Sunday, 27 December 2015

A Christmas Message from Reachout: God the Promise-Keeper

A Meditation and Devotion for Christmas

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Christmas is many things to many people. A busy time, a time for family, 'all about the children,' nativity plays, gifts, remembering loved ones, carol services, good cheer, painful memories, a festival of colour and warmth in the middle of winter, an opportunity to invite friends and family to church and hear the good news, have them understand the 'real meaning of Christmas.'

Of course, some in this season face tragic circumstances, have sad memories, and entertain painful regrets. Not for them the Christmas cheer we all look forward to. For me it is a time to remember that we worship a God who keeps his promises. To remember that, at the time of the greatest tragedy in man's history, his terrible and devastating fall, God made this promise:

'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.' (Gen.3:15)

This is known as the protoevangelium, the first proclamation of the gospel, a promise that Christ would come and crush Satan and redeem mankind from the fall. God promised salvation at the time of greatest tragedy, pain and regret, something to remember in our troubled world and personal circumstances. Everyone who has looked to him throughout history has held on to that promise, whatever their circumstances. Priests and kings, shepherds, tent-makers, rich men, beggars, children and widows, lepers and doctors, fishermen and tax-collectors, all looked to that time when God would finally, and decisively act to liberate all creation 'from its bondage to decay.' (Rom. 8:21-24)

That promise began to be fulfilled through Abraham, from whom God promised to make a great nation, a people for himself.
 

The Promise to Abraham



“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him.” (Gen.12:1-3; Ge.18:18, c.f. Mt.1:1; Lk 3:34; Gal.4:4)

When we look at the genealogy of Jesus, we read, A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham; Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob...' (Mt.1:1-2)
 

The Promise to Jacob


And so, through Jacob, the promise of a Saviour is remembered, reiterated. It is a promise fulfilled initially by David but, ultimately, by the one promised from the beginning:

“A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth” (Nu.24:17, c.f. Lk 3:34; Mt.1:2)
 

The Promise to Judah


“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet. Until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Ge.49:10, c.f. Lk. 3:33; Mt.1:2-3)

This is the one to whom all nations will come and worship, whose rule and worth will be universally recognised. (Rev.15:3-4)
 

The Promise to David


Despite the sins of of kings like Ahaz, a descendent of David, the promised Messiah, will sit on David's throne and rule and reign eternally.

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Is.9:7, c.f.Is.11:1-5; Mt.1:1,6)
 

The Promise to Bethlehem


“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Mic.5:2, c.f. Mt.2:1; Lk.2:4-7)

'Bethlehem Ephratha,' not to distinguish it from other Bethlehems, of which there are many, but to remind us that his birthplace is the birthplace of kings. Here a king would be born, the King of kings.
 

The Promise to the Virgin


“Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel” (Is.7:14, c.f. Mt.1:18; Lk.1:26-35)

'Immanuel' meaning 'God with us.' The one promised from the very beginning, Eve's offspring, Abraham's seed, Jacob's rising star, David's promised king, Bethlehem's ruler 'from ancient times,' would be no other than God himself.
 

The Promise to Galilee


“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan – The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Is.9:1-2, c.f. Mt.4:12-16)

Galilee, the most oppressed, by Syrian domination, despised by Southern Jews because of its mixed population such that it is called 'Galilee of the Gentiles,' would be the first to see the great light of God's deliverance in Jesus.
 

The Promise to God’s People


“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers, you must listen to him” (Dt.18:15, c.f. Jn.6:14;1:45; Ac.3:19-26)

Here is the one of whom Philip spoke when he ran to tell his brother, Nathanael, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law...' (John 1:45)
 

The Promise to Sinners


“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is.53:4-5, c.f. Mt.8:16-17; Ro.4:25; 1 Cor.15:3)

Here is the one who is universally recognised when you read them this short passage, written some 700 years before his birth. He has been foretold, his story is universal, and there is no hiding who he is and what he has done.
 

The Promise of Victory


“When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious – that you, O Lord God, might dwell there” (Ps.68:18, c.f. Lk.24:50-51; Ac.1:9)

This one would 'ascend on high' in complete victory and to the total devastation of all who stood against and defied him.


God’s Promises are ‘Yes’ in Christ Jesus



“As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you...was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, but in him it has always been ‘Yes’. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.

He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor.1:18-22)

In him all God's promises are affirmed with a resounding 'Yes!' as he saves, seals, indwells, and gives his sure promise to his people, all who trust in him.
 

God Who keeps His Promises


Faithful Simeon, devout and patient, awaits God's salvation, trusting that God keeps his promises, is rewarded when the infant Jesus is brought to the temple.

"Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

'Sovereign Lord, “as you have promised”, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, “which you have prepared in the sight of all people” a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to tour people Israel'” (Lk.2:27-32)

Christmas is a time to remember that God is faithful, a promise-keeper. May we, like Simeon, be faithful, watchful for that time when he comes again, this time to rule and reign, to judge the wicked and reward the faithful, to bring full and final salvation to all who look to him and worship him. May you have a blessed Christmas and be filled with wonder again at the great good news that, 'we have been justified  through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.' (Ro. 5:1-2)


Just as He Said


He is Risen

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

5 Essential Bible Truths About Jesus

 

1. Jesus claimed to be God.

Christus-Consolatur-Carl-Bloch-214x300'I told you that you would die in your sins; unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.' (John.8:24)

What we believe about Jesus is essential to our salvation. Unless we believe correctly we will die in our sins. Here Jesus declares, 'I am he.' Who is he? I AM is the name God gave to identify himself to Moses in Ex.3:14. We read further:

"'Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.' So the Jews said to him, 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?' Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.' So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple."

(John 8:57-59)

Here Jesus clearly claims to to have pre-existed Abraham. Not only so but, instead of saying, 'before Abraham was, I was,' he declares, 'before Abraham was, I am.' He uses the present tense to speak of his pre-Abrahamic existence. This indicates transcendence over time, an immortal existence that pre-dates time itself, that could only be true of God. The Greek is Egō eimi and is the same term God uses to identify himself to Moses (Ex.3:14)

So many times Jesus makes claims for himself that can only be true of God and uses this same term to describe himself, Egō eimi, I am...

 

2. Jesus Created all Things

John introduces Jesus with this emphatic declaration:

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.' (John 1:3)

If Jesus was less than God, a created being, then this plain statement would be a plain lie! There would be one thing that was made that was made without him; himself!

In Colossians we read:

'He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by hi all things were created. in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.'

(Colossians 1:15-17)

Several points come out here:

  1. If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus, who is the image of God, the imprimatur of his likeness (cf Hebrews 1:3)

  2. Jesus is the first-born of creation, meaning not the first to be created, but the one who has first-born privileges, the place of honour in God's household. This speaks of priority, pre-eminence, and sovereignty (cf Hebrews 1:2)

  3. Jesus was the agent of creation, 'all things were created by him.' (John 1:3)

  4. 'All things' here is described exhaustively as everything. Nothing is left out and, as John has it, 'without him was not anything made that was made.' (John 1:3)

  5. He pre-exists all of creation, 'he is before all things,' and cannot himself, therefore, be created.

  6. 'in him all things hold together.' (cf Hebrews 1:3) The One who created all things 'in the beginning,' who brought order out of chaos, is the same one whose power sustains all things in their present course, preventing them falling back into chaos.

3. Jesus is Worthy of the same Honour as the Father

'The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.'

