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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Calling Evil Good and Good Evil

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20, ESV

The Armstrong Churches of God like to portray "Christians" who do not subscribe to their teachings regarding the obligation of Christians to obey the commandments of Torah as rebellious and disobedient. They are turning grace into a "license to sin" or "permission to do evil." They claim that those of us who reject the notion that Christians are under the terms of the covenant that God made with Israel "would do anything to avoid obeying God and keeping His laws."

Never mind, that that is NOT what many of us have believed, practiced, or taught! This blog, for instance, has taught that:

1. Jesus Christ drew two commandments from Torah (love for God and neighbor) and told his disciples that they comprehended and fulfilled the entire law of God.

2. Christians are responsible for applying the intent of the law (love) to every situation or circumstance they might face in this life. Hence, there is no need for written instructions to do this or that or for specific commandments prohibiting some behavior. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Christians should NOT need a list.

3. Christ's version of God's law is much more comprehensive and relatable than the version which was given to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. For example, it's NOT enough to refrain from going to bed with someone who isn't your spouse - a Christian must not indulge in thinking about going to bed with someone who isn't his/her spouse. Likewise, it's NOT enough to refrain from taking a pistol and shooting someone - a Christian must NOT allow themselves to indulge in angry, hateful, or vengeful thoughts.

4. True love requires that we exercise the fruits of God's Spirit in how we interact with other humans, and that we must NOT indulge in any behavior that hurts/harms someone else, dishonors God, or abuses/disrespects his gifts to us.

5. We understand that obeying God's commandments will NOT justify us before God, earn for us salvation, or secure us a place in His Kingdom - that that was accomplished for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Once again, our obedience is simply an expression of our love.

Hence, the charge that we are turning grace into "a license to sin" or "permission to sin" is the equivalent of calling evil good and good evil.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

God's Law Within - Written on Our Hearts!

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and 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, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, 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 law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” - Jeremiah 31:31-34, ESV

"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. For he finds fault with them when he says: “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." - Hebrews 8:6-12, ESV

Torah is a collection of written laws (commandments, judgments, and ordinances). It specifies what God expected of the Israelites - what to do, and what not to do. This was the essence of the Old Covenant.

The New Covenant, however, would be different. God's laws would be internalized - written on the hearts of his people. Toward that end, Jesus Christ pulled two great commandments from Torah and told his disciples that they comprehended ALL of the 613 individual written commands of Torah! Henceforth, God's people would be guided by an obligation to love God with their whole mind and soul, and to love each other as themselves!

In his epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul explained it in terms of the Old Covenant requirement for Israelite males to be physically circumcised. He wrote: "For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." (Romans 1:25-29, ESV) Notice how Paul juxtaposed the written code with the internal attitude of the person.

A little later in the same epistle, Paul returned to the Christians proper relationship to Torah (written law). He compared a wife's obligation to her husband as long as he was living, and her freedom from any continuing obligation to him after his death, with a Christian's obligation to Torah. He wrote: "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." (Romans 7:4-6, ESV)

Toward the end of that same epistle, Paul echoed Christ's teaching that love fulfilled the requirements of God's law. He wrote: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:8-10, ESV) In other words, following a list of dos and don't won't suffice for Christians. As Christ said, love demands more than refraining from physically murdering someone or being physically faithful to him/her!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Biblical Perspective on Sinful Sexual Behaviors

This post will explore the human sexual behaviors and attitudes which underpin the Biblical perspective (both Old and New Testament) on what is considered right and wrong - acceptable and unacceptable. After all, if one is truly interested in applying Biblical proscriptions of certain behaviors in the present, he/she must understand the context and motivations which underpin them. Unfortunately, too many folks have sought to impose the context of their own times, experiences, and understandings on the writings of authors who belonged to wholly different times, experiences and understandings. In other words, one must have some understanding of Hebrew and Roman sexual attitudes to truly understand the sexual perspectives of the Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian canon.

First, in terms of the Hebrew Scriptures, it is important that we understand that Torah was premised on two foundational principles: love for God and love for neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 11:13, and 13:3). More particularly, as it related to loving one's neighbor, Torah prohibits behaviors that would hurt/harm or disrespect another's person, property, or rights in any way. In other words, the commandments of Torah were NOT an arbitrary collection of dos and don'ts based on the whim of Divine prerogative. Instead, Torah law was motivated by an underlying rationale/logic that was meant to protect the person, property, and rights of folks within Israelite society.

In this connection, it is also important to understand that Torah was designed for a society/culture which was primitive, agrarian, paternalistic, polygamous, and embraced violence and slavery. Hence, one who ignores or denies these premises of Israelite society is bound to misunderstand and/or misinterpret Torah Law. In other words, Torah Law was designed to meet the Israelites where they were - to fit the circumstances and conditions of their existence. As I have related in previous posts on this topic, the commandments of Torah are a special iteration or application of God's Law of Love tailored to meet the needs of a particular people, in a particular time and place.

