Monday, June 29, 2015

Jesus versus "Soul Sleep"

The Seventh-Day Adventists hold to a doctrine referred to as "soul sleep." Their belief is that the intermediate state, i. e., the state of the soul, is a condition of unconsciousness. This is in contrast to the view of orthodox Christians, who believe that the soul enters its eternal state (Hebrews 9:27), whether in heaven (Luke 16:25, 23:43, John 5:24) or in hell (John 3:18, II Peter 2:9), to be joined by the body at the resurrection, at which time the final judgment will confirm each person's eternal state.

Jesus addressed this question indirectly when He was challenged by the Sadducees, who denied the doctrine of resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-40). In His answer (Matt. 22:31-32), Jesus reminds them, "As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." In rejecting the error of the Sadducees, Jesus describes the patriarchs as alive now, and worshiping God now. His whole argument would be meaningless if those men were in their graves, unconscious, with no relationship with God in their current state.

Another passage in which the Redeemer addresses this question is John 14:2-3: "In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also." If Jesus is going somewhere, from which He will return to us, where will that be? It can't be the grave; what meaning could there be for rooms built for us in the grave? Rather, He is obviously referring to heaven (see Acts 7:56, Col. 3:1, and Hebrews 1:3). Between His first and second Advents, Jesus is working to prepare for those who die during that same period. Would a Seventh-Day Adventist or Jehovah's Witness claim that He is preparing this home with the expectation that no one will make use of it? That would be futility, indeed.

The Jehovah's Witness have a distinct, though related, doctrine, that the souls of both believers and unbelievers are annihilated at death, to be reconstituted at the judgment. The words of Jesus in this story are even more telling against their doctrine. The SDA's and JW's share a common origin, but have diverged significantly. I don't know when they diverged on this doctrine, or who diverged from whom.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bishops: Diotrophes in the Church

Before I start, I want to mention what a landmark this post is: Post number 300! When I first started this blog, I would never have imagined reaching 300 posts.

And now, to proceed: How many sermons have you ever heard from the Third Epistle of John? If your experience is like mine, not many, if any. In fact, out of my thirty-some years of listening to sermons, I can't recall even one. That's sad, because I think this epistle does have significance for the church today, even as small as it is.

I won't go into the question of authorship here; it isn't within the purview of this post. However, I take it as having been written by the Apostle John, as has been held throughout the history of the church.

In III John 1:9-11, the Apostle tells us, "I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to [welcome them] and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God."

It is from this passage that the Covenanters got their nickname for the bishops of Charles I, "Diotrophes in the church." They, like John's nemesis here, sought to be first in the church, as do their kin in today's Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches.

Jesus also addressed the issue of the lordship of men in the Church of which He alone is Head (Mark 10:42-45): "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

That is why a Presbyterian church cannot exist without at least two elders. This is what is practiced by Paul in Acts 14:23, and enjoined by him in Titus 1:5 (on which I have commented here). Notice that it says "elders in  every church," plural, not "an elder in every church," or even "in every town," contrary to the diocesan system of the prelatic churches. Notice also the reference to "overseers" in Philippians 1:1. That word translates the Greek work "episkopos," the very word which has come into English as "bishop." The Church at Philippi had a multiplicity of bishops!

And here, I describe the words of the Apostle Peter, the supposed first pope, which forbid the very monarchical bishops which have claimed his name and title. And someone should inform the Vatican that the Apostle Peter that they claim as their source was the married Apostle Peter (Luke 4:38 and I Corinthians 9:5)!

The original Diotrophes thrust himself into a one-man rule over the congregation in III John (we don't know where this congregation was located). In the same way, the Pope and his bishops, along with the others in Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, have set themselves up as heads over the church, contrary to too many places in Scripture to be an accident. In his first epistle (I Peter 5:1-2), Peter commands the elders to "bishopize" (my own word, to translate "episkopountas") in the church. Thus, not only is it disingenuous for the Church of Rome to claim him as the origin of their church
government, but it is contrary to his very words! It is a self-justification for the papal tyranny over a billion souls, contrary to that attitude of service enjoined by Christ in the passage in Mark cited above.

Is a man saved by presbyterian church government? Of course not. Is he blocked from eternal life by the presence of bishops? Again, no man could say so. But, if Jesus has established a government in His Church, as I think I have proven, then it can only be rank rebellion to persist in ruling, or accepting rule, in that church, contrary to the express will of her Head. That is a serious sin, and cannot be anything but an obstacle to fellowship with that Head, who gave Himself to ransom her (Ephesians 5:25). 

I am concurring here with the Westminster Confession of Faith XXV:6, "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God..."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Has Anyone Seen God? The Confusion of Atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons

In John 6:46, we have the words of Jesus: "No one has seen the Father except He Who is from God; He has seen the Father." We also have commentary from the same Gospel-writer in John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God; the only God, Who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known." And again in I John 4:12: "No one has ever seen God..." I bring these three verses together because they are subject to the most juvenile scripture-twisting imaginable.

Atheists like to refer to these verses, together with Exodus 33:18-23, where Moses is said to see Jehovah's back. Such atheists shout, "Aha! Here is a contradiction! One place says that Moses saw God's back, while another says that no one has ever seen God." I will deal with that below.

The other abuse I have seen is from Jehovah's Witnesses, when they try to deny the deity of Christ. They argue that the words of John prove that Jesus isn't God, because God is invisible (as the Bible indeed says, e. g., Col. 1:15 and I Tim. 1:17), but people could see Jesus.

The answer to both arguments, as inane as they are, is in the verses themselves.

The word "God," when it is otherwise undefined in the New Testament, usually refers to the Father. Jesus says that "no one has seen the Father." But Who did Moses see? Jehovah, the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity (though I would describe the experience as an anthropomorphism). The verses at the top of this page say that no one has seen the Father (or "God" undefined), i. e., the First Person of the Trinity. Thus, I say to the atheist, there is no contradiction. To the Jehovah's Witnesses, your error regarding the Person of Christ also causes you to err in your understanding of these Scriptures, the logical fallacy of begging the question. Of course people could see Jesus in His human nature; but not in His deity. Yet, even if they (or we) could see His deity, that would not conflict with these verses.

These verses also address one of the errors of Mormonism. Mormons believe that the Persons of the Godhead have literal, physical bodies, comparable to our own. How can that be if the Father is invisible? In the two verses cited above, Paul explicitly refers to God as invisible. Would a Mormon therefore claim that He has some sort of ghostly body, with all the physical attributes of ours, but somehow transparent? I think that the absurdity of the Mormon doctrine is evident.