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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, February 27, 2024

Early Christianity: The Didache on the Two Great Commandments

Other than the writings of the New Testament canon, the earliest compilation of Christian teachings is The Didache. According to Aleteia (the Catholic News and information website), it is "the oldest catechism in Christian history," and it was probably written sometime between the years 65-80 CE. Hence, The Didache provides us with a rare and important insight into the beliefs and practices of First Century Christians (see What is the Didache and why is it important? and The oldest catechism in Christian history). Moreover, the book claims to be a summary of "The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations."

Interestingly, The Didache affirms the teachings of this blog about a Christian's obligation to observe the two greatest commandments of Torah (the ones identified by Jesus of Nazareth). The premise of the book is that there are two ways of life: one leading to life through Christ's righteousness, and the other being a life of sinfulness resulting in death. The anonymous author of the book frames it in these terms: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you." Students of the New Testament, of course, will recognize these statements as reiterations of Christ's teachings found in Matthew 7:12 and 22:36-40.

The author went on to reference a number of Christ's teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere as representing practical ways of putting those principles into practice as a moral code. He/she wrote: "And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to everyone who asks you and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give."

The author then focused on the second commandment: "And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. You shall not covet the things of your neighbor, you shall not swear, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is a snare of death. Your speech shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life."

Continuing, he/she wrote: "My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leads to murder. Be neither jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper, for out of all these murders are engendered. My child, be not a lustful one. for lust leads to fornication. Be neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye, for out of all these adulteries are engendered. My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads to idolatry. Be neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to look at these things, for out of all these, idolatry is engendered. My child, be not a liar, since a lie leads to theft. Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered. My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy. Be neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered. Rather, be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and pitiful and guileless and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself, nor give over-confidence to your soul. Your soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with just and lowly ones shall it have its intercourse. Accept whatever happens to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass."

For those who are interested in imitating First Century Christianity - the moral standards which Christ and his apostles taught, this is an excellent summary of the material found in the New Testament. The teachings are clearly derived from those two great commandments of Torah, but they do NOT enjoin a Christian to use Torah as his/her standard. As with the sayings of Jesus recorded in the canonical Gospels, this ancient manuscript enjoins Christians to conduct themselves at all times in a way that reflects LOVE (for God and each other). In other words, the Christian is encouraged to internalize these principles rather than appeal to a list of dos and don'ts. In short, the Christian is encouraged to judge his/her own behavior based on whether his/her motivation(s) in acting a certain way is consistent with the intent of those two great commandments! In doing so, the righteousness of Christ's disciples would exceed the scrupulous Torah observance of the Jews of the First Century. 



Monday, February 26, 2024

Loving Each Other

Don't think that LOVE is the moral standard of the NEW Covenant? Check this out:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 19:16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 22:34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 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.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

I Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

I John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

I John 3:3 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.

I John 3:11 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.

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 love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

*All of the above passages were taken from the English Standard Version at BibleGateway

Friday, February 23, 2024

There is NO WAY this Christian is voting for Trump!

In an Article for The Hill, Tara Suter wrote: "Former President Trump told attendees at a Christian media convention Thursday that it would be 'crazy' for any Christian to vote for a Democratic candidate, framing the 2024 election as a broader fight against a 'radical left' intent on going after patriotic Christians. 'How any Christian can vote for a Democrat, Christian or person of faith, person of faith — how you can vote for a Democrat is crazy. It’s crazy,' Trump said at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) International Christian Media Convention in Nashville."

First, I don't believe that anyone should be telling Christians who they should be voting for! A Christian should be guided by his/her own conscience and convictions, NOT by others' expectations. Now, sure, a Christian should be motivated in ALL things (including voting) by the tenets of his/her faith and the compatibility of a candidate's personal and professional character with Christian values.

