Sunday, 9 December 2007

Traditional Christmas

A British charity, the Amos Trust, has produced a traditional nativity scene with a political twist. Made by Palestinian carpenters with olive wood from Bethlehem, they have a dividing wall symbolising Israel's controversial security barrier.

Established around the work of Garth Hewitt in 1985, the Amos Trust helps underprivileged people around the world. However, I wonder if, with this project, they have gone beyond Biblical truth?

It is understandable to use an event that brought the message, ‘Peace to all men’, to highlight a wall dividing two communities. But I wonder if it needs to question whether a country is allowed to defend itself from suicide bombers? Injustices between the two communities will not be solved by taking this wall away; only by removal of the dividing wall of enmity mentioned in Ephesians 2, that Christ started to deal with in His birth and completed in His death and resurrection.

However, what struck me most was the comment that this nativity is one where "the wise men won't get to the stable." When will Christians learn to sift tradition and truth? The wise men never went to the stable and so the picture painted above is Biblically incorrect.
We know the world celebrates at this time of year, even when the birth of Christ did not happen in December. As Christians, we can choose to give Christ an ‘official birthday’ and share with the world the truth about the tremendous birth of Christ; but to do this we need to be Biblically. We should ponder whether the traditions we hold to about Christmas are true? Here are a couple of thoughts to get you started:

First the Bible never mentions a stable and a wooden manager. The Greek word, kataluma translated, ‘inn’ by many versions (Luke 2:7) is used regarding one other event (see Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14); it was the place where Jesus observed the Last Supper, which according to Luke (22:12) was a furnished large upper storey room within a private Jerusalem house. Could the kataluma of Jesus' first night be a similar room in Bethlehem? Joseph's ancestral home full of other family members, Joseph and Mary stayed downstairs in the domestic stable, still within the ancestral home. The Biblical account does mention a manger (Luke 2:7, 16), an animal feeding trough, and there is archaeological evidence that such mangers were found within the house where animals were regularly kept at night.

Second the Magi (not 3 wise men on camels but a whole train of people) came to the house (Matthew 2:11) but when and indeed where? They had travelled far after seeing, not following, His star in the east (Matthew 2:2).

They arrive in Jerusalem, the place they expected the King to be born. Herod, with his conferred title ‘King of the Jews’, probably obtained by bribery and corruption, desperately wanted to know where the new King was born. Bethlehem, his scribes told him, finding the Micah prophecy, and so Herod sent them to Bethlehem (v8). Then, we read in v.9 that the star reappears and leads them but to Bethlehem? Would they need the star at this point when they knew where they were going? Did the star appear because what Herod had said was man’s wisdom and not God’s? Born in Bethlehem, yes, but living there now?

Here, we need to look at Luke’s account. First please note that Mary and Joseph were moving freely in and out of Jerusalem right under Herod’s nose. If the Magi had already tricked Herod, he would be out to destroy Jesus already. That it was later is also shown by the fact that Herod went back 2 years to kill the baby boys.

Luke 2: 39 is the interesting verse because it says that Mary and Joseph returned home after they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord. Leviticus 12:2 shows this would be after a total of 40 days from the birth; then, Luke tells us, they went to Nazareth. And the returning to Nazareth is clearly linked with the completing of the necessary ceremonies in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Every commentary I have read says that, yes they did go to Nazareth but via Bethlehem and Egypt (see Matthew 2:13). Yet there is nothing in Matthew to say where they were when they were told to flee to Egypt and so that could have equally have been from Nazareth.

We should allow the Scriptures to challenge our traditions so that we do not build on what man says but on what God says.

The above is just a thought for you to ponder and indeed as, at this time of the year, many have holidays, let us search the Scriptures, on this and other issues, and see what they say about Jesus.

Monday, 3 December 2007

A Word Can Change Your World

Language is a powerful weapon. The ancients knew this and some societies put such great store by it that they wouldn’t even commit it to writing. Enormous feats of memory were developed to pass on the stories of the community from one generation to another and in such communities writing was regarded with great suspicion, as placing your story at the disposal of your enemies. If it could be written it could be owned by others and altered.

