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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Will there be sacrifices, offerings, Sabbaths, and Festival Observances in the Kingdom?

There is an anonymous commentator at Banned by HWA who regularly asserts that there will be sacrifices, offerings, and festival observances during the Millenium. This assertion is based on the premise that many of the prophecies found in the prophetic books of the Old Testament (like Ezekiel and Zechariah) apply to the Millenium and/or God's future Kingdom on this earth. Indeed, these prophecies have been a source of some consternation among Christians for many years and have been used as proof by others that the Bible is unreliable and contradictory. The consternation and the "proof" are a consequence of the aforementioned notion (that these prophecies apply to the future), and this is clearly at odds with what is revealed in the New Testament about Jesus of Nazareth (especially the book of Hebrews).

Recently, in response to my assertion that the book of Hebrews makes clear that Christ's New Covenant makes the old one obsolete. The commentator observed: "I would suggest that it is not the view of the author of Hebrews as your view misses the nuance of Hebraic argument. Heb 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: and it is complicated, at least for me, in that you are not distinguishing between the Church Administration of the New Covenant and the Kingdom Administration of the New Covenant. Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Do you believe that Christ, after his return, will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah? I do; and the Ezekielian Torah is for the Messianic Age and therefore 'is a revision - and up-dating and a rectification - of selected topics of existent priestly legislation and practice very similar to, if not identical with, that of the Pentateuch [for the new era]...' (Moshe Greenberg, 'The Design and Themes of Ezekiel's Program of Restoration,' pp.233-35). It is more but it points in the right direction."

Unfortunately, the view of this commentator is not an isolated one. In response to the question, Why will people offer animal sacrifices in the Millennial Temple? in an article by David Levy for Israel My Glory, we read: "People often ask, 'If Jesus’ sacrifice was the only efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice to expiate sin (Heb. 9:12), why should animal sacrifices, which could never take away sin (10:4), be offered in the Millennial Temple during the Millennium?' It is true the sacrifices in the Millennial Temple will not expiate sin, just as the Mosaic offerings could not take away sin (v. 4). Many conservative commentators believe these offerings will be memorials, similar to communion that Christians take in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They believe the offerings will serve as visible reminders of Christ’s efficacious work. Although true, it seems these sacrifices also will have an additional function. Scripture says they will be offered 'to make atonement for the house of Israel' (Ezek. 45:17; cf. vv. 15, 20). This sacrificial system will not constitute a return to the Old Testament Mosaic Covenant or Law but will be a new system set up by the Lord with a dispensational distinctive applicable to the Millennial Kingdom."

I believe that these views are inconsistent with both the theology of the New Testament and a Christocentric interpretation of those Old Testament prophecies. In the remainder of this post, we will explore the scriptural evidence which demonstrates the validity of this observation.

In the Gospel of Matthew's account of the "Sermon on the Mount," we read that Christ said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Christ said that he came to FULFILL the Law and the PROPHETS. Moreover, throughout the New Testament, the prophecies of the Old Testament are interpreted through the lens of Jesus Christ. Don't believe me? Check out any good concordance of the Judeo-Christian Bible, and you will see that the phraseology of this or that prophecy being fulfilled by Jesus appears over and over again in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Indeed, the New Testament makes clear that acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (Christ) is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith (See Matthew 10:32, 16:15-16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20,12:8, John 1:41, 9:22,11:27, 20:31, Romans 10:9, Philippians 2:11, I John 4:15, 5:1, II John 1:7).

Moreover, most biblical scholars acknowledge that the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews is the most direct and cogent explanation of the Christian perspective on how the Old Testament should be interpreted in the light of the Christ event. In the eighth chapter of that book, we read: "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second." The author then proceeded to quote from one of the OT prophets: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." This is immediately followed by: "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." In this way, the author of the epistle makes clear that he/she believed that Jesus Christ and his covenant represented the fulfillment of this prophecy.

In the next chapter (Hebrews 9), the author proceeded to explain how Christ was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system and the symbolism and ceremony described in Torah associated with the Day of Atonement. The author wrote: "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Continuing in the epistle, we read: "Therefore he <Christ> is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant."

Thus, the author has set the stage to draw the following conclusions about Christ's fulfillment of both the prophet quoted and the provisions in Torah related to sacrifices and the Day of Atonement. The author of Hebrews concluded: "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

In the following chapter (Hebrews 10), the author of the epistle summarized his/her conclusions about Christ's complete fulfillment of both the provisions in the Law and the prediction of the prophet. We read there: "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Did you catch that? According to the author of this epistle, Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system! Sacrifices are no longer necessary - PERIOD! Christ's one sacrifice has atoned for our sins and has reconciled us to God. Future sacrifices cannot and will not accomplish what has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the ULTIMATE Lamb of God, sacrificed on our behalf. He is the one who has carried our sins away into the wilderness, away from us and God's presence!

Now, what about those prophecies related to a return to (or representing slight modifications of) the sacrificial system of Torah? Unfortunately, this is where the Armstrong Churches of God and too many other Christians have gone astray! They ignore or forget that ALL of the Old Testament prophets were sent to the sinful people of Israel and Judah during the period of the Davidic kingdom, or while they were in captivity after its prophesied fall! Don't believe me? Take another look at ALL of the writings of those prophets. The vast majority of those prophetic messages are clearly addressed to the people of Israel and Judah (there are a few which relate to some of the Gentile nations which interacted with the Israelites in some shape, form, or fashion). Indeed, the vast majority of these prophecies are predicated on the same principle which the Old Covenant was founded upon: "If you do this, God will do these things for you!" In other words, the fulfillment of many of these prophecies was contingent upon the repentance of the people for their continuing bad behavior, and their good behavior going forward.

Now, as we have already demonstrated, there is also another element present in many of these prophecies: That many of the things whose fulfilment was predicated on the Israelites behavior back in the day, would find their ultimate fulfillment in the work of the Messiah. In other words, the Israelites could have had a Temple like the one described in Ezekiel, but their continuous violation of the terms of God's covenant with them precluded that ever coming to pass!

In the fortieth chapter of Ezekiel, we read: "In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, 'Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.'" The prophet himself gives the context for what follows (the twenty-fifth year of their exile from their homeland). Moreover, once again, the prophet is told to give this message to "the house of Israel."