Second, both of the main American political parties (Democrats and Republicans) are secular in nature and are a part of this present world system deceived and influenced by Satan. Neither of those parties are completely representative of Christian values, and some of the personal lives of the leadership in both parties are also NOT Christian in nature or practice. Indeed, many of the policy prescriptions of both parties and their leadership are antithetical to the character and teachings of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Christians have a clear scriptural mandate to NOT be too much a part of this world. And, as this world's systems are NOT God's system or representative of his kingdom, Christians should NOT look to them for the solutions to their personal problems or the many problems of the wider world.

Third, the American system is based on the separation of Church and State. In short, the Founding Fathers intended that the United States would NOT adopt a state religion (as many of the nations of Europe had done). For them, no one's personal religious convictions was to be infringed upon or dictated by the state. Likewise, it should NOT be the goal/objective of ANY Christian to impose the dictates of his/her conscience on others - especially the larger society. Thus, while there is certainly NOTHING wrong with a Christian using his/her franchise to influence policy in a Godly direction or to encourage the filling of government with people of good character, it would also definitely be contrary to God's intention for his people to become a shill or partisan of secular parties or candidates.

Fourth, Donald Trump's personal character is so deeply flawed and troublesome that this Christian (me) could NOT vote for him in good conscience. He does not believe in turning the other cheek or forgiveness or mercy. He does not treat other people the way that he would like to be treated. He is NOT noted for his kindness, fidelity, compassion, empathy, or righteous speech. He cheats, lies, and bullies without compunction or restraint. He is brash and without a shred of humility, and his policies all seem to arise from self-interest and lack personal conviction. Hence, this Christian could NEVER, in good conscience, vote for such a man - or the various members of the personality cult which supports him.

Just as I Am

This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835 and was based on John 6:37. (See Just as I Am, Without One Plea)

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (ESV)

In my humble opinion, this passage from Paul's letter to the believers at Rome is also pertinent:

Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)

The lyrics of the hymn:

1 Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2 Just as I am, and waiting not

to rid my soul of one dark blot,

to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3 Just as I am, though tossed about

with many a conflict, many a doubt,

fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4 Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


A performance of the hymn: Mennonite Acapella Choir: Just as I Am

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Some Things Never Change: Jesus and Sinners

In a comment reacting to my post on the Canadian CGI ministers' criticism of the "He Gets Us" Super Bowl ad, the commentator noted that "'He gets us' implies that we are fine just as we are. Jesus loves you so you have nothing to worry about."

Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (ESV)

Mark 2:15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV, See also Luke 5:29-32 and Matthew 9:10-13)

Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (ESV)

Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (ESV)

John 8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (ESV)

Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Canadian CGI Ministers Attack the Super Bowl "He Gets Us" Advertisement!

In Episode 71 of Keeping Watch (on the Rumble platform), two ministers and one deacon from the Canadian Church of God International attacked the Jesus Super Bowl ad on their weekly program. Pastors Adrian Davis and Murray Palmatier, accompanied by Deacon Jan Kowalczyk, said that the ad which depicted people washing the feet of sinners was heretical and should be rejected by true Christians. What was wrong with the ad? They didn't like the message: "Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet. He gets us. All of Us. Love thy neighbor."

Mr. Palmatier and Mr. Davis said that there were too many doctrinal errors to list in the thirty second ad, and they cautioned CGI members not to get caught up in the "emotionalism" of the ad! "What about us getting him?" Pastor Murray demanded. "How many times did Christ wash feet in the Bible?" he continued. "And whose feet did he wash?" Pastor Davis added. The answers, of course, are: one occasion, and he washed the feet of his disciples. "In every other case, it was his feet being washed by devotees," Pastor Palmatier pointed out. They went on to remind their audience that this ad appeared during the "Taylor Swift Super Bowl." In other words, the audience was huge - men and women watching. "These people hate Christ," Pastor Davis added, and he went on to say that the ad was full of "Marxist" ideas.