Finally, from the Christian perspective, EVERYTHING in Torah is seen as pointing to Jesus of Nazareth. For Christians, all of the provisions of Torah must be interpreted/understood within the context of the Christ event! Indeed, the understanding that Jesus Christ came to this earth to fulfill Torah and the writings of the Hebrew prophets is foundational to Christian theology! Hence, a Christian understands that the commandments of Torah are NOT the ultimate expression of Divine Law - that they do NOT represent an eternal and/or universal iteration of God's Law! In other words, from the New Testament perspective, the 613 commandments of Torah were/are NOT applicable to the Gentile peoples of the world. In short, the gospel accounts of Christ's teaching and the epistles of Paul and John make very clear that the Christian standard is the Law of Love (see Matthew 22:34-40, John 13:34, 15:12, 17, Romans 13:8, I Corinthians 13, I John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11-12).

We see the two great love commandments clearly embodied in the Ten Commandments of Torah (Exodus 20:1-17). In them, love for God is defined by: not putting anything/anyone before God, not imagining God in a form which fails to truly define or encompass him, not being careless or disrespectful about how we talk about God, and remembering to rest from our works just as God rested from his. Likewise, love for neighbor is defined by the Ten Commandments as: honoring one's parents, not murdering anyone, not being unfaithful to another, not stealing from each other, not lying to or about each other, and not desiring/wanting what belongs to another. Moreover, in ALL of these commandments we can clearly discern the harm/hurt/disrespect that would accrue to anyone (God or human) impacted by such behaviors. In those last six commandments, we can also discern the philosophical basis for ALL of the other Torah commandments which specifically deal with human sexual behaviors.

More particularly, we see in these commandments a clear impulse to protect the property and feelings of humans (especially males). In most of the prohibited sexual behaviors enumerated in Torah, the principles are readily apparent. Indeed, most of us don't have any problem in seeing how things like bestiality, incest, rape, or infidelity might inflict real psychological and/or physical hurt and harm on ourselves and/or others. Even so, it has been hard for many of us to discern any hurt or harm that might be caused by a sexual relationship between two consenting adults of the same gender. Hence, the question has naturally arisen: Have we properly understood/interpreted the passages of Scripture which have traditionally been identified as prohibiting all same-gender sexual relationships?

In attempting to answer that question, we must immediately dispense with the notion that our current knowledge of (and perspective regarding) human sexuality can or should be projected on to Scripture. As has already been suggested, the Hebrew people of biblical times were part of a society/culture that was very paternalistic in its outlook and character. As a consequence, many of the commandments of Torah are premised on protecting the rights, privileges, and property of its male members. Indeed, religious scholar Christopher Rollston once observed that "The Decalogue is a case in point. 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male slave, his female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything which belongs to your neighbor' (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). Because the Ten Commandments are so well known, it's quite easy to miss the assumptions in them about gender. But the marginalization of women is clear. The wife is classified as her husband's property, and so she's listed with the slaves and work-animals. There's also a striking omission in this commandment: never does it say 'You shall not covet your neighbor's husband.' The Ten Commandments were written to men, not women. There's even more evidence, linguistic in nature. Hebrew has four distinct forms of the word 'you' and these are gender and number specific. The form of 'you' in every single commandment is masculine singular. The text assumes its readers are men." (See Huffington Post: The Marginalization of Women, 2012)

While Rollston's observations may not have been popular in more traditional circles, it cannot be denied that they accurately reflect the reality found in Torah. In the eighteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus, we read: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the Lord. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son's daughter or of your daughter's daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, brought up in your father's family, since she is your sister. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is your father's relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is your mother's relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son's wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity. And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive." (Verses 5-18, ESV) Hence, although this passage mentions women, it is clearly addressed to males! We can also see that the honor of the male is paramount - his nakedness must not be uncovered and his property must be protected. Even so, we can also see the underpinnings of the Law of Love at work in this passage - the instructions were clearly given in the interest of promoting familial harmony.

Of course, students of the Bible will immediately recognize the context of the passage offered above. It introduces one of the principal "clobber passages" used by religious folks to condemn all homosexual behaviors. Continuing in the chapter, we read: "You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her. You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion." (Leviticus 18:19-23, ESV)

For those who may not be familiar with the ancient world, the wording of the key passage removed from its context may appear awkward and confusing (the practice of citing a prooftext often results in such awkwardness and confusion). Notice that the injunction is to "not lie with a male" (have sexual intercourse) in the same way or manner that a male would do so with a female. Why? Because men were perceived as the active agent in a sexual relationship (the penetrator), while women were perceived as occupying the passive role in intercourse (the one being penetrated). Indeed, Torah makes very clear that a man who had intercourse with a woman was perceived as having "humbled" her (Deuteronomy 21:14, 22:24, 29). Hence, the notion of a man in a passive role contradicted the whole notion of patriarchy.

We also notice in this passage several references to behaviors that make one "unclean." Indeed, in the concluding remarks for this entire passage, we read: "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...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) In this connection, it is interesting to note that Jesus is portrayed throughout the gospels and in the book of Acts as making clean that which was formerly regarded as unclean.

Finally, this passage in Leviticus emphasized the fact that the children of Israel were NOT to practice any of the "abominable customs" of the people who inhabited the land prior to their occupancy of it. In terms of context, it is essential to a proper understanding of both "clobber passages" (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) that we remember that the former inhabitants of the Promised Land were polytheistic pagans who incorporated ritual sexual intercourse with both genders into the worship of their deities. The Reverend Brandon Robertson noted in his An Inclusive Interpretation of Biblical 'Clobber Passages'  that "Both of these condemnations of same-sex sexual behavior in Leviticus are directly preceded by reminders that these rules were meant to keep the Jewish people from being like the surrounding dominant polytheistic cultures. These cultures often practiced ritual sex offered to a variety of deities and engaged in practices such as using conquered people as sexual slaves. This makes it clear that the cultural context of the Leviticus passage does not reference loving, consensual same-sex relationships, but relationships rooted in idolatry or exploitation, both of which should be rightly condemned.  The word abomination used in Leviticus 18:22 further proves this contextual understanding, because the Hebrew word toevah refers to a ritual uncleanness rather than something objectively, morally wrong."

