Monday, November 30, 2015

Mormons Refuted by the Eternality of God

One of the doctrines which most distinguishes Mormons from Christians is their belief that God was once a human being, just as you and I now are, but on another planet, ruled by its own deity. Their General Authority Milton Hunter (The Gospel Through the Ages, 1945, p. 104) wrote, "Mormon prophets have continuously taught the sublime truth that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man who passed through a school of earth life similar to that through which we are now passing." This is one of the doctrines that the boys on the bicycles do not explain to prospective converts. It is kept until the person has been involved for a while.

In contrast, Christians profess, together with Moses (Psalm 90:2), "Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." The God of the Bible has always been God, from eternity past, and always will be God, into eternity future.

So, we have a contrast here between an evolutionary view of a god, in opposition to a view of a God who is eternal. Does the Bible say anything else applicable to this question?

In Numbers 23:19, Moses also said, "God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" If God doesn't change His mind, are we to believe that He changes His nature?

In I Samuel 15:29, we read, "The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for He is not a man." God is not a man (this does not address the incarnation of Christ)! He is not a man now, a Mormon might respond. Okay.

In Malachi 3:6, God speaks for Himself: "I am the Lord , I do not change." We can also look at Isaiah 43:10: "Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me." The first prophet tells us that God could never have been anything other that what He now is. The second tells us that there could never have been an earlier deity under whom our God attained His divine status. I have dealt more with the verses in Isaiah here.

I am writing this the way I am, because I have run into too many Mormons who complain when I or anyone else says that they are not Christians. First, this is the height of hypocrisy, since those same boys on bicycles are traveling around telling prospects that all other professing Christians are apostates. Did you catch that? All! Second, I know that most people aren't aware of some of the more-bizarre doctrines of the Mormons, so they are also not aware of how un-Christian they really are. I aim, in part, to educate those folks. I also intend to provide them with the truth, so that they have an answer to give both the boys on bicycles and to their Mormon neighbors (I Peter 3:15).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful for Prosperity, Yes, but Not That Kind!

This topic seems apropos for Thanksgiving Day:

The Bible says that God enables His people to gather wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). In fact, that is part of the dominion given to Adam in the Garden (Gen. 1:26-27).  The teachers of the Prosperity Gospel have taken these truths and perverted them into promises of big houses and big cars and big jewelry, even personal jets - at least for them. But I consider that a serious perversion of the teachings of Scripture.

In Proverbs 8:19, we read, "My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver." The speaker here is a personification of Wisdom. Notice the treasure that she promises: something better than gold or silver. Thus, not material wealth. Not to say that material wealth is excluded, of course. But certainly something apart from material wealth. But the next two verses give clarity: the fruit of righteousness and justice, which then leads to "granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries." Notice that she refers to "those who love me," that is, love wisdom. Look at Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10, and especially Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!" All three verses share one theme: it is in the fear of the Lord that one attains wisdom. 

The Prosperity teachers mislead their audiences. It isn't material wealth that leads to godliness. It is godliness that leads to fruit, which may or may not include material wealth. It is as if these preachers have suffered temporary blindness every time they pass over the words of the Apostle Paul: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Philippians 4:11-12). Would anyone say that Paul was spiritually deficient? Yet, he suffered, at times, from hunger and need, but was always content. How different that is from the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel, because it is not gospel at all (Galatians 1:8).

Here is a simple test: if any person, lay or clergy, judges your spiritual health by the wealth that you have, then his agenda is a false gospel, and he is under the judgment of God. And if you follow such a man, especially after having been warned (as I have done here), then you share in his judgment (Jeremiah 23:16-17, and Revelation 18:4).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Priesthood of Christ Negates All Other Priesthoods (Even Rome's)

The purpose of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was to demonstrate the superiority of Christ over the accoutrements of the Mosaic covenant. In chapters 7 and 8, he examines the priestly office of Christ, and compares it to the Mosaic, levitical priesthood. (Just as an aside, this is an internal proof that the epistle must have been written before 70AD, when the destruction of the Temple made that priesthood moot.)