For me, the ad reflected the "Love thy neighbor" theme very clearly. When I was watching it, I was reminded of Christ's statement that he came here to serve, NOT to be served (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). Indeed, Christ's aim was to sacrifice himself so that our sins could be wiped away, and we could be reconciled to Almighty God. I also thought of a passage from the first epistle of John: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (I John 4:7-12, ESV). So, I'm thinking that it's Davis, Palmatier, and Kowalczyk who don't get Jesus and are promulgating heretical notions. The truth is that Armstrongites have always been uncomfortable with the concept of LOVE!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Lord of the Sabbath

In the Gospel of Mark, we read: "One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?' He answered, 'Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.' Then he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'" (Mark 2:23-27, NIV)

The same story, of course, appears in the Gospel of Matthew with a slightly different version of Christ's statement. After telling them the story of what David did, he is quoted as saying: "Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:5-8, NIV) Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke, the same incident is described in much the same manner as it appears in Mark's account, although he only records the key phrase "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Luke 6:5, NIV)

Now, in all three accounts, the Greek word "kyrios" is translated into English as "Lord." According to Blue Letter Bible, the Greek word indicates the owner, master, controller of something. In other words, "the possessor and disposer of a thing." Hence, we see that Jesus is asserting his absolute authority over the Sabbath as a human (as the "Son of Man"). In fact, throughout the four Gospels, Jesus always spoke of the Sabbath in these terms. He saw the Sabbath as a GIFT to humankind - as something that ministered to the needs of humankind.

Indeed, the New Living Translation renders the same passage as: "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath." In other words, Christ's statements about the Sabbath precluded a legalistic approach to the observance of it. In fact, the difference in Christ's approach to the Sabbath is underscored by the way that the Jewish religious leaders reacted to his healings on the day. On one occasion, when Christ had healed a blind man, we read: "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.'" (John 9:16, NLT) From their perspective, Christ was violating the Sabbath.

Who was right? Christ or the Pharisees? What prompted Christ to declare that he was "Lord of the Sabbath"? Did he really have the authority over the Sabbath that he claimed to have?

In another place, Christ was reported to have said: "I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose." (Matthew 5:17, NLT) Over and over again in the various Gospel accounts, the authors pointed to various Old Testament passages which Christ had fulfilled. The clear message was that the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to HIM. Thus, the only relevant question for folks who claim to be his disciples is: Do you believe these claims about Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures? If so, then Christ's claim about his authority over the Sabbath must be accepted! After all, the Sabbath is clearly an integral part of those writings. Even so, how did he fulfill the Sabbath?

Paul wrote to the disciples at Colossae "don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality." (Colossians 2:16-17, NLT) But how does Christ represent the reality of the Sabbath? Like the Sabbath, Christ came here to meet the needs of humankind. In the words of Faith Radio, "Jesus came to earth to meet people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs by teaching the truth, healing the sick, casting out demons, and finally, dying on a cross to save us." In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus said: "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT) So, for Christ's disciples, we find our rest in HIM.

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote about how the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, had failed to believe and trust in God and had, consequently, been denied entrance into God's rest (Hebrews 3). Nevertheless, he assured his readers that "God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest." (Hebrews 4:1-3, NLT) Believe what? What rest was the author of the epistle talking about?

He continued: "this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: 'On the seventh day God rested from all his work.' But in the other passage God said, 'They will never enter my place of rest.' So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today." (Hebrews 4:3-7, NLT) Then, he briefly turned back to the experience of the Israelites, he wrote: "Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest." (Hebrews 4:8-11, NLT) Salvation requires faith in Jesus Christ, NOT the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16). Hence, we must conclude that Jesus Christ is the ULTIMATE Sabbath rest for those who claim to be his disciples! 

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Law of Parsimony and The Law of Moses for Christians

Occam's Razor or the Law of Parsimony is a philosophical principle which suggests that the simplest or most straightforward solution to a problem is the most probable solution. When that principle is applied to the question of a Christian's obligation to obey the commandments of Torah, the ACOGs answer to that question seems more suspect. For that matter, many of the other extant versions of Christianity also offer complex and convoluted formulas for determining which provisions of Torah apply to them and which ones do not have any relevance for their faith. In effect, they have decided that God and "His Word" must be parsed in just the right way to be properly understood. It's almost as if God had intentionally made His Will in this matter difficult to discern!