Like the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, the entire twentieth chapter of the same book makes very clear that the Israelites were expected to differentiate themselves from the religious practices of the former inhabitants of the land which they were shortly to inherit. In the beginning of the chapter, the practice of sacrificing children to Molech is condemned (Leviticus 20:1-5). This is followed by a condemnation of those who would consult mediums and necromancers (Leviticus 20:6-8). Then, in the listing of prohibited sexual practices, we find that the prohibition against men having intercourse with other men is included among the prohibitions against incestuous and menstrual intercourse (Leviticus 20:10-21). In other words, this is a reiteration of the practices forbidden in the eighteenth chapter. Likewise, as in the previous chapter, the thought concluded with: "You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them." (Leviticus 20:22-23, ESV)

Thus, we have seen that it would be a gross misinterpretation of Scripture to impose our modern notion of homosexuality on these passages from Leviticus. Clearly, the prohibitions related to same-gender sexual intercourse were directed at the pagan, polytheistic practices of the people whom the Israelites were expected to replace in the Promised Land. They were also clearly intended to protect Hebrew notions of patriarchy and property. In other words, we simply cannot read into these passages our modern understandings of sexual orientation or our notions regarding loving intercourse between two consenting adults.

Moreover, just as we must understand the context of Hebrew society/culture and their circumstances to properly interpret the meanings of these passages from Torah, we must likewise understand the context of sex in the Roman world to properly interpret what the Apostle Paul had to say on these topics. In addition to this, we must not forget that the Apostle Paul was himself a Jew - who was thoroughly versed in the Hebrew perspective on these matters (Philippians 3:5-6).

In his article Love, Sex and Marriage in Ancient Rome for Psychology Today, Dr. Neel Burton underscored the fact that Roman society was also very paternalistic in nature. In short, women were generally viewed as occupying a secondary or inferior role to men. He went on to note that phallic symbols were held in high esteem within that culture. Like the other pagans before them, Burton pointed out that the Roman world incorporated ritual intercourse into their religious practices.

As for Roman sexual attitudes more generally, Burton observed that "Most extramarital and same-sex activity took place with slaves and prostitutes. Slaves were considered as property and lacked the legal standing that protected a citizen’s body. A freeman who forced a slave into having sex could not be charged with rape, but only under laws relating to property damage, and then only at the instigation of the slave’s owner. Prostitution was both legal and common, and often operated out of brothels or the fornices (arcade dens) under the arches of a circus. Most prostitutes were slaves or freedwomen. A freeborn person who fell into prostitution suffered infamia, that is, loss of respect or reputation, and became an infamis, losing her or his social and legal standing. Other groups that incurred infamia—a concept that still retains some currency in the Roman Catholic Church—included actors, dancers, gladiators, and other entertainers, which is why Roman women were forbidden from being seen on stage. Members of these groups, which had in common the pleasuring of others, could be subjected to violence and even killed with relative impunity. A freeborn man’s libertas, or political liberty, manifested itself, among others, in the mastery of his own body, and his adoption of a passive or submissive sexual position implied servility and a loss of virility."

In this connection, Burton continued: "Homosexual behavior among soldiers not only violated the decorum against sexual intercourse among freeborn men, but also compromised the penetrated soldier’s sexual and therefore military dominance, with rape and penetration the symbols, and sometimes also the harsh realities, of military defeat. According to the historian Polybius (d. c. 125 BCE), the penalty for a soldier who had allowed himself to be penetrated was fustuarium, that is, cudgelling to death, the same punishment as for desertion. By some twisted Roman logic, a man who was anally penetrated was seen to take on the role of a woman, but a woman who was anally penetrated was seen to take on the role of a boy." Hence, we are forced to conclude that the societal/cultural climate in which Paul penned his remarks about same-sex behavior featured many of the same notions which surrounded those "clobber passages" found in Torah.

Indeed, in referencing the "clobber passages" attributed to the Apostle Paul, Reverend Brandon Robinson wrote of Romans 1:26-27 that "St. Paul describes the descent of the Roman culture into pagan idolatry. He begins by saying that the Roman people once knew the true and living God, and then turn to pagan idolatry, which lead them down a path of grave immorality. St. Paul is writing to a specific people in a specific context. After all, not all of humanity has followed the same trajectory Paul outlines – it was unique to the Greco-Roman context and culture. Same-sex sexual relations were fairly common in the Greco-Roman world that Paul lived in, and most of the expressions of homosexual sex were linked to various forms of pagan worship, prostitution, abuse of slaves, or pederasty. All of these are linked to exploitation and pagan idolatry and never to loving, consensual, same-sex relationships." (See An Inclusive Interpretation of Biblical "Clobber Passages")

