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Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Armstrongism Covenant Dilemma

In reviewing a recent CGI sermon titled Is It a New or Renewed Covenant? by Jan Kowalczyk, I was reminded about the dissonance inherent within the theology of Armstrongism relative to any discussion the Old and New Covenants. Indeed, it occurred to me that the title of this message seemed to epitomize their dissonance on the subject. In other words, if one accepts the fact that there is a "New" Covenant, doesn't that designation imply/suggest that the "Old" Covenant has been abolished or superseded? And, if the Old Covenant has been abolished/superseded, how can we justify our continued observance of some of its provisions (e.g., clean and unclean meats, Sabbath and Holy Day observance, tithing, etc.)?

Now, because of my own background in Armstrongism, I was aware that a great deal of time and energy had been devoted to arguments over Law vs. Grace and explaining why Christians were still obligated to observe certain provisions of the Torah. Nevertheless, after reviewing the corpus of Worldwide Church of God literature at the online Herbert W Armstrong Searchable Library, I was surprised to not find a single book or booklet devoted to the topic. Indeed, there was only ONE Plain Truth article by Raymond Cole (December 1958) titled The New Covenant - Does It Abolish God's Law? and Two Good News articles - one by Garner Ted Armstrong (June 1976) titled Has the New Covenant Been Made Yet? - the other by Herbert W Armstrong (December 1978) titled THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT THE COVENANTS. I was frankly shocked. How could they have so thoroughly avoided directly confronting the issue of the Old and New Covenants? Did they consider their many forays into the traditional Law vs. Grace debate to have sufficiently addressed the subject of the covenants? OR Had they intentionally avoided the topic because of the obvious difficulties it presented for their theology?

In Raymond Cole's article, as the title suggests, the thesis was that the New Covenant had NOT abolished the Law which had been made a part of the terms of the Old Covenant (at least not all of it). Moreover, it was framed in terms of the familiar debate. In his opening paragraph, Cole wrote: "It is commonly assumed that the old covenant was the ten commandment law-that the new covenant contains only grace and promises, but no law." Cole went on to stress that the Old Covenant had been a kind of marriage between God and Israel, and that God had had to eventually divorce Israel because of their continuous sinning (breaking of the law which was part of the terms of that contract/agreement). In terms of the New Covenant, Cole believed that Christ had "not yet completed His work of confirming the covenant." He went on to observe that we must: "Bear in mind that the new testament or will of Jesus Christ has been in force since His death. But His testament or will has conditions of obedience which we must meet before we can inherit the promises. The Greek word for 'testament' also means 'covenant.' Since the new testament involves our agreement to fulfill these conditions, it becomes a covenant -and that new covenant will not be confirmed with us-we won’t inherit the promises-until we are first made immortal and have God’s nature so we can’t sin (II Peter 1:4). Since 'sin is the transgression of the law' (I John 3:4), one of the conditions to eternal life involves quitting sin-and KEEPING THE COMMANDMENTS!"  

In the first Good News article to actually address the issue of the "New" Covenant, GTA had carefully gone through the various covenants recorded in the Old Testament before finally addressing the subject of the New Covenant. For him, the entire question came down to one of timing - that is when the New Covenant would actually begin. The thesis of GTA's article is nicely summarized by a couple of brief paragraphs. He wrote: "Millions erroneously believe that the New Covenant of which Jeremiah spoke is already in full force and effect on this earth today. But many clear prophecies in the Bible tell us otherwise!" Armstrong went on to assert that "Millions assume the time of the 'New Covenant' began with Christ's human ministry on the earth. They carelessly assume that all 'Christianity' is under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant today, which, they erroneously think, frees them from any obligation to obey God!" In other words, for GTA, the New Covenant hadn't even begun yet, and Christians were consequently still obligated to observe at least some of the terms of the Sinaitic or Old Covenant!

When Herbert Armstrong finally addressed the topic, not surprisingly, he approached the subject from yet another perspective, but he gave a nod to what had previously been written by his surrogates. He opened his article by underscoring the importance to the Church of understanding the Old and New Covenants. This was followed by a somewhat peculiar discourse where he emphasized the distinction between a testament and a covenant (both English words are translations of the same Greek word in the original manuscripts). Like Cole before him, he emphasized that the Old Covenant between God and Israel was like a "marriage contract," and that it was contingent upon their obedience. Then, like his son, he observed that the New Covenant had not yet been fully implemented. He wrote: "The Old Covenant is ended...Yet the new covenant HAS NOT YET BEEN MADE! Its terms and conditions have been revealed to us through Christ. We ministers preach it. And even though as a final MARRIAGE COVENANT it has not been made that is, in contract language, signed, sealed and delivered, those whom God has called are privileged to have God's law written in our hearts, to have the life-begetting sin-overcoming Holy Spirit to open our minds to spiritual UNDERSTANDING, to guide us in God's ways, and. within us, to EMPOWER us to overcome Satan and DO THE WORK OF GOD!" He concluded by warning his followers not to confuse the Old Covenant with the Old Testament and asserted that "the Worldwide Church of God is based on THE WHOLE BIBLE!"

In Mr. Kowalczyk's sermon (referenced above), the very notion of a "New" Covenant is attacked. For him, the problem isn't completely resolved by talking about when the covenant is/was inaugurated. Instead, he proposes that the current dispensation be regarded as a modification or renewal of the terms of the Old Covenant. For him, the "Old" Covenant wasn't abrogated/repudiated/revoked/repealed - it was merely altered or adjusted by Christ to ensure that God could keep the promises he had made under the initial terms of the covenants outlined in the Torah! To be sure, Mr. Kowalczyk believes that two of those changes/alterations were significant (1. Christ as the one and only sacrifice necessary for its implementation, and 2. that Christ's sacrifice had made the forgiveness of sins possible (something that he asserts was impossible under the terms of the original covenant).

In times past, I posted here an article titled The Two Covenants which sought to differentiate between the Old and New Covenants without resorting to the tired arguments of Law vs. Grace and parsing the meaning of Paul's discourses on the topic. And, although that article generated a great deal of interest and commentary, most of my Armstrongite friends remained unpersuaded by it. In fact, in this brief review of their pronouncements on the subject, we begin to see why they have been so reluctant to address the topic, and why the few times they have ventured to do so have been so tentative and muddled! Indeed, it has become clear to me that the reason Armstrongites have been so reticent about commenting on the two covenants is that the very act of doing so presents inherent problems for their narrative about incorporating certain elements of the Old Covenant into the obligations of Christians operating under the New Covenant! In other words, if there really is such a thing as a "New" Covenant (and its terms are currently binding on Christians), then it necessarily follows that the "Old" Covenant (and its terms) have been replaced with something different - that the terms and conditions of the contract between God and man have changed!

That this is the case is thoroughly supported by both testaments of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. First, a New Covenant was anticipated in the pages of the Old Testament. It was anticipated in the prediction of a future confrontation between the woman's and serpent's offspring (Genesis 3:15), and God's promise to Israel that he would one day raise up a prophet for them like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Likewise, it was implied in many prophecies related to the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11, 53, etc.). The New Covenant is also explicitly predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Indeed, the fact that the New Testament (as we know it) did NOT exist in the First Century, and that the apostles and early Church preached Christ exclusively out of what we now refer to as the Old Testament is proof enough that the Old anticipated the New!

