Featured Post

The Oldest Books in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible

As anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Judeo-Christian Bible knows, that book is composed of a collection of writings which were...

Friday, December 31, 2021

Those who do NOT receive the mark of the Beast

Few things have titillated prophecy junkies more than solving the identity of the famous Beast of the book of Revelation and speculating about what his "mark" might be. And few prophecy junkies have gone to the lengths that Sabbatarian Millerites have engaged in to solve the riddle! For those, like me, who emerged from the trainwreck of Armstrongism, they will remember Herbert Armstrong's speculation about a United States of Europe in the role of the beast. Likewise, other Sabbatarian Millerites (Seventh Day Adventists and the folks from the Churches of God Seventh Day) will also remember the near certainty among their people that the "mark" of the Beast would be centered on the forced observance of Sunday as a day of worship. More recently, some have even speculated that mandates for the Covid-19 vaccinations might be the "mark" of the Beast! What about these things? Do these notions represent profound spiritual insights into the prophecy of the Bible or are they so much "pissing in the wind?"

As longtime readers of my writings know, I rarely venture into the realm of prophecy. There are many reasons for this, but the obsession of my former affiliations with the subject are probably among the most important for my silence. You know - the old adages about being gun-shy or once burned.

Nevertheless, after recently listening to part of a sermon offered by one of the pastors allied with one of the many ACOG splinter groups on the obligations of Christians to come out of Babylon, I was inspired to offer some of my own thoughts on the subject. In short, the rank deception and outrageous speculation which some folks have been subjected to regarding this matter makes me sad for them and has pricked my conscience about offering them some hope and clarity on the subject.

First, I wish to plainly state that I believe that no other book in the Bible has been abused and misrepresented more than the book of Revelation. Moreover, it is now very plain to me that this book was meant to encapsulate the entire experience of humankind and Christians since Christ's resurrection and ascension to heaven. In other words, it should NEVER have been regarded as a road map to the proper sequence of events leading to the Great Tribulation and the return of Jesus Christ to this earth! Please, don't misunderstand me, the book most assuredly does discuss the return of Jesus Christ; but it was originally intended to contrast the history of the folks who belong to this world's system with those who belong to God's system!

Indeed, when we take a fresh look at the highly symbolic language of the book, the contrast between the two ways becomes very apparent. The Beast and Babylon are obviously manifestations of this world's system (militarily, economically, politically, socially and religiously) as influenced and empowered by the Dragon (or, as he's more popularly known, Satan the Devil). Indeed, from the very beginning, the image of the Beast with its horns and crowns, and the fact that it derived its "power and throne and great authority" from the dragon, all points to the human system which would stand in opposition to God's system down through the ages. We are also informed that the whole world marveled at the Beast and said things like "Who is as great as the beast?" and "Who is able to fight against him?" In other words, in this world, man's system would be supreme!

Moreover, the contrast to God's people and system is made even plainer in the verses which follow. We read there: "And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast." Indeed, this work of harassment and persecution against God's people hearkens back to the Dragon's persecution of the Church (the woman) in the twelfth chapter of the book. Even so, God tells his people to endure the Beast's persecution and remain faithful to his system, and God assures them that they will triumph in the end!

And then we come to that all important scripture which has provoked so much speculation and angst on the part of so many Christians. We read that the Beast "required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead." And, for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Torah, what does that imagery bring to mind?

The Jews call it The Shema. In their article on the topic, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-shema/ informs us that the Shema is an acknowledgement of God and his kingdom and is based on a scripture in Deuteronomy. Indeed, we read there: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Notice how this declaration of one's allegiance to God and his system was to appear on the hand and forehead! Hence, it is clear to this blogger that the mark of the Beast is a kind of anti-Shema - a profession of allegiance to (whether consciously or by participation in) this world's system! Indeed, this allegiance to/worship of the Beast (and his system) is reiterated over and over again in the scriptures that follow.

Thus, we are forced to conclude that ALL of the military, economic, political, social and religious systems of humankind are part of the Beast system, and that they ALL stand in opposition to God's system! Hence, for those who profess to belong to God and his system, participation or glorying in the brilliance, power and authority of the Beast's system(s) is unthinkable.

What is the Beast's system? We've already discussed how the fact that this human system encompasses ALL areas of human activity (military, economic, political, social and religious). Hence, we could say that nationalism, patriotism, capitalism, socialism, authoritarianism, democracy could ALL be considered to involve activities which COULD be characterized as participation in the Beast's system! In other words, what is your Shema? Is your Shema "that all men are created equal" and "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights?" OR Is your Shema "from each according to his ability, and to each according to his need?"

Hence, I'm thinking that it might be a good idea to reevaluate our thinking about the Beast and his "mark." If we truly want to be accounted among those who have "not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands," we may want to be more careful with what we participate in and where our allegiances lie!


