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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why should I waste my time on this stuff?

How can a person who is a fag, former Armstrongite and has no theological degree possibly have anything of value or interest to offer in the way of insights into God or "His" purposes and expectations?

Of course, such a question implies that heterosexuals, Protestants, Catholics and doctors of theology have made nothing but stellar contributions in this regard. In the final analysis, don't the above labels merely serve as a convenient excuse to summarily dismiss a body of material without even considering it? They effectively eliminate the need to think and dig a little deeper. In fact, don't they make the person employing them an intellectually lazy, bigoted, self-righteous, snob who is unworthy of inclusion in the discussion?

Seems to me that I recall a story about a poor widow's mite. Is it possible that the story has anything to offer in the way of an answer to our question? What are your credentials for judging something/somebody as unworthy of notice or consideration? Makes one wonder how a poor, Jewish carpenter with little formal education/training would fair in our world!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is God a biophile?

The PBS Newshour recently did an interview with acclaimed biologist Edward O. Wilson (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/how-to-save-life-on-earth-according-to-e-o-wilson/). The piece was inspired by his latest book offering (Half Earth), and his efforts to promote a national park and/or wildlife preserve in southern Alabama. Of particular interest to this blogger was his insistence on our (humankind's) responsibility for preserving other species as a moral imperative.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have thought of the earth and its other inhabitants as being exclusively for man's enjoyment and completely subject to his control. Add to this the more recent adoption of unfettered capitalism as God's preferred system, and you have a recipe for environmental disaster in the form of a mass extinction event that will be wholly attributable to us.

Nevertheless, common sense tells us that if God truly is the Source/Cause/Creator of the life (and it's manifestation in the biodiversity) we observe all around us, and God really is the personification of love, then logic indicates that God is a biophile (and would, therefore, expect us to be like-minded). Moreover, for those who would quote Scripture to justify man's dominion over the Earth, we should insist that they include the entire message. Mankind was told to dress it and to keep it - not given permission to deplete and/or destroy it. And isn't there a scriptural reference to God destroying those who destroy the Earth?

If we don't take the necessary steps to curb pollution and preserve habitat for the other life forms (plant and animal) that share this planet with us, I think that Mr. Wilson will be judged as a true prophet by future generations; and we will be judged by them (not to mention Almighty God) as being among the worst sinners that ever lived! What do you think?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Let me do it!

As a parent, grandparent and teacher, I have often heard my children gleefully exclaim "let me do it" when attempting to show them how to do something. And how many times have we all felt the frustration of watching a loved one suffer the consequences of some course of action that we had warned them not to pursue? Isn't it very human to insist on making our own choices and learning things the hard way?

Isn't that the central message of the story of Adam and Eve? Consider the story as a parable or an allegory about humanity.

Adam and Eve (TOGETHER representative of humankind) are placed in a "garden" of perfection where they have access to EVERYTHING. Moreover, they are encouraged to explore, learn and classify/name those things. That doesn't sound anti-science or anti-intellectual to me.

In fact, the only thing that is placed off limits is the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." God has indicated that "He" will personally instruct them in how to differentiate between right and wrong.

But how do the humans react? "Let me do it!"

Hence, the story suggests that it was/is mankind's decision to go it on his own. God is portrayed as acceding to that decision (albeit reserving the right to intervene occasionally to assure the success of "His" project). Nevertheless, the point remains: It was/is our decision to go it alone.

Have you ever noticed how a child will ask: "Why didn't you catch me?" when he/she falls off of the bicycle that they just moments before insisted on trying to ride alone? OR "Why didn't you tell me this would happen?" when something goes wrong. OR "Where were you when I needed you?" (again ignoring the fact that it was their decision to go it alone).

Don't we do the same thing to God? Is it unreasonable for God to expect us to follow "His" rules if we want to play in "His" garden? Do you really want to play in "His" garden? OR is God just a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong for us?

I have cringed at some of the decisions my children/grandchildren/students have made. It's hard to let them fail, but it's essential to their independence and development to allow them to have that freedom. They have to personally internalize/learn each lesson - I can't do it for them (no matter how much I'd like to do just that).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Did you get it right last night?

Many of the "Elect" just participated in a ritual that Jesus Christ instituted almost two thousand years ago. They partook of the bread and the wine and hopefully thought about Jesus a little bit.