In the New Testament, however, the reality of the New Covenant is made even more explicit! The gospels make plain that the New Testament/Covenant is represented in Christ's blood (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). Moreover, the Apostle Paul confirmed the symbolism which Christ had established for the Eucharist in his first letter to the saints of Corinth (I Corinthians 11:25). Moreover, in his second letter to those saints, Paul contrasted the OLD with the NEW. He wrote: "It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!" (II Corinthians 3:5-11, NLT)

Paul's assertions here about the nature of the New Covenant contrasted with the nature of the Old Covenant is the point that confounds Armstrongites more than any other and is largely responsible for their avoidance of the subject of the two covenants. They quote the passage that Christ came NOT to destroy the Law or the prophets (Matthew 5:17-20), and it literally blinds them to the very thing which Christ accomplished in inaugurating the New Covenant. They can't see that he didn't abolish the Law - that he FULFILLED it and the prophets for us! Moreover, Christ transformed the Law for us by distilling it into two great principles (Love for God and love for neighbor). Hence, under the terms of the New Covenant, Christians are obligated to keep the spirit and intent of the law going forward - not to get bogged down in trying to observe all of the dos and don'ts that were part of the terms of the Old Covenant! Christ instructed his apostles to "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." (Matthew 28:20)

And, for the record, the original Greek word translated into English as "NEW" means NEW - it doesn't imply renewal or revision/alteration/modification of that which previously existed! According to Strong's, the Greek word is "kainos," and it implies something that is new, recently made, fresh, unused, unprecedented and novel! - See G2537 - kainos - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) In other words, the Greek word is the antithesis of that which is old, antiquated, or archaic. Hence, the use of the word in this connection in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament sets up the contrast with that which is old!

The stark contrast between the terms of the Old Covenant and those of the New Covenant are further underscored by the accounts of the Jerusalem Council recorded in the book of Acts and Paul's epistle to the Galatians (an event which is not ignored by Armstrongists, but that is often dismissed by them as not having any bearing on the subject of their continued observance of certain provisions of the Old Covenant). Nevertheless, for objective students of the Bible, these two accounts make very plain that the Church decided that Gentile Christians were not obligated to observe the provisions of the Old Covenant!

In the book of Acts, the account opened with a summary of the circumstances which prompted the Church council at Jerusalem. We read there: "While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: 'Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question." Acts 15:1-2) After a long discussion, we are informed that Peter stood up and said: "So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus." (Verses 10-11) Later, James also addressed the assembly, and concluded that "my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Verses 19-21) Moreover, we are informed that the overwhelming majority of the assembly concurred with what Peter and James had said - as evidenced by the letter that was eventually addressed to the Gentiles (verses 22-31).

In his epistle to the saints of Galatia, Paul recounted his memories of his encounter with the original apostles in similar terms. He wrote: "In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do." (Galatians 2:9-10) Later, when Peter visited him, we are told that Paul confronted him with this statement: "You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (Verses 15-16) Hence, for Paul at least, it was clear that Christians were under no obligation to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant! He told the Colossians that there was nothing inherently wrong with Christians observing some of those provisions - as long as they didn't try to impose them on others as necessary obligations under the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17).

Finally, if we didn't have any other scriptures to reference on this subject, the epistle to the Hebrews would be sufficient to demonstrate that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant! In the seventh chapter of that epistle, we read that Christ represented a different priesthood from the Levitical one established under the terms of the Old Covenant. In fact, we read there that Jesus is a guarantor of a "better" covenant. Likewise, the ninth chapter of that same epistle opens with the statement that the "first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth." (Verse 1) The first implies a second. Continuing, we read: "Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (Verses 13-15) Once again, contrasting the two covenants, the anonymous author of the epistle informs us: "That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. Then he said, 'This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.' And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf." (Verses 18-24)

Hence, we can see that Scripture makes plain that there is a clear distinction to be made between the provisions and parties to those of the Old and New Covenants. In other words, the view that the New Covenant is merely an update of the Old is inconsistent with what is revealed in Scripture. Moreover, while it is clear that the provisions of the New Covenant are not yet universal (thus, they have certainly not reached their full extent or application), it is also clear that God has already abrogated the old agreement, and Jesus Christ has already instituted a new one. Scripture clearly reveals that the New Covenant is currently in force and will remain in force throughout eternity! 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

GOD IS PROGRESSIVE!

I just listened to a sermon by CGI's Seth Forrestier titled Progressive Christianity. The thesis of his message was that the Christian religion is inherently progressive in nature. This, of course, was juxtaposed to the reality that many Christians today consider themselves to be both politically and theologically very conservative in their opinions and beliefs. Forrestier, however, pointed out that the objective of the Christian life is improvement and moving toward perfection - that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from our sinful past. In other words, Christians definitely should NOT be averse to change or desirous of wanting to return to their previous sinful lives!

In thinking about the very logical and meaningful points that Seth was making, it occurred to me that most of us also tend to emphasize the conservative nature of God - that God: doesn't change, seeks to restore His government to this earth, and humanity to a right relationship with Himself. Nevertheless, although that view of God has obvious merit, it also ignores a great deal of the other things that both Scripture and Creation reveal about the progressive nature of God. For instance, the Bible reveals to us that God decided at some point to create the material universe and humanity - that's a major change by anyone's standard. Moreover, the entire notion of saving humanity from their sins is progressive in nature. Moreover, the fact that the material world is constantly evolving and changing is the antithesis of conservative. In other words, Scripture and nature teach us that God is always moving forward - toward the fulfillment of His plans/objectives.

Indeed, as Forrestier pointed out in his message, Christ's parables of the pounds and talents suggest that God does not want his people to tread water and just seek to conserve what has been entrusted to their care. In other words, these parables of Christ clearly imply that God expects his people to grow/add to what he has entrusted to their care! Hence, just as we can see value in seeing God's laws and purpose as immutable/unchanging/eternal, we should also be able to see the value of viewing God's nature as progressive! Unfortunately, we tend to be very dualistic or black/white in our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of either/or - conservative or progressive. We ignore shades of gray and tend to be color blind. In the language of logic, this is referred to as a FALSE DILEMMA! In other words, we tend to limit God to our own narrow understanding and views of these things. Nevertheless, as is consistent with the theme of this blog, God is NOT limited or contained by the things that limit and contain us! 

Monday, April 25, 2022

HOW CAN A CHRISTIAN TEACHER FACILITATE AND ENCOURAGE LEARNING?

My last post questioned the focus of most Christian churches on sermons or homilies delivered by one individual and asked whether it might be more effective to encourage everyone in the congregation to participate in the worship service. As a former teacher, I have always known that student participation in the lesson is one of the best ways to facilitate and encourage learning. In this regard, it is interesting to note that one of the primary leadership positions within the Christian Church identified in Scripture is that of the teacher (see Acts 13:1, I Corinthians 12:28-29, Ephesians 4:11).

In ThoughtCo's article on How to Facilitate Learning and Critical Thinking, they identify several strategies that the most effective teachers regularly employee in their classrooms. They recognize and acknowledge that different people learn differently, and that everyone responds to variety. They observed: "A number of instructional methods can help a teacher move away from standard lesson delivery and toward facilitating a true learning experience. Teachers can vary methods to respond to different learning styles." They went on to clarify that "Varying instruction means using different methods to deliver lessons to students." Moreover, it is interesting to note that all of the different instructional methods which they identify in the article were employed by the Great Teacher and founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ!

What are some of those strategies and methods that Christ used during his earthly ministry which are identified in the four canonical gospels? 1) Christ used role-playing when he sent his disciples out to heal and preach his message (see Matthew 10, Luke 10), 2) The Synoptic Gospels inform us that Christ used parables (stories) to illustrate the points he was trying to make (see Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 13, etc.), 3) Jesus made extensive use of field trips to facilitate and encourage learning (see Matthew 8:23-27, 12:1-8, 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, etc.), 4) Jesus often asked questions to facilitate critical thinking and discussion (see 100 Questions Jesus Asked), 5) Christ often used real world connections to make his lessons more relatable to them (see Matthew 24:1-3, Luke 13:1-5, 20:24, John 2:1-12, etc.), 6) Christ used allegories to teach his disciples about himself and his mission (see John 10:1-18, 15:1-8, etc.), and 7) He even occasionally delivered a sermon or lecture to get his point across to his disciples (see Matthew 5). In other words, the gospels demonstrate that Christ employed a number of diverse methods/strategies to teach his disciples the things that he wanted them to learn.