*****************This work is intended to comprehend Revelation chapters 12-20 for those who might be interested in following along in your own Bible**********************************

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Two Ways of Life

"There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways. The way of life is this: First, you shalt love the God who made thee, secondly, thy neighbor as thyself; and whatsoever thou wouldst not have done to thyself, do not thou to another." The Didache 1:1-2

"But the Way of Death is this: First of all, it is wicked and full of cursing, murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcrafts, charms, robberies, false witness, hypocrisies, a double heart, fraud, pride, malice, stubbornness, covetousness, foul speech, jealousy, impudence, haughtiness, boastfulness. Persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies, knowing not the reward of righteousness, not cleaving to the good nor to righteous judgment, spending wakeful nights not for good but for wickedness, from whom meekness and patience is far, lovers of vanity, following after reward, unmerciful to the poor, not working for him who is oppressed with toil, without knowledge of him who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of God's creatures, turning away the needy, oppressing the distressed, advocates of the rich, unjust judges of the poor, altogether sinful; may ye be delivered, my children, from all these." The Didache 5:1-2

This early Christian teaching known as The Didache (or The Lord's teaching to the heathen by the Twelve Apostles) nicely summarizes the teachings of Jesus Christ and concisely teaches us what it means to be a Christian. In addition to discussing the foundational principles of the religion by contrasting the ways of life and death, the book also contains a great deal of practical information regarding Christian morality and practices. The Didache outlines Christian practice relative to baptism, worship, prayer, fasting, the Eucharist, and Church governance. Hence, it is little wonder that many early Christians felt that this book should be included in the canon of the New Testament.

For those interested in further exploring this early Christian catechism, you may do so here:

The Didache (pronounced did-a-key or did-a-kay)


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Ignatius of Antioch on the Nativity of Jesus Christ

"How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of Which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life." -from his epistle to the Ephesians

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Ancient Origins of Christmas

The Anglican Bishop of Durham recently penned a piece (The Seeds of Christmas Were Planted Long Before Jesus' Birth) which explored the ancient roots of the New Testament narrative about Christ's nativity. In the article, N.T. Wright recounted the story of his recent pilgrimage to his family's ancestral church, and how he had studied the stained glass "Jesse Window" at the east end of the thousand-year-old building. He then went on to explain that the window is a depiction of Christ's descent from Jesse, the father of King David (which hearkens back to some of the prophecies recorded about Jesus in the writings of Isaiah).

In particular, Wright focused on this well-known passage from the eleventh chapter of that book: 

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious." --Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIV)

He went on to reference another familiar passage from the ninth chapter of the same book:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." --Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

Bishop Wright then went on to observe: "That 'little child' links back again to the infant Jesus. The picture of animals living in peace under his guidance translates easily into the Nativity scene: Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph looking on, with ox, ass, lambs and even camels all clustering round. Killjoy rationalists might object that the stories of Jesus’ birth don’t mention these animals, or that you might actually find a manger in family living quarters; but that’s not the point. The Nativity scene re-expresses Isaiah’s vision in its own symbolic way. The prince of peace, the shoot from Jesse’s stump, will bring all creation into a much-needed new harmony."

He continued: "Jesse doesn’t appear much in the New Testament, but when he does it’s explosive. Saint Paul, like Isaiah, believed in creation’s coming peaceful renewal. But we often forget how he sees that hope being fleshed out. Jesus’ followers, Paul believed, were supposed to be the working model for creation’s hope. At the climax of his letter to Rome, he urges believers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to come together in worship. They are to welcome one another across traditional differences, learning to worship the one God, the father of Jesus the Messiah, 'with one mind and one mouth' (15:6). Paul backs up his urgent and eloquent appeal with a string of biblical quotations, saving for the last the telling line from Isaiah 11:10: 'the root of Jesse rises to rule the nations, and in him the nations will hope.'"

Wright then concluded his thought with this astute observation: "Paul is here looking through the biblical equivalent of a Jesse window, glimpsing an entire train of thought—in this case, the prophecy of Isaiah 11—in a single line. In his mind, the different ethnic and cultural groups that have come to believe in Jesus are like the different animals that, in the prophet’s vision, will now feed peacefully together, with the little child at their head, ruling through self-giving love."

