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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Golden Age of Righteousness: America's Moral Decline?

One of the recurring themes of conservative Christian groups is the moral decline of our society. For these folks, the evidence of that decline is all around us. They point to the headlines and lead stories from various news media to demonstrate the truth of their assertion. They do, of course, realize that things like rape, murder, domestic violence, and substance abuse have ALWAYS existed, but they insist that these things are getting worse. Nevertheless, most of these folks prefer to emphasize what they see as the more general or systemic moral failures of our society to prove that their narrative about America's moral decline is true - things like abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, and the rise of "secular humanism." Implicit in all of this, of course, is the notion that America was formerly more righteous (a decline suggests a previous higher standard). But is that narrative historically accurate?

In short, was there ever a golden age of American righteousness? OR was there, at least, a time when America was MORE righteous than she is today? Before we answer those questions, we should do a quick review of our history as a people. After all, this entire narrative is premised on the notion that America's current moral standing is demonstrably inferior to its previous condition. Unfortunately, our history over the last four hundred years does NOT support such a conclusion!

In the beginning, European colonists came to this continent uninvited and immediately proceeded to dispossess Native Americans of their lands. And, over the next two hundred years, those same colonists were responsible for the deaths of millions of Native Americans (some historians have estimated that 90% of their population was wiped out through disease and warfare). Moreover, the subsequent record of the United States government relative to honoring its commitments to these folks under numerous treaties is NOT one of moral righteousness.

We would also do well to remember that America's European forefathers enslaved their African brethren - forcibly removing them from their homeland, causing the deaths of many thousands of them on the voyage to America, and forcing them to labor for them under the harshest conditions. Indeed, it would be hard to exaggerate the dehumanization that African Americans were subjected to during this period (beatings, murders, not to mention the inadequate housing, clothing, food, and educational opportunities they were subjected to). Moreover, even after slavery was finally ended, I would dare anyone to characterize the treatment of African Americans as moral or righteous! The NAACP has estimated that more than 4,700 souls were lynched between 1882 and 1968! How many thousands of African American children died because of inadequate housing, nutrition and medical care through the years that followed emancipation? And can there be any doubt that discrimination and segregation were responsible for those deplorable conditions?

What about the abuse and exploitation of the resources that European Americans stole from Native Americans? Didn't God command man to dress, care for, and preserve the earth? What about the wholesale destruction of forest lands, indiscriminate mining, and agricultural soil erosion which took place as a consequence of the activities of our ancestors? Our ancestors were responsible for the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the elimination of predator species from most of our lands, the extinction of numerous other species of birds and freshwater mussels, the near extinction of the buffalo, the disappearance of the American Chestnut, American Elm, and numerous other native plants? What about the indiscriminate pollution of our rivers, lakes, and air that took place as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution?

Moreover, the same greed which led to the destruction of so many of our natural resources also led to the exploitation of women, children, and labor more generally. I'm thinking about the concentration of wealth, low wages, long working hours, and unsafe working conditions. These things are FACTS of history. They happened! They cannot be excused, justified, or explained away, and they could certainly never be characterized as moral or righteous behavior!

Unfortunately, the widespread and systemic mistreatment of the handicapped, disadvantaged, and immigrant populations among us has also been an integral part of the history of America. Asylums, sanatoriums, poor houses, orphanages, and ghettos are part of America's story. Straitjackets and lobotomies are part of our history as a people. Discrimination against (and mistreatment of) Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Polish immigrants to this country is well-documented. We also should never forget that America's record on the toleration of other faiths is NOT spotless! Think about the way that Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, and Atheists have been treated in times past.

We also must not forget that our ancestors instituted a kind of civil religion in the United States. This arose from a kind of arrogance and pride in American institutions and "success" on the world stage. It manifested itself in patriotic hymns, celebrations, and rituals. It glorified American military might and led to some behaviors that could never be characterized as "Christian" or "righteous." I'm thinking now of Manifest Destiny and the Mexican-American War. I'm thinking of America's participation in imperialism and the Spanish-American War. Moreover, some of us would characterize some of the practices of that civil religion as a kind of idolatry - putting devotion and allegiance to country on a par with our obligations to Almighty God. In connection with all of this, I'm thinking of statements like "America, right or wrong!"

Finally, as was suggested at the beginning of this article, things like abortion, homosexuality, murder, rape, alcoholism/drug addiction and riots have ALWAYS been a feature of American society/culture. "Yes, but it wasn't accepted/tolerated/legalized!" my conservative Christian friends will protest. OK, but the point is that it still happened! Abortions happened before the procedure was legalized by a Supreme Court decision (Roe v Wade), and many thousands of women died as a consequence of botched amateur procedures. Yes, homosexuality existed in the shadows where it engendered a whole lot of heartache, alienation, and MORE immoral behavior (lies, promiscuity, infidelity, etc.)! Yes, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, but what about the bootlegging and alcoholism of our ancestors? Yes, things like the Tulsa race riots happened, but they were quickly covered-up and forgotten! Indeed, I suspect that there is so much attention in our own time to things like same-sex marriage, because of the abysmal record of failure among heterosexual marriages (divorce) bequeathed to us by our forebearers! In other words, if we are really concerned about the deterioration/decline of the "traditional" family, then why aren't we more interested in the historical phenomenon of divorce?

