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His Master's Voice
|Copyright © 2011 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Monday, May 02, 2011
Osama bin Laden’s Death: My Personal Reaction
This is a topic that is rife with conflicting emotions, political correctness implications, and morality issues. It is not my purpose to try to explain how you should feel or react, but I am trying to sort out my own reactions.
When David finally defeated his own son’s army in battle he did not rejoice, he mourned. Yet, the multitude of his own people who had seen their sons, husbands, and fiancés die from Absalom ’s unrighteous civil war felt cheated that they and their king could not celebrate their victory. So David’s general pleaded with the king to celebrate their victory which had come at great expense. David did so and gained backed the favor of the people who had given so much to make the victory possible.
When the man who started World War II was finally overthrown everyone rejoiced. There was no question his defeat was a good thing for the world, much less for this nation. Those who had given up their most loved family members in pursuit of this outcome actually celebrated in the streets.
Yet God mourns the death of all sinners who die and takes no pleasure in their deaths even though He has ordained that they die (Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11). And so it is with wicked men like Osama bin Laden who have initiated global wars of terrorism and unholy conquest against the innocent. We mourn their deaths for they have died in their sins (with all that such eternal judgment implies), yet we must celebrate that their unrighteous warfare has been unsuccessful, at least so far.
Is it justice that Osama bin Laden has been killed after spearheading the murder of 3000 people on 9/11/2001? Shockingly, the biblical answer is yes. Murderers of the innocent are to be brought to justice by legitimate governments. Governments are an instrument of God to maintain peace and security, when they act righteously. God gave them the right and obligation to exercise deadly force to punish murderers (Romans 13:1-4).
Osama bin Laden, like so many mass murderers and men of unholy conquest before him, apparently died without repenting to Christ for his sins. That his part in the earthly reign of terror he began has been ended is a good and proper outcome. That he will spend an eternity hating God is a thing to be mourned.
Therefore, I do not celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death. I cannot dance in the street in jubilation over it. But I do celebrate the lives lost and people injured in their effort to end his terrorist activities. I celebrate the people who actually succeeded in stopping him. I mourn Osama bin Laden’s eternal death, for I wish he had turned to Christ in repentance. Finally, I mourn that the fighting against this brand of terrorism must continue on even now.
Yes, justice was served. But it was and is a bitter-sweet conclusion to that man’s wasted life.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Whose Side Is God On?
During the American Civil War both combating sides assumed God was “on their side.” By this thinking they both expected military victory would be handed to them by God. During World War II none of the Axis leadership was a Christian and so the Allies assumed that God was on their side, assuring them a victorious outcome. Though the Allies ultimately won, was victory guaranteed because God was on their side? Even competing football teams, from high school leagues through the pros pray that God would be on their side and give them victory on the game field.
Such thinking over the past two thousand years has been flawed. Such error relies upon the continued and widespread misunderstanding between the two great covenants, as if the Old Covenant never was replaced by the New. Ancient Israel did have a land-for-faith covenant with Yahweh. They could expect Him to be on their side in war, so long as they put aside their idol-worship, which frankly, they never did do until about 300 B.C.
When Christ came and completed the terms of the Old Covenant, and ushered in the New, the land-for-faith deal became obsolete. In fact, Israel itself fell off the human map for nineteen-hundred years (proof that faith-for-land was terminated). The church is not Israel, and does not inherit any of Israel’s land-for-faith promises. Christ never covenanted with the church that He would protect any of the nations she would reside in nor safeguard any of the real estate she might acquire. There is no God-protected, God-chosen, and God-ordained Christian nation; there are only nations in which Christians have their homes.
God expects us to place ourselves on His side. But His side has no national or governmental agenda. His side is all about the spreading of the gospel, salvation. When a person acts righteously, humbly, and calls upon God for forgiveness of sins, that person is on God’s side. Those who place themselves on God’s side are not consumed with military objectives but with spreading peace between God and man. And even in this campaign of spiritual reconciliation God promises not protection for the greatest Christians, but persecution and death.
God is for holiness, not for nations. God protects the spirituality and eternal destinies of the members of His church, not their corporeal lives or their lands. All human lives come to an end as that is the current nature of flesh. Revelation tells us that all nations and governments will be dissolved at the end of time, and only spiritual Israel (into which the church has been grafted) will exist in eternity.
There is only one side, and that is God’s side. There is no chosen football team that God favors to win by covenant, no elect nation that cannot fall, and no human organization that will not fail. We live, preach, persuade, and even fight in combat, when the cause of holiness and justice demands it of individual Christians to do so. But the victorious outcome is never assured in any individual circumstance simply because the Christian assumes “God is on our side.”
We know God is ruler over all, and He will cause people and nations to rise and fall so as to bring about His secret, good, and holy plans. The church will endure, that is, there will always be followers of Christ throughout earthly time; but that says nothing of the inviolability of their residences, governments, or football teams. We are on God’s holy side because that is the only side that eternally endures, though all flesh and nations are assuredly temporary structures.
[This essay was originally posted as blog. As a blog it was subject to public review and comments. Only a selection of the cleaner and more salient comments are reprinted below.]
Someone from the Public Posted this Comment
Wouldn't God's side the be side with least sin? Or the side that conforms most tightly to his rules of the Old and New Testament?
Booth posted this in response
Great question. My response would have to be "no." God often permits evil to triumph in specific situations. An unrepentant racist will successfully murder a Christian, even though we would expect God to be on the side of the Christian and to prevent such a thing. Animistic tribesmen have overrun and killed off teams of Christian medical missionaries, though it would seem God should have been on the side of the missionaries and not let this happen.
God always approves of holiness, but that does not mean He ordains that the more righteous individual will always prevail in this world. So we place ourselves on God's side of holiness full well knowing that this is no guarantee that we will not be beaten, robbed, left homeless, or even killed.
