Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Christian Love In This Modern World

My dear friends:

In view of a number of recent happenings I am reminded of a scripture I make a point of looking at often, it is 1 Corinthians 13 1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.


What this reminds me is that no what I may do, or how much, or how powerful my works, presentation, or whatever, if I do it out of any other motive than love, then my works and actions are worthless, of no account. God hold us to no less a standard than this, we are to follow the Royal Law of Love (James 2:8). So what does that mean for us as Christians? Let's look at the topic some.

Christians are not under the Law of Moses, let's get that out of the way before we go any further. James, in the verse I cited pointed out that love is the Law's fulfillment, we are called to fulfill the law, not follow it. To that end Jesus left us to “commands,” taken from the law, but applied in a new way. We find that when Jesus was asked what the most important law was. His reply was:


But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
(Mat 22:34-40)

The first is from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and is just that, the first and most important law for us to follow. The second is found in Leviticus 19:18, which shows both the breadth and depth of Jesus knowledge and understating of the law, that he could take two laws from different books of the law and rate them so well. Jesus would add another “command,” or Law of Love, so named because all of them require love instead of obedience, but that one isn't really relevant to this post.

I'm going to take the second one first here for reasons which will be seen later. So, what does it mean to love our neighbors I've already blogged on the subject of love in the Bible here (http://stanley-loper.blogspot.com/2011/10/love.html), it might be a good idea for you to take a moment and read through that post. However, the word Paul and Jesus used was αγαπη and it's verb form αγαπαω, which in short, is pure and unselfish love which asks nothing back from the one loved.

That kind of love tries to avoid real harm to ones neighbor. So one who loves their neighbor in that way won't steal or cheat from them, won't hold them up for ridicule, will always be ready to help them if they need it and won't retaliate against neighbors who hate or harm them beyond minimal self defense if there is no other choice. They will go so far as to take an insulting slap, as Jesus told us to. They will provide a good example of what it means to be a true follower of Christ for their neighbor to see and show them the way.

Sadly, the belief has arisen in this culture is that it is wrong to “hurt” others feelings by refusing to endorse a lifestyle a Christian sees as headed down the “wrong path,” one of the meanings inherent in the Hebrew word for “unrighteous.” Think about it, real love instead requires one to tactfully point out a wrong course of another instead of refraining from any sort of criticism, or condoning a harmful course. We all point pout the dangers of smoking to friends we love, don't we?

Which also leads us now to the “first command.” We are to love God with all our heart and being, as Jesus stated above. That means we are to put him first in our lives and live them in such a way as to please him. I won't get into everything that means, that's because doing so requires an accurate knowledge of the God who has been misrepresented by a church system which departed from God's truth to meet the requirements of a state religion. But the fact is that God requires something of those who would follow him through his son, Jesus Christ. That is that they live their lives a certain way. That way is laid out for us at Acts the fifteenth chapter:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” (Act 15:28-29)

So Christians are abjured from eating certain things, and from fornication, the point which is filling so many columns and blogs these days. The Greek word for fornication is πορνεια and covers a wide range of activities, including homosexual activities. Now, note, this is what called Christians do, they are to “abstain” from these things, not force others to. A stronger form of the same Greek verb “abstain” is found at 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and can be translated in that instance as “Avoid every appearance of evil.” Many Christians take this to mean that they are to avoid any activity which can be seen as endorsing a course of sin. Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, have refused blood transfusions based on their understanding of these passages since the end of WWII. Many others try to avoid meat product which use blood in their diet, we are among those. To this day there are innkeepers who will refuse a room to couples they believe aren't married. And others have concluded they cannot serve celebrations of gay marriage, a form of πορνεια. That, they conclude, is a part of showing their love for both God and neighbor by avoiding “every appearance of evil.”

I can go into detail about the way fornication harms people, with unstable relationships, unwanted pregnancy and children, and a much higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases, some deadly, and here in America one in particularly still raging through the male homosexual community at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Love for you, my neighbor moves me to point those things out. And love for God means we will never, ever accept the pursuit of πορνεια as something right, much less equivalent to following the Bible's commands, as we have all of our life as we understood them.

It is our firm belief that even for those not called to the Christian hope and race, following the plainly laid out moral course in the New Testament is the best course for anyone who wants to avoid some of the heartbreak in this world. And we appeal to anyone reading who isn't already in the race to look at the Gospel, the essential doctrine of the Christ and seek to join it. And if not, to consider the Bible's wisdom, which can help one live a life free from many of the worries of this world.