Full disclosure, my majors in college were history and political science. Hence, we see from this very brief and general overview of American history that there wasn't any golden age of American righteousness. In times past, there was a whole lot of sinning going on - our ancestors were just as human and fallible as we are in the present! Hence, the notion of America's moral decline is shown to be invalid. God may indeed be angry with our people; but, if he is, it is undoubtedly a long-standing anger. In other words, the current moral failings of the United States are no worse than they were four hundred or two hundred years ago! We are no more worthy of Divine punishment today than we were in 1700, 1800, or 1900! It may be comforting and validating to look back with longing to the good old days, but it is obviously an exercise in delusional thinking!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

David French on being exiled from the community

A friend recently forwarded me an article by David French that appeared on The Dispatch. The article was titled "How Fundamentalism Fails: Ultimately the closed fist can't overcome the open hand." As a former member of the Armstrong Church of God culture, I found his commentary to be very relevant and descriptive of what many of us who have left that community have experienced.

French wrote: "When fundamentalism arises in your own community, it can be profoundly painful and disorienting. People who were friends will call you enemies. They’ll warn others not to associate with you...while you’re reeling in pain, other people are sneering in contempt. You were never a Christian. You were never one of us. You are weak, they say—even when the hardest and most dangerous thing you’ve ever done in your life might be to say no to your own community when you know they’ve gone awry."

What is the antidote to this abuse? French framed the problem and solution in these terms: "But if this is the reality, how does fundamentalism fail? Because the bruised reeds and the wounded souls find each other. The community of the closed fist ultimately creates a community of the open hand. We were not created to be despised, to be hounded, and to be hectored into righteousness. Instead, our souls long for actual love and true fellowship."

So, welcome all of you bruised reeds and wounded souls. It is my prayer that you will find love and comfort in the voices which have chosen to post on this blog!

Monday, November 21, 2022

God and Country?

There was a time when I believed that patriotism was entirely consistent with my profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For most of my life, I prayed, attended church, sang patriotic hymns in church, recited the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag, stood with my hand over my heart for the national anthem, voted, and even served honorably in the United States Army for a few years. I was a proud Christian, American, and Republican. Indeed, I was one of those people who thought that the rejection of patriotism by the Jehovah's Witnesses was absurd and very misguided.

However, when Barack Obama became President of the United States, I noticed a profound shift in the political attitudes of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Democrats weren't just wrong anymore - they were evil. In fact, many of my family and friends seemed to genuinely believe that liberals were deliberately trying to destroy this republic! And, while Americans had always believed that they were special - exceptional (a shining city on a hill), it seemed that that conviction was now firmly rooted in a phenomenon that was being characterized as Christian Nationalism.

In an article for Christianity Today titled What Is Christian Nationalism?, Paul Miller defined the phenomenon as "the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way." For these folks, America had been founded on Christian principles, those principles were being threatened in the present, and they must be defended and preserved for the future! In other words, this was an integral part of what it meant to be an American, and they saw threats to that lurking around every corner!

Then, suddenly, there was one Donald John Trump running to be President of the United States. And, in a very inarticulate way, he seemed to perfectly articulate the grievances of my brothers and sisters. Indeed, he promised to fight against the forces of evil and "make America great again." Moreover, my brothers and sisters seemed eager to buy what he was selling. In fact, many of them came to regard him as a kind of savior - a "King Josiah" that would lead God's people out of the unholy society/culture which the wicked socialists had been feverishly trying to construct over the last eight years! Trump promised to choose Supreme Court justices that would reverse Roe vs. Wade and put those nasty homosexuals back in their place!

Even so, while Trump was catching fire among my Christian brethren, my own disquiet and alarm steadily increased. I even tried to warn family and friends away from their infatuation with this man. "He is a corporate CEO," I reminded them. "He is used to giving orders and having them implemented without question, and that's NOT the way the presidency of this democratic republic works." Unfortunately, his authoritarian impulses only seemed to excite more support for the man. "He's a misogynistic, cruel, and ruthless bully," I pointed out to no avail. I went on to remind them that these were NOT the qualities of a Christian, and that his policy prescriptions were NOT consistent with traditional conservative politics. They didn't care! This guy was their man, and NOTHING or NOBODY was going to convince them that he wasn't!