Jesus was on God's side, yet He was slandered, impoverished, and ultimately executed as an innocent man. Should not God have been on His side and not that of the Romans? Yet, this unjust action against an innocent Jesus brought about great good for all the world. That is the secret plan we cannot readily see; and that is the reason we should never assume God assures victory to the "most holy" side.
In other words, we fight the good fight of holiness or we enter military combat to protect the innocent and to enact justice, not because we “know we will win because God is on our side,” but we act in holiness just because it is the right thing to do, even if we do lose here and now. The right thing to do is not predicated on winning, but on doing the right thing.
Another commenter added
Very well stated, Craig. I have likened it to a tapestry in the past. When viewing a fine tapestry from the underside, all you are able to see is strings and very little, if any, pattern. But viewed from the top, it is very finely woven into a scene of beauty. Our side is the underside where we "see as through a glass darkly" as Paul says. God, on the other hand, weaves into His tapestry as He wills, creating the beauty of His choice, not ours. I'm not so sure that 2 Chronicles 7:14 or Joel 2:25 even come into play when, as Craig says, "The right thing to do is not predicated on winning, but on doing the right thing". Is prayer always answered as we would have it answered; not always. It is because even though we are His children, it is not always in our best interest to get what we want.
Good tapestry illustration.
I agree that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is badly abused by contemporary Christians. Oddly, Christians also forget to view it in the context of 7:13. IF you were an Israelite, and if you went back into idolatry instead of only worshipping God at the new temple, and if the land you were promised in the covenant was being devastated by plagues of judgment, then, IF you repented as a nation from idolatry, then God would restore the promised LAND.
There is no useful promise in this passage to the church since the church has never been promised a land flowing with milk and honey on this earth.
Yet another commenter stated
Craig, what you are saying is essentially Joshua 5:13-15. The episode happens before Joshua invaded Jericho (Joshua 6). We need to rescue prayer from our own mouth.
That is an interesting passage. God took the victory as His own for His glory. He was not FOR the Israelites nor FOR their enemies...He acted FOR His own glory. There was no mistaking that the victory was not one of human origin. God wanted the Israelites to be on His side.
Being on God's side, in Joshua's case, meant that God gave them the mission (they did not come up with it on their own or via governmental prerogative), and then God told them the specifics on how to complete the mission. God did all the work and all the planning. This is so unlike our thinking. We come up with the plans, the missions, and the strategy, then ask God to be on our side and to let us win. Today, to be on God's side, is to be active in the spreading of the gospel and the instruction of the saints; all other activities, while good and essential to life, are secondary considerations to the overarching mission.
Thanks for the insight and the passage.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
On What Does Your Faith Rest? -- Near Death Accounts
In recent weeks much focus has been directed toward those who claim to have been to both heaven and hell as a consequence of having had a near-death experience. This intense interest is seemingly motivated by Christians desirous to confirm the validity of their faith. After all, if the testimony is true from those who have said they saw heaven and hell, then faith becomes sight and all doubt can be driven off.
Of course, there is a fly in the ointment of certitude. Assuming these people are sincere in reporting what they thought they saw while in the throws of almost dying, did they actually see heaven and/or hell? Or did their oxygen-starved brains hallucinate based on what they most desired to see when they die, like seeing a mirage of a water-filled oasis when dying of thirst in the desert?
Where would such ideas come from? Most cultures assume and teach that the living will be reunited with their beloved dead ones when they too die. Surely this was on the mind of the brains of those who almost died. Additionally, most people have been told the stories of the Bible, that Jesus and the Father await them in heaven while torture, fire, and the demons await the unbelievers in hell. Most of us have seen countless paintings of Jesus with outstretched arms and nail prints in the palms of His hands, ready to welcome us to heaven. And who has not seen imaginative paintings of demons poking the lost souls with pitchforks in the flames of hell? Again, it seems natural such images would leap to mind in time of mortal distress.
How does one test the visions of heaven or hell? Compare the details of the stories to the Scriptures. If the stories are wrong in the details, the visions are not prophetic but hallucinatory. One celebrated youngster said he saw Jesus in heaven and he saw the nail “markers” in His hands. He said this on camera as he pointed slowly and deliberately first to the center of the palm of one hand, then to the center of the palm of the other. His father was also on camera stating that his son saw the nail marks right in the middle of the palms of Jesus' hands.
This detail is sure evidence that the little boy was hallucinating, probably remembering those ubiquitous paintings of Jesus, because he most certainly did not see the living Christ. The Romans never nailed through the palms of the hands, they drove the nails through the wrists. In 1st Century Greek the word “hand” is used for anything below the elbow. This idea of hand being the entire forearm is still present in English today when we refer to some restraints as “handcuffs,” even though it is actually the wrists of the forearms that are bound. If this lad had seen the living Lord he would have noted that the nail “markers” were in His wrists and ankles, not His palms and the arches of His feet.
Other accounts have people seeing hell as being administered by Satan with jail cells attended to by demons. This too is hallucinatory. Scriptures indicate that Satan and the demons will not administer hell, but be helpless inmates there.
Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, does it not (Romans 10:17)? Faith does not, and cannot, come from hearing hallucinations conjured up by near-dead brains. Faith does not demand any other sign except that which is presented by the Bible. Jesus said that faith will not come from seeing the dead, or nearly dead, come back to life, but by believing what Moses wrote. Not even Lazarus, the widow’s son, or Tabitha, who truly were dead and restored to life, recorded anything in the Bible of what genuine death is like. Why? Probably because such accounts are meaningless for building faith. Worse, hallucinations can provide false understandings and improper expectations of what death, heaven, and hell will be truly like. In some cases such illusions can mislead people into thinking heaven is now assured for them, or that hell is their destiny in spite of their faith in Christ.
