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Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Saturday, October 31, 2020

CGI IS COMPETING WITH RCG, PCG & CCG FOR MOST CRAZY!

The obsession of two of the leading pastors of the Church of God International with right-wing politics and conspiracy theories is clearly pushing that group into the “Bat Shit Crazy” category (Banned by HWA may soon be forced to add them to their poll). Recent sermons by Adrian Davis and Bill Watson have been literally chocked-full of warnings about folks on the left as socialists, communists, globalists, homosexuals, Jewish elites, Black Lives Matter supporters and pedophiles. In fact, listening to some of their most recent sermons one might conclude that the fall of the United States is imminent if Joe Biden and the Democrats are swept into power in the rapidly approaching U.S. election! Pack, Flurry and Thiel haven’t got anything on these guys!

In his most recent sermon, Pastor Davis declared that no matter who wins the election “America is gone…It’s just a matter of time – It’s just how quickly America will collapse.” He went on to say that America is already gone as an idea, and that the communist takeover is almost complete! He goes on to suggest that anyone who supports those wicked globalists and communists is in reality worshipping Satan! Pastor Davis proceeds to decry the “beautiful rhetoric” of the Left about coming together to solve problems and helping the disadvantaged. He then goes on to attack those who have advocated for a more serious and sober approach to handling the Covid19 pandemic. Pastor Davis believes that those who are advocating for global cooperation in instituting scientific health measures to protect folks are pushing fear. He says the coronavirus is contagious, but not very lethal. He points to Donald Trump’s quick recovery from the virus as proof of his point. Davis then proceeds to denigrate anyone who would deign to find fault with what happened to George Floyd. After that rant, the good pastor returns to his attack on those nasty advocates of social distancing and mask wearing – even injecting a right-wing video to buttress his attack! And, if you think I’m making up stuff about poor Pastor Davis, then just listen to the sermon for yourself (if you have the stomach) at https://www.cgi.org/weeklysermons?sapurl=LytxNWdtL2xiL21pLytoM210Mng4P2F1dG9wbGF5PXRydWUmZW1iZWQ9dHJ1ZQ==

In his most recent sermon, Pastor Watson calls out those “self-proclaimed” socialist Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Like his preferred president (Trump), the fact that none of these individuals is the current standard bearer of the Democratic Party makes no difference to him! He proceeds to decry just how much America has changed in his lifetime – things like two homosexuals being able to marry each other! Pastor Watson also spends a great deal of time defending his obsession with politics - often pointing to the moral implications of issues like abortion and transgender rights. He says that folks on the left want to replace the U.S. Constitution with a socialist platform. Watson proceeds to decry professional athletes taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem at sporting events. And, if that isn’t bad enough, Mr. Watson is outraged by the fact that Ohio has recently instituted a mask wearing mandate because of Covid19. The gall of these folks to interfere with his rights! For Pastor Watson, masks don’t make sense, and he glories in the fact that the mandate exempts him as a pastor. “America!” he declares, “Freedom to travel…freedom to breathe fresh air!” Mr. Watson is paranoid about the collection of data. He sees dark conspiracies at work everywhere. He decries the fact that we are “quarantining the healthy.” Watson says he has no problem with folks wearing masks, just don’t force him to wear one! Later, he launches into a diatribe about a socialist platform and suggests that these folks are coming for your guns and are going to take away your right to vote. Once again, you don’t have to take my word for it – If you can stomach the message, you can view it in its entirety here: https://www.cgi.org/weeklysermons?sapurl=LytxNWdtL2xiL21pLytydDg5M3lkP2F1dG9wbGF5PXRydWUmZW1iZWQ9dHJ1ZQ==

Now, while I’m confident that these rants will appeal to a great many of the supporters of Donald Trump, I do not think that they have much to do with proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, if one is truly trying to reach the broadest possible audience with that message, how do you think an extremely partisan message will accomplish that? I have no idea how much of the leadership and membership of the Church of God International actually subscribes to these extreme views – hopefully not many of them. However, by providing a platform for these views, we are forced to conclude that that organization has clearly gone off the rails!


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

WHO ARE THE TWO WITNESSES OF REVELATION?

"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.” These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish. When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified. And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them. But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. Then a loud voice from heaven called to the two prophets, “Come up here!” And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched." --Revelation 11:3-12, New Living Translation 

Folks in the now defunct Worldwide Church of God used to love to speculate about the identity of the two witnesses discussed in the eleventh chapter of the book of Revelation. Before their falling out, Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong were the most popular contenders for the "honor." Since their deaths, speculation has run amok among their successors and their followers.

Unfortunately, most of these folks are completely oblivious to the fact that not everyone believes these two witnesses are synonymous with two literal church leaders in the end time. In fact, there are a number of other notions extant about these two witnesses in the Christian world. Don't take my word for it, just Google "The Two Witnesses" and see for yourself just how many different interpretations pop up!

Herbert Armstrong's literalist perspective got him into trouble in many areas, but its inadequacies are probably no where more glaringly apparent than in the realm of prophecy (his numerous prophetic failures are well-documented on Banned by HWA and elsewhere). Think about it, the book of Revelation is wall to wall symbolism, and it is just plain common sense that this wouldn't mesh well with literalism!