In those societies where writing developed and oral traditions were committed to writing the people guarded their written texts as their greatest treasures, copying them with meticulous attention to detail. The ancient texts of the Bible were copied with careful and detailed checking and correction and modern archaeological discoveries confirm the incredible accuracy of modern translations when compared with recent discoveries of ancient texts. It is little wonder since a word can change your world or worldview. One word change can reverse entirely the meaning of a text. Take the familiar John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish” (NASB)

One word change can turn a message of hope into one of despair:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should perish”

Or consider that well-loved text from Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro.8:1)

One word change can bring us up short and cause us to question the message of the Bible:

“There is therefore now much condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Or consider a secular text. The New Lion Handbook to The Bible makes the following statement about the work of copyists:

“Though minor errors were committed by copyists which have passed into the printed text, the process of copying included careful checking and correction.”

One minor change can turn minor errors into a major problem:

“Though minor errors were committed by copyists which have passed into the printed text, the process of copying included careless checking and correction.”

In light of the above, one would have expected Mormons to take more seriously the recent change in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon. Where once the Introduction reflected the traditional Mormon view that, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." The new version, seen first in Doubleday's revised edition, reads, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Inevitably, and sadly it seems to me, much has been made in informal discussion about the fact that the introduction was written in 1981 by Bruce R McConkie who is increasingly seen as someone who got a lot of things wrong. That doesn’t, of course, stop the church citing him as an authority in their manuals and magazines when it suits them. When he wrote the Introduction, of course, he was singularly orthodox, reflecting the firmly held view at the time and that had been taught by Mormon leaders since Joseph Smith. A Mormon on the Reachout Trust forum wrote:

I think there's good thought in this comment:"I have always felt free to disavow the language of the [Book of Mormon's] introduction, footnotes and dictionary, which are not part of the canonical scripture," said Barney, on the board of FAIR, a Mormon apologist group. "These things can change as the scholarship progresses and our understanding enlarges. This suggests to me that someone on the church's scripture committee is paying attention to the discussion."

It is true that the introduction to the Book of Mormon was only introduced in 1981 and is not "Holy Writ" as defined by Mormons [or is it? see below]. It is not true that it has no more significance than a casual commentary that can be adopted and dismissed as it pleases Mormons and I will explain why.

When the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon was published it was done under the name of the church. The copyright of the book is attributed to the first presidency of the church. They officially put their name to something that had been true since the earliest days of the church but, according to the latest orthodoxy, is no longer true. They affirmed what is ultimately and by their own admission false and they have misled their followers, their missionaries and those they presume to teach the truth regarding the "true history" of the Book of Mormon and its peoples.

What Missionaries Teach

Concerning what missionaries have taught, and indeed still teach, I have a copy of the missionary discussions, 1986 edition, and on the second page missionaries are instructed to use the then relatively new Introduction in teaching their investigators about the Book of Mormon. Again on page fourteen missionaries were instructed:

Show the investigators a copy of the Book of Mormon. You might show them some of the features (such as the title page, the introduction and testimonies, the table of contents, the chapter headings, the index). You might also share with them one or two passages that are most meaningful to you.

This shows the legitimacy the Mormon Church then gave, not only to the Introduction but to all the other features now dismissed as a gloss on the text, giving them the same authority as the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses. On page 15 missionaries were instructed to tell their contacts:

To help you begin reading the Book of Mormon, we suggest that you read a few selected passages by our next visit. We suggest the Introduction (including the testimonies and the brief explanations of the plates), Moroni 10:3-5, and 3 Nephi 11.

Here the Introduction is given the same significance as Moroni's promise.

More significantly, in the most recent missionary guide, Preach my Gospel, copyright 2004, missionaries are directed on page 39 to "briefly review the contents" of the Book of Mormon:

Scripture Study

Title page of the Book of Mormon

Introduction to the Book of Mormon Paragraphs 1-7 [ NB which include the claim in question about the Lamanites being the "principal" ancestors of the American Indians]

D&C 1:17-23; 20:5-12 Joseph Smith-History 1:27-64

Now the Introduction is introduced within a list of "Scripture Study" texts and on a par with the title page and the Doctrine and Covenants! The Introduction is regularly used as an aid to teaching people "the truth" about Mormonism and the ancient inhabitants of America. Now that "truth" is rejected and those who challenged it are mocked for being so foolish as to take the claims of the Mormon Church so seriously. I think we get the message. The question is, do the Mormons?