Where is your faith grounded? Is it rooted in the Word of God, and in the God of the Word, or in deliriums and delusions of the unconscious and the dying? Be discerning. Ask questions. Examine the details. Reject any story in which the details do not match the Scriptures in even one point.
'But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' (Deuteronomy 18:20)
[This essay was originally posted as blog. As a blog it was subject to public review and comments. Only a selection of the cleaner and more salient comments are reprinted below.]
Someone from the Public Posted this Comment
No "true" Believer in Christ looks to near death experiences as the basis for their faith. I've read several of these books and no where do these people offer their experience(s) as divine revelation to be taken on faith. I view them the same way I view those who would share their testimony on how they came to personal faith in Christ. They can be encouraging but I don't think their experiences have divine authority. They are more like a general exhortation which is scriptural. And at the same time, I'm not going to dismiss an individual's testimony of spiritual regeneration as a "hallucination". That would be presumptive.
You have thought out your comments well. That is good.
By way of contrast to your viewpoint, I see nothing encouraging about near-death experiences. Since the details of their stories indicate the "experience" never happened, except within the confines of their own imaginations using the stuff of their own stored memories, I am not uplifted by these tales of fiction that the trauma incited. In fact, I find it all very disturbing that such fictions are being given so much attention, as if they were real encounters with the risen Lord..
Like you, however, I do find great courage-building value in an individual's testimony of conversion. Conversion stories are not fiction, they are explanations of the reality of a person changing. Whereas once the person was enslaved to sin, they are now enslaved to Christ. That is an event happening in physical space where the person lives as well as in spiritual "space." The changes can be observed, the growth in love will become evident, the repulsion against evil will be increasingly obvious. Conversion testimonials are encouraging, while tales of make-believe inspired by oxygen deprivation and anesthesia, not so much.
If this long stream of stories about meeting Jesus in heaven (and meeting the devil in hell) were true, it would be quite a dramatic parade of persons constantly leaving their physical bodies, traveling back and forth between heaven and earth (and earth and hell) and reacquiring their physical bodies again. I am unpersuaded that such persons actually died, had their spirits leave their bodies, went on celestial voyages, and then their spirits reinhabited their dead bodies to bring them to life again. What they experienced were dreams, dreams brought on by trauma and drugs during surgery, but earth-bound dreams nonetheless.
The commenter replied again
If these experiences were contrary to scripture than I could understand your skepticism. My husband is a physician and he can attest to the blurred lines between "dead and alive". There is no clear way to medically (or scripturally) determine whether a person has passed through the veil.... and back. He has literally pronounced people "clinically dead" after spending much effort toward's their resuscitation and had them come back to life unexpectedly.
"What they experienced were dreams, dreams brought on by trauma and drugs during surgery, but earth-bound dreams nonetheless." You seemed to be establishing a specific demarcation based on scriptural authority. In other words, I would agree with you if a person presented a testimony contrary to scripture such as "I died and met Christ who said "I'm just one of many gods". In this case, I would completely agree with your assessment of false prophecy. However, since you do not have "comprehensive" knowledge of details beyond the boundaries of what scripture addresses then you are trying to establish your own analysis to be on par with scripture which is an extra biblical critique.
You can not, with authority, speak on extra biblical specifics such as the exact means God used to create the universe (mechanistically speaking). To assert that God did not use a certain means when it is NOT contrary to God's word is essentially expressing His thoughts apart from Him. In other words, I can scripturally assert that God created ALL things but I can not (scripturally) dismiss the "how's" of how He did it... because scripture is silent on the matter.
Booth responded again
We can all recognize this can be an emotionally charged subject, especially if we do not entirely agree around the various points, but there is no reason we cannot or should not talk though the doctrinal matters involved to try to come to the best and most correct understanding we can.
I certainly appreciate the modern dilemma of trying to fix the exact moment of death versus a temporarily unresponsive state. It is likely that this very definitional technicality is what causes so much unnecessary doctrinal dissonance. The Jews generally held that a person was not firmly and finally dead until there were no signs of life for about three days. After three days, the body would be stinking, bloating, and would desperately need to be buried. If the body were buried or entombed for three days, given the tight shroud wrapping process, there was no question that death had occurred. That provides some backstory to the detail that Lazarus had been in the tomb for three days and to the necessity of Jesus having been entombed for three days--there was no question these folks had died and had not simply “swooned.”
When discussing “memories” from those experiencing near-death events, these folks generally “swooned.” That is why it is called “near death” and not death. They were unresponsive and lacked life signs for very short time periods of mere minutes. Some people spend up to an hour under ice cold water with no life signs. Yet such “swooners” do often recover from their horrific circumstances. They never “died” in the 1st Century sense (i.e. dead and buried for three days). Their spirits never went home to be with the Lord but remained with their traumatized but still vital bodies. God reserves the rare resurrection miracle (like Lazarus and Jesus) for special testimonials to validate the messages of Messiahs and prophets.
Are these “testimonials” by the near-dead indeed prophetic, or are they not? Paul’s visions of heaven were prophetic, though Paul was in perfect health. Paul claimed that Jesus taught him through revelations everything that He had taught to the Twelve. John’s visions of heaven and of having seen Jesus were prophetic. Stephen’s vision of Jesus in heaven was a prophetic revelation. In fact, every meeting between a human and the risen Jesus is prophetic. How could it be otherwise?
So when people claim they really died for a couple of minutes (though they likely just swooned), and claim they really met Jesus, and they can repeat the very words of Jesus, this is prophecy. It is a revelation which they are repeating. Therefore, their words must be treated as those of a prophet. When they get factual-historical details wrong, they prove their vision was not from or of God. True prophets must get ever word, every fact, correct. Every last one (Deuteronomy 18:20).