Unfortunately, however, many of them were focused on other issues: Are we celebrating this on the correct day? Did we use the right elements? Does grape juice count? Was the bread/wafer unleavened? Do baking soda and baking powder qualify as leavening agents? Were only qualified deacons used to distribute the elements? Was anyone permitted to partake of the elements who shouldn't have? Do the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ? Is everyone who was distracted or had their minds on other things last night headed for the Lake of Fire? Was everyone solemn and quiet and reading their Bibles or were they chatting and smiling? Was an actual foot washing event included in the service? Did they sing a song before they were dismissed? We're all of the appropriate scriptures cited and read? Was the ceremony referred to in the proper fashion (Passover, Lord's Supper, Communion)?

What about you? How would you characterize the above questions: sad or pertinent?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Leavening

Gary Leonard (Banned by HWA) recently asked "Is Jesus impressed with your deleavening routines?" The question is, of course, directed at ACOG members who obsess over the removal of leavening agents from their homes and vehicles in preparation for their observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For most of that culture, it's all about the symbolic meaning of an ancient religious ritual of the Israelites. The removal of leavening being likened to ridding their lives of sin.

It is ironic that many of them point to the fifth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians to justify this activity. They use this passage as one of their chief proof texts in demonstrating the continuing obligation of Christians to participate in the ritual, while many of them ignore/overlook the point that the apostle was attempting to make.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to remove pride, malice and wickedness from their midst and replace them with sincerity and truth. Which brings a question to mind for all of the folks who are still engaging in the physical ritual: Are you busy cleaning your house and car and purchasing matzah bread? OR Are you preoccupied with getting rid of the pride, anger and bitterness from your life and replacing them with the qualities that God wants you to exhibit? Which one of those activities do you suppose God is really interested in?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Does God want a trained ministry?

A recent post over at Ambassador Watch caught my eye. "Hanging out in Plato's cave" by Kevin provoked a very interesting discussion related to ministerial credentials.

Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) had his Ambassador College, and other Christian sects have their seminaries and universities to train those among them who are interested in a career in the ministry. Is that, however, what God wants or expects of "His" Church?

For Kevin's father, a library of about 40 HWA booklets constituted an appropriate religious education for his children (unfortunately, this was not an isolated view within that culture). Kevin also talked about his experience of living in "that bubble of common believers," and how that "bubble eventually popped." In short, he compared his experience to Plato's "Allegory of the Den" and pointed out how one's concept of truth/reality can be twisted by being sheltered from the wider world.

We see this phenomenon in folks who have lived their entire lives in small, isolated towns. We call it provincialism. Of course, none of us would say that these folks are stupid and without anything to contribute to the world (unless we're cultural and/or intellectual snobs). However, many of us seem to think that such a background should automatically disqualify someone from serving in the ministry. In that regard, it is interesting to note: Although one could make the case that Paul was somewhat of a cosmopolitan, Jesus would be classified as a provincial by our understanding of those terms!

In the course of Kevin's post, he asked Pastor Ian Boyne of the CGI a very good question: "Hypothetically, what are the odds that a greedy, dishonest man who had abused his own child would be the one that God would select to work with to reveal new understandings?" He went on to ask: "Doesn't it make sense for God to select an individual with above average character rather (than) below average?"

In the comments that followed the post, Byker Bob emphasized the importance of being "well-grounded" and studying "other exigetics" in evaluating the doctrines of HWA. He said that this would expose the "bogus and shoddy research" that was the underpinning of those teachings.

Ian Boyne advised taking "some time to critique doctrines" and employing "sober thinking" to reveal that HWA was right about many of the doctrines he preached. He even offered a list of the ones he considered to be valid: "conditional immortality, postmortem salvation, millennium on the earth, Sabbatarianism, holy day keeping, Deification, restoration of ethnic Israel (and rejection of replacement theology), necessity of works for final justification (though not for initial justification), Gospel of the eschatological Kingdom." That's quite a list!

Mr. Boyne advised Kevin to "forget about the name Armstrong" and lay aside the pain of his association with the group founded by him. He said: "Do the dispassionate, objective analysis of these doctrines. Read accredited scholars, not the amateurs and theological incompetents who inundate the Internet." He concluded with "Get back to us after you have done that." (How condescending and arrogant can this guy get?)

According to Mr. Boyne, the Bible is only clear to "the called, the Elect." Which brings us to the Achilles heel of his thesis: If you're going to argue for intellectual rigor, you'd better not live in a glass house or introduce other concepts that will dilute/contradict it!

Gavin Rumney argued "that every ordained person who sets out to instruct others" should have "a legitimate degree in theology from a recognized university." Mr. Boyne responded: "Though I do not have a theology degree, my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level. I have wide exposure to the main areas of Old and New Testament theology and am acquainted with all the major theologians in the main areas." (What about the minor theologians in the peripheral areas?) Mr. Boyne then proceeded to share an impressive partial reading list to bolster his credentials.