The ways in which Christ's priesthood is superior include His eternality (Heb. 7:3, 17, 24, 28): "He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever." This is contrasted with the string of human priests, due to their mortality (Heb. 7:23). Another way in which He is superior is due to the sufficiency and effectuality of His one-time sacrifice (Heb. 7:27): "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily..., since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself."

This passage addresses two errors of the Church of Rome; first, that her clergy have a priesthood; and second, that Christ's sacrifice is repeated in the Mass. Both of those heresies undermine both the sufficiency and eternality of the priestly office of Christ, contrary to both the words and the purpose of the Epistle. That is, if Christ as priest is both eternal and sufficient in that office, there is neither need nor allowance for any other priest or sacrifice. That is why a Protestant church has a minister, not a priest, a man who points believers to their only and all-sufficient hope in Jesus Christ, not in any mere man, no matter how glamorous his robes, titles, and claims may be.

Because of the explicit words of Scripture, I commend the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism (Question 44): "Christ executeth the office of a priest in His once offering Himself as a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of His people, and in making continual intercession for them."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Some Thoughts on Bible Translations

Discussions about the various bible translations (in English) have left me with some thoughts on the matter. However, let me say up front that I cannot read Greek or Hebrew, nor am I an expert on manuscript history. So, please do not take my remarks as scholarly, but rather as just the opinions of an experienced Christian who knows his Bible.

If someone asks me which Bible translation I would recommend (assuming that he is an adult with commensurate reading comprehension), I usually refer him to one of four translations: the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, the Modern English Version, or the New King James Version. What these four have in common is a commitment to a formal equivalence principle of translation. That is, they seek to translate on a word-for-word basis, within the constraints of comprehensibility. The alternative is dynamic equivalence, a translation on a thought-by-thought basis, that is, what does this verse mean in the source language, and how would we express that thought in the target language (English, in this case). It isn't strictly an either-or consideration, since translations fall along a continuum between the absolutes of translation principle.

My concern with dynamic equivalence is that it relies on the translator to determine the meaning, which would tend to subjectivity, or even paraphrasing. Formal equivalence is, relatively speaking, far more objective, leaving interpretation to the reader. That is what I want, to read the Bible for myself, and interpret according to my knowledge, conscience, and experience. I can then add whatever assistance I need, such as concordances, commentaries, or pastoral input. I have not been pre-fed the interpretation of a translator that may be an unbeliever or a rank heretic. That is because I believe what the Bible says of itself: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16).

Among the translations above, the New American Standard Version (hereafter, "NASB") is usually described as the most literal, that is, with the least interpretation by its translators. I cut my spiritual teeth on the NASB, back in the early eighties. It was my first Bible for several years after my conversion. In its original edition, the NASB still used "thou" and other archaisms in addresses to God. In 1995, the publisher did an extensive revision which updated all of that language. I find it very readable. I also like that it uses capital letters for pronouns that refer to deity, which is a personal peeve of mine. It also uses italics for words not in the original text, used to clarify or smooth something that doesn't work in English. While the NASB can't be called popular, It is being promoted by well-known pastors John MacArthur and Charles Stanley.

The English Standard Version (hereafter, "ESV") is the Bible we use in my church. Such usage is becoming more common as the New International Version implodes as a result of its unpopular 2011 revision. The ESV is slightly less literal than the NASB, but reads more smoothly. What I don't like is the use of small letters when referring to deity, and the lack of indication of inserted words. However, I like its use of footnotes to indicate, where relevant, when "you" is singular or plural in the original. And a very specific advantage is the use of "Jesus," instead of "Lord," in Jude 1:5, following the earliest Greek manuscripts. Even the NASB missed that one!

The Modern English Version is a new translation, having been published in 2013. Most people aren't even aware of its existence. This is the translation that I use for my private reading. It uses capitalized pronouns, but lacks italicization, so it's a mixed bag on those issues. However, it maintains the poetic dignity of the King James Version, just without the archaic language. The New King James is much older, of course, by roughly thirty years, and has all of the same advantages, plus italicization. These two versions are so similar that they are almost interchangeable.