When swooners claim Jesus had nail scars in the palm of His hands, we know they got a vitally important historical detail wrong. Their revelation is not real. Ask any medical doctor whether a nail through the palm of a hand will hold a struggling man’s weight for an entire day without the skin of the hand ripping free and he will tell you of that impossibility. All the archeological evidences of the ages indicates the Romans nailed their victims through the wrists, not the palms of the hands. This critical factual detail does not identify those who are lying from those who are telling the truth, rather they identify those who had dreams driven by delirium as distinct from those rare but genuine prophets who have actually met the risen Lord.
Prophets in both the New Testament and the Old Testament could only have their revelations believed if their statements remained utterly without error. Sometimes, as one blog-commenter above stated, this meant their theology had to be pristine (prophets could not say, “worship another God.”) Sometimes their statements of fact had to be accurate (prophets could not say, “you will live a long peaceful life” when in fact the nation was just about to be overthrown and devastated--Jeremiah 23:16-17). Sometimes it meant their future predictions of historical reality had to actually happen just as they predicted (prophets could not get even little details wrong, much less major ones). Prophecies must not only match the Word of God, but they must also be factually and historically accurate or the revelation is a false one.
The point is this: if someone claims to have met the risen Lord, it is prophetic revelation and every detail must be accurate. It is not a personal testimony that can be innocently embellished or misunderstood by the one having the vision. If one’s own imagination plays any role in the development of the revelation, then it is as Jeremiah stated, “They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD… the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart.”
When people talk of actually and truly having met Satan or the demons in hell, they are self-deluded. Satan and his fallen angels are walking about on this earth, right now, not administrating hell. Such visions are not visualizations of present reality, for the Lake of Fire has not yet been populated. Are these perhaps visions of the future? If so, then why do these same people say they were actually there? Or why do they say this future will not actually happen to them? John’s future visions of heaven will happen just as he saw them, it was not one of many “possible” futures. Daniel’s future visions were real depictions of what actually did transpire (and some of it will yet happen just as he saw it). In short, unlike John’s and Daniel’s revelations of the future as they will actually be, the near-dead visions are fictions of things that cannot be right now but “might be” or “might not be.”
Paul noted that he was the last person, outside of the Twelve, to whom Jesus had ever shown Himself to be alive after His death, “then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:7-8). The last one. That means of the women at the tomb, the Twelve, the 500, and Stephen, Paul was the last to have this revelation. What about after that? Did Jesus appear to anyone new? Apparently not, for the Scriptures record no such new occurrences. To what end would Paul claim to be the last if Jesus was constantly revealing Himself to the near-dead all the time?
Christianity is about truth. Factual historical truth. Fables, tales of imagination, and fairy tales are strictly forbidden, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16) If the revelations of Scripture are not far more precise and certain-to-happen than the “visions” of those who came near death but did not die, then our very faith is uncertain and in peril. Every story of Jesus must be true or we have no faith to cling to. May we never be found to be false witnesses who mix imagination, fables, and misperceptions with Scripture.
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-15)
Blessings to you both for bringing up your sincere questions and observations. May God grant us all understanding, clarity, and true unity.
Monday, May 16, 2011
“Banned from the Bible”
In the third of the StarWars movies to be released the character of a ghostly ObiWan Kenobi tells the hero that many of the truths they hold dear are only true “from a certain point of view.” In other words, truth is relative and not absolute. A DVD called “Banned from the Bible” produced by Filmroos, in cooperation with History Productions, embodies that postmodern philosophy with a passion. Everything is true, from a certain perspective, and nothing is true, absolutely.
This 2008 DVD follows in a long line of similar PBS-style programs I have viewed on the topic of attempting to explain how the Christian Bible and faith came to exist. This program was somewhat less cynical in tone than others, but it still clung to what in my opinion is a transparent bias, specifically, that every work of religious writing is human-inspired, sourced entirely by human knowledge, represents divergent human beliefs, and is therefore of equal value and authority as any other religious writing. In other words, no writing is divinely inspired so none are more true than any other, each one being a work of fiction to some degree. Each writing represents not absolute truth, but the relative truth of the prevailing feelings and opinions of its day.
These biases are evident in both the voice-over dialogue and the opinions expressed by the all-liberal academic cast. One scholar states that Paul never intended or realized that his personal letters would be published to all the churches and used as the source material for doctrine and theology in future generations. Had Paul realized his letters would have been used this way, the scholar claims, Paul would have been more careful about crafting his content. The scholar insinuates that Paul would have regretted being so chauvinistic, prejudiced, and non-ecumenical. Of course, as Paul tells us, he did intend his written doctrine and theology to be widely spread “to all believers everywhere” (1 Corinthians 1:2a, 4:17) and to be used to teach every successive generation of Christians (Ephesians 4:16, 2 Timothy 2:2).
Further anti-canon bias can be observed just in the title of the DVD by use of the word “banned,” which is very often repeated in the video. The video does a survey of much of the non-canonical writings which do contain ostensibly religious material. It plays up the impression, though not stating it outright, that all these texts were banned and consigned to destruction by Christian church authorities down through the ages because the writings challenged narrow personal opinions held by leadership. Of course, such was not the actual case historically.
Further highlighting the biases of the producers was the use of confusing phrases to identify the timelines of the authorship of the various non-canonical texts. One example of an obscured timeline description is when the announcer explains how one counterfeit gospel was “written a century prior to the formation of the Christian New Testament canon.” This leaves the feeling that the announcer may have said the counterfeit gospel was actually older than some of the New Testament books, yet, what he actually said was that the counterfeit was written about A.D. 200, which places it one hundred years AFTER the last book of the New Testament was written. To unwrap the above timing statement it helps to know that the producers began the series by stating their assumption that the New Testament canon was not compiled until after A.D. 300, though most conservative Christians would likely dispute this opinion. Such obliquely worded statements give the viewer one feeling while, if properly unraveled, literally say something entirely different.
