Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Story, by Donna Bennum

I appreciate Donna's willingness to share her story, and hope that others are emboldened to do the same. More importantly, I hope that her experience inspires others to take action!

My Story, by Donna Bennum

In August of 2014 I made my decision to leave 'the church' (Stanton churches) which I had been a member of for thirty-six years.

In the weeks that followed I found Rising Sun church of Christ. I sat in their sanctuary and listened to their hymns, as they were accompanied by musical instruments of all sorts. I listened to the preacher speak about God's love for us and about His GRACE, and how there's NOTHING we could do to work for that grace of Christ dying on the cross for us. The message that made such an impact on me was "praise God in all we do!" All I have been doing is pleasing MAN by conforming to man-made rules/judgements for all the time I've been in the church.

It hit me that I have been held HOSTAGE for the past thirty-six years! Hostage to beliefs that are not inspired by God. Hostage to "judgements" that became DOCTRINE. HOSTAGE to the fear of MAN. HOSTAGE to the fear of God striking me dead if I text while driving, or if I forgot to bless my food before taking a bite (fearing a God of condemnation - not SALVATION.)

I have been HELD HOSTAGE to SCRUTINY! Being analyzed for what you wore, what you spoke, how you moved what you did or did not do. Life in the Stanton churches was NOT a joy and rejoicing of my heart. I would go to worship and classes and anticipate a phone call from a teacher over the next couple of days...your kids didn't take notes during church, your girls didn't wear socks with their shoes to Tuesday class, you could see the lines of your bra through the back of your blouse (I was not the only mom who was always equipped with a thermometer to find any excuse to miss classes or worship).

I realized why I never felt really close to my brethren, it's because I felt I always had to have my guard up because they would eventually bring a perceived offense to me about me or my children.

The 'straw that broke the camel's back' came when my husband was counseled to bring our disabled 18 year old child back home to gain guardianship - no matter what  legal fees entailed. We were working with social service agencies on a regular basis but it was the church that took away our ability as parents by taking away our ability to make OUR OWN decisions. The Bible teaches that men are to take the role as the head of their homes. The church does not give them that liberty.

Because I was considered a teacher for much of my 36 years I WAS part of the problem with teaching man-made doctrine. I became the enforcer of church rules in my home with my children and in taking away my husband's authority. Having adopted three siblings out of foster care, and seeing results of "failing" (by Stanton's measures) with our four bio children, I had decided to be stricter and more diligent with our adopted children. Between my pride and the church rules and three teenagers—it was all out WAR! They could do nothing right in my eyes as I scrutinized them the way the teachers do.

My husband and I were always at odds regarding discipline of the kids. He wanted time to weigh things out and I pushed him to ACT. I was rash. I pushed for what I'd been taught...don't let ONE act of disobedience go unpunished. I became the enemy in the home but I had convinced myself that it was due to our children's rebellion. I considered myself to be the righteous one because I was obeying my teachers. Meanwhile, my husband was 'set down' for NOT conforming to the hard discipline of the church, as I was doing.

I realized the church does not teach men to lead their homes, nor Christians to make their own decisions. Submitting to your teachers in the church means DON'T question church counsel and judgements. I learned to judge with harshness and hardness out of pride. My self examination became, if I'm approved in the eyes of my teachers then I MUST be approved before God.

Over the years in the church I was withdrawn from twice. Both were unscriptural for offenses fabricated by the church by intruding into people's private lives. My husband attempted to contest the scriptural basis for my withdraw but was shot down as not having the judgement as the older ones. Once again, he was striving to be the man of his house.

I THANK GOD that he opened my eyes to see that I was NOT serving Him OR my family out of LOVE.

I am ashamed of having a part in teaching these doctrines of man. I don't want to say that what I have been through in the church for decades is comparable to the three women who were held in chains in a home for decades—but I DO believe I HAVE related to that moment the one woman took courage to rush to the door and take the chance to BREAK OUT in the hope of freedom.

The moment I determined I was DONE WITH BONDAGE, God opened the door to FREEDOM! I praise my God for this! He has shown me I have HOPE. I found my MY hope. He will show you as well. Have faith to 'step over the side of the boat' and put away the premise that God exists only within the Stanton churches (another fable of man's creation).

There IS hope after SCRUTINY! I pray for those still in the Stanton churches, but especially those who are recovering from the damage done by the man-made doctrines within the Stanton churches. So much damage has been done simply by largely omitting the GRACE of Christ from their doctrine. The Stanton churches are NOT a "taste of heaven on earth" because NO ONE will make it to heaven without following Christ's commandments of LOVE.

You are in my prayers, Donna Bennum.
Do you want to see more stories like this? Submit them to me using the contact information in the sidebar. Thanks for your patience and readership as the blog evolves, and thank you Donna for submitting your inspiring story!
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 - But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A public confession


I have a public confession to make.

I believe the church's practice of public confession, and all its associated rules, are simply more assumptions which have been mistakenly inferred and bound by men, not by the Bible. This includes:
  • A weekly time of public confession.
  • Private sins confessed before public ones
  • A confession must be as public as the sin was
  • Must stand for public confession
  • A prayer must be offered after said period of public confession asking for the forgiveness of the people who confessed.
  • You can't take the Lord's Supper if there is "sin on your soul" as a result of not confessing a "public sin" publicly
  • If these rules are violated, your sins are not forgiven
We all know the church is big on public confession. This is a distinctive teaching that separates this church noticeably from other churches, and not just other Churches of Christ, by the way.

Stanton likes to refer back to Nehemiah 9 and 10 (a unique instance of a national confession of Israel) for a dubious Biblical precedent for this Sunday morning practice. But where exactly is this event referred to by first century writers, much less practiced by them? Spoiler alert--it's not. Not even close.