(John 5:22-23)

What is it about Jesus that he should merit equal honour to the Father:

  1. Just as the Father gives life, so the Son gives life (5:21)

  2. He can do this because, just as the Father has life in himself (is self-existent) so the Son has life in himself (is self-existent) (5:26)

  3. It is Jesus who effects our spiritual new birth, giving new life and pardon to all who believe (5:24)

  4. It is Jesus who effects the final resurrection, either to life or judgement (5:29) and he has the authority to judge (5:22)

4. Jesus is to be Worshipped

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'..and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him" (Matthew 2:1-2,11)

Right at his birth Jesus received worship from the wise.

When Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water, he began to sink, "and cried out, 'Lord, save me.' Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?' And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" (Matthew 15:28-33)

Seeing Jesus' Lordship over all creation, the disciples responded appropriately and worshipped him.

When the resurrected Jesus (the one who declared, 'I lay down my life and I take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.' John 10:17-18) when he appeared to the disciples and said 'Greetings!' 'They came and took hold of his feet and worshipped him.' Matthew 28:9)

 

5. Jesus is the Way

We began by saying that what we believe about Jesus is essential to our salvation. This is because he alone is the way to God:

"Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John.14:5-6)

Once a curtain stood between man and God (Exodus 26:33) barring access except through Levitical priests (Leviticus 16) Aaron alone represented Israel before God in the sanctuary (Numbers 17:5) and man's own religion was rejected (Leviticus 10:1-3). But now Jesus is 'the way' and to reject, to fail to recognise, Jesus as the way to God is to stand condemned already (John 3:18)

'Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.'

(Hebrews 4:14-16)

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 Reachout Newsletter

Monday, 12 October 2015

(Mis) Understanding Mormonism

mormon billboard

Recent years have seen the Mormon Church redouble its efforts at repackaging itself for a new generation. They're use of Search Engine Optimisation, content marketing, and social media is astonishingly slick and professional. Enter the word 'Bible' into your search engine and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will appear on the first page of results. 'Christ' gave me the same result third entry down on that page. 'New Testament' gave them second place. Type in Mormon and top place is given to mormon.org, with half the page given over to Mormon sites. You have to be impressed.

 

Mormon.Org

Mormon.org is a simple ( you might say simplistic) introduction to Mormonism. It has 12 simple, click and play short videos that present a misleadingly disarming picture of the Mormon faith. Are these the new Articles of Faith? You can ask questions in a live chat with a missionary, and link through to I'm a Mormon, a carefully selected set of testimonies telling how Mormons are just like you and me.

You can 'Chat with a Mormon,' 'Find a church,' arrange to 'Meet with Missionaries,' and, 'Request a free Book of Mormon.' Those last two amount to the same thing. Request a Book of Mormon and it will usually come with a missionary attached. There are links to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and Instagram pages, and they are right on top of Wikipedia entries on Mormonism.

The official site of the Mormon Church is as professional as it gets and we might conclude that lessons might be learned from these people in how to get your message across. There can be little doubt that Mormonism leads the field in bringing itself to market, presenting a wholesome image, and convincing folk of its 'Christian' credentials. But there's the rub. Look further into these sites and it quickly becomes apparent that much of their time is spent trying to convince folk that Mormons are Christians, that they are this not that, and correcting apparent misconceptions and misunderstandings about the Mormon Church.

 

If a Mormon Apostle Can't Tell You...

M Russell BallardM Russell Ballard is a Mormon apostle and chairman of the church’s Public Affairs Committee. In an experiment designed to test the viability of news conferences using internet technology, the church released a series of video clips in October 2007 in which he addressed some of the questions most frequently asked by the news media. In a statement on their official web site the church said:

“The video clips were produced to help better define the Church in the public mind - especially among journalists - at a time when it has become the subject of nationwide discussion. A series of national opinion polls has shown that a large segment of the population knows little or nothing about the Church.”

The questions addressed in what we were told may be the first in a series of such interviews were:

  1. Are you Christian? What is the role of Jesus Christ in your faith?
    1. Do you worship Jesus Christ in your Sunday services?
    2. Why do some people say you are a cult?
    3. In what ways are you similar to other Christians?
    4. In what ways do you differ from other Christians?
    5. Was Joseph Smith a prophet? Are prophets necessary today?
    6. Is there scientific proof authenticating the Book of Mormon?
    7. Does the Church support political candidates?

One of the most common questions is, “Are Mormons Christians?” In responding to question 3, he said, “I think it is a matter of misunderstanding. I think it’s a matter of characterization that has grown up over the generations of time by the lack of understanding.”

On the face of it this seems a healthy exercise in informing and enlightening the public in the face of a general lack of understanding. Such exercises in explaining are so accepted a part of Mormonism however that we perhaps fail to reflect on how very peculiar they are for a church that calls itself Christian. Of course, every organisation produces publicity these days, even local Evangelical churches having their own web sites, blogs etc. but, where other churches tell the gospel and advertise church programmes, the Mormon Church seems to be constantly fighting a rearguard action against misunderstandings and misconceptions.

This is all the more puzzling for a church that has a professional Public Affairs Committee, local, regional and global publicity initiatives and a relentless programme of self-promotion. Is Mormonism hard to understand? Why does the church continually have to “explain” itself? Who is causing the apparent confusion?

 

Misdirection: Like in Magic Shows

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We begin to understand the source of misunderstandings, so-called, when we look at M Russell Ballard’s answer to the question, “Is there scientific proof authenticating the Book of Mormon?” This is a good and legitimate question since Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon is an historical document telling the true history, secular and sacred, of the Americas, the main period covered being from BC 600 to AD 421. This is not a particularly remote period in the world’s history and a simple answer, one would expect, may be eminently accessible. The plain answer is, “No, there is no scientific proof authenticating the Book of Mormon.” Ballard’s reply was rather more circumspect:

“I don’t believe that’s how people will ever come to know whether or not the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I remember an experience that I had as mission president some years ago when I presided over the affairs of the Church in Eastern Canada. I met with about 30 different ministers of different religions and then I let them ask me questions and the very first question I was asked was by a fine minister who said, “Mr. Ballard, if you just give us the gold plates and let us see that they exist, then we would know that the Book of Mormon is true.” And I looked at him and I said, “Father, you know better than that. You’re a man of the cloth. You know that God has never revealed religious truth to the heart and soul of a man or a woman except by the power of the spirit. Now you could have those plates, you could turn the pages, you could look at it, you could hold it, and you wouldn’t know any more after that experience whether or not the book is true than you would have before. My question to you; have you ever read the Book of Mormon?” And he said, “No, I haven’t.” That’s how people will come to know whether or not the Book of Mormon is true. You will not get to know it by trying to prove it archeologically or by DNA or by anything else in my judgment. Just pick it up and read it and pray about it and you will come to know religious truth is always confirmed by what you feel and that’s the way Heavenly Father answers prayers.”

Like a consummate politician, he has answered a completely different question. No one asked whether it is the word of God, as important as that may be to a Mormon. No wonder there is apparent confusion when a Mormon leader can’t give a straight answer to a straight question. What is happening here? It’s simple really. When someone answers a question they think you ought to have asked and not the question you asked they are not bringing clarity where there was confusion, they are changing the subject. They are saying, “I don’t want you to think about it like that, I want you to think about it like this.” Its called misdirection and magicians do it to distract you from what is really going on.

