Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Law Falls Short of God’s Ideal (Mark 10:1-16)

The law is a useful thing to have by you at times of compromise and accommodation. When you’re in a tight spot a good lawyer can make the law say all sorts of things that those who originally drafted it never intended. Socrates was dead set against writing things down for that very reason. He argued that writing conveyed content without context and can therefore, in a different context, mean something quite other than what was intended. We see this at play in this passage. The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus out on a subject about which he had already said a good deal. Each of the gospel writers reports Jesus’ teaching on marriage so his views must have been well known. This works out rather similar to the paying taxes question (Mt.22:17) in that they thought whatever answer he gave he would be wrong. The Pharisees asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife (Matthew adds, “for any reason”). If Jesus answered no then he would be speaking against Moses but if he said yes then he would contradict himself.

His answer was damning of those who asked the question as he pointed out that Moses granted them divorce, not because it was God’s best for them, but because they were weak and hardhearted. The Law that granted them divorce was an example of God’s condescension in accommodating their weakness. Sin was at the root of broken relationships, sin and selfishness, and so God allowed a way for men and women to escape each other’s sin and cruelty in loveless marriages. God’s best all along had been lifelong commitment as demonstrated in the relationship of our first parents.

This is an issue that goes directly to the motives of the heart as men and women prove supremely capable of laying aside God’s best for their own selfish motives. In the context of God’s intentions divorce was a compromise and the law permitting it would never, therefore, lead to our living as God intended. Law never does bring us to the heart of God’s purposes, rather law makes us conscious of our falling short of God’s perfect will (Ro.3:20). Law also, as we see in this lesson, provides opportunities for sin as we cleverly work out our own interpretation of it.

As this passage ends we see Jesus’ disciples rebuking parents for bringing children for Jesus to bless. It is a wonderful teaching opportunity as Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In Israel a person became a “child of the Law” at the age of twelve. It was from this time that they began to relate to God through the Law. Jesus’ message was clear, i.e. that to enter the kingdom and relate to God according to his purposes meant to reject the Law and simply rely on the love and grace of God.

Today there are those, both inside and outside the church, who attempt to build a code of law designed to teach how best to approach God, how best to serve him. But the purposes of God are never served by legalism, which only adds burdens to our already burdened hearts, but by being close to the heart of God and depending on his grace to save. The next time we are tempted to judge others, or ourselves, according to some doctrinal “ready-reckoner” we should stop and ask, not what is permitted or prohibited, but what is the heart of God in this matter.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Nick the White Mormon

This is Nick the White Mormon. He just stands there and doesn't know why. There is an important point here and he is not being mocked. Like the man said, pray for Nick and all those who do things for no other reason than that they have a good feeling about it.




Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Greatness and Servanthood (Mark 9:33-50)

During his ministry in Galilee Jesus lived in Capernaum (Mt.4:13), probably in the house belonging to Peter and Andrew (Mk.1:29) and in this passage we witness the small talk and speculations people indulge in on their way home after a busy time. The subject under discussion had been who was the greatest among the disciples. Jesus knew this but still asked the question, “What were you arguing about on the road?” In this way he invited discussion and created a teaching opportunity. How often do we ask questions as we witness? Or do we rush in to tell the other person how we see things? Questions serve to demonstrate our interest and not just our ignorance and can create all sorts of opportunities to discuss the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered this burning question emphasising three things essential to discipleship:

1. Servanthood

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all”

A little child illustrates well how a disciple’s attitude should be in their role as servant. A child is the least consequential member of any society, totally dependent on adults for everything and incapable of bringing acclaim or granting great position to anyone. Yet Jesus’ concern for “little ones” seemed paramount because they were so dependent and vulnerable. To serve the weak and those least able to offer reward is the mark of a true servant of God.

2. Nonjudgementalism

“Whoever is for us is not against us”

Our human nature causes us all-too-easily to divide into parties and choose loyalties according to our own flawed standards. Of course there are absolutes of right and wrong, both in conduct and in doctrine, and we are called to repent of the sin in our lives and to combat error but it is wrong to look at the good that people do and disapprove just because they don’t go by our name (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc), or agree with us on every point of doctrine (charismatic, cessationist, Calvinist, Arminian, etc). There are those in this world who counterfeit the truths of God and present an entirely different Jesus to that found in the Bible but there are many who do great good in His true name and we recognise and pray for them because in this way the kingdom of God advances.

