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Death, Pestilence, and Destruction Around the World Today!

The title of this post could be the opening line of most newscasts and many sermons. Indeed, our obsession with gloom and doom is legendary ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

You can't censor my/God's message!

CGI Pastors Bill Watson, Adrian Davis, and their allies have been sorely vexed by Tyler's attempts to rein in their messaging. In fact, they have not been very subtle in suggesting that church leadership is trying to censor their sermons and articles. For those who are unaware of what's been happening in the Church of God International for the last several months, we should note that the leadership of that organization has attempted to forbid any further commentary by its ministry on the subject of public health mandates relative to Covid-19 (and has withdrawn three offending sermons from its platforms as a consequence of this action). Of course, completely absent from these cries of censorship is any acknowledgement that their own extreme and controversial statements provoked this action by church leadership!

Moreover, the charge of censorship appears rather hollow and self-serving when compared to the record provided by the New Testament of what transpired within the early church on the subject of messaging. After all, the Apostle Paul pronounced a double curse on anyone who would preach a gospel that diverged from the message which he was preaching (see Galatians 1:6-9). In the very same epistle, we learn that Paul had to defend his ministry among the Gentiles (see Galatians 2:1-10), and that he had to confront Peter for the hypocritical mixed-messaging which his personal example presented for the consumption of the saints (see Galatians 2:11-21). Likewise, it is recorded in the book of Acts that Priscilla and Aquila felt compelled to take Apollos aside and correct his messaging (see Acts 18:24-26). Are we to label these efforts of the leadership of the early church to control its messaging as censorship? In other words, should ministers be allowed to preach whatever they feel compelled to present to the saints within their care?

Finally, there are also ethical issues to consider relative to the subject of the messaging of individual ministers. If one is using the credentials and platform of some church/group/organization, doesn't one have some obligation to adhere to their teachings and standards? If one purports to represent some church/group/organization, doesn't he/she have some responsibility to reflect their values and messaging? If a church/group/organization is paying someone a salary, doesn't that person have an obligation to do what they are paying him/her to do? If someone strongly disagrees with the mission or doctrines of some church/group/organization, shouldn't that person at the very least be obligated to make leadership aware of their dissent? And, if a person experiencing such dissonance can't resolve that difference or submit with a clear conscience, aren't they obligated to make a clean break with that church/group/organization? In fact, if the church/group/organization doesn't represent your views, why would you even choose to be associated with them in the first place?

These folks like to say that they must obey God over men. Implicit in this assertion is the notion that they represent God's message, while those who oppose them do NOT! In other words, for them this justifies defiance of whatever authority stands in their way. Of course, this completely ignores the fact that this principle of obeying God over men was clearly intended to apply to conflicts between secular authority and spiritual authority (In other words, not within the ekklesia). Within the Church, Paul wrote to the saints at Rome that they shouldn't argue with or condemn each other, and that they shouldn't be doing anything to cause each other to stumble (see Romans 14). In other words, if you feel compelled to challenge church leadership because you feel obligated to obey God, it's probably time to be looking for another church! And we all know what God has to say about those who sow discord among brethren (see Proverbs 6 and Romans 16:17).

Hence, if the leadership of your church decides that discoursing on masking and vaccine mandates is divisive and counterproductive, then you are obligated as an ethical person to either salute or leave! If your church leadership states that it is the mission and doctrine of the church to preach about Christ and his teachings, that does NOT mean that you have permission to deliver a warning message to Israel or discourse on how current events relate to ancient prophecies! So, instead of screaming about censorship, maybe these folks should engage in a little Bible study, self-reflection, and humility - and quietly resolve to do the right thing! What do you think? 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Plank in Our Own Eye

For several decades now, many within the Christian community have been obsessed with politics and the end times. Looking back over that same period, many of us are tempted to ask: HOW HAS THAT WORKED OUT FOR YOU? Indeed, earlier today, two commentators from opposite ends of the political spectrum addressed these dual obsessions of Christians in two very fine opinion pieces that are very worthy of our attention. Conservative commentator David French posted a column titled "Getting ‘More Christians Into Politics’ Is the Wrong Christian Goal." Likewise, Baptist Pastor Nathaniel Manderson posted a column for Salon titled "Some evangelicals claim Ukraine war means the end times — as usual, they're wrong."

After noting some recent examples of Christians who have dabbled in the political realm (Mark Meadows, Josh Hawley, and Jenna Ellis), David French reminded his brothers and sisters in Christ about an important spiritual truth that was taught by the founder of our faith. He wrote: "we forget a fundamental truth—our own maladies often make us unable to see the world clearly. Or, as Jesus said, 'You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.' In so many ways, we’ve become the People of the Plank, blind to the pain we’ve inflicted on the public even as we try desperately to protect ourselves from them." In other words, we see the problems and evil of the other side so clearly that it spurs some of us to jump in with both feet. Unfortunately, however, like so many before us, we are all too often oblivious to our own faults and weaknesses.

French went on to admit that he had personally struggled with the hyper-partisanship that has characterized so much of the Christian Right's involvement in American politics. He continued: "But as I’ve struggled to pull the plank away, it’s opened my eyes to many truths that were new to me. Among them, the church should be focused much more on its own virtue than the virtue of the rest of the world. In addition, if there were no grounds for Christians to live with a 'spirit of fear' at the height of the Roman Empire, there are no grounds for us to live with a spirit of fear in our nation today. Yet fear seems to dominate Christian political activism—including fear of the left, of CRT, and sometimes even fear for the very existence of a free church in the United States of America."