Hence, having such an example from that Great Teacher, why is it that so many of the folks who profess to be teachers in God's Church deliver one lecture after another? How is it that these folks aren't employing any of these other highly effective strategies to facilitate their students growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do they think that their oratorical abilities exceed those of Jesus Christ? Imagine the self-conceit implicit in someone lecturing to their congregations for anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes once a week, every week, all year long! Do they really believe that they are facilitating and encouraging learning by doing this over and over again? What do you think?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

What's wrong with everyone participating?

Unfortunately, many Christian worship services in 2022 are built around a sermon, sermonettes, or homilies. Sure, most congregations also sing a few hymns and/or have some kind of featured devotional music. Likewise, at a minimum, most congregations have an open and closing prayer. Some worship services also include an opportunity for the individual members of the congregation to request prayers for blessing, healing, protection, guidance, etc. Many worship services take up an offering to support the work and ministry of the Church. And, although it is NOT universal, many Christian worship services provide an opportunity for members to participate in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, for most, the primary focus of the modern worship service is a single speaker delivering a lengthy message.

Is that what happened in the early Church? More importantly, is that the kind of service that God expects and appreciates? Does God want the majority of the folks he has called into his church to be passive hearers or active participants? Did God really intend for one or two folks to be the focus of his Church's worship service?

We've mentioned before that the Greek word translated into English as church (ekklesia) denotes an assembly of called out individuals. In other words, the notion of people coming together as part of a community of believers is implicit in the term used to describe the Church! It is literally a coming together of Christ's followers to help and support each other (Ephesians 4:16).

Now, so that no one will be able to say that Lonnie is advocating against sermons in Church worship services, I want to make clear that sermons/homilies are a completely Scriptural feature of Christian practice. Indeed, we are informed in the book of Acts that Peter delivered an important sermon on the day that the Church began (Acts 2:1-41) Even so, we should also note that this same account informs us that ALL of the believers who were present that day were active participants in the meeting. We read: "Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability." (Verses 3-4)

Moreover, in Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth, he provided us with some insight into what a worship service was like in a church which he had played an integral role in founding. Apparently, there was widespread participation in the service - so much so that it had become raucous and unwieldy (as Paul advocated for a more orderly service). He wrote: "When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately. Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people." (I Corinthians 14:26-33) In other words, sounds like they were doing a whole lot more than listening to a sermon or two!

Likewise, the first Christian catechism, The Didache, talked about teachers, apostles and prophets in the Church. And, at the time it was written (late First or early Second Century), it appears the Eucharist was a part of EVERY worship service (not quarterly or just once a year). This document also makes clear that Christians were already regularly meeting together on Sunday, and that they were in the habit of giving "thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions."

A little later, in the Second Century, Justin Martyr described a Christian worship service in these terms: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need." (From his First Apology)

Hence, from all of these various writings from the early Church, it appears that worship services were much more participatory back in the day! While sermons were certainly not unheard of in those days, we are left with the distinct impression that many different folks were contributing to the worship service. There were readings from both Testaments, confessions, many prayers, speaking and interpreting other languages, prophecies, lessons, collections, and a host of other practices that make most of our services seem very narrow and boring by comparison! In light of these revelations, is it possible/probable that a more varied and participatory worship service might be more beneficial for Christian worship services in our own day? And, if they were, is it possible that we might not have as many folks falling asleep during service or avoiding them altogether? What do you think?

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Testimony of Jesus Christ

In the book of Revelation (KJV), we find "the testimony of Jesus Christ" referenced a number of times: 

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." - Revelation 1:1-2

"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." - Revelation 1:9

"And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." - Revelation 12:17

What does that short phrase mean? What was/is the testimony of Jesus Christ?

According to Strong's, the Greek word translated into English as "testimony" is "martyria" (pronounced mar-too-ree'-ah). See G3141 - martyria - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) The same word also appears in the English Bible as "witness," "record," and "report." The same source informs us that the term denotes the evidence given by someone, or that which one testifies. We are further informed that the term is often employed in connection with the message/testimony of a prophet.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the future prophet referenced by God in the Torah. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read that God told Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." (18:18) Hence, it would appear that John's association of the word "testimony" with the message of a prophet in the book of Revelation is intentional/deliberate!

This association is further reinforced by a verse that appears later in the text. In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, we read: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Verse 10) In the Amplified Bible, the same verse appears as "Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he [stopped me and] said to me, “You must not do that; I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who have and hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God [alone]. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [His life and teaching are the heart of prophecy]." The Greek word "pneuma" is translated into English here as "spirit," and it conveys the sense of being the essence of the thing (prophecy). See G4151 - pneuma - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)

Moreover, in the light of these connections, it is interesting to note that Christ said that he came to this earth to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17)! Indeed, all four gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ dwell on his fulfillment of both the law and the prophets. In the Gospel of Luke, we are even informed that Christ specifically told the Jews that he had fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy about the very message/testimony which he was to deliver! We read there: "And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:17-21)

Further, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that John the Baptist had this to say about the message/testimony of Jesus: "He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (John 3:31-34) Later, in the same account, Christ said that he had not received his testimony from men (the clear implication being that he had received it from God), and that it was intended to SAVE those who heard it! (John 5:34, 37-38) Hence, we see how Christ's life and message/testimony was the culmination of the Law and the prophets.

Moreover, not only did Christ fulfill the requirements of the Law in the way that he lived his life on this earth, but Scripture also informs us that Christ magnified the Law and distilled it into its very essence through his teachings/message. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read how Christ magnified the meaning and intent of the Law. And, in the twenty-second chapter of the same book, we read how Christ summarized the law into two great principles: Love for God, and love for neighbor (verses 37-40). Hence, with this understanding, we are given greater insight into exactly what is meant by that reference to spiritual Israel in the book of Revelation - those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

Thus, we finally begin to fully comprehend and appreciate what is meant by "the testimony of Jesus Christ." We finally begin to comprehend and appreciate the central role that Jesus and his message play in the story of the Bible! We finally begin to understand and appreciate that Jesus is THE WORD OF GOD, not the book that tells us about him! We finally begin to understand and appreciate that Jesus Christ is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of his person (Hebrews 1:3)! And, finally, we begin to understand why Christ closed his earthly ministry with these instructions to his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Verses 19-20)

Do you have the testimony of Jesus Christ? If so, what are you doing with it? Are you among those who keep the commandments of God? If so, how are you keeping them? Are you busy with scrupulously adhering to a list of dos and don'ts? OR Are you loving the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself?  


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE WOKE!

Taking a page from the QAnon playbook, the Far-Right's latest talking points are full of defamatory buzzwords like "pedophile" and "groomer." Yes, just when you thought that the "culture wars" currently raging in the United States couldn't get any nastier, they have! Apparently, these Ultra-Conservatives have decided that the most effective way to motivate their base to vote (and appeal to Independent voters) is to attack the "WOKE" establishment's grip on educating our children.

These folks love to talk about how our children are being indoctrinated with Leftist "Woke" ideology. More particularly, they don't like the fact that their children are being taught tolerance for LGBTQ folks and gender affirmation. For them, teacher's and Disney are busy sexualizing young children and making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Their argument is framed in terms of putting the parents in charge of their children's education. In other words, parents have to protect their innocent children from the harmful ideas being pushed by these "groomer" educators! However, if indoctrination is defined as the process of teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without exposing them to any alternatives, I think that it's fair to ask "Who's trying to indoctrinate who?"