Don't get me wrong--private confession, as the New Testament teaches, should be an important part of Christian life. It encourages humility, and restores relationships, when it is practiced between brothers and sisters who have truly offended one another. Public confession can even be a valuable thing as well, when one's own desire for accountability leads them to expose their weaknesses so the church body can support them in changing their ways.

But when you've just violated an entirely man-made rule, like the wrong color of lipstick, or not wearing nylons on is an unbelievable cheapening of what should be a deeply personal, and entirely optional, desire to humble yourself and expose your struggles to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Leadership hides behind the optional nature of public confession when it's convenient ("If they have a sensitive conscience, who are we to tell them they can't confess that?"), but denies it's optional when defending the practice in general.

I'd like to suggest that if the church really, truly believes Nehemiah 9 and 10 are examples we're required to emulate as a church body (and I don't, for the sake of clarity), then the church ought to be fasting, wearing sackclock, standing as an entire assembly, reading from the Book of the Law, and confessing the collective sins of the church over the past 45+ years for a quarter of the day. And since we're paying attention to details, and we don't know what God might strike us dead for, don't forget some dust on the head:
Nehemiah 9:1-3 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.NIV
What sins has Stanton committed as a church body? How about starting with teachings imposed "in unity" that have since been rescinded?

Things like withdrawing from people unscripturally and unjustly, publicly defaming the character of people in front of their wives (in fact, BY their wives) for their private thought lives or private sexual addictions, teaching and providing moral support for the breakup of marriages, affecting generations of children who had to grow up in a split family as a result. Let's just start with these things for now.

Look at the human cost of these collective "national sins" of Stanton. Aren't they a little more impactful than the normal Sunday morning confessional litany of so-called sins, like speeding a little, or not wearing nylons, or failing to obey some other obscure rule in 2 Opinions Chapter 3?

The irony of Stanton's embrace of Nehemiah 9 and 10 is stunning, when you think about it. Stanton "proves too much" in defending public confession based on these passages, because if they apply to the church, they affect not so much sins done individually, but public sins of the collective assembly--things that the church acted on "in unity" but in error.

Rather than scrubbing history to whitewash and minimize these errors in doctrine, wouldn't it be more consistent with Stanton's own teaching to just admit these sins--to confess them as such? Just come clean, admit that the church taught erroneously, and sinned greatly by offending "one of these little ones" (children) in the process. If a confession should be as public as the sin, then I think it's reasonable that people who have left Stanton because of past offenses, and whose family lives may have been forever altered because of them, be made aware if Stanton actually repents from any of these past sins and offenses. There have been real, human costs to these sins, and they are not to be brushed off lightly.

For those of you who have been sinned against by Stanton's unbiblical teachings and unloving practices, I encourage 100% forgiveness--for your sake, not theirs. Stop carrying around the hurt, lay it at the cross, and let Stanton carry its burden alone. They are destroying themselves.

Remember this oft-quoted verse?
Isaiah 9:16 - Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. NIV
When Stanton chooses, as a church body, to lay their collective sins at the cross, they, like you, can experience true freedom in Christ. Until then, let's pray for them to experience the love and forgiveness that the gospel is really about by seeking true reconciliation with the people they've hurt by their unbiblical doctrines.

What about Matthew 5?

But what about Matthew 5, you ask? Doesn't that mandate the confession of public and private sins before we can take the Lord's Supper, as Stanton teaches?
Matthew 5:23-24 - Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Stanton's interpretation of this is ludicrously out of context, if you really think about it. Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount in this chapter primarily to the Pharisees, long before the Lord's Supper was ever introduced. His point, pure and simple, is to slap the Pharisees around for thinking they could have a fine relationship with God while they are at odds with their brother.

Mind you, Jesus is not talking about one Pharisee having seen another Pharisee doing something wrong, and having to legalistically "correct" it with him chronologically prior to approaching God with an act of worship so that God will accept said act of worship. No, that's our legalistic human minds trying to make a formula out of what is truly a matter of the heart.

This is about a broken relationship between two people. Yes, he's setting up a principle, but it isn't a principle imposing a regulatory chronology, but a priority of the heart. He's saying, how dare you think you are so righteous before God just because you're doing all your outward acts of service correctly, while at the same time refusing to mend a broken relationship with your brother. Fix the relationship with your brother. That's your priority.

A deafening silence about public confession

If this was a weekly practice, as Stanton has made it, and it was such a central part of the first century church's doctrines on forgiveness of sin, it is mind boggling that we have not one recorded mention of a church or individual doing it. Not even in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul's letter to that church telling them to accept the man who had repented of sleeping with his father's wife.

It's noteworthy that the man had already shown a repentant heart without ever having come before the church publicly, to our knowledge. The church had completely expelled the man from the assembly, per Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 5, and sometime between then and his second letter, had changed his ways. The church, meanwhile, was continuing to "punish" the man by rejecting him from the group, and Paul is writing to them telling them to stop and accept him once again. He doesn't say to have him come before the church and confess before he can take the Lord's supper again.

Any fair reading of the New Covenant Scriptures leaves a deafening silence about any first century church practice of public confession. That's because it was not something they did on a regular basis. Did someone occasionally feel a personal need to come before the congregation to confess their faults one to another? We might guess that the man in Corinth, and maybe others, did--but that would be speculation, upon which we'd be foolish to establish a church doctrine or practice. We simply have no historical evidence--Biblical or otherwise--for this teaching. To bind this practice on Stanton's churches, as it has done for 45+ years, is one more example of "teachings for doctrines the commandments of men."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This one little problem with the "One True Church" claim

1 comment:
Does the Holy Spirit guide Stanton alone into all truth? Ahh, this is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Wouldn't everyone nod their heads in agreement with Stanton's claims to be the "One True Church" if this could really be proven true? Of course, but it can't.