Frankly, some biblical scholars have ignored or failed to recognize that the majority of these prophecies were directed at the people of Judah and Israel back in the day, NOT to folks in the Twenty-first Century or the Millennium! Likewise, as we have already noted, some of them have ignored or failed to understand that many of the prophecies of the Old Testament were contingent upon the behavior of the people concerned (like Jonah's prophecy for the people of Nineveh). If Israel had heeded the warnings of her prophets and repented, they would not have been defeated, taken into captivity, and exiled from their homeland!

In similar fashion, if Israel had fulfilled its purpose (to introduce God to the Gentile world), then the vision of the prophet Ezekiel would have happened in their day. There would have been a Temple with water flowing from it, and the city of Jerusalem would have been known as "The Lord is There" (See Ezekiel 47 and 48). Nevertheless, imbedded within many of these same visions and prophecies, we are informed that there is also a connection to Messiah, that some of these elements will find their ultimate fulfillment in him, and not in the physical fulfillment which was contingent on the behavior of Abraham's physical descendants.

In other words, this writer does NOT see a return to the shadows and symbols of the Old Covenant. Christ's work makes that both unnecessary and untenable!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

An Ancient Appeal Applied to the Armstrong Churches of God

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of <the Armstrong Churches of God> to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

--from Paul's epistle to Christ's disciples at Rome (Romans 10:1-13, NLT)

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Displaying the Ten Commandments in School?

The current cause célèbre of many conservative American Evangelical Christians is the displaying of the Ten Commandments in classrooms. NPR via The Associated Press recently reported that Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom. Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed the legislation passed by the GOP led state legislature which requires the Decalogue to be prominently displayed in all public classrooms from kindergarten through twelfth grade and in all state funded universities. As with so many other measures endorsed by the Christian Right, the faithful simply cannot understand why anyone could possibly have a problem with displaying the Ten Commandments.

Predictably, NPR reported that Donald Trump endorsed the Louisiana law before a group of cheering Evangelical Christians. Earlier, he had posted on social media that “I LOVE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE SCHOOLS, AND MANY OTHER PLACES, FOR THAT MATTER. READ IT — HOW CAN WE, AS A NATION, GO WRONG???” This from a man who has openly disobeyed those commandments! Of course, the irony and hypocrisy involved in the former president's endorsement of the public display of the Ten Commandments passes without notice or mention among most of his supporters.

Seriously, let's try to objectively consider this for just a moment. Disciples of Jesus Christ endorsing the public display of the basis of God's covenant with Israel! Why not the Two Great Commandments which Jesus said comprehended the Ten and was the basis of the New Covenant in him? Moreover, how many Christians do you know who have been married more than once, cheated on their income tax, coveted their neighbor's new house or car, had an affair with their neighbor, or who has remembered to keep the Sabbath holy? In short, the blatant hubris and hypocrisy has got to be a stench in God's nostrils!

What about the way that Catholics number and view the Decalogue? Will these displays accommodate their beliefs? What about folks of other faiths? What about those Jews who believe that the Decalogue was given by YHWH to them - that it wasn't intended for Gentiles? If the majority of Americans claim to be Christians, does that justify trampling on the sensibilities of the minority? What about the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution? What about the separation of Church and State?

I don't know about you, but this entire subject brings something to my mind that Jesus once said to the scribes and Pharisees a long time ago. According to the Gospel of Matthew, he said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:25-28, ESV) What do you think?

Thursday, July 4, 2024

The Divine Purpose of Authority

On this fourth of July, I am reminded about the profound differences between the way that Almighty God views authority, and the way that humankind views it. In the human realm, authority is meant to be served by those under it. However, in the Divine realm, authority is intended to serve those under it! In the human realm, authority is exalted above the people, and all of their resources are expected to be employed in sustaining and enriching it. Conversely, in the Divine realm, authority uses the resources at its disposal to sustain and enrich the people it serves.

In the Old Testament, we are informed that God reigned over the children of Israel by means of judges which he chose and designated to implement his will for his people. The Israelites, however, were apparently not satisfied with this arrangement and demanded a king to rule over them (I Samuel 8:1-5). Indeed, we read there that the elders of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them, so that they could be more like the nations which surrounded them!

Nevertheless, God warned them in advance about how that human model of authority would work. He said: "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." (I Samuel 8:11-18, ESV) In other words, instead of serving the interests of the people, their new king would force them to serve his interests!

In the New Testament, when Christ's disciples were arguing amongst themselves about leadership among Christ's disciples, we are informed in the Gospel of Mark (also in Matthew and Luke) that Jesus corrected their human perspective on authority. He said: "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45, ESV) Indeed, Jesus referred to himself as the "Good Shepherd" - the one who would nurture and take care of the sheep and would even give his life for them one day (John 10:11-18). This is the Divine perspective on authority, and it is very different from our own view of authority!

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Washed, Sanctified, Justified, and Glorified in Jesus

Too many of the folks who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ are ignorant of what his life, death, resurrection, and ascension accomplished for us. Unfortunately, a large number of Christians are operating under the mistaken assumption that their good works will save them from death and eternal damnation. Scripture, however, is explicit about the fact that this is accomplished for us by Jesus of Nazareth. Even so, some of these folks continue to believe that they have a significant role to play in their own salvation! Moreover, they falsely accuse those of us who do understand how we are saved of antinomianism - rejecting or doing away with any obligation on our part to be moral or righteous. They say that we effectively turn grace into a license to sin, but nothing could be further from the truth!

In this regard, one of their favorite proof texts is drawn from Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth (which they twist and pervert in the same manner they do the rest of the Scriptures). In that epistle, the Apostle Paul upbraided Christ's disciples for squabbling among themselves, and even appealing to the secular courts to settle their disputes with each other (I Corinthians 6:1-8). He went on to write: "do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (male prostitutes), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Paul was pointing out that their current behavior did not reflect the reality of what Christ had done for them. He went on to remind them of what Christ had done for them. Paul said that Christ had washed or cleansed them of their sins, had sanctified them (made them Holy), and justified them (imputed his righteousness to them). In other words, he was pointing out that their sinful behavior was more of a reflection of their former sinful life than one that reflected what Christ had accomplished for them! Instead, they were acting like folks who had NOT been redeemed by Jesus - like folks who would NOT be a part of God's Kingdom. The apostle was effectively reiterating a principle which Christ had taught his disciples during his earthly ministry - good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit.