3. Sensitivity

“If your hand causes you to sin cut it off”

As disciples we are not called simply to be saved and gain some great reward in the great by-and-by. We are called to be salt and light to others in this world and sinning or causing sin brings darkness and makes us ineffectual as witnesses. Jesus’ words here are sobering in our age where so much of the world has entered into the church:

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other”

How often are we the only barrier between the sinner and their Savour? As we witness we need to be servants to those to whom we speak and not judges. We need to care about the least among them as much as we might the prominent people we may meet. We need to celebrate the good done by others not of our party but who are true followers of Jesus in order to show the lost that in Jesus’ kingdom there is harmony, or at least a real striving for harmony and goodwill that is natural and not imposed. We must remember that he who would be greatest must be servant of all and that includes all who are lost in this world and in need of a Saviour. We must be prepared to cut off everything from our lives that hinders and that must include the way we think of others, speak to others and live before the world.

Monday, 17 August 2009

How do you know God exists?

C4 Sunday 16 August 2009 7pm

Revelations: How do you know God exists? Written and produced by Anthony Thomas

An arresting opening image: a burning effigy on a busy western city street. We try to figure out what it is- some religious protest against the Mohammed cartoons, perhaps?

As it turns out, it's a model of a banker.

In commencing his contribution to the Revelations series, Anthony Thomas may be trying to show how materialism has failed as a concept, and that as western capitalism turns on itself, religious solutions to man's dilemmas may begin to reemerge.

Thomas chooses five leaders from major world religions (Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism and Hinduism) to explain to him and the viewer how they know there is a God.

The five men (and they are men, as my wife dryly observes) are Jonathan Sachs (chief rabbi of Orthodox Jews in the UK), Rowan Williams (Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury), Vincent Nichols (Catholic Archbishop of Westminster), Tariq Ramadan (Islamic academic) and Sadhu Paramtattvadas (Hindu holy man).

Jonathan Sachs opens with saying: God enjoys adverts on the sides of buses. By this he is alluding to the 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrrying and enjoy your life' atheist campaign. How he has insight into the mind of God towards this kind of cheek, he doesn't explain. But it's a quirky way to kick off a documentary.

Thomas now brings things round to a more conventional overview: 4/10 believe, 4/10 aren’t sure (think there is something spiritual), 2/10 don’t believe in the UK today. Where these stats come from, again, I have no idea, especially given the 2001 Census which recorded 71.7% as calling themselves 'Christian'.

The rest of the programme follows the format of asking questions of each of the five leaders, interspersed with graphics and commentary. The 'starter for ten' is the title question - How do you know God exists?

  • Rowan Williams (RW) - he is “confident or trusting, rather than knowing… in the presence of something greater than you can conceive… something I can’t put words to.”
  • Jonathan Sachs (JS) encourages us to “judge an idea by what it does to the people who embrace that idea.”
  • Vincent Nichols (VN) is convinced that “beyond all the distress of this world… there is a Father, a figure who has our fate in his hands. And we can approach God through the person of Jesus, through the crucified Saviour.”
  • Tariq Ramadan (TR) says, “I really deeply believe God exists… It’s a relationship between what my eyes are seeing, my heart is feeling and my mind is understanding.”
  • Sadhu Paramtattvadas (SP) avers: “God is the highest, purest, most transcendental being there. It’s faith. It really is as simple and as powerful as that.”

Thomas quotes Jesus' affirmation that God has counted every hair on our heads, but then asks if it is really possible that the Creator of this vast universe could have a relationship with you and me:

“Yes. God is absolutely present in every bit of creation. His energy is at work in every part of the universe.” RW (CoE)

“God pervades his entire creation… animals, every aspect of nature… everywhere, he’s all around us.” SP (Hindu)

Has there ever been moments when your faith is tested? pursues Thomas.

“Challenges, yes. Every day in fact. Some of the deepest moments of reflection can be in response to these – so they become not the enemy of faith, but the reinforcer.” SPT (Hindu)

“Doubts, when exposed to someone’s suffering.” RW (CoE)

“Doubt is an intrinsic part… never free from it....I do remember standing in a crowd at Anfield, and calling out to God, ‘Leave me alone! Let me be one in a crowd. Let me lose myself. I do not want this.’” VN (RCC)

What keeps your faith alive? says Thomas.