Moses told the people of Israel that the Lord would some day "raise up for you a prophet like me." (Deuteronomy 18:15) What if the two witnesses referenced in the book of Revelation were Moses and Christ? What if their testimony constituted their messages recorded in the Old and New Testaments? Is it implausible to think of them as "two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth"? Is it hard to imagine them and their messages being figuratively killed by modern biblical critics and later reanimated by Divine intervention? Did the messages from their mouths have the power to slay their enemies? Did they have the power to manipulate weather, turn rivers into blood and strike the earth with plagues? Is it possible that this scripture is not referring to 1,260 literal 24 hour days? I'm not saying that I've figured this thing out, but isn't it at least possible that this message has absolutely NOTHING to do with Gerald Flurry, David Pack, Bob Thiel or ANY of their followers? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Supreme God

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have largely avoided discussions about Trinitarianism, Binitarianism or Unitarianism. And, although I am still uncomfortable with being labeled as an adherent of one of those perspectives, I have reached some personal conclusions about the Scriptural teachings on the subject. Moreover, as with most of the other aspects of Christian theology, I find some merit in all three perspectives on the nature of God. Now, I realize that this will seem like waffling to more dogmatically inclined Christians, but we would all do well to remember that all three perspectives claim the Bible as the source of their understanding. Hence, if Scripture was as clear on the subject as the adherents of each of these various beliefs claim, then there wouldn't be three different Christian perspectives on the nature of God!

Of course, it would also be disingenuous not to admit that the Trinitarian view is the most widely held perspective within traditional Christianity. And, even many of those who profess to follow the other two perspectives (Binitarianism and Unitarianism) will acknowledge that both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit proceed from God and reflect God's persona. Hence, the heart of the question is how all of these folks reconcile all of this with Hebrew notions of a monotheistic deity.

I would say that, whatever one believes about the nature of Christ or the nature of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament is quite clear that there is ONE SUPREME GOD. Hence, regardless of what one believes about whether there is one - two or three entities in the Godhead, the New Testament makes very plain that there is only ONE entity who is Supreme.

In all four of the gospel accounts, Jesus refers to this entity as his Father (see Matthew 7:21, 10:32, 33, 11:27, 12:50, 16:17, 18:10, 19, 20:23, 24:36, 25:34, 26:39, 42, 53, Mark 13:32, Luke 10:22, 22:29, 24:49, John 5:17, 6:32, 65, 8:19, 28, 38, 49, 54, 10:17, 18, 29, 30, 32, 37, 12:26, 14:7, 12, 20, 21, 23, 28, 15:1, 8, 15, 23, 24, 16:10, 18:11, 20:17 and 21). And, as any serious student of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures knows, a good son honors and obeys his father - is in subjection to his father.

This fact is further reinforced by Christ's own statements. We read in the Gospel According to John: "Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." -John 5:18-23 Christ clearly believed that he was doing what his Father wanted him to do. Was Christ really making himself equal with God as the Jews alleged?

A little later in this same account, we have Christ telling his disciples: "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I." -John 14:25-28 Notice that Christ believed that the Father had the authority to "send" the Holy Spirit, and that he acknowledged that his Father was greater than him!

That his Father was in a superior position is further underscored by what Christ revealed in his famous prophecy from the Mount of Olives which he gave to his disciples. Speaking about the timing of the fulfillment of his prophecies, he said, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." -Mark 13:32 In other words, the timing was in the hands of an entity who was superior to him and all others!

Finally, this concept is further reinforced by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the saints at Corinth. Paul wrote: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." -I Corinthians 15:20-28 Clearly, Paul believed that Christ regarded the Father as Supreme.

Hence, whatever one believes about the nature of Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit or about humans becoming part of God's family, it is clear that there has always been and always will be ONE SUPREME GOD. No other entity has ever or will ever usurp that position. That there is one Almighty God is the clear teaching of the New Testament, and any suggestion that any other entity is or ever will be on that level is just plain blasphemy! 

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Incredible Human Potential?

Once upon a time, Herbert W Armstrong declared that his book, The Incredible Human Potential, was “the most important book since the Bible!” In that book, Armstrong wrote that God had originally created the earth and the universe for angels to finish. He said that many of those angels had sinned and had consequently forfeited their right to that inheritance. According to Armstrong, this led God to decide to create humankind and give them the opportunity to inherit what the angels had lost in their rebellion. Moreover, Armstrong believed that God had created humans out of matter, so that they could be destroyed if they sinned and not have to suffer in eternal torment like the angels which He had created to be immortal.

And, just in case anyone would suggest that this brief summary is a mischaracterization of what Herbert Armstrong actually taught, I have included below a number of lengthy excerpts from his book: 

“Angels inhabited this earth before the creation of man. And the government of God was administered on earth until the rebellion of the sinning angels. How long these angels inhabited the earth before the creation of man is not revealed. It might have been millions - or even billions - of years. More on that later. But these angels sinned. Sin is the transgression of God's law (I John 3:4). And God's law is the basis of God's government. So we know these angels, apparently a third of all the angels (Rev. 12:4), sinned - rebelled against the government of God. And sin carries penalties. The penalty for the sin of the angels is not death, as it is for man. Angels are immortal Spirit beings and cannot die. These Spirit beings had been given dominion over the PHYSICAL EARTH as a possession and an abode. The universal, worldwide sin of the angels resulted in the physical destruction of the face of the earth.”