He doesn’t want you to think about Book of Mormon archaeology because there is no such thing. He wants you, instead, to think about and adopt the Mormon view of revelation:

“You know that God has never revealed religious truth to the heart and soul of a man or a woman except by the power of the spirit... You will not get to know it by trying to prove it archeologically or by DNA or by anything else in my judgment.”

This is surprisingly close to the current secular understanding of faith as something that is fed by ignorance and held to against the evidence.

 

Saving Faith v Mormon Faith

However, saving faith is consistent with knowledge and a true understanding of facts. Indeed, faith can be defined in three steps; intellectual understanding, emotional approval and personal decision. It is not true that Christians are asked to emotionally and personally commit to a message that is intellectually inadequate. Contrary to popular lore, the Bible makes frequent appeals to our intellectual processes and to evidences that challenge our thinking.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Ro.10:17). What message? John wrote:

'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.' (1 John 1:1-3)

There was an empty tomb, living witnesses, names, dates, places, and an historical provenance, all of which could be known intellectually. The call to faith, the message, is based on real events, evidenced by historical verities and eye-witness reports. Paul wrote to the Galatians, who had strayed from the pure message he had preached, “Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1).

Of course, facts alone do not make saving faith. Even the demons have a firm grasp of the facts (James 2:19). The facts attested to by creation; by God’s acting in history in choosing a people for himself, giving the law and then fulfilling it in Christ; by the life, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of His Son; by the establishment of his church on the testimony of living witnesses and in the work of the Holy Spirit; all these facts together challenge us to give emotional consent to the truth.

This realisation of the truth, in turn, challenges us to make a personal commitment. Christians are saved because of the facts not in spite of the facts or in the absence of facts. When Ballard insists that, “God has never revealed religious truth to the heart and soul of a man or a woman except by the power of the spirit” he is only telling part of the truth. Of course truth is revealed to the heart by the Spirit, but it is the intellect that conveys to the heart the facts to which the Spirit testifies. If there are no facts there is nothing to know, and nothing to which we can reasonably commit ourselves.

It might be argued that conversion is seldom so neat a process, personal commitment following on from emotional approval based on intellectual understanding. However, whether ours is a crisis experience or a process nevertheless intellectual content is always a substantial part of conversion. Many come to faith out of an instinctive realisation of a need for and a seeking after God, only afterwards seeking intellectual order to what they have come to believe. Nevertheless, the Bible still challenges us to deal with known facts and intellectually established truth.

 

Blind Faith

Mormons, however, consider it a virtue to believe in the absence of facts and ask people to give emotional consent to what cannot be intellectually verified, indeed is intellectually implausible, and to make a personal commitment on the basis of emotional subjectivity based on Moroni’s promise. That is exactly what Ballard is doing in his answer, by asking, “Have you ever read the Book of Mormon?” and insisting, “That’s how people will come to know whether or not the Book of Mormon is true. You will not get to know it by trying to prove it archeologically or by DNA or by anything else in my judgment. Just pick it up and read it and pray about it and you will come to know religious truth is always confirmed by what you feel and that’s the way Heavenly Father answers prayers.”

Some time ago I received an email from a Mormon friend, the signature of which read, “Never mind the doctrine, feel the love”. This kind of non-thinking leads to a form of Gnosticism where the claims of the Mormon are rendered invulnerable to criticism from outside by the fact that the Mormon has had a certain experience. “I know the church is true”, goes the mantra of this new Gnosticism, “I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God.” But this knowledge has no basis in reality, instead depending on purely subjective experiences and impressions gained while reading a book the provenance of which is in serious question.

Lest Evangelical believers get smug about this, I should say that this is a problem amongst Christians. In an essay entitled Theology and the Church: Divorce or Remarriage? Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, makes an impassioned appeal to the church and the Christian academy to understand and complement each other’s work, lamenting the fact that too many believers put knowledge and experience in opposition to one another. Our faith has a basis in the real world around us, can stand close intellectual scrutiny, and is intellectually compelling as well as spiritually challenging. That cannot be said of Mormonism.

The apparent confusion a Mormon might perceive in people’s minds regarding the Mormon faith is not based on ignorance and misunderstanding on the part of non-Mormons. Indeed, those who take the time to study the Mormon Church and its beliefs have little difficulty understanding its provenance, progress and development. Rather, they struggle only with understanding the credulity that leads someone to believe such implausible claims. The Mormon is simply predisposed to assume misunderstanding on the part of critics because that is the only way he can explain to himself why people reject what he “knows” is true.

This approach is modelled by leaders like M. Russell Ballard who, notwithstanding being an apostle of the church, can throw no more light into the dark corners of Mormonism and is thrown back on having to appeal to the enquirer to “pray about it”. Of course, this all sounds rather virtuous, praying about it and receiving spiritual impressions, but the Berean spirit (Acts 17) tells us that we are not to be satisfied with having a good impression of either the message or the messenger. No less an authority than the apostle Paul was put to intellectually rigorous testing by the Bereans “to see if what Paul said was true” and they were commended for it!

Finally, it must be realised that, while there is a paucity of Mormon facts to support Mormon claims nevertheless there is a raft of factual information to challenge and refute those claims. Indeed, established facts in those very areas that M Russell Ballard insists will never satisfy the enquirer regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon show Mormonism to be untrue. New World archaeology, DNA, historical data, hermeneutics, biblical theology, a range of disciplines show that the Book of Mormon is not “true” as Mormons claim.

The confusion is on the part of the Mormons who refuse to address the facts and who studiously avoid the intellectual challenges that should be the familiar friends of true believers. If they would simply address the facts they would clear up any confusion and bring clarity and reality to their search for truth. Many have already done so and rejoice in coming to know the truth of the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians need to understand this and be encouraged to grow in the knowledge of their faith and confidently share it with their Mormon friends.

Recommended Reading:

Carl Trueman, The Wages of Spin, pub. Christian Focus Publications, 2004

Forster and Marston, Reason and Faith, pub. Monarch Publications, 1989

Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Word, Exploring biblical spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, pub. IVP, 2004

This article first appeared in the September edition of the Reachout Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here and download a free 40-page Reachout Beginner’s Guide to the Cults

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

5 Ways Cults Twist Scripture

 

By What Authority?

cult2Ask a cult member about their faith and they will come up with a rote answer, often couched in the language of testimony. This is meant to redirect your attention away from the question, to the claims of the cult thrown in a positive light. Usually someone 'went back to the Bible,' 'had a vision,' 'felt led by God to do something,' and 'when I did the same thing I came to the same conclusions.'

Charles Russell and his Bible study group studied the Bible for themselves and found 'The Truth'. I did the same thing and discovered 'The Truth' too. Joseph Smith went into the woods and prayed and got an answer, I prayed and got my own answer. This becomes the authority for every subsequent claim and robust apologetic study is bypassed by personal knowledge/revelation.

Challenge them and they will quote their own leaders as the final authority on – everything. This leads to unquestioning loyalty and blind belief in a world view that goes untested. It can be difficult to get them to reason from the Scripture, which is twisted to their world-view when their world view should adapt to Scripture, difficult to get them to question their own assumptions, to challenge their own leaders.

This approach has them believing their doctrine is to be found in the Bible, even when it is clear that they learn it from another source altogether; for the Mormon the latest study manual, church magazines, and their 'prophets,' for the Jehovah's Witness the Watchtower and the latest study book. This can lead them to swallowing whole some incredible claims, believing the Bible and Bible scholarship backs them up. Here are five notable examples of reading back into the Bible what cult leaders have taught.