“The testimony of so many good people… their goodness is contagious… and also my own life of faith. The great privilege of celebrating Mass, where we stand before God… and having the immense privilege of the priesthood. Christ uses my voice to speak his words, my hands to perform his actions. My own experience of faith is real…and at times very encouraging.” VN (RCC)

Thomas moves things along by asking about the nature of God: can He be defined? In doing this he pits orthodox Judaism and Islam against Catholicism and Hinduism in terms of whether God can be presented in images. He seems to lump Protestantism in with the pro-image group, though he does say, very much in line with Colossians 1:15, that "in Jesus, Christians have an image of God."

Tariq Ramadan responds:

“In the Islamic tradition we have 99 names helping us understand the way he acts, the way he behaves, but not a definition or representation… and I think he’s indescribable.”

But even among Christians, argues Thomas, there is often a need for more… Mary the mother of Jesus, a whole pantheon of saints, etc. whose status is almost divine. Though the premise of the programme is that there are five different religions (i.e. Protestantism and Catholicism are separate faiths), he makes no attempt to distinguish between them at this point.

Among Hindus, he says, this need is every stronger.

“Most Hindus accept one supreme reality, but we also accept lesser divinities. All these images were concentrated in a special vedic cemetery… they become sacred… Coming before God, we are being seen by him… We believe God is actually present in these images.” SP

Thomas then focuses on the afterlife.

“I’d rather concentrate on life down here, than life up there… this is a profoundly Jewish insight,” admits Jonathan Sachs rather sheepishly, seeming to realise that this is a little inappropriate for religious figurehead to espouse.

“All I know about the afterlife, is that God has promised to be there," says Rowan Williams.

“Hindus believe in an immortal, immutable soul… an eternal journey, passing through many lifeforms… it takes on a different body according to its karma. And in each life it develops spiritually, with the ultimate aim of liberation from this cycle of births and deaths… The soul will leave this body and enter the abode of God… A place of eternity, bliss, calmness, no desires, being engulfed with peace and serenity forever,” the sadhu enthuses. He doesn't explain how a soul can be immutable and yet develop.

Fifty years ago, packed churches were commonplace, according to Thomas' research. This is something of an exaggeration, with Anglican attendance roughly halving, and with many other denominations on the rise (such as Black Majority Pentecostalism in the cities). Nevertheless, the point is to show the loss of confidence in 'organised religion' as a viable force in society.

So the next questions are: What do religions have to offer that could make Britain a better place? Is this the root of our problems, that we have let religion die? Can people of faith really lead us to a better world?

“Religions are good at binding people together as a communion… Judaism is a family religion… Transmitted from generation to generation in the home…. When religion dies in society, it affects relationship, bonds of love,” opines Jonathan Sachs, convincingly enough, though as with almost all of his comments, religion is presented as something mostly 'horizontal', a kind of social glue, rather than a communion with a real, supernatural being. Having said this, he continues in a more transcendent vein: “Religious people offer a sense of accountability… relating to a being who existed before the universe… therefore, we as his people must safeguard the environment for a future generation… if we are to preserve a heritage of trust.”

The topic shifts to the credit crunch.

“Some people are taking money and they have no ethical attitude, nothing. The creation is telling us – If you carry on acting like this, you’re going to destroy nature and yourself.” TR

“Your value as a human being does not depend on possessions, control, acquisitions… Jesus' parable on the rich man finishes with 'You idiot, you’re going to die tonight!'... The Church doesn’t have a very clear voice in the media – conflict-ridden, and obsessed with house-keeping matters.” RW

Was there a time when religious values dominated?

“I don’t see that there was a golden age back then. There may be a lot wrong with our society, but we don’t burn heretics at the stake or hang children for stealing a loaf of bread." VN

Does one need religion to be ethical?

“Lots of atheists do have moral values, very impressive ones. My only question is: where do they get them from? There’s something more profound in the universe that pushes us to moral questions. The atheist is, like it or not, benefiting from the effects of that,” is Rowan Williams' challenge.