The main difference among these translations is the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts used as their text basis. This is an issue that I don't stress, but some people do. The first two follow the Critical Text, that is, a collection of manuscripts based on the best efforts of scholars to identify transmission errors and reproduce the original autographs. The latter two are translated from the Textus Receptus, a much later class of manuscripts. The reason I don't stress this issue is that the differences between the two classes of manuscript are so tiny that most people don't even notice, and none of those differences affects any biblical doctrine.

Now, having expressed my own opinion, I welcome comments regarding the preferences of others. However, I will warn in advance that I will not post any comments promoting the mystical views that some King James-only folks have. I will not provide space for anyone claiming that the KJV is somehow an inspired translation, and therefore of authority beyond that of the Greek and Hebrew from which it was translated.

Monday, November 9, 2015

ISIS Butchers Inspire Muslims to Convert to Christ

The Sign of New Life for Many Muslims
News is trickling out of Iraq of thousands of Kurdish Muslims converting to Christ, because they have witnessed the brutality of true Islam. This article quotes one Kurdish convert, "I don't like Muhammad any more; I want to become a Christian."

The Shahada, used as an emblem by Saudi Arabia and ISIS
Even more stunning is this article about an ISIS fighter's becoming a Christian after he experienced a dream about Jesus.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Mosaic Covenant: Grace, Not Works

Moses, Reading the Law
There is a common misunderstanding, usually connected to a dispensational view of scripture, that holds that the Mosaic covenant is a religion of works salvation. In fairness, I admit that Paul refers to justification "by the works of the Law," but that reference is to the Pharisaic misuse of the Law (Rom. 9:32), not its proper purpose. Rather, the Law was to serve as a temporary guardian (KJV, "schoolmaster"), until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:19, 24). The Law - and I am talking here of the ceremonial Law, not the moral - marked that which or who was clean, from that which or who was unclean. It created a hedge around the covenant people that separated them, sanctified them, as distinct from the rest of humanity. Why? That they would be reserved as a conduit through which the Messiah would come, the Savior of the world (John 3:16 and Acts 4:12).

Why did it matter among what nation the Redeemer would be born? That goes back to the original promise of the Gospel, Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." This promise was given immediately after the Fall, and especially touched Eve, the first human to give in to the temptations of Satan. It was a balm to her conscience to know that her descendant would also be the means of undoing what she and Adam had done. That is why the lineage of Christ is so carefully recorded. Of course, all mankind is the seed of Eve in a general sense, but His lineage is laid out explicitly, legally (i. e., covenantally) in Matthew 1, and genetically in Luke 3. A record is given of exactly in what way He represented her lineage. In our culture, that isn't considered important, but in theirs it was.

What makes me especially to marvel is that this story is carried all the way to the other end of the Bible. In Revelation 12:1-6, the Apostle John describes a woman who gives birth to a son, and a red dragon who persecutes both her and that son. I believe that the woman represents both Eve personally and the covenant people of Israel federally, and the son is, of course, Jesus Christ (see also Rom. 16:20). John explicitly tells us that the dragon is the serpent from the garden (Rev. 12:9). This is the end of the need for the restriction of the lineage, which is why God does away with the ceremonial law, and opens the Church to the Gentiles, those who had formerly been legally unclean (both aspects are described in the account of Peter's dream in Acts 10:10-29; see also Eph. 2:11-16).

This is why I insist that the Mosaic covenant is not a covenant of works, but is rather a temporary administrative stage of the covenant of grace. It was a necessary preparation for the coming of the full salvation that we have in Jesus Christ. It is not, and never was, an opportunity for the Jews - or anyone else - to earn their way to eternal life through good works. This is clear even in its establishment. The account of the giving of the Ten Commandments is found in Exodus 20:1-17. However, verse 2, the Preamble, says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Before giving the shalls and shall-nots, God reminds the people of the redemption that He has already provided them, as the foundation on which the Law was to be built. Justification came before the Law (Rom. 4:10, 14; Gal. 3:17).

