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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...

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Birthright, Scepter, Blessing, and Promise!

Anglo-Israelism is a monster that has been slain over and over again, but it refuses to die. Its proponents either ignore all of the evidence which contradicts their teaching, or they figure out a new way to defend it! Why? Why do the Armstrong Churches of God hold on to this heretical teaching so tenaciously?

To answer that question, we must first understand that their embrace of Anglo-Israelism is deeply rooted in the founding of the movement. Herbert Armstrong, the founder of the old Radio Church of God (which later became the Worldwide Church of God), taught his followers that he had discovered the lost identity of the English-speaking peoples of the earth. For him and his followers, this was the key to a proper understanding of biblical prophecy. Moreover, this understanding justified a unique message for their Church. Instead of preaching the traditional Gospel message which Christians had been preaching for centuries, Armstrong and his followers could focus on relating current events to biblical prophecy and warning the English-speaking peoples of the earth about their impending doom (as a consequence of their national sins). In other words, Anglo-Israelism is a foundational element of their theology! It is one of the primary things which has set them apart from all of those other "so-called Christians." Hence, their stubborn resistance to admitting that the beast has been slain!

Having established what motivates these folks to keep on keeping on, the next question to address is "what allows them to persist in this delusion?" In answering that question, we must first acknowledge that human will is a powerful force in any belief system. As Herbert Armstrong used to say, "one convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!" In other words, folks are going to believe what they want to believe. We've seen this phenomenon at work in the society around us too - folks who are impervious to facts and reason. Not only do these folks reject anything which contradicts their belief(s), they refuse to even entertain/consider any such evidence! They surround themselves with folks who believe the same thing(s) which they believe, and they only read or listen to material which supports their belief(s). In other words, they live in a kind of self-reinforcing bubble!

Nevertheless, for the supporters of Anglo-Israelism, this cultural phenomenon does not tell the full story - there is another element which allows these folks to continue to hold on to this teaching. The thing which allows them to ignore evidence or reinterpret this teaching is their conflation of a number of scriptural passages and concepts. To be more precise, Armstrong and his supporters have failed to understand the biblical distinctions between a birthright, scepter, blessing, and promise. Moreover, their failure to distinguish the real differences in these elements is not only the basis for their misunderstanding of the scriptures which deal with them, it has also allowed them to perpetuate their error!

As I previously related in my six-part series on the scriptural basis for Anglo-Israelism, the birthright played a central role in how a father's estate was inherited by his children. Basically, it was the right of the firstborn son to inherit a greater share of his father's estate than his siblings. Moreover, the book of Genesis provides us with a series of stories about the setting aside of this birthright (Ishmael was displaced by Isaac, Esau was displaced by Jacob, Reuben was displaced by Joseph, Manasseh was displaced by Ephraim). Hence, the birthright was separate and distinct from the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as INDIVIDUALS. In other words, in Scripture, there is NO such thing as a "birthright promise." Likewise, Scripture makes very clear that the birthright was distinct from the blessing (see the story of Esau and Jacob regarding Isaac's blessing, and Jacob's blessing of his sons and grandsons). In similar fashion, I Chronicles 5:1-2 makes very clear that the birthright and the promise of the scepter were two distinctly different things.

In terms of the birthright, Scripture also makes clear that Joseph received a double portion of his father's estate as a consequence of displacing his elder brother (Reuben) as the heir to the birthright. Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh became two of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Genesis 49). Moreover, yet again, the younger brother supplanted the elder brother in terms of the preferred inheritance! Indeed, subsequently Ephraim is identified as the leading tribe in Israel (at times, even being considered synonymous with the northern kingdom).

As for Anglo-Israelism's claims about the British monarch sitting on the throne of David, let's take a closer look at Judah's inheritance/possession of the scepter. First, it should be noted that Jacob/Israel's blessing of his children was also delivered in the capacity of something which was predicted/prophesied for each child. Hence, when we read the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis, it is imperative that we remember that the focus is on what was to become of the descendants of these children. In that place, we read: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor. He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk." (Verses 10-12) Obviously, this points to Jesus Christ, and it precludes its inheritance by ANYONE other than him. And, just in case we have any KJV devotees out there, the NLT translated this passage in this way because "Shiloh" is associated with the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (see Strong's and other modern translations).