Perhaps inevitably, the 'religion causes all the wars' chestnut pops up, with the astonishingly sloppy claim that most conflicts in the world since the fall of communism have been due to religion (never mind, say, both Gulf Wars). Images of 9-11, still shocking in their senseless devastation, fill the screen. A Catholic chaplain who died that day is praised. Muslims and Christians both sacrificing their lives that morning, some to kill, some to save, is the comment made, without any exploration as to why the Islamic and Christian views or martyrdom are so different.

Jonathan Sachs is given the opportunity to lament (understandbly) the history of anti-semitism in the “Jewish experience of Christian Europe [which] was for nearly 1000 years was a tragic experience… it added words to the vocabulary… expulsion, forced conversion, pogrom, Inquisition, auto-da-fe.”

However, Catholic archbishop Vincent Nichols takes a conciliatory stance:

“Just before the Millennium, JP2 knelt before a crucifix and admitted failures… talked about Inquisition… included betrayal of trust that had been placed in the Church… In a very small scale, that’s what we do before every Mass… confess our sins.”

Next: Does hell exist?

“My concept of hell is being stuck with myself forever and no way out. If anybody ever gets to that point, I have no idea… Stuck with my selfish little ego for all eternity…” conjectures Rowan Williams. Rightly, Thomas challenges him as to how this squares with Jesus' clear statements about eternal hellfire in the gospels, but Williams sticks with his 'stuck with your ego' version of hell, which perhaps nobody ends up in anyway.

The fact that the leader of the established church in England is neither capable of giving a clear Biblical picture warning of the true nature of hell, nor able to accept that there will in fact, sadly, be many who go there (Matthew 7:13), is deeply disturbing, and offers false comfort to any agnostic or undecided viewers, and indeed the film-maker himself, who spots that something is amiss.

As Thomas puts it, in the Gospels hell is "real enough, [with] no ambiguity, no room for gentle explanation."

But to be fair, Williams is not the only one to fudge the issue. Even Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan bends over backwards to avoid the most politically incorrect statements in his holy text:

“No one can deny that corporal punishment or the death penalty are in the Qur’an. Also beating the wife. You cannot take these verses literally. You have to take it in the whole context. Beating your wife is against the Islam tradition.”

I cannot understand how easily the 'you can't take it literally' and 'you can't take it out of context' gambits are employed and accepted. So how can you take it, if not literally? So what context should wife-beating be taken in, Professor Ramadan? Isn't this just another way of saying, "I want to be a Muslim expert, but I don't want to explain the stuff about my religion that is embarrassing in a modern, TV-friendly, pluralistic, post-feminist western society."

Back to Rowan Williams, who proceeds (in my view) to damn the Bible with faint praise:

“I think we need to come to the Bible with enormous openness… I don’t think you have to come every verse in Genesis as history as we now understand it."

Shouldn't we rather to come to the Bible with enormous submission?Because if certain human pseudo-scientific, non-demonstrable theories trump the self-revelation of God in the Bible, then the enormous openness to the Bible is subject to the enormous submission that liberal leaders have to what men in white coats tell them (and by the way, by no means all the men in the white coats accept evolution). And if we are told 'it must be millions of years and Adam's father must have been an ape-like creature or you're an idiot', then our enormous openness to the Bible becomes enormously closed pretty quickly, doesn't it? Rowan, Rowan, Rowan. [That's my bit done. :-)]

Sachs does his bit to add more fuel to the liberal fire: “Fundamentalism is the attempt to move from text to application without interpretation… and that is something that orthodox Judaism regards as heresy… We believe in Judaism that God discloses himself through the arena of time.”

None of these men seem concerned in the slightest that they are all espousing a Humpty Dumpty form of religion ("when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less", pace Lewis Carroll).

Free yourself from literalism and the conflict between science and religion is over, concludes Thomas. Even evolution can be seen as God’s design. Nevertheless, Thomas can't avoid the fact that Darwin himself wrote, “Creation offers nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Chief Rabbi Sachs shrugs. “Things die so that other things shall be born… I don’t see that as tragic…”

The Archbishop of Canterbury tries a little harder: “I see the Darwinian picture of creation is a ‘three o’clock in the morning’ perspective – it’s all so futile. But we’re capable of love, meaning, prayer… and that’s valuable whether or not it lasts forever.” Not really, if you listen to the apostle Paul who said, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Corinthians 15:19). Does his enormous openness extend as far as listening to what the divinely-inspired apostle wrote?

