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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Don't let anyone lead you away from God's truth!

The ministers of the Armstrong Churches of God put a whole lot of energy into trying to convince their members that anyone who criticizes them is trying to pull God's sheep away from God's truth. In other words, "if you accept what they're saying about us, you won't make it into God's Kingdom!" Don't think so? Here are just a few recent examples from two ministers of the Church of God International: Remaining Christian in An Evil World and Beware Lest Any Man Spoil You.

It's an old tried-and-true trick that they've employed in the battle against their critics for many years now (stretching all the way back to the Herbert Armstrong days of the movement). This way, instead of actually acknowledging and answering their critics, all they have to do is threaten their members with the fires of Gehenna! The logic goes something like this: "You've already proven the truth of our doctrines from your Bible, so anything that contradicts those teachings must be wrong (and designed to lead you away from God and his truth)." They've learned too, over the years, that the tactic is pretty damn effective! The corollary, of course, is that "you shouldn't have been listening to/reading that stuff anyway!"

Hence, the poor little lamb under their control not only sees the fires yawning before them - they also feel guilty for even entertaining criticism of God's ministers and church! It's a double whammy! And, as I've already pointed out, the church doesn't even have to address the criticism - no additional research, reasoning, no additional effort of any kind required from "God's servants!"

In this connection, they love to equate themselves with the Apostle Paul and quote extensively from his warnings about false teachers and heretical teachings. Never mind that those passages are actually much more applicable to them and what they're teaching! They also love to quote Christ's Parable of the Seeds and Soils. From their perspective, the critics are obviously represented by any of the things which keep the seed from taking root and producing fruit! "Critics are the servants of the evil one."

For these folks, "growing in grace and knowledge" means immersing themselves in ACOG doctrines - reinforcing and repeating the same things over and over again! It could NEVER mean that they might have more to learn about something, or HEAVEN FORBID - relearn something that they didn't get right the first time around! When I hear these kinds of messages from these folks, I always think about that passage from the book of Revelation: "You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." (Revelation 3:17)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

To whom will you compare me?

A recent post at Banned by HWAGod, The Absolute, was of particular interest to this blogger because it is congruous with the theme of my own blog. The post opens with a bold and profound statement. We read: "God is absolute.  And the problem with trying to describe the absoluteness of God is that all of the vocabulary we might use is human and limited. We try to dress this human language up in an attempt to express the state of being absolute, but the result is just awkward." The author then proceeded to demonstrate the inadequacy of just one of the many adjectives which we employ to try to describe God: omnipotent. The author went on to make the point that ALL of our attempts to describe God result in inadequate analogies (comparisons to ourselves or what we know/experience of the physical realm).

In the book of Isaiah, we read that God said: "To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?" (46:5) The clear implication being that there is NO ONE with whom we can compare or equate God! To make sure that this point was not overlooked, just a few verses later, we read: "Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me." (46:9) Further underscoring the differences between God and us, a little later on in the book, we read: "'My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,' says the Lord. 'And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.'" (55:8-9)

Of course, there are also those passages which inspired the title and theme of this blog (I Kings 8:27 and II Chronicles 6:18). Realizing the utter inadequacy of any temple which he could construct for the God of Israel, Solomon is reported to have said: "But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!"

Indeed, there are a number of passages of Scripture which come to mind in this connection (demonstrating just how different God is from us). For instance, there are a number of passages in the book of Job which underscore God's superiority to us, but there is one in the book of Samuel that makes crystal clear that our human judgment is very different from Divine judgment. In that narrative, we read that God had sent Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel (after Saul's failure). In the course of performing that task, Samuel was particularly impressed with Jesse's son, Eliab (I Samuel 16:6). God, however, had someone else in mind. We read: "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" (Verse 7)

Hence, we see that Scripture speaks of a God who cannot be quantified or explained by humans - an entity who is completely beyond our capacity to fully comprehend! Moreover, a God who exists outside of that which limits and confines us clarifies just how deficient any attempts by us to describe or characterize God must be. This, of course, presents a real problem for Fundamentalists. After all, if our imagination and language are not equal to the task, then there isn't ANY explanation (Divine or human) which would do justice to the subject of God (persona, character, or will). In other words, even Scripture must be regarded as a feeble attempt to explain God and "his" will!

And, if the gulf that exists between us and the Divine is that great, then how could such a God interact with inferior humans? For the answer to that question, we are again forced to draw upon our own limited perspective. How do we interact with animals and humans who do not possess our intellectual capacity? If we are motivated by love (as Scripture indicates that God is), then we simplify the way that we communicate to make it easier for them to comprehend us, and we exercise a great deal of forbearance - don't we? And aren't there a great many things that we humans think and do that we wouldn't dream of sharing with a cow, horse, cat, or dog? Admittedly, it is extremely humbling to consider, but don't you think that it's extremely likely that such considerations might apply to the way that God would choose to interact with us?

Do we begin to see the absurdity of claiming that ANY book adequately explains God or "his" will to humans? We are limited - God is NOT. Moreover, our limitations extend in ALL directions! As I've mentioned before, we only see a very small slice of the light spectrum. We only hear a small slice of the frequencies floating around in our universe. We've only ever traveled to one world outside of our own (our own satellite, the moon), and that only a handful of times. The fastest speed that humans have ever achieved is just under 25,000 miles per hour (Apollo 10). The longest any human has ever lived that has been authenticated is just over 122 years (most of us consider ourselves lucky to reach 80 years on this planet). The highest intelligence quotients (IQ) ever recorded among humans are in the range of 220-240 (most of us fall within the range of 90-120). Do we begin to appreciate the extent of our limitations?