Interestingly, while Armstrong and his followers had/have no problem conflating birthrights, scepters, blessings and promises, they had/have no problem making a distinction between "material/physical" promises and "spiritual" ones (a distinction which is NOT found in Scripture)! Indeed, by characterizing the promises of "a nation and a community of nations" as "material/physical" and the scepter promise as "spiritual," they directly contradict Paul's language in the New Testament which suggests that ALL of these promises find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ! In short, this inability of Armstrong and his followers to distinguish between the birthright, scepter, blessing and promise, as well as their differentiation of the promises into "physical" and "spiritual" components is responsible for both their initial erroneous conclusions about Anglo-Israelism and their continued devotion to the doctrine. The premise: If the "physical," "birthright promises" were never inherited by the ancient Israelites, then we must look for their fulfillment in more modern times! Unfortunately, this is the erroneous reasoning which underpins Anglo-Israelism and allows its proponents to justify its perpetuation!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Way of Love

When asked about the greatest or most important commandment in the Law, we read in the Gospel of Matthew that: "Jesus replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.'" (22:37-40) On another occasion, Jesus is reported to have said: "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35)

Likewise, in his first epistle, John wrote: "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them." (4:7-16)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia that LOVE is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) Likewise, he wrote to the Christians at Rome, that love fulfills the requirements of the Law (Romans 13:8, 10). Moreover, in his letter to the saints at Corinth, he made clear that he was talking about a love that must be demonstrated. Paul described this more excellent way in these terms: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

In a more modern context, I would like to recommend a message by CGI's Vance Stinson titled A More Excellent Way. And, for those of you who appreciate receiving the message in a musical format, I am pleased to recommend Brandon Heath's Love Never Fails. Finally, in the earliest Christian catechism, The Didache, we read: "There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways. The Way of Life is this: 'First, thou shalt love the God who made thee, secondly, thy neighbor as thyself; and whatsoever thou wouldst not have done to thyself, do not thou to another." Hence, from the earliest days of our faith, Christians have been expected to follow the way of love. This is the essence of the Christian faith!

Sunday, February 19, 2023

CGI's Wynn Skelton Gets It!

In times past, both here and elsewhere, I have noted that there are ministers within the Church of God International who have a good grasp on the Gospel and regularly preach it from their pulpits. Unfortunately, their message is often overshadowed by the folks who don't. Nevertheless, just as I have criticized the folks who are obsessed with politics and headline theology, I believe that it is also important to highlight those folks within CGI who are focused on Jesus Christ and salvation through him. After all, this is the essence of the Gospel - the message which Christ commissioned his disciples to deliver to the world! Hence, it is my great pleasure and honor to focus some attention on a message recently delivered by Wynn Skelton entitled We Are Barabbas.

Pastor Skelton opened by talking about "the very personal thing that Jesus Christ has done for us." There isn't any hint of the old Garner Ted Armstrong oratorical gymnastics - just the humble but compelling content of the Gospel. In short, Wynn was focused on the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. This, of course, is the elemental/foundational message of the Christian Church - the same message which has fired the imagination of multiple millions of individuals down through the centuries since Jesus walked this earth.

Pastor Skelton focused on the story of Barabbas found in the Gospel of Mark: "Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, 'Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?' For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, 'What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?' And they cried out again, 'Crucify him.' Then Pilate said unto them, 'Why, what evil hath he done?' And they cried out the more exceedingly, 'Crucify him.' And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. (15:6-15)

The pastor noted that Barabbas was facing execution by crucifixion for his crimes (insurrection, murder, and robbery). He also went on to point out that Barabbas was guilty of his crimes, but that Christ was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Yet, as Wynn underscores in his message, the innocent died - and the guilty was set free! The pastor also noted how this parallels our own circumstances - that we are ALL guilty of sin, but that Christ paid the penalty (death) for our sins!