Likewise, in his remarks about I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10, Reverend Robinson wrote: "The words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which is mistranslated as 'male prostitutes' and 'sodomites' are the Greek terms malakoi and aresenakoiti. The word 'arsenekoiti' literally translates as 'man bed' and most scholars agree that this again likely refers to some form of ritual rape or temple prostitution. It is unlikely, contextually, to assume that it referred to 'homosexuality' as the committed sexual relationship between two consenting partners of the same sex. This word also did not exist in the Greek language until Paul created it in this text. If Paul was explicitly seeking to condemn homosexual relationships in any of his writings, he could have used one of the over twenty more common Greek words for same-sex relationships and behaviors that his readers would have immediately understood." He continued: "In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and in 1 Timothy 1:10, St. Paul uses the word malakoi, which is a common Greek word which translates in modern vernacular as 'effeminate men' or 'boys'. In the ancient Greco-Roman world in particular anything considered effeminate was thought to be weak and undesirable. In the Greco-Roman culture would have seen any man who allowed himself to be penetrated sexually by another man to be willfully giving up his masculinity, thus making himself 'malakos', which would have been a reason for him to be marginalized in a Patriarchal culture. There is virtually no debate among scholars that malakoi in St. Paul’s letters simply meant 'effeminate man' and likely did not refer to consensual same-sex sexual relationships."

Hence, if we are truly interested in understanding the Biblical perspective on sinful sexual behaviors, we must understand the context of the Biblical references to such behaviors. To impose our own modern notions and understandings on those ancient writings is unfair and will only ensure misunderstanding/misinterpretation of what was written. Unfortunately, too many Christians are NOT interested in nuance and complexity - they prefer simplicity and the clarity provided by black and white thinking. They would rather twist passages from Torah and make them binding on folks who were not "fortunate" enough to be born with a "normal" heterosexual orientation. They ignore Christ's statements about judging other people's sins while ignoring their own. In their cherry picking of Scripture, they also ignore a great many other relevant things that Jesus and his apostles had to say on the topic of human sexuality.

We have already pointed out that Christ fulfilled the commandments of Torah and summarized them into two great commandments that would be universally applicable - to both Jews and Gentiles. Those commandments were based on the eternal and Godly principle of LOVE. Jesus went on to say that love was the motivation and objective which underpinned the entire Law of God. Hence, if two men or two women really love each other (exhibiting the things which characterize Godly love - see I Corinthians 13:4-7), their relationship CANNOT be characterized as sinful! In the words of Paul, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10, ESV)

Hence, in this iteration of God's Law, only sexual behaviors which inflict real hurt or harm on someone can be classified as sinful. Moreover, failing to uphold patriarchy or culturally acceptable gender roles does NOT constitute a legitimate hurt or harm. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28, ESV) In short, a consensual monogamous relationship between two adults with a homosexual orientation is NOT the moral equivalent of incest, pedophilia, rape, ritual prostitution, or sexual exploitation.

Now, certainly, a homosexual is just as capable of sin as any heterosexual person. A homosexual can permit anger, bitterness, and vengeance to consume them and inflict violence on themselves or others. A homosexual is obviously quite capable of being unfaithful to his/her sexual partner. A homosexual is also quite capable of being unkind, impatient, unforgiving, etc. Like their heterosexual counterparts, homosexuals are subject to arrogance, rudeness, and unwarranted irritability. In short, it is my contention that a homosexual Christian is subject to the same Divine standard as the heterosexual Christian. What do you think?

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Bible: Creation Proclaims God's Glory and Reveals His Will

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. - Psalm 19:1-4

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber. - Proverbs 6:6-11

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. - Matthew 6:25-34

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. - Romans 1:19-20

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Identifying False Teachers and Teachings

Matthew 7:15-20

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Matthew 16:5-12

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.

6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?

9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?

10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?

11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

I John 4:1-6

1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.

6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Truth About Anti-Church of God Literature?

In their booklet with the same title as this post (minus the question mark), Church of God, The Eternal lamented that "Virtually every doctrine in the Church of God is now being questioned." For anyone who is familiar with the Armstrong Churches of God, this title and statement will immediately call to mind the word "hypocrisy." Considering the fact that most ACOG literature is a continuous and relentless attack on the doctrines/practices of traditional Christianity, this charge regarding "Anti-Church of God" literature smacks of "the pot calling the kettle black!"

In the same opening paragraph of COG Eternal's article, they assert that "the present proliferation of literature assailing church beliefs was promoted by the doctrinal changes which took place in the Worldwide Church of God during 1973-74." Really? Might it have something to do with problems inherent to the teachings of Herbert Armstrong? Is it possible that the numerous prophetic failures and the implosion of the Worldwide Church contributed to the phenomenon? The article even admits that more than a dozen splinter groups formed as a consequence of the demise of the parent church! Even so, later in the article, it is asserted that "the failure of an organization does not abrogate truth." I would agree with that statement, but I would also question the judgment of any individual who didn't question whether such a failed organization actually possessed the truth in the first place!

Once again, for those who are familiar with ACOG culture, the first question which this article poses about ACOG critics will come as no surprise. They ask: "Did they ever believe?" Armstrong and his minions have always reasoned that anyone who would abandon their "truth" must have never really been converted in the first place! Of course, the reasoning offered in the article to support this conclusion is circular.