Paul went on to remind them that they were now Christ's, and that the way that they lived their lives should reflect the fact that they had been given the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Hence, once again, things like practicing sexual immorality and engaging with prostitutes was inconsistent with the reality of their new life in Christ (I Corinthians 6:12-20).

Likewise, in his epistle to Christ's disciples at Rome, Paul told them that Jesus Christ had freed them from the Law of sin and death and had given them the Holy Spirit to assist them in their new life (Romans 8:1-11). He went on to explain that the Spirit had made them Sons of God, and that they would be glorified with him someday (Romans 8:12-17). Paul continued: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us...For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:18-25, ESV) He concluded his thought: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:26-30, ESV)

So, we see from Paul's perspective that Jesus Christ accomplished: 1. cleansing us of our sins, 2. making us Holy before God, 3. the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, and 4. making us able to host God's Spirit. This is salvation through Jesus Christ! Now, we should also state that Paul makes clear that these things are accomplished by Christ both immediately and over the course of our lifetimes on this planet. Even so, it is God who decided that we would be called to Christ and saved - redeemed from sin and death and given eternal life with God. Yes, the wages of sin is DEATH, but eternal life is God's GIFT to us through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). There is NOTHING that you or I can do to acquire this gift. Nevertheless, if we have truly accepted the gift, our behavior will reflect that reality!

Saturday, June 22, 2024

I'm Right. You're Wrong. Any Questions?

The title of this post was printed on a T-shirt that I received as a gift from a family member many years ago, and it reminds me of a younger, very opinionated, and self-righteous version of myself. It also reminds me how time and more information impact different people differently. The same family member who gifted me that shirt is now more conservative and self-righteous than I was back then!

It also reminds me of the Miss Trunchbull character in Matilda by Roald Dahl: "I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it." That quote from the headmistress underscores the very negative consequences of that outlook when someone who holds that view assumes a position of authority - especially in the religious realm.

Of course, we all should know that things like arrogance, self-righteousness, and the uninformed acceptance of anything is NOT scriptural. In the eleventh chapter of the book of Probers, we read: "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom" (verse 2, ESV), and "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety" (verse 14). Likewise, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus once told his disciples that "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." (11:25-26, ESV) And, the book of Acts informs us that (when Paul and Silas left Thessalonica and spoke to the disciples at Berea) the "Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11, ESV) Did you catch that? They didn't just accept it because Paul and Silas preached it - they checked the book from which they were quoting for themselves!

Hence, the "I'm right - You're wrong" approach is inconsistent with what God expects of his people. It may be extremely self-satisfying to indulge such feelings, but it is clearly contrary to God's expectation that we "grow in grace and knowledge." (II Peter 3:18) This requires personal effort, investigation, and objectivity. In questions relating to religious observances, Paul wrote to the saints at Rome that "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (Romans 14:5, ESV) In other words, you can't rely on what others know (or think they know). Each and every one of us has the responsibility to investigate and evaluate what we are given by others!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

An Awesome Responsibility

The blog, As Bereans Did, has posted an excellent article entitled Willful Ignorance. The thesis of the post is that some folks think that they have the truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is just plain wrong! In the article, xHWA pointed out that these folks often use prooftexts to defend their beliefs, and that they intentionally ignore or dismiss anything which might contradict their "truth." The author went on to relate that "it was giving myself permission to question and to be wrong that turned my life around." This humility is what distinguishes all of us seekers of real TRUTH from those who have wrongly assumed that they already have it all figured out. For them, truth is a neat little package of beliefs that has only to be absorbed by each person familiarizing themselves with the prooftexts provided by their betters.

In my former religious culture, the "betters" were the ministers and elders of the Armstrong Churches of God. These men were trained at Ambassador College or by a local minister in the "truths" revealed by Herbert Armstrong. There was no independent research or thought involved in that process. They weren't permitted to deviate from what Mr. Armstrong had taught. In the exact reverse of the Torah test of whether someone was speaking God's truth (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), the minister was NOT evaluated by his fidelity to Scripture or Jesus Christ. Instead, he was evaluated by how faithful he was to what Herbert had taught.

Of course, we know that the passage in Torah which immediately preceded the passage quoted above, pointed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate source of God's TRUTH (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Indeed, we read in the Gospel of John, that Christ proclaimed: "I am the way, and THE TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6, ESV) Moreover, in his general epistle, James declared that "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (James 3:1, ESV) He also went on to say that the tongue (as the representation of speaking) has the potential to inflict great harm (James 3:2-12). He also instructed Christians to NOT allow selfish ambition to motivate them - like wanting to be the leader or group spokesman (James 3:13-16). James went on to conclude that "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere," and that it leads to a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18, ESV).

Yes, we should all strive to follow the example of the Bereans and searching the Scriptures every day to see if what some minister or preacher is teaching us is consistent with what we read therein (Acts 17:11). That does NOT, however, change the fact that those who would presume to be ministers, preachers, and teachers are held to a higher standard than their audiences. In short, it is an awesome responsibility to presume to speak or teach in the Lord's name! Hence, it is incumbent upon all of those who would presume to speak or teach to be open to reason, impartial, humble, and to be practicing what they preach!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Helper

The Holy Spirit is a manifestation of the One True God (like the Father and the Son). In the Greek of the Gospel of John, Jesus referred to it as the Parakletos (the one who is called to the aid of someone, the advocate, the helper). In the fourteenth chapter of that account, we read that Jesus told his disciples: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." (John 14:15-17, ESV) He went on to say: "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26, ESV) This is the manifestation of God which makes its abode in us (John 14:23 and I Corinthians 3:16-17).

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Father and Son: Herbert and Garner Ted vs. Gerald and Stephen

Of all of the various splinters which have emerged from the wreckage of the old Worldwide Church of God, none has been so dedicated to trying to imitate the original than the Philadelphia Church of God. Of course, as with all of the others, they have fallen short of that mark. Gerald Flurry is NOT the dynamic speaker that Herbert Armstrong was, and Stephen Flurry is NOT a photogenic or very articulate second. However, unlike Garner Ted, Stephen has been completely loyal to his father and supports all of his craziness. Moreover, his devotion has been rewarded by his father by designating him as the clear heir apparent to the family business.

