early Christians had available to them was the Hebrew Old Testament. This knowledge has reinforced the conviction that Christ was and can be preached from the Old Testament. In short, studies of this nature serve to reinforce the Christian doctrines of salvation through Jesus Christ and underscore a theological consistency within Scripture that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Although I have personally pointed out many errors and inconsistencies within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, I have also noted on numerous occasions that there is a legitimate basis for the faith we profess encapsulated within them - that there is also a high degree of intellectual and spiritual harmony contained within those disparate writings. Fortunately, even some of our most vociferous Fundamentalist/Evangelical brethren have begun to discern the value of these writings and have slowly incorporated them into their messages. Indeed, some of them have even attempted to observe these fixtures of the Old Covenant in an effort to better understand/appreciate their significance to the Christian faith.

As I have posted about the continuing significance of the Sabbath for Christians in the not too distant past, I will not address that festival here. Nevertheless, as has already been suggested, the other festivals have tremendous significance for the Christian religion and can be employed in gaining a better understanding of Jesus Christ, his teachings and the work which he accomplished on our behalf.

Although the Hebrew perspective of the coming Messiah was focused on his role as the savior of the Hebrew NATION/People, the notion that the penalty for sin must be paid (if not by the blood of the guilty, then with the blood of the innocent) is also firmly rooted in the writings of the Old Testament.
Abraham told Isaac that God would provide himself with a lamb (Genesis 22:7-8). Moses instructed the Israelites to take for themselves a lamb (one for each household) without blemish and kill the Passover (Exodus 12). The Gospel of John refers to Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Peter called Jesus "a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:19).

Likewise, although Armstrong contradicted many scriptures in his attempt to interpret/explain the significance of these days, the Scriptures themselves make very plain that all of them pointed to Christ and his work. The connection to the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-8) were not only implicit in the events surrounding Christ's death - they were also elegantly attested to by the Apostle Paul in one of  his letters to the saints at Corinth (I Corinthians 5). Firstfruits and Pentecost (Leviticus 23:9-21) did not go unnoticed by Paul (I Corinthians 15:20, 23). The Feast of Trumpets is similarly tied to Christ through Paul's commentary on the events surrounding his return to earth (I Thessalonians 4:16). The Day of Atonement (HWA had virtually zero understanding of this one) outlined in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus is expounded upon in the ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews. And, finally, the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-43) takes on new meaning when we understand that John wrote that "the Word was made flesh and tabernacled (look at the original Greek) among us" (John 1:14). By the way, for those who are interested in exploring the symbolism of these days in more detail, Ron Dart's The Thread is an excellent treatise on this subject.

There is an old saying about giving the devil his due. I hope that I have done that with this post.