Indeed, throughout the history of the United States, the Christian Church has been actively involved in many of the great issues of the day. In times past, Christians advocated on behalf of slavery and abolition. In more recent times, Christians have participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Pro-Life Movement. Sadly, as French points out, they have also contributed to "two of the most destructive political and cultural movements of this new century—vaccine refusal that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and an effort to overturn an election that could have ruptured our republic." Truly, Christian participation in the political realm has been a double-edged sword! Of course, this obsession with politics has meshed rather nicely with that other great obsession of many Evangelical and ACOG Christians, the end times.

In the article referenced above, Pastor Nathaniel Manderson noted: "Right now, many evangelicals are ramping up their teachings about the end of the world. They can barely contain their excitement: Soon the people who have mocked their faith, changed the definition of marriage, given women the right to choose and supported feminism will finally be punished by God. The current war in Ukraine, for some of these supposedly devout Christians, yet another Biblical prophecy realized." Manderson went on to point out that the end time beliefs of many within the U.S. Evangelical community "have become a tool of the far right."

He continued: "This apocalyptic pull has allowed the evangelical leadership to dominate the religious political landscape, far out of proportion to the actual number of evangelical believers. This has driven too many of their followers down a path that relinquishes any sense of responsibility to the current generation. Healing the sick, welcoming the foreigner and serving the poor are set aside, in favor of a so-called religious war for the soul of God's creation." The pastor went on to note that "The Biblical perspective on all this has also been misunderstood. The people who followed Jesus Christ in his own time believed he would destroy the temple, become some kind of political leader and start a revolution against Roman rule. That was why he was charged with sedition and crucified. Jesus was none of those things, however, as his teachings clearly reflect."

Finally, as if he had coordinated his piece with the conservative French, Manderson offered a very appropriate prophecy of his own. He concluded: "My bold prediction is that this moment, although certainly a dangerous time in human history, is not the end of the world either. Every single minister who has predicted the return of Jesus has been wrong for 2,000 years, and this generation is no different. I believe we should all stop looking to supernatural forces for answers and start looking within. If I had any significant influence among Christians, I would argue that this is a time to put aside concerns about the end of the world and visions of the hereafter, and get back to loving your neighbor." In response, I can only say, "AMEN, and let's all get back to focusing on that plank in our own eye!" 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Another ACOG False Prophet Revealed

I was recently reminded that Church of God International Pastor Bill Watson has been promoting conspiracy theories about a pedophilia-ring operating in elite circles of government and entertainment since QAnon introduced the notion almost five years ago. For those who may not be familiar with this phenomenon, The Daily Beast reported that: “QAnon launched in 2017 with a series of anonymous message board clues from an anonymous figure called ‘Q,’ who claimed that Donald Trump is secretly at war with a global cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles and cannibals.” They went on to explain that “one of QAnon’s most explosive, and successful, allegations has been that Hollywood celebrities and top Democrats sexually abuse and torture children, often to drain ‘adrenochrome,’ a substance QAnon believers claim keeps the powerful alive. An echo of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which inspired a shooting and an attempted arson attack at a Washington pizzeria, the claim has gotten considerable traction. Earlier this month, hundreds of people walked in a Los Angeles rally to ‘Save the Children,’ a usefully vague slogan that QAnon believers have adopted as a more respectable way to inject their ideas about global pedophile cults into the mainstream.” (See QAnon Promotes Pedo-Ring Conspiracy Theories. Now They’re Stealing Kids.)

As part of CGI’s “Biblical News Updates and Commentary” series, Bill hosted a program titled “Pedophilia – A Growing Pandemic” in November of 2017. In that program, he implied that high government officials were involved in child sex-trafficking, and that more than seventy thousand people were involved in multiple nations across the globe. He also suggested that all of this was connected to Satan worship and even involved human sacrifice!

Then, in July of 2018, Bill did another program titled “Pedophilia Revisited: Still Growing.” In this episode, he suggested that highly educated and successful people were involved in the child sex ring. He said that there had been 1500 arrests in connection with this under the Trump Administration and hinted that there would be more to come. Even so, according to Bill, the mainstream media was totally ignoring the story and “turning a blind eye” to what was happening. And, once again, he linked the conspiracy to Devil worship and child sacrifice!

Likewise, in the Summer Edition of The International News (Volume 39, No. 2), Bill’s article titled “Is America Waking Up?” took up the narrative about the pedo-ring. In the piece, Watson predicted that 28,000 sealed indictments related to the phenomenon were about to be unsealed by the Trump Administration. And, once again, he claimed that “the mainstream media is M.I.A.!”

He continued: “Sources close to the FBI and DOJ claim many of those under secret indictments are judges, current and former politicians, and business executives, all in line to be revealed, as the courts begin processing these indictments for prosecution and bring these charges forward, incrementally, over the coming months and years! It’s no wonder as to why approximately 50 senators and congressman have resigned or will not be seeking re-election. It’s fair to say some may not want to endure the public embarrassment, or maybe made deals to stand down.”

He went on to advise his readers to “stay tuned,” because he predicted that the revelation of who all was involved would be shocking. Watson prophesied: “The names that have been leaked and the charges they will face will be shocking for some to comprehend, while others will probably not believe the magnitude, scope, and degree of subterfuge, treason, and sexual misconduct that has taken place by both elected and appointed officials of trust, at some of the highest levels of leadership, from both sides of the aisle!”