Also, like Herbert and Garner Ted, Gerald and Stephen are obsessed with news headlines and giving their opinions on all things political within the United States and Europe. This, while following the example of Herbert and Garner Ted by demanding that their members not actually participate in the political process. Nevertheless, unlike Herbert and GTA, Gerald and Steven make very clear which side of the political divide in the United States they support.

For example, Gerald has designated Donald Trump as God's candidate for president in the present day. Indeed, he believes and preaches that Trump is a modern-day type of King Jeroboam and will prevail against all of his enemies because of God's support. Flurry has even predicted that Biden would be booted out of office before his term expired, and that the Great Orange One would be restored to the Oval Office (like many of his other predictions, that didn't happen).

Yesterday (June 11, 2024), Stephen Flurry posted an article for theTrumpet titled Trump Convicted by Judge Merchan's Dark Divinations. The article reads like it was lifted from a Trump speech, Republican talking points about the verdict, or a Fox News report on it! Not even pretending to be impartial, the article opens with: "Joe Biden is gloating. Even his supporters would have to admit that. Why? It’s not because he is more popular with American voters than his rival. It’s because of a verdict handed down last week by a Manhattan jury—and a certain overactive Manhattan judge." Flurry continued: "Americans—and especially Donald Trump—can’t get a just verdict from our justice system, so we had better at least have a just understanding of what is really happening inside it."

Of course, Flurry doesn't offer any evidence that Trump was innocent of the charges for which he was convicted. Instead, he cites Trump's continued popularity with some segments of the voting public as evidence that the charges were bogus. Flurry goes on to say: "So much for innocent until proven guilty." As I have said before, these guys are amateur political hacks pretending to be the leaders of the "Philadelphia Era" of God's Church! I suspect that Stephen Flurry will inherit his father's mantle someday soon, but don't expect anything to change when that happens. Like the many other splinters which emerged from the old Worldwide COG, this one is destined to continue to decline in reach and scope and become even more irrelevant than it already is.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Sin is a failure to love God and each other!

In many posts, I have pointed out that Jesus Christ summarized the entirety of God's Law into two commandments: 1. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and 2. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT). In the purest sense, loving God and each other is the epitome of righteousness, and the failure to follow these two commandments defines sin.

Nevertheless, Herbert Armstrong and his followers have defined sin as failing to follow some of the many commandments of Torah. Their favorite prooftext in this regard is found in the first epistle of John. They claim that this verse provides us with the Biblical definition of sin: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (I John 3:4, KJV) For them, the law referenced in this passage are those commandments outlined in Torah.

However, as is almost always the case, lifting a single verse out of context distorts the meaning and message of the text. So, let's take a look at the entire third chapter of the letter:

I John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

And, in the following chapter, we read:

I John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

In other words, by loving our brothers and sisters, we demonstrate our love for God! Hence, anything which hurts or harms another would constitute a sin (Romans 13:10). Moreover, using Paul's definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4-7), and his list of the fruits of God's Spirit and works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-23), we can see that things like being impatient, unkind, selfish, rude, wrathful, dishonest, and disloyal would all constitute sins. In other words, the Christian definition of sin is NOT to be found in the dos and don'ts of Torah! What we do find in Torah is an elaboration of those two great commandments tailored to fit the needs and circumstances of the children of Israel in terms of their covenant with God.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Is God Punishing the United States for Its Many Sins?

Within the Church, there is a widespread belief that God is in the process of punishing the United States for its many sins? The narrative goes something like this: God has removed his protections and blessings from the United States (and/or is actively punishing that nation) because of the national sins of legalized abortion, tolerance for homosexuality and transgender rights, removing prayer from public schools, supporting globalism and socialism, teaching evolution, and many more. For the purposes of this post, we will not be arguing over whether all or some of these things constitute sins. Instead, we will focus on answering our original question: Is God punishing this nation for its sins?

It has been widely reported that the famous evangelist Billy Graham's wife (Ruth) once said: "If God doesn’t punish America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!" In other words, just as God once upon a time punished those cities for their collective sins, justice and fairness demands that he do the same thing to the United States. The clear implication being that collective sins bring on collective punishment. Is that, however, what really happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? Let's take a closer look.

In the eighteenth chapter of Genesis, we are informed that God revealed to Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-21). In reaction to that news, Abraham implored the Lord to spare those cities if fifty righteous souls could be found therein (Genesis 18:22-25). "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" Abraham asked (Genesis 18:23, ESV). You remember the story - God said that he wouldn't, and Abrahm proceed to get the number down to ten righteous people (Genesis 18:26-33). Moreover, in the following chapter, we learn that God made sure that the one righteous individual who lived in Sodom (Lot) left the city before God destroyed it (Genesis 19:1-25). In other words, none of the righteous (innocent) individuals were included in the destruction - universal sin resulted in universal destruction!

This is consistent with what God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel about culpability for sin. God said: "The soul who sins will die." (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV) He went on to say: "If a man is righteous and does what is just and right...withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God." (Ezekiel 18:8-9, ESV) Stated another way, God doesn't punish righteous people! Continuing in the account, we learn that God elaborated on the principle: "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" (Ezekiel 18:20-23, ESV)

This, of course, is consistent with what is revealed about the penalty for sinning in the New Testament. Paul told the Christians at Rome that "the wages of sin is death."  (Romans 6:23, ESV)

What must we conclude from all of this? There are a large number of folks within the United States who believe that abortion is wrong and would NEVER engage in or support the practice. Indeed, a majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned the landmark Roe V. Wade case which originally legalized the procedure. Moreover, there are countless folks currently working across the nation to ensure that the procedure is outlawed. Likewise, there are a large number of folks who believe that homosexuality and transgenderism is wrong, and who do NOT support the "gay agenda." There are also a large number of Christians who believe that socialism is wrong, and who would love to see prayer and the Bible returned to the classrooms of our public schools. In other words, there are currently well over a hundred million souls who have not condoned or participated in these "national sins." Hence, the argument that God is somehow punishing the nation for these sins is found to be illogical and inconsistent with what is revealed in Scripture!