A personality cult had developed around this crude and hateful man, and it propelled him straight into the Oval Office! I experienced a kind of "Deja vu" - I had witnessed this phenomenon before - in the religious realm - in the person of one Herbert W Armstrong. And, just as the realization dawned that I had been duped by Armstrong, I began to take another look at my own patriotic notions and compare them to my own training in history and religion.

I knew that there were some serious problems with Trump's narrative about America. I knew that there were some profound flaws in this Christian Nationalism that had become so popular in the last few years. Frankly, the United States had been founded on the principle that there should NOT be a state religion - that church and state should be separate! Indeed, while many of the Founding Fathers had been Christians, most of them were very far removed from the modern Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Literalist view of Christianity and the Bible. Moreover, the notion that the United States was ever a righteous or "Christian" nation was a myth. America had always been FULL of faults and sins. Our forefathers had murdered Native Americans and stolen their land and enslaved their African brethren. They had exploited, abused, and destroyed so many of our God-given natural resources. The people of the United States had abused and discriminated against women, foreigners, and children throughout much of their history as a people. Likewise, Americans had championed greed, divorce, and violence throughout most of their history. Hence, there had ALWAYS been a whole lot of sinning going on in the United States - It was certainly NOT a modern development!

Moreover, my religious disillusionment had also previously provoked an intensive reexamination of my spiritual beliefs. In the years since leaving Armstrongism, I was reminded that Christ had instructed his disciples to pray for God's Kingdom and for his will to be done on this earth in the same way that it was currently carried out in heaven! Likewise, after leaving Armstrongism, it had dawned on me that the entire model and foundation of their prophetic understanding was hopelessly flawed. In short, I realized that the people of the United States were NOT modern Israelites, and that all of those Old Testament prophecies did NOT apply to them! In similar fashion, I came to understand that ALL of the nations of this world were patterned after the Babylonian model and were part of the Beast discussed in the book of Revelation. In this same connection, it finally dawned on me that the "Mark of the Beast" was the anti-Shema (the Shema is a kind of declaration of God's supremacy and a Jewish pledge of allegiance to him). This, in turn, led me to understand that the civic religion which is such an integral part of patriotism is CONTRARY to the worship of the God who declares that he will not tolerate the worship of any other gods beside or in place of him!

The United States may be the best that this world has to offer, but the best isn't good enough! ALL of the human governments of this world will eventually be overthrown/supplanted by God's government (including the United States of America)! Scripture says that Christians are supposed to regard themselves as strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We are supposed to be looking for another country or city whose architect and builder is GOD, and ANYTHING which distracts us from reaching that goal is unworthy of our attention and devotion! In short, I am a citizen of God's Kingdom first and foremost, and that citizenship supersedes the claim that ANY nation on this earth has on my loyalty or affection. In the words of an old Elton John song: "I'm going back to the border where my affairs, my affairs ain't abused, I can't take any more bad water - been poisoned from my head down to my shoes Holy Moses, I have been deceived"

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Church of God News: Mormon Church Endorses...Pro-homosexual Marriage Bill!

Bob Thiel, the leader of the "Continuing Church of God" (an Armstrongist splinter group), has his panties in a wad over the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints support for the Respect for Marriage Act. According to Bob, these folks have guaranteed that "sinful behavior" has been legalized. He went on to ask: "What about those, like us in the Continuing Church of God, who consider same-sex relations an abomination and that same-sex couples cannot have a real marriage?" (For those who are interested, you can peruse Bob's commentary at your leisure at Mormon Church Endorses, then U.S. Senate Passes, pro-homosexual marriage bill) Apparently, Bob feels that this act somehow violates his religious freedom - though he never quite gets around to explaining how it does that.

Poor Bob doesn't seem to understand that a civil government has the right and authority to define and license marriage in whatever way seems best to them. In the United States, Bob and other religious leaders are able to define marriage according to the dictates of their own beliefs and consciences without government interference. Indeed, they can set any standards and perform any rituals which they deem appropriate and necessary to satisfy their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, for a marriage to be recognized by the state as legal and binding, it must conform to the laws which the state has instituted. In other words, Bob must have skipped any government or civics classes offered by whatever school he attended, because this is very basic stuff!

In reality, Bob simply longs for the good old days when it was perfectly acceptable to openly discriminate against LGBTQ people and deny them equal rights! The truth is that neither the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage nor this act of Congress in ANY way infringes on Bob's right to define marriage in whatever way seems best to him. Bob (along with folks who think like him) is still free to define marriage as being between "one man and one woman." No one is forcing him to perform or endorse a same sex marriage! I suspect what really sticks in old Bob's craw is the implication that a gay person could be permitted to enjoy the happiness, stability, and other benefits that derive from a monogamous union sanctioned by the state.