Then, just for good measure, Bill delivered one final “Pedophilia Update” in August of 2020. In this final installment in the series, Watson insisted that the child sex trafficking pandemic continued to grow around the world. He went on to reiterate that many prominent men and women had already been arrested in this connection and hinted that more shocking revelations were on the way (including a suggestion that the contents of Anthony Weiner’s laptop would expose some famous folks as perverted pedophiles). Notice too, the date for this final installment – just prior to the 2020 election. Since then, NOTHING!

Now, we could chalk this up to a nice guy being duped by QAnon, or we could simply attribute it all to a vivid imagination. However, Bill Watson claims to be a minister of Jesus Christ, and he was acting in his capacity as a representative of the Church of God International. As such, we must remember what Scripture has to say about people in this circumstance. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read: “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.” (18:22) Unless I missed the headlines, the predictions about the pedo-ring and indictments didn’t happen. Also, doesn’t this amount to bearing false witness? And, if he was only repeating what others said, doesn’t that qualify as gossip? So, what does all of that suggest about Pastor Bill Watson?


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Paganism and Christianity

For many years now, there has been a narrative extant within some elements of the Christian community (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Armstrong Churches of God, and various anti-Catholic Protestant groups) regarding the pervasive influence of paganism on Traditional Christianity. One of the chief proponents of this narrative was a man by the name of Ralph Woodrow, who authored a small book on the topic titled Babylon Mystery Religion. As Mr. Woodrow has himself admitted, this book was based on a 19th Century work by Alexander Hislop titled The Two Babylons. Unfortunately, even as modern scholarship has discredited both of those works, many of those elements of the Christian community who embraced their narrative have refused to let go of the notion that paganism has seriously tainted/compromised the Traditional Church.

Hislop contended that the Roman Catholic Church was "the Babylon of the Apocalypse." He went on to note "that the essential character of her system, the grand objects of her worship, her festivals, her doctrine and discipline, her rites and ceremonies, her priesthood and their orders, have all been derived from ancient Babylon." Hislop then went on to discourse on the pagan origins of the imagery surrounding the mother and child, Christmas, Easter, the mass, rites and ceremonies, and religious orders. Indeed, Hislop believed that the influence of paganism was so pervasive that it had even extended to Christianity's primary symbol, the cross! He wrote: "The same sign of the cross that Rome now worships was used in the Babylonian Mysteries, was applied by Paganism to the same magic purposes, was honored with the same honors. That which is now called the Christian cross was originally no Christian emblem at all, but was the mystic Tau of the Chaldeans and Egyptians--the true original form of the letter T--the initial of the name of Tammuz." Thus, for Hislop, the Roman Church had clearly been corrupted by paganism.

Then, shortly after I was born, Ralph Woodrow came along and breathed new life into Hislop's notions about paganism's influence on the Church. In his Babylon Mystery Religion, he contrasted paganisms influence on Christianity with the early Church's impact on the pagan world. Woodrow observed: "It was said of those early Christians that they had turned the world upside down! - so powerful was their message and spirit." He continued: "Before too many years had passed, however, men began to set themselves up as 'lords' over God's people in place of the Holy Spirit. Instead of conquering by spiritual means and by truth - as in the early days - men began to substitute their ideas and their methods. Attempts to merge paganism into Christianity were being made even in the days when our New Testament was being written." And, like Hislop before him, Woodrow went on to discourse on Babylon as the "source of false religion." He wrote about mother and child worship, Mary worship, pagan holidays, the cross as a Christian symbol, the mass and relic/idol worship.

Later, however, Woodrow had a change of heart. Of Babylon Mystery Religion he wrote: "My original book had some valuable information in it. But it also contained certain teachings that were made popular in a book many years ago, THE TWO BABYLONS, by Alexander Hislop. This book claims that the very religion of ancient Babylon, under the leadership of Nimrod and his wife, was later disguised with Christian-sounding names, becoming the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, two “Babylons"—one ancient and one modern. Proof for this is sought by citing numerous similarities in paganism. The problem with this method is this: in many cases there is no connection." For him, further investigation of the origins of certain Christian practices had demonstrated that the connections to paganism were illusory. Indeed, he went on to admit that the methodology which he and Hislop had employed in their treatises on the subject could be used to make almost anything pagan!

Unfortunately, this narrative about the influence of paganism on Christianity contradicts a great deal of what we now know about the history of the rise of that religion. In The Triumph of Christianity, Bart Ehrman noted: "Paganism...was not a single thing." He went on to say: "If we were to define a religion as a coherent system of thought, belief, and practice, with a clearly demarcated set of theological views about the divine being(s) and a prescribed set of rituals to be practiced in reference to them, then none of the so-called pagan religions would probably qualify."  Ehrman went on to underscore that most pagans subscribed to some form of polytheism. Both the diffuse and polytheistic nature of these pre-Christian religions can easily be demonstrated by a quick look at the situation in Scotland prior to the work of Saint Columba.