There is also another point that argues against God punishing the nation for its sins: Why didn't God punish the United States for its many past sins? Why didn't God punish the United States for stealing land from Native Americans? Why didn't God punish the United States for the sin of slavery, and the mistreatment of African Americans which followed the American Civil War? Why hasn't God punished the United States for its exploitation of our natural resources and labor? And, just in case you think that modern problems related to these things amounts to Divine punishment, we must also note that all sins have negative consequences which are NOT related in any way to punishment. God often forgives sins, but he rarely removes the consequences of such behavior (e.g. David's sin with Bathsheba).

Moreover, during his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ himself refuted the notion that disasters or infirmities are always the consequence of sins. In the Gospel of Luke, we read: "There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'" (Luke 13:1-5, ESV) On yet another occasion, we read in the Gospel of John: "As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" (John 9:1-3, ESV) What's more, even if we didn't have this testimony from Jesus, we have the example of Job in the Hebrew Bible! In short, once again, disasters and infirmities are NOT always the consequence of sin!

"What about what God did to Israel?" some of my friends will persist. Yes, God punished Israel, because they failed to live up to the terms of his covenant with them. In fact, he even warned them when he made that covenant with them that he would punish them if they failed to uphold its terms (see Deuteronomy 27).

Thus, we have seen that the claim that God is currently punishing the United States for its sins is found to be specious. In fact, to do so would be a clear violation of God's principle that only the guilty will suffer punishment. And, even in that event, if we accept the sacrifice of his Son for our sins, the penalty has been paid - there is no "punishment" in our future.


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Calling Out Sin(s) in Others

The Armstrong Churches of God are fond of pointing out the sins and faults of others, but they also bristle when anyone attempts to do the same thing to them. Indeed, most of them believe that they have a Divine commission to call out the sins of others! Is this, however, consistent with the commission which Christ gave to his disciples? Moreover, is it consistent with the way Christ handled sinners during the period of his own earthly ministry?

Their main prooftext for this behavior (calling out sins) is pulled from God's instructions to the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah. In the fifty-eighth chapter of that book, we read: "Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins." (Isaiah 58:1, ESV) But does this passage prove that calling out sinful behavior is the standard for God's "true" ministers?

First, as we have already pointed out, these instructions were originally intended for Isaiah. Likewise, under the terms of the New Covenant, salvation is open to EVERYONE - NOT just "the house of Jacob"! In this connection, we would be remiss not to point out that the Armstrong COG belief that the English-speaking peoples of the world are descended from the ancient Israelites has been thoroughly refuted and discredited. Hence, any claim that they are preaching to the House of Jacob is also found to be specious. In other words, pointing out the sins of the English-speaking peoples of the world in 2024 does NOT fulfill God's commission to Isaiah to point out the sins of the people of the Kingdom of Judah just prior to its downfall and Babylonian Captivity!

Nevertheless, in support of their messaging about sins, these ACOG folks also cite the fact that we read in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus began his ministry be declaring "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17, ESV) Likewise, another favorite passage of theirs in this connection is found in the account of Peter's inaugural sermon on Pentecost in the book of Acts. We read there that Peter told them to "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38, ESV) Now, admittedly, repentance involves deep regret for sinning, and it follows that that would also involve an effort not to repeat the sinful behavior. Even so, a message of repentance is NOT synonymous with calling out sins!

Now, we can also examine the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to see whether or not Christ was in the habit of calling out the specific sins of others. Likewise, in this connection, it would be instructive to examine the full context of the remarks Peter made in that Pentecost sermon and determine whether or not he was instructing them to repent of a particular sin or sins. First, I think that we can all agree that Jesus frequently upbraided the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day for their insincerity, hypocrisy, and lack of compassion for others. Still, I think that it is fair to ask whether or not this was his modus operandi with the masses of the people he addressed. In other words, did he do the same thing with them that he did with their leaders?

First, we should note that, in his model prayer, Christ instructed his disciples to pray: "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12, ESV) Indeed, in the way of explaining this part of the prayer, he went on to say: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV) Moreover, in the following chapter, Christ went on to say: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment, you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV) In other words, you should be focused on your own sins, not on the sins of others.

Do we begin to discern a pattern in Christ's teachings? Instead of talking about specific sins, we see Jesus emphasizing the forgiveness of sins! A little later, in this same Gospel, we read that Christ healed a man of his infirmity by saying: "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:1-8, ESV) In the eighteenth chapter of the same Gospel, Christ told his followers the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14). In this parable, a shepherd who had a flock of one hundred sheep went after one that had wandered away and rejoiced when he had found it. In other words, Christ's mission was to redeem those who had wandered away from God!

In the same chapter, we are told that Peter asked Jesus how many times that they would be expected to forgive each other. "As many as seven times?" Peter asked. Jesus replied that they should forgive each other seventy times that amount! (Matthew 18:21-22) This episode is followed by Christ telling his disciples "The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant." He said: "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So, the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So, his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also, my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35, ESV)

This is consistent with a passage that was added to the Gospel of John. In the eighth chapter of that account, we read: "Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 'Teacher,' they said to Jesus, 'this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?' They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, 'All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!' Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, 'Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?' 'No, Lord,' she said. And Jesus said, 'Neither do I. Go and sin no more.'" (John 8:1-11, NLT) Once again, we see the emphasis on compassion and forgiveness, NOT on condemnation!

Finally, in Luke's account of Christ's crucifixion, we are told that Jesus made an extraordinary statement when he was hanging on the cross. He said: "Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NLT) Hence, we have seen throughout the Gospel accounts of his ministry that Jesus ALWAYS focused on mercy and forgiveness where sins were concerned. Yes, Christians are expected to repent of their sins and "go and sin no more," but the only sins that Christ ever called out were those which were attributed to the religious leaders of that day!

In similar fashion, Christ's apostles focused on the same message regarding sin. What was Peter referring to when he told that Pentecost crowd to repent and be baptized? Read the entire account. Indeed, just a few verses before that ACOG prooftext, we are told that Peter said: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:22-23, ESV) A few verses after that, Peter continued: "'Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.' Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:36-38, ESV) Peter was instructing them what to do about the remorse which they were feeling for rejecting the One who came to this earth to save them from their sins!