Lack of a visual graphic or a clear definitive timeline statement plagues the DVD throughout. If the viewer does not already know that literary and extant evidence indicates that all the books of the present New Testament canon were originally penned prior to A.D. 100 and that all the books adjudicated to be counterfeits, frauds, or fictional stories were authored after A.D. 150 through about A.D. 500, then the viewer will not gain that knowledge via this video.
Moreover, the viewer is never informed in the DVD that the primary criterion used by the early church fathers to affirm which books should be canonized was whether the books were prophetically inspired or not. As every Christian theologian knows, prophets had to have recorded every word, fact, and detail accurately or their work was to be discarded as false (Deuteronomy 18:20). In short, if later writings, such as came from the Gnostics after A.D. 200, taught that Jesus was never actually human then those works could be dismissed as not of prophetic origin because they got details about Jesus very wrong when compared to the prophetic works of the apostles John or Matthew (written before A.D. 100).
All the non-canonical books (written after A.D. 100) which claim for themselves to be Gospels or claim to be apostolic letters have this failure: they have significant doctrinal errors which demonstrate they were not penned by a true prophet. That is why these texts are not in “the Bible.” All the letters and Gospels of the New Testament were written by prophets prior to A.D. 100 and contain no doctrinal mistakes.
On my own shelves at home I have most, if not all, of the known non-canonical texts translated into English. They are not banned in the normal sense of the word in so much as they are available to own and Christians are permitted to read them and to evaluate them. They were rejected as non-authoritative because they were not divinely inspired, and so are not “in the Bible.” Simply because a writing is disqualified from canonicity when it is shown not to be a work of true prophecy does not mean it is banned in the typical sense of the word. However, the word “banned” makes for great copy and inflames emotions and indignation when wantonly inserted into a DVD title and so is used to imply Christian misdoings and evil motivations by the devout. It is truly a title worthy of a Xanga blog.
[This essay was originally posted as blog. As a blog it was subject to public review and comments. Only a selection of the cleaner and more salient comments are reprinted below.]
Someone from the Public Posted this Comment
As shocking as all of this is, and I can easily see through to the motivation for making this DVD, it should also serve as a warning regarding all of the so-called documentaries published by the liberal intelligentsia. That the general public eats them up like candy also is not surprising for it helps support unbelief in God and tries to make a mockery of Christianity. Thanks for taking the time to report on this.
Thanks for the kind words and your observations. Yes, I agree, the motivation is broadcast clearly in the biased title: Banned from the Bible. This wording automatically invokes implied value judgments. The implications being with the assumption that all religious writings have a "right" to be of equal standing in the Bible, but only by some kind of bigotry do some get "banned" from membership.
The Bible is not a country club of writings or a generalized anothology of religious musings. It was and is the assembled writings of prophets who received revelation from the one true God (under inspiration from His Holy Spirit). That is all it contains. Nothing is banned, per se, but non-prophetic works are simply not qualified to be included because they are of the wrong "format." Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, only those writings that came from the lips and breath of God are compiled and published with His name as ultimate author. All other authors must compile their own writings under a different cover and a different title.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Spiritual Bully
In secular life a bully is someone who desires to inflate his or her own feeling of power through the illegitimate means of inflicting humiliation, insults, intimidation, erecting social hurdles, or exacting physical violence against other people. For example, cyber bullies often inflict humiliation techniques via name calling and personal aspersions. Teenagers and in-laws often employ the freeze out or cold shoulder, their preferred and most effective form of setting up a social barrier, so as to bend the family to their will.
In the spiritual world, that is to say in God’s Kingdom which is presently on earth, it is really no different. Spiritual bullies can reside in any station or rank within the church, from highest clergy to least congregant. But the goal remains the same, to inflate their feeling of power through illegitimate means. Sadly, the means are virtual copies of those set in motion by the secular world, though rarely will a Christian resort to physical violence.
Legitimate leadership, particularly spiritual leadership, is distinct from bullying because leadership seeks to persuade others to willingly work toward a communally beneficial goal. Often the beneficiary is God and His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
Spiritual bullying rears its ugly and powerful head when someone wants to exert influence and power for personal benefit alone. Frequently this is seen in newly created pet doctrines. A “leader” will offer up their own doctrinal invention with a clever name, then make “conversion” to this doctrine a matter of spiritual pride and theological orthodoxy. For example, such a person may write, “You should measure your spiritual maturity by the degree to which your heart measures up to my personal philosophy.“ Those who reject the doctrine, or do not mold their lives around it, are ostracized, deemed unspiritual, and militantly insulted by followers of the founder of the doctrine.
Bullying is a certain method for destroying legitimate debate and conversation. Spiritual bullying is a sure-fire means of disabling the unity of the church in the Holy Spirit, because bullying always imposes social and communication boycotts and blockades. If people are unable or unwilling to talk honestly, openly, and civilly then there is no hope of reaching agreement around the truth. This invariably favors the bully because his mission is to retain his feeling of power by silencing and dividing off those who will not bend to his or her will.
Reconciliation is the answer to spiritual bullying. However, reconciliation is only possible when then the bully comes to the point of being able to apologize for his sins and is ready to restore communication and fellowship.
There is no quick or certain remedy to spiritual bullying. Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, is a tremendous resource to consult. Of course, it just may be that the best solution is to never bully back when bullied. Keep asking questions and never shut down the channel of communication. Work hard to maintain the debate and preserve the ongoing conversation until it comes to a mutually meaningful and logical conclusion. Always be willing to ask questions, be constantly in the mood to answer questions, and be forever diligent to reply, “I don’t know the answer to that, but do you mind if I go research that and get back to you?”