In The Makers of Scotland, Clarkson wrote: "On the eve of their exposure to Christianity in the early centuries AD, the people of ancient Scotland worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. A handful of these deities appear in the archaeological record, but the rest are invisible. Of the identifiable ones we know little or nothing. In most cases, we can only suppose that they represented aspects of the natural world or of human experience. The total number of native deities at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain is unknown, but some continuity from much older religious beliefs can probably be assumed." Notice, especially, how little is known about these gods and goddesses or the specific manner in which they were worshipped. Indeed, this point is reiterated by Clarkson as the narrative continued. He wrote: The gods and goddesses venerated in the northern parts of pre-Roman Britain are difficult to trace. A female deity worshipped in the middle of the first millennium BC is apparently represented by a large figure, crudely carved in wood, found buried in peat at Ballachulish in Lochaber. Traces of wicker unearthed from the sight might be the remains of a wooden shrine in which she once stood as the centerpiece. Her identity is unknown, but she may be an early example of a Celtic nature goddess. How widely she was venerated is likewise impossible to deduce, but her cult was perhaps fairly localized to the area where her image was unearthed." Hence, again, we see that pagans had many gods, and that very little of their identity and worship has survived into modern times.

In The Triumph of Christianity, Ehrman underscored the fact that "there were gods for every municipality and every family; gods with all sorts of functions: gods connected with love, war, livestock, crops, health, childbirth, and weather; gods associated with specific locations: mountains, streams, meadows, homes, hearths; gods of various abstractions, such as fortune, mercy, and hope; gods connected with elements of nature, like the moon, the sun, the sky, and the sea." He went on to observe that "Polytheism in Roman antiquity was normally an open and welcoming affair. New gods could be added and worshiped at will." Continuing the thought, Ehrman went on to observe that "Because of the open nature of polytheism, there was virtually no such thing as 'conversion.' Anyone who chose to begin worshiping a new god was welcome to do so and was not required or expected to leave behind any previous practices of worship or make an exclusive commitment to this one deity. Outside the world of Judaism, exclusivity - the insistence that only one god be worshipped - was practically unknown." As we will see in just a moment, these features of paganism stood in stark contrast to the new Christian religion. 

Moreover, Ehrman went on to point out that "Pagan religions were almost entirely about practice, about doing things, about giving the gods their due - not through mental affirmations of who they were or what they had done, but through ritual actions that showed reverence and devotion." He observed that "Pagan religions were about cultic acts. The word 'cult' comes from the Latin phrase cultus deorum, which literally means 'the care of the gods.' A cultic act is any ritualized practice that is done out of reverence to or worship of the gods. Such activities lay at the heart of pagan religions. Doctrines and ethics did not." Ehrman continued: "Roughly speaking, there were three kinds of activities in pagan religions: sacrificial offerings, prayer, and divination." This, of course, also stood in stark contrast to the new Christian religion - which focused on belief in Jesus Christ and adhering to certain ethical standards.

And, now that we have begun to compare paganism with Christianity and contrast some of the prominent features of both religions, it is appropriate to circle back around and summarize some of our earlier observations about paganism. As we have already observed, unlike Christianity, paganism was parochial in nature. While Christianity focused on One Supreme God of the universe and global salvation, paganism was highly individual and localized in nature. We have also noted that paganism wasn't exclusive. In other words, a person wasn't required to give up their allegiance to a god or gods if they decided to worship another god or gods. Christianity, on the other hand, demanded exclusivity. From the very beginning, Christian missionaries and evangelists demanded that pagans abandon their gods for the One True God of the Christians!

So, where is all of this leading us? What conclusions may we draw from contrasting paganism and Christianity? First, the monotheism of Christianity stands in stark contrast to the polytheism of paganism. Second, the local and personal nature of paganism is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the global nature and aims of Christianity. Third, the exclusivity of Christianity stands in sharp relief against the tolerance of paganism for multiple allegiances relative to the worship of other gods. Fourth, the fact that Christians are associated with a book (the Bible) and a set of beliefs and ethical standards is fundamentally different from the focus on cultic rituals associated with paganism. Fifth, the fact that we know so little about the gods and rituals of the pagans indicates that Christians had a high degree of success in both eradicating those practices and their memories and completely replacing them with their own faith. Hence, the narrative that Christians absorbed - and/or were eventually overwhelmed by - paganism is shown to be inconsistent with what we know and highly improbable. In short, the very nature of the two religions made them enemies of each other and set the stage for an existential contest between them.

Having discussed this phenomenon in very general terms, we will now take a closer look at one of the claims of pagan influence named by the proponents of this narrative. More particularly, we will look at their assertion that the cross is really a pagan symbol. On this subject, Woodrow noted that "It was not until Christianity began to be paganized (or, as some prefer, paganism was Christianized), that the cross image came to be thought of as a Christian symbol." However, this assertion by Woodrow does not even comport with what is revealed in Scripture!