They assert that the folks who have repudiated their doctrines must now believe that they were deceived in the past - "Yet, not one of these writers has admitted it." Really? I have freely admitted here and elsewhere that I allowed myself to be deceived by Herbert Armstrong. Contrary to their assertion, there was a time when I (and other critics) really believed Armstrong's teachings and even tried to convince others of them. Likewise, I have also repeatedly acknowledged my own culpability in all of this - my failure to do my due diligence in investigating and researching what Herbert was teaching!

The COG Eternal article also asserts that the literature which is critical of ACOG teaching presents "incongruous arguments" - which they claim is a manifestation of the prejudice which infects their critics. To support this charge, they offer ONE example of someone making different arguments about the size of the old Worldwide Church to suit the needs of the criticism they are putting forward. Once again, that sounds an awful lot like "the pot calling the kettle black." Herbert Armstrong and his minions twist and ignore Scripture and history to support their teachings about the history of their organization, the history of traditional Christianity, and the biblical identities of modern nations without blinking an eye. In other words, does ACOG criticism of the teachings of traditional Christianity manifest their prejudice against Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians?

Another favorite argument against their critics which finds its way into this present article is their charge that their critics are motivated by emotional reactions to the past. This is probably one of the most pernicious arguments which these folks have always employed against their critics. It is a form of gaslighting. If someone is emotional, they are not being rationale and objective. This argument also undermines the validity of the real experiences of the many folks who have been hurt/harmed/deceived by the ACOGs. This argument is also the cousin of the argument that their critics are simply being rebellious and/or are manifesting a "bad attitude." In other words, your criticisms aren't based in reality - they are the product of your own warped and twisted mind or thinking! In this way, they get to dismiss the criticisms without ever actually addressing/answering them.

The article goes on to assert that "distortions render everything questionable." There they go again! They are completely oblivious to, and unapologetic for, their own distortions of Scripture, history, and science! Yet, all of those distortions and incongruities inherent in their own history and teachings never provoke a single question about the validity of their own culture! It never occurs to them to question the doctrines based on those distortions or the flawed men who formulated them in the first place. They never think to question the likelihood that Almighty God would use men with such glaring personal failures to "restore truth" to His Church!

The COG Eternal article then attempted to portray critics of the ACOGs as NOT practicing Christian love. They say that "true Christians...will attempt to avoid sarcasm," and "do not make specific sins of others public." Does that mean that Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth branded him as a false Christian? You remember, the epistle where he ridiculed the congregation's tolerance of a man who was openly having an affair with his father's wife. So, Paul's sarcasm and public outing of that man was inappropriate in a "true" Christian? The article goes on to suggest that the primary objective of everyone should be to protect the truth - the clear implication being that personal bad behavior of folks who preach the "truth" must NOT be revealed to the public!

Finally, the article advocates compartmentalization in evaluating the performance of the ACOGs. According to COG Eternal, the "truth" can be divided into three distinct and separate categories: doctrine, prophecy, and administration. This allows them to acknowledge that the ACOG culture has been responsible for many prophetic and administrative failures and still insist that those failures have no impact on the veracity/validity of doctrine. Now, do I really need to talk about the interrelatedness of these things? OR Are the problems with their compartmentalization of "truth" apparent to my readers? Do I really need to cite and quote all of the passages of Scripture which deal with exposing false teachers, teachings, and prophets? (Just in case, here are a few for those who may be interested: Deuteronomy 4:2, Matthew 7:15, Romans 16:17-18, Galatians 1:6-9, Ephesians 5:11, II Timothy 4:3-4, etc.) Is that enough? Does that nail it down?


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Jonathan Cahn Attacks Pope's Blessing of Same-Sex Couples

A friend recently sent me a link to the Jonathan Cahn presentation on The Pope Francis End-Time Apostasy. For those of you who may not be familiar with Jonathan Cahn, he is a Messianic Jewish pastor and author who focuses on eschatology. The website for his ministry, Hope of the World, professes to be "An End-Time Ministry for An End-Time World." In the presentation referenced above, Cahn makes very clear that he believes that the Pope's decree on the blessing of same-sex couples represents a gross apostasy from the teachings of Scripture.

The pastor opens his message by pointing out that the Pope's decree reverses two thousand years of Christian tradition and contradicts Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality. He went on to point out that Catholics describe same-sex behavior as "intrinsically disordered" and "gross depravity." For Cahn, these statements are consistent with Scripture, and the Pope's recent decree represents a radical departure from that biblical teaching and constitutes the blessing of sin. To be fair, he does go on to say that we should love all people in all situations, but he is also quick to point out that this is NOT what the Pope's decree is doing.

Cahn then pivoted into the sentimental favorite argument of all biblical fundamentalists - the slippery slope. Using the same logic, Cahn believes that the Catholic Church should also be blessing unmarried heterosexual couples. Indeed, he went on to question what would prevent them from blessing adulterous heterosexual unions. For Cahn, this all represents a direct assault on Torah, the Law (more particularly, the Ten Commandments). He reasons that if we are going to abandon the commandment against adultery, what is to stop us from abandoning the commandments against stealing or murder? Indeed, the pastor believes that this is all part of a well-orchestrated campaign by the Pope to characterize those who hold to (and defend) biblical teachings as being too rigid and judgmental. In other words, the clear suggestion is: "where will this all stop?" Later, he even suggested that this might lead to blessing incest, polygamy, and abortion!