The Mormon View of "Scripture"

But all this shouldn’t surprise us I suppose when we consider the Mormon attitude to Scripture. Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as “the most correct book of any book on earth”. The title page of the book states, “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men". How do you think "most correct" and, "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men", compare with 2 Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"

A Christian sees in the Bible God's all-sufficient provision for equipping thoroughly every Christian for kingdom living.

Mormons, on the other hand, seem to be full of excuses for their not-altogether-reliable modern revelation, ready to admit faults and declare their Scriptures correct only by comparison, i.e. "most correct" rather than thoroughly reliable because "God-breathed". One I spoke to even insisted that the title page of the Book of Mormon is, like the introduction, nothing more than a gloss on the text. This, however, is plainly not true as shown in Joseph Smith’s own words:

“I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation.” (Joseph Smith Jr., Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 24, p. 943)

If this statement was appended to the Book of Mormon, on a page just left from the Title Page, that says , “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel…” It would clear the issue if someone should have any questions about how Joseph Smith viewed the Lamanites/American Indians.

The World of Mormonism Changes - Again

Every LDS president from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley has made written statements that American Indians are Hebrews/Israelites.

The Title page, which we are told was part of the original on gold plates, says that Lamanites (not just a few or some of them), without exception, are Israelites.

DNA testing has proven that they are NOT Israelites.

There has not been even one single American Indian found that is connected to Abraham and his descendents!

I press my point again, i.e. that the doctrine that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the American Indians, was routinely taught throughout the history of the church, and even in the 2004 Missionary Guide this thought is pressed into service in convincing people that the Book of Mormon is true.

As has been said by their leaders, if the Book of Mormon is not true then the church is not true.

One final point worth noting is that the Introduction also declares that the Book of Mormon, "contains, as does the Bible, the fulness (sic) of the everlasting gospel". Christian apologists with an interest in reaching Mormons have been pointing out for years that, if the Bible contains the everlasting gospel as does the Book of Mormon (you see it works this way around as well), then what need have we for the Book of Mormon.

A good friend of Reachout in Germany has pointed out that the new German edition of the Book of Mormon omits the words "as does the Bible". Clearly, the Bible has contained the fullness from 1981 until 2006 but has mysteriously become less reliable, at least for Germans. But it seems to still be true for the rest of us! A word can change your world and the world of Mormonism has changed again.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Mormons and Muslims

Much has been said about the parallels between Mormonism and Islam. A BYU professor has written:

“…there are many important elements of Mormon thought in which we feel closer to the followers of Muhammad than to the contemporary Christian culture in which we have been located since our beginning” (Spencer Palmer quoting BYU Professor Noel Reynolds, Mormons and Muslims, p.8).

The parallels are striking and you can find a list of them here http://www.bible.ca/islam/islamic-mormonism-similarities.htm

Sunday, 25 November 2007

JI Packer and the "Poison" of liberal Anglicanism

The Anglican Church of Canada continues to Haemorrhage bishops as retired Anglican Bishop Malcolm Harding of Manitoba became the second bishop in a week to align himself with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which takes in most of South America. He followed Bishop Donald Harvey of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, who announced last Friday he would come out of retirement to offer pastoral guidance to conservative Canadian Anglicans.

James I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, author of "Knowing God" and widely regarded as one of the most important Protestant theologians today, has said the Anglican Church of Canada has been "poisoned" by a liberal theology that "knows nothing of a God who uses [the Bible] to tell us things and knows nothing of sin in the heart and in the head." He said the Church is being ruined by its attempts to "play catch-up with the culture" by adopting whatever "is the in-thing."