Thank you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Essential Doctrine of the Christ




“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
(Rom 3:23; ESV)

What is the essential doctrine of the Christian faith?  We get different answers to that question depending on who we talk to.  However we propose to use the Bible to demonstrate to our readers’ satisfaction that the Ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the companion teaching of the Restitution of mankind to its lost estate are the essential and central teaching of God’s word and the Gospel.  This is what was foremost in the minds of the Apostles and others as they wrote the books of the New Testament as we will see as we progress in this short consideration of this very important subject.  We will by no means treat this subject comprehensively as there are too many verses and passages to include in the short amount of space we have.  However, I will mention a book which does at the end.

To find out why mankind ended up in the fix it is in we have to go back to the beginning, to the first book in the bible, Genesis.  In the first chapters we are told That God created the heavens and the earth; and then we are told how God spent seven “days,” or more precisely “eras,” preparing the earth for human habitation (Gen. 1).  Towards the end of chapter one and through chapter two of Genesis we are told that to people were created, married, and placed in a garden which provided for all of their needs.  But in chapter three, something happens.  First the woman, Eve, then her husband, Adam, are tempted and break the only law given them by God, the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, as Paul explained to the Roman Christians:  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).  That, in a nutshell, is why we are in the sorry condition we’re in with sin and death.

The essential doctrine of Christianity is that God didn’t leave us in that condition and did something about it. Paul carried the thought forward for us, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Rom 5:18-19).  So the answer was to provide a ransom for mankind, because of one man’s disobedience and sin we all die, but God reversed the situation through the obedience of one man, Jesus Christ (vs. 17).

To understand how that works it is important to understand a very important principle of God’s justice, and it is why Paul emphasized the thought of one man bringing in death and the other life.  That principle is exact equivalency of the punishment fitting the crime.  According to the law:

And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
(Lev 24:17-21)

This is the famous “an eye for an eye” law.  And the principle here stated is that exactly what was done must be recompensed exactly.  That was why Paul stated in the earlier cited passage from Romans, “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).  So what was lost had to be provided for a ransom.

So what was lost?  What was lost was the perfect life of the first man.  He was created perfect and had the prospect of eternal life before him and every human who has ever lived came from him, including Eve, who was made from his rib.   All of us, with the exception of Jesus, received life from him through all the males who preceded us.  That is how life is passed on, from the male to the female.  So, from God’s standpoint all of us were still in Adam’s loins when he sinned, so all of us received the sentence which was pronounced on him before the conception of his first child.  Jesus gave up his perfect life in order to ransom mankind back from death.  That fact is directly stated in three places, twice by Jesus and once by Paul, though the same thing is presented elsewhere in other terms in God’s word:

Mat_20:28  Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Mar_10:45  For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
1Ti_2:6  Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

That is why a Trinitarian god-man couldn’t provide the ransom necessary.  What was required was a perfect man, a man who existed on the same level of existence as Adam, and we in him, did before his act of disobedience changed everything for us.

But did Jesus live and die to give said ransom?  That is a legitimate question since scholars, some of them nominally Christian and teaching in seminaries, don’t believe it happened, that it was all a myth.  But Paul expounded on the fact of Jesus’ sacrifice and that message to the Corinthians reassures us of the fact of the Christian message.  So, with what we’ve written so far in mind, let’s go through his message:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; (1Co 15:1)

So Paul state’s right up front that he is about to declare the Gospel, the essential doctrine of Christianity:
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1Co 15:2-4)

So he states plainly that Jesus died according to the scripture, that is what I wrote about from the law, which is only part, and he rose on the third day after his death, which was also prophesied in scripture (Matt. 12:38-40, where Jesus predicts this using Jonah).  Then Paul goes on to prove what he says:

And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1Co 15:5-9)

That is quite a list of people who saw the resurrected Jesus and includes one which is only alluded to in the Gospels without giving any details (Lk. 24:34).  Paul then spends two verses on a personal side note before giving one of the most profound refutations for the notions that Jesus was not resurrected and why it was necessary that he was:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1Co 15:12-23)

So there it is, the Essential Doctrine of Christianity.  In a nutshell it is that Adam sinned and was condemned and all of us along with him by virtue of our being in him.  And Jesus was born as a perfect human to provide a ransom for all by ransoming Adam, along with all of his offspring by virtue of the same reasons as the fall, by giving up that life on behalf of us all.  That he did so, along with his resurrection, which was witnessed to by upwards of over five hundred people.  Thus we have a guarantee that he not only was successful, but that all the dead will be resurrected and all given the opportunity of eternal life, each in his own place.

The book I mentioned which does comprehensively treat the subject is The At-One-Ment Between God and Man, and can be purchased here.

By way of disclosure I'm just a Brother in Christ to the folks I linked to and know some of them.  That is the site where I purchase most of my personal literature.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Believe the Bible




Last June marked the end of our fortieth year as a baptized Christian.  We gave our heart and everything and gave up this world’s ambitions in consecration to our God out of love for what a wonderful God he really is two years earlier, but because our mother did not permit it our baptism waited two years until we reached the age of majority, 18 years.  One bit of reflection on that time of loving devotion to God is that, even though for thirty of those years we fellowshipped with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, those years can be summed up by four words, “I believe the Bible.”