He went on to quote a number of passages from Paul's letter to the Christians at Rome (5:6-8, 3:23, 6:23, and 8:1). The pastor also quoted from the First Epistle of Peter: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (3:18). Wynn noted that "Jesus died so that you and I could live!" Then, he went on to suggest that we should all be asking ourselves about how we are using the freedom which Christ has procured for us. Likewise, the pastor noted that we should all be having our own individual conversations with our Savior and telling him what his sacrifice means to us.

He concluded his message by playing a recording of Michael W. Smith's Above All. For those of you who may not be familiar with this song, the beautiful lyrics relate the story of the Gospel:

Above all powers, above all kings

Above all nature, and all created things

Above all wisdom, and all the ways of man

You were here before the world began

Above all kingdoms, above all thrones

Above all wonders the world has ever known

Above all wealth and treasures of the Earth

There's no way to measure what You're worth

Crucified, laid behind a stone

You lived to die, rejected and alone

Like a rose, trampled on the ground

You took the fall, and thought of me

Above all

Now, that is a message that ALL Christians should be able to rally around and support. Its familiarity and simplicity does NOT diminish its power to compel and touch us. Moreover, as the ACOG Passover approaches, I can think of no better focus for their messaging. After all, we should all understand that Christ is OUR Passover sacrifice!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Does the Presence of the Holy Spirit Ensure Understanding?

Unfortunately, some folks are under the mistaken impression that the presence of the Holy Spirit ensures understanding and prevents deception. For these folks, the presence of the Holy Spirit explains why some folks understand certain doctrinal "truths" and others don't. Where did they get such a notion?

They derive this notion from something Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth long ago. In the second chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, we read: "these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. 'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (Verses 10-16) And didn't Christ say that he would give his disciples a Comforter, who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance everything which he had taught them (John 14:26)?

But do these passages indicate that the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual understanding? OR Do they indicate that the presence of the Holy Spirit ensures understanding? And, make no mistake, those are two very different questions! And what if we can demonstrate from Scripture that the presence of the Holy Spirit does NOT ensure understanding or prevent deception? Wouldn't that make the answer to our first question YES? And the answer to our second question an emphatic NO?

First, we should note that there are a great many passages in Scripture which indicate that it is possible to resist and grieve the Holy Spirit. Stephen told the Jews that they and their ancestors had resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit (4:30). Likewise, Paul warned the Thessalonians not to quench the Spirit (I Thessalonians 5:19).

Moreover, we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the fifth chapter of Acts. This Christian couple lied about a donation which they had made to the Church. The Holy Spirit, however, revealed what they had done to the Apostle Peter. We read that he confronted the man and said: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Verses 3-4) Later, when the wife entered, Peter said: "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?" (Verse 9) So, we have two Christians (people who had God's Spirit) who were deceived by Satan and subsequently lied to (and tested) the Holy Spirit!

Also, in the book of Acts, we read that Apollos (who was fervent in the Spirit) was apparently preaching an imperfect version of the gospel. We read there that: "He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (18:26)

Likewise, among the Christians of Corinth, Paul's remarks make clear that there were people with God's Holy Spirit who were organizing themselves into competing factions! Also, Paul had to reprimand the entire congregation for tolerating one of their members who was carrying on an openly incestuous and adulterous relationship with a woman! (I Corinthians 1-5) Even more seriously, from the tenor of his letter to the Christians of Galatia, it appears that the saints there had accepted a different gospel and had become confused about grace and the role of the Law in the Christian life! Remember, in both of these instances, Paul was writing to folks WITH God's Spirit!

Indeed, we could provide numerous other Scriptural examples of Christians (people with God's Holy Spirit) going seriously astray in their understanding and practice of Christian doctrine. Not to mention, the example of David in the Old Testament - a man who once pleaded with God not to take his Holy Spirit away from him because he had strayed so far away from God (Psalm 51:11). For me, however, the "clincher" is something that Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth. In his great love chapter, he wrote: "For now we <Christians> see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I <Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ> know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." So, the Holy Spirit does not make us infallible in matters related to our faith! It does NOT ensure our understanding or prevent us from being deceived! While the Holy Spirit can certainly guide us into truth, the degree to which we yield to its leadership determines just how much of that truth we absorb!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Is CGI Whispering Truth?