Interestingly, most Christians (including Armstrongists) accept the premise that Christians are NOT responsible for obeying all of the instructions outlined in Torah. They diverge then in the way that they decide what is obligatory for Christians and what is ignored. In other words, they have different formulas for cherry-picking which provisions of Torah apply to them. To accomplish this, most of them organize the commandments of Torah into various categories or groupings. For example, the Church of God International's (CGI's) "Systematic Theology Project" divides Torah into "broad spiritual principles, civil regulations, laws of cleanliness and ritual purity," and "laws relating to the sacrificial system." Other groups simplify their classification of commandments into two broad categories of law like moral and ceremonial. Never mind that this contradicts the Scriptural view of Torah as a comprehensive whole (Old and New Testaments). They reason that these categories of law allow them to develop a rationale for accepting some provisions of Torah while rejecting others. It goes something like this - we are responsible for obeying the moral/spiritual provisions, but we are not responsible for observing the ceremonial/ritualistic/sacrificial provisions of Torah.

Of course, it never seems to cross their minds that they are effectively saying that Jesus Christ didn't fulfill ALL of the Law and Prophets. Most of them are willing to acknowledge that Christ fulfilled the sacrificial parts of the Law, but many of them stumble when it comes to those "moral" or "broad spiritual principles"! Likewise, it never seems to occur to them that someone has to sort all of these commandments into the various categories. In other words, who gets to do the sorting? Is it the individual Christian? Is it the human leadership of the group? Is it the entire group? Do we really comprehend just how quickly this exercise can become very complex and controversial? Do we begin to understand just how subjective such an exercise must be?

Unfortunately, many of these folks completely ignore what Jesus and his apostles had to say on the subject! They ignore or dismiss Christ's distillation of Torah into two broad commandments which he said comprehended and satisfied the intent of the whole (see Matthew 22). They ignore Christ's commandment for his disciples to love each other, and his promulgation of the Golden Rule. They ignore the Jerusalem Council's decision that Gentile Christians would NOT have to become Torah observant Jews. They ignore the Apostle Paul's assertion that LOVE fulfills the requirements of God's Law. I guess the Scriptural formula is much too simple and easy to satisfy these folks. The allure of a complicated rationale for cherry-picking is more appealing to them! Sad, so sad! What do you think? Is it possible they're making something much more complex than it has to be?

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Jesus Christ Fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures!

Some of the commentary generated by my post "Where is God's True Church Today?" over at Banned by HWA underscored for me just how much the ACOGs have abused a passage from the fifth chapter of the Gospel attributed to Matthew. The passage: "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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20, ESV BibleGateway) The ACOGs have employed this passage as a prooftext for their assertion that Christians are obligated to observe some of the commandments of Torah (they do NOT believe that Christians are obligated to observe all of it).

What did Christ mean when he said that he didn't come here to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them? Well, one of those anonymous commentators over at Banned observed: "'It is therefore improbable that when he contrasts 'abolish' with 'fulfill' he is speaking simply about obeying the requirements of the law and the prophets. 'Fulfill' (rather than 'obey,' 'do,' or 'keep') would not be the natural way to say that, and such a sense would not answer the charge of aiming to 'abolish.' In Matthew’s gospel the verb pleroo, 'fulfill,' plays a prominent role, most notably in its ten occurrences in the formula quotations ... where it denotes the coming into being of that to which Scripture pointed forward (whether by direct prediction or understood typologically). The same sense appears in 26:54, 56, where Jesus’ suffering is seen as 'fulfilling the Scriptures,' and in 13:44, where a compound form of the verb (anapleroo) again speaks of an OT prophecy coming true in contemporary experience. In 3:15 to 'fulfill all righteousness' appears to denote the action which will bring about God’s redemptive purpose through Jesus..., its only other use in Matthew is in 23:32 of the hostile actions of the scribes and Pharisees 'filling up the measure' of their ancestors, where again the sense of reaching a destined conclusion seems to be dominant. In light of Matthew’s use of this verb elsewhere, and the evident importance it has for his understanding of the relationship between the authoritative words of the OT and their contemporary outworking, the sense here is not likely to be concerned either with Jesus’ actions in relationship to the law or even teaching about it, but rather the way in which he 'fulfills' the pattern laid down in the law and the prophets. It is important to note that this verse does not speak of Jesus 'fulfilling the law,' but rather of his 'fulfilling the law and the prophets.' His fulfilling of the prophets is amply illustrated in the formula-quotations: his life and ministry has brought that which they pointed forward. Is it possible to understand his fulfilling of the law in the same light?"