Moreover, this emphasis on forgiveness of sins was not confined to Christ and Peter. In the book of Acts, we read that Paul told the folks at Antioch: "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." (Acts 13:38, ESV) Likewise, in his letters to the saints at Ephesus and Colosse, he told them that the forgiveness of sins was found in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14). In his epistle to the Christians of Galatia, Paul wrote: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV) In his epistle, James also noted "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13, ESV)

Thus, we see that Christ and his apostles were NOT in the habit of calling out sins! So, what are Christians supposed to be preaching about? Just before he ascended into heaven, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that Christ told his disciples: "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." (Matthew 28:19-29, ESV) Notice, that Jesus didn't say one word about them being obligated to call out people's sins. Sure, Christ had plenty of things to say about how to live a righteous life, but he clearly approached the topic from the positive approach of what to do - NOT the very negative approach of "You are sinning!" Anyway, that's how I see it. What do you think?

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)

Sunday, June 2, 2024

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 candidates in Church? After all, the folks who engage in it point out that they have an obligation to warn people away from sinful behaviors and to support those candidates/parties who support "Christian values." Many of the pastors who preach politics go on to point out that the United States was founded on "Christian principles," and that the U.S. Constitution was intended to keep government out of the Church - NOT the Church out of government. So, what about all of that? Are these political pastors right after all?

First, let's begin with what Christ commissioned his followers to preach. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that he told them: "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."  (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV) In this context, it is instructive to note that Jesus Christ didn't criticize or talk about the policies of the secular government extant at the time of his ministry. Indeed, the ONLY time they are mentioned by him is to say that people should pay their taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25). While submitting himself to the judgment of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." (John 18:36, ESV) Thus, if we are truly following Christ's example, it's hard to reconcile his preaching with the messaging of these political ministers!

Moreover, I would go on to point out that the United States Constitution (however one chooses to interpret its clause mandating the separation of church and state) does NOT trump Scripture! Hence, whether or not that document supports political speech by ministers has NO bearing on whether or not Scripture supports such speech! In other words, it is immaterial to the question of the appropriateness of political involvement by Christians from a Scriptural perspective.

I would add to these considerations that involvement by Christians in the political arena inevitably leads to compromise with the world. The very moral/ethical standards which one seeks to uphold are very often compromised and/or diluted by the individuals we elect to implement and carry them out. Christ once declared that "every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." (Matthew 7:17-18, ESV) Moreover, we must never lose sight of the fact that we (humans) cannot see the end of all things. Sometimes policies and laws have unintended negative consequences. After all, we must not forget that "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." (Proverbs 14:12, ESV) In other words, God very often sees things differently than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9). For example, the Pharisees thought that they were implementing God's standards as revealed in the Pentateuch, but Christ obviously thought otherwise (see Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). 

Finally, in an article for Christianity.com (2023), Daniel Darling wrote about Three Reasons Not to Preach Politics in the Pulpit. I must say that I found his reasons to be very compelling and consistent with the Christian faith. He wrote: 1. Our text must be the Word of God, 2. The Bible cuts both ways, and 3. We must never dilute the message of the Gospel. Regarding his first point, the author said: "This sounds like a cliche, but it bears saying: faithful Bible preachers use the text of the Word of God as their preaching source. Anything less is simply a speech, which may be inspirational, moral, or even Christian-themed. But if our basis is not the text, we're not preaching." Darling had this to say about his second point: "I find it fascinating that certain groups on the Right want pastors to 'speak up.' What they mean by this, of course, is to more overtly endorse their preferred candidates and/or moral issues. But what they don't understand is that pastors are speaking up. It's just that what pastors are speaking up about may not be the talking points of the current season. And the Bible cuts against both parties, against all political persuasions." Likewise, regarding his third point, the author wrote: "The Church should be counter-cultural and should engage the issues of the day. But this engagement should be an outgrowth of the gospel's sanctifying work in each believer. In other words, political issues shouldn't be the main thing that characterizes a church. The gospel should be the main thing. The Scriptures should be the main thing. Christ should be the main thing."

You see when pastors enter the realm of politics and give their support to one policy or candidate over another, they immediately cut themselves off from reaching the members of their audience (both believers and unbelievers to whom they are trying to witness) who hold to the opposite view. In other words, how can you hope to reach sinners if you exclude them or make yourself their enemy? I've said it before: Capitalism and Socialism both have some features of Scriptural morality as part of their ideology, but neither of them are representative of God's morality/system! Republicans and Democrats both present some candidates and policies that advocate Christian principles/morals, but neither one of them reflects God's character and will! Likewise, even if we acknowledge that the United States was founded on "Christian principles," we must also admit that it has very often failed to live up to those standards throughout the course of its history as a nation. The book of Revelation (along with other prophetic books) makes very clear that ALL HUMAN governments are patterned after the Babylonian model (glorifying the state, its leader(s), institutions, and military). In short, NONE of the nations of this world represent God's Kingdom! After all, isn't that why Jesus instructed his disciples to pray: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10, KJV)?

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Dave Havir's in the same boat as Mark Armstrong, Gerald Flurry, and Bill Watson!

If you thought that support for Trump within the Armstrong Churches of God was a feature of the lunatic fringes of the movement, think again! Check out what Dave Havir's Church of God Big Sandy, Texas has posted on their Eye on the World (June 1, 2024):

• An article by Rich Lowry titled “Lefty DA Bragg Did His Evil Job in Bid to ‘Rig’ 2024 Presidential Election” was posted at nypost.com on May 30, 2024. 

• An article by Hannah Knudsen titled “Ron DeSantis: Trump Verdict Represents ‘Political Agenda of Some Kangaroo Court’ ” was posted at breitbart.com on May 30, 2024. 

• An article by Jeff Poor titled “[Ted] Cruz: ‘This Is the Most Blatant Case of Election Interference’ in Our Country’s History” was posted at breitbart.com on May 30, 2024. 

• An article by Ryan Saavedra titled “RFK Jr. (a Lifelong Democrat) Defends Trump Over Verdict: ‘Profoundly Undemocratic’ [and] ‘Will Backfire’ ” was posted at dailywire.com on May 30, 2024.

Notice the right-wing sources of these articles.

And, if you're saying to yourself, he doesn't actually tell you to vote for Trump, check out these other articles posted about Biden and the Democrats:

• An article by Ryan Saavedra titled “Far-Left Lawmakers [Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush]

Delete Memorial Day Posts After Showing They Don’t Know What It’s About” was posted at 

dailywire.com on May 27, 2024.