-Chapter 4, page 41, The Incredible Human Potential

“He had created a beautiful, perfect creation in the earth. He populated it with holy angels - probably millions of them. He put over them, as king, on an earthly throne, the archangel - the cherub Lucifer. Lucifer was the supreme masterpiece of God's creative power as a single separately created Spirit being. He was the most perfect in beauty, power, mind, knowledge, intellect, wisdom, within the almighty power of God to create. God can create nothing higher or more perfect, by instantaneous fiat. Yet this great being, knowledgeable, trained and experienced at God's own throne in heaven over the universe and the administration of the government of God, had rejected that government, corrupted his way, rebelled against administering or even obeying it. He had led all his angels astray and into the sin of rebellion and disloyalty.”

-Chapter 4, pages 50-51, The Incredible Human Potential

“God saw that no being less than God, in the God Family, could be certainly relied on never to sin - to be like God - who cannot sin. To fulfill His purpose for the entire vast universe, God saw that nothing less than Himself (as the God Family) could be absolutely relied upon to carry out that supreme purpose in the entire universe. God then purposed to reproduce Himself, through humans, made in His image and likeness, but made first from material flesh and blood, subject to death if there is sin unrepented of - yet with the possibility of being born into the Divine Family begotten by God the Father.”

-Chapter 4, page 52, The Incredible Human Potential

“This earth, originally, was intended to be the abode of a third of all the angels. The angels, beholding the earth at its creation, found it so beautiful and perfect they shouted spontaneously for JOY! (Job 38:4-7). It was to provide a glorious opportunity for them. They were to work it, produce from it, and preserve and increase its beauty. And at this point, it is well to understand the nature of God's original creation: It is like the unfinished furniture available in some stores. This furniture is "in the raw" - it is finished all but for the final varnish, polish, or paint. Some can save money by doing this finishing themselves - provided they have the skill to do so. This furniture may be of fine and superb quality - yet lacking the final beautifying completion. So it is with God's creation. It is perfect, but subject to a beautifying finish which God intended angels to accomplish. The original "unfinished" creation was produced by God alone. But He intended angels, prehistorically, and MAN, now, to utilize creative power - to finish this part in God's creation - of adding the final beautifying and utilitarian phases of what shall be the FINAL COMPLETED CREATION! And whether or not it had been revealed to the angels, it was a supreme TRIAL AND TEST. It was to be the PROVING GROUND of obedience to GOD'S GOVERNMENT and their fitness to develop into final finished creation the millions of other planets in the vast universe.”

-Chapter 5, pages 54-55, The Incredible Human Potential

“So the angel potential was to take over the entire universe - to improve and finish the billions of physical planets surrounding the uncountable stars, many of which are SUNS. The sun in our solar system is merely an average-size sun. Some which we see as stars are actually many, many times larger than our sun. Our solar system, vast beyond the imagination of most minds, is only a part of our galaxy, and there are many galaxies! In other words, the physical UNIVERSE which the mighty God created is vast beyond imagination! How GREAT is the GREAT GOD! He intended angels, and now MAN, to have a vital part in the final creation of the endless universe!”

-Chapter 5, page 55, The Incredible Human Potential

“The penalty of sin by the angels was not death - for God had made them immortal spirit beings who cannot die. What God gave them was THIS EARTH as their abode and opportunity to qualify to possess and beautify the entire UNIVERSE. Their penalty (they are still awaiting final judgment up to now) was disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity, perversion of mind, and a colossal earth-wide CATACLYSM of destruction wreaked upon this earth.”

-Chapter 5, pages 56-57, The Incredible Human Potential

“Look, now again at God's overall supreme PURPOSE. It is to develop GODLY, PERFECT CHARACTER IN THE MILLIONS OF MANKIND WHO SHALL DO THIS CREATIVE COMPLETION THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE LIMITLESS PHYSICAL UNIVERSE! That is THE AWESOME PURPOSE! For this PURPOSE, God started by creating millions of angels - Spirit beings. Then He created the PHYSICAL UNIVERSE and this earth, and He put angels here to develop this earth, ruled by THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. But the king He set as ruler - LUCIFER - rebelled, revolted, misled a third of all the angels, and THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD no longer governed the earth. Lucifer was the supreme masterpiece. If Lucifer and his angels went wrong, there was no assurance the other two thirds would not. As God surveyed this tragic cataclysm, He must have realized it left HIMSELF as the ONLY BEING who will not and CANNOT SIN! The only possible ASSURANCE of accomplishing His great PURPOSE was for Him now to reproduce Himself!”

-Chapter 5, page 59, The Incredible Human Potential

Having established what Herbert Armstrong taught in this book that has been considered by many within the Armstrong Churches of God to be essential theology, the question comes to mind: Is the teaching correct? Do Armstrong’s conclusions comport with what is revealed in Scripture?

As Herbert and his followers was/are fond of employing “prooftexts” to establish the legitimacy of their teachings, that technique will also be employed in this post to answer the questions posed. However, it should be noted that my use of the technique does not constitute an endorsement of it is an entirely reliable technique for establishing or defending doctrine. Nevertheless, in this instance, I believe that Scripture is clear enough to refute the above referenced teachings of Armstrong.