Moreover, this limitation of the human written word is also underscored in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, we read that "Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." (21:25) Speaking of himself and the Christians at Corinth, Paul wrote: "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (I Corinthians 13:12) Once again, Scripture is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and instructing us in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). In short, God uses Scripture to make sure that we are equipped to do what is right in "his" sight (verse 17). The notion that Scripture could be ANYTHING more than that is absurd and probably blasphemous! Scripture gives us SOME insight into a piece of God's mind and a portion of his will and plans. It simply CANNOT do anything more than that! And we would all be a whole lot happier and on a more solid spiritual foundation if we could accept this truth!

Monday, December 26, 2022

A Time for Reflection

As the old year draws to a close, it is natural for us to take stock of everything that has happened in that time. In short, it is a time to remember and reflect on the events, people, and things which have touched our lives over the last twelve months. Likewise, it is a time to reconsider our own behavior, and the way(s) in which we reacted to all of that. This, in turn, often leads to feelings of regret, and/or a realization that we could have done better than what we actually did. In similar fashion, this inevitably prompts some of us to make resolutions for the year ahead and/or resolve to do better next time. Moreover, as we mentioned in the opening to this post, there is something very familiar and comfortable about these exercises. Indeed, for those of us who are students of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, we recognize that memory and reflection are not only natural parts of being human - they are also part of a Divine spiritual exercise that is essential to our emotional and spiritual health and well-being!

In those Scriptures, God is revealed as the one who was, is, and is to come - the God of past, present, and future! Moreover, we know that this principle is important because the word "remember" appears in 144 verses of the King James Bible! The Israelites were instructed to remember God and what he had done for them, their ancestors, the Sabbath, God's laws, God's covenant with them, how they had been treated in times past, to be kind to strangers and the disadvantaged among them, and the tenuous nature of their own existence. Indeed, philosophers have almost universally recognized the value of reflection and memory to humans, both individually and collectively. In the New Testament, in anticipation of the observance of Christ's death, Paul instructed the saints of Corinth to "let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (I Corinthians 11:28), and, later, he wrote: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (II Corinthians 13:5). Hence, we can see that self-reflection is woven into the very fabric of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

It is also an integral part of this process of self-reflection that Christians should imagine and put into practice ways to be better in the future. In his first letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul had demanded reflection about the way that they had handled a sinner in their midst. In this second letter to them, he said that this reflection had led to a turnaround in their attitudes and behavior. Paul knew that this kind of reflection could lead to both positive and negative outcomes. He wrote: "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done." (II Corinthians 7:8-11, NIV) In other words, self-reflection which corrects course is something that is good and holy and does not result in despair or depression.

Hence, as we all approach the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, may we all resolve to do better in the coming year - to summon "the better angels of our nature." And, once we have made that resolution, may we all adopt Paul's attitude going forward - to forget what is behind and put all of our strength into what lies before us! (Philippians 3:13-14)

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Refutation of HWA's Plain Truth About Christmas

Herbert W Armstrong wrote and published a booklet titled The Plain Truth About Christmas which purported to prove that the holiday was a pagan derivative. He observed that "Most people have 'supposed' a lot of things about Christmas that are not true. But let's quit 'supposing' and get the facts!" Now, that's something with which I can completely concur!

According to Armstrong, Christmas "came to non-Christians and Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. And where did they get it? Not from the New Testament-NOT from the Bible-NOT from the original apostles who were personally instructed by Christ-but it gravitated in the fourth century into the Roman Church from paganism." This, however, does NOT square with the evidence available to us about the origins of the holiday!

For instance, in order for his assertion about the holiday coming to the world through the Roman Catholic Church to be true, we would basically have to accept that church's understanding of its own origins and history. Now, although the RCC claims that its history stretches all the way back to apostolic times, most historians would say that our modern notion of that church began to emerge in the Sixth Century - during the reign of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome. Hence, if we accept Armstrong's assertion that Christianity adopted the holiday from paganism in the Fourth Century, we are already faced with a clear dilemma (both things can't be true). Is, however, Armstrong right about Christmas creeping into Christianity in the Fourth Century? Is he right about its non-biblical and pagan origins?

Unfortunately, Mr. Armstrong completely ignored the fact that TWO of the canonical gospels (Matthew and Luke) contain rather detailed narratives about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ! In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Verse 18) The author of the gospel then proceeds to tell the story of Joseph's part in Mary's pregnancy (verses 19-25). Then, in the second chapter of this same account, we read: "Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.'" (Verses 1-2) Next, King Herod's interest in the birth of the Messiah is elucidated (verses 3-8). Next, we read: "After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Verses 9-11)

Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke, we read that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that the Lord had chosen her for a great task (1:26-29). Continuing, we read: "'Don’t be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!'" (Verses 30-33) Next, we are informed that Gabriel explained to her how this would happen (verses 34-38). In the following chapter, we read: "At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.' Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.' When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them." (Verses 1-20)

Now, in case you were wondering, I included all of this material to demonstrate both the scope and nature of the material contained IN SCRIPTURE about the events surrounding Christ's BIRTH. In other words, Armstrong's assertion that the Christmas narrative did not originate in Scripture is conclusively demonstrated to be false! Moreover, I don't know if you caught it, but the language in those accounts suggests that there was much to celebrate and rejoice over! Hence, although there isn't any command to commemorate or celebrate the event, its inclusion in these biblical narratives about Christ suggests that his birth was one of the great events of human history!

Thus, having established that Christ's nativity has a rather extensive basis in Scripture, we turn to the question of when that event began to be celebrated among Christians. First, we should note again that we have already established that the story of Christ's birth was important to the authors of TWO of the canonical gospels! This blogger has also already established that Ignatius of Antioch (martyred early in the Second Century) felt that Christ's nativity was important enough to mention it in his epistle to the Ephesians (See Ignatius of Antioch on the Nativity of Jesus Christ). Likewise, Justin Martyr (100-165 CE) felt that the events surrounding Christ's birth were important enough to include in his First Apology defense of the Christian religion. Moreover, Armstrong's quotation of Origen (185-253 CE) about the celebration of birthdays being repugnant to Christians also demonstrates that at least some of the saints of that time were celebrating birthdays! (In other words, why mention it if he didn't consider it to be a problem within the Christian community). Moreover, the post immediately preceding this one provides excerpts from Ancient Nativity Hymns composed by Ephrem the Syrian in the Fourth Century (which suggests that Christ's birth was already a very popular theme by that time). Thus, we have conclusively demonstrated that Christ's birth was important to at least some Christians belonging to the First, Second and Third Centuries (the notion was NOT suddenly borrowed from the pagans in the Fourth Century).