As for the Bible, Bob apparently rejects the notion that a gay person could ever be considered moral and respectable. After all, gay people don't really love each other, do they? Gay people aren't really capable of being faithful to one person, are they? It may not be good for a man to be alone, but it's OK for a gay person to be alone - right? Marriage is an honorable estate for everyone - EXCEPT gay folks, right? A man should leave his parents' home and cleave to his spouse, EXCEPT if he's gay, right? A person should NEVER go against his/her nature or violate the dictates of his/her conscience - UNLESS he/she is gay, right? I mean, why would we allow a homosexual couple who has been together for fifty years to share property or have any survivorship rights? Why on earth would we allow homosexual couples to make medical decisions for each other, visit each other in the hospital, or allow them to make funeral arrangements for each other when one of them dies? Maybe the more appropriate question should be, what do any of the rest of us lose by allowing them these things that the rest of us take for granted?

Finally, just for the record, the way that Bob and his allies characterize what the Bible has to say about homosexuality is obscene! Although I have written extensively on this subject, I felt that it was necessary to point out that Bob's interpretation of Scripture in this regard is NOT universally accepted. First, we should note that our understanding of human sexuality is much more extensive than it was two or three thousand years ago! Indeed, the notion of sexual orientation was wholly unknown to the people whom God used to write Scripture. Second, in ancient times, among many of the pagan peoples in and around the Promised Land, it was apparently standard practice to worship their deities with sexual acts that often involved both male and female temple prostitutes. Hence, many of the Scriptural references to same gender sexual relations are made within this context. Finally, the characterization of Sodom as a homosexual city is ABSURD! In the entire history of humankind on this planet, there has NEVER been a city where the entire population was homosexual! In this connection, notice what the prophet Ezekiel had to say about this city. Speaking about the sinfulness of the Jews, he wrote: "As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, Sodom and her daughters were never as wicked as you and your daughters. Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen." (Ezekiel 16:48-50, NLT) The narrative that God wiped out Sodom as a consequence of the homosexuality of its population is NOT supported by Scripture!

It should also be noted that Bob was very selective in what he included and excluded from Scripture when discussing this subject. Like many of his like-minded associates in the ministry of the ACOGs, he failed to mention or account for God's apparent endorsement (or at least toleration of) polygamy in Old Testament Times. What does that do to the "one man, one woman" formula? Likewise, Bob mentioned that God condemned cross-dressing, but he fails to account for God's condemnation of wearing blended fabric clothing! Talk about cherry-picking!

In supreme self-righteous prudery, Bob concluded with this statement: "So, leaders that ignore what the Bible teaches are leading others toward destruction." Well, there, at last, is a statement with which I can entirely agree!  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Michael Gerson's Passing

Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist died Thursday. Mr. Gerson had a gift for articulating what it means to be human. After receiving a cancer diagnosis, in December of 2013, he wrote: "Each of us is conceived with a seed of mortality that can’t be surgically removed. It grows until it kills us, hopefully after a long life that honors the incredible, temporary privilege of living. We are, as W.B. Yeats harshly put it, 'fastened to a dying animal.'"

He continued: "That, but not only that. At every stage, even in the manner of their dying, people can demonstrate they are something more. I recall my Italian, New Yorker grandmother — full of years and full of cancer (the result of a lifelong smoking habit) — telling me through some of her last, gasping breaths: 'You have made me so very happy.' Such are the gifts human beings can give each other, even when there is nothing else to give."

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your humanity with the rest of us! May God welcome you into his eternal Kingdom.


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

CGI's Political and Cultural Gospel (or Bad News)

CGI Pastor Adrian Davis continues to find new ways to insist that he and his allies have a Divine commission to discourse on political and cultural topics. Most recently, he has presented a three-part series of sermons titled "The Joy of the Lord." Now, the title of the series sounds innocent enough - it even gives the impression that Adrian may be returning to a religious theme in his messaging, but nothing could be further from the truth!

In the third installment in the series, Pastor Davis offered an elaborate apologetics for the church's messaging about political and cultural issues. As usual. his message was wide-ranging and long-winded (80 minutes plus). Unfortunately, not only do Adrian and his allies see themselves in the Bible, but they also equate their political messaging with Christ's commission to carry the Gospel to the world. Hence, for him and his allies, any criticism of their messaging is adversarial and constitutes genuine persecution of them and their organization.

In this connection, Davis even had the audacity to compare the pushback that their messaging has received to the stoning of Stephen! He said that just as God had given Stephen a message which enraged folks outside the Church, the message which God had committed to them has enraged the outside world and invited them to isolate and persecute them. Now, for most of us, there is NO equivalency between someone being crucified or stoned and someone being criticized or ridiculed for their messaging. Davis, however, seems to see no distinction between the two! 