1. 'Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.' Luke 12:32

This text is used by the Watchtower Society to teach that only a small number will inherit the kingdom. They are later identified as the 144,000.

This verse comes near the end of one uninterrupted statement made by Jesus to his disciples in which he bids them not to worry. Here is the familiar 'consider the lilies' teaching. It begins in verse 22, 'Then Jesus said to his disciples...do not worry...' and ends with instructions to them as to how they would go about their ministry (vv33-34) The words they use are clearly addressed to his disciples, reiterating the charge not to worry, the kingdom is theirs. This is a typical example of cults twisting Scripture.

So who inherits the kingdom? The Bible tells us that:

Believers will be in one flock under one shepherd (Jn.10:16) and are, '...fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household,' (Eph.4:19) that, 'Our citizenship is in heaven,' (Philp.3:20)

We are to, 'set [our] hearts on things above,' (Col.3:1) 'share in the heavenly calling' (Heb.3:1) and, 'have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God' (Heb.12:22) and we, 'will receive a rich welcome in the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' (2 Pet.1:11)

Furthermore, Rev.7:9 speaks of 'a great crowd that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language...' who are they, this great crowd? Rev.5:9 speaks of Christ, with his blood, purchasing, 'men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to serve our God...' (Rev.5:9) Where is this great crowd? John sees them, 'standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb [serving] him night and day in his temple.' (Rev.7:15)

 

2. 'Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets' Amos 3:7

Mormons insist this text proves that God always works through a prophet on the earth. Today, that prophet, they insist, is the head of their church. Cults always set up their own, extra-biblical, authority.

The context here is judgement. Earlier we read, 'You made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy. Now then, I will crush you...' (2:12) God had previously warned Israel that, because of their disobedience, he was now bringing judgement, but not before warning was given, 'through his servants the prophets.' The message here is that when God is going to move significantly in Israel he will reveal his intentions through prophets.

Furthermore, the words of the prophets are as relevant today as in the day they delivered them. The teaching of Jesus is peppered with references to prophets and the fulfilment of their prophecies. Christians today still look to the prophets and, like Jesus, see and declare the fulfilment today of God's word through prophets of old.

3. 'Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.' Mark 11:23-24

Word/Faith teachers insist this supports their claim that, anything they ask for in faith, they can have, as long as they believe. Cults are known for making fantastic claims for themselves, blessings available only to followers. What is Jesus saying here?

In the very next verse Jesus declares, 'If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.' Clearly, forgiveness is not ours for the asking. Furthermore, Paul prayed earnestly and faithfully for healing, and if anyone might expect his prayers for healing to be answered it is Paul. Yet God didn't heal him, saying, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Cor.12:9)

Although Paul was able to heal (Acts 28:9) he couldn't heal Epaphroditus (Philip.2:25) and nor could he heal Trophitus (2 Tim.4:20)

Word/Faith teachers question the faith of believers when they fail to be healed. But if belief on the part of the sick was a condition of their being healed how do we explain those times when Jesus raised the dead (Lk.7:10-15) and healed the demon-possessed, neither of whom could exercise faith (Mt.8:28-34)?

The truth is that we must abide in him - Jn.15:7; We are not to ask with wrong motives - James 4:3; we must ask according to his will - Jn.1514. Even Jesus prayed 'if it be your will' - Mt.26:39 and so we approach God's throne with right motives, asking according to his will, abiding in him, and willing, like Jesus, to submit to the wisdom of God.

4. 'When God brings his Son into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'' Heb.1:6

The New World Translation of this text gives, 'and let all of God's angels do obeisance to him.' Obeisance refers to simply bowing and Witnesses insist this is not worship but giving due honour. A cult will, typically, demote Jesus in some way.  Is this what the text is saying?

There are many examples of men worshipping Jesus. After the episode when Jesus walked on water we are told, 'Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.' (Mt.14:33) Note the similarity with God's command to the angels.

After Jesus' resurrection, the disciples, 'clasped his feet and worshipped him' (Mt.28:9) Later, before he issued the great commission, 'When they saw him, they worshipped him...' (Mt.28:17)

And, of course, when John appeared the second time to the apostles and showed himself to Thomas, he said, 'Stop doubting and believe.' (Jn.20:27) A couple of verses later, Jesus said to Thomas, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen [that's us] and yet have believed.' (V29)

Believed what?

'Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God.' (v28)

Jesus told his disciples, 'God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.' (Jn.4:24) The word used here for 'worship' is proskuneō. The same word is used in the texts we have identified where Jesus is worshipped. It simply doesn't mean obeisance.

5.“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God.” 1 Corinthians 8:5

This is a key text since it is from here Mormons argue that, although there are clearly many gods, yet Mormons only worship one God, “for to us there is but one God”.

Paul is writing here about food offered to idols not the order and population of the cosmos. The question is, should Christians buy food in the marketplace that has almost certainly been offered to some pagan “god” or other? His answer is yes because “We know that an idol is nothing at all in this world, and that there is no God but one.” (v4) In other words, these “gods” are idols and not true gods therefore they are of no consequence.

He goes on to declare, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth [as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”], yet for us there is but one God.” The NIV brings out the meaning very well in calling them “so-called gods”.

He does recognise that 'not everyone knows this' (v7) that is, not everyone knows these are only 'so-called gods.' He then counsels that those who know this should be sensitive towards those who “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” (v7)

Later he writes, 'Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak' (v9) In other words, to pay heed to these false gods is a mistake and a sign of weakness. We are free to eat, but we should be patient with those who, in their weakness, still feel there is something in it and fear to partake.

There is no substitute for careful and thorough attention to God's word in Scripture. A good working knowledge of Scripture, a solid understanding of how to find your way around the Bible, and a reading around the text for context are vital for understanding and for sharing the truth with the authority of Scripture.

 

This article first appeared in the September edition of the Reachout Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here and download a free 40-page Reachout Beginner’s Guide to the Cults

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Rob Bell: From Seminary to Operah

by Jon Taylor

Background

220px-Rob_Bell_2011_ShankboneA decade ago, Zondervan published Rob Bell’s first book ‘Velvet Elvis’i which caused quite a stir amongst evangelicals although that was just a ripple compared with the tidal wave caused by his 2011 publication ‘Love Wins.’ii In particular, John Piper was deeply concerned about Bell’s thoughts on penal substitution and the atonement.iii Rob Bell usually writes in a mysterious and provocative style, appealing to a postmodern audience, often leaving questions unanswered before raising another issue. There is typically a lack of clarity leaving the intended meaning open to discussion. Although not expressly stated in the respective texts, both books have come under criticism for either bordering Universalism or presenting Universalist ideas.

At the time of authoring ‘Velvet Elvis’, Rob Bell was the Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan which is not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s former church, Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. In fact Driscoll had grave reservations regarding Bell’s theology which was published in 2008 in the Christian Research Journal in a helpful article entitled ‘Navigating the Emerging Church Highway’.iv

Rob Bell obtained his M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and then pastored Mars Hill until, 2012. The question is however, how did Rob Bell go from being a Pastor of a mega-church to delivering his view of spirituality while publically delivering a surfing lesson to an irreverent comedian that was speaking profanities, and then having his ‘Soul Sunday’ show on Oprah?v The inevitable outcome is that if someone is lost at sea and they are trying to reach the shore, though they may have veered off course only a few degrees at first, over time they will eventually arrive distant miles away from their intended destination.