In his infamous booklet, Mr. Armstrong suggested that both the timing and manner of this holiday were borrowed from the pagans. As for his assertions about the Roman Saturnalia and Brumalia, I have already refuted any connection to Christmas in a previous post (See The Saturnalia and Brumalia). In similar fashion, I refuted his assertions about the influence of Babylonian or other forms of paganism on Christianity more generally in my post Paganism and Christianity. In short, the narrative simply does NOT hold up to closer scrutiny!

Well, if we didn't get our Christmas customs from the pagans, from whence did they come? The truth is that the overwhelming majority of our observances/traditions associated with Christmas belong entirely to the Christian era! In my posts, Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days - Really? and The Plain Truth About Christmas Trees and Santa Claus, I meticulously enumerate the origins of most of the customs/traditions/observances which we associate with Christmas in the Twenty-first Century. Astoundingly, over ninety percent of those customs are based on developments within the last five hundred years or so!

In his booklet, Armstrong also had a section entitled "What the Bible Says About the Christmas Tree." He points to a passage from the book of Jeremiah as the Bible's definitive and final word on the Christmas tree. In the tenth chapter of that book, we read: "This is what the Lord says: 'Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them. Their ways are futile and foolish. They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol. They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails so it won’t fall over. Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.'" (Verses 2-5) Armstrong observed that this "is a perfect description of the Christmas tree." Talk about twisting Scripture! The passage is clearly speaking about the idols which the people of that time crafted for themselves out of wood (as just about any good Bible commentary will make plain). In other words, the passage has absolutely NOTHING to do with a Christmas tree!

Unfortunately, Herbert Armstrong only looked for evidence which supported his thesis - that Christmas was of pagan origin and should be avoided by Christians. And, just as he cherry-picked Scripture to support his view, he also was very selective in what he included from sources outside of Scripture! For instance, in his booklet, Armstrong quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia, but he leaves out a great deal of material that doesn't support his narrative about Christmas. In their article on Christmas, we read: "The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Strom., I, xxi in P.G., VIII, 888) says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. [Ideler (Chron., II, 397, n.) thought they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar.] Others reached the date of 24 or 25 Pharmuthi (19 or 20 April). With Clement's evidence may be mentioned the "De paschæ computus", written in 243 and falsely ascribed to Cyprian (P.L., IV, 963 sqq.), which places Christ's birth on 28 March, because on that day the material sun was created. But Lupi has shown (Zaccaria, Dissertazioni ecc. del p. A.M. Lupi, Faenza, 1785, p. 219) that there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth. Clement, however, also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January)." The same encyclopedia discusses the origin of the date (December 25) at some length, but gives a number of possible sources for it - some centered in biblical reasoning and others associated with the Roman Natalis Invicti (a solar festival). In other words, they simply aren't sure about the date's origin. The same article goes on to state: "But even should a deliberate and legitimate 'baptism' of a pagan feast be seen here no more than the transference of the date need be supposed. The 'mountain-birth' of Mithra and Christ's in the 'grotto' have nothing in common: Mithra's adoring shepherds (Cumont, op. cit., I, ii, 4, p. 304 sqq.) are rather borrowed from Christian sources than vice versa." Continuing, we read: "The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December) nor even in the midnight holy birth at Eleusis (see J.E. Harrison, Prolegom., p. 549) with its probable connection through Phrygia with the Naasene heretics, or even with the Alexandrian ceremony quoted above; nor yet in rites analogous to the midwinter cult at Delphi of the cradled Dionysus, with his revocation from the sea to a new birth (Harrison, op. cit., 402 sqq.)." Hence, once again, we see that it was a bit of a stretch for Mr. Armstrong to suggest that the Catholic Encyclopedia supported his narrative about Christmas.

Finally, the narrative that Christians adopted pagan customs to win over heathens to Christ is too simplistic and flawed. History demonstrates that it is more accurate for us to think in terms of Christianity being locked in an existential competition with the pagan religions. Christianity wanted to DEFEAT and REPLACE those beliefs/traditions/practices. In other words, they believed that they had something that was intrinsically superior to offer the heathens!

Hence, regardless of what Herbert Armstrong thought about their motivations and reasoning, millions upon millions of Christians around the world believe that Christ's birth is worthy of celebration. They believe that his first advent was one of the most important events in the history of humankind! And, yes, in many Western countries, the holiday has been commercialized and made into a materialistic orgy of sorts; but that does NOT justify maligning the origins of the day or pretending that there is nothing of spiritual note or value to celebrate. Moreover, I would rather spend my limited resources on my family and loved ones than putting that money into an Armstrong Church of God as Herbie suggested in the conclusion to his booklet! What do you think?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Ancient Nativity Hymns

Ephrem the Syrian was a Christian who lived during the Fourth Century (306-373 CE), and who composed a number of Nativity Hymns (some of which are excerpted below).

From Hymn 1:

This is the day that gladdened them, the Prophets, Kings, and Priests, for in it were their words fulfilled, and thus were the whole of them indeed performed! For the Virgin this day brought forth Immanuel in Bethlehem. The voice that of old Isaiah spoke, today became reality. He was born there who in writing should tell the Gentiles' number! The Psalm that David once sang, by its fulfilment came today! The word that Micah once spoke, today had come indeed to pass! For there came from Ephrata a Shepherd, and His staff swayed over souls. Lo! From Jacob shone the Star, and from Israel rose the Head. The prophecy that Balaam spoke had its interpreting today! Down also came the hidden Light, and from the Body rose His beauty! The light that spoke in Zachary, today shined in Bethlehem!