In a not-so-subtle allusion to the recent pandemic, he went on to criticize his brethren that "have done everything they could to hold on to this life," and he urged all TRUE believers to remain calm and carry on. For Davis, his anti-vaccination and political messaging is the equivalent of the word of God and testimony that Christ and his disciples were preaching. He said that "God wants those who will not back down." The good pastor then went on to note several "red flags" that real Christians should avoid - like anything related to the "Globalist agenda (WHO, United Nations, WTO), climate change, global, vaccine mandates, and social justice! Funny, I don't remember anything about Christ or his apostles devoting any part of their messaging to those topics!

For Davis and his allies, however, the notion that these things have absolutely no connection to Christ's moral teachings, example, or message about the Kingdom makes absolutely no difference to them! The pastor went on to discuss the destruction of the United States by this administration (Biden) and declared that they are evil! And, just in case anyone doubted that that was an appropriate designation, he invited his audience to have a look at Biden's policies (which he went on to enumerate as abortion, vaccine development, forcing vaccination on children, opening the border, trafficking children, and pedophilia. Davis finished by lamenting the fact that Americans are ignoring all of those horrors and were instead focused on inflation (keeping gas prices lower by draining their reserves). Of course, one continues to wonder why the Canadian pastor of an ACOG is so concerned about what's happening on the political and cultural front in the United States!

Davis declared, "The truth is the truth, and we stand by it." Indeed, he implied that anyone who has any problems with his messaging is in danger of receiving the Mark of the Beast! In other words, Davis and his allies are determined to stick with their political/cultural messaging, and no amount of criticism from within or without CGI is going to detour them from proclaiming it. Unfortunately, CGI continues to provide a platform for Adrian Davis and his allies. Hence, we are forced to conclude that they share the conviction of Davis and his allies that all of this political and cultural stuff is an integral part of preaching the Gospel to the world! Sad - so SAD!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

God on World Kindness Day

Today was celebrated as "World Kindness Day." And, although kindness seems to be currently out-of-style in the United States, it is a quality that is consistently associated with the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Indeed, in the one hundred and forty-fifth Psalm, we read: "The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness." (Verse 17) Moreover, in the book of Proverbs, we humans are advised that "Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you." (11:17) Paul also told the saints of Galatia that kindness was one of the "fruits" or evidences of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). In the Epistle to the saints at Ephesus, we read: "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So, we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1:3-8) Likewise, in the first Epistle of Peter, we read: "In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So, after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation." (I Peter 5:10)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Another Look at CGI's Systematic Theology Project

One of the questions which has persistently dogged the Armstrong Churches of God regarding their insistence that Christians are obligated to observe the tenets of the Torah relates to their failure to provide a rationale for the acceptance of some provisions and the rejection of others. In other words, how do they justify cherry-picking amongst the various laws outlined in the Torah? How do they get around the principle laid out in the Epistle of James? "For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws." (James 2:10) After all, Jewish tradition dictates that the Torah contains 613 separate commandments! Hence, if virtually EVERYONE believes that some of those commandments are no longer applicable or currently valid, how do we determine which ones are still in effect?

Unfortunately, most of the ACOG's have simply chosen to ignore these questions. Most of them stick to generalizations and have NEVER offered ANY rationale for discerning which provisions of the Torah are still binding! Of course, it is completely understandable why these legalists wouldn't want to be pinned down about the mechanics of picking and choosing among these laws - it is virtually impossible to arrive at a rational formula for doing so! In other words, any such formula would be vulnerable to the kind of scrutiny which would almost certainly lead to attacks and criticisms from those who deny that Christians are obligated to observe these laws! In brief, the absence of a formula or rationale makes a smaller target for critics! To their credit, the Church of God International has made an attempt to do what most of their brethren in the other ACOGs have failed to do - they have provided a rationale of sorts for their approach to cherry-picking the Torah.

CGI's Systematic Theology Project has an extensive section devoted to Which OT Laws Apply? In that document, we read: "Some laws in the Old Testament clearly encompass broad principles while others are quite specific, minute regulations. The biblical text does not itself always clearly distinguish between the more important and the less important. That is why one finds many admonitions to meditate on the law (e.g. Ps. 119:97, 99). Thus, even though these were all laws originating with God, some are more permanent and spiritual in nature than are others. (For example, the whole sacrificial system of the tabernacle and temple were important—even vital—for a certain period of time, but the New Testament shows these regulations are not for all men at all times. They served a specific function for a certain time and in a particular place while always symbolically pointing to deeper spiritual truths.)" So, we see that they are claiming that some laws are 1) more important than others, and 2) more permanent and spiritual than others.