Contrary to the teachings of classical dispensationalism, there was never a time  - i. e., after the Fall of Adam - in which any man could be saved by works. In Adam, we all became sinners (Rom. 5:12). We start life as sinners (Psalm 51:5, 58:3). This is the key: sin does not make us sinners; we sin because we are already sinners. It is comparable to a runner in a race who runs facing the wrong way; no matter how fast he runs, he is incapable of winning the race. If that weren't the case, then Jesus would never have needed to come, to suffer, and to die on the cross. As Paul says (Gal. 3:21-22), "if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

In Eternity, Will Christians Sorrow Over Loved-Ones in Hell?

This is a question that I have been asked by both Seventh-Day Adventists (because they believe in the annihilation of the wicked) and atheists (who don't appear to stop and think that - in their worldview - all their loved ones have simply ceased to exist; is there no sorrow over that?). I expect that Jehovah's Witnesses ask it, too.

The answer to their question is, "No, Christians will not sorrow, whether for this or for any other reason." The Prophet Isaiah prophesied, "The ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 35:10). And the Apostle John agreed (Revelation 21:4): "[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." These are general considerations; there shall be no sorrow, over any matter, in glory.

But specifically on this issue, there will be no sorrow. It is true that, in this life, we sorrow over such things, because we do not yet have the perspective we will have in our glorified state. We still view things according to the values of our fallen state, that is, we look at the situation as sinners. Yet, even now, the scriptures urge us to place the holiness and justice of God ahead of our distorted emotions. In Psalm 9:16, David advises, "The Lord has made Himself known; He has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands." And in Psalm 51:4, the same writer tells of himself, "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." And further, in Psalm 58:10, David realizes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked." Notice that: when we are no longer sinners, in our glorification, we will have the perspective of God, and place His holiness ahead of our creaturely preferences. Logically, who matters more: God? Or your relatives?

David's point, in these Psalms, is that the justice of God's judgment is based on against whom sin is committed. Sin isn't naughtiness, as has become the common view in our society. It is an act of treason against our Creator, He Who made us and has provided the world we live in, the food, air, and water we require for survival, and the human comforts that make our lives enjoyable. To sin against Him after such gifts is wicked enough. However, if you further consider the gift that He has given in His Son, who suffered, bled, and died, how horrific we must now see sin to be. For this, God has said (Psalm 81:11-12), "My people did not listen to My voice; Israel would not submit to Me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels." He has allowed us to pursue the consequences of our own choices and actions. Can there be any injustice in Him now?

The Puritan theologian Thomas Watson said, "The reason why sin committed in a short time is eternally punished is because every sin is committed against an infinite essence, and no less than eternity of punishment can satisfy. Why is treason punished with confiscation and death, but because it is against the king's person, which is sacred; much more that offense which is committed against God's crown and dignity  is of a heinous and infinite nature, and cannot be satisfied with less than eternal punishment."

Yet, we must go further: God has allowed us, not only to pursue our own wicked choices, but also opportunities to awaken and repent of those choices. In Jeremiah 26:3 and 13, He said to Israel, "It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds... Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you." And in Revelation 2:21, "I gave her [i. e., Jezebel] time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality." Has He been unfair? Unjust? Clearly, He hasn't. So, how can anyone claim to have been wronged when He finally carries out the judgment which He has, so far, withheld? 

Now, to refer back to the question with which I began: Will Christians sorrow over loved-ones in Hell? No, we won't. Rather, we will rejoice that the holiness of God has been vindicated. In contrast, unbelievers will indeed suffer sorrow in the life to come, not just for their suffering loved-ones, but because of the judgment for their own personal sins. In fact, you will sorrow, not for loved-ones in Hell, but because of antipathy toward loved-ones in Heaven! If such sorrowing is a horror, something to be avoided, then the solution is to repent of your unbelief. Then, not only will you be freed from your condemnation, but you will also have a message of hope for your loved-ones. Rather than picture them in Hell, suffering for their sins, picture them saved from condemnation, never to suffer sorrow again. As John also says (Revelation 14:13, see also Job 3:17), "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors!'"