Now, of course Christ fulfilled the Law (Torah) in the same sense as he fulfilled the Prophets, but he also obeyed it as in fulfilling all righteousness - just as our sins were imputed to Christ, his righteousness was imputed to us! It is because of Jesus Christ's obedience that we can stand before Almighty God clean and whole. Christ also filled the Law (Torah) to the full by magnifying the intent behind it and making God's Law universal in its scope and application - making it possible for God's Law to be written on the hearts of Christ's disciples. Even so, as I noted here in a five part series on Torah, the Law pointed to/predicted Jesus Christ. Torah distinguished between clean and unclean, and Jesus defined what really defiled a person, and he made the unclean clean. In similar fashion, Jesus' life, death, and resurrection personified/embodied/fulfilled the entire system of sacrifices and offerings found in Torah. Christ also personified/embodied/fulfilled the Sabbath, Holy Days, and circumcision (we find rest for our souls in him, and the festivals picture his death, removal of sin, offering of himself, making the Holy Spirit available to everyone who accepts him, reconciliation of us to God, advents, tabernacling in the flesh, and making a way for all of us to be a part of God's Kingdom). Christ also personified/embodied/fulfilled the health laws of Torah (by his stripes, we are healed).

Nevertheless, as I just stated, the ways that Christ fulfilled Torah's predictions about Christ does NOT negate the other ways that he fulfilled it. More particularly, I want to focus my attention on the one aspect of fulfillment that the ACOGs miss or ignore when they quote that passage from the fifth chapter of Matthew. I am, of course, speaking of Christ's magnification of the intent of God's Law, and how his teachings made its scope and application universal and transformed it from a written list of dos and don'ts into internal eternal principles to guide our behavior in all situations/circumstances in which we might find ourselves (both in the present and in the future). I may be wrong, but I'm thinking that they miss this one because of their practice of proof-texting - lifting a text out of (and ignoring) its context. Indeed, that passage from Matthew is part of the account of a sermon by Jesus Christ which covers all of chapters 5, 6, and 7! Moreover, the entire message is concerned with transforming the commandments of Torah into a more universal, eternal, and internalized iteration of God's Law!

The "Sermon on the Mount" began with the beatitudes - making it very clear that what was in someone's heart was preeminent in securing God's favor (Matthew 5:3-12). This is followed by a reminder to his followers that setting a good example in one's personal behavior is the best way to witness to others and inspire them to glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16). This is followed by that often-quoted passage by the ACOGs referenced at the beginning of this post (Matthew 5:17-20). Christ then referenced several of the individual commandments of Torah (e.g., You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not swear falsely, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, etc.), and he clearly stated that a literal and physical obedience to those commandments was NOT enough (Matthew 5:21-48)! 

Chapter and verse designations having been added some 1,500 years after this account was written, Christ's sermon continued into the sixth chapter of the Gospel. Next, he instructed his followers NOT to parade their righteous deeds before an audience - to receive the acclaim of those people (Matthew 6:1-4). This was followed by instructions about how to sincerely pray to God in private (Matthew 6:7-15), and how to fast in the same manner (verses 16-18). Christ also told his audience NOT to focus on material things but to focus on serving God (verses 19-24). Likewise, he told them NOT to be overly anxious about things related to this life and pointed out how God takes care of the birds and the lilies of the field (verses 25-34). In chapter seven, we read that he told them to refrain from the temptation to judge each other (Matthew 7:1-5). He also told them that they should turn to God for their needs (verses 7-11). This was followed by "The Golden Rule." Christ said: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (verse 12). Next, he warned them about false prophets and told them to evaluate folks who claimed to be prophets by the way that they behaved (verses 15-20). Likewise, he told them that they would be evaluated by God based on the way that they behaved (verses 21-23). Finally, Christ concluded this extraordinary sermon, by saying: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it" (verses 24-27, ESV BibleGateway).