Thankfully, the opposite is actually possible. It is easily provable that this central claim of the church is not true. All we need to do is demonstrate clearly that the Holy Spirit has not, in fact, led either the church or any individual in the church, into all truth.

Wouldn't that lay an ax to the root of this tree that has produced such divisive fruit for over four decades now? Of course it would. Which is exactly why so many of the Old Guard in the church are so invested in revising church history to purge any doctrinal changes from the memories of members and children of members. The accepted way of dealing with these inconvenient facts is to play word games: "We didn't change the teaching, we just grew in our understanding."

I'm sorry, but this is Orwellian double-speak (anyone remember the book 1984?). Changing the meanings of words and phrases to maintain control over a group is called propaganda, plain and simple.

Doctrine by any other name is still doctrine. As I've pointed out on this blog many times, "doctrine" simply means "teaching." There is no meaning of the word possible such that "judgments" are not "doctrine." If the church teaches it, it is a teaching. It is by definition, then a doctrine.

The church tries, with a wink a nod, to smugly insist that its doctrines have not changed, when we all know they have. This is disingenuous. How is it any different than a politician shading the truth to cover up their inconsistent voting record? The church's record of changing doctrines is clear. You can't argue with 45+ years of history (unless you don't know that history, which is why this site exists).

Merie used to say, "If you find one contradiction in the Bible, I'll eat every page."

I'd like to propose a similar test. If we can find one instance of the church's doctrines changing, they've judged themselves not to be the One True Church, because that used to be the standard they applied to all other churches, remember? Everyone else changes their doctrines, but the Bible doesn't change. Truth doesn't change. So the church's teachings don't change. That used to be a common refrain in non-member classes.

The church makes the assertion that it is led into all truth. But if the past is prologue, I'd certainly be skeptical of this claim. The children of Israel were told to test the prophets of old who claimed God was speaking through them. If a prophet failed the test, the people were not to listen to him. The test was if what they said came true, they were from God. If what they said didn't come true, they were not.

Applied to Stanton, they said they were the One True Church, and that the Holy Spirit gives them unity and leads them into all truth. We now have 45+ years of history to judge whether these claims have held up.

If we find one doctrinal change, or one doctrinal error, it is obvious that Stanton has not been specially gifted by the Holy Spirit with The Truth. One error--one change in doctrine--one revision of teaching based on their "new understanding"--is all it takes to prove their status as a human organization. But let's be safe and pick the first five that come to mind:
  1. Women didn't used to be able to wear jeans with a zippered fly. Now they can.
  2. Families couldn't go on vacations under Merie. Now they can.
  3. They used to question people about their thought life. Now they don't.
  4. It used to be taught that an elder had to have a "good reputation within and without" both before and after his baptism. Now it's correctly applied to his reputation after his conversion.
  5. Teachings on marriage and divorce have changed drastically over the decades.
We could come up with many other examples, but these ought to be sufficient to raise a red flag that this group does not have a lock on all truth.

NOTE: For the sake of clarity, and because metaphors can sometimes be taken out of context, I'd like to state for the record that I believe the axe should be laid to the root of the tree in the sense that we ought to completely destroy the notion that Stanton is the One True Church. This has been Stanton's raison d'être, and it is based on completely fallacious, not to mention prideful, reasoning.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Biblical look at so-called withdrawal

1 comment:
This subject of "withdrawal" is of huge importance within the Stanton churches, because it is so grossly misunderstood, taught, and practiced. In its current form, it is unscriptural, unloving, and unjust, and the fear and dread it brings to those under its threat can silence even the most honest of questions.

Some of you reading this have been "withdrawn from" (an unscriptural term, how Stanton uses it) and others have spouses, mothers, fathers, or siblings who have been, thereby creating an intricate web of rules you or they have to live by.

Others of you have remained silent about your dissent from official church teachings due to the threat of withdrawal, and the dysfunction it would create in your relationships with your spouse or children. My hope is this study will cause you to dig into these verses and learn the truth of what the Bible really teaches about it, not just the traditions and regulations of men.

The church has been great, as usual, at pointing out how other churches don't do "withdrawal" right (or at all). That may be true. But I hope to make it very clear that Biblically, Stanton has it painfully wrong, with a one-size-fits-all approach that metes out the same form of church discipline for every offense under the sun, without Biblical authority. It is rather like a parent applying one extreme form of discipline for any offense, great or small, whether it's defying authority or forgetting to put toys away. This is unjust, at best.

Their error in reasoning stems from the fact that most of the church's beliefs on this come from verses that are pulled out of their original context and cobbled together into one category arbitrarily labeled "withdrawal." When looked at in context, these verses have little to do with each other, and instead include many disparate teachings by Paul on unrelated subjects regarding unrelated circumstances. Stanton takes a little from Paul's letter to Corinth, a little more from his letter to Rome, and still more from his letter to Thessalonica. They then mix these passages all up and put them in parallel with still more excerpts from Paul's letter to Titus, and again, from his letter to Timothy.

What we end up with is a self-contradictory set of laws, rules and regulations developed by the minds of men, not of God. For example, the spouse of someone "withdrawn from," who remains in good standing, can have sexual relations with them, eat with them, and have an otherwise friendly and intimate relationship with them. But how about their children? Once their children are baptized, they are expected to "honor the withdrawal" by abiding by rules such as not eating with the parent who is withdrawn from or discussing Biblical matters with them. These are completely arbitrary rules, no different than when the Pharisees legislated rules for their followers on subjects like how far someone could travel on the Sabbath, or whether one should tithe their spice shelf (yeah, really). It may sound funny, but there is a real human cost to relationships between spouses and children here, and for nothing better than "teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men." It's wrong, friends. These unscriptural practices are destroying family relationships, causing children to unfairly have to pick sides.