• An article by Michael Goodwin titled “Biden Has Spent His Presidency Painting Trump

as Abnormal – but His Recent Antics Prove It’s the Other Way Around” was posted at 

nypost.com on May 28, 2024.

• An article by Kristine Parks titled “John Legend Claims Black Voters Leaving Biden

Because of ‘Masculinity’ [and] ‘Disinformation’ on Economy” was posted at foxnews.com on 

May 29, 2024.

• An article by Emily Crane titled “Democrat California State Senator [Susan Eggman]

Blasts Party Over Pedophile Jail Sentence Fight: ‘I’m Done With Us’ ” was posted at nypost.com 

on May 30, 2024. 

• An article by Olivia Rondeau titled “ ‘FBI Lovebirds’ Peter Strzok and Lisa Page [Who

Pushed Russian Collusion Hoax Against Trump] Reach Tentative Settlement With DOJ” was 

posted at breitbart.com on May 30, 2024.

Friday, May 31, 2024

You Aren't Really A Christian!

I was listening to NPR this morning, and the Trump verdict in New York was the focus of the news. One of the things that stood out to me was the loyalty test which Trump has devised for his supporters. If you don't support me, you're not really a Republican - you're a RINO (Republican In Name Only). That got me to thinking about how Armstrongites do the exact same thing in the religious realm.

They say that traditional Christians aren't really Christians. They say that only those who have accepted their teachings (what they call "THE TRUTH") are "TRUE" Christians. All of those other folks are just pretending to be Christian! In other words, such a person is a Christian in name only! Hmmm, that seems like an interesting parallel to me - What do you think?

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Psalm 103 in the English Standard Version: The Poetry of the New Covenant

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and all that is within me,

    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,

    who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,

    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good

    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The Lord works righteousness

    and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,

    his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,

    nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,

    nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,

    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame;

    he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;

    he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

    and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,

    and his righteousness to children's children,

18 to those who keep his covenant

 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,

    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,

    you mighty ones who do his word,

    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,

    his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,

    in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I Don't Want to Read, Hear or Entertain Anything That Might Lead Me Away from the Truth!

In the past, I have commented about the self-reinforcing straitjacket which Herbert Armstrong devised for his followers. The psychology is simple, but it is also very powerful. It goes something like this: 1) Convince your followers that the majority of Christians are deceived, and that you alone have discovered the TRUE version of that faith. 2) Spoon feed them the cherry-picked Scriptural reasoning you employed to arrive at your system and convince them that they have proven these "truths" from their own Bible. 3) Convince them that their new understanding is the evidence that they have God's Holy Spirit. 4) Instill in them the fear that it is possible to lose some or all of that understanding and/or lose the "inspiration" of the Holy Spirit. This clever, yet subtle, conditioning of his followers allowed Armstrong to imprison his followers in a perpetual state of circular reasoning! "God has revealed his TRUTH to me, and I must hold on to it with all my might and strength." Research, questioning, and testing are no longer necessary - We've arrived at destination TRUTH. Hence, there is no longer any need to investigate or explore! Add to all of this being immersed in a culture of folks who think the same way, and the fact that they are all led by ministers who were trained to periodically remind them about the danger of losing this "treasure," and "abracadabra" you have a closed mind!

Of course, this all brings to mind Christ's Parable of the Talents. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read:

"'For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents,[a large amount of money] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV) Question: What did Christ do to the servant who had protected his one talent (the one who had failed to increase what had been entrusted to him)? Answer: He took away what he had been given!

Moreover, these followers of Herbert Armstrong are WRONG about the evidence that someone has God's Holy Spirit. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ once said: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV) Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV) Notice something missing in that list? Understanding isn't in the list! Indeed, Paul told the saints at Corinth that they could have prophetic powers, understand ALL mysteries, and enough faith to move mountains and still be NOTHING. (I Corinthians 13:2) He went on to say that "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, NLT) Did you catch that? In the present, WE (Christians) see things IMPERFECTLY! Likewise, in the second epistle of Peter, we read: "you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (II Peter 3:18, NLT) Doesn't that mean that we will always have MORE to learn? What do you think? Is the Armstrong template regarding understanding really consistent with Scripture?

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Why is one abomination singled out for condemnation while others are ignored?

All too often, unfortunately, religious folks turn out to be hypocrites. It is my contention that this phenomenon is so widespread because too many people haven't given enough thought to the things which they believe, and it is much easier to find fault with someone else's behavior than to spend time reflecting on the relative merits or failures of one's own behavior! An excellent example of this phenomenon is the absolute joy which some folks derive from pointing out that homosexual behavior is an abomination to God. To be clear, the purpose of this post is NOT to debate whether or not homosexual behavior is abominable to God. It is, rather, to explore why so many other behaviors which are labeled as abominable are basically ignored!

The Hebrew word is "toeba", and it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to things which are disgusting or abominable, unclean, or wicked. In Leviticus 18, for instance, there are a number of sexual behaviors which are listed as being abominable to the Lord (incest, sex with a mother and her daughter, marrying two sisters, sex with menstruating women, adultery, sacrificing children to Molech, and bestiality). Even so, the one that is most often quoted by religious folks is "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (Verse 22) This, despite the fact that the passage makes clear that all of the behaviors listed were considered abominable by the Lord. Indeed, the chapter concludes: "Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 18:24-30, ESV) Interestingly, you don't see many religious folks pointing out that adultery is clearly considered an abomination in God's sight according to this passage.

Likewise, the same folks are quick to underscore this passage from the twentieth chapter: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (Leviticus 20:13, ESV) Once again, however, no mention of the verses which immediately precede it: "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. If a man lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them." (Leviticus 20:10-12, ESV) Why this disparity? Is it intentional or unintentional? Is there some reason why one passage is quoted, and the others are ignored?

Similarly, in the book of Deuteronomy, the sin of idolatry is said to be an abomination (same Hebrew word) to God (Deuteronomy 7:25, 12:31, 20:18, 27:15, 32:16). Also, the same book reveals that eating unclean food is an abomination (Deuteronomy 14:3), and that sacrificing an animal with a blemish or imperfection is an abomination to God (Deuteronomy 17:1).