Packer explains his position cogently and convincingly on the Anglican Mainstream Blog http://tinyurl.com/yppy6b Well worth a read and very helpful for those interested in understanding what is happening and who want to know who God has preserved who have not bowed the knee to Baal in this increasingly Godless world.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Issue of Blood

THE ISSUE OF BLOOD

After the emotion comes the careful reflection. One Jehovah's Witness has died and it might be that refusing blood was a contributing factor. However, is one possible life necessary? Are others going to play 'Russian Roulette' with their lives?

However, there are those who work with former Jehovah Witnesses who urge us not to be hard on the rank and file members of the group. Doug Harris is Director of Reachout Trust, an Evangelical Christian group that has worked with these people for the past 26 years. Doug said:

"We should show nothing but love and compassion for the rank and file members, they are only following what they believe are God's directions to them. Having faith is a food thing; wanting to serve our Creator is something we should applaud. The problem is not with them but with the Leadership."

Doug added, "This family will be feeling really sad and our hearts should go out to them and we should put no further pressures on them because the Society does that enough."

The teaching of the Governing Body of Jehovah Witnesses is that God forbids blood transfusions. That is blasphemy because God does not; indeed the Scriptures they quote having nothing to do with a medical procedure that was not even invented at the time.

The leadership then teachers that they are the only true Christians, disobey them and disobey God; leave the Organisation and you leave behind the only hope of Salvation. This is the pressure that is pout upon each Witness that faces this issue.

Putting words into God's mouth is bad enough but the Organisation itself has double standards. When they wanted to register as a church in Bulgaria they agreed, with a signed document at the Court of Human Rights, with the Government there that they would not teach that its members should not take blood. In that instance they were prepared to compromise on what is said to be God's clear directive.

Double-standards, deceit and cover up are unfortunately the order of the day. Pressure and demands are placed upon its members. Whereas true Christianity is to consist of love, understanding and a clear openness and desire for the best life for its people.

Doug Harris of Reachout Trust finally urged, "Please help these ones as they come to the door to see that they are not in God's Organisation and they are not laying down their lives for Jehovah but rather for men in the Brooklyn Headquarters."

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Time 2 Change Churches!: "Mormo" and the Mormons!

A very good example of what can happen when local churches prove indifferent to the cults. A good read

Time 2 Change Churches!: "Mormo" and the Mormons!

Warren Jeffs and Polygamy

On Nov. 20 Associated Press reported:

"A judge in Utah sentenced a sect leader to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for his role in the arranged marriage of teenage cousins. Warren Jeffs, 51, was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. It will be up to the Utah parole board to decide how long he serves. Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members practise polygamy. The Utah parole board's first opportunity to review Jeffs' case comes in 2010, although it could decide to wait longer."


This has been the year of polygamy for Mormonism. Warren Jeffs, the charismatic leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), was finally captured on Monday 28 August 2006 in Las Vegas with his brother and one of his many wives. Jeffs had been on the run since May 2004 after being charged with sexual misconduct for allegedly arranging marriages between minors and older men.

The 10,000 strong FLDS Church is more than a hundred years old and broke away from the Salt Lake Mormon Church when the latter gave up the practice of polygamy officially in 1890. Jeffs is said to have as many as 70 wives, although no one seems really sure of the number. He would claim that his church is being true to “the principle” of polygamy as taught and practised by early Mormon leaders from Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, through to Heber J Grant, Mormonism’s seventh president.

This has spawned a lot of interest in this dark side of Mormonism’s history and teaching. Especially now that he has been declared guilty and sentenced. To read more about this story and its background go to "Truth Restored" in the Reachout Trust Quarterly Newsletter at http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/quarterly/Quarterly89.pdf

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Jehovah

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me an ornament he had made in the shape of the name of God. It must have been about eight inches long, three inches high and perhaps half an inch deep. The idea was that it should sit on the mantle piece ready for when Jehovah’s Witnesses visit in the hope that it would be the first thing they would spot on entering our sitting room. What a conversation starter! How could they now claim that we do not know or use “the Name”? Well, it worked – after a fashion.