The personal motive for the programme finally emerges. Thomas confesses: "My mother died recently… unable to eat, speak, recognise anybody. At what stage did her spirit leave her?"

Williams, a naturally sympathetic and charismatic man, says movingly: “Nothing more distressing to watch someone disappearing before your very eyes… What happens isn’t that the body’s left and that something has gone somewhere else, but that God is doing something at a level we don’t know anything about it.”

Thomas is clearly touched by this, because his final verdict is that these were "five compassionate men… closer to each other than previously thought!"

But he seems absolutely none the wiser as how to know God exists. What a shame that Christ was barely touched open, his Cross and resurrection even less, and his gracious atonement for millions of sinners like Thomas never explained.

May God in Christ graciously save all five leaders and Thomas too.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Citizenship  (Matthew 16:17:14-27)

Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain where kingdom glory had shined so fully and were met with a scene familiar enough to us even today; a dispute over religion. Mark tells us that a large crowd had gathered and the teachers of the law were arguing with the disciples. A possessed young man had been brought to them to be healed and they had failed to do it; a practical problem that ‘religion’ had failed to solve and an ensuing argument about why. How embarrassing and how all-too-typical!

“If you have faith...” These words of Jesus can, and often do fill us with guilt for being faithless. When things don’t go well for us, prayers are not answered, answers don’t seem to come we look inward and question our faith. Perhaps it would help if we continued to think about the kingdom theme. The problem with this “unbelieving and perverse generation” was not that they didn’t believe in something or another, they were religious enough many of them, but they refused to believe and enter the kingdom that Jesus had demonstrated. They sought kingdom blessing without kingdom living.

Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, had recognised the King but had yet to fully enter into the kingdom understood fully the significance of the kingdom message. The Jews lacked faith to enter the kingdom while the disciples lacked faith to realise fully the kingdom in their lives.

The kingdom theme continues as Jesus uses another practical situation to illustrate kingdom citizenship. There is a rich irony in Jesus being asked to pay the half shekel that Israel paid as a ransom for the soul (Ex.13-16). Matthew Henry comments:

“This tribute was to be paid as a ransom of the soul, that there might be no plague among them. Hereby they acknowledged that they received their lives from God, that they had forfeited their lives to him, and that they depended upon his power and patience for the continuance of them; and thus they did homage to the God of their lives, and deprecated those plagues which their sins had deserved.”

In response Jesus asked Peter, “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their sons or from others?

A good point! If Israel had a special relationship with God because of having Abraham as their father why were they being taxed? Citizenship in God’s kingdom was by faith and not by works of the law. The implication here is that those who thought the kingdom was theirs were those ‘others’ who paid tax while citizenship belonged to those with faith in the king and who were therefore exempt (Mt.21:43)

The gospel is an offense enough without causing undue offense so Jesus miraculously paid the tax. How often do those of the kingdom major on minors and cause offense that pushes people away rather than winning them into citizenship. Jesus preached the kingdom with passion but did not make trouble for the sake of it. With citizenship comes responsibility to preach the kingdom with passion and take care not to put obstacles in the way of others.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Mormonism’s “Replacement” Christianity

The August 2009 edition of the official Mormon Ensign magazine emphasises prayer and it would be ungracious not to recognise the wise counsel to set aside time to pray regularly, to make prayer a discipline and to approach it in a spirit of humility; surely advice with which all Christians can agree. Yet it demonstrates something Christians often notice about the Mormon ethos, which is that it is based on Joseph Smith and not Jesus Christ, whose church Mormons claim to have restored.

In an article entitled Opening the Heavens Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchu of the Seventy asks, “Do you want to feel the love of God powerfully in your life? Do you want to feel more in tune with His Spirit? Do you want to have the heavens opened to you daily?” He goes on to let us in on the secret of achieving these things using examples from the life of Joseph Smith.

Like Joseph, we must take ourselves apart to spend time with God.

Like Joseph, we can expect God to answer.

Like Joseph, we can have our own ‘sacred grove’ experience.

Now a Christian cannot criticise a Mormon for looking to men and women of their faith who have set examples in prayer, faith and devotion. After all Christians do the same often enough with their own heroes of faith.

But once you start looking you find alarming evidences of Mormonism not restoring Christianity but systematically replacing it. Just as Joseph replaces Jesus as the great exemplar in prayer and the grove replaces the hills of Galilee and the struggles of Gethsemane so it is that a Mormon paradigm comes to take the place of the Christian in Mormon teaching and thinking.