In addition to ‘Velvet Elvis’ and ‘Love Wins’, Rob Bell authored ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’, ‘The Zimzum of love’, ‘Sex God’, ‘Drops like Stars’ and ‘Jesus wants to save Christians’. He also produced a series of short films, tour films and the popular NOOMA films. Bell carried out his ‘Everything is Spiritual Tour’ in 2006 and is latest project is the 2015 version with new ideas and perspectives.

Nevertheless, before ‘Love Wins’ and ‘Oprah’, the warning signs were visible. It is difficult to state exactly where Rob Bell fits in both theological and church circles since he readily admits that his views are constantly evolving and that his wife Kristen is apparently three steps ahead of him. His teaching has influenced a wide audience in both Christendom and the secular world. Generally speaking Rob Bell is one of the three most prolific emerging church leaders, the other two being Brian McLaren author of ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’vi and Doug Pagitt who has challenged the view of a literal heaven and hell and views Christianity as an evolving system.vii ‘Love Wins’ was also defended by Eugene Peterson, author of ‘The Message’.viii Rob Bell’s other well- known associates include Greg Boyd and Tony Campolo.

Ambiguity

Rob Bell is extremely adept at either not answering a question adequately or responding to a question with another question or statement. The problem with this approach is that it makes it difficult to clarify what he is actually saying, permitting him the flexibility to appeal to a wide audience. Furthermore some of his statements appear to be dressed up in mysticism and they are so ambiguous that other than the fact that he is questioning basic Christian doctrines his comments are open to interpretation. For example consider the following statement from ‘Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith’.

‘Jesus at one point claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than other religions. That completely misses the point, the depth, the truth. Rather he was telling those who were following him, that his way is the way to the depth of reality. This kind of life Jesus was living, perfectly and completely, in connection and cooperation with God, is the best possible way for a person to live. It is how things are.’ix

This statement undermines rather than upholds the truth. Actually Rob Bell misses the point that Jesus is the only way and that none can come to the Father except through Him. This verse is about salvation, not ‘the way to the depth of reality’. ‘The best possible way for a person to live’ mentioned above suggests a self-help gospel, a take it or leave it lifestyle choice and ignores the urgency, seriousness and exclusiveness of what Jesus taught here. If someone who wasn’t a Christian read Bell’s comments on John 14:6, they would be encouraged to explore the ‘way to the depth of reality’ rather than recognizing that they need to trust in Christ alone.

Acts 4:12 clarifies the same truth as John 14:6, ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved’. The problem is confounded further as we will see later, that Rob Bell has a theologically liberal interpretation of both heaven and hell. Unsurprisingly Rob Bell doesn’t appear to enlighten us with what ‘the way to the depth of reality’ is supposed to mean either.

Typically Bell raises one point or fires off a few questions, makes a few comments and then opens up another can of worms and then races through from one issue to the next. While it seems incredulous that this type of postmodern doublespeak was undetected by many, even the subtitle ‘repainting the faith’ should have raised the alarm bells. Remember Jude desired to write of our common salvation although he found it necessary to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Heaven, Hell and Earth

Love WinsIn Love Wins, Rob Bell explores important doctrines, although he doesn't exegete scripture correctly by forming his beliefs from what the Bible actually says, but imposes his own views about, presumably, what he wants to believe regarding heaven and hell. His arguments are often emotionally charged rather than rational and consistent. He concentrates on bringing heaven to earth. Throughout the chapter, Bell portrays various scenarios that question whether one has to believe and follow God to enter heaven, but without actually saying that.

‘Think about the single mom, trying to raise kids, work multiple jobs, and wrangle child support out of the child’s father, who used to beat her. She’s faithful, true and utterly devoted to her children. In spite of the circumstances, she never loses hope that they can be raised in love and go on to break the cycle of dysfunction and abuse…

With what she has been given she is faithful. She is a woman of substance. She never gives up. She is kind and loving even when she is exhausted.

She can be trusted. Is she the last who Jesus says will be the first?

Does God say to her, “You’re the kind of person I can run the world with”?x

This is subjective moralism, not the gospel. It is suggesting ‘I must try really hard to be good and kind to others and God will be pleased with me’. In fairness, all the above qualities are good in one sense in that they are commendable and to some extent reflect the character of a believer. However it still doesn't affect the most basic truth that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and we are saved by grace, not by works. (Romans 3:23; Eph.2:8-9).

The discourse on hell in the following chapter is pretty similar to the one that precedes it on heaven. Again with a mixture of anecdotes and Bible references, Bell pontificates, but doesn't define exactly his understanding of what hell is. If he did, it would be much easier to evaluate with greater clarity what he is actually communicating. In a similar way to how Bell encourages ‘bringing heaven to earth’, he is keen for his readers to avoid ‘hell on earth’.

‘Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death.’xi

This could be insinuating that some who believe in a literal everlasting hell are not so concerned about the ‘hells’ as Bell puts it, or sufferings and injustices on earth as they should be. However the most loving and caring thing one can ever do for another person on earth is to share the gospel with them so that they may enjoy heaven and fellowship with God forever and avoid everlasting punishment that was originally intended for the Devil and his angels. Since hell is everlasting (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 20:10, 19) everyone should be greatly concerned about hell and warn others so that they can trust and believe in God and go to heaven instead.

‘What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich young man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next.

There are individual hells, and communal, society wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.’xii

This is clearly a parable and the point is not about alleviating ‘individual, communal or society-wide ‘hells’ on earth’ but hearing, believing and trusting in God, now on earth and avoiding the real, everlasting torment in hell after this life. Though some of the atrocities that occur right now on earth are horrific and almost unspeakable, they should not be confused with hell in its everlasting sense and the intended meaning of what the Bible affirms.

Universalism

Bell employs a wide range of loaded presuppositions to present his arguments. Rather than allowing scripture to speak for itself, he presents either/or questions to apparently corner the reader if they try to object to a view being presented. This line of reasoning is appealing to a philosophical understanding of how he would like God to act as opposed to taking into account all of God’s attributes and purposes that are given to us in the Bible.

Here is a loaded question which is based on philosophical speculation rather than biblical principles, failing to recognize or even consider that God is holy and just as well as loving.

‘Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love? Thousands through the years have answered that question with the resounding response, “God’s love, of course.”xiii

It does appear though that Bell is giving at least ample support to the view that eventually everyone will be saved.

‘To be clear, again an untold number of serious disciples of Jesus across hundreds of years have assumed, affirmed, and trusted that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever, because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest of hearts’xiv

Bell also appeals to emotional pleas, rather than what Scripture affirms. While the Bible teaches clearly that the gate to life is narrow and the way to destruction is broad (Matt. 7:13-14), Bell doesn't flatly deny that, but tries to broaden the entrance.

‘And so space is created in this “who would doubt God’s ability to do that?” perspective for all kinds of people-fifteen year old atheists, people from other religions, and people who rejected Jesus because the only Jesus they ever saw was an oppressive figure who did anything but show God’s love.’xv

Same Sex Marriage

Some emergent church leaders that now support same-sex marriage were previously non-committal regarding the subject. In particular Rob Bell’s ally Brian McLaren, was formerly considering the issue calling for a five year moratorium and if he were to obtain insufficient clarity at the end of that period, he would request another five years, though he now supports it and even led his son’s same sex ‘commitment ceremony’.

Rob Bell, co-authored ‘The Zimzum of love A New Way to Understand Marriage’ with his wife Kristen. The Christian Post reports that on Oprah Winfrey Rob Bell stated ‘that the American church is “moments away” from embracing gay marriage and thinks “its inevitable.”’xvi Oprah thought it was great that they included gay marriage in their book and asked them why.