Thus, for the bishop, the nativity narrative of the New Testament encompasses a rich prophetic symbolism that points to an even more expansive message of hope for the future of humankind. According to Wright, "Never in my lifetime have we needed that hope as urgently as we do today. The pandemic is still rampant. The global climate is throwing floods, fires and tornadoes at us. Powerful nations rattle their missiles at one another, while babies starve, and refugees drown." And Wright believed that the hope which is an integral part of the narrative about Christ's first appearance on this earth should be the focus and message of the entire Christian community. He wrote: "The Christmas stories themselves call us to a different vision. Matthew’s gospel is the most obviously Jewish, but that’s where we find the story of the (obviously non-Jewish) Wise Men coming to worship Jesus. Luke’s gospel is the most obviously Gentile in orientation, but that’s where we find the (obviously Jewish) shepherds coming to find the newborn child. Like the animals around the crib, the Christmas scenario opens up to include the world. Shame on us if we shrink that vision to fit our prejudices. Jesus’ followers are called to model God’s hope for the world."

This blogger believes that the Bishop of Durham has hit the proverbial nail on the head. The story of Christmas is ultimately a message of universal hope for all of humankind - even those who are not currently a part of the Christian community!  

Monday, December 20, 2021

Is this what a real friend looks like?

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have found it necessary on various occasions over the last several years to challenge the extremism of Pastor Bill Watson of the Church of International. Over that period, many have asked, "Why Bill?" At times, that question has also been framed with a note of bewilderment and anger that I would dare to "attack" my father's "best friend" and/or his "religious beliefs."

To fully answer that question, a little background is in order. My father introduced my brother and I to the radio broadcasts of Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong back in the 60s. And, although my father chose not to act on his convictions about "THE TRUTH" which he believed he had heard, I was baptized as a teenager into the now defunct Worldwide Church of God. My father, however, began attending Church of God International services about seven years after my baptism and was eventually baptized by that organization (and later ordained as a minister by them). Moreover, soon after my father began attending CGI, I was disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church and also began attending at CGI. Nevertheless, within a year or two, I began attending with a congregation of Seventh Day Baptists in Alabama (I was also given a license to preach by that group) and began to seriously explore the underpinnings and justifications of my own belief system.

Fortunately (from my perspective), over the years that followed, I demonstrated to my own satisfaction that the Armstrongs had taught many things that simply were NOT true. During this period, I continued to maintain a close relationship with my father, but my awareness of Bill became peripheral (only hearing about him and his activities through my father). Even so, I eventually moved to a location where there wasn't a SDB congregation within range, and we resumed attending CGI services.

About that time, I was also asked to speak on a fairly regular basis at two of the congregations where I attended and began to write several articles which were published in The International News. During this period, both my father and the pastor of the local congregation where I attended knew that I did NOT embrace all of CGI's teachings (I did, however, always respect their teachings and never contradicted them in my messages to their congregations or in the articles I penned for their quarterly newspaper).

Nevertheless, when I decided to contribute a couple of articles to Dixon Cartwright's The Journal on human sexuality, the proverbial s--t hit the fan! I was immediately disinvited from speaking and contributing to CGI's paper. For myself, since I viewed those contributions as having been done in the spirit of service and helping, I wasn't immediately alarmed by these developments.

Almost immediately, however, Pastor Watson saw fit to begin speaking out against homosexuality. Moreover, I considered some of his statements on the subject to be extreme, uncaring, uninformed and cruel. When the statements continued, I eventually felt compelled to publicly challenge the statements - though I continued to try to be respectful of the man himself. After all, I reasoned, he was my father's "best friend."

However, far from being chastened, over time, I noticed that Mr. Watson's statements became more and more extreme; and that he had begun to embrace extreme right wing talking points on a number of other issues as well. Needless to say, I found this development to be alarming and troublesome - especially in light of the fact that my father and other family members looked up to this man and had always respected his viewpoints. In similar fashion, I was frankly more than a little concerned that he was using his platform as a minister of Jesus Christ to advocate on behalf of certain political views and candidates (I did NOT feel that this was appropriate for a man in his position).

And then, my father developed a chronic illness that was eventually diagnosed as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. I was devastated. We all knew that the prognosis was not good for this disease - that his condition would steadily deteriorate, and that it would inevitably kill him. Moreover, we all understood that his condition made him especially susceptible to respiratory infections and would magnify the dangers and ill effects that those infections could engender in the human body. Sure enough, over the years that followed there were numerous infections, and his breathing became more and more labored and difficult over time - eventually resulting in him being placed on supplemental oxygen.

And then, suddenly, there was Covid-19. Although I was immediately concerned for my father (knowing that he would be extremely vulnerable to this virus), I prayed that God would protect him; and I also felt certain that his church friends would do everything in their power to protect him.

Hence, you can imagine my consternation when Bill Watson began pushing back against masks and social distancing! Moreover, I was absolutely livid when Pastor Watson began talking about right wing conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus and the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines that had been developed to ameliorate its onslaught! How could this man endanger the lives of his parishioners in this manner? How could my father's "best friend" endanger him in this way? Pastor Watson, however, seemed completely oblivious to all of that. He was clearly more concerned with government infringement on his rights!

Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Hadn't Jesus Christ once said: "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13) If this man truly loved my father and the other vulnerable members of his congregation, how could he be so obtuse about wearing a mask or getting vaccinated? Needless to say, I began speaking out against Bill's pandemic messaging almost immediately!

Unfortunately, my "attacks" on Bill were not well received within my own family. Indeed, I was even threatened with the termination of some familial relationships if I did not immediately cease and desist. However, for anyone who is even vaguely familiar with me as a person, they should have known that that was NEVER going to happen! I'm the guy who stands up on the table at the party and says, "Look, there's a turd in the punch bowl!" Moreover, with my father's safety and health clearly on the line, there was even less of a chance that I would "let this one go" and "keep my mouth shut."

And then, a little over two weeks ago, I received the dreaded call that the ambulance had rushed my father to the hospital. He was experiencing difficulty in breathing. I was told that he had developed pneumonia. I was almost beside myself, because I knew that that was Bill's congregation's code word for Covid-19 (they didn't even like to say the word aloud). Was my father tested for Covid? I was told that he had been. What were the results? At this point, I'm still not certain whether or not my father contracted the virus! Hospice was called in. He was put in bed, made comfortable with medications, and his supplemental oxygen was increased. Reluctant to make him struggle to speak to me, I stayed in touch through my brother. Unfortunately, my father was dead in a matter of days.

I was devastated. My relationship with my father had been strained because of my "attacks" on Bill, but I had never stopped loving him. At any rate, I knew that I was not going to return home to listen to Bill Watson preach my father's funeral! I simply could not bring myself to sit there and listen to the man who had been responsible for so much hurt and sorrow within my family. And, although I knew that I would find myself in basic agreement with his views on the afterlife/resurrection, I could not bring myself to listen to what I knew he would view as another opportunity to witness to the unconverted!

Indeed, my instincts were proven true by Pastor Watson's first Sabbath sermon following my father's death. In his Details Surrounding the Resurrection, Bill talked about his thirty-five-year relationship with his "dear friend." He went on to say how much he appreciated my father "having my back." He also recounted his hours long conversation with my father the day before he died (remember, I'm communicating with him through my brother so as not to task his labored breathing). And then, Bill turned to "the situation with this virus." After discussing what a burden this thing had been for all of us, he went on to say: "With people now having the added jeopardy of losing their jobs and their careers - being threatened - unless, of course, they can get a religious or a health exemption from the mandates that are coming down upon them...How many literally thousands have already lost their jobs?"

Really, Bill? Is this what a real friend looks like?


Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Saturnalia and Brumalia

At this time of year, the folks who belong to the Armstrong Churches of God usually have a great deal to say about the ancient Roman holidays of Saturnalia and Brumalia. According to them, these December holidays were the inspiration for our Christmas holiday and its observances. For them, Christians who celebrate Christ's birth on the twenty-fifth of December are perpetuating the pagan practices of the Romans (and displeasing God in the process). Anyway, that's the Armstrongist narrative about Christmas. However, when we dig a little deeper, we realize that most of the folks who advance such notions actually know very little about the Saturnalia and Brumalia.

From the historical evidence available to us, it appears that the Saturnalia originated as a celebration of the pagan god of generation, dissolution, plenty, agriculture and liberation: Saturn. The celebration began on the seventeenth day of the month and ran through the twenty-third. According to our sources, the Saturnalia was usually a boisterous time that involved societal role reversals (masters and slaves) and the consumption of large amounts of food and drink. During the week-long celebrations, normal business transactions and court proceedings ground to a halt, and citizens often danced naked in the streets. It was also common for folks to exchange small gifts (like candles) and deck their halls with greenery. However, though the gifts and the greenery bear a superficial resemblance to our modern holiday, it appears that the Roman holiday was very different from the one we celebrate.

The Roman Brumalia, on the other hand, appears to have been a celebration of the Winter Solstice and bears even less resemblance to our modern holiday. Indeed, the available sources do not support the notion that there were elaborate traditions/celebrations/rituals associated with the Roman observance of the day. Hence, we are left with the distinct impression that both Roman holidays were viewed and celebrated in a manner that bears little resemblance to the modern observance of Christmas! In other words, so much for the Armstrongist narrative about the pagan influences of these holidays on the Christian holiday!

Celebrating Saturnalia by Patti Wigington

World History Encyclopedia: Saturnalia

Saturnalia at History.com

Redeeming Christian Holy Days: Brumalia in the Roman Republic


 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Let's Hear It for Telling It Like It Is!

Herbert Armstrong used to love to quote the old axiom: "One convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!" In other words, folks are often predisposed to believe what they want to believe.

In similar fashion, we could say that most folks tend to act like water - following the path of least resistance. Let's face it - most of us don't like confrontation - don't like to "rock the boat." For Herbert Armstrong, however, folks had to hear "The Plain Truth." It might not be appreciated or liked, but folks had to hear the message that the things which they believed and held dear were just plain old WRONG!