In the Book of Mormon [BOM] we see the earliest example of this as the record of the Jews, so apparently essential to the characters of that book, is described as begin made of brass (1 Nephi 3:3,12) while the record that was to become the Book of Mormon was made of gold (Joseph Smith History [JSH], 1:34).

When the Book of Mormon was presented to the world we find the Bible coming off a poor second best by comparison, the Bible being described as the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly” while the BOM is the word of God with no qualification (8th Article of faith)

The so-called first vision easily trumps the experience of Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt.17:1-3). They saw the glorified Jesus, Moses and Elijah while Joseph Smith claimed to have seen none other than the Father and the Son (JSH 1:17).

Joseph Smith, in his peculiar chronicle of the ancient Americas, even tampered with geography, moving the earliest events and places of the Bible from the near and Middle East to America. The Garden of Eden, he said, had been in Davies County, Missouri (D&C 16) where eventually the New Jerusalem would be built, implying that the earliest people of God originated not in ancient Mesopotamia as scholars have mistakenly thought but in the ancient Americas. It is from this area that Noah floated his ark to sail a “considerable distance” before landing on Mount Ararat in modern Turkey. The BOM characters were then not leaving their place of origin but returning to it.

Joseph Smith himself boasted that he had achieved more than Jesus when he declared: “I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet” (History of the Church [HC] vol.6, p.408/9)

In a revealing video interview Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry talks at length of the so-called martyrdom of Joseph Smith. At one point he shares how guides taking tours at the Carthage jail where Smith died have been heard to refer to that place as the “Mormon Calvary”.

Finally, we have these words from Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church:

One excellent idea that was advanced this morning, I will venture to carry out a little further. The time was when the test of a Christian was his confession of Christ…This is no test to this generation, for all men of the Christian world confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This generation, however, is not left without a test. I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-christ.

All who confess that Joseph Smith is sent of God in the latter days, to lay the foundation of his everlasting kingdom no more to be thrown down, and will continue to keep his commandments, are born of God. All those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet, at the same time trying with their might to live the holy principles Joseph the Prophet has revealed, are in possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness. When such men go into the world to preach the Gospel though they know not a letter in a book, they will do more real good to erring man than the great and wise can possibly do, though aided by all their learning and worldly influence in the absence of the gift of the Holy Ghost. When the spirit of the preacher is imbued with the Spirit and power of God, his words enter the understandings of the honest, who discern the truth and at once embrace it to their eternal advantage. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.9, Pg.312, Brigham Young, July 13, 1862)

From Eden to Calvary, Mormonism has systematically replaced Christianity with its peculiar creed. The Book of Mormon surpassing the Bible as  “the most correct of any book on the earth” (HC 4:461), gold compared with brass; the first vision surpassing any biblical revelation in its splendour; the prayer model of Jesus on the Mount and in Gethsemane eclipsed by the “sacred grove”; the geography of early Genesis described as peculiarly American; Joseph Smith succeeding where Jesus and the apostles miserably failed and finally the latter-day test for being a Christian the confession of Joseph Smith.

Examples abound and I am sure others could easily add to the list here but it is important that, like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we should test everything that is said and urge others to do the same. People earnestly seeking truth don’t want to end up in the New World when they need to be in the Old, in a grove when they need to be on a mount, at the veil of a temple when they need to be at the foot of the Cross and looking to Joseph when they should look to Jesus alone.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – In His Royal Dignity (Matthew 16:28)

At the end of chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes a puzzling statement.

“Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”

This is not a reference to the Second Coming, the date of which is known only to the Father (Mt.24:36) and therefore couldn’t be indicated by Jesus. It is believed by some to refer to the Transfiguration that happened witnessed by Peter, James and John six days later, while some believe it refers to the events of Pentecost. The word translated “kingdom” in our Bibles can mean “kingship”, “royal reign”, or “royal dignity” and the passage could be translated as referring to “the Son of Man coming in his royal dignity.”