After complimenting Ian's reading list, Gavin concluded that it wasn't "a substitute for a moderated course of study...for someone who claims ministerial authority." He went on to point out that HWA's brief study at the Portland Public Library had certainly not been sufficient to prepare him for the ministry.

For me, however, the best comment came from "nck." He said, "It is what we do in life that defines us and that echoes down through eternity." (OK, he wasn't the first person to express that sentiment; but isn't it very appropriate here?)

When I was reading these comments, I was thinking about questions like "What is a minister?" and "What is the proper role of a minister?" and "What are the biblical qualifications/credentials for a minister?"

Doesn't the New Testament make plain in a number of places that ministers were to be servants? Didn't Christ say that he didn't want the leaders within his church exercising authority/dominion over his people? Doesn't Scripture indicate that character and life experience are prerequisites for serving in the ministry? Isn't the focus on character, not on doctrines/theology?

I know a CGI minister who is not as well read as Mr. Boyne, never attended Ambassador College and has little formal education. Nevertheless, he has sterling character and epitomizes servant leadership. Doctrinally speaking, he is much closer to Ian Boyne than he is to me; but he looks like the real deal to me! I'm impressed by his genuine care and concern for his flock and for doing whatever he thinks is in their best interest (he doesn't consider himself to be a good speaker, so he talks with other folks in the congregation and encourages them to speak and lead Bible studies).

What is God looking for in a minister? What kind of university does "He" expect them to attend? What do you think?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Old Testament God vs The New Testament God

Like many modern day critics of Scripture, Marcion of Sinope (2nd Century) understood and accepted the fact that there are irreconcilable differences between the way that God is portrayed in the two Testaments of the Christian Canon. What was his conclusion and solution? They can't be the same personage, so Christians must reject their Jewish roots and the Old Testament!

In similar fashion, many folks in our day have decided to walk away from both Testaments. They reject the attempts of Fundamentalists to reconcile the differences as feeble, disingenuous and illogical. After all, their apologetics are based on the premise that Scripture cannot contradict itself (a thesis that engenders a lot of circular reasoning).

Nevertheless, in fairness to the founder of Christianity (Jesus of Nazareth), I think it should be noted that he didn't attempt to justify the Old Testament depictions of God or reconcile them to his own portrayal of the Divine. In fact, he underscored the contrast!

Jesus said that God was NEVER for divorce (he said that was a Mosaic invention to accommodate their hard-heartedness). He said that God didn't sanction revenge - that "an eye for an eye" wasn't God's principle. He taught that his Father wasn't legalistic about Sabbath observance and didn't countenance using religion or devotion to himself as a justification for mistreating others. Jesus Christ taught that God was the embodiment of love, and that "He" wanted to save everyone (not zap or destroy them). Jesus said that God didn't just want us to abstain from murdering each other, but that "He" wanted us to refrain from entertaining feelings of anger and hatred for each other! In fact, one of the chief disappointments of both his supporters and detractors was his refusal to launch an Old Testament style genocidal war of liberation from the Romans.

In short, Jesus knew what many of us have come to understand: The human authors of the Old Testament had often attributed characteristics and feelings to God that did not belong to "Him." Christ was the antidote to those false depictions. He was meant to offer a glimpse into the TRUE nature of God. Jesus wasn't interested in reconciling the two depictions of God - he simply wanted to set the record straight. Notice also that he accomplished this without discrediting or discounting Scripture or rejecting the people and religious tradition into which he was born. In effect, his message was "you've got the right God, but your understanding of 'Him' and 'His' expectations is FLAWED!"

From my perspective, that's a much more satisfying approach to the problem than the apologetics of the Fundamentalists or the rejection of a Marcion or Dawkins. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The REAL Gospel!

Any Armstrongite who is worth his/her salt knows that it's the Gospel of the Kingdom of God - right? Those pagan and deceived Catholics and Protestants preach a false Gospel about the messenger!

Really? Is that what Scripture reveals?

In the latest issue of "The Journal: News of the Churches of God" (Issue 182, March 31, 2016), Keith Slough wrote an essay that addressed this topic. The title (Jesus is the forgotten man in our old-Worldwide Theology) is an excellent summary of what follows.

Mr. Slough skillfully weaves together a series of passages from the New Testament that clearly demonstrates that Jesus Christ was the focus of the message of the early church. He points to Peter's sermon at the founding of the church, and the remarks about the character of Paul's message at the beginning of his ministry in the book of Acts.

That Jesus was clearly at the center of Paul's message is reinforced by the apostle's first epistle to the saints at Corinth. He said "we preach Christ crucified..." I Corinthians 1:23 In speaking about his early ministry among them, he went on to say "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." I Corinthians 2:2

Mr. Slough said: "When we preach the gospel, if we leave out the focus the early true church had on the 'Messenger' - the person of Christ - we water down the true gospel." I heartily agree!