As a consequence, of hearing this sermon, the author of the account informs us "the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (verses 28-29). Unlike the Torah scholars of that day, Jesus talked about the Law as if he had the authority to modify it (which he did)! Indeed, the ENTIRE message was focused on magnifying the meaning of Torah and making it more relatable and universal in its application. Going forward, Christ's followers would be responsible for internalizing God's intent and NOT for the list of dos and don't which make up Torah. In fact, later in the same Gospel, Christ identified two commands from Torah which comprehended and summarized the whole (Matthew 22:34-40). After all, Isaiah had predicted that God would magnify his law and make it glorious (Isaiah 42:21), and Jeremiah had predicted that God would put his law within them and write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Also, at the end of the Gospel attributed to Luke, we read that Christ said: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44, ESV BibleGateway). Continuing, we read: "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem'" (verses 45-47). Hence, we can see that Christ fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures in a number of ways.

Finally, before we leave this subject, I would like to return to that passage from Matthew which the ACOGs love to employ in the capacity of a proof-text for their insistence that Christians are still obligated to keep many of the commands of Torah. In my response to that same commentator whom I mentioned earlier, I pointed out that he had "cited the Greek verb 'pleroo,' which was used in verse 17, but you failed to mention 'ginomai,' which ESV translated as 'accomplished'" in verse 18. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Gospel of John records that Jesus said near the end of his ministry that he had finished the work which God had given him to do (John 17:4). Moreover, this is a form of the same Greek verb "teleo" which Christ used when he was hanging on the cross and said "It is finished." The word means "to bring to a close, to finish, to end; to perform, execute, complete; to accomplish, fulfill." Hence, once again, we see that Christ viewed his work as "mission accomplished," and we must not forget that he said the Law would not change "until all is accomplished." 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Grace

In the comment section of my recent post about God's Church over at Banned by HWA, Scout observed: "It is in the doctrine of grace that the Armstrongist denominations fail to rise to the level of Christianity. The doctrine of grace is also what binds Christian denominations together. While Armstrongist theology pays lip service to the idea that salvation cannot be earned by works, they have a stealth doctrine of Qualification which is a full-bore doctrine of salvation by works. This doctrine of Qualification places them well outside the Christian pale. And, of course, we have all witnessed the misrepresentation of the doctrine of grace coming from the Armstrongist pulpit. For decades they have spoken calumny against the doctrine of grace. One would think in the course of that time, someone in the Armstrongist denominations would have actually looked into what the main Christians churches (not some fringe sect or one-off preacher) believe about grace. Instead, they choose to wallow in misunderstanding." As I read that comment for the first time, the utter failure of the Armstrong Churches of God in this regard was underscored for me in a way that it had not formerly appeared to me.

The Greek word charis appears in most English translations of Scripture as "grace." The word is indicative of God's good will, loving-kindness, and favor. In his article for Christianity.com, What is Grace?, Justin Holcomb wrote: "Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, which result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes us alive." He continued: "A shorthand for what grace is - 'mercy, not merit.' Grace is the opposite of karma, which is about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death as the price of sin, which separates us from God, Who is life. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. Michael Horton writes, 'In grace, God gives nothing less than Himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.'" In short, grace is Jesus Christ making God's good will, loving-kindness, and favor available to us by erasing our sins.