The watchmen/warning/prophecy-obsessed folks within the Church of God International refuse to be silenced by the folks who believe that the church's message should be focused on Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God! They insist that "the world is screaming lies, and the church is whispering truth." For these folks, the message is all about: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." In other words, it's all about pointing out the collective and individual sins of Americans and insisting that they repent or face the consequences!

Instead of the message of forgiveness, reconciliation and grace that is available through Jesus Christ, they insist that UNDERSTANDING is preeminent. For these Armstrongites, their primary mission is to warn the English-speaking peoples of the earth about what is going to happen to them as a consequence of their failure to live up to the standards outlined in the Torah - to make them aware of what is prophesied to happen in the not-too-distant future. Sound familiar?

For Armstrongites, this is that old-time religion. This is the message which evokes nostalgia for bygone days - when Herbert Armstrong was pounding on his desk and flashing pictures of modern weaponry, protesting, world leaders, and current newspaper headlines. Their special, God-given knowledge and insight is their gift to humanity. For these folks, God has chosen them, given them his Holy Spirit and enabled them to understand prophecy. They have THE TRUTH, and everyone else is deceived! Those so-called Christians are preaching "a message about the messenger" and ignoring all of that important prophecy. Don't they know that one-third of the Bible is prophecy? According to them, those other "Christians" are too afraid that they might offend someone to preach the message which needs to be proclaimed to the world!

For these folks, the good news about Jesus Christ and salvation through him is a distraction. It's a sideshow compared to the main event - the Great Tribulation and the end times. They can't understand why everyone isn't focused on Matthew 24 and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For them, this is the key reason that those other folks don't focus on the right message. After all, didn't Jesus say that the very first indication that the end times were approaching would be the promulgation of a whole host of false messaging from a bunch of false Christians? Doesn't the book of Revelation state that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy?" they ask. Of course, they completely ignore Christ's statement that he came to this earth to FULFILL the Law and the PROPHETS! They ignore or overlook all of the quotations from Old Testament prophets scattered throughout the writings of the New Testament which were purposefully associated with Jesus Christ!

Sorry, it isn't that other Christians are ignoring prophecy. Unfortunately, these prophecy-obsessed folks simply cannot seem to comprehend that Jesus Christ is the focus of all of those prophecies. They seem unable or reluctant to follow Christ's instructions to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Likewise, they ignore all of those instances in the writings of the New Testament which suggest that the apostles were always preaching about "Christ crucified" and "the forgiveness of sins" through his blood. Instead of being morally and spiritually prepared at all times, they are obsessed with keeping track of headlines and trying to relate them to Bible prophecy. No, I'm sorry to say that these folks aren't even whispering the truth! Instead, they are busy shouting a warning message to a bunch of Gentiles which God intended for the Israelites many years ago. Sad, so very sad!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Actual History Doesn't Fit!

In his booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "The son of this later king Herremon and Hebrew princess continued on the throne of Ireland and this same dynasty continued unbroken through all the kings of Ireland; was overturned and transplanted again in Scotland; again overturned and moved to London, England, where this same dynasty continues today in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II." (Page 126) Now, we have already demonstrated that this statement has NO basis in Scripture, and we will demonstrate in this post that it also has no basis in history!

First, while there have been instances where the daughter of a king (a princess) has succeeded her father or sibling as monarch and/or has transmitted a claim to the throne to her offspring, this has always marked the end of that dynasty! The reigning house has ALWAYS derived its name from the male progenitor of the reigning family. Hence, if we accept the legend that a Hebrew princess married a King Herremon of Ireland, their children were of the House/Dynasty of Herremon - NOT David!

Likewise, the Kingdom of Scotland had a number of different dynasties or houses to occupy its throne (McAlpin, Dunkeld, Baliol, Bruce, and Stewart/Stuart). And, when the Scottish King James VI of Scotland assumed the throne of England as James I, the House of Stuart was interrupted by the execution of his son, King Charles I in 1649. The throne remained vacant until 1660 when his son, Charles II, assumed the throne and the monarchy was restored. Moreover, when Charles II failed to produce any legitimate offspring (he had numerous illegitimate children), his Catholic brother assumed the throne as James II. James, however, was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and replaced by his daughter Mary and son-in-law, William of the House of Orange. The childless couple were, upon their own deaths, replaced by Mary's younger sister (Anne) who also failed to produce any children who survived her.