I've devoted a considerable word count on this study to satisfy both the person with a casual interest, and the one who is really struggling and questioning the scriptural exegesis and applications of these verses. I've divided this study into two parts, a short and sweet overview, and a detailed exegesis of each of the passages twisted by Stanton into these unloving and arbitrary rules of men.

My prayer, once again, is that the rules of men will crumble beneath the weight of the truth.

I. Overview of "withdrawal" as church discipline
  • Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun
  • Fellowship isn't ours to "withdraw"
  • Bible words for Bible things
  • "Delivering unto Satan" means expulsion
  • To withdraw means "to distance oneself from"
  • Heresy and schism
  • Conclusion
II. Detailed scripture study of misused verses
  • "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly"
  • "From such withdraw thyself"
  • "From such turn away"
  • "Mark them which cause divisions"
  • "Deliver such an one unto Satan" and "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person"
  • "Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme"
  • "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

I. Overview of "withdrawal" as church discipline

Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun

First, let's address the fact that "withdrawal" is a verb. It is not a noun, meaning it is not a state that someone is in. It is an action on the part of the one doing the withdrawing. It is impossible to "withdraw" or continue "withdrawing" for years or decades from someone who has already "withdrawn" themselves from a group.

All of the Biblical teaching on the subject is about either purging the church of wicked people (fornicators, idolaters, etc.) or withholding something an errant brother wants (brotherly camaraderie) in order to encourage him to change his ways. If someone no longer wants to be part of the congregation, both reasons for "withdrawing" are gone. You don't discipline adult kids who leave the home and want to do their own thing. You discipline and set the rules of the house for the ones who still want to be part of the family, and therefore have a reason to respond to your discipline.

Fellowship isn't ours to "withdraw"

The subject of fellowship is often understood as spiritual and social interaction, but this is not how the Bible uses the term. Fellowship is synonymous with brother-ship; a brother is a "fellow" disciple, and the "ship" suffix means "state of." This means that fellowship is a state of "brothership" or brotherhood—a relationship the Lord alone puts us into. Thus to disfellowship someone or withdraw fellowship from him is something God alone can do. We can neither make someone a brother nor declare him not our brother.

Bible words for Bible things

None of the following terms appear in the Scriptures in reference to church discipline: withdrawal, disfellowship, excommunicate, shun. If we are to speak as the Bible speaks, be silent where it's silent, and use Bible words in Bible ways, then we shouldn't use these words to describe church discipline practices.

The confusion over these terms came from the miscategorization of a bunch of verses that contain similar instructions but in much different contexts. When they are mistakenly considered parallel passages with 1 Corinthians 5, we end up with bad conclusions where real lives are affected for generations.

Just as we cannot take the word "baptism" and apply it the same way in every verse (since some verses are talking about immersion in water, others a figurative baptism by fire, and still others, the baptism of the Holy Spirit) we cannot take the use of the word "withdraw" as indicating a disciplinary state of "disfellowship." If we could, then we could say that the Jewish rulers "disfellowshipped" the Sanhedrin: "So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin." (Acts 4:15) This is silly, of course. You have to look at the context and understand the circumstances he's addressing.

"Delivering unto Satan" means expulsion

There are two prominent examples of church discipline in the New Testament. The most detailed one is in 1 Corinthians 5, and Paul calls it "delivering unto Satan," where the grossly immoral person is to be completely expelled from the assembly. Note that the word "withdraw" is not used here at all. When Paul writes to "purge out therefore the old leaven" and "put away from among yourselves that wicked person," there should be no question about what is intended. The idea is for that person to be completely excluded from all gatherings of the church until he has changed his immoral ways, not meekly sit on a back bench until he demonstrates enough remorse to church leaders.

The second example of a disciplinary action is alluded to in 1 Timothy 1:19-20, where Paul uses a phrase similar to the one he used in 1 Corinthians 5 (delivering unto Satan). He again did not choose to use the word "withdrawal." Paul used his apostolic authority to expel Hymenaeus and Alexander, apparently for their blasphemous departure from the faith.

To withdraw means "to distance oneself from"

The other verses commonly applied to church discipline use the word "withdraw" to simply mean "removing oneself" from certain kinds of people. These verses are talking about avoiding social interaction, but there are no detailed rules for how to carry it out. We are all supposed to just exercise good judgment about the kinds of people we hang around.

Also in this category is 2 Thessalonians 3:6, which is teaching to stay away from (and don't be an enabler to) brothers who refuse to work, and who get their sustenance by leaching meals off of other Christians. This is not the same as what Paul refers to as "delivering unto Satan" in 1 Corinthians 5.
1 Timothy 6:5 is similar, and it is saying to stay away from those who dote about "questions and strifes of words." Again, there is no instruction here to expel them or "deliver them unto Satan." We are simply to avoid the kind of people whose goal is to produce factional strife.

In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, “From such turn away” is clearly parallel to "from such with withdraw thyself," yet no one feels that unthankful people should be "withdrawn from." This shows that "withdrawal" has been completely misunderstood as church discipline, when it is really an action to be taken by individuals. We're simply to avoid such people—don't be influenced by them—don't make a habit of being around them.

Romans 16:17 is also in the category of avoiding certain kinds of people, in this case, those who cause divisions. The idea Paul is trying to convey is again not a formal disciplinary measure, but an avoidance of people who are divisive. People who seek to separate one group of Christians from another are constantly seeking alliances and making political factions out of groups of Christians. We are to avoid associating ourselves with this kind of person.