In the Gospel of John, we read that "the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17, ESV) Likewise, Paul wrote to the saints at Rome: "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)

It is, however, in the fifth chapter of this epistle to the Romans that we find the clearest expression of Christ's role in this grace which Christians have received. Paul wrote: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:1-21, ESV)

Unfortunately, the ACOGs have always portrayed more traditional Christians as turning grace into a license to sin, but the reality is that they have turned obedience into a requirement to receive grace! Paul's letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, however, make short work of such a notion. Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21, ESV) In other words, Paul considered his righteousness to be totally dependent on what Christ had done for him - NOT on his own obedience to God's law! Later, in the same epistle, Paul spoke about the symbol of Israel's obligation to obey Torah: circumcision. He wrote: "Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:2-6, ESV)

In his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Paul was even more explicit about Jesus Christ and the role of grace in the life of Christians. He wrote: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV) He continued: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:1-9, ESV)

Clearly, for Paul, it was/is Christ who makes us righteous in God's sight, NOT obeying Torah. Now, as a consequence of what God and Christ have done for us, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Christians walk in the spirit of the Law of Love (Love for God and neighbor). Hence, the notion that we have turned grace into permission to sin is LUDICROUS! As Paul explained to the Christians at Rome: "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)

So, grace is an expression of God's love for us. It is a gift that is extended to us because Jesus Christ loved us so much that he sacrificed himself so that we might stand in righteousness before Almighty God! And it is because of God's gracious mercy toward us that we feel compelled to reflect his love in our own lives - all the while realizing that our own works of love are NOT what saves us. As the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV) So let us be bold in our acceptance of God's grace, and thereby avoid falling away from it!

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Christ's Ascension to Heaven

Daniel 7:13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (ESV)

Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (ESV)

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Where is God's True Church Today?

Many years ago, the now defunct Worldwide Church of God (through its Ambassador College) published a booklet titled Where is God's True Church Today? The booklet opens with a brief survey of the "vast religious supermarket" that is modern Christianity. Indeed, the author noted that there is something out there to suit almost anyone's tastes, and the clear implication is that that is exactly how most folks choose which church to attend. Nevertheless, he went on to assert that they all can't be right, and that "If anyone of them is right - and remember, they all differ - then that one being right automatically renders all others wrong."

Now, on the surface, that logic seems reasonable. However, if we dig a little deeper, we can see that the author has presented us with a false dilemma. No, God is NOT the author of confusion, but humankind churns it out like butter! Our present reality reflects the fact that HUMANS have divided themselves into these groupings (Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, etc.). These groupings arose down through the centuries as Christians separated themselves from each other over differences in doctrines, rituals, governance, personalities, and a host of other things. And, although the members of each group would be quick to insist that their doctrines, rituals, governance, etc. are superior to all others, the members of other groups would just as quickly point out problems in those areas.

We'll have more to say about those differences in a moment, but it is imperative that we first understand exactly what the Church is in the context of the Greek New Testament. The English word "Church" is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia - which indicates a group of people called out of their homes into a public assembly. In other words, the "Church" is made up of all of the individual people whom God has called out of the world to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. According to the Apostle Paul, this assembly of believers represents the "Body of Christ" (Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18). Paul also told the Church at Corinth that "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose." (I Corinthians 12:18). Hence, our personal decision to join some manmade organization does NOT put us into the ekklesia - the Body of Christ. Paul also told the saints at Rome that a person cannot be a Christian in their natural state (Romans 8:8). He continued: "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Romans 8:9) So, the individual members of the body MUST accept Christ as their Savior, and they MUST experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, we see that God's ekklesia is NOT a manmade organization or building. It is all of the people around the world who have accepted Christ and currently have his Spirit within them. We have already seen that belief in Christ is essential. Even so, if we dig a little deeper, we see that there are a few other beliefs which are foundational to "TRUE" Christianity. In the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, we are given a list of elementary or foundational principles: repentance, faith, baptism, consecration, resurrection, and judgment (verses 1-2). There is also an early catechism of the faith known as The Didache which mentions the two great commandments, living a life of righteousness and giving, baptism, fasting, the Lord's Prayer, Eucharist, Church offices, and the Lord's second coming. We also have The Apostles' Creed and The Nicene Creed (summaries and affirmations of belief in the narrative of the New Testament canon). Also, full disclosure, in 2017, I wrote a post titled The Essentials of Christianity. In that post, I identified eleven teachings which most Christian groups have in some form in common. In other words, I would not personally want to be associated with any group that didn't embrace these basic beliefs in some shape, form, or fashion.