First, Scripture clearly refutes the notion that this earth was ever intended to be the possession or abode of angels. We read in Jude 6 about “the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode…” Jesus Christ told his disciple that he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Luke 10:18 Likewise, in the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation we read: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:7-9

Second, and closely related to the first point, Scripture refutes the notion that the angels ever had any part of man’s potential. In the book of Hebrews, we read that Christ inherited a more excellent name than any angel. Hebrews 1:1-4 The text continues: “For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” Hebrews 1:5 In other words, God NEVER said this to any angel! Continuing the thought, we read: “But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire.’” Hebrews 1:6-7 And, just so that there wouldn’t be any room for misunderstanding, the thought is restated more emphatically toward the end of the chapter: “But to which of the angels has He ever said: “‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:13-14 Clearly, angels were created to serve those who will be saved!

Moreover, the thought reaches its logical consummation in the following chapter. In the second chapter of Hebrews, we read: “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: ‘What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:5-9 Did you catch that? God has NOT put the world to come in subjection to angels – THAT WAS/IS NOT THEIR POTENTIAL. Indeed, we are informed that Christ took on the nature of humans so “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14 Which brings us to Herbert’s assertion that angels are immortal.

Paul wrote to Timothy that immortality is a God quality. I Timothy 6:16 Moreover, there are several passages of Scripture which indicate that Satan and his minions will be destroyed. We read in the book of Isaiah: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit.” Isaiah 14:12-25 And, after making clear that Satan is the subject of the text (see Ezekiel 28:12-15), we read ““By the abundance of your trading

You became filled with violence within, And you sinned; Therefore I cast you as a profane thing Out of the mountain of God; And I destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the fiery stones. ‘Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, That they might gaze at you. ‘You defiled your sanctuaries By the multitude of your iniquities, By the iniquity of your trading; Therefore I brought fire from your midst; It devoured you, And I turned you to ashes upon the earth In the sight of all who saw you.  All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; You have become a horror, And shall be no more forever.’” Ezekiel 28:16-19 And, finally, in the book of Revelation we are informed that Satan and his minions will be cast into the Lake of Fire (see Revelation 20:10), which is the second death.

Moreover, even if Scripture wasn’t so clear on this point, it does not make sense that God wouldn’t have the ability to destroy anything which “He” has created. While angels apparently have the ability to exist indefinitely at God’s pleasure, it does not follow that they are immortal. And, since we are told that there will not be anymore sorrow, crying or pain in the new universe, the continued existence of Satan and his minions anywhere would make that statement a lie (see Revelation 21:1-4).

Third, as I have written in numerous other posts over the years, the notion that God is working on “Plan B” is absurd! As has already been pointed out, the book of Hebrews utterly refutes the notion that angels ever had ANY part of man’s potential. Moreover, the notion that all of the angelic host would lose out on their inheritance because one third of them sinned is contrary to any notion or sense of Divine justice. And, finally, Scripture makes plain that God planned for mankind’s salvation and inheritance before the “foundation of the world” (see Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, I Peter 1:20 and Revelation 13:8). In short, whatever God intended for humankind was intended from the outset. There has never been any failure of that plan, or any modification of that plan because of some failure on the part of those who were created!

Thus, Herbert Armstrong’s The Incredible Human Potential should NOT be regarded by anyone as a source of sound biblically based theology. By his own standard of scriptural prooftexts, his teachings are shown to contradict the Bible and cannot be reconciled with what is revealed there.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Does Nehemiah's FOT Validate Armstrong's Observance?

Since leaving the Worldwide Church of God, I have attempted to follow Paul's advice to the saints at Colosse about not judging another's beliefs and observances (Colossians 2:16-17). Nevertheless, I also believe that it is the duty of all of us who have escaped Armstrongism to push back against their self-righteous and dogmatic approach to their beliefs, traditions and observances and absolute disdain for those of others.

Chief among these are the practices which Herbert Armstrong instituted regarding the festivals outlined in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, and more precisely the Feast of Tabernacles. I have pointed out in numerous posts and articles over the years that Herbie's observance of this festival did not conform to the scriptural instructions provided for its observance. In summary, designating certain cities as festival sites and providing for meeting halls and hotel reservations are Herbie creations.

In this connection, some folks have pointed to the eighth chapter of Nehemiah to justify Herbie's practices. What about that? Does this passage justify Armstrong's modifications of the scriptural instructions regarding this festival?

First, we must remember that the book of Nehemiah is dealing with a group of Jewish exiles who had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and God's temple. Hence, anything that we read there does not contradict the law of the central sanctuary which designated Jerusalem as the ONLY legitimate feast site!

We read there: "Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, 'Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.' Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner. - Nehemiah 8:13-18, NKJV (emphasis mine)

Notice that there is NO indication in this scripture that these exiles stayed in any of the buildings then extant in Jerusalem (or that they erected tents for that purpose). Indeed, the context makes it very plain that these folks felt that the actual construction of these arbors or temporary shelters was necessary to properly observe the festival. Moreover, although specific species of trees are listed in the account, we also see that the branches of other "leafy trees" were used in the construction. Hence, the claim that one must use only the particular species of trees listed to be consistent with the observance recorded here is obviously specious. To say that a temporary stay in a permanent building constructed by others is the equivalent of staying in an arbor or shelter which you have personally constructed for that purpose seems to me to stretch credibility.