In addition to all of the explicit references to the cross throughout the four gospels of the New Testament, we also have numerous references to the cross as a symbol of the new faith in the other writings that constitute that volume. For instance, Paul references it twice in his first epistle to the saints of Corinth (I Corinthians 1:17-18). Likewise, he referenced the cross as a symbol of the faith several times in his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (Galatians 5:11, 6:12, 14, Ephesians 2:16, Philippians 2:8, 3:18, Colossians 1:20, 2:14). Finally, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews encouraged his readers to look to "Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

And, although the Catholic Encyclopedia, does discuss the fact that the cross was used as a symbol by both the Egyptians and other peoples of the East, it makes clear that the symbol was used by the Christian Church from the earliest times. We read there: "It is not, therefore, altogether strange or inconceivable that, from the beginning of the new religion, the cross should have appeared in Christian homes as an object of religious veneration, although no such monument of the earliest Christian art has been preserved. Early in the third century Clement of Alexandria ('Strom.', VI, in P. G., IX, 305) speaks of the Cross as tou Kyriakou semeiou typon , i.e. signum Christi , 'the symbol of the Lord' (St. Augustine, Tract. cxvii, 'In Joan.'; De Rossi, 'Bull. d'arch. crist', 1863, 35, and 'De titulis christianis Carthaginiensibus' in Pitra, 'Spicilegium Solesmense', IV, 503). The cross, therefore, appears at an early date as an element of the liturgical life of the faithful, and to such an extent that in the first half of the third century Tertullian could publicly designate the Christian body as 'crucis religiosi', i.e. devotees of the Cross (Apol., c. xvi, P. G., I, 365-66). St. Gregory of Tours tells us (De Miraculis S. Martini, I, 80) that in his time Christians habitually had recourse to the sign of the cross." Hence, we see that the cross was employed as a Christian symbol long before the Roman Emperor Constantine had his famous vision.

Concerning that event, Woodrow noted that "An outstanding factor that contributed to the adoration of the cross image within the Romish Church was the famous 'vision of the cross' and subsequent 'conversion' of Constantine." Woodrow then proceeded to recount the famous story of Constantine's vision of a cross and the message that he would be victorious in battle if he used that symbol as his standard. As they say, the rest is history. According to Woodrow, Constantine's victory "did much to further the use of the cross in the Romish Church." However, the flaw in his logic will become immediately apparent to those who have been paying attention to our timeline. In other words, Constantine could never have employed the cross in this capacity if it wasn't already a well-recognized symbol of Christianity!

Now, longtime readers of this blog are already aware that many of the other points which Hislop and Woodrow addressed in their treatises have already been examined here in detail. In times past, we have explored the pagan influences on Christmas, Easter and some saint's days. Hence, while the narrative about paganism's influence over Traditional Christianity has been extremely popular in some circles, upon closer examination, it simply falls apart - it does not hold up to a thorough review of the available evidence. However unlikely some folks may see it, both the New Testament and secular history make plain that Christianity triumphed over paganism and very nearly eradicated it altogether. Indeed, one only has to look into the practices of modern pagans to discern that most of their practices and rituals derive from the modern period (as very little knowledge of the original practices of those people has survived to our times). 


Sources:

Hislop, Alexander. The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife. Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland, 1853.

Woodrow, Ralph. Babylon Mystery Religion. Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association Inc., 1966, 1981.

Woodrow, Ralph. A Message from Ralph Woodrow regarding the book BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION – No Longer in Publication. Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Accessed 22 March 2022.

Ehrman, Bart D. The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Simon and Schuster, 2019

Clarkson, Tim. The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings. Birlinn Ltd., 2019.

Catholic Encyclopedia Online, Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix, Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix - Encyclopedia Volume - Catholic Encyclopedia - Catholic Online, Accessed 22 March 2022

The King James Version of The Holy Bible

Friday, March 18, 2022

CGI: Correcting the Message

A little over a week ago, I wrote an article that was posted over at Banned by HWA titled No, That's Not the Gospel! In the piece, I challenged Pastor Adrian Davis' latest message on "What is the Gospel?" for the Church of God International's Armor of God program. More particularly, I disputed his assertion that the gospel was for and about Israel.

In his message, Davis had focused on the physical restoration of the Kingdom of Israel and ignored the infinitely more important spiritual aspects of the gospel message - the part about salvation through Jesus Christ. In my piece, I juxtaposed Davis' take on the gospel with an old booklet on the subject by CGI's Bill Watson which presented a much more expansive and spiritual view of the gospel message.

Now, admittedly, a program lasting twenty-eight minutes is not going to be able to cover all aspects of a subject, but I was disturbed by Davis' emphasis on the ethnocentric and political nature of the gospel. For me, it appeared that Mr. Davis was making the exact same mistake that Christ's disciples had made during his ministry by asking "has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?" Like Davis, they were focused on the physical restoration of a literal kingdom of Israel.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to see that CGI's Vance Stinson had corrected the church's messaging on the gospel in a sermon delivered this past Sabbath. In a sermon titled The Restoration of Israel, the pastor underscored that the gospel was about salvation through Jesus Christ. Stinson talked about the outpouring of the Spirit which Christ's work did and will accomplish. He talked about Israel as a model for other nations, and the role of those people in eventually bringing ALL of the peoples of the earth to salvation through Christ. Moreover, Pastor Stinson went on to talk about how Christ has made all Christians (even those whose physical heritage is Gentile) the children of Abraham and heirs of the promises made to him. Finally, Mr. Stinson pointed out that God is THE GOD of all of the peoples of the earth, not just Israel. Now, I can get behind that kind of messaging!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Scripture Isn't for Prudes!

Many of the Christians who subscribe to what is commonly referred to as a "Victorian" mindset when it comes to the subject of human sexuality are shocked when they read the following Scriptures:

"If two men fight together, and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her." Deuteronomy 25:11-12, NKJV

"She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse." Ezekiel 23:20, NLT

"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle." Song of Solomon 7:1-3, NIV

"How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, 'I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.' May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine." Song of Solomon 7:6-9, NIV

Is that stuff really in the Bible? YEP!