Someone from the Public Posted this Comment
dosnt that make God a bully for forcing us to convert to his religion?
Booth's Response to the Public Comment
Challenging question. Demanding a conversion from someone is only invalid if you lack the authority to make the demand. God demands we convert from sinner to repentant believer, and He has both the legitimate right and authority to require just that. Even better, this demand greatly benefits us because He bestows eternal salvation when we do convert.
By contrast, those who demand Christians convert to a doctrine or philosophy that bears their own coined label have no such right or authority to do so. They are permitted to use the other "c" word, "convince" us via persuasion, but not to demand. To convince us of the superiority of their doctrine or philosophy they must employ excellent biblical exegesis in their debate. But when they resort to name calling, such as "you are not yet spiritual until you convert to my brand-name philosophy," or if they rely on threats, "no one is truly within God's best will for their lives until they become become committed to my trademarked doctrine," then they have become a spiritual bully.
God reserves for Himself the right to condemn or approve our secret hearts. We stand or fall to and for Him alone, regardless of what modern spiritual bullies may assert to the contrary. Conversion is only necessary but once to Christ alone, but never to a specific denomination, sect, human, philosophy, or doctrine.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Superior Atheist Morality (and other contradictions)
Yesterday the atheist-whom-I-most-love and my wife were having a discussion that turned heated. For good or for ill, I thought it was my place to intervene to try to cool things down.
At the center of the dispute was the atheist’s assertion that he was a superior moral agent over and above my wife and other Christians. How had he come to that conclusion?, I inquired. He responded that Christian morality unintentionally harmed society by restraining the happiness that should be gained from anonymous sex, recreational drug use, profanity, etc. He further stated that anything that harms anyone else, if even by accident, is by definition an inferior morality, or rather, was itself immoral.
As an atheist, he argued, his morality was inherently superior because the only rule was to harm no one else. Christians thoughtlessly harmed the psychology of others with ethics that make some “natural” actions appear sinful. Such a constraint on behavior erodes hedonistic happiness “For that reason I hate you and everything you Christians stand for.”
What had caused this argument to break out in the first place? My wife stated that she had effusively complimented the atheist’s prior day’s amateur musical performance that had been well received by a sizable crowd. My wife has long been a volunteer music coach and instructor for the atheist and was pleased to see him become successful.
The atheist responded to the compliment by insulting my wife. He said the insult was to remind my wife of his contempt for her religion and to prevent her from deriving any pleasure from his hard work and success. “So you intentionally hurt my wife because she was beginning to share in your happiness?” “Yeah, that’s right…and I am done talking about it.” He turned on his heel and walked off.
Had I been of quicker mind and him of slower foot, I would have reminded him that by intentionally hurting my wife with his graceless response he had demonstrated that his behavior was composed of the very “inferior morality” which he himself had defined and for which he claimed to so despise Christians.
Is wanting others to be hurt not the root element in hatred? And, in truth, is not hatred of other people the most inferior morality of all?
“…Love God…love your neighbor…On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:40)
Booth Posted This Response to a Public Comment (public comment not shown)
When I was very young I read the Humanist Manifesto. Years later, the Humanist Manifesto II. It is a strikingly blunt and clear pair of documents. They declare atheists to be at war with and enemies of evangelistic religious persons, even if those religious persons do not know it. The documents declare that the only real evil in the world is belief in God. Given such inherent hatred in the ideology itself, I am not surprised followers of the ideology do not often adopt the same attitude.
Of course, you are correct. Not all atheists are so overtly venemous as this gentleman has become. Blessings.
Booth Also Posted This Response to Another Public Comment (public comment not shown)
Atheists declare themselves to be the standard of morality (at least this is what the Humanist Manifestos state). Each atheist is an island of self-defined "morality" unto themselves. The one and only ethic they seem to generally (but not universally) hold in common is: do not hurt someone else. Sadly, they do not have a common meaning for the word "hurt" and rarely do they exend this ethic to non-atheists, given it is the non-atheists with whom they see themselves at war.
You are correct. It will be necessary to win such persons to Christ by employing good toward them. Over come evil by doing good, being good, speaking good, and seeking God's goodness. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, and atheists are also our neighbors.
It is interesting to note that the atheist morality says, "do not hurt a neighbor," while the Bible says, "do no wrong to a neighbor" and "love your neighbor." Sometimes love hurts, such as telling your neighbor they are a sinner and need to repent to Christ to attain forgiveness--that hurts, but it a kindness to them and is the right thing to do.
Booth Posted This Response to Yet Another Public Comment (public comment not shown)
I think many Christians agree with your idea that a person's moral system can be superior without that same person being hinself/herself a superior moral agent. For example, most Christians follow Christ's superior standard of morality yet cannot equal it in their own efforts, some fail more greatly than others. Yet, it is necessary to have a moral system so that society can readily exist.
Interestingly, Christ's standard of morality combines both of your moral "types." Christ states the highest moral standard is: love God (affectionately and fearfully obey Him). Christ than states the second highest moral standard is: to love other people (affectinately work to do what is best and right for them). In both of these moral standards there is great difference with atheism/humanism. Atheism states, "do not love God because there is none." Then it states, "do not hurt anyone else" but it ignores the aspect to also "do good" to others, in other words, atheism's morality does not acknowledge the need to extend love to others only to not hurt them.
When examining the two moral systems side-by-side, I find Christ to have the superior system over atheism, even if I personally cannot or will not be as moral as I ought to be according to that standard.
Denise, regarding your quote, it is true that God does not conform to external notions of morality, for His nature is holiness. He cannot act outside His nature, any more than we can stop being humans, for our nature is to be human just as His nature is to be holy. However, God also knew we could not / would not be holy so He devised a moral standard for us (as coroporeal humans) that included mechanisms to receive forgivness of our sins from Him (i.e. sacrifices, repentance, sorrow over sins, etc.) and to support other people.