Unfortunately, when it came to his own beliefs and message, Mr. Armstrong didn't like to be told that he was wrong! (And many of his followers are even more thin-skinned than he was.) He could readily see the fault in others, but he was oblivious to the same principle at operation in his own mind!

Now, the principle of "telling it like it is" is most assuredly a Biblical one. From the messages of the ancient prophets for Israel to Christ's confrontation of the religious leaders of his day, we can see this principle in action. Still, confronting sins and hypocrisy is never a pleasant or comfortable exercise - somebody is going to get their feelings hurt!

Nevertheless, we read in the second epistle to Timothy the following instructions and warnings about his messaging: "Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you." (II Timothy 4:2-5)

Hence, while confronting falsehood and heresy may be extremely uncomfortable at times, Scripture informs us that it is an absolutely essential component of properly handling God's TRUTH. Let's face it, if you cannot answer the challenges of some individual, then it's probably time to reevaluate the thing that provoked the challenge! In other words, if there's a turd floating in the punch bowl, it's probably a good idea to call attention to the fact! (I wouldn't want to drink that punch - would you?) 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Forgiveness

In the Gospel of Luke, we are informed that Christ told his disciples: "If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” (Luke 17:3-4) But what do we do when the person doesn't repent and/or never asks us for forgiveness?

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that Peter asked Christ about how often a person should forgive someone who sins against us (Matthew 18:21). Apparently, Peter was feeling generous and suggested seven times might be an appropriate limit on forgiveness. Christ, however, replied "No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!" (verse 22) He then went on to underscore the importance of forgiveness with a parable that was meant to put some proper perspective on the ability and willingness of his followers to forgive each other. According to this account, Jesus said: "Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full." (Matthew 18:23-30) Christ concluded his parable with this warning to his followers: "Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (verses 32-35)

By reminding his followers that his death would effect/accomplish the forgiveness of all of their sins, he also suggested that anything which they would have to forgive in each other would be insignificant by comparison. Hence, while repentance and asking for forgiveness are certainly important components of the process of forgiveness from a Scriptural perspective, it is also clear that Christ felt that finding a way to let go of our feelings of bitterness, resentment and revenge because of the injustices which we have suffered at each other's hands was a very important principle for those who would profess to follow him. In other words, these Scriptures strongly imply that the person doing the forgiving is the real beneficiary of the process!

This truism is consistent with what modern professionals tell us about the benefits of forgiveness to our individual mental health. Indeed, according to the Mayo Clinic: "Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:

Healthier relationships

Improved mental health

Less anxiety, stress and hostility

Lower blood pressure

Fewer symptoms of depression

A stronger immune system

Improved heart health

Improved self-esteem" (see Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness)

In similar fashion, the Mayo Clinic staff informs us that being unforgiving can:

"Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience

Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can't enjoy the present

Become depressed or anxious

Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you're at odds with your spiritual beliefs

Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others" (same article)

In other words, forgiveness clearly benefits the person doing the forgiving!

Without going into detail, I can say that recent events in my own life have forced me to once again wrestle with the issue of forgiveness, and I have had to personally confront that question I asked at the beginning: What do you do when the person hasn't repented or asked for forgiveness? Indeed, what do you do when you know that will NEVER happen? For me, this is where the realization that forgiveness is more about me than it is about the other person proved to be crucial to my moving forward. I had to learn anew that forgiveness is NOT synonymous with reconciliation (unfortunately, that is very often NOT possible). Likewise, forgiveness is NOT synonymous with getting the other person to change or correct the behavior which caused you so much sorrow/grief/anger. In short, I had to remind myself that forgiveness was about me moving on and letting go of the hurt and resentment. Thus, by forgiving the person who "sinned" against me, I can focus on the positive - the love and good memories associated with that person. And, I don't have to wallow in self-pity and play the victim for the rest of my life. In other words, their "sins" no longer have any power over me! Truly, Godly forgiveness can bring us peace and restore our joy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Canon of the Bible

Like many other folks, I adopted the teachings of Herbert Armstrong without any meaningful background in the history of the formation of the Christian canon. Looking back, of course, the absence of that background now underscores just how tenuous the foundation of my entire belief system really was. After all, I began my pursuit of the "truth" with the acceptance of a collection of documents as authoritative (the basis for all that followed) without knowing much about their origins, or how they came to be regarded as "THE Bible" that my grandmother had read to me as a small child (and Herbert Armstrong professed to understand as no other).