 

IT ISN’T INFORMATION THAT IDENTIFIES YOU AS A CHRISTIAN!

Anyone who has ever been a part of one of the Armstrong Churches of God will immediately recognize this ice breaker question when introduced to others within the culture: “How did you first learn/hear about THE TRUTH?” And we all understood exactly what that question suggested about what identified someone as a “TRUE” Christian (as opposed to all of those deluded “so-called” Christians who adhered to a more traditional understanding of what it meant to be identified as a follower of Jesus Christ). You see, for Armstrongites, a “TRUE” Christian was distinguished by his/her ability to understand and accept the teachings of Herbert Armstrong. The acceptance of this “TRUTH” was the proof/evidence that the Holy Spirit was working with you or dwelling within you! Folks who didn’t understand or accept those teachings simply weren’t being “called” or guided by the Holy Spirit!

Never mind that Christ clearly stated that it was the presence of an EMOTION that would identify his followers – NOT the understanding or acceptance of some package of doctrines! We read in the Gospel of John that Christ told his disciples: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, NLT throughout, unless otherwise specified) So, according to Christ, it was this love for each other that would mark them as his disciples. Notice too, the ONLY understanding that he ever mentioned in this regard was the understanding that HE was the Messiah, the Christ! (Matthew 16:16-18)

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul also identified the presence of LOVE as being much more important than the depth of someone’s understanding. He wrote to the saints of Corinth: “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2) He went on to say: “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless…Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:12-13)

Moreover, the Apostle Paul also wrote to the saints of Galatia about the fruits or evidence that would characterize those who had God’s Spirit dwelling within them. He said: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Notice, please, that knowledge or understanding didn’t even make the list!

Likewise, in the first epistle of John, we read: “If anyone claims, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.” (I John 2:9-11) A little later, we also read: “If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So, we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.” (I John 3:14-19)

So where did this fixation with spiritual understanding originate? The short answer is: “in the mind of Herbert Armstrong!” The longer answer is found in Mr. Armstrong’s interpretation of a passage from Paul’s first letter to the saints of Corinth. According to Herbert, the prooftext for this notion about the understanding of certain things being the thing that identifies one as a Christian is found in the second chapter. We read there: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.” (Verses 9-16, KJV)

Laying aside Herbert’s musings, let’s look at the context of these remarks and examine what kind of deep knowledge is imparted to a person by the presence of God’s Spirit. And both of those things are accomplished by simply reading the eight verses which precede Herbert’s favorites (quoted above). Paul wrote: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Corinthians 2:1-8, KJV) So, we see that this information which the Spirit imparts to the human mind involves “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Which, of course, is consistent with what Christ revealed to his disciples about who he was, why he came to this earth, and what that meant for us (hint – salvation)!

And we should make one additional point about THE TRUTH before we close. Jesus Christ once told Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) So, we see that Jesus Christ is the ultimate manifestation of God’s TRUTH!

In other words, there is absolutely NO suggestion in this scripture that the understanding and acceptance of a package of teachings (more particularly, those of Herbert Armstrong) are indicative of one’s status as a “REAL” Christian! Christ once told his disciples: “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So, every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:15-20) What kind of fruit has the Armstrong Church of God tree produced? Do we see evidence that the members of those churches love each other? Do we see evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control among these folks?

Judging whether someone belongs to God or not is above my pay grade. Maybe that’s why Christ insisted that his followers NOT judge each other? After all, who are we to judge another man’s servant? Moreover, Christ did give his followers the Parable of the wheat and tares and suggested that it would be the job of his workers (angels) to separate the weeds (false Christians) from the grain (the folks who were really his) at the end of the age! Hence, I would say that Scripture clearly refutes the notion that spiritual understanding is the hallmark of a “TRUE” Christian. What do you think?  

Friday, March 11, 2022

When that appointment with death comes too soon

My eldest daughter's college friend died on March 6 after a long and arduous battle with Muscular Sclerosis. It has taken me several days to muster the courage to address this very sad event, because he was such a fine young man - and he was only 34 years old!

Brit met Dave while attending the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and they became fast friends. Moreover, I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Dave during the year that I lived in Illinois to establish residency and obtain in-state tuition for my daughter. And I must say that I found him to be a friendly, polite, humorous, and extremely good-natured fellow.

During his time at school, he began dating a young lady at the school and fell in love - the way that young men do. They eventually asked me to perform their marriage ceremony, and I was so happy to do that for them. I remember the way that he looked at her and the sincerity in his voice. Later, they had a son together, and I've rarely seen a happier father than Dave was at the arrival of that little tyke.

Unfortunately, for Dave, the time of health and happiness was brief. He was diagnosed with MS, and the steady and relentless physical decline which followed was hard to watch - even from a distance. It wasn't long before Dave was in a wheelchair, and then eating and dressing became more difficult over time. Eventually, he was placed in a long-term care facility, and his marriage ended.

Remarkably, however, through all of that grief, sadness, and physical decline, Dave remained positive and forward thinking. He continued to be focused on his family and friends and tried his best to lift their spirits and appreciate whatever time he could have with them. Sensing that the end was near, he called all of his loved ones together to say goodbye. That accomplished, he went quietly - in his sleep, and without fanfare or regret.