“One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness.” replied Rob Bell. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy, to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.”xvii

Soul to Soul with Oprah

On Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Super Soul Sunday programme, she fires a series of questions which Rob Bell fields. If there were any reservations concerning whether Bell’s theological views are vaguely biblical the answers speak for themselves. The excerpt which lasts a little over four minutes can be accessed here http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Rob-Bell-and-Oprah-Go-Soul-to-Soul-Video .

Oprah “What is the soul?”

Rob It’s the thing that keeps telling you, there’s more. There’s more. This isn’t just a meal. This isn’t just a person. This isn’t just an embrace. This isn’t just an interview.”

Oprah “There’s more?”

Rob “Yeah, There’s more.”

Oprah “Your definition of God?”

Rob “Like a song you hear in another room and you think, that sounds beautiful but I only can hear a little bit so you start opening doors and rearranging furniture cause you have to get in that room to hear that song and when you get in you find the knobs and you turn them all on the right cause you’re like I’ve got to hear more of that and then you open the windows because you want the people in the next houses to hear it.

Oprah “What’s the difference between religion and spirituality, or is there a difference?”

Rob “Well you know some say that religion is people that don’t want to go to hell and spirituality is people that have been to hell already umm religion should be the structures, the prayer tables, the things that you do, in the course, it should help you, it should cultivate, it should be the practises it should be the symbols, it should be the rituals that cultivate your sense that there is more.

Oprah “What does prayer mean to you?”

Rob “Prayer to me is usually one word which is yes, yes, I’m, open, what’s next, that’s what it is.”

Oprah “What is the lesson it’s taken you the longest to learn?”

Rob “That there is nothing to prove. Cause you’re young and you start out and you‘re like da dum, look at me I can work harder, I can work faster, I’m smarter, look at me, respect everyone understand what I’m and then later you realise that there’s nothing to prove anymore, all there is left to do is enjoy.

Oprah “What do you think happens when we die?

Rob “I think there’s a tonne of Oh, because there’s all these people that have gone before you. And so people who say then you meet God, I think yeah but I never met my grandpa on my dad’s side so actually when I think of like dying I think of, I’ll get to meet Preston. That’s actually what I think of first. I don’t think of sort of, gold and a throne and like a “hello Rob well done, you’re strange but I like you anyway.” I don’t think of that, I think of like my grandpa that I never met. To be honest and like heritage and family and bloodline.”

Oprah “All of them who came before you?”

Rob “Yeah I somehow think of flesh and blood, I think of like people I’ve heard about.”

Oprah “You think you’re going to see them?

Rob “I do actually.”

Oprah “And will they be in flesh and blood?

Rob “May be at some point we are known for our essence and whatever that looks like or feels like.”

Oprah “What do you know for sure?”

That you can say yes to this moment and experience a joy that can’t be put into words. That is actually possible. I know that for sure.

Oprah “The world needs. Finish that sentence, the world needs?”

Rob “All of us to wake- up.”

Oprah “I believe?”

Rob “That we’re going to be fine. I really do.”

Oprah “Heaven is?

Rob “Here and now and then and there and at hand and among us and upon us and available and real.”

Oprah “God is?”

Rob “Oh Love. Stick to that one. God is love.”

Oprah “Yeah.”

Oprah “My favourite thing to do on Sunday morning is?”

Rob “Erm my thirteen year old son and I will often go surfing and we’ll be sitting in the water and its quiet and sometimes a dolphin will go by and we’ll talk and it’s perfect, perfect.”

Conclusion

A lesson to be learnt here is that a lack of clarity breeds confusion. In this so called post-modern era where boundaries and parameters are undefined and discussion is heralded as of greater value than presenting timeless truths contained within God’s Word, chaos is both inevitably and predictably the result. In just over a decade, Rob Bell went from preaching ambiguous messages to thousands, to a religious talk show on Oprah Winfrey.

Departure from scriptural truths and principles open the door wide open for any and every wind of doctrine. No doubt some will be impressed and others disappointed concerning Rob Bell’s appearances on Oprah. What is certain is that from his answers provided in the interview above, his understanding of who God is, what prayer is, what happens when we die and what heaven is, is either inadequate ,or doesn’t resemble anything like what the Bible teaches.

The views presented here, all but in name, advocate universalism. Heresies often preached or written in books and blogs or delivered in discussion forums, are usually brought in as apparently innocent questions before they are swiftly taken on as new or fresh insights and have crept in unawares in many churches. We should therefore carefully exercise discernment and weigh everything with what the Bible permits. We are experiencing a deluge of heretical ideas that are not essentially original but in many ways resemble the myriad views that the Early Church Fathers spent so much time refuting at length.

It is time to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints and to be ready to help others caught up amidst the confusion. We need to speak the truth in love. So ‘Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6).

 

This article first appeared in the September edition of the Reachout Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here and download a free 40-page Reachout Beginner’s Guide to the Cults

 

i Kevin Moore http://reachouttrust.org/related-issues/a-biblical-critique-of-velvet-elvis-repainting-the-christian-faith/

ii Matt Slick https://carm.org/love-wins

iii http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/30/farewell-rob-bell/

iv Mark Driscoll Navigating the Emerging Church Highway http://www.equip.org/article/navigating-the-emerging- church-highway/

v http://www.christianpost.com/news/rob-bell-talks-jesus-while-surfing-loses-it-during-profound-profane-segment-on-pete-holmes-show-video-110157/

vi Jon Taylor http://reachouttrust.org/?s=brian+maclaren

vii Doug Pagitt Biography Pagitt Sees Theology as ‘Ever Changing’ http://christianity.about.com/od/Emerging-Church/a/Doug-Pagitt.htm

viii Jon Taylor http://reachouttrust.org/new-age/the-message/

ix Rob Bell Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Harper Collins; London, 2012), p5-6

x Rob Bell Love Wins

xi Ibid, p79

xii Ibid, p79

xiii Ibid, p109

xiv Ibid, p108

xv Ibid

xvi http://www.christianpost.com/news/former-megachurch-pastor-rob-bell-tells-oprah-the-church-is-moments-away-from-embracing-gay-marriage-134264/

xvii Ibid

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Watchtower’s 144,002

Watchtower and Herald of Christ's PresenceThe American 19th Century was a religious boiling pot from which all kinds of ideas, abstractions, and movements emerged, from the early days of the Seventh Day Adventists, through the followers of William Miller (Millerites), and John Thomas (Christadelphians), to the Watchtower Society in the latter part of the century. Such groups were overwhelmingly preoccupied by the second Adventism that grew out of the 18th century.

With Christ's return insistently taught as imminent, caution was thrown to the wind as people sold off their properties, gave away money, and confessed teachings that, on reflection, they might have treated with greater caution. Date setting was commonplace, failed prophecies were legion, and teachings were not-so-subtly changed to accommodate new circumstances.

 

144,000 King-Priests

We are familiar with the Watchtower teaching regarding the Old and New Covenants, that the Old, or Law, Covenant is between Jehovah and Israel, and the New Covenant is between Jesus and 144,000 'anointed Christians.' We know very well the problem Jehovah's Witnesses face when challenged to explain which covenant they fall under. That they are not in the Old Covenant is clear enough, because that is done away with, but they are not in the New because only a limited number (144,000) enter that covenant.

We are told on JW.og, under the title How God Will Accomplish His Purpose that the New Covenant:

...legally unites anointed Christians with Christ to be kings and serve as priests in heaven.