The Witnesses calling on me that summer were charming people and we got along just fine. One of them was intrigued by the name of God sitting above the fire, and we discussed its origins and purpose. I explained that it served as a reminder of the God we serve and as a witness to the fact that we know Him by name. His wonder at the idea that I, a “born-again” Christian, should both know and use the name of God turned to astonishment when, saying that I knew how precious it might be to him, I made him a gift of the Name. This was outside his experience and understanding. A Christian familiar with the name of God? A Christian sensitive enough to know the value of that name to a JW, and generous enough to make a gift of the Name?

I say that it worked after a fashion. What do I mean by that? There is a story told to Jehovah’s Witnesses that tells of the ignorance of Christians regarding the name of God and involving a conspiracy by the church to eradicate “the Name”. While I made my friend wonder at what he had seen and heard, I don’t think I changed his mind regarding the ignorance of Christians or the conspiracy of the church. Since such teaching comes from Headquarters, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, it must be true. Perhaps he thought my efforts at witnessing were all part of the deception. There is no talking to a conspiracy theorist, that much is certain.
Ignorant Christians

On another occassion two Witnesses visited my home with a similar picture of Christians being ignorant of the name of God. I invited them to call on all the Christian friends in my address book (the great majority of whom have nothing to do with Reachout) and ask them if they know the Name. I assured them that my friends did know. They declined my offer declaring that “on the doorstep” they had met Christians who, when told of the name of God, had expressed astonishment at this new knowledge. Ipso facto Christians do not know, much less use the name of God.

Now there are two things to say in response to these claims. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of all people, should know that many claim to be Christians, C of E, “Going to the church down the road”, just to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone who knocks doors as part of their witnessing will know this. I came across it as a Mormon, and I have come across it as a Christian knocking doors (Yes Mr Witness, Christians do knock doors). I can only assume that they take these doorstep confessions of Christian faith at face value because it suits them to come across “Christians” who confirm their deepest suspicions.

Ignorance is no Excuse

The second point concerns another story (I do apologise but as you get older you do tend to accumulate these experiences). Many years ago I worked knocking doors for an insurance company. At one door I was invited in by a man who told me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and who explained to me that, on the strength of his faith, he wasn’t interested in insurance beyond that required by law. We fell into conversation and he seemed eager to witness to me – a Mormon. I will leave you to speculate about who would lead who into a ditch.

I reached into my pocket for a neat little notebook I carried. On two pages of this notebook I had listed key problems about the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I spoke of Beth Sarim, of the claims of Russell for his Studies in the Scriptures, of teachings based on the Great Pyramid, Miracle Wheat, etc. As I smugly related these facts I watched as his face registered horror. He looked at his wife who obviously was a more experienced Witness, and asked if all I had said was true. She confirmed everything and as I looked at his reaction I immediately regretted ever mentioning these things. He was about to go visiting and I had sent him out full of doubts, but with no hope. I had generated much heat, but had shown little light. Even now I cringe to think of how callous I was in my naivety and can only say that I have learned my lesson. This is no way to witness to anyone.

The point can still be made, however. Here was a Jehovah’s Witness who was ignorant of key historical facts from the brief history of his own movement. Does my experience of meeting such a man, who was otherwise obviously faithful in his witnessing, disprove the claims of the Witnesses? Of course it doesn’t. By the same token, the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep of even a genuine Christian who doesn’t know and understand all that they should, doesn’t prove the Witnesses’ claims to general ignorance among Christians. Indeed, I still maintain that Christians know and use the name of God much more routinely than Witnesses care to know or admit. I know because I go to a Christian Church and read Christian books. Sadly, the very evidence that would show this to be true is denied Witnesses, since they are forbidden to read such books or attend such churches.

I am bound to say that one lady who called on me with her daughter told me that when she was last in a Christian Church, before becoming a Witness, she heard no mention of the name of Jehovah. I asked her when she was last in a Church and she confessed that it was when she was thirteen. I don’t mean to be unkind but I am confident that, although I don’t know her age, I doubt if she will see fifty again. What has happened in those intervening years to colour her memory of Church? How often did she attend? How much attention did she pay? What does she remember and what does she imagine she remembers? On such doubtful testimony rests her conviction that Christians do not know the God they profess to serve.