These "principles" lead them to divide Torah commandments into four general "categories" of law: 1) Those that address "broad spiritual principles," 2) those that involve "civil regulations" for Israel, 3) those that are concerned with "cleanliness and ritual purity," and 4) those which relate to the "sacrificial system." Of course, we must point out that these various "categories" of laws are NOT found in Scripture. Instead, they are how the scholars who wrote CGI's STP have chosen to characterize those laws! In other words, while these distinctions may make sense to some of us, they are entirely arbitrary in nature. For instance, the Twelfth Century Jewish scholar Maimonides believed that the Torah contained laws related to the welfare of the body and soul - a kind of purpose driven, physical and spiritual approach to characterizing the various laws of the Torah as a comprehensive whole (see The Jewish Virtual Library's article: The Written Law - Torah).

In a further attempt to justify and explain their approach to categorizing the laws of the Torah, CGI's STP goes on to state: "One can use the analogy of a modern free country to better understand the various levels of Old Testament law. All instructions were part of that law. None were to be slighted or ignored. The breaking of any law brought some sort of penalty on the violator, though the penalties varied in severity. The same is true with the laws within, for example, the United States. The Constitution says nothing about speed limits, property taxes, zoning, or sexual conduct. Rather, laws are broadly laid out and worded to serve as an overall guide for all generations. All other laws—whether national, regional or local—must conform to the principles laid down in the Constitution. These laws themselves vary in importance. Some cover only a certain state or region or city. They may need to be changed according to the time and circumstances. In addition, a certain body of common law has grown up through individual court decisions (cf. the 'judgments' of the Old Testament)." Even so, after dividing the law into "categories," we see that they went on to acknowledge the comprehensive nature of the law - that "none were to be slighted or ignored." Hence, it would appear that CGI is attempting to have it both ways: because, in the very same paragraph, they relate again that some laws "vary in importance" and "may need to be changed according to the time and circumstances."

Continuing in the STP, we read: "Category no. 1 might correspond to a national constitution—such as that of the United States—and cover all men at all times. Category no. 2 might be analogous to national laws passed by national legislators. That is, they may incorporate regulations which have permanent value for various human societies. On the other hand, some regulations, may be culturally bound and require modification or replacement to remain relevant in a changing society. For example, the laws of inheritance were very important for ancient Israel but are less useful today. The seventh-year land sabbath could be applied in a nation under God’s government but is difficult for all Christians everywhere to apply in today’s society. Another example is the law requiring that a fence or railing be put on roofs (Deut. 22:8). This makes sense in ancient Israel where the flat rooftop was part of the living space of the house, and there was a danger of children or adults falling off of the roof. Applying this 'rooftop fence' rule in the United States and Canada (where most homes have peaked roofs to allow the rain and snow to fall off) makes no sense today; however, a fence around a swimming pool, pond, or garden makes perfect sense. The scriptural principle is to watch out for the health and well-being of your family and neighbors. The principle of God’s law is intact, even when the circumstances (different geography, building practices, etc.) have changed. Thus, the specific law sometimes does not fit the changed situation brought about by the vicissitudes of time and circumstance." After equating their categories to various features of U.S. law, they imply that some laws may not have "permanent value" for a society and may "require modification or replacement" at some point. Next, they offer a few examples of Torah laws that were specific to ancient Israel and do NOT apply to our current circumstances. Hence, we see an admission on CGI's part that at least some of these laws cannot be applied to current circumstances or modern humans!

Once again, it is glaringly apparent that CGI is trying to have it both ways. In order to claim that SOME of these laws apply to Christians, they are forced to admit that some of them CANNOT be made to apply to us! The cognitive dissonance implicit in their position is underscored by a later statement: "To say a law is of lesser value or more narrow in application than another is not to say it is of no concern or it can be ignored. The same applies to the detailed laws of the Old Testament." With this vacillating back and forth, they seem to understand the problems inherent with their attempt to formulate a rationale for discarding some components of the law while retaining others. Indeed, I would say that it is IMPOSSIBLE to construct a logical justification for cherry-picking among the various commandments of the Torah - and, also, completely UNNECESSARY!

Jesus Christ FULFILLED the Torah for us - in its entirety! He then went on to distill the Torah into two great principles for his followers: Love for God and love for each other. Moreover, he and his apostles went on to say that the very best way for us to demonstrate our love for God was to devote our energy to loving each other! Indeed, Christ said that this would be the very thing that would identify his TRUE followers to the rest of the world. Moreover, this NEW Covenant obligation for Christians to obey the Law of Love had NOTHING to do with whether or not they would receive salvation - that was something that Christ had already provided for them. Instead, obedience to this distillation of the Torah would demonstrate that the Christian had indeed accepted Christ as his/her Savior and had received the gift of God's Holy Spirit. In other words, it is completely contrary to the work and message of Jesus Christ to try to impose the provisions of the Old Covenant on those of us who are supposed to be part of the New Covenant through Jesus Christ! There is absolutely NO NEED to parse and cherry-pick the Torah - It is an exercise in FUTILITY!!!