Never mind that NO ONE is advocating for pedophilia or is trying to convert children to the "gay lifestyle." Never mind that exhibiting love, tolerance, and acceptance for folks who are different from us is widely recognized as being an emotionally and socially healthy/beneficial exercise! Never mind that all children are born with genitalia and their little brains are continually being flooded with hormones, or that sexuality is an integral part of being human! Never mind that LGBTQ folks will always be around, and that things like sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual hygiene/disease, and the morality surrounding issues related to human sexuality are things that confront all of us (including our children). How naive is it to assume that we can "protect" children from these things? How irresponsible is it to ignore these things and act as if they don't exist? Have these folks never heard of "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it?" (See Proverbs 22:6)

Currently, another favorite target of these folks is what they refer to as "Critical Race Theory." Ask them what that means or entails and you're likely to get a blank stare in response, but it does tend to tap into the fears of a bunch of folks that Anglo-Saxon culture and values are under attack. More often than not, this kind of talk manifests itself in the way that issues like slavery and race are talked about in classrooms. Indeed, this is what most of these blimpish politicians are talking about when they refer to their political opponents as being "WOKE." In this connection, you tend to hear things like "I don't want my <white> children to be made to feel like they are responsible for slavery or racial injustice!" In other words, let's not talk about anything that makes us uncomfortable, might contribute to rectifying past injustices, or serve to ameliorate current racial tensions!

I did a Bing search for the term "woke," and it pulled up the following definition: "alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism." What's wrong with that? Didn't Christ say that he wanted his followers to be alert to the needs of the disadvantaged among them? (See Matthew 25:31-45) Didn't Christ instruct his followers to be alert and watchful? (See Matthew 24:42-49) And what was the purpose of the story about the Good Samaritan or the Samaritan woman at the well? (See Luke 10:29-37 and John 4:4-26) Did they have anything to do with prejudice/racism? Didn't James say that Christians should minister to the needs of the disadvantaged among them? (See James 2:16) Didn't John say, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" (See I John 3:17) And aren't all of these sentiments in line with long-established biblical principles? (See Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Proverbs 19:17, Isaiah 58:7-10) Hence, in light of what Scripture says about these things, I would think that the choice between the adjectives "woke" or "blimpish" would be a simple one! What do you think?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and all modern Jewish and Christian sects profess a belief in some form of resurrection for the human dead. Indeed, the concept is so integral to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that it is embraced by both those who hold that the soul is immortal and those who believe that humans are wholly mortal. Nevertheless, although the notion of a resurrection enjoys almost universal acceptance among the various Jewish and Christian sects extant in the world today, the way that it is presented in their Scriptures does seem to present some real challenges for those who adhere to the most widely accepted notions among them of an afterlife.

In their article on "Resurrection," the Jewish Encyclopedia states: "Like all ancient peoples, the early Hebrews believed that the dead go down into the underworld and live there a colorless existence (comp. Isa. xiv. 15-19; Ezek. xxxii. 21-30)." - See RESURRECTION - JewishEncyclopedia.com The Hebrew word for this "underworld" was "sheol." Moreover, the same source (Jewish Encyclopedia) had a great deal to say about the way this term is employed in the Hebrew Bible. In their article on Sheol, we read: "It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Gen. xxxvii. 36, Hebr.; comp. ib. xlii. 38; xliv. 29, 31). Sheol is underneath the earth (Isa. vii. 11, lvii. 9; Ezek. xxxi. 14; Ps. lxxxvi. 13; Ecclus. [Sirach] li. 6; comp. Enoch, xvii. 6, "toward the setting of the sun"); hence it is designated as (Deut. xxxii. 22; Ps. lxxxvi. 13) or (Ps. lxxxviii. 7; Lam. iii. 55; Ezek. xxvi. 20, xxxii. 24). It is very deep (Prov. ix. 18; Isa. lvii. 9); and it marks the point at the greatest possible distance from heaven (Job xi. 8; Amos ix. 2; Ps. cxxxix. 8). The dead descend or are made to go down into it; the revived ascend or are brought and lifted up from it (I Sam. ii. 6; Job vii. 9; Ps. xxx. 4; Isa. xiv. 11, 15). Sometimes the living are hurled into Sheol before they would naturally have been claimed by it (Prov. i. 12; Num. xvi. 33; Ps. lv. 16, lxiii. 10), in which cases the earth is described as "opening her mouth" (Num. xvi. 30). Sheol is spoken of as a land (Job x. 21, 22); but ordinarily it is a place with gates (ib. xvii. 16, xxxviii. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 10; Ps. ix. 14), and seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments (Prov. vii. 27), with "farthest corners" (Isa. xiv. 15; Ezek. xxxii. 23, Hebr.; R. V. "uttermost parts of the pit"), one beneath the other (see Jew. Encyc. v. 217, s. v. Eschatology). Here the dead meet (Ezek. xxxii.; Isa. xiv.; Job xxx. 23) without distinction of rank or condition—the rich and the poor, the pious and the wicked, the old and the young, the master and the slave—if the description in Job iii. refers, as most likely it does, to Sheol. The dead continue after a fashion their earthly life. Jacob would mourn there (Gen. xxxvii. 35, xlii. 38); David abides there in peace (I Kings ii. 6); the warriors have their weapons with them (Ezek. xxxii. 27), yet they are mere shadows ("rephaim"; Isa. xiv. 9, xxvi. 14; Ps. lxxxviii. 5, A. V. "a man that hath no strength"). The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling (Job xiv. 13; Eccl. ix. 5). Silence reigns supreme; and oblivion is the lot of them that enter therein (Ps. lxxxviii. 13, xciv. 17; Eccl. ix. 10). Hence it is known also as "Dumah," the abode of silence (Ps. vi. 6, xxx. 10, xciv. 17, cxv. 17); and there God is not praised (ib. cxv. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 15). Still, on certain extraordinary occasions the dwellers in Sheol are credited with the gift of making known their feelings of rejoicing at the downfall of the enemy (Isa. xiv. 9, 10). Sleep is their usual lot (Jer. li. 39; Isa. xxvi. 14; Job xiv. 12). Sheol is a horrible, dreary, dark, disorderly land (Job x. 21, 22); yet it is the appointed house for all the living (ib. xxx. 23). Return from Sheol is not expected (II Sam. xii. 23; Job vii. 9, 10; x. 21; xiv. 7 et seq.; xvi. 22; Ecclus. [Sirach] xxxviii. 21); it is described as man's eternal house (Eccl. xii. 5). It is "dust" (Ps. xxx. 10; hence in the Shemoneh 'Esreh, in benediction No. ii., the dead are described as "sleepers in the dust"). - See SHEOL - JewishEncyclopedia.com

Although the Jewish Encyclopedia makes clear that the notion of a resurrection was directly related to the Messianic hopes that arose within the Jewish community, their article on "Resurrection" also makes plain that there was a great diversity of opinion extant within the Jewish community of Christ's day on this subject. After discussing how the concept was portrayed in various Jewish apocryphal writings, it was noted that: "All these believed that the soul would sleep in Sheol till the judgment, but several Alexandrian writers about the beginning of the common era held, like Ps. xlix. and lxxiii., that the spirits of the righteous entered on a blessed immortality immediately at death. This was the view of the author of the Wisdom of Solomon (iii. 1-4; iv. 7, 10, et al.), of Philo, and of IV Maccabees. Finally, the scope of the resurrection, which in previous writers had been limited to Israel, was extended in the Apocalypse of Baruch and in II Esdras to include all mankind (comp. Baruch, xlix.-li. 4; II Esd. vii. 32-37)." Indeed, the article makes clear that all of the Apocryphal writings that were written by the Pharisees asserted that there would be a resurrection.