Once again, I'm not going to condemn anyone for attempting to observe God's commands and worship "Him" in the manner they think best. BUT I also don't want to hear from those folks that they have lifted their practices and traditions directly from Scripture. Don't accuse others of adding and subtracting when you are doing that very thing! My grandmother used to say "What's good for the goose is good for the gander!"

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Some Conclusions Based on the Available Evidence?

 On this blog, we have explored the evidence provided by science (evolutionary, biological, genetic, geological, paleontological, cosmological, and many other areas of both classical and modern physics), scriptural (and other religious traditions), history and personal experience. Taking all of the available evidence together (see previous posts on this blog), a clearer picture begins to emerge about both the nature of God, and what that entity appears to intend for us.

First, the evidence suggests to us that God has constructed a reality which tends to hide and obscure the true nature of things and has initiated complex, repetitive and long lasting processes that govern the day to day operation of the universe which we inhabit. Hence, we are left with the distinct impression that God is NOT actively/intimately/regularly involved in creation. However, I believe that the available evidence suggests that God is actively monitoring the operation of these processes and can (and does) occasionally intervene to produce a particular outcome. In short, the evidence suggests that (in the words of a popular song) God is watching us from a distance. And, finally, it also appears that God has designed these processes to be progressive in nature; OR, at the very least, building toward some desired outcome.

Second, as relates to humankind as self-aware creatures, it appears that God/Nature has designed us to be very conscious of our vulnerability and lack of control over our surroundings. The obvious corollary to this conclusion is that humans seem to have an innate need/desire to believe in (and appeal to) the supernatural. Moreover, as relates to God and the universe around us, it appears that God/Nature has designed us to be explorers and seekers of truth and understanding. Likewise, as with all other living things, the evidence suggests that humankind is preoccupied with the perpetuation of itself – Stated another way, it appears that the pursuit of immortality is an inherent part of being human. And, finally, the evidence suggests that humanity is very often preoccupied with the tension between love and hate, good and evil; and the choices which this tension engenders.

Now, I realize that these conclusions at first blush appear to be very general and anticlimactic. However, if we look at these conclusions as pieces of a whole, I believe the outlines emerge of a God and a design that provide a firm foundation and substantive framework for further exploration and other more precise conclusions which we might reach as a consequence of that pursuit. Moreover, the weight of the evidence which is available to us suggests that the Fundamentalist/Literalist dogmatic perspective on God, Scripture and religion is contradictory, incoherent and does not offer a sustainable approach to further spiritual growth and enlightenment. What do you think?


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

My Prayer for Our Nation

 Almighty God,

Have mercy on us! We appeal to your unfailing love and your boundless compassion.

Please remove the stain of our national sins and cleanse us from our guilt.

Please forgive us for blaming our neighbors and brothers for our own failures.

Please forgive us for putting our own interests above those of our neighbors.

Forgive us, O God, for polluting and destroying your good earth and the waters that cover it.

Forgive us, O God, for allowing our faith and trust to be placed in the hands of an evil man.

Please forget our arrogance and willfulness in the face of the plague which has afflicted us.

Please forget that we have continuously excused ourselves for our behavior and rejoiced in our wickedness.

Help us to see that our rebellion and sin has been against you.

Remove this great wickedness and sin from our midst and wash away our sins.

Restore to us a clean conscience and a proper appreciation of your many blessings.

Help us to have the courage and humility to admit our sins and return to you.

Please don't cast us out of your presence!

Please don't remove your blessings from this land!

Help us to realize that a sacrifice on our behalf has already been made, and that we have only to accept it.

Look to the United States of America with favor again and help us to rebuild the institutions which you inspired.

Lead us out of the chaos and meanness that has enveloped us.

Save us from ourselves and restore sanity and goodness to our nation!

In Jesus name, I pray.

Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

THE PLAIN TRUTH

In times past, I associated myself with a "church" that proudly proclaimed THE PLAIN TRUTH (the name which that church's founder chose for their magazine). And, although that "church" no longer exists, many of the folks who continue to adhere to its tenets believe that they are carrying on "the work" of that body. In short, the old Worldwide Church of God believed that the English speaking peoples of the world were "God's people," and that they were specially commissioned to "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) Moreover, they believed that this commission to call out individual and national sins exempted them from acquiescing to "political correctness" or being careful not to offend other folks. And, although members were not supposed to vote, that did not prevent "church" leadership from fully endorsing capitalism, criticizing socialism and expressing a conservative political ideology from the pulpit and in their publications.

Leaving aside the argument that the English speaking folks of the world are "God's people" (I, along with many others, have addressed this topic in numerous other posts and comments), is their understanding of God's message to the prophet Isaiah consistent with the "Great Commission" which Jesus Christ gave to his followers at the end of his earthly ministry? In the gospel of Matthew, we read that Christ told them: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20) Now the Worldwide Church of God understood this to mean that they should preach the "gospel of the Kingdom of God," and that an integral part of this message involved warning "God's people" about the consequences of their sins. Was that correct? Do Christ's instructions to his disciples before ascending into heaven either explicitly or implicitly include God's instructions to Isaiah?