Monday, November 7, 2022

You're NOT God, and You DON'T speak for him!

Unfortunately, the Christian world is full of individuals who claim to speak for God or to somehow act as his representative on this earth. And, when someone has the audacity to point out the absurdity of the notion that an omnipotent and omniscient God would require human help to execute his plans, their indignation is palpable. To buttress their outrageous claims, they insist that God has always chosen to work through humans (note that they employ "through" instead of "with" humans). In this way, they can point to a great cloud of Divine representatives down through the centuries since humankind was created.

Nevertheless, the problems with this self-serving interpretation of the way in which the God of the Bible has "always" dealt with humans will become readily apparent when we take a closer look at a few of the folks in Scripture whom they identify as God's former "agents." Beginning in the Old Testament, two of the most popular examples in this regard are Moses and David. According to their narrative, God gave Moses the Law to impart to the people of Israel. Lost in this narrative, of course, is the fact that God himself is portrayed in Scripture as actively carrying out his own plans! And, according to the biblical narrative, God was personally laying out the terms of his covenant with ALL of the people of Israel. Moses fulfilled the role of a mediator between God and the people because the people were afraid of having direct contact with God! Likewise, in the case of King David, the biblical narrative relates that the people didn't want to live under a theocracy with God at the helm! They wanted to be like all of the other nations of the earth. They asked for a king!

Now, it is true that God sent a number of prophets to the people of Israel to warn them about the potential consequences of their behavior. Nevertheless, once again, this move was necessitated by the people's abandonment of the tenets of God's covenant with them! And why was God working with the Israelites to begin with? Didn't he intend for them to provide an example to the rest of humanity of what a right relationship with God could look like? In other words, God was portrayed as actively representing himself and carrying into effect his own plans. Scripture portrayed the Israelites as pawns on a much bigger strategic chessboard. Hence, while God did use various men to carry a message of repentance to the people of Israel, those messages are portrayed as being given directly by God. Thus, even in this instance where God is portrayed as working through human agents (these prophets) to deliver his message to the people, we see that God is portrayed as representing himself in these interactions!

Moreover, under the terms of the New Covenant, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is very explicit that God would be working through ONE individual going forward: Jesus Christ! We read there: "Long ago, God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2) In the current dispensation, God's message is communicated to us through Jesus Christ - NOT a bunch of self-proclaimed prophets and apostles! This is consistent with Paul's message to the Romans that they had eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:11, 23). It is also consistent with Christ's explicit instructions to his disciples to spread HIS message to the entire world (Matthew 28:20). In short, once again, God is currently working through Jesus Christ - PERIOD! According to the New Testament, Jesus is God, and Jesus currently speaks for God - NO ONE ELSE! As for the rest of us, God continues to work in and with us (if we are willing).

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Is the Bible as important as some folks think it is?

A few days ago, Banned by HWA published a brief post entitled Does Jesus really care about...the Bible? That question, of course, offended some folks. "Methinks Jesus cares about the Bible. A lot," one commentator replied. Another commentator added, "Yes, those old pesky scriptures are still important and much needed!!!" Indeed, for many Christians, the Bible is their "final authority" in matters of faith. For them, it is the "Word of God," and anything that questions its importance is tantamount to blasphemy!

Now, along these lines, the Armstrong Churches of God have always been quick to point out that Jesus clearly said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17, NIV here and throughout this post) But does that statement underscore the importance of Scripture or Jesus Christ? After all, if Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Scripture doesn't that imply that he is more important than Scripture?

In this connection, the Gospel of John records a number of statements about Jesus Christ that clearly point to his superiority over Scripture. Indeed, in the opening to the Gospel, Jesus is declared to be the "Word of God." (John 1) A little later, in the same Gospel, Christ told his disciples that he was "the way and the truth and the life," and that no one came to the Father except through him. (14:6). In other words, HE WAS THE REALITY that Scripture alluded to!

In Christ's day, there were a great many Jewish religious leaders who had a very high opinion of their Scriptures. Nevertheless, in the fifth chapter of John, we read that Jesus told them: "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (Verses 39-47) I don't know about you, but that certainly sounds to me like Christ is more important than Scripture!

Finally, in the opening of the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (1:1-3) Now, this is NOT meant to suggest that Scripture is unimportant - It is simply meant to reinforce the fact that Christ is SUPERIOR to Scripture! The Old and New Testaments offer us a shadowy reflection of Jesus Christ, but Jesus is the REALITY! (Colossians 2:16-17) And that's NOT blasphemy, it's just plain old FACT!