The article then went on to summarize the beliefs of the three main sects of Judaism extant in the days of Christ in these terms: "The Sadducees denied the resurrection (Josephus, "Ant." xviii. 1, § 4; idem, "B. J." ii. 8, § 14; Acts xxiii. 8; Sanh. 90b; Ab. R. N. v.). All the more emphatically did the Pharisees enunciate in the liturgy (Shemoneh 'Esreh, 2d benediction; Ber. v. 2) their belief in resurrection as one of their fundamental convictions (Sanh. x. 1; comp. Abot iv. 22; Soṭah ix. 15). Both the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in the resurrection of the body, Josephus' philosophical construction of their belief to suit the taste of his Roman readers notwithstanding (see "B. J." ii. 8, § 11; "Ant." xviii. 1, § 5; compare these with the genuine source of Josephus, in Hippolytus' "Refutatio Hæresium," ed. Duncker Schneidewin, ix. 27, 29, where the original ἀνάστασις [= "resurrection"] casts a strange light upon Josephus' mode of handling texts). According to the Rabbis, Job and Esau denied resurrection (B. B. 16a, b). Whosoever denies resurrection will have no share in it (Sanh. 90b). The resurrection will be achieved by God, who alone holds the key to it (Ta'an. 2a; Sanh. 113a). At the same time the elect ones, among these first of all the Messiah and Elijah, but also the righteous in general, shall aid in raising the dead (Pirḳe R. El. xxxii.; Soṭah ix. 15; Shir ha-Shirim Zuṭa, vii.; Pes. 68a; comp. "Bundahis," xxx. 17)."

In terms of the Hebrew Scriptures, we know that the notion of a resurrection is broached in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Job. It is also suggested in the sixteenth Psalm - a Michtam of David. We read there: "No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever." (Verses 9-11) In the book of Isaiah, we read: "But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead!" (Isaiah 26:19) Likewise, there is an explicit mention of it in the twelfth chapter of the book of Daniel. We read there: "Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace." (Verse 2) There are also a few instances of physical resurrection recorded in the Old Testament (I Kings 17, II Kings 4, II Kings 13) And, although the language is highly symbolic and clearly refers to a resurrection of the fallen nation of Israel, there is Ezekiel's vision of "The Valley of Dry Bones." In the thirty-seventh chapter of that book, the prophet is shown a valley full of dry bones that came together and were covered with tendons, muscles, and flesh, and then reanimated. In other words, a physical resurrection of the dead is used to portray the spiritual restoration of Israel. Hence, we see in these (and many other passages) that the notion of a resurrection was not unknown to the Hebrew Scriptures.

What did Jesus and his followers do with these notions about a resurrection? Before we address that question, a few remarks about the actual language employed in the Greek New Testament is necessary. As with the Hebrew word "sheol," the Greek word "hades" suggests the grave or "the realm of the dead." - See G86 - hadēs - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) In other words, once again, the term itself suggests that ALL of the dead (righteous and wicked) go to the same place when they die. Hence, it is from Sheol or Hades, that the dead are raised (resurrected) back to life. Indeed, the Greek word that is translated into English as resurrection is "anastasis," and it literally means to make one stand up again! - See G386 - anastasis - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) 

Now, with that background, we are ready to return to our question about how Christ and his followers addressed the subject of a resurrection. First, it should be noted that Jesus directly confronted the Sadducees' rejection of the notion. In the Gospel of Mark's account of the confrontation, we read: "Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 'Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.' Jesus replied, 'Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven. But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.'" (Mark 12:18-27) Hence, we see that Christ clearly sided with those who believed in a resurrection.

In his book Paul and Jesus, James Tabor discoursed on what this confrontation with the Sadducees also revealed about the resurrection beliefs of Christ and his followers. He wrote: "what they show is that within the Jesus movement the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age was understood as the release of the dead from Sheol, or Hades, clothed in a new spiritual body no longer subject to death or decay. Resurrection involved transformation to a higher order of life, no longer differentiated as male and female, and thus no birth or death. The idea of resuscitating corpses or reassembling decayed flesh and bones long perished or turned to dust did not even enter the picture. Metaphorically one could speak of 'those in the graves' coming forth, but since the 'grave' ultimately referred to the underworld of Hades or Sheol, even those 'buried' at sea come forth: 'And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done' (Revelation 20:13)." Continuing, Tabor observed: "The Jewish notion of resurrection of the dead never means disembodied bliss, or even 'life after death,' but always a re-embodied life. This is quite different from the Greek idea of the immortal soul being freed from the mortal body and experiencing heavenly bliss. For Plato death is a friend, offering release from the prison of a mortal body, whereas for Jews and Christians death is an enemy that sends one to Sheol forever, until God intervenes and raises the dead in their new form."

Moreover, when we consider the fact that the focal point of all four canonical gospel accounts is the story of Christ's own resurrection after his crucifixion and burial, it is no wonder that Christ and his followers would embrace the Jewish notion of resurrection! Indeed, Christ's own resurrection is a central theme of the entire New Testament! Even so, serious students of the Bible, are also aware that the other writings of the New Testament mention another resurrection for Christ's followers.

And chief among those other mentions of a resurrection is the one found in the fifteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the saints at Corinth. After reiterating the importance of Christ's resurrection, Paul noted that some of them were claiming "there will be no resurrection of the dead." (Verses 1-12) He went on to point out just how illogical that was in light of what they knew about Christ's resurrection (verses 13-20). Paul followed this with a brief discourse on how sin and death came to humankind through our ancestor Adam, but that the hope of a resurrection had come to us through Jesus Christ (verses 21-22). Then Paul gives the Corinthians a timeline for when that resurrection fits into the larger picture of God's plan (verses 23-28).

A little later, in the context of these remarks about resurrection, Paul addresses the mechanics of how that resurrection will happen; and he makes clear that those who have died will be resurrected with very different bodies than the ones they possessed in their present lives (verses 35-44). Paul continued: "The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man. What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies." (Verses 45-53)

This, of course, reinforces what Tabor had to say about early Christian notions about resurrection. For Paul, the resurrection clearly entailed putting on a new body. In other words, there would be no return to the physical body that was buried in the ground at death. In similar fashion, in the apostle's first epistle to the saints at Thessalonica, Paul wrote about the resurrection in this wise: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever." (I Thessalonians 4:13-17) And, once again, we see that dead believers will be stood up out of their graves when Christ returns (this is NOT something that happens at death).

In the book of Revelation, this is referred to as the first resurrection. We read there: "And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4-6) Later, after the thousand years is finished and a Satanic rebellion is crushed, we read that John saw "a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:11-15)

Finally, we know that these beliefs about the resurrection survived into the period immediately following the deaths of most of the apostles because of a passage in the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews and several passages from Clement's epistle to the Corinthians. In the sixth chapter of Hebrews, we read that the resurrection is one of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church (Hebrews 6:1-2). Likewise, in Clement's epistle to the Corinthians, we read: "Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit." - See First Clement: Clement of Rome (earlychristianwritings.com) And, after citing the mythical Phoenix as an emblem of our resurrection, Clement wrote: "Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] says in a certain place, 'You shall raise me up, and I shall confess to You;' and again, 'I laid down, and slept; I awaked, because You are with me;" and again, Job says, "you shall raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things.'"

Now, as I related at the beginning of this treatise, almost all of the various modern sects of Judaism and Christianity embrace some notion of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, as we can all see, the widely held beliefs relating to the immortality of the soul and an afterlife in heaven or hell present some real problems for them vis-a-vis the doctrine of the resurrection. To be sure, many of those sects have generated very reasonable explanations about how the concepts of the immortality of the soul and its attendant notions regarding an afterlife can be made to mesh with the Scriptural teaching of the resurrection, but the fact that they deviate from the original thinking of the authors of Scripture on this subject cannot be denied or dismissed. Yes, Jewish and Christian views have evolved on this subject as a consequence of their interactions with other religions and cultures and the elaboration of their own theology down through the centuries that the Christian Church has existed, but we cannot escape the fact that the conception of the resurrection embraced by early Christians is fundamentally different from what a majority of modern Christians believe about the afterlife!