Risen is the Light of the kingdom, in Ephrata the city of the King. The blessing wherewith Jacob blessed, to its fulfilment came today! That tree likewise, [the tree] of life, brings hope to mortal men! Solomon's hidden proverb had today its explanation! Today was born the Child, and His name was called Wonder! For a wonder it is that God as a Babe should show Himself. By the word Worm did the Spirit foreshow Him in parable, because His generation was without marriage. The type that the Holy Ghost figured today its meaning was [explained.] He came up as a root before Him, as a root of parched ground. Anything that covertly was said, openly today was done! The King that in Judah was hidden, Thamar stole Him from his thigh; today arose His conquering beauty, which in hidden estate she loved. Ruth at Boaz' side lay down, because the Medicine of Life hidden in him she perceived. Today was fulfilled her vow, since from her seed arose the Quickener of all. Travail Adam on the woman brought, that from him had come forth. She today her travail ransomed, who to her a Saviour bare! To Eve our mother a man gave birth, who himself had had no birth. How much more should Eve's daughter be believed to have borne a Child without a man! The virgin earth, she bare that Adam that was head over the earth! The Virgin bare today the Adam that was Head over the Heavens. The staff of Aaron, it budded, and the dry wood yielded fruit! Its mystery is cleared up today, for the virgin womb a Child has borne!

From Hymn 2:

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again today! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

From Hymn 5:

At the birth of the Son, there was a great shouting in Bethlehem; for the Angels came down, and gave praise there. Their voices were a great thunder: at that voice of praise the silent ones came, and gave praise to the Son.

Blessed be that Babe in whom Eve and Adam were restored to youth! The shepherds also came laden with the best gifts of their flock: sweet milk, clean flesh, befitting praise! They put a difference, and gave Joseph the flesh, Mary the milk, and the Son the praise! They brought and presented a suckling lamb to the Paschal Lamb, a first-born to the First-born, a sacrifice to the Sacrifice, a lamb of time to the Lamb of Truth. Fair sight [to see] the lamb offered to The Lamb!

From Hymn 9:

Come rest, and be still in the bosom of Your Mother, Son of the Glorious. Forwardness fits not the sons of kings. O Son of David, You are glorious, and [yet] the Son of Mary, who hides Your beauty in the inner chamber.

To whom are You like, glad Babe, fair little One, Whose Mother is a Virgin, Whose Father is hidden, Whom even the Seraphim are not able to look upon? Tell us whom You are like, O Son of the Gracious!

From Hymn 12:

The Babe that I carry carries me, says Mary, and He has lowered His wings, and taken and placed me between His pinions, and mounted into the air; and a promise has been given me that height and depth shall be my Son's.

I have seen Gabriel that called him Lord, and the high priest the aged servant, that carried Him and bare Him. I have seen the Magi when they bowed down, and Herod when he was troubled because the King had come.

See Hymns on the Nativity

Thursday, December 15, 2022

An Epidemic of Infallibility

In an editorial in The New York Times, Paul Krugman coined the term "epidemic of infallibility." He, of course, framed the problem in terms of America's political culture, or "powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake." He went on to observe: "But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small." In Krugman's acknowledgement of the role of ego in this, I think he has stumbled onto a principle that has a much broader application than politics or politicians.

In her article for Psychology Today, The Mindset That Makes It Hard To Admit You're Wrong, Dr. Susan Whitbourne offered a new twist on an old Alexander Pope favorite: "to err is human, to admit divine." She went on to observe: "It’s important to the victim...for transgressors to take ownership of the harmful action, even though it might make them seem incompetent or dishonest. This is yet another key reason to admit to wrongdoing — it shows that you respect the people who were affected by your actions. It can be the ultimate expression of egocentrism, or even narcissism, to focus only on your own self-image and how it is harmed by violation of competence or integrity expectations held by others toward you. Instead, by admitting the wrongdoing, you show that you value them as much — or more than — you value your own need to seem infallible." Dr. Whitbourne concluded: "Ironically, it’s when you acknowledge your weakness by admitting to wrongdoing that you show your strongest side."

In other words, the thing that makes it so hard for us to admit that we've make a mistake is our own pride. Such an admission threatens how we and others see us. We pretend to know/understand things that we don't. Evangelist Billy Graham was once asked "Why won't some people admit it when they're wrong?" He answered: "Unfortunately, experience tells us that people like this seldom change; their pride gets in the way, and they can’t bring themselves to admit that they alone are responsible for their failures. The Bible says, 'Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice' (Proverbs 13:10)." In short, we don't want to be seen as being weak or flawed.

In Paul Ratner's article, "Why it's important to admit when you're wrong," we read: "In an interview with the New York Times, social psychologist Carol Tavris, who wrote the aptly-named book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), said that the problem comes when our sense of self is under attack. 'Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true.'" Ratner went on to observe that "Persisting in your obstinance, on the other hand, can feel pretty satisfying. A 2012 study found that refusing to apologize can boost your self-esteem and lead to 'increased feelings of power/control and value integrity.' This may be due to the fact that apologies give extra power to those who receive them, explained the authors. This ego boost from refusal can be short-lived, however, and can ruin your relationships and cause backlash."

All too often, even when we're willing to admit that we've made a mistake, we tend to offer multiple excuses for our lapse in judgement. We tell ourselves things like: "I didn't have any good alternatives," "Circumstances forced me to make that choice/decision," "I was deceived, or I wasn't thinking clearly at the time," "You/They made me do it!" Of course, deep down, we know that all of these reasons are simply excuses that we offer to salve our conscience - to protect our ego and reputation. It wasn't REALLY me that failed!