Thus, with the death of Anne, Parliament invited her distant German cousin, George of Hanover to assume the throne as King George I (he couldn't even speak English). This dynasty occupied the British throne until the death of Queen Victoria (the last British monarch of that line). Victoria had married a German cousin, Albert, from the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and the first monarch of the new dynasty was their son, King Edward VII. Unfortunately, the First World War intervened, and King George V (the second monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) decided that it didn't look good for the King of Great Britain to have a German surname! Hence, he changed the name of the ruling house to Windsor. Technically, Queen Elizabeth II was the last monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Windsor. However, the royal family has retained the name of Windsor and has joined it with the Germanic surname of Mountbatten (the surname that Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, chose for himself). In reality, Philip is a scion of the Danish House of Oldenburg/Glucksburg! Thus, the notion that King Charles III is a member of the House of David is absolutely absurd!

The truth is that a great many different dynasties have occupied the British throne over the centuries. The throne has passed through many females during that period. Indeed, George of Hanover derived his claim to the British throne from his mother, Princess Sophia, who derived her own claim through her mother, Princess Elizabeth (the younger daughter of King James I). Moreover, the succession to the crown has been very irregular throughout its history - often NOT going to the legitimate heir (George I was given precedence over several of his Catholic cousins who had a superior claim). Likewise, most of us are aware that Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI, only succeeded to the throne because his brother, King Edward VIII (afterward the Duke of Windsor) abdicated the throne so that he could marry an American divorcee!

So, in my six-part series, we have seen that Scripture does NOT support the notion that the English-speaking peoples of the earth are Israel, or that the British monarch occupies the throne of David. Others have pointed out the DNA, linguistic, and archaeological evidence which refutes this notion. And, in this current post, we have demonstrated that history does NOT support the notion that the British monarch is a member of the House of David, or that King Charles III occupies David's throne. In short, from the perspective of history alone, Herbert Armstrong's notions about the British monarchy are shown to be spurious and without foundation!

***In the interest of transparency and establishing my qualifications for writing this post, I would like to note that my college curriculum focused on British and American History.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Personification of God

Personification is a literary device which is used throughout the collection of writings known as The Bible. Indeed, for most students of that book, a number of these will immediately come to mind (e.g., the personification of evil, wisdom, trees, mountains, idols, cities, nations, blood, water, money, etc.). Even so, while we can see that personification has often been employed as a benign literary device to fire the human imagination and better illustrate for us the characteristics of things that might be otherwise hard for us to grasp, we should also be able to discern the danger in employing this device in trying to understand God. In past posts on this blog, I have spoken about the human tendency to compare and contrast things in an attempt to better understand them. Nevertheless, we are informed by the Bible that God once asked: "To whom will you compare me?" (Isaiah 40:25) Likewise, Neo has written about our use of anthropomorphisms (the attribution of human characteristics to God), and how their use has limited our understanding of God.

Strictly speaking, God is NOT a person - God is an entity! And, as we will shortly see, this distinction is about much more than mere semantics - it goes to the "heart and core" of the nature of God! How does personhood limit God and distort our perception of "him"? Most of us tend to think of God as having the form, shape, and look of a human (MALE). We think of God as having a head, torso, arms, hands, legs, and feet. We also tend to think of God as talking, walking, sitting, getting angry, etc. But where did these notions originate? Why do we think of God in these terms? Indeed, this language is so pervasive in Scripture and amongst both theologians and lay people that most of us simply take it for granted and give little or no thought to where these concepts originated! Unfortunately, however, if we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that most of us have tried to create God in OUR own image, and this attempt to make God into one of us began with how most of us have interpreted a passage in the first chapter of the very first book of the Bible!

In the book of Genesis, we read: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them." (1:26-27) From this passage, we conclude that God is like us, which is NOT the same as saying we are like him! If I created a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence, I could say that it was made to look, act, and function like me; but its likeness to me would be very superficial in most respects - in most ways, it would be very UNLIKE me! In other words, unlike us, God is not limited by time, space, geography, IQ, environment, the functioning of physical parts and systems, etc. And, as the title of this blog suggests, God cannot be contained by the things which contain us! We forget that God is also portrayed in Scripture as a disembodied voice, a burning bush, a spirit, love, etc.