Sources cited in this post:

JewishEncyclopedia.com

Strong's Greek Lexicon at blueletterbible.org

Tabor, James. Paul and Jesus. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012.

The New Living Translation of The Holy Bible

First Clement by Clement of Rome at earlychristianwritings.com

Sunday, April 10, 2022

It's a Wonderful Life!

Darlene and I have always loved the 1946 classic motion picture "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. For those who may not have ever had the privilege of watching this movie, I will provide a brief synopsis of the story. The main character, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), is allowed by an angel to see what life would have been like if he had never been born. Of course, this glimpse permitted George to see how his life had touched/impacted so many others and allowed him to better understand and appreciate that life. And, like George, we can all think of events in our own lives (or choices/decisions that we've made along the way) that have acted like a stone dropped into a pool of still water - sending out little waves from the point of impact and causing everything on the surface of the pool to move.

Recently, I've been thinking about my own life, and how the choices that I've made in the course of that life has impacted and influenced the lives and choices of the people around me. More particularly, I was reminded of one of the great mysteries of my own life - two events separated by almost nine years which have always provoked a profound sense of irony and dissonance. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the story of how my family (three adults and five children) were miraculously spared from the onslaught of a predawn tornado that killed six people, injured over one hundred more, and severely damaged or destroyed the homes of my neighbors on all four sides of the mobile home where we lived. We'd had just enough time to gather the children in the hallway and say a quick prayer when it hit. Then, just a few years later, one of the children who had been spared that day (my niece) died when the ATV she was riding with a friend crashed into a tree. Why?

Why had we been spared that day? That massive F-3 tornado had danced right through my yard, but the single-wide mobile home where we were cowering in the hallway was spared! The large Loblolly Pine trees that stood on the other side of the trailer had been snapped off close to the ground like twigs, but the mobile home that had stood between them and the tornado stayed put! I knew that what had happened was a miracle, but why? Had my quick prayer caused God to hold that trailer in place? Had my neighbors prayed before it destroyed their mobile home? Was I spared to help save my seriously injured neighbors? Were we spared because of the children, or the children that they would one day have of their own? Had my niece been spared because of the impact that she would have someday on someone else's life? Were all of us spared because God had some purpose for one of us, or someone who one of us would touch in the future?

For now, there are no answers to those kinds of questions. However, as someone who believes in God, I believe that we will have the answer to those kinds of questions someday. In the meantime, I do not believe that it is unproductive to speculate about such things. It helps us to be more aware of the fact that God has his own purposes, and that we are not always privy to them (or the reasoning behind them). In other words, not everything that happens is necessarily for us or our benefit - another reason for humility and patient forbearance. For instance, it made me think about the story of Job, and the occasion when Jesus healed a blind man.

You remember - the story found in the ninth chapter of John's Gospel. We read there: "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 'Rabbi,' his disciples asked him, 'why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?' 'It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,' Jesus answered. 'This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.'" (John 9:1-3) Christ said that this man had been born blind for that very occasion! Think about the implications of that - allow it to soak into your consciousness/awareness.

Allow yourself just a moment to think about how the decisions which you make today will impact your own future, and those of your loved ones (and maybe even folks you don't even know). Think about the potential impact of your own decisions and choices on others! Your decision to: remain single or marry, have children, divorce, build a house, buy a car, attend college, join the military, move to another state, procure an abortion, or have an adulterous affair - think about how some of those decisions have the potential to impact generations that haven't even been born yet! Think about the decision that Adam and Eve made in the Garden of Eden, and how that decision has impacted all of humanity!

And what if the proponents of the notion that we are part of a multiverse are correct? Take a moment to consider the implications of each one of our choices/decisions multiplied an almost infinite number of times. Think about all of the possible outcomes from all of those decisions actually happening to one of our doppelgangers somewhere out there in the multiverse. Has God (or the universe, if you prefer) determined to someday reveal to us ALL of the consequences of ALL of the choices/decisions that we've ever made? Yeah, when I allow myself to think about these things, like George Bailey, I'm reminded that it's a wonderful life that we've been permitted to experience. Things don't always go our way, and we often have a lot of crap to deal with along the way, but it is still comforting to realize that there is much more to consider than what is currently staring us in the face! What do you think?

 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

God is Greater than the Bible!

Back in 2013, Peter Enns penned a post titled God is Bigger than the Bible. It was a reaction to the growing awareness among Biblical scholars that our concepts regarding the God of the Bible have evolved over the many millennia in which people have been thinking, talking, and writing about him. Enns concluded: "Studying the Bible and Israel’s past is a regular reminder to me that my object of trust is God, not the Bible. That’s not knocking the Bible. It’s acknowledging that the Bible–even where it talks about God–is not a heavenly tablet dropped from heaven, but a relentlessly contextual collection of ancient literature that takes wisdom and patience to handle well." He went on to say that "God is bigger than the Bible–and frankly, I see Jesus in the Gospels already sounding that note when he began reshaping common views of God based on Israel’s traditions..."

Indeed, the very concept of Divine revelation implies that mankind is reliant on God in part (or in whole) for our understanding of him. In other words, our limitations in this respect are implicit in the way that the Bible informs us that God's message was imparted to humanity. Moreover, the whole notion of Divine revelation suggests that there is so much more that hasn't yet been revealed to us. Finally, the revelations which we refer to as Scripture suggest that God is greater than our ability to comprehend him, and that creation itself has much to reveal to us about his greatness and plans. Hence, there is so much more to God than what is revealed about him in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures!

This notion that God is so much greater than anything we can imagine is backed up in the pages of the Bible. Scripture informs us that God told Samuel that God doesn't see things in the superficial way that we do (I Samuel 16:7) - suggesting a much deeper insight into things than we are even capable of! Paul told the Romans that the earth and sky reveal God's hidden qualities, power, and nature (Romans 1:20). His words harkened back to what David had written in a psalm many years before that. David wrote: "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers — the moon and the stars you set in place — what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4) Hence, we see in David's awe, and what Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, that God's creation has much to reveal to us about him - much more than the words in any book could ever impart to our understanding of him!

Likewise, God knows that humans understand things by comparing and contrasting them with other things (after all, God created the human mind). Hence, the question he asked of us through the prophet Isaiah is particularly meaningful in this context. We read there: "To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?" (Isaiah 46:5) In other words, God is beyond anything that we might compare him to within our reality - the realm that we inhabit. This, in turn, causes us to wonder about God's reality - the realm that he inhabits, and we remember what Solomon said about the temple which he had constructed for God. He said: "even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!" (I Kings 8:27) Indeed, this verse represents the entire theme of this blog - that God cannot be contained - NOT by a building or a book!

Indeed, when we consider what John said about his account of Christ's life, we see the absolute absurdity of the notion that any book could do complete justice to the subject of God (even one that is inspired by God). He wrote: "The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book." (John 20:30) At the conclusion of his account, John repeated that Jesus had done many other works that were not included in his account and noted that "If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25) And, finally, the notion that our present understanding of God and his will is imperfect (I Corinthians 13:9-12) suggests that God has more to reveal to us! In other words, the Bible must be regarded as imperfect and incomplete in terms of what is revealed there about God and his will.

In Isaiah, we read: "I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me." (Isaiah 45:5) Indeed, the language here harkens back to the language of God's fundamental law as outlined in the Ten Commandments. We read there: "You must not have any other god but me." (Exodus 20:3) Hence, even a book that reflects God's will and character is NOT God, and the only sensible conclusion that we can reach is that God is greater than the Bible!