In his prayer in John 17 Jesus prayed, “Now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (Jn.17:4) and in Philippians we read of Jesus that:

“God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philip.29-10)

By the time Paul was writing (circa AD 62) the picture Christians had of Jesus was of his having taken his throne and reigning among his people by his Spirit. Given this is it possible that the picture of Jesus coming into his royal reign, kingship and dignity is not one event? Could the words of Jesus be understood as a “prophetic foreshortening” in which a number of prophetic/historical events merge so as to be seen as one? This is what William Hendriksen suggests in his commentary on Matthew where he writes that Jesus was referring to the unfolding of events starting with the Transfiguration, including the Resurrection and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There!’ for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk.17:21 ESV, NB the NIV translates “within you” but in this instance this cannot be right since Jesus was addressing unbelieving Pharisees and the kingdom was not within them).

Beginning on the Mount of Transfiguration, continuing with the exercise of God’s great power in conquering death and raising Jesus from the dead, going on to the sending of the Sprit at Pentecost and resulting in bitter complaints that, “These men have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) the coming of Jesus into his kingly reign or dignity was witnessed by many who stood with him that day and by many more.

This is important as we witness because we have a special message to those who attempt to restore, rebuild or otherwise reinvent “what God originally intended”. The kingdom of God is not identified by borders, territories, organisations or a special people group as are earthly kingdoms but by a demonstration of the rule of God among his people in the world; among you, or in the midst of you. It will see its final consummation at his Second Coming but then he will come to judge, which is why we continue to invite people to put their trust in him so that until that day they too can see something of Jesus in his kingly dignity and on that day they can stand confidently before the throne of God because of Jesus whose kingly reign may be witnessed in their lives.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – A Suffering Saviour, and a Called Out People (Matthew 16:13-28)

This is a key passage in helping us understand the purposes of God in Christ and in his disciples. Until now Jesus has preached the message of the kingdom, demonstrating its presence by his teaching, healing and casting out of demons (Luke.11:20). Now he had established his identity among his closest followers he began to emphasise the Cross as the way he must go in order to establish this kingdom (Mt.16:21).

Peter’s confession marked a turning point after which Jesus more clearly taught about the principles on which the kingdom was to be established and the role of the called out people of God in advancing it. There has been much controversy over what was meant when Jesus spoke of the foundation of the church. Was it Peter; nicknamed “the Rock”, as claimed by Roman tradition? Was it the revelation alluded to when Jesus said, “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven”, as claimed by the Mormons? Was it the act of confession that is the starting point of every Christian life, as suggested by others? Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation, as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Co.3:10-11)

Christ himself, then, is the rock on which the church is built and any other, as Paul wrote, would be destroyed by the fire of judgement when every man’s work will be tested (1 Co.3:12-13).

Jesus goes on to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power to “bind and loose”. Again there is speculation about what these keys are and who legitimately commands that power. Is it given to one man to issue forgiveness or judge the sinner? This idea came late in church history and has more to do with the rise of political power in Rome than the wielding of heavenly authority. If we think of it as authority to announce and declare rather than one to determine guilt or innocence we may see the first Christians (about 120 of them Acts 1:15) exercising that authority at Pentecost where they declared the good news of the kingdom. As the Body of Christ Christians exercise such authority today in declaring the good news and the closer we walk with Christ who is our Head the more authentic our claim to be speaking him.

When Jesus declared “on this rock I will build my church” the word translated “church” is ekklÄ“sia. An ekklÄ“sia is an assembly or congregation and in the ancient world it identified an assembly of free voting citizens in a city. The church then is the gathering of the called out people of God who are marked out by their rights as citizens in God’s kingdom. It is not a building, or an institution with hierarchies of authority but the people of God expressing the kingdom of God in the world. This expression of God’s kingdom involves being Jesus to other people, expressing our faith in the way we live every day and so continuing to declare the good news in word and deed.

There is also a process of sanctification in which the Christian becomes more like Jesus who said:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mt.16:24-25)

Christians are called to go on with God and some people struggle with the faith when they see the gap between what we are today and what God has called us to be. But our lives are a journey and it has been wisely observed that we are pilgrims and not settlers in this world. In that journey of faith we are to lose our lives. This does not mean martyrdom, although many continue to die for their faith in Christ. Neither does it mean losing our identity but it means losing our old self with its sinful way of life in our striving to find our new selves in Christ. Jesus said, “What good will it be if a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul (or self)”. It is this last, Christ like self that we lose if we set our hearts on the things of this world.