Heresy and schism

Avoiding schismatic people fits right in with Paul's instructions in Titus 3:9-11 - "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." When we properly understand the word "heretic" as meaning a divisive person, it is clear that we are to remove ourselves far from schismatic people so that we don't contribute to their influence on the body of Christ. To give them social standing in the church just lends them credibility.


In no case do I find an example of people being disciplined by the congregation and continuing to show up at the assembly with rules like not talking, not eating with others, not taking the Lord's supper, etc. At best, those are human-contrived rules which are "doctrines and commandments of men." At worst, they are a twisting of various scriptures out of the context of what the original authors meant by them.

II. Detailed scripture studies of misused verses

"Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly"

This phrase in 2 Thessalonians is one that is frequently taken out of context. In fact, it is most often used to "withdraw fellowship" from people for the wrong reasons, and rarely used to justify dissociating from someone for the correct reasons given by Paul when he wrote it:
2 Thessalonians 3:6 - Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
If we are to understand what he means by the phrase "not after the tradition which he received of us," in verse 6, we should take the time to understand what those traditions were that the Thessalonian Christians received from Paul. Fortunately, he explains in verses 7-9.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 - For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
He is clearly telling the Thessalonian Christians to stay away from someone who is lazy and refuses to work for their own food. In fact, he defines precisely what he means by "walking disorderly:"
2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 - For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
His intention is that people disengage socially from someone who refuses to work, but is constantly begging food from the brethren. Don't invite them for dinner and enable their laziness. Don't bring the busybody into your house to tell you all his or her latest gossip. To these people, he gives a command:
2 Thessalonians 3:12 - Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
Then he goes back to addressing the brethren who had to deal with such people, telling them not to be discouraged from doing good just because some people abuse their generosity.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 - But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
He follows this encouragement with specific instruction on what to do with the person who refuses to work and insists on living off of the bread of other brothers in Christ:
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 - And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
So let's review what Paul said and did not say in this letter:
  • This brother remains in "brothership" or "fellowship" and is to be treated as such.
  • The tradition the church received of Paul is very clearly defined in verses 7 and 8 as working for a living rather than relying on the generosity of the saints.
  • "Walking disorderly" is also clearly defined in verse 11 as "working not all."
  • The path to follow, according to verse 12, is to command and exhort these people to work and to eat their own bread with quietness.
  •  Those who still refuse to obey the instruction to work for their own living are to be noted and excluded from social settings for the purpose of shaming and admonishing them.
  • There is nothing here about not talking to them, or not eating with them at the same table, or in the same room, etc. We are just to obey the spirit of this instruction; in order to shame and admonish them, we are to avoid making them feel a part of the congregation's social circle. A social get together implies acceptance and usually includes food, and that would just be another occasion for a lazy person to get a meal without feeling admonished and without having to work for it. In other words, don't be an enabler.
  • There is nothing here about a formal "withdrawal meeting" or "delivering unto Satan" when the whole church is gathered together. The instruction is merely to avoid these people socially in order to discourage their bad behavior. If the person's behavior changes from Sunday to Monday, and on Monday, he lands a job, there is no meeting of the church required before a brother could invite him over for dinner.

"From such withdraw thyself"

Paul's letter to Timothy has also been construed to mean that we ought to "withdraw fellowship" from certain people.
1 Timothy 6:5 - ...perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
The most obvious thing to note is that Paul is writing to Timothy to stay away from these types of people, not ordering him to excommunicate or deliver such a person to Satan, so to speak. This is a personal exhortation from Paul to Timothy.
Taking Paul's comments in context, I'll start at the beginning of the chapter:
1 Timothy 6:1-2 -  Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
Apparently, the poor of the churches were rebelling against their Christian employers and masters. There was apparently some "class envy" going on. But Paul instructs Timothy that servants should not despise their masters, but serve them all the more because they are brethren and fellow heirs of the benefit of salvation. Then he warns against those who might continue to teach that slaves should rise up against their masters:
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
There were apparently Christian servants at the time who felt justified in despising their Christian masters. But Paul says they were engaging in strifes over words, railings, evil surmising, and perverse disputing. He further says that these people supposed that "gain is godliness," and urged Timothy not to get caught up with such people. That is what I think he means by "from such withdraw thyself." He's instructing Timothy, as a man of God, not to get involved in taking sides with the factional infighting of Christian against Christian, which invariably led to envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, etc.

He goes on to clarify and emphasize the same point about the deceitfulness of riches and those who follow after it in the rest of the chapter.

What we learn from Paul's letter to Timothy about this subject is:
  • As with Paul's letter to the Thessalonian church, there is no law given here about formal church discipline, or a "state of withdrawal."
  • Paul is simply telling Timothy to stay away from people who insist that gain is godliness. There are people today, many of whom are in the inner cities, who preach class hatred for poor Christians against their "rich" employers. Those are precisely the people Paul is telling Timothy to stay away from.
"From such turn away"

This passage is often overlooked when looking into the Bible’s teaching on “disfellowship.” Yet clearly, "from such turn away" is equivalent to "from such withdraw thyself." So in whatever way Timothy was to withdraw himself from those other people, he was also to avoid these types of people:
2 Timothy 3:2-5 - For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
This emphasizes to me that “turning away” from such bad characters (particularly those who call themselves believers) should be the individual, natural response of a faithful believer. There is nothing implying that all people fitting the above character traits are to be formally expelled and “delivered unto Satan,” although a number of these character traits could easily rise to the level of such action.