Moreover, in the book of Proverbs, we read: "for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence." (Proverbs 3:32, ESV) A little later, in the same book, we read: "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." (Proverbs 6:16-19, ESV) Cheating someone in weights and measures is also called an abomination (Provers 11:1). And, just in case anyone missed it the first time, telling lies is again singled out as an abomination (Proverbs 12:22), and a lack of humility is also reiterated as an abomination (Proverbs 16:5). Are these other abominations ignored because most of us have been guilty of one or more of them in the course of our lifetimes? In other words, is singling out homosexual behavior for special attention as an abomination a means of scapegoating? Is it a way to shift attention away from our own failures to someone else?

It is my thesis that the folks who cite this passage to condemn homosexual behavior as an abomination are doing so to make themselves feel better/superior. It is a phenomenon that Christ once commented on in another context. In the Gospel of Luke, we read: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14, ESV) What do you think? 

You/They Are Wicked, and I/We Am/Are Righteous!

Unfortunately, too many Christians have adopted and "us against them" worldview. My/Our ideology is righteous and good, but your ideology is wicked and evil. In this worldview, the other side isn't just wrong or deceived, they are agents of evil - the enemies of all that is good and holy! For these folks, there is an active war raging between good and evil, and they are on God's team and are defending righteousness. For them, everyone else is on Satan's team and is participating in open rebellion against Almighty God. From a Scriptural perspective, however, we are ALL sinners in need of forgiveness and reconciliation, and there is no contest.

In his epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul wrote: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:11-12, NIV) He then went on to say: "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24, NIV) Later, he wrote to Timothy that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." (I Timothy 1:15, NIV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was a sinner too? That's what he said!

Later, in that same epistle to the Romans, Paul spoke of his own CURRENT relationship to sin. He wrote: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14-25, NIV) Clearly, Paul regarded himself as just another sinner who had been rescued from his sins by Jesus Christ! In other words, he did NOT see himself as being superior to the unconverted Gentiles who were the focus of his missionary efforts.

Indeed, in the first epistle of John, we see that Christians (those who have accepted Christ and in whom the Holy Spirit currently resides) are also sinners! He wrote: "If we <Christians> claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us." (I John 1:8-10, NIV) Hence, from a Scriptural perspective, we see that we are ALL sinners, Christians and non-Christians. Thus, we see that the only difference between us and those sinners on the outside of the Church is that we have accepted Christ's righteousness and sacrifice and have been forgiven of our sins!

What's more, the old "your sins are worse than mine" doesn't work either! This was demonstrated in the way that Christ handled the situation where the woman who had been taken in the act of adultery was about to be stoned by a Jewish mob (see John 8:1-11). This concept is also reinforced by some remarks that James made in his epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. He wrote: "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' also said, 'You shall not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:8-13, NIV)

In short, it isn't our job to make ourselves superior to other folks as Christians. It is our job to tell others about what Christ has done for us, and what he can do for them. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew 9:10-13, NIV) In other words, you and I were not called to preach to the choir!

Finally, Christ has already triumphed over Satan, sin. and death (see John 16:33, I Corinthians 15:57, Colossians 2:15, Romans 8:31-39, Ephesians 6:12-18, James 4:7, I John 4:4, etc.). From a Scriptural perspective, the "war" has already been won. Any "contest" was over long ago. God's purpose will stand. We can decide to get on that train or remain standing beside the tracks. That is our choice, and it is the same choice that everyone who has ever lived has made (or will make) someday. So, for Christians, we see that there is no room for an "us against them" mentality. Such a worldview is clearly excluded by Scripture.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It’s All About the Presentation!

Why does the leadership of the Church of God International (Vance Stinson, Mike James, and Jeff Reed) continue to lose the battle over messaging with the Bill Watson-Adrian Davis wing of that organization? I believe that the reason is that this contest has reflected some of the same dynamics which have characterized the contest between Biden and Trump for the Presidency of the United States. How so?

Chauncey DeVega recently penned an article for Salon entitled Trump is all dominance, all the time. In the article, we read: “Political scientist M. Steven Fish believes that the Democratic Party’s inability, despite their many policy successes, to conclusively defeat the Republicans and the larger ‘conservative’ movement and American neofascists, is rooted in much bigger and systematic failings.” Continuing: “Fish warns that Donald Trump and the other Republican leaders use a high-dominance approach to politics and communication that allows them to set the agenda, which in turn puts the Democrats, who tend to be more passive and consensus-oriented, in a consistently weak position of reaction and defense.” In other words, it’s Trump’s style which makes him so attractive to white, working class voters.

Like their political hero, Watson and Davis use the same high-dominance approach to their messaging. They confidently assert (without real evidence) that God is on their side, and that the other guys are tools of Satan. Also like their mentor, they claim that things like Marxism, Globalism, abortion, homosexuals, and immigration are not only destroying the nation they claim to love, but that they are all part of a coordinated attack on Christianity. They warn that the other side is actively trying to pervert, deceive, and destroy. They argue in favor of authoritarianism and paternalism without blinking an eye, and their message is well-received in MAGA world and among the traditionalists within CGI.

Never mind that Stinson, James, Reed, and Skelton are absolutely right about mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and carrying a message about Christ and his Kingdom to the world! Like Biden and the Democrats, the impulse of CGI’s leadership to try to build consensus and accommodate other viewpoints is swept away before the aggressive and assertive messaging of the rebels. The leadership of CGI says that overt politics from the pulpit is inappropriate, and the rebels double-down on their endorsement of Trump’s worldview. CGI leadership says that ministers shouldn’t be wading into the debate over public health measures relative to Covid, and the rebels insist that masking, social distancing, and vaccinations are infringing on their freedom and are pure evil! In short, CGI’s leadership is trying to hold things together and keep from offending those who hold different opinions - while Waston and his allies are busy flame-throwing. Watson and company are convinced that they are right, and they are determined to prevail.

I recall the old axiom: “Might makes right!” Although there is overwhelming evidence that authoritarianism and paternalism have failed to produce good results, and cooperation and compromise have an equally good track record of actually producing good results, my hunch is that yet another old axiom comes into play: To the victor goes the spoils. In other words, I’m fairly certain that, at least in the short term, the “good guys” are NOT going to win this one! Indeed, the “good guys” in this instance, are actively providing a platform for their enemies! (Check out CGI’s website sometime) What do you think?