A couple of years ago, NEO wrote a post titled Armstrongism, Popular Atheism and Their Shared Concept of God for the blog Banned by HWA. In that post, NEO said: "Both pop atheism and Armstrongism have converged on the concept of god as an anthropomorphic being of limited capabilities.   Nowhere to be found in their philosophies, and hence their inquiry, is the infinite, transcendent, necessary God who donates being to those things he creates.  Armstrongism has created for itself a much smaller god perhaps as a misunderstanding or to be contrarian, who knows.  Pop atheism has also circumscribed god closely perhaps to sell books on the mass market rather than develop a comprehensive opposing case.  Pop atheism is a more apt denial of the Armstrongist god than the Christian God.  In any event, Armstrongism and atheism, over divergent routes and with different maps, have arrived at the same destination – God as Anthropomorph." I would say Amen to all of that and go on to include more traditional Christians and the adherents of most other religions of the earth!

This post was inspired by yet another guest post over at Banned by HWA. Redermann wrote The Annealing Flame of Salvation: Notes on the Holy Spirit and Armstrongism as a commentary on Herbert Armstrong's anti-trinitarian teaching that the Holy Spirit is NOT one of the persons of the Trinity. It is a cogent argument against the Armstrongist position and in support of the more traditional Trinitarian view held by the majority of Christians around the world. And, while I voiced my support for the more traditional views on this topic, it occurred to me that both Armstrongists and Traditionalists go astray on this whole question of personhood! Part of the problem is the way that the doctrine has been framed by many within our community - this is a clear instance of where the preciseness of language matters! Now, while statements like the Apostolic Creed and Nicene Creed are framed in such a way as to clearly indicate three separate but united entities (and the mystery of the exact nature of all is preserved), we also have too many Christian statements which appeal to this notion of personhood. In the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on The Blessed Trinity, we read: "The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion -- the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another." Likewise, in describing their doctrine of God, the Southern Baptist Convention (see Baptist Faith & Message 2000), this same personification is present.

Hence, while I agree with the majority of my brothers and sisters in Christ that Scripture presents a Trinitarian view of God, I heartily disagree with this attempt to personify God! Moreover, I'm thinking that the Holy Spirit is probably the most appropriate entity of the three to make this point! This manifestation of God is often portrayed as an invisible force - guiding, influencing, leading, teaching us to behave and think in a certain way. Its pronouns are often neutral. It appeared descending on Jesus in the form of a dove and as tongues of fire over the heads of each and every one of the saints who were assembled for that day of Pentecost which founded the Christian Church! Moreover, its God nature is clearly reflected in the language of the New Testament about God living in us through the Holy Spirit (John 14:23, Ephesians 2:22, I Corinthians 3:16, etc.) In other words, if the Holy Spirit isn't God, then how does God and "his" life dwell within us? Unfortunately, most of us tend to dwell on personality and separateness, and we forget that all three entities (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are manifestations of ONE God! What do you think?

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Jesus of Nazareth: The One Who Changed EVERYTHING!

When Gabriel told Mary that she was going to give birth to a son, he told her that Jesus would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Indeed, many years before that event, Isaiah had predicted this very thing about him. Isaiah wrote: "he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6, NLT) In the First Epistle of Peter, we read: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." (3:18, ESV) In the same letter, we also read: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (2:24) Likewise, Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome that "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (5:8) He also wrote to the Christians at Corinth that: "all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!' For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." (II Corinthians 5:18-21, NLT) In his First Epistle, John wrote that "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2)

Jesus accomplished all of this by fulfilling the Torah and the Prophets - causing the Hebrew Bible to be reinterpreted through HIM! (Matthew 5:17) He even distilled all of the dos and don'ts of the Torah into two great principles: Love for God and love for each other. (Matthew 22:36-40) In his letter to the saints at Rome, Paul explained it this way: "God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood." (Romans 3:21-25) As clear as Paul was, however, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews probably explained how Christ had transformed the Hebrew Scriptures better than anyone else. He wrote: "So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (9:11-15, NLT)

Paul said that Jesus Christ makes us a new person (II Corinthians 5:17). He told the Romans to allow Christ in them to transform their minds (Romans 12:2). Likewise, he told the Ephesians and Colossians "to put on the new man." (Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10) Thus, we have seen that Christ changes death to life (Romans 6:23). He changes sin to righteousness. Jesus changes old to new. Christ transforms the law into the principles of love for God and each other. Christ transforms each of us into a completely new person/creature. In short, Jesus of Nazareth changes EVERYTHING!  