I have known of unthankful people who call themselves Christians. Is Paul teaching us to cast out such person, or to simply avoid enabling and learning their unthankful ways? Avoiding clearly could not have meant “excommunicating” in Paul’s mind.

On the other hand, a blasphemer and a lover of pleasure (particularly sexually immoral pleasure) could easily find himself “cast out” of the assembly, considering Paul’s strong instructions to the believers in Corinth and his example in dealing with Hymenaeus.

"Mark them which cause divisions"

This passage is relatively straightforward: make note of those who are out to cause divisions and lead people away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and avoid them.
Romans 16:17 - Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
The next verse fills in a pretty good picture of the kind of person he is writing about:
Romans 16:18 - For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
The people to be avoided are people who are evidently not out to serve Jesus Christ, but their own appetites for glory, power, etc. There is nothing in this passage that indicates a congregational “trial” of any sort. When Christians cross paths with brothers who are divisive or egotistical, we are to simply make note of them and avoid them. In other words, don't give them an audience. This is what the Spring Valley church should have done to Merie. Instead, they gave her a seat of prominence, and the rest is history.

"Deliver such an one unto Satan" and "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person"

This passage is one which urges very explicitly the “casting out” of a wicked person from among the group. It is clearly an act of “church discipline” done for the purpose of purging sin and reproving the sinner to bring about shame and repentance.
1 Corinthians 5 - It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Note that this passage is unlike many of the other passages that simply tell us to avoid certain kinds of unsavory characters. This is not an avoidance of social interaction, but a complete expulsion from the group. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" is a pretty strong statement and does not imply that someone continues to come to the assembly and quietly sits in the back row. That is nothing more than a tradition of men.

I also think this implies that there is malice and wicked intentions on the part of a sinner who calls himself a Christian. Jesus ate with publicans, and adulteresses in the hope of reaching them with his message of forgiveness and repentance. This is clearly a different situation with someone who professed Christianity but flagrantly lived opposite to its ideals.

"Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme"

Hymenaeus and Alexander were apparently two individuals who “rejected faith and a good conscience,” resulting in blasphemy.
1 Timothy 1:19-20 - Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Paul personally “delivered them unto Satan.” Hymenaeus apparently was teaching that the resurrection was already past, "overthrowing the faith of some."
2 Timothy 2:16-18 - But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
Since 1 Corinthians 5 is the only other example of someone being "delivered unto Satan," and that example is where a fornicator was to be put out of the congregation, we can infer that this must be what Paul meant by the phrase.

"A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

Paul said this to Titus:
Titus 3:9-11 - But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
This is a case where the choice of the word "heretic" in the King James translation (like the word "Easter" in Acts 12:4) makes Paul's meaning less clear; but it is not impossible to figure out, given the context. In verse 9, Paul is clearly advising Titus to reject divisive people who engage in unprofitable, foolish strivings and contentions about the law. The subject he is addressing is contentiousness about opinions (being schismatic), not having or teaching an incorrect opinion about them (being unorthodox).

The meaning of the word translated "heretic" in Titus 3:10 is clearly "a schismatic person." This is borne out by the following verses, where the words heresy and sect (which is a schism or faction) are all translated from the same Greek word: Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 24:5,14; Acts 26:5; Acts 28:22; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20; Titus 3:10.

It is also borne out by the American Standard Version translation of the Titus passage:
Titus 3:9-11 – 9 but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; 11 knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned. (ASV)
Far from instructing Titus to "withdraw fellowship" from people who have an incorrect opinion, Paul is telling Titus something a lot simpler: to have nothing to do with people who have a factious attitude. There are those in the church who are out to splinter it into fragments, and Titus was to stay away from such people.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The only reason this church exists is because certain Christians in the 60's decided to split off from other Christians. This should raise some red flags for current members. Do you know your history and your Bible as well as you think you do? When you read Merie's letters, did the Spring Valley church divide from El Cajon and other congregations in the San Diego area in righteous indignation over "church heresies," or were they the ones being "heretical" (factious, causing division)?

Biblically, the truth is that Spring Valley was itself the faction, and its leaders were the factious brethren that the rest of the congregations at the time rightly decided to ignore. Whatever moral authority Merie and other leaders thought they had, even if some of their concerns were valid, was sacrificed when they decided to create a faction out of God's people.

But I digress.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Can we call it Thanksgiving, please?

Why won't anyone call the "November Meeting" the "Thanksgiving Meeting?"

Oh, that's right, because Christians don't celebrate "religious holidays." Birthdays...fine. Anniversaries...fine. Nothing spiritual there. But a holiday with a spiritual component to it? We can't have that!

Logically and Biblically, this is nothing short of absurd, of course. I'll get to the scriptures in a moment, but think about how silly this rule of men is. We can choose to set aside a time to honor the day God brought a person into the world, or the day God joined a couple together in "holy matrimony" (remember, marriage is not just a social institution, but a religious one created by God). But we can't set aside a time as a nation, as a society, as a family, or even as an individual to give thanks to our Creator for all things? Really? Here we go again:
Matthew 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
I don't know whether the church actively teaches people to stop joining their families for Thanksgiving dinners or not. I do know they've effectively eliminated that tradition from the "strong" members who choose to go to a "November Meeting" in their respective part of the country. But maybe--just maybe--the ones who go to such meetings are the weak ones, and the ones who stay home with their families for the Thanksgiving holiday are actually the stronger ones. Let me explain.

The main passage given to support this supposed prohibition against keeping holidays is this one:
Galatians 4:9-11 - But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
OK, fair enough. But if we take this at face value, this seems to be a prohibition against observing any days, and months , and times, and years, doesn't it? So let's look at that all-important context to figure out what Paul is actually saying to the Galatian church.