Nevertheless, Christ said that the thing that would identify his followers would be their love for each other (John 13:35). In similar fashion, Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia that God's Spirit would produce identifiable fruits in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23). He also told Timothy that everyone who claims to be a Christian should distance themselves from sinful behaviors (II Timothy 2:19). Likewise, in the book of Revelation, the saints are identified as those who keep God's commandments (love for God and neighbor) and have the testimony or faith of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17 and 14:12). Hence, I would say that any person or group who did not exhibit these characteristics might not be part of the ekklesia! In conclusion, the scriptural references in this post identify God's Church and having your name on the rolls of some organization is inconsequential to that reality. To be clear, Christians should gather together in fellowship and worship (Hebrews 10:25), and there is certainly nothing wrong with belonging to a group which shares your theological views and sustains you spiritually (whether that is Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, or Jews for Jesus).

Sunday, February 4, 2024

I have given you an example to follow

The Armstrong Churches of God are quick to point out that Christians should be following Christ's example in observing the Sabbath and Holy Days. Of course, they completely ignore the fact that perfectly fulfilling the requirements of Torah was ESSENTIAL to Christ's mission to save humankind from eternal alienation from God. Unfortunately, they believe that the observance of those things makes them righteous in God's sight, and that blinds them to the fact that Jesus Christ is the only righteousness acceptable to Almighty God. Indeed, their approach to the only account we have (in all four Gospels) of Christ specifically instructing his disciples to follow his example embodies their entire approach to law and underscores their utter failure when confronted with metaphor in Scripture.

In the Gospel of John, we have an account of the Lord washing his disciples' feet (John 13:1-5). The Gospel informs us that Peter was flabbergasted at the suggestion that the Messiah would wash his feet (verses 6-8). Of course, after Christ corrected him, we are told that Peter immediately warmed to the idea (verse 9). Continuing with the account, we read: "After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, 'Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.'" (John 13:12-17, NLT)

Although Christ was clearly reinforcing his message about servant leadership in this passage, the ACOG's have interpreted it as enjoining them to have a foot washing service once a year when they observe the Eucharist. Now, let me be clear, I enjoy the symbolism inherent in the foot washing service, and I have NO problem with anyone making this an integral part of their celebration of the Eucharist. Even so, if that's where it stops, please excuse me for pointing out that you have missed the ENTIRE point of the exercise! Moreover, judging by the history of how most of the ACOGs have governed themselves in the past, it is clear that they didn't get the message - that they are NOT following Christ's example in this instance!

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Christ called his disciples together and said: "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28, NLT) Indeed, Christ felt that this principle was so important that it appears again a little later in the same Gospel account (Matthew 23:11). So, I think that we are left with a legitimate question: Are the ACOGs really following Christ's example in this instance?

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Taking the Place of Honor

When I think of Herbert Armstrong and the folks who have claimed to be his successors (e.g. Roderick Meredith, Gerald Flurry, David Pack, Bob Thiel, etc.), I am reminded of something that Jesus said to his disciples, and that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans. To coin a phrase, the PLAIN TRUTH of the matter is that these guys have such an exalted notion of their importance and place in both the present (the ekklesia) and future (God's Kingdom) that they have little or NO compunction about claiming the best seat at the banquet!

In the Gospel of Luke, we read: "Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 'When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." - Luke 14:7-11, ESV

In similar fashion, the Apostle Paul once wrote to Christ's disciples at Rome: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight." - Romans 12:3-16, ESV

Now, when we compare the exploits of these men with these passages, we are forced to conclude that they all seized the places of honor for themselves. They all thought much too highly of themselves! Instead of seeking to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ, they chose to gather the reins of power and prestige to themselves and lord it over their brethren (Matthew 20:25-28). Hmmm, that reminds me of something else Christ once said: "many who are (present tense) first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30) In other words, by their own actions, these men have assured that their place in God's Kingdom will be small (if they make it there at all)!