The pastor went on to compare homosexuality to someone who is suffering from a fatal disease. Indeed, he equated blessing them in their diseased state with failing to truly help them by sharing with them the cure for their disease. In other words, we should be telling these homosexual folks to repent so that they won't be eternally damned! He reasoned that if we aren't giving them their medicine, we aren't showing them love and compassion - that we are effectively doing the exact opposite (hating them)! He says that the Pope is effectively blessing them into hell! In other words, the Pope has failed in his self-proclaimed capacity as the "vicar of Christ on earth."

Well, what about all of these claims that Pastor Cahn has made about the Pope and his decree about the blessing of same-sex couples? Let's begin where he begins - with the Pope reversing two thousand years of tradition and his own church's teaching on the subject. First, we should note that there are a number of traditions peculiar to Christianity which have NOTHING to do with Scripture!

With this current topic in mind, the marriage ceremony itself comes immediately to mind. The fact is that there isn't any Divinely prescribed marriage ceremony ANYWHERE in Scripture! Oh sure, down through the centuries, pastors have formulated vows based on passages of Scripture and/or concepts found therein, but the fact remains that we CANNOT find a particular ceremony in Scripture for binding a man and a woman together in marriage! Indeed, if we are truly using the Bible as our guide, then we must admit that the act of leaving one's parent's household, cohabitating with someone, and having sex with them constitutes a valid marriage in God's sight (see Genesis 2:24).

Moreover, the traditional shame-based attitudes of Christianity toward the human body and its functions CANNOT be said to be in harmony with Scripture (see Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:25). Indeed, according to Scripture, those attitudes about our bodies and their functions were derived from the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:1-11)! Also, Christian attitudes toward divorce are often at odds with both Christ's and Paul's teachings on the subject. Hence, according to the biblical standard, many heterosexual Christian couples are currently living in adulterous/sinful relationships! Indeed, some of the men who currently stand before Christian congregations have been married multiple times (see I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9)

Now, regarding Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, is their characterization of it as being "intrinsically disordered" and "gross depravity" consistent with what is revealed in Scripture? In answering that question, it is incumbent upon us to take a deep dive into everything that the Bible has to say about human sexuality and to interpret those passages within the context of the original language, the times and culture existing when they were written, and how they relate to each other. We should also approach the entire subject with humility and a willingness to acknowledge that understandings/interpretation which differ from our own may have some validity. Finally, we must be willing to follow the guidance of God's Holy Spirit and be motivated by a desire to be within the will of God. After all, the Apostle Paul underscored the importance of individual conscience in maintaining a right relationship with God.

In other words, when we evaluate the traditional "clobber" passages relative to homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-29, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, I Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:26-27), we must lay aside our biases and prejudices and be willing to take a fresh look. Unfortunately, this is simply too much to ask of many Christians (both clergy and lay members). However, for those who are interested there is a large and complex body of literature available which is focused on these passages and providing valid and helpful insights into these passages. For our purposes, I will briefly summarize the findings of many of these biblical scholars relative to the "clobber passages" cited above.

First, all of these scriptural references to same-sex behavior must be understood in the context of a complete ignorance of the concept of sexual orientation. In other words, the folks whom God used to author these passages had ZERO awareness of the concept that humans are predisposed to find one gender more attractive than another. Their experience of same-sex behavior was almost entirely based on power - the one doing the penetrating relative to intercourse, and/or temple prostitution as a means of worshipping pagan deities. The concept of someone being sexually attracted to a member of their own gender as an integral part of his/her nature would have been foreign to them.

Second, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah clearly fits into the genre of hospitality narratives found in Scripture. In other words, the focus of the story is on the way that the angelic guests were treated by the people of the city, NOT on homosexuality. Indeed, as we all know, there has never been a single city in the history of humankind on this planet which was entirely composed of homosexuals. In other words, there were many sinful behaviors going on in those cities that had absolutely NOTHING to do with homosexuality (Ezekiel 16:49). Moreover, I think that we can all acknowledge that the behavior of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah violated the Golden Rule and the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, one would hope that gang raping a couple of strangers would be universally regarded as immoral - irrespective of the sexual orientation of the folks perpetrating such a horror!

Finally, although Mr. Cahn sought to portray the Pope's decree as lawless and specifically pointed to the Ten Commandments, he failed to explain exactly how homosexuality violates the Ten Commandments or the principles which underpin them. Jesus Christ said that Torah (including those two passages from Leviticus) could be summarized/comprehended by two commandments drawn from Torah. Jesus referred to them as the greatest commandments - that we must love the Lord our God with our whole mind, body, and soul AND love each other as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Paul went on to define love in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the saints of Corinth, and he also wrote that love is the fulfillment of the Law - that it does no hurt or harm to another (Romans 13:10).

As with most homophobes, the pastor fails to identify the precise way(s) that homosexuality hurts/harms oneself, or how a consensual same-sex relationship does harm/hurt to the people engaging in that behavior. Likewise, he fails to account for his inherent disqualification of homosexual love - that it is somehow invalid or inferior to heterosexual love. As for the Ten Commandments, he also fails to explain why it is inappropriate to hold homosexual folks to the same standard which heterosexuals are held to - that of being faithful to your partner (or, in the language of Torah, not committing adultery against your spouse).