Denise, like you, I am not certain what Commenter Z meant by this sentence, " I think that most Christians ignore the inherent contradiction in these two types of morality, and if they actually thought about it, i think they'd find that the first type is problematic, and the second type would challenge some of their religious beliefs (like God being the source of morality)." In fact, as I noted above, Christians readily acknowledge that the two morality systems (one from God and the other based on loving others) are mutually essential in our corporeal world and both actually do issue from God.
Blessings to you both in Christ,
Booth Posted Still Another Response to Another Public Comment (public comment not shown)
You wrote, "... the problem, which is really- is your morality based on obeying an authority, or is it based on how your actions affect others. I think that when you really get down to it, you have to choose between one or the other."
As I noted above, Christ established a morality system that requires BOTH obedience to a moral-establishing authority (i.e. Himself) and consideration of how your actions affect others (i.e. the "golden rule" and "love your neighbor"). What is the logic in thinking these two aspects of morality have to be contradictory instead of mutually complementary?
I think we agree that a moral system that places priority on obedience to God's authority and consideration of human kindness (love for one's neighbor) is not contradictory. I would take it a bit further, since God is the one who requires humans to consider being kind to other humans as part of His moral system.
If we assume that the present contract God has with us humans (called the New Testament, or The New Covenant, or The New Contract) defines His moral expectations for humanity, then there really is nothing in it that contradicts either rule 1 (love and obey God) or rule 2 (love one's neighbors). When "modern day prophets" say they have a new revelation from God and that revelation contradicts rule 1 or rule 2, we know it is not really from God at all. God does not contradict Himself, and most especially in the area of morality. Ultimately, the effect of God's morality on humankind is always "good."
Booth Replied to Another Public Comment (public comment not shown)
Greetings Commenter A. You wrote, "In my experience people tend to convert to christianity (and presumably any religion) for two main reasons - the first is indoctrination in childhood which accounts for probably almost all religious conversion, especially since someone has only a 1 in 11 chance of ever believing something other than what their parents believed religion-wise, no matter what it is. How can it not be the most overriding factor?"
I was thinking about that assumption. On the surface that would seem logical, that someone adopts their parent's religion. Yet, that does not explain historically how this tiny band of a couple hundred backwater Jews living mostly in the backcountry of Galilee in a tiny and conquered nation of Israel (which would be totally destroyed in A.D. 70) would spread this religion from a Jewish carpenter around the world.
Christianity went from a mere handful of essentially uneducated guys to having been the largest relgion in the world for centuries. That growth did not happen by kids being born into the religion, because the religion was originally confined to just a few people. That growth had to have come from adult conversions across the centuries. Today, in third world countries where Christianity is growing the most (again), it is happening where Christianity is not the national religion, and even where it is outlawed. Christianity is growing most in those areas where adult conversions are taking place among those who never heard of Christ before.
So while I agree, that in the US many conversions to Christianity are just a matter of people doing what they see their parents doing, historically Christianity has grown via adult conversions, as it is doing again today in third world countries.
Thanks again for the thoughts.
The Christian church had already spread from Spain through all of Europe, into Asia, and down through much of Africa by the end of the 1st Century. None of that was "at the point the sword." During the first three centuries of the church age Rome had outlawed Christianity and persecuted it with the sword. Even as Christians lay dying from Rome's persecutions the faith grew rapidly and broadly.
By A.D. 313 the pagan military commander Constantine thought the Christian God had helped him in a battle, so when he became emperor he issued the Edict of Milan, aka The Edict of Tolerance, which gave the same legal standing to Christianity that pagan religions had enjoyed all along. In other words, Rome would no longer persecute Christians officially. The edict also gave everyone of all religions the right to use Sunday as a religious day (Sunday was already the preferred day of worship for most pagan religions in Rome). Tolerating the presence of Christians in the empire is hardly spreading Christianity at the point of the sword, nor is giving it equal standing as all pagan religions giving it some kind of global advantage. It is historically clear that Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond from Christ until Constantine by way of voluntary adult conversions. Any other characterization of how the church grew is likely more of a parody.
The third point is merely that no one that I know of has said that being "big" is being "correct." What I believe I said was that Christianity convinces adults to convert by weight of its gospel, and it is clearly very persuasive as it had become the largest religion in the world for centuries.
Booth Replied to Yet Another Public Comment (public comment not shown)
I am not certain that the Abraham - Isaac event is in any way against God's nature. God never intended to allow Abraham to harm Isaac, but He did want Abraham (and eventually all of us) to realize that Abraham valued obedience to God more than he valued family. From Abraham's perspective: there was not a Mosaic Law yet that forbade human sacrifice, God had given Isaac to him in a miracle, God is the one who sets the date of death for each and every human (so why not for Isaac at that time?), and God had promised to Abraham that Isaac would be the agent of uncounted of his offspring so Abraham anticipated that God would raise Isaac back to life after the sacrifice. In fact, God is actually the only one who can righteously command the death of another human who is not otherwise guilty of a captial crime. So from Abraham's point of view the task would have been horribly and emotionally painful, but not sinful as God was actively in charge of the order.
It is fair to ask, "Well isn't a human sacrifice repugnant to God and thus against His nature to require one?" Yes, very much so. But Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac, and since Abraham was literally obeying the very voice of God it would not have been Abraham's sin. So, yes, if the sacrifice had actually occurred, it would have been repugnant to God as well as God's "fault." But because Abraham was perfectly obedient both in preparing the sacrifice and then also in stopping the sacrfice at God's command, no human was harmed and no sins were committed. Since God planned, knew, and carried out the test knowing that Isaac would be kept safe and that no sins would be committed in His name, it is not against His nature to have carried out the test.