Conspiracy in the Church

One Jehovah’s Witness I know was horrified when I suggested that the use of the word LORD in place of the name Jehovah was a convention and nothing more. He clearly felt that the name was too important to be reduced to a convention. I have some sympathy for his feelings. The name/s of God are crucial to our understanding of who He is and what is our relationship to Him. Why, then, do we not use it as Witnesses say we should, i.e. by pronouncing it each time we come across it? To read the rest of this article go to http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/jw/jwname2.htm

Monday, 5 November 2007

The New Mind is a Challenge

I have been thinking recently about the idea that the earth might be flat. I mean it isn’t that long ago that it was a commonly believed that if you sailed far enough you would fall off the edge. “Thank goodness,” think the people who propagate this fiction, “that we have come so far since those dark days of religious superstition and ignorance.” Of course, this is all nonsense.

There was a time when people believed the earth was flat but, given the dearth of information in earliest times, that might be forgiven. However, by around 600BC, Pythagoras had come up with the idea of a spherical shape for the earth. By 240 BC Eratosthenes had measured the earth’s circumference. By the time of Jesus it was a commonly accepted view of the world. Soon Ptolemy was to work out the system of longitude and latitude. Knowledge continues to grow and inform as we now see pictures of the earth from space and we continue to learn.

Despite this we regularly hear people trot out the argument that, just the day before last week, people thought the world was flat. It is a useful, if lazy, way to dismiss anything religious as simply a vestige of those dark days when the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth - and God was in his heaven. It is an excuse for dismissing the challenge of faith and caricaturing ‘believers’ of every stamp, but especially Christians, as superstitious throwbacks.

The Bible begs to differ:

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, you must live no longer as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance..."(Ephesians 4:17-18)

In God’s scheme of things futile thinking is out, understanding and enlightenment is a much-sought-after commodity, and ignorance robs us of life. Christians are not to give in to corrupt thinking and deceitful desires.

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;"(Eph. 4:22-23)


It is the mind that is renewed, as Paul pointed out to believers in Rome:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind"(Romans 12:2)

In this process we become more like our creator as we, put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24 c.f. Col 3:10).

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body"(4:25)

The problem I see is that some Christians can give the impression that becoming a Christian means never having to think again. Like the popular flat earth fable propagated by sinners trying to avoid God, we can come up with our own myths, legends and misrepresentations of simple facts as well as profound truths. Some I have heard over the years include:

Being told on many occasions by Mormons that the Church of England started because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. This is a gross misrepresentation of complex and profound historical/political facts.

Hearing that Galileo was “thrown into a prison” by the Pope of the day for daring to suggest that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and man at the pinnacle of creation. Some people need to research their history.

The suggestion, still popular in some circles, that Jesus was not even an historical figure, let alone the Son of God. Such claims are more to do with wishful thinking than historical data.

You can prove anything from the Bible! Come on give me a break!

As Christians, with new minds, we dare not show ignorance before a world that watches us for excuses to reject God on the basis that Christianity is irrational and unreasonable. Some would have us believe otherwise but Paul wrote about renewed minds, putting off ignorance, enlightened thinking and speaking truth. This makes us like the God who made us and surely this is our hope and desire, that we should be like him. May we be found to be like him today, and grow more to be like him as we review and renew our understanding and knowledge of him and the world he made and died to save.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Faith or Works?

A discussion on this subject will often come up in an attempt to witness about the gospel and surprisingly enough not only from cult members. Many other people feel they must do things to 'be good' or earn the right 'to go to heaven'. Indeed, there are some apparent indications in Scripture that on first reading would indicate that works are necessary for salvation and we must be able to answer these questions satisfactorily.

There will be those who are deeply religious that would also bring this question up because they would feel that they are saved by their good works of prayer and worship and even 'going to church'.

Sometimes these people will just be trying to justify themselves or testing us but even so in similar circumstances Jesus gave a sensible and reasoned answer (see Luke 10:25 and 29) and we should seek to do the same.