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Love in the New Testament

In English, we all understand that "love" can appear as a noun (thing) or as a verb (action or state). Now, even most superficial students of the New Testament also know that the documents which constitute that volume were originally written in Greek, and that the Greek language has a number of different words (agape, eros, philia, and storge) to express what we use one word (love) to signify in English. Unfortunately, for most folks, that represents the full extent of their understanding relative to the use of the word "love" in the New Testament.

According to Blue Letter Bible, the word "love" appears 310 times in 280 verses within the King James Version of the Bible. Likewise, in 221 of those occurrences, the original Greek word is either the feminine noun "agape" or the verb "agapao." Moreover, the Greek word "agape" is translated into English another 28 times as "charity." Hence, in the vast majority of New Testament references to "love," the original Greek word refers to the Godly, unconditional, all-encompassing, and self-sacrificing kind of love - as opposed to the romantic or sexual kind (eros), or the familial kind (storge). In the vast majority of the remaining instances where "love" appears in the KJV, the friendly or brotherly kind (philia or phileo) is used.

In other words, the writings of the New Testament are largely concerned with the deepest and most spiritual manifestation of LOVE. The overwhelming majority of Christ's references to love are concerned with this kind of love. This is the kind of love that Jesus Christ said was the foundation of the law - love for God and love for neighbor (see Matthew 22:37-39). This is the kind of love that Christ demanded from his followers in the thirteenth and fifteenth chapters of the Gospel of John.

Likewise, the vast majority of references to love in the epistles and other writings of the New Testament are also concerned with this comprehensive kind of love. Indeed, when Paul talks about "charity" in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the saints of Corinth, he is talking about this Godly variety of love. When he wrote to the Romans about love fulfilling the requirements of the law (see Romans 13:8-10), he was speaking about this kind of love. In fact, even in most of the instances where romantic, familial, or friendly love is the subject, the original Greek word still refers to this Divinely inspired kind of love. In short, it is clear that the focus of the New Testament is this Godly and all-encompassing kind of love, NOT the various other Greek understandings of that important emotion.

It is this focus that imparts an even deeper understanding of Christ's conversation with Peter after his resurrection and just prior to his ascension into heaven. To demonstrate, I will quote the passage from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John using the New Living Translation and substituting the original Greek words for love. We read there: "After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you <agapao> me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord,' Peter replied, 'you know I <phileo> you.' 'Then feed my lambs,' Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: 'Simon son of John, do you <agapao> me?' 'Yes, Lord,' Peter said, 'you know I <phileo> you.' 'Then take care of my sheep,' Jesus said. A third time he asked him, 'Simon son of John, do you <phileo> me?' Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, 'Lord, you know everything. You know that I <phileo> you.' Jesus said, 'Then feed my sheep.'" Notice how the original Greek dramatically contrasts the more superficial kind of love (phileo) with the more comprehensive kind of love (agapao). Christ asked Peter if he loved him in the Godly way, and Peter replied that he loved him in the brotherly/friendly way!

Moreover, this contrast between Godly love and the other varieties is implicit in the language employed throughout the New Testament. In other words, as Christians, God and Jesus Christ expect us to exhibit/manifest the Godly, unconditional, all-encompassing, and self-sacrificing kind of love in our daily lives. That is not meant to dismiss the importance of those other kinds of love, but it clearly underscores that those manifestations of love are NOT the focus of the Christian Scriptures!


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Do you have to give up your family to be in God's Church?

It is heartbreaking to think of the many familial relationships that have been shipwrecked on the Rock of faith down through the centuries. Indeed, it is one of the most grotesque perversions of Christ's words and Scripture to use our Christian faith as an excuse to abandon or destroy familial relationships! How many so-called ministers have told their flocks that they must choose the church, Jesus, and God over spouses, parents, siblings, and children to protect their own interests? Even worse, how many of them have twisted Scripture to support that choice?

The reasoning goes something like this: You must not put anything before your devotion to God, and that includes family. Hence, since the minister and church are God's representatives, that devotion is also owed to them. Moreover, anything which gets in the way of that devotion must necessarily be discarded (again, including family). At first glance, this reasoning appears to be consistent with God's command to not have any other gods before him. However, upon closer examination, we will see that devotion to God has NEVER required someone to stop loving or to abandon their family.

Yes, God demanded that Abraham put God before his son, but he did not require him to sacrifice that son in the end. “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12) God knew that Abraham was devoted to him and did NOT require him to kill or abandon his beloved son! God wasn't threatened by (or jealous of) Abraham's love for his son. Unfortunately, too many "Christian pastors" would have their sheep cut off their "unbelieving" or "unconverted" family members to demonstrate their devotion to God and his Church. In other words, if they had been in charge, Abraham would have been required to sacrifice Isaac to demonstrate that he truly loved God more than his son!

In this connection, some of these "pastors" love to quote the words of Christ recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: "If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine." (Matthew 10:37) But did Christ really state in this passage that we must abandon our family members to be worthy of him? Remember, context is essential to the correct understanding of any passage of Scripture.

Notice that Jesus was sending his twelve apostles out to the people of Israel with his message, and he was giving them special instructions for that mission (see Matthew 10:1-8). In other words, this was NOT to be confused with the Great Commission recorded at the end of this gospel account. This missionary trip happened during the time of Christ's own ministry on this earth (prior to his death, burial, resurrection and ascension), and it was specifically limited to their own people (Christ and his apostles were Jews). His instructions make clear that they would be traveling from village to village and accepting the hospitality of anyone who offered it to them (see Matthew 10:9-15).

As a part of this work, Christ went on to make clear that they would experience rejection and persecution along the way (see Matthew 10:16-20). In this context, he told them: "A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel." (Matthew 10:21-23) In other words, some would face betrayal and persecution even at the hands of their own families!

Now, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Christ's instructions to his disciples on this occasion foreshadowed the more general persecution which they would experience as a consequence of the Great Commission that would come later, but we must not forget that his remarks here specifically applied to this particular mission to the Israelites of Judaea. He went on to warn them that they would face the same kind of opposition which he had faced as a consequence of his own ministry and instructed them to not be afraid of those who would threaten and oppose them (see Matthew 10:24-31).

Nevertheless, in spite of all of the opposition and persecution that they would experience along the way in ministering to their own people, Christ assured them that "Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:32-33) This assurance to his apostles is followed by his famous warning that his message/ministry would not immediately result in peace and cooperation - that it would actually provoke the opposite reaction (see Matthew 10:34). Then, once again, Christ made clear that some of the hatred and opposition which that message generated would arise from within their own families! (See Matthew 10:35-36) Thus, at last, we come to the passage quoted at the beginning of this post (verse 37).

Hence, the context makes clear that even opposition and persecution which arises from within one's own family would not be accepted as an excuse for abandoning the message and mission which Christ had committed to them. In other words, their love for their families must not take precedence over their obligation to finish the commission delivered to them - it is clearly a matter of having the right priorities. There is NO permission here to stop loving their families or abandon their responsibilities and obligations to their loved ones! They must bear up under this additional burden and be willing to sacrifice themselves for it (see Matthew 10:38-39). Finally, to their families and potential audience, Christ promised: "Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs. And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded." (Matthew 10:40-42)

Yes, but how do we explain Christ's statement in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke? In the King James Version of the Bible, we read: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) Moreover, there is no getting around the word "hate" - the Greek word translated into English as "hate" means "to hate, pursue with hatred, detest" (see Strong's at https://www.blueletterbible.org). However, when we look at the context and other translations, our perspective on the stark nature of the language used in this passage comes into sharper focus.

In the New Living Translation, the same passage is rendered: "If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple." And, when we take a closer look at the context, we can better appreciate the decision by the translators to insert the words "by comparison." If we back all the way up into the preceding chapter (Luke 13), we can see that Christ had been contrasting extremes on this occasion.