Unfortunately, I continue to hear sermons from preachers who have emerged from the ashes of the old Worldwide Church that are focused on personal and national sins and are encouraging folks to support conservative causes and candidates. Some of them will even acknowledge that the Republican Party is not God's party, but then they will quickly go on to tell their listeners that anyone who supports a Democrat for office is also endorsing abortion, gay rights and socialism! Does that mean that anyone who supports a Republican for office is also endorsing anti-environmental policies, capital punishment, capitalism and anti-labor policies? Maybe it's time to take a closer look at exactly what God had to say to Isaiah?

We read there: "“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help." (Isaiah 58:1-7, NLT)

Once again, for the sake of argument, let's assume that this message to Isaiah and the people of Israel applies to modern Christian ministers and the English speaking peoples of the world. We are informed that these folks act pious - they act like they are following God's laws. They brag about their humility and fasting and are perplexed by the fact that God has seemingly abandoned them. God, however, responds that they are just going through the motions - that their pious acts are self-serving and insincere. Instead, God insists that they should be working to free those who have been wrongly imprisoned, making things easier for their employees, removing the things that oppress people, sharing their food with the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless and taking care of their families. My goodness! That sounds an awful lot like the whining of one of those liberal Democrats! Is it possible that Republicans advocate some things that are contrary to Christ's teachings? Is it possible that Democrats might advocate for a few things that are consistent with them?

How did Jesus Christ handle the issue of sins? The Gospel according to John informs us that Jesus didn't shout "Whore!" when an adulteress woman was presented to him. Instead, we are told that he silently bent down and wrote something in the dust with his finger. (see John 8:1-11) Was he listing all of the sins of the people surrounding him and the woman? We don't know, but he did stand up and say "let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Likewise, we know that Christ asked his followers "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." (Matthew 7:3-5) In fact, I can only remember one instance of a story where Christ expressed overt anger and indignation, and I believe that was with some capitalists in the temple! (see Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46; and John 2:13-17) Sure, Christ was constantly pointing out the hypocrisy and sins of the preachers of his day, but I can't find many instances of where he did that to the crowds who followed him.

It seems to me that: if we are going to "tell it like it is," we best be careful to TELL IT LIKE IT IS! Christ's message was about salvation through him and sharing eternal life with him and his Father. Yes, repentance from our sins is an integral part of that message, but the emphasis was ALWAYS on putting those things in the rearview mirror! Christ's message was about love, hope and a bright future. Can I get a big AMEN?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Jesus would wear a mask!

With the world in the grips of a pandemic, and many folks refusing to take the coronavirus seriously, those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ would do well to ask themselves: What would he do in this circumstance? Would Christ ignore the civil authorities? Would Christ tempt fate and insist that God would protect him from the plague?

No doubt, Jesus Christ was a healthy young man who took care of his temple and followed the dietary laws of the Pentateuch. Hence, both God's favor and his own constitution would have made it extremely unlikely that he would have ever succumbed to the virus or even experienced any symptoms. But would Christ have been concerned about the people around him? Would he have worn a mask to protect other folks from being exposed to the virus - even if only to serve as an example to others? I think that Jesus Christ would wear a mask - What do you think?

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles

Are Christians obligated to keep/celebrate/observe the festivals outlined in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus? And, if we determine that they are obligated to keep them, should they follow the instructions for their observance outlined there? Do changed circumstances justify our modifications of those instructions?

As Jews, it is clear that Christ and his apostles observed the festivals. In addition to this fact being a logical conclusion based on the historical evidence, there are a number of references to their observance in the writings known as the New Testament. However, when the Church finally expanded into non-Jewish regions of the Roman Empire, we know that those Gentile Christians had no traditions regarding festival observance and were specifically exempted from having to observe the tenets of God's covenant with Israel by the Jerusalem Council. Moreover, after the Romans destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in the Seventieth year of the Common Era, it was thereafter impossible for even Jewish Christians to observe these festivals in the manner prescribed in the Pentateuch.

Biblical students who are familiar with the Pentateuch know that two provisions of the Law were responsible for this circumstance: The law of the central sanctuary which designated Jerusalem and the temple as the only legitimate place for the observance of commanded assemblies, and the fact that three of these festivals were specifically designated as what we now refer to as pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles). Moreover, Scripture informs us that not only was attendance at Jerusalem expected in times past, but that God would again demand attendance at Jerusalem in the future - after the Messianic Kingdom had been established on this earth.

Scripture also informs us that festival observance was often neglected during the period of the kingdoms (Israel and Judah) and, for a time, ceased altogether after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Now, it is also true that the Jews eventually developed different customs and traditions which allowed them to continue to observe these festivals after those cataclysmic events. Indeed, in terms of the Feast of Tabernacles, we know that many modern Jews continue to construct temporary shelters in their yards or homes and cook special meals for the observance of this festival.

Likewise, a small number of Christians continue to designate certain cities around the world as "feast sites" and flock to them to observe this festival (although they often ignore the other two pilgrimage festivals in this connection, observing them in their local congregations). And, instead of building or erecting a temporary shelter, they check-in to hotels and campgrounds for the eight days of the festival. Is a temporary stay in a permanent structure the equivalent of temporarily residing in a temporary structure? Is attending the festival at Pensacola or Jekyll Island the equivalent of attending the festival at Jerusalem?