Even so, my first inkling that my background might be insufficient came to me fairly early on in terms of my indoctrination into Armstrongism. As a teenager who was already actively being considered as a prime candidate for baptism (and potential material for Ambassador College in Pasadena), I remember purchasing a copy of The Jerusalem Bible and questioning my local elder (and spiritual mentor) about its contents. "Why doesn't our Bible have these additional books?" I asked. Without answering my question, the elder took the book (never returning it) and warned me about the dangers of falling into confusion and error. Of course, that experience should have been a tremendous red flag, and I should have pursued the answer(s) to my question. Unfortunately, I was afraid of losing "the truth," scuttling my chances for baptism, and losing my place in the wonderful world tomorrow; and I immediately dropped the matter!

However, after leaving the Worldwide Church of God, my intellectual and spiritual curiosity got the better of me, and I returned to the question which I had so unceremoniously abandoned when I was a babe in the faith. In short, I began to ask the questions that I should have investigated on the front end of this venture: Who wrote the Bible? How did all of those documents come together as our Bible? Who decided which books would be included? How could we be sure that those documents were inspired and authoritative? Were those documents really inerrant? What about the inconsistencies which I had noticed over years of studying the book? And, if the Bible really was the foundation/source of my faith, weren't the answers to those questions pretty important?

Sure, I had read the notes in various study Bibles through many years of studying the Scriptures, but it was only now that I really began to allow myself to absorb what scholars had to say about the formation of the Judeo-Christian Canon. A friend gave me a copy of Nelson's Quick Reference Bible Handbook (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993) as a gift, and I read: "The word canon means a 'rod' - specifically, a rod with graduated marks used for measuring length. Since the fourth century A.D. the word has come to be used for the collection of books officially recognized by the church as the Holy Bible. Every book in the canon was considered authoritative but not every authoritative book was in the canon." And the paragraph which followed that one was a real eye-opener: "Differences still exist in the order and content of the Old Testament. Both Catholic and Protestant Bibles follow the order of the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible produced about A.D. 400. However, the actual number of books in the Protestant Bible follows the Hebrew Bible, while the Bible used by the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Russian Orthodox Churches follows the Vulgate's content by including the 'extra books' known as the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon." I finally had my answer to that long-ago question about The Jerusalem Bible.

It was about this time that I also read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by Bishop John Shelby Spong, and I realized just how little I actually knew about the book which I had studied and claimed to follow all of my life! I began to understand why some folks rejected the Bible. And I finally came to understand that there was an extensive history behind the formation of the canon, and that the Bible was a much more complex book than I had ever imagined before. Moreover, it became clear to me that the doctrine of inerrancy was unsustainable, and that literalism had actually twisted/distorted my understanding of Scripture.

It was shortly after these revelations that I actually began to read some of those "other books" of the Bible - the ones which Protestants and Herbert Armstrong rejected. Indeed, the first two books in this category that I read were I and II Maccabbees. Sure, like many Armstrongites, I had read extensively in the writings of the early Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus; but it was only after reading those "apocryphal" books that I truly began to understand what had happened between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. In understanding the impact of the Greeks on Judaism, the origins of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and how the Romans and Herod came to be the overlords of the Holy Land, I found that I now understood the New Testament in a way that I never had before (even after years of study and Herbert Armstrong's "guidance").

Now, I could see why many Christians saw spiritual value in a Deuterocanonical book like "Wisdom." Indeed, I began to wonder how anyone could not find value in a passage like this: "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their judgment, they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble; They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect. (Wisdom 3:1-9)

As my search for answers intensified, I read more about the formation of the canon and came to realize just how significant of a role that humans had played in that process! Indeed, I came across statements about its formation like the one penned by Dr Roy Hoover in his article How the Canon Was Formed, where he wrote: "The first list of 'canonical' books that names the same twenty-seven writings found in our New Testament appears in the Easter letter of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 367 C.E. He names them in a different order, to be sure. Even so, the first list that agrees with ours was a long time in coming."

He went on to discuss Paul's writings (the earliest Christian texts extant), and then observed the following about the formation of the gospels: "At an even earlier date other Christians had made collections of Jesus’ sayings and stories about him. The Sayings Gospel Q is just such a compendium of sayings, and the Signs Gospel underlying the Gospel of John is a collection of wondrous deeds ascribed to Jesus. These collections were incorporated into the narrative gospels. The authors of those gospels rearranged the collections of sayings and stories to form continuous stories. Like the letters of Paul, these gospels, along with other writings, were collected by various churches. By mid-second century C.E. a considerable assortment of writings were known to the churches: narrative gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), at least one sayings gospel (the Gospel of Thomas), dialogues and revelations attributed to Jesus, various accounts of his birth, several accounts of acts of the apostles, homilies, and more. The church was rapidly becoming a literate church. Within a century of Jesus’ death, then, Christians had produced a small but quite diverse library of writings. However, as yet there was no proposal to create an official list, a canon."