In "The Power and Glory of Admitting You're Wrong," SK Camille wrote: "People who don’t cop to their obvious mistakes lose out anyway. Generally, everyone else sees what’s going on — the person’s mistakes, errors, and imperfections are clear to see. So when the person denies them, that just makes the person look like an arrogant, blind fool. In the attempt to look strong, smart, and in control, they instead come across as weak, stupid, and irrational. On the other hand, admitting you’re wrong can be a magnificent, powerful thing to do." She went on to enumerate a number of ways that such an admission can benefit the confessor: "It shows you have confidence and integrity," "It also shows that you’re human and you know it," "It also means you possess self-awareness and self-control," and "It shows you care about the people around you."

Now, I have had a great deal of experience with admitting that I have been wrong. For many years, I fully supported the teachings of Herbert W Armstrong (founder of the Worldwide Church of God and Plain Truth magazine). There was a time when I was convinced that I had THE TRUTH - when I believed that the English-speaking peoples of the earth were the descendants of the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Likewise, I believed a number of other heretical teachings: that Christians are obligated to observe the dos and don'ts outlined in the Torah, that Christians shouldn't observe "pagan" holidays (like Christmas, Easter or Halloween), and that homosexuality was a sin. However, when experience and evidence discredited those teachings, I was forced to admit that I had been wrong - very wrong. In similar fashion, I used to be an extremely partisan person in terms of my politics and thought that my party (the Republicans) had all of the answers to America's problems. Although I'm not proud to admit it, there was even a time in the past when I enjoyed Donald Trump's swagger (The Apprentice). Nevertheless, subsequent developments have forced me to admit to myself and others that I was very wrong about those things.

Alright, that's a lot of experts and personal experience, but what does the Bible have to offer on the subject of admitting that we're wrong? In a Psalm attributed to David, we read: "Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.' And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone." (Psalm 32:5) We read in the first epistle of John that "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (I John 1:8-9) In the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews, we are told that repentance is one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. (Hebrews 6:1) Hence, we can see that, even from a Biblical standpoint, it is essential for us to admit it when we are wrong about something. Indeed, we have seen that ego and pride are at the heart of our reluctance to admit wrongdoing. In the book of Proverbs, we read "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it was liberating for me to admit that I was wrong. Moreover, from my perspective, a willingness to acknowledge that we are NOT infallible is something that is sorely needed both here and around the world!


Krugman, Paul, "America's Epidemic of Infallibility," The New York Times, 20 March 2017

Whitbourne, Susan, "The Mindset That Makes It hard to Admit You're Wrong," Psychology Today, 21 March 2017

Graham, Billy, "Answers," Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 20 November 2017

Ratner, Paul, "Why it's important to admit when you're wrong," Neuropsych @ Big Think, 21 January 2021

Camille, SK, aka Sanders, Patricia Ann, "The Power and Glory of Admitting You're Wrong," The Startup @ medium.com, 23 October 2019

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation

Sunday, December 11, 2022

It's never too late, until it is!

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Armstrong Churches of God teach that Christmas is derived from pagan practices and should not be celebrated by Christians. They claim that Scripture doesn't say anything about celebrating Christ's birth and actually commanded Christians to commemorate his death. They point out that early Christians did not celebrate Christmas, and that we don't even know the real date of Christ's birth. They also go on to point out the commercialization of the holiday, and the greed which they claim is an integral part of the day. In one of his booklets on the subject, Herbert Armstrong even suggested that the money spent on gift giving would be better spent in assisting "God's work" (meaning his church organization)!

Well, what about all of these claims against Christmas? Are they true? If they are true, do they provide sufficient justification for Christians to shun the observance of this holiday?

Once upon a time, I accepted their narrative against Christmas. Although I had loved the holiday as a child and had been the chief proponent of its observance within our family, after reading some of Herbert Armstrong's literature on the subject, I decided that Christmas was evil and shouldn't be celebrated by "TRUE" Christians. However, after many years of study and soul searching, things have come full circle for me - I am joyfully celebrating Christmas again! How did I get there? There are numerous posts on this blog which explain the historical and spiritual calculations which got me to the place I am today.

Nevertheless, for the sake of those who do not have the time or the inclination to look up all of those posts, a brief summary of the evidence which I uncovered will suffice for the purposes of this post. After an intensive study of the history of the holiday, I learned that the overwhelming majority of the practices associated with our observance of Christmas belong to the Christian era. Indeed, my studies led me to the conclusion that over 90% of our observances were generated within the last 500 years! The truth is that most of our notions about Santa, gift-giving, Christmas cards, poinsettias, and feasting belong to developments of the 19th Century. Likewise, the vast majority of our holiday traditions relative to Rudolph, the Grinch, songs, and movies belong to the 20th Century! The truth is that there is much more paganism related to the calendar that we currently use than can justly be attributed to the Christmas holiday!

Moreover, it's NOT very honest to say that Scripture has NOTHING to say about the celebration of Christ's birth. The TRUTH is that two of the four canonical gospels give rather extensive accounts of the events surrounding Christ's birth (see Matthew 1, 2 and Luke 1, 2). And, BOTH of those accounts are overtly celebratory of that event! Additionally, we know that both the Torah and many of the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to the coming of the Christ and characterized that as a blessed event! You remember, of course, that famous passage from Isaiah: "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) Indeed, one of the Torah festivals which Herbert Armstrong taught that Christians were obligated to observe pictured Christ's coming to this earth!

Still, there are even some atheists and progressive Christians who insist that the whole mother and child/virgin birth/visiting magi narrative outlined in Matthew and Luke was borrowed from much older, pagan religions. However, it should be noted that the objective of most of the folks who point this out is to discredit Scripture and/or the existence of a historical Jesus. Hence, whatever inspired the stories in Matthew and Luke, Christians are left with the fact that they are included in two of the canonical gospels! And what if these accounts are metaphorical/highly symbolic? Does that automatically disqualify them? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that God had employed metaphor and symbolism in Scripture to make a larger spiritual point!