From my own perspective, Pope Francis has taken a first step in reaching out to the homosexual community, and he is being pilloried for doing so. Jesus Christ always reached out to those whom the self-righteous regarded as sinners. Jesus Christ is also reported to have said "Judge not, that you be not judged." He went on to say "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, 3-5) Also, I seem to recall an occasion when a woman who had been discovered in the act of adultery was about to be stoned by a crowd, and Christ bent down to the ground and wrote something in the dirt. We are informed that Christ then stood up and said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." If memory serves me, the woman's accusers all dropped their stones one by one and walked away (see John 8:1-11).

Finally, in this context, I am reminded of something that James wrote in his canonical epistle. He said: "the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water." (James 3:6-12) My question for Pastor Cahn is: "As Christians, should we be blessing these folks or cursing them?" What do you think?

Thursday, January 11, 2024

We're just telling you what God's word says about that!

Armstrongites (and other Fundamentalist Christians who subscribe to traditional views of sexual morality) have a short list of passages which they use to condemn homosexuals, feminists, folks who engage in premarital sex, folks who support abortion rights, and teenagers who dare to masturbate. Moreover, they are completely immune to any alternate interpretations of those passages, or any suggestion that some of the commandments or concepts contained in Scripture might be the product of cultural bias or limited knowledge. In other words, without these passages, these folks would have to forgo the joy of condemning others!

"We have to cry aloud and show God's people their sins," they say. Moreover, they absolutely hate it when someone happens to point out that God gave those instructions to the prophet Isaiah for Israel. Want to see them get really upset? Remind them about the account of the woman about to be stoned in the Gospel of John, or Christ's instructions about NOT judging each other. By the way, I thought that the Bible was written to help us to identify sins in our lives, and that the Holy Spirit actually leads folks to repent of their sins? Have Armstrongites decided that the Catholics were right after all - that we really do need ministers to act as intermediaries between us and God? And what about worrying about your own sins before you go about trying to point out someone else's sins?

Finally, why does the New Testament refer to the Christian message as the gospel or "good news." Doesn't that moniker suggest a positive message - a message about forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation? Was Jesus focused on the sinfulness of his audiences and society? OR Was he focused on revealing God's Kingdom and righteousness to them? In other words, are you really just telling us what God's word says about our behavior? OR Are you trying to shame or scare us into repentance? OR Does warning people about their sins make you feel more righteous or somehow superior to them? AND I know that it could NEVER happen, but what if you are actually wrong about some of the behaviors you've condemned?

Friday, January 5, 2024

The SIGNS of the Covenants

Regarding God's covenant with Noah and all of the living things which had accompanied him on the ark, we read:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17, ESV)

Regarding God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, we read:

"And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:9-14, ESV)

Regarding God's covenant with the people of Israel, we read:

"The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed." (Exodus 31:12-17, ESV)

Regarding God's covenant with King David, we read:

Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:13-14)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins... In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-5, 10, ESV)

Regarding the New Covenant through Jesus Christ, we read:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew 1:18-23, ESV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary...And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:27, 30-33, ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-12)

Regarding the people of Christ's day demanding a sign that he was indeed the promised Messiah, we read:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40, ESV, see also Matthew 16:1-4, Mark 8:11-12, and Luke 11:29-30)

So, we see that Jesus himself became the sign of the New Covenant - OR - as Luke phrased it: "For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation." (Luke 11:30, ESV) Interestingly, the New Covenant also symbolically incorporated the signs associated with the other covenants into the corpus of the writings which bear its name (the New Testament). Paul wrote to the saints at Rome: "For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." (Romans 2:25-29, ESV)

Likewise, in the epistle to the Hebrews, we read this regarding the Sabbath: "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:9-11, ESV) Indeed, just as the Sabbath was a sign for the Israelites to understand that it was God who made them holy, Christ is the one who made his disciples holy! Moreover, just as the rainbow continues to remind us that God once made a commitment to never again completely destroy life on this planet, Jesus was offered to ensure our eternal salvation in God's Kingdom! In short, ALL of the signs of the various covenants pointed to Jesus Christ - just as the star pointed to the place where the Messiah had made his first appearance on this earth!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Different Iterations of God's Law

Unfortunately, among the ministry and laity of traditional Christianity and the Armstrong Churches of God, their understanding of what constitutes the Law of God (and which commandments God expects Christians to obey) has been superficial, confused, and irregular. Why? I believe that the founding error of this misunderstanding is to be found in the fact that most of these folks are completely unaware/ignorant of the fact that Scripture reveals that there have been several different iterations/versions/incarnations of God's Law. For instance, many of them ignore the Divine commandments revealed in the book of Genesis. Indeed, some of them seem to think that God's commandments are found in the other four books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Other Christians immediately think of the Ten Commandments when God's Law is mentioned. Let's take a closer look (what follows is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the various iterations of God's Law - the examples offered are only intended to demonstrate the premise that they exist in Scripture).

In the first revelation of Divine Law to humankind, we read that God commanded Adam and Eve to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food." (Genesis 1:28-29, ESV) Then, a little later, we read that God planted a garden, and that he "took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." (Genesis 2:15, ESV) Next, we read that "the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'" (Genesis 2:16-17, ESV) Of course, we all know the story about how well our primordial parents fared in obeying those first Divine commands.