Dr Hoover went on to discuss Marcion's canon and the one compiled by Eusebius for the Emperor Constantine. He observed: "The canon was reserved for early works, insofar as their antiquity could be determined. The compilers of the Muratorian Canon had rejected the Shepherd of Hermas, despite its popularity, because it was known to have been composed 'recently.' Some argued on a more colorful basis that gall should not be mixed with honey, honey presumably representing more orthodox works. But none of the canonical lists mentions inspiration as a criterion for determining which writings were to be included in the canon. The reason, apparently, is that since all Christians were filled with the spirit, a claim of inspiration would not have been useful as a way of distinguishing canonical from extracanonical Christian writings. It is often noted that the one writing in the New Testament claiming to be inspired is the Revelation of John, and it is precisely this book that was most often among the disputed nominees for inclusion in the New Testament."

Dr. Hoover concluded: "The fourth-century canon has been durable, but it was not regarded as final and has never been universal. Among Eastern orthodox churches the canonical diversity in evidence before Constantine continued. The Syrian church’s canon, for example, is that of the Peshitta, a Syriac version of the New Testament dating from the fifth century. The Peshitta lacks 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Luther placed Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation last in his translation of the New Testament in 1522, because he had doubts about their claims to canonical status. The Gustavus Adolphus Bible (Stockholm, 1618) identifies these four as apocryphal writings. William Tyndale, 'the father of the English Bible,' placed these same four writings last in his translation of the New Testament in 1526, apparently following the practice of Luther. The Roman Catholic Church did not issue an authoritative statement about the contents of the Bible until 8 April 1546, when the Council of Trent, by a vote of twenty-four to fifteen, with sixteen abstentions, declared the writings in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate version to be the church’s official canon. The Roman Catholic canon differs, however, from the Bible accepted by most Protestant churches: it includes the Old Testament Apocrypha, a series of intertestamental books omitted in Protestant Bibles. No single canon, in fact, has ever been accepted as final by the whole church. For the church universal catholic with a small “c” — the status of the canon today resembles what it was in Eusebius’ day: it is both a matter of consensus and a matter of difference."

Later still, I read things like Bart Ehrman's The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press) where he also wrote about the formation of the Old Testament Canon. Ehrman observed that (after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70 A.D.) the Jewish religion evolved into something very different from what it had been in times past. He wrote: "Eventually, Judaism was to shift away - of necessity - from an emphasis on Temple, cult, and sacrifice to being very much a religion 'of the book.' The sacred traditions of Israel, especially as embodied in Scripture, were to become the focus of the religion as it emerged from the disaster of 70 C.E. That much is relatively certain. The older generation of scholars went further and argued that it was at this council <Jamnia> that the canon was once and for all set. That, however, goes beyond the evidence." In other words, the Old Testament canon was NOT considered to be fixed until after Christians had already begun writing the documents which are now part of what we refer to as the New Testament!

Hence, I would encourage all of the folks who share (or have shared) my background in Armstrongism or other Fundamentalist sects to look a little more deeply into the origins of the book which they claim to revere and follow. You may, like me, come away from your research with a greater appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even so, I can almost guarantee a few surprises and a little more humility about what you think you know when you are finished!


 

Friday, December 3, 2021

The Festival of Lights

All over the world, Jewish people have been celebrating Hanukkah/Chanukah (also known as the Festival of the Dedication or the Festival of Lights). According to Chabad.org, "The Hebrew word Chanukah means 'dedication,' and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple" (after the Jews led by Judah the Maccabee successfully rebelled against the Syrian Greeks). In the article What Is Hanukkah? we read: "When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity." The article continues: "At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash ('attendant'), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled." Thus, we understand why the observance is also known as the Festival of Lights.

As for the significance of the lights, the article goes on to ask and answer the question: "What are the flickering flames telling us?" One of the answers that follows is framed in these terms: "A little light goes a long way. The Chanukah candles are lit when dusk is falling. Perched in the doorway, they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform the darkness itself into light." Hence, for observant Jews, it is clear that the light which emanates from the menorah represents a profound spiritual reality for their faith.

It is also interesting to note that this festival is focused on a miracle which was centered on the relighting of the lampstand which stood before the Holiest Place - first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple at Jerusalem (First and Second). In the Torah, we read that God told Moses to "Make a lampstand of pure, hammered gold. Make the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals." (Exodus 25:31) The instructions continued: "Then make the seven lamps for the lampstand and set them so they reflect their light forward." (Exodus 25:37) Originally, God intended that "The lampstand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the LORD's presence all night." (Exodus 27:21) Later, we read that "Bezalel made the lampstand of pure, hammered gold. He made the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals." (Exodus 37:17) Even so, the images which the scriptural descriptions of the lampstand evoke in our minds probably does not do justice to a lampstand that was composed of about seventy-five pounds of pure gold! (Exodus 37:24) I can, however, imagine the light from those lamps reflecting off of the golden base which supported it - it must have been magnificent!