Many folks before me have commented about the Christmas spirit. It has been characterized as joyful, hopeful. nostalgic, giving, inspirational, peaceful, kind, generous, family-oriented, magical, miraculous, wonderous, and Holy (among many other equally nice adjectives). What's wrong with these things? Are these sentiments evil? Are these things that are unworthy of Christian interest or participation?

We went to a performance of the Nutcracker earlier today with our eldest daughter and her four children. It is a tradition which we have observed for many years now, and it is pure joy to behold the looks of rapture and enjoyment on the faces of our grandchildren while the ballet is being performed. The smiles on their little faces are priceless. Would the money for those tickets have been better spent by contributing it to one of the ACOGs? I don't think so! Indeed, I would challenge anyone to say that we weren't doing God's work today!

As I write this post tonight, I'm thinking about all of those celebrations of Christmas that I missed during my years under the spell of Herbert Armstrong's teaching, and it makes me sick. I think about the years that my own children went without this wonderful holiday, and I am ashamed of my self-righteous, self-centered delusion! I can't ever get those years back, but I thank God that I can enjoy this holiday with my children and grandchildren in the present! For whatever time I have left on this earth, I have the privilege of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with these loved ones.

Fortunately, for me, it wasn't too late to shun the mistakes of the past and begin again - in a better and more wholesome spirit. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge (which I once played in a fifth-grade production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol), I have made a promise to myself: "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."

From my perspective, the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the three greatest events in the history of humankind (his death and resurrection being the other two). For me, the story of the angel's appearance to the shepherds is the epitome of how all TRUE Christians should regard the birth of Christ. In the Gospel of Luke, we read: "That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.' Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.'" (2:8-14) Now, that is worth celebrating!

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The ACOG Obsession with Headline Theology and Right-wing Politics

The architect of ACOG theology (and we're being VERY charitable in characterizing that mixed bag of doctrines as theology), Herbert Armstrong, used headline theology as a tool to spark interest in his teachings. It was his principal "hook." In his Plain Truth magazine, Herbert and his associates "analyzed" current events/world news in the light of biblical prophecy. Hence, it is easy to understand the continuing obsession of that culture with this phenomenon.

For Armstrong and his followers, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were a collection of headlines written many years before they were supposed to actually happen, and most of those headlines were supposed to happen in our time! Additionally, Herbert adopted a version of Anglo-Israelism that arose in the 19th Century and purported to conclusively demonstrate that the English-speaking nations of the world were the modern representation of God's people, Israel! This, of course, upended the Great Commission which Christ gave to his disciples and replaced it with a message of warning for the peoples of the United States and British Commonwealth of Nations. For them, all of the change and upheaval (which was such a prevalent part of the news of the last half of the Twentieth Century) pointed to God's judgement of sinful Israel and the inauguration of the "Great Tribulation" and the "End Times."

Unfortunately, after Herbert Armstrong's death (and the death of his son, Garner Ted), this interest in current events morphed into an obsession with extreme right-wing politics. For many of these folks, the narrative about the dangers posed to traditional American culture by changing demographics and an increasingly secular society meshed well with their own tradition of headline theology interpreted through the lens of Anglo-Israelism. Indeed, the populist, patriotic, nationalistic, and authoritarian tendencies of Twenty-First Century conservatives seemed to many of them a natural extension/continuation of what they had always believed about themselves and the mission of their church.

Think that this is an unfair characterization of the Armstrong Churches of God? Let's take a look at what those groups are currently presenting to the peoples of the world for their consumption. After Armstrong's death and the collapse of his Worldwide Church of God, Armstrong's followers organized themselves into a number of different organizations which all claimed to carry on the "truths" that he had revealed. To demonstrate the pervasiveness of this phenomenon, we need only to look at the current offerings of a number of these organizations.

In the most recent issue of Gerald Flurry's The Trumpet (a magazine produced by his "Philadelphia Church of God"), the following articles are featured: "Obama Unmasked", "What Happened to British Leadership?", "Is Prime Minister Sunak a Mistake for Britain?", "Pound Crisis: The End of Free Money?", and "A 21st-Century Emperor" (an article about China's Xi Jinping). The cover of the magazine and lead article is even better. There is a picture of Donald Trump on a red background, and the article is entitled "Ready for War." The article opens with: "The battle lines are drawn. The stage is set for one of the most dramatic fulfillments of biblical prophecy we have yet seen in our lifetimes. On one side of this political battle in America is the Democratic Party and the radical left. There is also, we now know, establishment Republicans. They are joined by the media—both leftist and “conservative”—and Big Tech, with the single exception now of Twitter. All are arrayed together. On the other side is Donald Trump. Virtually alone."

On The Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association webpage, the following articles are currently featured: "House passes defense bill that rescinds military Covid vaccine mandate", "Xi Jinping meets Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as US fumes", "Griner release is cause for relief but Viktor Bout transfer tough to stomach", and "Bill protecting same-sex, interracial unions clears Congress."  In the "Weekly Update by Mark Armstrong," we read the following about climate change: "Do we not have enough actual problems here on earth?  We have to invent something to panic about?  It turns out children are being frightened and their sleep disturbed with nightmares over the effects of global warming. Show them an aerial shot of Obama’s waterfront mansion. Makes you wonder if the people inside are having nightmares."

On Dr. Bob Thiel's COGwriter for his "Continuing Church of God," we find the following articles featured: "AP: Russia grinds on in eastern Ukraine; Bakhmut ‘destroyed’; WND’s Farah turns against Zelensky", "Wave of Volcanoes around the world: Pre-Messiah Shake-and-bake?’", "‘Twitter Files’ claims shadow banning; Are we in a post-truth society?", "105th anniversary of Turkey surrendering Jerusalem to the British", and "NYT: Could Biden’s Climate Agenda Trigger a New Trade War?" In yet another article on French civil unrest, Dr. Bob notes that "the Bible shows that terrorism is prophesied." He also goes on to mention an article he had previously written on "The ‘Lost Tribe’ of Reuben: France in Prophecy?"