Although our understanding of that book and its teachings were so imperfect for so many years of that time, what God’s word says was first and foremost for me, which made us a thorn in the side of the elders in most of the congregations we were in.  For all of these forty years there have been no creeds for us, only God’s word, because we believe the Bible.

Because we believe the bible we’ve been called a cultist because we don’t believe in or preach “the essential doctrine of Christianity,” the Trinity Doctrine.  But, really, where in God’s Word are we told that the Trinity doctrine is the essential doctrine of Christianity?  For forty years we’ve studied the bible from stem to stern, including in its original languages and we find no statement to that effect anywhere to be found.  What we do find are plain statements from Christ’s own mouth to the effect that “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to My God and your God,”  “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God’” and more (John 20:17; Revelation 3:14).  In fact, we find no indication of a trinity in God’s word.  Theologians rely on taking verses out of context and some really imaginative reasoning to “prove” their “essential doctrine.”  Even some of them through the years have admitted that a plain and objective reading of God’s word just doesn’t lead one to the conclusion that there is a trinity.  Now why would they say that?

The Old Testament

Throughout the Old Testament one concept reigns supreme, that there is no God in the sense we commonly use the word but one.  The “Shema” to Israel bears a powerful witness to that fact: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah: and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:4-5; ASV).  That statement is unambiguous and even names the God who is alone in that category.  There can be no misunderstanding of that verse when not read through the lens of so called “theology.”

The bible does call others “god,” or “god’s,” including men (Ex. 7:1; Ps. 82:6) and it acknowledges many times the existence of other gods, inventions of men or demons, false gods in other words (Deu. 6:14, 2 Chron. 13:8,9  and much more).  In the case of men the word, “god” is used of officials as well as the word “lord” as the essential meaning of the word to the Hebrews is encapsulate in the early written form of the word El, a bull and a shepherds staff conveying the idea of a powerful leader.  But the bottom line is simple, and consistent, throughout the Old Testament, “But Jehovah is the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting King: at his wrath the earth trembleth, and the nations are not able to abide his indignation” (Jer. 10:10).  There is only one True God.

The New Testament

But Trinitarians point out that the Trinity is a revelation from the New Testament.  But we contend that the Old Testament picture of a single, all powerful God whole and complete in and of himself holds true throughout the New Testament.  We’ve already pointed to several plain statements from our Savior Jesus Christ on the matter.  But there is more.

When questioned about what the greatest commandment in the law was, Jesus quoted from the Shema, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat 22:36-37).  Thus, Jesus established himself as an observant Jew, whose views on the Unitarian nature of God were consistent with the Old Testament and his fellow Jews.  Nowhere do we find him asserting a Trinitarian viewpoint on God.  In fact, he called himself the “son of God” (John 5:25, 11:4), a fact acknowledged by the Leaders of the Jews themselves (Matt 27:43).  The one time the Jewish leaders tried to twist his words around to have him saying that he was himself God, Jesus hastened to correct the false impression they were trying to make (John 10: 30, 34-36).  Taken together with the statements of his earlier it is plain that he never asserted a Trinitarian relationship or even equivalence with God.

Demons acknowledged him as the son of God, as did their master, the devil, in a backhanded kind of way (Matt. 8:29; 4:3,6), and they should know.  During his first advent his disciples called him the son of God many times (Mk. 1:1; John 11:27).  And even the Angel Gabriel so identified him to Mary before his conception (Lk. 1:26,35).  The Apostle Paul called him that at Romans 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:19; Eph. 4:13 and many other times in many variations on that theme.  So we find it witnessed to that he was God’s son instead of God himself throughout the New Testament.  Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians makes a very plain statement to the subordination of Jesus Christ to his God, that he is in no way an equal (1 Cor. 15:24-28).  And these are no obscure verses; they are many and plain so that the testimony of the scriptures is plain if we do not go at them with any preconceptions.

That testimony is so plain that the Arian view of God and his son not only predates the Arian controversy, but persisted down through the ages with men and women going to often horrible deaths rather than deny the bible’s clear testimony in the matter.  Michael Servetus was one such man who was chained naked to a stake roasted alive for hours at the order of John Calvin because he refused to recant his denial of the Trinity Doctrine in favor of Arianism.  An entire people were “excommunicated” for their Arianism, the Goths and Visigoths.  They are much maligned in history for their beliefs, though evidence of their tolerant nature towards Trinitarians has come to light in recent times.

So I believe the bible.  We believe it whether our investigation of its teachings agree with what is held by the wider Christian community or not.  When it doesn’t, we must follow the evidence wherever it leads, because we believe the bible.