Mr. Slough also wrote: "The Bible tells us that the entire world has been deceived (Revelation 12:9). Those of us who were members of the Worldwide Church of God know by now that this included us as well." That gets a big A-men from this blogger.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slough and I part company near the end of his essay. He asked, "Is it any wonder God took His anointing off the WCG and allowed it to die?" Jesus Christ is reported to have said that the gates of hell would NEVER prevail against HIS Church. Hence, in addition to preaching a watered down gospel, that leads me to conclude that they NEVER had that anointing! What do you think?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Are you saved?

Once upon a time, there was a church (Worldwide Church of God) that made fun of that question. They scoffed at folks who believed that they are (present tense) saved. They derided the concept of "once saved, always saved." They pointed to the numerous instances in Scripture that demonstrate that Christians can fail and some folks will end up in the Lake of Fire (Gehenna/Hell). Hence, they insisted that Christians are not truly saved until they are "born" into the Kingdom of God. They insisted that we are only "begotten" now and can be aborted at anytime!

Is that true? Are you currently saved? Can you lose your salvation? Can you screw it all up and lose the place reserved for you in God's Kingdom?

First, in attempting to answer those questions, I want to make clear that this is not going to be one of those exercises in proof texting. I am going to assume that anyone who is interested in this topic is familiar with all of the pertinent scriptures.

That said, doesn't this all boil down to what folks mean when they say things like "once saved, always saved?" In other words, is it possible that such a statement could be correct if properly understood? After all, most of us are accustomed to looking at this issue from the extremes - as an irreconcilable dilemma.

If I am alone in the middle of the sea and about to drown and someone comes along and pulls me into a boat, have I been rescued/saved? To be sure, I still have to make it back to shore; but haven't I, in the instant I was pulled from the water, been saved? I am no longer in any danger of drowning. Yes, I can decide to stand up and jump back into the water before we make it back to shore; but how many folks would be likely to do such a thing? And, if I was crazy enough to do such a thing, couldn't the person on the boat reach down and pull me back up into the boat? In other words, I'm not "lost" until I've actually drowned!

Hmmm, I believe that I have been and am currently saved. What about you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An elaborate, complex and sophisticated theology?

Did the author of the epistle to the Hebrews envision an elaborate, complex and sophisticated theology? He/She/They (we don't know the identity of the author) wrote: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit." Hebrews 6:1-3 Having enumerated the foundational doctrines of Christianity, is the author suggesting that spiritual maturity involves a systematic theology project? Does this passage imply another layer of more sophisticated doctrines?

In attempting to answer that question, I think that most students of Scripture would agree that context is critical. And, for the sake of clarity, we're talking about these verses in relation to the ones which precede and follow them AND the times in which they were written.

The verses immediately preceding our passage talk about the immaturity of the folks being addressed in the epistle (5:11-14). Enough time has passed since these people were introduced to Christianity that they "ought to be teachers" (verse 12). Instead, the author calls them babes and exhorts them to leave the "milk" behind and acquire an appetite for "strong meat" (verses 13-14). Does that support the thesis of those who are arguing for a more elaborate theology? How does the author define maturity?

After a brief discourse on the perils of falling away from Christianity (6:4-8), the author returns to the business of defining spiritual maturity. He/She/They assure the audience that "we are persuaded better things of you" (verse 9). Continuing, we read: "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of LOVE (emphasis mine), which ye have shewed toward his name, IN THAT YE HAVE MINISTERED TO THE SAINTS, AND DO MINISTER." (Verse 10) Isn't that interesting? The author equates spiritual maturity with love for and service to the saints! Isn't that consistent with Christ's own message (and that of Peter, Paul and John)?

Moreover, the author concludes his/her/their commentary on the subject with an exhortation not to abandon HOPE (verses 11-20). Notice that the author underscores the importance of the experience of emotions, and an elaboration on doctrines isn't mentioned ANYWHERE! Could that indicate that erecting a complex and philosophically sustainable statement of beliefs isn't really important? Do elaborate theologies build up and unite folks? OR Do they focus on intellectual vanity and dividing folks from each other?

Remember also, we mentioned the context of the times. How do you think Peter, Paul, James and John would have responded to terms like Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Sabbatarianism, rapture or transubstantiation? With a blank stare? You'd have to explain the concepts to them before you could get them to venture an opinion!

Is it possible that a great many theologians and religious folks have focused on things that don't really matter? After all, if they truly mattered, don't you think that God would have put more effort into explaining and clarifying such things? What do you think?