This entire chapter, if you read it, is a warning to the Galatian church not to enslave themselves to the Old Law and all of its trappings, such as binding the keeping of days, and months, and times and years as religious duties. That's right. It's about warning them against those who were trying to suck them back into the idea that Christians must observe things like the Sabbath, Pentecost, Purim, and others Jewish holidays.

Paul had no problem with people setting aside days for whatever spiritual purpose they want. It's binding those holidays on themselves and others as a mandatory thing for one's salvation that is he warning against, because that's exactly what certain teachers in the Galatian church were trying to do.

How do I know this? Again, read the whole chapter, then take a look at these verses in particular:
Galatians 4:17 - Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. NIV 
Galatians 4:21 - Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? NIV 
Galatians 4:26 - But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. NIV 
Galatians 4:31 - Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. NIV
The context here in Galatians is clearly one of liberty from the Law, not the creation of a new law, either prohibiting or requiring any particular holidays.

Adding to our knowledge of this subject that it's one of liberty, not law, are Paul's words to the church in Colosse. First, I recommend reading the whole second chapter of Colossians, then take a look at this:
Colossians 2:8 - See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. NIV
Again, we see the idea that he's teaching against "captivity" or binding traditions on people. Sounds an awful lot like binding the tradition that we can't have a spiritual tradition, doesn't it?
Colossians 2:16 - Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. NIV
Wait a minute! Don't let anyone judge you with regard to religious holidays? That's not what Stanton teaches, is it? They'll be quick to point out the context that Jewish Christians were judging the Gentile ones for NOT celebrating the Jewish holidays, but remember, he words this very generally to apply to both camps: Don't let anyone judge you "with regard to a religious festival."

The chapter wraps up with these words:
Colossians 2:0 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. NIV
Paul's been very consistent. The problem he was writing about was the Jewish converts' desire to impose their holidays as requirements, but his admonition is to stop making human rules and regulations altogether.

The clincher is Paul's instruction to the church in Rome. The context is a church that was divided over different opinions. Some thought a Christian couldn't eat meat offered to idols. Another believed you could. Some celebrated holidays. Others believed that was wrong. Read the chapter, then take a look at these passages:
Romans 14:1-6 - Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. NIV
Wow. This is completely contrary to Stanton's teaching, isn't it? Isn't this the exact situation we're talking about regarding Thanksgiving or other "religious holidays?" "One person considers one day more sacred than other; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind."

Can I just repeat that for emphasis?

"Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind."

And then there's this:
Romans 14:10 - You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. NIV
And this:
Romans 14:12-14 - So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. NIV
And my favorite:
Romans 14:22 - So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. NIV
This resonates with a great quote from Alexander Campbell:
But men cannot give up their opinions, and therefore, they can never unite, says one. We do not ask them to give up their opinions--we ask them only not to impose them upon others. Let them hold their opinions, but let them hold them as private property. ~Alexander Campbell
This is a hard one, because obviously Paul didn't keep his opinion about this entirely to himself. He wrote a substantial portion of his letter about it. But it's important to note that the opinion he felt compelled to share was not whether a particular holiday was right or wrong, or that one particular group advocating their opinion was right or wrong, but that Christians ought to extend grace to their brothers and let them form their own private opinions about it. In the meantime, try not to cause a brother to stumble, of course. So tread carefully, and in all things, love one another.

Whatever one feels about holidays in general, or Thanksgiving in particular, I think it's safe to say that Paul's exhortation to Thessalonian church still stands:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and may we each spend it giving thanks to God for our many blessings, not just for turkey, friends and family.

And greetings to my friends attending any of the Thanksgiving Meetings around the country.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is There A God? The Moral Argument

Once a person sees inconsistencies between what Stanton teaches and what the Bible teaches, it can shake their faith to the core. The church has become an idol that stands in the place of God, so when the church is shown to be fallible, it can cause a chain reaction of questions and doubts about God. If God is not who Stanton says he is, can it be that there really isn't a God at all?

I happen to believe there are very strong reasons to believe in God, despite the growing ridicule from the secular circles of society. Christians need not cower in fear of being challenged on matters of faith. They just need to wrestle with these questions themselves, and be willing and ready to give an answer to the skeptics.

I firmly believe in the truth of what Thomas Jefferson said: "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

So does God exist? Let's take a look at what is often called the moral argument for God. This formulation comes from an modern apologist and Christian philosopher I find particularly compelling named William Lane Craig.

The Moral Argument For God

  • Premise 1: If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
  • Premise 2: Objective moral values exist.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
I contend that no modern atheist philosopher has been able to poke holes in this argument.

Premise 1: If objective moral values exist, then God exists

The first premise is actually the easiest, because atheist ethicist will most often agree wholeheartedly with Premise 1, at least until challenged with some thought experiments. They might word it in a negative formulation, like this: "There is, in fact, no God, therefore, objective moral values don't exist. They are up to humanity to work out."

Atheist arguments for ethics are 100% relativistic, because that is all they can be. There has been no foundation offered for an objective morality by atheists, because they don't believe morals are objective. Point conceded. That was easy.

Premise 2: Objective moral values do exist

Here's what's interesting. Atheists don't believe in objective moral values, until offered some scenarios that illustrate the undeniable objectivity of some moral values. Objective moral values do, in fact, exist, and I believe we all know this intuitively at a very young age. If we are the result of random biological evolutionary processes, then so are morals. The only thing that make morals objective, is if they are fixed by in the nature of God, or by his divine command.

Not sure of this? Consider that by "objective," we don't mean that every single moral question is objective and everyone must, therefore, agree with them. By contrast, "objective" means simply that there are some moral values that exist objectively whether everyone agrees with them or not. For instance, was it moral for Hitler to exterminate 6 million Jews even if his henchmen believed they were doing society a favor? Even the atheist will be hard pressed to say that those acts were not objectively wrong for all cultures and all times.