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Is It Appropriate to Appropriate Prophecies Intended for Israel?

Alright, so you've demonstrated that Armstrong's brand of Anglo-Israelism is NOT consistent with Scripture, but what about America as a type of Israel? After all, didn't the founders of the United States see themselves as God's "chosen" people? And didn't they regard themselves as planting a "Christian" nation in the wilderness of a new "Promised Land"? Isn't it reasonable to assume that God would hold the United States and its leaders to the same standard that he instituted for ancient Israel and its leaders? Haven't the English-speaking nations of the world embraced Israel's Bible and been its greatest proponents around the globe? So, isn't the entire question of whether or not the English-speaking peoples of the earth are the physical descendants of Abraham irrelevant?

Herbert Armstrong and his followers have traditionally regarded Anglo-Israelism as the key to understanding Bible prophecy. Indeed, they think that this "understanding" gives them a "prophetic advantage" over all other Christians! Moreover, these folks have used this teaching to justify their focus on the English-speaking folks of the earth! Hence, we should not be surprised that Armstrongites would be extremely reluctant to give up something which has proven to be one of their trademarks - one of the things that has set them apart from the crowd!

However, it is as they say: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. In order for someone or something to by a type of someone or something, there must be some clear and convincing parallels/similarities between the two. Hence, it is entirely appropriate to point out that the United States is very different from ancient Israel. To begin with, there are the obvious differences between a Bronze-Iron Age, agrarian-based economy and a modern, industrialized, technologically advanced nation. The big differences relative to size of the population, territory, and military power of the two nations is also rather glaring. Likewise, Israel was an absolute monarchy with a state religion, and the United States is a democratic republic which has eschewed the establishment of a state religion. Israel was a party to a formal covenant/agreement with God and was subject to the terms outlined in the Torah, and the United States is governed by a constitution which is more in the nature of a contract/covenant between the people and their government. Israel was subject to the imperialism of its much stronger neighbors throughout its history as a nation, while the United States has actively participated in the Imperialism which engulfed the Western World in the 19th and 20th Centuries! Israel was guilty of idolatry and breaking the terms of their covenant with God, and the United States has been accused of killing its unborn, tolerating homosexuality, and racism by its critics. In other words, there are some very profound differences between the ancient nation of Israel and the modern nation of the United States!

What about the similarities in the religious and political leadership of ancient Israel compared to that of the United States? Aren't the abuses of power, lying, hypocrisy, wickedness, and bad examples exhibited by the leaders of ancient Israel also present in the religious and political leadership of the United States? Yes, but couldn't we characterize the leadership of every other country on the face of the earth in exactly the same way? Moreover, very unlike ancient Israel, the people of the United States can periodically vote to remove their leaders and replace them.

In terms of the Hebrew Bible, we should also point out that the entire Western World has adopted that book! Hence, the suggestion that the United States and other English-speaking nations are unique in this regard is shown to be absurd. Indeed, Christianity has the MOST adherents of any other religion on the face of the earth! Also, in this connection, we must not forget that Judaism is an active religion, and that a nation of Jews named "Israel" currently exists within the boundaries of the ancient nation of the same name!

I would also point out that one of the primary rules of biblical interpretation is CONTEXT. How do we justify taking something that was clearly addressed to a particular people in a specific time and place and applying it to someone else in another time and place? Moreover, if we are serious about trying to find a place for the United States in the context of biblical prophecy, isn't the Babylonian/Beast system of the book of Revelation infinitely more appropriate? Take a look at Babylon as a prophetic template and let me know what you think!