I think about the years that he was denied. I think about all of the challenges and heartaches he had to confront in his brief time on this planet, and I wonder. Still, I hope that I can exhibit just a little of the grace and love that Dave exhibited when the time for my appointment arrives!

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." - Revelation 21:4

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

CGI STILL PROVIDING A PLATFORM FOR BILL WATSON’S COVID-19 MESSAGING

For a moment, it looked like Vance Stinson and Jeff Reed were trying to turn the page on the current events/headline prophecy and anti-public health messaging of Pastor Bill Watson of Ohio and Pastor Adrian Davis of Canada. For a moment, it looked like they would finally insist that the messaging coming from their platforms be in sync with that which is outlined in their mission statement and statement of beliefs (the Gospel). Unfortunately, one only has to turn to page fourteen of the current issue (Vol. 43, No. 1) of The International News to see that the moment passed in the twinkling of an eye!

On that page, you will find “A Bio-Digital World is Emerging” by the same old Bill Watson – completely unrepentant and without apology. The article’s bold type lead tells you everything you need to know about what is to follow: “Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has some major plans that include redefining what it means to be human. He is an adamant advocate of trans–humanism and is the author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and The Great Reset, which speak to the development of nanotechnology implants that intend to augment human beings with AI. Where is this leading us?” Rest assured, Bill’s answer to that question is that it is NOT leading us to a good place! Like many right-wing conspiracy theorists, The Great Reset means great government control and less economic freedom for individual citizens. What does all of this have to do with Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Church, and the Gospel? Keep reading, Bill has an answer for that question!

Bill opened his article with what he obviously feels should not be a controversial statement: “Regardless of what you might think of this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, I’m sure we can all agree our lifestyles have been affected in a variety of ways. At present, depending on whether or not you elected to be inoculated, the effect on your lifestyle will vary in degree.” It is as they say, however, the devil is in the details. For Bill, most of those impacts on our lifestyles really don’t have anything to do with the virus, and the overwhelming majority of them have been instituted by an insidious global cabal that does NOT have our best interests at heart! Forget about trying to prevent the spread of the virus, ensure global cooperation, protect the weak, and save lives. For Bill, all of those public health measures are about government control!

Watson talked about “how easy it was, under the threat of a worldwide pandemic, to lock down so many national economies in unified succession. Many have been surprised by the ease of this coordinated event of economic shutdowns in multiple countries.” He then proceeded to point out that over the course of the last two years that there has been a lot of “governmental monitoring, surveillance, and data acquisition.” Continuing, he noted: “There has been an enormous amount of information collected by federal governments and health agencies, which has resulted in the documentation and profiling of millions of people that have been inoculated and issued what is now labeled a ‘vaccine passport.’” For Bill, once again, this is about government control!

From there, Bill launched into a not so subtle discourse about the “Mark of the Beast.” He pointed out that “This ‘mark’ will be used as leverage to control the population of those that are under its jurisdiction.” He then proceeded to quote the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of the thirteenth chapter of Revelation: “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” The clear implication, of course, is that vaccine mandates and passports are the kinds of governmental controls which might constitute this “mark” at some point in the future.

Trying to anticipate the criticism that such a suggestion might provoke from his critics, Bill did issue a disclaimer of sorts. He wrote: “Now, I’m not saying the inoculation is the mark of the Beast—far from it! That is absolutely not my intent, so please don’t read that idea into what I’m saying here.” However, he then went on to state: “I’m simply saying that what we have seen in this pandemic helps us to see how an external mechanism—government-mandated protocols—can serve as a means of deployment by governments for social engineering.” Is it just me or does that sound an awful lot like doublespeak?

To be clear, the “Mark of the Beast” spoken of in the book of Revelation was clearly intended by the author of the book to represent a kind of anti-Shema. In other words, this “mark” was meant to represent the antithesis of the Shema recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. We read there: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) God then proceeded to tell the Israelites that his words should be kept in their hearts at all times and taught to their children (verses 6-7). Symbolically (and literally in some cases), God commanded them: “thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” (Verse 8) Notice how this language parallels the language employed in the book of Revelation (cited earlier) about receiving the mark “in their right hand, or in their foreheads.” Moreover, most serious students of the Bible understand that the Beast is meant to represent all of the systems which humans have devised to govern themselves down through the ages (in the days when the book was authored, more particularly, the Roman Empire). Hence, any suggestion that the “Mark of the Beast” could be anything like a vaccine mandate or passport is absurd on its face!

However, never one to be deterred by explanations which make more sense, Bill went on to ask if all of this “could be leading to digital identification?” According to him, “it should be plain to all of us that methods, technologies, strategies, and new systems of doing business have clearly emerged from the disruption and have seriously changed the landscape of the world’s geopolitical, technological, and workplace conditions. And these new circumstances are currently becoming the genesis of new processes on how to manage commerce and the populations of nations around the world.” Once again, for Bill, it’s all about government control!

For Bill, exhibit one in the move toward this new world order is Canada. In this section of the article, Watson focuses on a project within the Canadian government known as Policy Horizons. Watson quotes extensively from literature associated with the project to underscore what he sees as their sinister intent. Talk about fearmongering! Bill quoted the following statement from the project’s Director General: “’In the coming years, bio-digital technologies could be woven into our lives in the way that digital technologies are now. Biological and digital systems are converging, and could change the way we work, live, and even evolve as a SPECIES. More than a technological change, this bio-digital convergence may transform the way we understand ourselves and cause us to redefine what we consider HUMAN, or NATURAL’ (emphasis mine).”