In the latest edition of David Pack's The Real Truth magazine, "Restored Church of God," the same headline theology is evident. We find there the following articles featured: "Britain's Last Monarch", "Mankind's Success Paradox: What We Must Learn from Earth's Population Passing 8 Billion", "Study: U.S. Gun Death Rates Hit Highest Levels in Decades", and "U.S. Children Suffer Historic Learning Setbacks." Not as much right-wing politics here, but it is still there!

What about the more "progressive" or "moderate" ACOGs? The answer: About the same! In the latest edition of United Church of God's Beyond Today magazine, the following articles are featured: "The Divided States of America: A Dangerous Crossroads", "Two Nations Under One Flag", "A World in Chaos as America Fractures", "America’s Forgotten Christian Heritage", and "'A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand.'" In his article, Darris McNeely observed: "Abortion and same-sex marriage, and now the growing influence of the LGBTQ+ movement, have hollowed out the moral center of the United States and other Western nations. Political polarization has deepened in recent decades. Government overspending has worsened the economy, bringing back rates of inflation unseen for 40 years. Confidence in the federal government is at historic lows." He went on to observe that "Bible prophecy reveals that the United States will fall, a victim of its own sins, rebellion and divisions. This will be an early stage in the time of unparalleled turmoil that will envelop the world in the years leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. He described this time as one of 'great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be' (Matthew 24:21)."

In Dave Havir's ("Church of God Big Sandy") latest edition of Eye on the World, we find a forty-page document listing the articles which he feels his flock should be following. Among them, the following topics are addressed: "Prisoner swap—good news for Griner, bad news for America", "Covid protests in China", "International climate change", "China, climate change and coal", "Russia-Ukraine war", various comments about individual nations and groups, and comments on a host of topics (environment, digital global currency, distribution hubs, power grid, government and corporate censorship, free speech, Twitter, sexualization of children, transgender issues, abortion, fossil fuels, electric vehicles, inflation, illegal immigration, voting, defunding the police, soaring crime, gun control, reparations, Fauci, vaccine mandates, Democrats). In fact, Havir is probably following the headlines more closely than ANY other group.

However, that's not to say that Pastor Bill Watson of the "Church of God International" isn't trying his best to outshine the other ACOGs in his support of right-wing news. Undeterred by the attempts of the folks in Tyler to curb his political messaging, Bill has launched a "Missing in Action News" segment which he presents after the regular church service to his Church of God International Medina, Ohio. This last Sabbath, Watson focused on Twitter, the Respect for Marriage Act, a non-binary Biden Administration official named Samuel Brinton, Elon Musk's Neuralink, contrasting Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia with that of Joe Biden, and an extended unofficial discussion about the "serious" health risks associated with receiving an mRNA vaccine. His sources for all of this material? Breitbart and The Blaze (both EXTREME right-wing platforms). The Sabbath before this one the subject was Musk's Twitter stuff, the Federal Reserve and a new digital currency, and another discussion about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Virus. His sources once again: Breitbart and The Blaze (at least he's consistent). And Bill is not at all shy about making his partisan views known: Trump and Republicans = GOOD, Biden and Demoncrats = BAD!

"The Church of God, a worldwide association" (GOGWA) may not be as overtly political as some of the other groups, but they're selling the same stuff! On their Life, Hope and Truth website, in an article by Dave Treybig entitled "Prophecy: What Lies Ahead for You and Your World?" we read about their notions about the United States in prophecy. Treybig wrote: "Biblical prophecy does address the U.S., but students of the Bible have to know how this nation is identified. In the section on the “12 Tribes of Israel,” evidence is presented that links this nation to the descendants of Joseph and specifically to the tribe of Manasseh, whose people were part of the ancient nation of Israel." Not as in your face, but it's still there!

So, if you're interested in Jesus Christ and his teachings, the ACOGs are clearly NOT for you! If you're interested in salvation through Jesus Christ or the Kingdom of God, the ACOGs are NOT for you! On the other hand, if you're a White/Christian Nationalist or Trumpist, you'll probably be very comfortable in any of these ACOGs!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Anglo-Israelism ISN'T A Harmless Belief!

When confronted with the fact that Anglo-Israelism has been thoroughly discredited, I've heard numerous Armstrongites over the years justify its continued toleration among them by declaring "Oh well, it's not a matter of salvation anyway!" Now, while this statement is certainly true, it leaves one with the distinct impression that we shouldn't get our panties in a bunch over someone's acceptance of the teaching. Is that, however, the correct way for us to treat this heretical belief? Should we simply shrug our shoulders and walk away? In the final analysis, is Anglo-Israelism a harmless delusion?

From the title which I have chosen for this post, you already know my answer to that question! You, however, may still be wondering why I'm so interested in labeling this belief as harmful. In other words, what is/are my reason(s) for singling out this doctrine as being detrimental to Christians?

In enumerating my justifications for designating this teaching as harmful, I think it is important to begin with what this doctrine does to the way that we perceive Almighty God. In short, Anglo-Israelism distorts our view of God. The teaching portrays God as hiding the identity of his people from the world. In other words, according to this doctrine, God has intentionally deceived both his own people and the other peoples of the world about the "true" identity of the children of Israel! Hence, we can see that this doctrine implies that God is a controlling, interventionist, manipulative, secretive, and deceptive entity. Is such a view of God consistent with what is revealed about him in Scripture? I don't think so.

In similar fashion, this pernicious teaching distorts one's understanding of a number of other very important areas of the Christian faith. For instance, Anglo-Israelism engenders in its adherents a false sense of their own spiritual understanding and status as a Christian. Many of the folks who hold this belief feel like they're in on God's secret - that they have an inside edge on other folks. Indeed, many of them believe that their understanding of the identity of modern Israel is one of the very things which identifies them as a Christian!