In the sixth chapter of that same book of beginnings, we read that God commanded Noah to build an ark and gave him specific instructions regarding how it was to be constructed (verses 13-16). Next, God commanded him: "you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you." (Genesis 6:18, ESV) Continuing, we read that God further instructed Noah that "you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them." (Genesis 6:19-21, ESV) Next, we are informed that "Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22, ESV) Moreover, we are informed that God later gave Noah additional instructions: "Then the Lord said to Noah, 'Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.' And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him." (Genesis 7:1-5, ESV)

Finally, after the flood, we are informed that God commanded Noah to leave the ark with his family and all of the animals that had accompanied them on the ark (Genesis 8:15-17). A little later, we read: "And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man." (Genesis 9:1-6, ESV) I don't know about you, but that sounds like a whole bunch of Divine commandments to me!

Even so, there were a number of other iterations of God's Law recorded in the book of Genesis. In the twelfth chapter, we are informed that God commanded Abraham to leave his homeland and his father's household and travel to a land that God would show him (verse 1). Later, God commanded him to look over the land which he intended to give him (Genesis 13:14-17). In the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, we read: "And God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Verses 9-14, ESV)

Then, many years after Abraham's son Isaac was born, we are informed that God commanded him to sacrifice the boy (Genesis 22:1-2). However, before Abraham actually carried out the commandment to sacrifice the boy, God intervened and ordered him not to do it (Genesis 22:12). Later still, God commanded Isaac not to go to Egypt and to abide in the place where he instructed him to stay (Genesis 26:1-4). Moreover, in this same passage, we are also informed that God reiterated the promises he had made to Isaac's father, "because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Genesis 26:5, ESV). In other words, God would bless Isaac because his father had obeyed God's Laws!

And, while the children of Israel were still in bondage to Egypt, we are informed in the book of Exodus that God commanded Moses to free his people from Egypt (3:7-10). Most of the remainder of the third chapter and the first half of the fourth is taken up with Moses trying to get out of the task that God had given him! Even so, as any serious student of the Hebrew Bible knows, Moses eventually obeyed God and led the Israelites out of Egypt. Moreover, just before they made their exit, and as God was preparing to strike down Egypt's firstborn sons, God commanded the Israelites to observe their first Passover (Exodus 12:1-20). We should also note that this commandment was given to them prior to the formal ratification of God's covenant with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Finally, as the Israelites traveled out of Egypt, the author of Exodus informs us that God gave both Moses and the Israelites a series of instructions/commandments regarding their journey (see Exodus 14-17). Thus, according to the account, Moses and the Israelites came at last to the foot of Mount Sinai, and God gave to them his "Ten Commandments" (see Exodus 19-20).

Of course, all of the commandments which followed the ten which are listed and reiterated throughout the remainder of Torah were addressed to the children of Israel and were considered to be the foundation of God's covenant with them. In this connection, we should also note that this iteration of God's Law was intended for a primitive, agrarian people who (for the most part) did NOT have access to God's Holy Spirit. Moreover, we must never forget that this iteration of God's Law was designed to accommodate a paternalistic society in which slavery and violence were the norm. Likewise, it is incumbent upon us to remember that these people were highly superstitious and had very little awareness or understanding of things like the workings of the human body, effective medical treatments, mental health, and sexual orientations. Hence, as this iteration was so obviously designed to address the needs and circumstances of a particular people in a particular place and time, it stretches credulity to suggest that all of the hundreds of commandments which make up the Torah are universal or eternal in their application. For instance, as we now understand that slavery is morally wrong, most of us would consider all of the commandments associated with that practice to be superfluous or obsolete.

We should also point out that NO ONE within the ACOGs or the more traditional sects of Christianity have suggested that all of the various iterations of God's Law which we have examined in this post have been carried forward into the New Covenant. In other words, ALL of the people who have suggested that Christians should include commandments contained in these former versions of God's Law advocate some form of cherry picking. Indeed, in our world, it is currently IMPOSSIBLE to scrupulously obey all of the individual commandments contained in these previous iterations of God's Law (currently, there is NO Holy of Holies, ephod, or altar on earth). Moreover, most students of the New Testament are willing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ presented yet another version/iteration of God's Law!

Indeed, as I have stated here repeatedly over the last few years, Jesus said that God's entire Law was comprehended by just two commandments which were drawn from Torah! In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that one of the Pharisees (who was an expert in Torah) asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest. We are informed there that Jesus replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (22:37-40, ESV) In other words, ALL of the 613 commandments of Torah are based on those two principles! So, we see that Jesus Christ identified these two commandments as having universal and eternal application. Moreover, for a people who would have access to God's Holy Spirit, this iteration of God's Law would cover any and all circumstances which might arise in someone's life.

In short, Jesus Christ didn't do away with God's Law. On the contrary, not only did he FULFILL the iteration of God's Law found in Torah (the one designed for the children of Israel), he also identified a version of God's Law/commandments which would apply to all people, places and times! Jesus Christ and his apostles also provided numerous examples of how these principles could be applied in every day life. In this iteration of God's Law, there would NOT be hundreds of commandments which addressed many of the different aspects of this physical life which we are currently experiencing. In this version of God's Law, the disciples of Christ (with the Holy Spirit to guide them) would apply those two commandments and other teachings and examples provided by Christ and his apostles to their lives in the here and now and, later, in God's Kingdom. For Christians, it is THIS iteration of God's Law which defines sin and identifies God's expectations regarding the behavior of his people.