That raises a further question, "Wasn't Jesus a human sacrifice for sins?" Yes and no. First, Jesus was also fully God as well as fully human. Jesus gave Himself willingly as a sacrifice, so in effect, God sacrificed Himself for our benefit. I do not think anyone could make a plausible case that God sins by sacrificing Himself.
But what of the fully human element of Jesus? Looking at this from the strictly human / corporeal realm, God did not ask or command anyone to sacrifice Jesus. Jesus was sent through a kangaroo court trial, found guilty even though He was innocent, then was executed by the Roman government under the spurious charge that He was usurping the emperor of Rome. God permitted Jesus to be murdered, just as God oversees the death of all humans. God implemented the curse back in Genesis 3 and consequently all humans die, some by murder, some by accident, some by disease. When human murders human, it is not God who is culpable, but rather the evil motive is the fault of the murderer, even though the timing is permitted by God.
Thus, Jesus' sacrifice was an instance of God sacrificing Himself coupled with a case of outrageous human murder of an innocent rabbi. Clearly this was not a case of a human sacrificing another human to God, but God giving up Himself and giving up His only Son, all to pay for mankind's sins.
I do not think that Abraham thought he was doing anything immoral or sinful, though decidedly it was painful. Abraham knew that God was the creator of human life, and that as such, as the owner of every human, God alone can decree who lives and who dies, and even when. Not even our human governments can kill other humans legitimately (as convicted criminals or in warfare) unless God had expressed to them that He had delegated them that authority, as He has done in His Word.
Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac by God. Abraham did not “sense” this command nor did he have a “gut feeling” that this is what God wanted, but God commanded it in a prophetic revelation. Abraham also knew this was some kind of test because God had earlier promised that Isaac would be the son through whom Abraham would experience multitudes of descendants. Certainly Abraham could not have expected that God would stop the test before the sacrifice was completed, but he certainly trusted that somehow God would see to it that Isaac would yet fulfill His promise of grandchildren.
Perhaps an analogy would help? Suppose your neighbor who owns a candy store chain comes over to you and asks, “Would you help me test the security procedures at my new store? Come into the store tomorrow at 10am and try to steal five candy bars from the rack by the front door.” You might answer, “But stealing is a crime and I cannot do that.” The store owner replies, “But I own both the store and the candy and I am authorizing you to take it this one time, so it is not a crime.”
It was just a test. Of course, five hundred years later via the Law of Moses God made it illegal for any person to sacrifice any child to any God. However, I do not think Abraham was asked to sin, nor do I think Abraham considered the sacrifice to be a sin. Moreover, I do not think God considered anything about that episode to have been sinful or against His nature.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Plaid and Striped Bell Bottoms with Four Inch Cuffs
As we stood waiting and milling around in a small group today for a church function, a young woman with whom my wife and I have been acquainted for almost twenty years took note of my unusual apparel. I was wearing black dress pants, a black blazer, and a dark grey dress shirt, with no tie. It was only unusual because I rarely put on a jacket any more (and even more rarely a wretched necktie).
The young lady stated, “Being conventional today?” I laughed and replied, “Not entirely,” and pointed at my feet. Black sneakers. “I do not like to think of myself as a rebel, but more of a non-conformist.” She pointed to her own feet, bedroom slippers.
As is my way, I launched into a speech about how “in my day” it was not uncommon for preachers to give sermons decrying the rebellion of the young, dressed as they were in denim trousers. A young man standing literally six inches from me turned around and said, “Oh really?” as he glanced down at his blue jeans. We all laughed.
Even as a youth, I never could bring myself to wear jeans to church on Sunday morning, not that I had any problem with others doing so. But I bristled at the sermons which invented theology about wearing respectful clothing from scriptural allusions which never quite said the same thing when I looked the passages up at home.
My teen years were in the ’70s. Instead of preaching against blue jeans, as it turns out, those pastors would have done me so much more good had they pointed out that plaid and striped bell bottom pants with four inch cuffs would one day cause an entire generation of youth to hide their yearbooks from their own children out of embarrassment.
This silly digression is my way of saying that I am so thankful our senior pastor is an expository preacher drawing his sermon content and doctrine from directly out of the text of the Scriptures.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Cats in the Cradle
This lyric has been making me cry all night. Weighing on my heart are those Christian parents who worked hard to raise their children according to the loving standards of God’s Word, pouring their time and energy into nurturing their children, and yet their children have departed from the faith, the home, and possibly the family.
A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish son is a grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1)
A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish man despises his mother. (Proverbs 15:20)
A foolish son is a grief to his father And bitterness to her who bore him. (Proverbs 17:25)
A foolish son is destruction to his father, And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping. (Proverbs 19:13)
How much sorrow there is as children’s love grows cold toward their parents and toward God. Every day is surely a struggle to keep hope alive, “Someday, maybe, they will turn to the Lord and return to the family, maybe, some day….”
"Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. (Matthew 10:21)
And so I cry and pray this evening in the solitude of my study even as the lyrics bounce around the back of my skull…
Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
"When you comin home, Son,”
“I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad,
You know we'll have a good time then.”
(excerpt from Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin)
Booth Offered the Following Response to a Public Comment (public comment not shown)
There is no emoticon for "smiling sadly but genuinely," but if there were, I would insert it here.
You are correct about the Chapin song's original intent [being that many fathers do not spend enough time with their young boys]. In a more personalized version of this blog, which I opted not to post, I explored how children do not always grow to be just like us, their parents. It was bemusing to me that this sad song is the ironic inverse of the experience of so many parents [whose kids do not want to spend time with them], yet, that one lyric still rings true anyway...will there really be such a future thing as a "time then"?
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