...provides a legal basis for 144,000 Christians to be adopted as sons of God and to become the additional part of the “offspring”

As Christians we believe that the whole body of Christ is 'a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God...' (1 Pet.2:9) and all are adopted into the family of God, with the privilege of calling God 'Abba, Father.' (Ro.8:15-16 cf. V23, 9:4; Gal.4:5; Eph.1:5) Jehovah's Witnesses restrict these privileges to the 144,000, who will reign from heaven. The rest, the 'great crowd,' will live on earth and be ruled from heaven by this 'little flock.' So far we are on familiar, if questionable, territory.

What is the status of this select 'little flock' before the throne of God? In the book What Does the Bible Really Teach they are described as kings, 'selected by God [to] rule together with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom.' (p.78) In Reasoning From the Scriptures they are described as 'priests of God...[who will] rule as kings over the earth.' (p168) The Watchtower of 1 July 1990, p.9 tells us:

'The new covenant, which is made operative by Jesus' shed blood, replaces the old Law covenant. It is mediated by Jesus Christ between two parties – on the one hand, Jehovah God, on the other, 144,000 spirit-begotten Christians. Besides providing for forgiveness of sins, the covenant allows for the formation of a heavenly nation of king-priests.'

These are, then, 144,000 king-priests who will reign with Christ in the new creation. In the 19th Century they appear to have been much more than simply king-priests.

 

The Divine Nature

In an early Watchtower publication, Zion's Watch Tower, October/November 1881 (forerunner of the Watchtower magazine of today) we read:

'No one is justified to the Divine nature by Christ's death – no, it was human life that was lost through Adam, and to human life all are justified by Christ. It was because it was a human nature that was lost that Jesus left the glory he had with the Father, and took upon him the human nature – that he might give or sacrifice it as a ransom for our human nature. In a word, it was to be evident to all that Jesus' death is the basis or cause of the restitution of the human nature, but not a cause of the giving of the Divine nature.

Secondly, we remark that the Divine nature is Jehovah's gift – given as a reward of obedience (even unto death), to those who, by patient perseverance, in well doing seek for it - “Glory, Honour, and Immortality.”' (Italics in original)

In keeping, in other words, with how we understand Watchtower teaching, Jesus' shed blood redeems, or ransoms fallen humanity back to its original state to Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Scripture refers to those who those who, participate in the Divine nature,' (2 Pet.1:4) Whoever participates in the Divine nature, it is not the Great Crowd, who are not in the covenant, and therefore cannot rule with Christ. There are, however, those who will thus participate, as the second point above makes clear. It seems they qualify themselves by the sheer weight of obedience. The article goes on:

'Paul informs us that it was because of obedience even unto the death of the human, that God highly exalted Jesus, or made him a Divine being...And the promise held out during the Gospel age, under which the Bride or Body of Christ is called out of the world is, that if we follow in Jesus' footsteps, we shall attain to the same prize and experience that high exaltation from the human nature to the Glory, Honour, and Immortality of the Divine – as members of a body under Jesus our head.

The conditions of this high exaltation are so severe though many are called, few will be chosen, because only a few will make their calling and selection (sic) sure by so running as to attain that great prize (1 Cor.9:24)

It is an extraordinary prize and it is no easy race as all the runners testify from the head all down through this age. Yet, though difficult we run it with joy for the same reason as the head – who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross despising the shame (ed. Note: reference here is to 'the cross', reflecting their use of the KJV. The 2013 NWT gives 'torture stake')

Brother Paul tells us that the exceeding great and precious promises of the Word were given us, that by these (the strength and encouragement that they would afford us, as they did Jesus, to be “obedient even unto death”) we might become partakers of the Divine nature. (2 Pet.1:4)

There is then presented in the article a list of these, 'exceeding great and precious promises,' including sitting with Christ on his throne (Rev.3:21); power to rule over the nations (Rev.2:27); living and reigning with Christ (2 Tim.2:11-12). But if it was the restoration of the human nature that was brought about by Jesus' sacrifice, and the Divine nature is not in Jesus' gift but in the gift of Jehovah, and few find it, who are these few and what is their end and ultimate nature?

'Few there be that find this narrow difficult way. It is, “a little flock to whom it is their Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom.”

 

Watchtower's Jesus is - God?

We conclude then that the titles, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father, are titles, which fully understood, are very appropriate to our Lord Jesus Christ. And we might add that so perfectly is his Bride – body – church, associated with him, both in filling up the measure of the sufferings – being joined in sacrifice and also in the Glory that shall follow, that the same titles are applicable to the church as his body – for “He that hath freely given us Christ, shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” “Therefore all things are yours, and ye are Christ's and Christ is God's”

After the sacrifice soon follows the power which will, under him as our head, constitute the whole body of Christ the “Mighty God” (el - powerful one) to rule and bless the nations – and the body with the head, shall share in the work of restoring the life lost in Adam, and therefore be members of the company which as a whole will be the Everlasting Father to the restored race.'

So, what do we have?

Christ's sacrifice restores humanity to its original state to live in a recreated order.

Because of his perseverance and sacrifice, Jesus becomes a legitimate participant in the Divine nature and can rightly be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father. They have just called Jesus 'God.'

Of those restored from their fallen state to original humanity some, following Jesus' example and through perseverance and sacrifice, become elect of God and also participate in the Divine Nature along with Christ.

 

A 144,000 person Godhead

They are so united with Christ, as the body with the head, as to also be participants in the Divine nature, and may also share in the titles ascribed to Jesus and, 'therefore be members of the company which as a whole will be the Everlasting Father to the restored race.' They have just called Jesus and the 144,000 'God.'

This 144,000, joined to the head, constitute the whole body of Christ, the “Mighty God” (el – powerful one). It is this company, God, Jesus, and the 144,000 who will rule and reign and be instrumental in restoring the life lost in Adam.

This is so reminiscent of the Mormon teaching of a council of gods presided over by God the Father to plan for the progression of God's children through creation to a celestial existence as gods. Both ideas came from the same century and religious milieu, both have subsequently been less spoken of than once they were. If Jehovah's Witnesses struggle with the Trinity, what would they make of this 'godhead' of 144,002?

This article first appeared in the June 2015 Reachout Newsletter.

You can read the source article below. Thanks to Mark Grilus in Calgary for sharing this and to Dave Roberts of Inter-Mountain Christian Ministries, Utah for passing it on.

ZWTMighty god 1  MightygodR 3MightygodL 2

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Right Way Up In An ∩dsᴉpǝ-poʍu World

What do you think of when your hear the word ‘sanctified?’ Paul’s first letter to Christians in Thessalonica is best summed up in verse one of chapter four, ‘How to live in order to please God.’ The context is very important if we are to appreciate its application today. Paul was writing to a church living in what was a hostile environment for Christians, calling them to live sanctified lives. We are beginning to experience this environment in what was traditionally a ‘Christian country.’
You might be aware of recent controversial developments in Ireland regarding gay marriage. Ireland (Eire) has voted to change the constitution to allow gay couples to marry. This has proved an enormous challenge to the Catholic Church that takes a traditional, biblical view on marriage
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You might remember also, in Northern Ireland, Ashers Bakery was successfully prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay message on it. They didn’t refuse custom to a gay man, but simply refused to put on the cake a message that conflicted with their Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. Evangelical/Protestant churches in the province have raised their voices in protest, but to no avail.