Personally, I am inclined to agree with the Apostle Paul's views on festival observance. He wrote to the saints at Colosse: "Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality." -- Colossians 2:8-17, NLT

I find much value and much to admire in the observance and understanding of these festivals, but we must also admit that the current traditions and services associated with those observances are not entirely consistent with what is recorded in the Pentateuch. Moreover, the New Testament makes plain that Gentiles are not obligated to observe these days. Hence, all observances that exalt those who attempt to keep these days over those who choose not to keep them is more than a little disingenuous and/or specious!


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Feast of Tabernacles Does NOT Picture the Millennium!

In Pagan Holidays – or God’s Holy Days – Which? Herbert Armstrong wrote about the symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles: “This festival is the picture of the Millennium!” Unfortunately, when Armstrong decided that Christians were obligated to observe the festivals outlined in the Pentateuch for the Israelites, he was not careful to follow scriptural hints regarding the deeper spiritual implications/meanings of the days. Since his death, a great many folks have challenged his understandings about the symbolism involved in some of the other holy days. Even so, Armstrong’s teachings about the meaning of the FOT still enjoy widespread acceptance within the Armstrong Churches of God culture. 

The problem with Mr. Armstrong’s understanding of this feast was his slavish devotion to the notion that they pictured a progression of events within God’s plans for humankind. Hence, although he recognized the significance of the spring and fall harvests relative to these festivals, he failed to integrate that understanding with other scriptures related to both the symbolic meanings of certain rituals and the events themselves. “How can that be?” his devoted followers will demand.

In the booklet referenced at the beginning of this post, Armstrong wrote: “To portray His plan, God took the yearly material harvest seasons in ancient Israel as the picture of the spiritual harvest of souls. In the Holy Land there are two annual harvests. The first is the spring grain harvest. Second comes the main harvest. Notice that the Festival of Tabernacles is to be held ‘at the year's end’ (Ex. 34:22). In this verse the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths is specifically called the ‘feast of ingathering.’ The harvest year ended at the beginning of autumn. Just as Pentecost pictures the early harvest — this church age, so the Festival of Ingatherings or Tabernacles pictures the fall harvest — the great harvest of souls in the Millennium!”

The problem with this teaching is that it doesn’t agree with what is revealed about the timing of this great harvest of souls which is elaborated on in the book of Revelation! In the twentieth chapter of that book, we read: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” – Revelation 20:4-5 Notice here that the first resurrection is clearly associated with the millennium. Continuing, we read: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison…And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” – Revelation 20:7-13 Hence, we can clearly see that this great harvest of souls takes place AFTER the millennium, and AFTER Satan and his minions have been dealt with once and for all!

Moreover, Herbert Armstrong completely ignored the profound symbolism surrounding this festival which is recorded in the oft quoted twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, and which is further elaborated on quite extensively in the New Testament! I know that these arguments will have zero impact on the folks who have willingly swallowed the Armstrong Kool-Aid, but it is my hope that serious students of the Bible who are willing to take a second look might be persuaded by what is clearly revealed in Scripture regarding the symbolism of this festival.

In the book of Leviticus, we read: “Remember that this seven-day festival to the Lord – the Festival of Shelters – begins on the fifteenth day of the month, after you have harvested all the produce of the land…On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees – palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams…For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native-born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:39-43, New Living Translation –here and throughout the rest of this article, unless otherwise noted)

Scripture indicates that the Israelites were told to live in temporary shelters each year for eight days so that they would not forget that they had lived in tents after leaving Egypt and before reaching the Promised Land. In the book of Hebrews, we read: “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to LEAVE HOME (emphasis mine here and throughout) and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, HE LIVED THERE BY FAITH – for he was like a foreigner living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10) In short, Abraham and his descendants were looking forward to a better and more permanent home.

A little further, we read: “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. THEY AGREED THAT THEY WERE FOREIGNERS AND NOMADS HERE ON EARTH. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) Do we begin to see the connection to our own circumstances as Christians?

Like the Israelites of old, God has called us out of Egypt (this sinful society) and has led us out into the wilderness. (John 6:44) We are different and peculiar compared to the people around us. (I Peter 2:9) Like the Israelites, we are heirs of the promises made to Abraham. (Galatians 3:29) Finally, we are also like the Israelites in the sense that we too are looking for a Promised Land (the Kingdom of God). Like the patriarchs of old, we are truly strangers and pilgrims on the earth as it now exists – the one deceived and influenced by Satan the devil.