To gain the kingdom involves denying our worldly selves. This does not mean a life of misery on iron rations. Paul helps us see what is meant here when he writes to Timothy:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim.6:17)

Self-denial is not the same as refusing any of the good things given by God for our enjoyment but the refusal to put our trust in these things. To trust in the things of the world leads to living by the standards of the world, indulging in greed, envy, arrogance, bitterness, self-pity and pride, none of which are the fruit of the Spirit of God (Gal.5:16-26).

Christians are a people who take up their cross daily by denying themselves and choosing God’s way, declaring salvation for all who believe and keeping close to Jesus as we strive to model our ways on him. We mustn’t allow the world to judge us and neither must we judge ourselves so harshly as to make ourselves lose heart. But we must judge wisely as we make our way in this world, always willing to lay down those things that hinder us and daily taking up our cross to follow him and win others to him.

Is atheism an intolerant belief?

The Big Questions, Sunday 2 August 2009, third question.
A growing number of Britons say they are certain there is no God - but how do they know? Professor John Adams of the North Yorkshire Humanist Association begins by asking theists what evidence they have for their beliefs. Paul Woolley of Theos continues by pointing out Richard Dawkins description of faith as a 'virus', and the appalling track record of atheism in the 20th Century, as spearheaded by Pol Pot and Stalin. Chloe Clifford-Frith of the Humanist and Secular Students Society contends that Stalin did not do the things he did because he was an atheist, but because he was evil. Paul Woolley rejoins that atheists are trying to have it both ways when they claim that religion is the cause of evil, but refuse to acknowledge the ideological impetus of atheism when it comes to many evil acts. Mao and Stalin both replaced God with the State - a 'religious' manoeuvre.
Rev Alistair Rycroft of St Michael Le Belfrey Church says he is as certain that there is a God that an atheist is certain there isn't. He expresses his unhappiness that atheism is viewed as a a neutral, measured opinion, without emotional or philosophical bias.
Back to Prof Adams, who begins to trot out the hackneyed Dawkinsian line - "Just give me evidence." Which of course is somewhat redundant because what the atheist means is "Just give me evidence that will satisfy me on my terms." Richard Craig of Camp Quest UK, the atheist summer camps, says that he is certain that there is no God because of lack of evidence. He speaks next about two invisible unicorns around the camp. The children are challenged to disprove the unicorns' existence. Nobody has won this year, and Craig is happy with this because he wants to show that you cannot disprove a negative (such as 'God does not exist'). Zulfi Bukhari, of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, unhelpfully, I feel, steps in saying that "You don't have to prove faith; you just have to have faith." This, in my view, perpetuates the shallow definition of faith, which is 'what we do when we've run out of evidence'.
Lesbian crime writer Val McDermid complains that institutionalised homophobia always comes from religion.
James O'Brien, talk show host, says now that "he happens to believe in God despite the evidence to the contrary," but says that it is more uncomfortable to be told that you're going to hell than to be told your beliefs are bananas. Theist Paul Woolley lives up to his surname (in my opinion) when he rubbishes 6-day creation as being a view not held by any Old Testament academic in Britain.
The discussion then moves on to whether one can be certain on a scale of 1-7 as to God's existence (Dawkins is a 6, with 7 meaning absolute atheistical certainty), and whether one can have a moral basis for living without religion. Again, Woolley is true to his etymology by saying that the truth in many of these debates must lie somewhere in the middle.
Tony Goodall, atheist Quaker, quotes George Fox in saying we should "walk cheerfully over the world seeing God in everyone." He also speaks of Quakerism's support for gay marriage.
A member of the audience speaks about the financial drive between much of religion, calling churches 'shops'.
Rev. Rycroft speaks of how there is an intolerance of religion in the public sphere, as it is often dismissed as irrational and not worthy of proper consideration. John Adams points out that all faiths are clamouring to be heard, and that no faith should be given special treatment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is the Judeao-Christian heritage of Britain which has given people freedoms of speech and religion which are still unavailable in scores of countries which have never had that heritage.
As it is, we have a remarkably patient God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather that man turns from his sins and lives (Ezekiel 33:11). But God is not tolerant of evil, including the evil of denying His goodness in creation and denying the death of His Son for our sins, and will bring all of us to book. On that day, there will be no tolerance of dissent or differing opinions. Every mouth will be silenced, and God's word will be the final say for all our destinies.