Featured Post

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...

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Washed, Sanctified, Justified, and Glorified in Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 22, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

An Awesome Responsibility

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Helper

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Sin is a failure to love God and each other!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, in the following chapter, we read:

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

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

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

Friday, June 7, 2024

Is God Punishing the United States for Its Many Sins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Calling Out Sin(s) in Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

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

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

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

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and candidates in Church? After all, the folks who engage in it point out that they have an obligation to warn people away from sinful behaviors and to support those candidates/parties who support "Christian values." Many of the pastors who preach politics go on to point out that the United States was founded on "Christian principles," and that the U.S. Constitution was intended to keep government out of the Church - NOT the Church out of government. So, what about all of that? Are these political pastors right after all?

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 1, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice the right-wing sources of these articles.

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

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

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

dailywire.com on May 27, 2024.

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

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

nypost.com on May 28, 2024.

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

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

May 29, 2024.

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

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

on May 30, 2024. 

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

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

posted at breitbart.com on May 30, 2024.