There is, however, another meaning to this symbolism that is less general and more personal. Although it is unpleasant to contemplate, each one of us has an appointment with death. (Hebrews 9:27) Somewhere in the back of our minds, all of us understand that this life that we are currently enjoying is temporary – it will not last forever (we are subject to time and chance). Paul once told the saints at Corinth, “that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” (I Corinthians 15:50) He went on to tell them that “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (I Corinthians 15:53)

Sometime later, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians. He told them that the light of Christ was shining in their hearts, but he described that treasure as residing in fragile clay jars. (II Corinthians 4:7) He talked about how Christians must face many trials and perils because of their association with Jesus Christ, but that this had resulted in them having the hope of eternal life. (II Corinthians 4:8-15) He continued: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small AND WON’T LAST VERY LONG. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

In other words, Paul understood that Christians are currently living in temporary shelters (human bodies), and that they are looking forward to the time when they will be living in a permanent home (spiritual bodies). In his second letter to the saints at Corinth, we read: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (II Corinthians 5:1-4, KJV)

Peter also understood this concept. In addressing the saints toward the close of his ministry, he wanted to remind them about the truths which he had previously conveyed to them. He wrote: “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.” (II Peter 1:13-14, KJV) Peter understood that this life is not permanent, and that he was going to die. He also knew that his present body could not inherit the Kingdom of God, and that he would have to shed that body and receive a new one in the resurrection.

As strangers and pilgrims in this world, Christians are looking to exchange a temporary home for a more permanent one (one that God has provided for us). Hence, for us, this is an important component of the symbolism of this Old Testament Festival.

And, finally, perhaps the most important component of this symbolism has to do with our relationship with Christ and Almighty God – the fact that Christ tabernacled with us in the past and will do so again someday with the Father! We read in the Gospel According to John that the “Word was made flesh and dwelt <tabernacled> among us.” – John 1:14, KJV Then, at the conclusion of all things, we are told in the book of Revelation: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” - Revelation 21:1-3 I don’t know about you, but I think that this symbolism beats Armstrong’s teachings on the subject by a mile!


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Our Impact on God's Creation

In the first chapter of the Judeo-Christian Bible, we have a beautifully worded account of an ancient Hebrew perspective on God's creation of life on this planet. For me, it is a great tragedy that Fundamentalists, Literalists and Atheists have striven to pit this poetry against science. Rather than seeing the account as a declaration of God's role as source/cause/beginning, many of these folks insist that the account is completely incompatible with the observations and discoveries of science. Again, for me, it makes no difference that one side embraces the biblical account and the other embraces the findings of science - both perspectives seem flawed/misguided/incomplete.

I also find it extremely unfortunate that Evangelical Christians are frequently among the most vocal opponents of the notion that humankind has had a significant impact on the climate and overall environment of this planet. For many of us, it seems counterintuitive that people who profess to appreciate God's role as Creator would have such a blatant disregard for creation! "What do you mean?" they will indignantly demand. "We LOVE God's creation!" they insist. If that's really true, then why are we destroying so much of what God has created? "What have we destroyed?" they will demand.

Before we answer that question, I think that it would be instructive to go back to the first chapter of Genesis and remind ourselves about some of the particulars of that account of God's creative acts. In particular, I want to focus on the part of that story that deals with the creation of life on the surface of the earth (prior to the creation of man).

The account begins with the creation of plant life in verse eleven. We read: "Then God said, 'Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.' And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." - Genesis 1:11-12

The account continues down in verse twenty. We read: "Then God said, 'Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.' So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." - Genesis 1:20-21 Then, just before the creation of the first man and woman, we read: "Then God said, 'Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.' And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." - Genesis 1:24-25

After rereading those passages, it is hard to see how anyone could characterize ANY of the other life that shares this planet with us as not being necessary, useful and GOOD. In addition to the obvious fact that God saw fit to create all of this life, we have the additional statement that God observed that everything which "He" had created was GOOD. And, that being the case, how are we to explain the fact that we have eliminated so many of those other life forms?

We could speak of the Passenger Pigeon or the Thylacine, but I'm personally a tree hugger! Notice that plant life is created first in the Genesis account. Scientists tell us that the long extinct Archaeopteris was probably the first species of tree to appear on the earth's surface. They tell us that trees became a major component of the plant kingdom about 360 million years ago. In terms of the Coniferous trees that are more familiar to us than their more ancient ancestors, the evidence suggest that they arose about 250 million years ago. Finally, approximately 100 million years later, the angiosperms appeared and eventually gave rise to the hardwoods that many North Americans are now familiar with (like chestnuts, elms and ash). see Evolution of Forests and Trees

Unfortunately, in the first few years of the 20th Century, Americans imported Asian chestnut trees into this country and introduced a blight that has almost completely wiped out what was once the dominant tree species in America's eastern forests (Castanea dentata or American Chestnut). In more recent times, our trading practices have introduced the Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, which have decimated our stands of Ulmus americana/American Elm and Fraxinus americana/White Ash. Can anyone deny that humankind has destroyed these beautiful and majestic creations of God? Oh sure, we can soothe our consciences by insisting that these trees succumbed to natural fungal infections, but such an assertion completely ignores the fact that WE introduced these pathogens into our forests - God didn't put them here! And, don't forget, God created chestnuts, elms and ashes and declared that they were GOOD!

Moreover, even if we say that God placed in subjection to man all of the other life on this planet, can anyone seriously suggest that "He" did that just so that we could destroy them? The evidence that mankind has destroyed much of what it took God hundreds of millions of years to fashion is inescapable. We simply cannot deny that we have had a significant impact on this planet. Is it possible that that destruction is a sin - a major sin? We read in Revelation: "The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants the prophets, as well as your holy people, and all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth." - Revelation 11:18 Hmmm, that sure sounds to me like God's saints won't be among those who have participated in destroying God's creation!