However, as disturbing as Bill found their own statements to be, he simply could not resist the temptation to paint an even more frightening scenario of his own. He wrote: “Policy Horizons openly admits this ‘bio-digital convergence’ (a.k.a. trans-humanism) will open doors to change human beings—our bodies, minds, and behaviors. It will change or create other organisms and alter ecosystems. It will provide new ways to sense, store, process, and transmit information as well as manage biological innovation, meaning the enhancement of human capabilities. (Do you remember the T.V shows back in the 1970s called The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Women?) We’re talking about a whole new world— a ‘Brave New World’ that is moving in a direction of consolidation for a globalization of humanity, controlled by what may be leading to what Daniel <the prophet> described.”

After a brief diversion to quote the book of Daniel in an attempt to tie his speculation back to the book of Revelation he quoted earlier in the article, Bill went on to assure his readers that “the exponential development of so many technologies over the last few decades has caused world leaders to consider globalization a growing necessity, especially since trends have been going that way for a long time.” For those who are familiar with Bill’s writing and speaking, the mention here of his long-time boogeyman, the globalists, will not come as any great surprise. Indeed, they are an essential component of most of his conspiracy theories.

It is, however, in this latter part of the article where his borrowing from right-wing conspiracy theorists is the most obvious and transparent. It is here that he talks about Agenda 21 and Agenda 30. I know - most of you who are unfamiliar with extremist, right-wing media are wondering what in the hell Bill is talking about here! Once again, I’ll let Bill explain in his own words. He wrote: “Keep in mind, thirty years ago the UN held a summit meeting to reveal their Agenda 21. A total of 179 heads-of-state signed on, boldly claiming it to be a ‘Comprehensive blueprint for the reorganization of human society.’ This Agenda has moved along in recent years with some additional ideas from organizations like the WHO, the IMF, and the World Economic Forum and World Bank, along with many non-government organizations (NGOs) to claim what Agenda 21 was all about, but with an enhanced explanation (now Agenda 30) that is plainly explained in Klaus Schwab’s book entitled COVID–19: The Great Reset.”

Where is Bill getting this stuff? While we can’t be certain which sites Bill visited to glean his information for this article (because, like the founder of Armstrongism, he rarely cites his sources), we know for certain the kinds of sites which supply this stuff (I know – I’m being charitable). Sites like The Post Sustainability Institute and Unity News Network are the sources for this kind of anti-United Nations, anti-globalist information/propaganda.

Bill went on to conclude: “So, it’s become obvious, a lot of what will be needed for future control to manage a global community is being developed and beginning to be used in a variety of areas. People are getting used to the digitization of information and the deployment of merging it into our biology for the purpose of accomplishing the bio-digitization that Klaus Schwab calls trans-humanism! The technology is here and growing in use!” He continued: “How it will be used and for what purpose and how it will be presented to the world’s population for acceptance, all remains to be seen. But, one thing is for sure, there will be decisions to be made along the way, just like what we’re going through today regarding the choices we’re faced with when contending with this pandemic—it’s the same principle—it’s like a practice run! And the question all of us will have to face at some point out ahead concerning this future ‘mark’ is, what will we decide to do when faced with the choice of not being able to work, eat, shop, travel, or enjoy some entertainment or sports event within the social structure, without it—what will be our choice?”

I know – many of you are still wondering how all of this relates to the commission which Christ gave to his disciples, and to the great questions concerning salvation and the Kingdom of God. I share your confusion. Moreover, it is difficult to discern how this isn’t a total retreat on the part of CGI’s leadership from their insistence that their platforms NOT be used to promulgate this kind of messaging about Covid-19 public health measures. At any rate, let’s all hope that the majority of the folks who happen to read this tripe will see it for exactly what it is – a bunch of ridiculous speculation with little to NO basis in Scripture!


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Kindness

I know - I just wrote a post about kindness back in January! Even so, after witnessing Congresswoman Lauren Boebert heckle the President of the United States during his State of the Union Address earlier this week, I felt compelled to speak on the subject again. Unfortunately, incidents of people being unkind and nasty to each other seem to be happening with more and more frequency these days.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Kindness is more than behavior. The art of kindness means harboring a spirit of helpfulness, as well as being generous and considerate, and doing so without expecting anything in return. Kindness is a quality of being. The act of giving kindness often is simple, free, positive and healthy." (See The art of kindness)

The same article informs us that kindness has positive physiological and psychological impacts on human health. In addition to increasing self-esteem and improving our mood, it appears that kindness can also lower blood pressure and reduce stress! Apparently, kindness can also "boost" the levels of serotonin and dopamine in our brains and engender feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Thus, medical science has demonstrated that kindness can provide tangible health benefits for those who practice it!

For those of us who are Christians, we know that kindness is one of the "fruits" or evidences of the presence of God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22, NLT). Likewise, Paul told the saints of Colosse that kindness was expected of God's elect (Colossians 3:12, NLT). A lot of people claim to be "Born-Again" Christians (including the congresswoman named above), but anyone who claims that moniker should ask themselves whether or not they are practicing the art of kindness as part of their normal, everyday routine. There are many good reasons for practicing kindness, and its absence may also be indicative of serious spiritual problems! Moreover, it usually doesn't take much effort to be kind, and I find that it is almost always appreciated by others.