But what does any of this have to do with Christians? Does any of this Jewish stuff have any significance for us?

As I have noted in previous posts, this festival was an integral part of the Judaism into which Jesus Christ was born. Indeed, we read in the New Testament that Jesus himself observed this festival in Jerusalem. (see John 10:22-23) It is also interesting to note that Jesus was asked whether or not he was the Messiah on this occasion. (verse 24) To which, he replied: "I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one." (verses 25-30)

Moreover, with the Jewish emphasis on lights in connection with this festival, it is interesting to note some of the opening remarks recorded in the Gospel of John. We read there that Jesus was the Word of God, and that "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." (John 1:4-9) In this regard, some of Christ's remarks about himself take on a new significance. In the same Gospel, we read that Christ declared to the Jewish people who surrounded him: "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." (John 8:12)

In terms of the Christian religion, it is also interesting to note that the book of Hebrews mentions the lampstand referenced in the Torah. (Hebrews 9:2) Moreover, in the book of Revelation, we read this about John's vision of the glorified Christ: " When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave." (Revelation 1:12-18) Continuing, we read: "Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (verses 19-20)

Lampstands and lights? I may be wrong, but it seems to this blogger that (like the other Jewish festivals) this one should have a great deal of meaning for Christians. We can pretend that Jesus wasn't a Jew, and that he wasn't intimately acquainted with these things; but I'm thinking that we are depriving ourselves of spiritual insights/understandings that are staring us right in the face when we ignore these things. What do you think?

  

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A Prayer Request for Australian CGI Members?

Pastor Bill Watson of the Medina, Ohio Church of God International has posted a request from one of his Australian friends. Always willing to help out his Australian brethren, Bill posted the following on his church’s homepage and their Prayer Request page:

11-29-21

The following is a quote from a long-time Church of God member living in Australia.  We have been asked to post it on their behalf.

"We would be thankful for prayers for my family and all of God’s people in Australia. Over these past two years the Australian government has been exerting more and more tyrannical power and control over every state and Territory but it has now reached a critical stage with deadlines in place to punish and discriminate against those who do not accept the Covid vaccine. My family and I reject the Covid-19 injection and PCR test in accordance with God’s Law. We also believe the injection is dangerous and poisonous.

Numerous mandates are already in place which includes tracking and tracing people’s movements with a mandatory check-in app for the purposes of testing and quarantining. December 17 is the deadline for all unvaccinated people to get the Covid-19 injection in Queensland, Australia. Anyone who is not vaccinated by that date will not be allowed to access numerous health services, hospitality venues, hotels, and community services without the vaccine. As a consequence of the vaccine mandates, many of God’s people across Australia have already lost their employment and will continue to lose their jobs.

Quarantine Covid camps have been built in different locations around Australia. The military has already begun removing people (including children) from their homes in the Northern Territory, detaining them in a camp and forcibly injecting them with the Covid-19 injection against their will. Those who still remain in the community in the Northern Territory have had essential services such as food, electricity and internet withheld as a means of coercing and pressuring them into getting the vaccine.

There is a concern that the government is also expected to pass a pandemic bill this coming week in Victoria, Australia. It will allow the government to have extraordinary draconian powers against people based on their religion, gender and political beliefs. If passed, it will allow indefinite lockdowns. It would give the police the power to arrest people based on their religion, and detain people indefinitely as well as imprison people without a trial. It is a shocking piece of legislation overruling the most basic human rights.

We ask for prayers that the Australian brethren will be protected and be able to remain safely in our homes without the threat of being removed and detained in a quarantine facility. While we can still access essential services such as food for the time being, we are concerned that in the very near future, we will not be permitted to enter any store to buy essentials without the vaccine. The Health department has warned that the unvaccinated will live very lonely and miserable lives and have nowhere to hide. Please pray that we will be able to move freely in the community unnoticed by the authorities and be able to access all of the basics. We ask that God gives us the strength to endure these very troubling times and trials.

These are dangerous times for all of God’s people worldwide. What is unfolding in Australia is setting an unconscionable precedent for the rest of the world to follow."

**The post has NOT been corrected and appears here as it does on Medina’s homepage: cgimedina.org

How can the Australian government treat those poor Church of God brethren that way? It is heartbreaking to hear of this Covid-19 persecution against God’s people! Please be praying for these folks that the government will get off of their backs and allow them to contract this virus in peace and witness God’s amazing healing powers!

For anyone who might be inclined to take this nonsense seriously, a friend supplied the following links:

https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2021-08-20/fact-focus-covid-19-shots-not-forced-on-kids-in-australia

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2021/07/16/fact-check-australian-military-isnt-looking-anti-vaxxers/7976347002/