Christ began his discourse by commenting on a massacre of some Galileans and the collapse of a tower which had recently occurred (see Luke 13:1-5). In discussing the causation of the events, Jesus asked his followers whether the people who had suffered those catastrophes should be regarded as worse sinners than everyone else. Then he went on to answer his own question. No, they didn't suffer those things because they were more wicked than everyone else. Next, he contrasts a productive fig tree with one that is unproductive and resolves to cut it down if it continues to be unproductive (see Luke 13:6-9) Then Christ moved on to contrast the care of animals on the Sabbath with the healing of a woman on that day (see Luke 13:10-17). Next, he contrasted the small size of a mustard seed with the plant it eventually produces (Luke 13:18-19), and how the introduction of a small amount of yeast eventually permeates an entire batch of dough (Luke 13:20-21). Next, Jesus contrasted the acceptance of the righteous with the rejection of the wicked, and those who find themselves in humble circumstances as opposed to those who are considered to be a part of the elite (see Luke 13:22-30). Moreover, the chapter concludes with Christ contrasting his desire to help and protect Jerusalem with that city's record of killing God's messengers (see Luke 13:31-35).

Likewise, the fourteenth chapter of Luke opens with Jesus again comparing the treatment of animals on the Sabbath with his decision to heal a woman on that day (see Luke 14:1-6). Next, we read about how Christ contrasted the efficacy of humility with pridefulness in the context of a great banquet (see Luke 14:7-14). This was followed by Jesus telling his disciples a parable about a great feast - where those who were invited before the event are contrasted with those who were invited after the feast had been prepared (see Luke 14:15-24). Thus, we come at last to that stark passage quoted at the beginning of this section (Luke 14:26), and we see that it is consistent with the way that Christ had been contrasting extremes to make his points to his disciples on this occasion. Why all of this contrast and comparison?

Christ went on to explain that anyone who wanted to be one of his disciples must first "count the cost" of doing so and realize that there would be some personal sacrifice and self-denial involved in that endeavor (see Luke 14:27-35). Hence, we see once again that it wasn't that Christ was demanding that his followers "hate" their families, but that they must love him more than them. Moreover, by comparing this passage with all of the other relevant passages on the subject, we can see that any other interpretation of its meaning would be inconsistent with those other passages!

Not convinced? Let's look at another one of their favorite prooftexts on behalf of Christians abandoning their families. In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we read: "Peter said, 'We’ve left our homes to follow you.' 'Yes,' Jesus replied, 'and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.'" (Luke 18:28-20) Once again, we must understand this remark within the context in which it was delivered!

In this instance, Christ had just been asked by a wealthy religious leader what he could do to inherit eternal life (see Luke 18:18-23) Interestingly, as part of his answer, Christ had recited a few of the ten commandments - including the one to "Honor your father and mother." Then, when Christ observed that the man had not responded well to his answer, we are told that he said: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" (See Luke 18:24-25) These comments greatly disturbed Christ's disciples, and they wondered aloud how anyone could be saved (Luke 18:26). In other words, Christ was saying that self-sacrifice was necessary to be one of his followers, and some folks didn't like it!

It was in this connection that Peter reminded Jesus that they had dropped everything to follow him, and Christ made the reply quoted above that some of these pastors love to twist to their own ends. Christ was merely responding to the concerns of his disciples by assuring them that they would be rewarded for whatever sacrifices they were making in the present. Once again, there is absolutely no suggestion that anyone is obligated to forsake their family, or that they are somehow absolved of all responsibilities to them!

What about what Christ said about who made up his real family? Let's take a closer look at that one too! In the twelfth chapter of Matthew, we read: "As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, 'Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.' Jesus asked, 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?' Then he pointed to his disciples and said, 'Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!'" (See Matthew 12:46-50) Was Christ making a statement about the status of his disciples as being an integral part of his spiritual family? OR Was Christ repudiating his biological family?

We should note that there is absolutely NO evidence that Christ ever abandoned or disowned his biological family. Indeed, this very passage provides evidence that their relationship with Jesus was ongoing. Moreover, according to the Gospel of John, one of Christ's final acts on this earth was to provide for his biological mother! (See John 19:25-27)

Hence, we see that the narrative about giving up one's family to be a Christian is NOT supported by Scripture. In fact, Christ specifically reprimanded the Pharisees for adhering to a similar practice relative to the temple (see Mark 7:9-13). Moreover, in speaking about the church's support for widows, Paul made this remark in his first letter to Timothy: "But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers." (See I Timothy 5:8) Indeed, the notion that God would ever condone the shunning of one's family, or one's responsibilities to one's family, is abhorrent to several of God's commandments, the principle that God is building a family of children, and the notion that God and his laws are supposed to be representative of love!   

Friday, April 1, 2022

A Fool's Errand

Many of the folks who emerged from the collapse of the old Worldwide Church of God hoped that they would be able to find a group that preserved some or all of Herbert Armstrong's theology. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, that hope has not been realized in ANY of the groups which have emerged as a consequence of the death of the parent organization. None of those groups can justly claim to have preserved Armstrong's theology without adulteration. Indeed, even the most conservative groups have changed, made significant modifications to, and/or have introduced important additions to the original corpus. Likewise, those of us who recognized that there were serious flaws with some of the teachings of the Worldwide Church, have been faced with the staying power of some of the most offensive teachings within even those groups which are considered the most progressive or forwarding thinking Armstrong Churches of God.

For those who long for that old-time religion of Herbert Armstrong, there is no help or comfort. Moreover, I find it hard to muster any sympathy or compassion for their plight. One would think that the complete collapse of the parent church, and the subsequent history of the splinters, would have served to engender at least some doubts about the efficacy and sustainability of Armstrong's theology! In other words, to remain completely devoted to Armstrong's teachings smacks more of willful ignorance than Godly faithfulness!

Nevertheless, after my experience in and with one of those "moderate" or "progressive" groups (CGI), I have to say that I no longer hold out any hope for those of us in the other camp. To be clear, there simply isn't ANY version of Armstrongism in existence that works! In other words, NONE of the descendants of the old Worldwide Church has successfully addressed all of the important flaws in the original theology. And, the failure to address those erroneous teachings has rendered all of them ineffectual and unsustainable. In short, Armstrongism is dying a slow and painful death, and all I can say is "May it rest in peace!"

What are those important flaws in the original theology? I would characterize them as the following: 1) The failure to acknowledge that Jesus Christ fulfilled the law for us, and that our salvation is accomplished exclusively through him, 2) The identification of the peoples of Western Europe and the English-speaking peoples of the earth as the "lost ten tribes" of Israel, 3) The perpetuation of headline theology - the interpretation of ancient prophecies related to Israel in light of current events, 4) The substitution of a warning message to Israel and other nations for the Great Commission which Christ gave to his disciples, 5) The use of the top-down, authoritarian model of church government, and the adoption of a twisted interpretation of the Old Testament tithing system to support it, and 6) The insistence that a true Christian is identified by the knowledge which he/she possesses - rendering everyone who does not accept the "truth" of Armstrongism a "so-called" Christian. While some groups (or some of the folks within some groups) have rejected one or more of these teachings, NONE of them has rejected ALL of them.

Hence, for me at least, while I continue to believe that I have a few brothers and sisters in Christ within some of the splinters, I find that NONE of the organizations known as the Armstrong Churches of God can legitimately claim to be part of God's ekklesia. In other words, for me Armstrongism is completely irredeemable. I continue to see value in Sabbath observance, the symbolism of the Holy Days, and many of the teachings and beliefs associated with the resurrection of the dead, but I now see Armstrongism (in all of its current manifestations) as a hot mess! What do you think?