Thursday, November 3, 2022


A commentator on a recent post alleged that I had committed blasphemy, and I was reminded about the general lack of understanding that surrounds the use of this term. Our English word is derived from the Greek word blasphemeo, which means to speak reproachfully about, revile, or speak evil about something or someone. In a scriptural context, of course, the term is most often used in connection with anyone who speaks about God in this way. Our modern understanding of the term, however, is considerably more expansive. If we Google the term, we find that it is defined as "the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk." Moreover, we all know that there isn't a great deal of consensus about what constitutes sacrilege or profanity. As a consequence, the term has really become detached from the way it is employed in the Bible.

In terms of the Old Testament, the word came to be associated with the commandment against taking God's name in vain (Exodus 20:7). In other words, the sense was that God's name should never be associated with the mundane or with falsehoods. In practical terms, however, the word simply isn't used very much in our English translations of the Hebrew Bible. Among the Jews, these notions led to a reluctance to even use God's name. After all, if God's name wasn't spoken, the possibility of misusing it would be greatly diminished!

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus warned against blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and that he himself was accused of blasphemy! In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ is reported to have said: “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come." (12:31-32) It should also be noted that these comments were framed as part of his reaction to an accusation by the Pharisees that he was casting out demons by using Satan's power (see verses 24-28). In other words, don't denigrate or disparage what the Holy Spirit accomplishes! Later, in the same Gospel, when Christ was on trial before the Jewish Council, we read: "Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, 'Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?' But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, 'I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.' Jesus replied, 'You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, 'Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?' 'Guilty!' they shouted. 'He deserves to die!'" (26:62-66) Likewise, in the Gospel of John, we read about another occasion when the people were ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy because "You, a mere man, claim to be God." (10:33) Finally, in the highly symbolic language of the book of Revelation, we also see the sin of blasphemy associated with the "Beast." (13:1, 6, 17:3)

Hence, from the perspective of Scripture, we see that "blasphemy" was generally more narrowly defined than our current employment of the term suggests. Thus, while many of us would agree that using God's name to curse someone or something is profane, our consensus about blasphemy tends to break down along more traditional lines with any use of God's name in other contexts. In other words, some Christians are more legalistic than others. These folks tend toward the old Jewish view that any use of God's name risks taking it in vain. Consequently, for them, idioms like "Oh Dear God!" aren't simply exclamations "of surprise, alarm, dismay, annoyance, or exasperation." (see The Free Dictionary) For some folks, these kinds of exclamations are clear manifestations of blasphemy. For me, this appears to be one of those issues of personal conscience (Let everyone by fully persuaded in his/her own mind). I have no desire to offend anyone else's sensibilities on the subject. However, ultimately, we are all individually accountable to God - not to each other.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Our Culture NEVER Sets Dates, and We Aren't Woke!

 In a sermon on the first day of the CGI’s Feast of Tabernacles in Clearwater (CGI was also associated with two other festival sites in Florida), Pastor Bill Watson marveled over the fact that God’s people were still celebrating this festival in 2022. The clear implication being that most of the “old-timers” believed that the Kingdom of God would have been established many years ago by now. This observation was followed by a statement which anyone who is familiar with the history of the Armstrong Church of God culture will find astonishing. Watson declared: “We were falsely accused of actually setting dates, when in fact really we never did, as far as our culture was concerned.”

After that jaw-dropping statement, Watson went on to observe that Christians are currently viewed as an “annoyance” or as “troublemakers.” According to Bill, TRUE Christians don’t go along with the mainstream media. From his perspective, God has revealed HIS TRUTH to the folks in CGI, and they need to tattoo that stuff on their brains! He insists that CGI members can’t allow themselves to swallow the narrative of the world around them. In other words, Christians cannot be woke or politically correct!

What kinds of things did Mr. Watson have in mind? He went on to remind his audience that God created Adam and Eve - NOT Adam and Steve (I know I’ve heard that one somewhere before). Continuing, he went on to make the astute observation that homosexuals “can’t reproduce,” and that it’s consequently an obvious perversion of the biology which God intended. Watson then went on to decry the fact that he can’t say anything about voter fraud, because “we’ll lose our YouTube account.” He then proceeded to make clear that Bill Watson didn’t drink the Kool-Aid on Covid-19. He reiterated his often stated opinion that masks don’t make sense. This, apparently, is what Bill meant when he referred to the fact that Christians like him were now viewed as annoyances and troublemakers; but he also made it very clear that he was not intimidated by these gainsayers. He declared that Christians have got to put “blinders” on so that we don’t get distracted by the noise that these critics generate.

Nevertheless, Pastor Watson did admit that some folks in the Armstrong Church of God movement have been misled by clever individuals. He cited the unnamed leader of the Restored Church of God as an example of just such a deceiver and went on to declare that “any minister…that basically attempts to steer you to follow them - get outta there…because if they are not pointing you to Jesus Christ there’s something very suspicious that’s going on.” You know, despite the awkward wording, I think that Pastor Watson may be on to something with that statement – I kinda liked that one! What do you think?