JAMES 2

The main verses used to seek to win this argument are found in James 2:24-26 and read in the NASB,

"You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

These verses of course need to be compared with such ones as Romans 3:20,

"... because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…"

And Romans 3:28,

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

Is there a contradiction here? Do we really need to work in order to be justified and be saved? If this was the case then it would go against the great declaration of Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Notice in these verses that Paul repeats three times that it can be nothing to do with works, otherwise we would be able to boast before God.

Which is it? Are we justified by faith or by works? It is a fundamental Christian belief that we are justified by faith and that this is a once and for all act. "Therefore having been justified by faith…" Romans 5:1

This, therefore, cannot be as a result of ongoing works and, in any case, how many works must we do in order to reach the state of justification? Nowhere are we told that and if this were the way to salvation it would seem very unfair that we never knew how much we had to do to reach the goal.

JUSTIFICATION

The meaning of the word justification - that God declares a sinner righteous and treats them as such - also shows that work is impossible to achieve the state of justification - we can never atone for our own sin, an essential part of being justified. Therefore, this has to be by faith because we will never be righteous in ourselves.

Having said that, it still leaves us with the problem of explaining satisfactorily to our listener the verses in James that appear to teach that we are justified by works. It actually is not a problem when you look at the context.

James 2:1 indicates that James is writing to those who already have faith in the Lord Jesus - it was not something they were working towards.

He then starts his main argument on this issue in verse 14 where he asks, what use is it if someone says he has faith but no works?

At this point James does not begin to refer to that faith (which Christians already have) in relationship to God but in relationship to fellow Christians. The ones mentioned are in need (verse 15) but, James says, you do not give them what they need (verse 16) - what use is that? Faith must be expressed.

Verse 17 sums this up by showing that such faith (that you already have), that is not also expressed by works, is dead.

Indeed, as verse 18 goes on to say, how can you show your faith without works? Belief in God (verse 19) is fine but the demons believe too; the point is that faith that is not expressed by works is useless and is no better that that which the demons have (verse 20).

Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac (verse 21) and his faith was perfected by his works (verse 22).

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (verse 23) and so you see that a man is justified by works, and not just by faith alone. Rahab was justified by works (verse 25) and so remember faith without works is dead (verse 26).

If you have faith, it will be expressed. In other words, works are the "fruit" of Salvation and not the means to Salvation. William Fenner said,

"Good works are a good sign of faith but a rotten basis for faith".

James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, "faith without works is dead." - James 2:20.

This is consistent with the passages above from Romans and Ephesians. Notice especially Ephesians 2:10 that shows clearly after we are saved there are good works for us to walk in that God has prepared but these are not works that are leading us to salvation and justification.
We are saved not by works but once saved there are good works to express what has happened to us.

We cannot work to our salvation but we must work out our salvation - see Philippians 2:12.

Is the Doctrine of 144,000 Possible?

Jewish scholars tell us that as many as 20% of first century Israel may have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. We know that three thousand came to the Lord on the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and shortly afterwards another 5,000 men plus any women and children became believers (Acts 4:4). Acts 6:7 then records that a large number of priests became obedient to Christ.

Many years later when Paul came back from his third missionary journey, probably around 60 AD, we read that the number of true Christians had already grown to tens of thousands - see Acts 21:20. The Greek word used in this verse is murias, which according to The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, literally means;

"a ten-thousand; a myriad or indefinite number; an innumerable multitude; an unlimited number" (p.419).

See Luke 12:1, Acts 19:19 and Jude 14 for examples of the use of this word.

If there were already so many believers in 60 AD, there would be no places left between the 1870s and 1930s when the Jehovah's Witnesses say that the number of the 144,000 was made up. It would mean that even if we were only talking about 30,000 believers in 60 AD (and there would have been many more than that) only 60 people per year could have been saved up to 1935 - that is ridiculous and would mean that the sovereign power of God was severely restricted.

Surely then, the evangelical Biblical evidence shows that the teaching that there are only 144,000 believers who will be with Jesus, in heaven, is not true. This of course also means that one of the central teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses is false.

ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT IT

There is also another way of looking at it as a former Witness, Phil Mawson wrote a number of year's ago:

The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people are in the New Covenant. What does the Bible say?

Galatians 4:22-31 mentions how Abraham had two sons, one by Hagar the bondwoman and another by Sarah the free woman. These sons being Ishmael and Isaac respectively. Verse 24 states clearly that these two women,

"stand as symbolic drama, for these women mean two covenants." New World Translation, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.

Verses 24 & 25 tell us that Hagar symbolises the Old Law Covenant from Sinai, while in verses 26 & 27 Sarah stands for the New Covenant and the Jerusalem above our [i.e. the Christian's] mother. In verse 27, Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1 where Jehovah God is married to the nation of Israel via the Law Covenant. Compare also Jeremiah 3:14, 31:32.

Thus the barren or desolate woman which represents the New Covenant, has "many more children" [NKJV] or "more numerous" [NWT] than the woman who has the husband. The latter representing the old Law Covenant between Israel and Jehovah.

It is evident that this old Law Covenant brought forth millions of children from the time of Moses to John the Baptist - Matthew 11:13. And we read here that the New Covenant would bring forth many more than this; yes they would be "more numerous" as the NWT puts it. The New Covenant would comprise Jews and Gentiles, without any distinction, see Romans 3:22. Thus, it can be easily and Scripturally demonstrated that the New Covenant is made with millions of persons, and not just 144,000 as is taught by the Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

President Hinckley Makes his mark - Again

Whether its being picked for the team, winning prizes at school or getting the promotion we feel is long overdue, we love to be noticed. You might say it is in our nature and that kudos is something we understand instinctively even if we can’t quite define the word.

Lamech, fifth from the star-crossed Cain, boasted to his no doubt long-suffering wives Adah and Zillah:

Listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
A young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
Then Lamech seventy times
(Genesis 4:23-24)

I am sure that when they married Mr Right they had no idea his first name was “Always”, but Lamech made his mark and they probably never heard the end of it. I can just see him leaning against the bar at his local inn telling those good old boys all about it. We all love a good story, especially when its us telling it.

At the Tower of Babel we discover that working together in a common cause can have its own rewards. Enlightened self-interest is what some call it:

Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves… (Genesis 11:4)

The urge to be noticed, considered, thought well of, celebrated, renowned, honoured, acclaimed, esteemed has been strong since those days. And when others take centre stage where we once knew celebrity it doesn’t go down well:

When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang:

‘Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.’

Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him
(1 Samuel 18:6-8)

When it comes to reputation the green-eyed monster is never far away.

Which does make me wonder about the way Mormons are so expert at celebrating themselves. Of course they may, like the citizens of Babel, feel they have much to celebrate at the moment. On 3 November 2006 Gordon B Hinckley became the oldest man ever to lead the Mormon Church. On that day he was 96 years and 133 days old, beating the previous record holder, David O McKay, by one day – and counting. This on top of his being the first career Mormon, the most travelled Mormon president in history, and being responsible for the largest temple building programme since Joseph Smith first took a walk in the woods to think things through.

It is interesting to note, as an aside, that a church that was started by a young man in the full flush of youth and subsequently continued under the watchful eyes of a middle-aged man of vigour and ambition is being led increasingly by nonagenarians. It seems that the god who could only make his will known through a ‘simple farm boy’ free of the heavy baggage that accumulates with experience can now only speak to old men who appear to know the ways of this world all-too-well.

From the much publicised and photographed meeting between Hinckley and George W Bush in Salt Lake City recently, to the occasional cosy chats with Larry King. From a stream of self-promotional press releases, to the tabards worn by official Mormon ‘helpers’ in litter-picks and relief aid projects around the world, emblazoned with the legend “LDS Helping Hands”, the Mormon Church seems quite comfortable with the idea of making a name for itself. Their right hand could not be accused of not knowing what their left hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).

In the words of another prominent religious leader of whom it was said:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not

In the words he used on a mountain somewhere in Galilee:

I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:2)

So congratulations Mr Hinckley on your longevity, your achievements, and your reputation, kudos to you. Enjoy your reward.

Ephesians 2:9