Along the same lines, we should point out that this teaching distorts one's understanding of biblical prophecy. The identification of the English-speaking peoples of the earth as the modern-day descendants of Israel causes these folks to misapply all of the prophecies that were directed at ancient Israel! In other words, this teaching causes these folks to misapply God's messages to Israel through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, etc. to the peoples of the United States and British Commonwealth. Hence, the entire premise of their interpretation of biblical prophecy is flawed and leads them to erroneous conclusions about what the Bible predicts for both our own time and the future!

It should also be pointed out that this distortion of prophetic understanding has led to the distortion of their understanding of the Christian message! Instead of a message focused on Christ and salvation through him, these folks are focused on a warning message for the English-speaking peoples of the world! Instead of fulfilling the Great Commission which Christ gave to his Church before his ascension into heaven, they are busily occupying their time and energy by being the "watchman" of Israel! If that doesn't qualify as a serious distortion of God's intention and will, I don't know what does!

In the same vein, Anglo-Israelism also distorts and devalues the universal nature of Christianity. What? You remember what Paul wrote to the Galatians and Colossians don't you? He told them that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the Christian faith - that we are all ONE in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11). Moreover, in the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that Christ instructed his disciples to "teach ALL nations," NOT just the Israelite ones! (28:19) Likewise, this Israel-centric approach distorts and devalues Christ's role in bringing salvation to all of humankind and reigning as the universal ruler of the Kingdom of God!

Finally, Anglo-Israelism distorts a number of other understandings that are very important to the way someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ should view the world. This teaching distorts a Christian's understanding of race/ethnicity. Instead of seeing humankind as being of one blood, it reinforces the view that God has intentionally favored one people over all others - that the advantages enjoyed by the English-speaking peoples of the earth were God ordained! This has, in turn, led to a sense of superiority - a sense of being exceptional among all of the peoples of the earth. In similar fashion, this has distorted the perceptions of many adherents of Anglo-Israelism regarding history more generally speaking - both their own history and those of the other peoples of the earth. Moreover, this pernicious teaching has also made a significant contribution to the disdain that these folks have for science and human expertise. In short, the rejection of genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence which contradicts this teaching has further alienated these folks from reality and the ability to think logically.

Hence, we can see that Anglo-Israelism is NOT a harmless delusion! The spiritual consequences of adhering to this heretical teaching are serious and far-reaching. Thus, while it may be technically correct to say that this isn't a matter of salvation, it would be foolish to dismiss this as a "harmless" diversion.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

God as King

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a post titled Babylon as a prophetic template. The post explored why Babylon was used by John as the symbol of human governance apart from God in the book of Revelation.  The basic thesis of the post was that that human governance embodied in Babylon manifested itself in authoritarianism, excessive pride and arrogance, and ruthlessness in the pursuit of its own self-interest. As a consequence, these characteristics of human governance have often resulted in the displacement of people, burdensome taxation, exploitation of resources, worship of the state and/or its leadership, and compelling people to serve in the military.

Contrary to the narrative that many biblical critics have promulgated, there are a number of very distinctive themes that run throughout the Judeo-Christian Scriptures; and this juxtaposition of God's government and human governance is one of the most important of them. In the post mentioned in the opening to this post, we looked at how the Babylon of the book of Daniel was used by John in his Apocalypse. This theme, however, really begins in the book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden! There we find the first humans symbolically portrayed as rejecting God's authority/revelation and deciding instead to depend on their own flawed understanding (which was deceived by a Serpent)! This, of course, resulted in God permitting them to experience and learn the hard way the consequences of their choice. (Genesis 2 and 3)

Interestingly, this theme pops up over and over again in Israel's relationship with YHWH; but it is particularly clear and poignant in the first book of Samuel. In that book, we are informed that the elders of Israel assembled at Ramah and asked Samuel to give them a human king. (I Samuel 8:4-5). This displeased Samuel, but God told him: "Do everything they say to you, for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt, they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods...Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them." (I Samuel 8:6-9, NLT) Once again, humans are rejecting God as their leader and asking for a human replacement, and God permits them to have what they want!

Nevertheless, in accordance with God's instructions, we are informed that Samuel did warn them about what a human leader would entail for them. We read: "So Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 'This is how a king will reign over you,' Samuel said. 'The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.'” (I Samuel 8:10-18, NLT)

Isn't that interesting? In Samuel's warning, we see the same characteristics and consequences of human governance which Daniel described with regard to Babylon, and which John borrowed to describe Rome and all of the human governments which would be its successors! What's even more interesting is the fact that Jesus rejected human notions about leadership and asserted that humankind's happiness would only ever be found in the acceptance of God's leadership!

In the Parable of the Ten Servants, we hear the echo of that same theme of human resistance to Divine leadership. Christ is reported to have said: "A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’" (Luke 19:12-14, NLT) Of course, in the parable, the nobleman does eventually return and call his servants to account (see verses 15-27).

Jesus also told his disciples that he did not want them adopting human notions about leadership among his followers. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that he told them: "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (20:25-28, NLT) Talk about consistency! Once again, Scripture reinforces the shortcomings of human governance/leadership apart from God.

Finally, just as Daniel and John predicted that all human governance would eventually be supplanted and replaced by God's Kingdom (Daniel 2:44, 7:27 and Revelation 11:15), Jesus instructed his followers to pray for the time when that would happen! The opening to Christ's model prayer perfectly captures the importance of this concept for Christians. He said: "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:9-10, NLT) This is the lesson that humankind must eventually learn. This should be the hope of all true Christians. Human governments and leaders will NOT bring us real and lasting peace and happiness - they are incapable of doing this! ONLY God's leadership will finally bring "Peace on Earth, and goodwill towards humans!"