A news story from Canada that has just come to light involves a jewellers business approached by a Lesbian couple wanting special rings made for their ‘wedding.’ The couple were so impressed with the product and with the service they received that they recommended the business to friends. Then they discovered it was a Christian business and the owner made no secret of his support for biblical, traditional marriage between a man and a woman for life.

They demanded their deposit back and refused to pick up the rings and pay the balance. The business received hateful messages and physical threats via social media and by phone and finally refunded the money.

Finally, the story has emerged about the surrogate sons of Elton John and David Parrish. Apparently, on the boys’ birth certificate, the mother’s name has been entered as David Parrish.

As Christians, what are we to make of the world’s flight from all that is Godly? It seems so sudden when, only a generation ago, such things were simply unthinkable. How are we to live to please God? How do we live the right way up in this upside-down world?

Sanctified: Set Apart for God


This has been a major theme throughout the Bible. When man’s sin was ripe God called Abraham out of Babylon, where he had been living as a Pagan, and set him apart. God called Abraham to live differently to those people around him, to be holy. Holy means, set apart for a special purpose, set apart for God. Abraham was told that nations would come from him, that through him salvation would come to the whole world. This was God’s purpose in calling him.

So Abraham’s family were different, lived differently, and looked for the day when God would fulfil his promises.

When God brought the children of Abraham, the children of Israel, out of Egypt, he brought them to the foot of the mountain, gave them the law, and told them to live differently, faithfully to the God who saved them.

When God’s people renewed the covenant at Shechem Joshua challenged Israel, ‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’ (Joshua 24:15)

A choice was placed before them: the gods of Egypt, the gods of Canaan, or the LORD?

 

Make us Like the Other Nations


When the people of God demanded of Samuel a king to rule them, they didn’t simply say, ‘we want a king.’ They said, ‘Now appoint us a king to lead us, such as all the nations have.’ (1 Samuel 8:5) God called them to be holy, but they insisted on being base, like other nations. Their sin could not have been worse and God comforts a shocked Samuel, ‘It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing now.’ (1 Samuel 8:7-8)

Their sin was not simply demanding a king, their sin was rejecting the King! It is a sorry tale and it is a theme we find in the New Testament community of God’s people. Paul’s letters frequently address the issue; how do we live in order to please God?

We can learn a lot from Paul’s letter to Thessalonica. In Paul’s day, the divisions between church and society were extreme and often dangerously so. He reminds his readers:

‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.’ (1 Thess.4:3-7)
Paul even goes so far as to echo God’s words to Samuel, writing, ‘He who rejects this instruction [to live holy lives] does not reject man but God, who gives you the Holy Spirit.’ Once again God’s people must choose: the gods of this unholy society, or the Lord!
 

A World Like Our Own


Thessalonica had a population of about 200,000, was a sea port. and so was quite cosmopolitan, much like Plymouth, Hull, or my own city of Swansea. It sat on the main road through the province and was a regional capital. It was Greek, with a small Jewish population, and so converts came mostly from a pagan background. Everything Paul said and taught was opposed to popular thinking, and his purpose was to encourage Christians as they lived in a society hostile to Christian thinking and practice. Let me draw some parallels for you.

In the Greco/Roman world female infanticide was rife across all classes. Female infants, and deformed male infants, were regularly and legally exposed on mountains because they were not wanted. One letter from a Roman to his pregnant wife bluntly instructs, ‘If you are delivered of a child [while I am away], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard.’ Perhaps we think this kind of thing couldn’t happen today. That is what the world tells itself. We are civilised. What about parallels here with modern abortion and euthanasia laws perhaps? What about this appalling trade in illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean? Lives regarded as valueless and discarded. Are we so different?
 
Christian women enjoyed significantly higher status than their pagan counterparts. Married women were honoured and able to hold property, women held office in the church, and widows were looked after. Infant girls were valued and, where society married off girls at scandalously young ages, sometimes as young as 12 and younger, in Christian society the norm was marrying older, sometimes as late as 18. You can hear more here. In a society with an epidemic of single mothers and irresponsible and absent fathers Christians stand out again.

Public baths were to be found in such great numbers that one writer of the time wrote, ‘Smyrna has so many baths that you would be at a loss to know where to bathe.’ (Aelius Aristedes) Mixed nude bathing was not uncommon and, whatever your sexual orientation, sexual activity was the norm in and around these places. A society every bit as promiscuous as ours is becoming.
 

Living the Right Way up in an Upside-down World


Three things might be drawn from this chapter of Paul’s letter to help us today:

Whatever the world says and does, we are to live in order to please God. Like ancient Israel, we are to be a holy people. Paul says it in his letter, ‘God did not call us to be impure, but to live holy lives.’ (v7) We face that same choice today that they faced. The gods of this world, or the God of the Bible? This means that, on any question regarding our life choices, it is God we consult, and not public opinion.

Our values are to be God’s values. Which means, as the people of God, we are to value life, every life. As did that first Christian community, building on established Jewish practice, we are to see life as precious. All mankind is made in the image of God and so we are to have high moral values that reflect that fact, controlling our own bodies, not giving in to lusts.

We are to love one another, as Paul urges, ‘Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you…Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.’ (vv 9-10)

How does this work out in our daily lives? Paul gives us sound advice, writing, ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone.’ (vv 11-12)

The witness of our daily lives is vital to the work of the kingdom, much more so than any arguments, or controversies we may get into. The ‘God-fearers’ of the Jewish community, those who were not Jews but who adopted many Jewish ideals and practices, were attracted by the lives of Jews they met, worked with, and saw every day. The same is true of those attracted to the Christian community. In a world fleeing all sense, reason, and God, they are not won simply by arguments, but with love and a good example.
 

While People are Saying, ‘Peace and safety’


Finally, however we live, it can ultimately prove dangerous. The major theme in Paul’s letter is the second coming of Jesus as Lord and King. Reassuring believers that their dead loved ones, those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ as he put it, will not miss out but will share joy with us at the second coming, he goes on, ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.’ vv16-17)

This is so comforting, reassuring, but it is a promise made against the backdrop of what is called the Imperial Cult. If I were to refer to, ‘The God manifest…the common saviour of humankind,’ you might think of Jesus. But this title was borne by the Emperor. Inscriptions abounded to, ‘…Caesar Augustus, Saviour of the whole human race…ruler of oceans and continents, the divine father among men, who bears the same name as his heavenly father…Liberator, the marvellous star of the Greek world, shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Saviour.’

The word Paul used to speak of Christ’s second advent is parousia, a word that was used to describe the visit of an emperor. The Emperor Caesar Augustus was hailed as, ‘the Son of God.’ Where we cry, ‘Jesus is Lord!’Romans cried, ‘Caesar is Lord!’

In Acts 17 Paul and Silas had trouble in Thessalonica when jealous Jews accused, ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ (Acts 17:7)

The people said of Caesar, ‘With Caesar in charge, peace will not be driven out by civic madness or violence, or the anger that beats swords.’ The Emperor bore the titles, Pax (peace) Securitas (Safety, security) Constantia(stability) Felicitas (fortune, happiness). It was against this backdrop of sickly flattery that Paul wrote later in this letter:

‘The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly…and they will not escape.’ (5:3)

So today, we must expect the world to give a totally different message to the one we bring and we may yet pay dear for it. Yet he will come, when least expected, when the world cries peace. Will he find us living to please him? Will he find a holy people, leading quiet but faithful lives, loving one another before a watching world?
 
This article first appeared in the June 2015 Reachout Newsletter.