Is rape universally wrong--even on Andromeda, hypothetically? You see, the atheist who tries to find a philosophical basis for morals (that they are the evolutionary formulations of society, or that they are simply the result of some other relativistic social construct, or the evolutionary product of the desire for happiness), cannot answer this question in the affirmative. One doesn't need an imagination to conceive of a society that considers the barter of women and girls for sexual slavery to be morally fine. We just need to look as far as ISIS. For them, raping a child makes them happy, and it is not morally wrong to them. Why should we have a problem with it? That's their moral social framework, why should we bother speaking out? Ahem...because it's evil. That's why.

The question now has some bite to it. Is it universally, objectively, morally evil to imprison another human being and use them for sexual gratification? An honest atheist ethicist must still admit that there is no circumstance that would make these actions morally good. If we are to call these acts evil, we must have some objective morality to base that on, because in their culture--if morals are relative--it's obviously not evil.

These thought experiments illustrate that in the absence of any fixed point of reference for morals, we are left with one option: there are, indeed objective moral values. The second premise is established.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists

This doesn't even need to be argued, because it is a logical conclusions that arrives undeniably from the previous premises. The immoral atheist is acting in perfect accordance with his world view that there is no God, therefore, he can define his own morality. The moral atheist, on the other hand, has no choice but to accept that there is something that makes certain things universally evil in all cultures and all times, outside of social theories formulated in ivory towers.

Note that this argument is a defense of a loving God whose nature is in alignment with the morals we all know intuitively and objectively. It is simply a spring-point from which to answer this question: If God does indeed exist, who is he and how can I get to know him?
I'll leave you with a little poem I wrote awhile back on the moral argument for God.

Does Evil Exist?

Does evil exist?
Well, does it, or not?
I demand an answer
And if so, hold that thought

Because if wrong does not truly
Exist in bright colors
What, then is justice
But a meaningless construct

And if wrong does exist
We must face this reality
That calling something wrong means
There's a right way things ought to be

If the rape of a child
In all histories and cultures
Can be called pure evil
Even by society's worst prisoners

If the murder of innocents
Is forever and always
An evil in society
That can't be tolerated

If imprisonment of a woman
Like chattel for sale
Being held as a sex slave
In her own private hell

Or murdering Jews
In Hitler's evil plan
Or starving millions unjustly
In Stalin's Ukraine

Or killing the masses
For political expedience
Culling babies in China
Or locking up dissidents

If beheading of heretics
Is inherently wrong
Or even violating your privacy
Or invading your home

If these are universally bad
And there's meaning in words
Then there's universal good
That our souls are drawn toward

Something more than just philosophy
Because that lacks authority
And if good is defined by government
Then what about the minority?

Tyrants run roughshod
When rights come and go
At the whims of the powerful
Because what they say goes

No, evil is something
More than laws, or from cultures
Or philosophical sophistry
From the ivory towers

To try to stop badness
Is really to defend
That there's a god of pure goodness
Who wants us like him

We can discuss who that god is
And what is his substance
But the least we can do
Is acknowledge his existence

You can say that religion
Starts evil wars and such
And you might just be right
But you've just proved too much

Because if there is no god
Whose nature defines goodness
Who are you to call war bad
Or rape evil, or hate, darkness?

Who are you to sit in judgment
Of the religious who you think hate you?
If there is no moral standard
That makes hate wrong, and judging too?

If morality is nothing more
That just another social contract
Then it's just he said/she said
And there's no moral compass

You see, your compass is as good as mine
And that may be fine, generally
Until the rapist asserts his own
Warped idea of morality

What makes his wrong
And yours universally right?
That is a tough question
That keeps philosophers up at night

Because indeed, if there is no god
There's no guilt to assuage
For the wrongs that man does
Because there is no such gauge

It's like measuring empty
Without knowing what full is
Or like trying to describe love
Without even a language


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rethinking and reframing the Bible the way it was intended

The Bible is not the confusing document that many claim it to be, once it's understood in its proper context. That's because context is everything. A perfectly true statement by a friend can mean something entirely wrong if taken out of context. So it is with the Bible.

For example, when you read the advice in the Book of Job to "curse God and die," that sounds outrageously out of place--until you realize that the Book of Job is simply recording the bad advice that Job's wife gave him. When you read in Proverbs, "I will laugh at your calamity and mock when your fear comes," it's important to know that's not God talking, but Solomon writing creatively as "wisdom" personified. Don't believe me? Look it up: Proverbs 1:20-28. When you read in the gospels that "we know that God doesn't hear the prayers of a sinner," it sounds ludicrous on its face (aren't we all sinners, saved by grace?), until you realize that the person speaking is not claiming to be inspired at all. He is simply defending Jesus, who had just healed him, as clearly not being a "sinner" like his accusers were suggesting.

The problem is that those of us who have been "raised in the church" have the distinct disadvantage of having to weed out teachings of men that have intertwined themselves with our understanding of the Bible. The Bible teaches against musical instrument, right? Umm, no, it doesn't. And why would God even care about such a petty thing when there's so much evil in the world we could be addressing as the Lord's "hands and feet?" But it's only when you go back and sort through the Bible for yourself that you can hope to regain a clearer perspective on what the Bible actually says--not what you thought it said all those years.

We churchgoers can be plagued with one of the biggest obstacles to clear thinking about the Scriptures: pride. It's easy to think we have it all together, because we were raised with the Bible being taught and talked about our whole lives. But our pride--one of mankind's most far-reaching sins--is exactly what keeps us from truly "having it all together." Because to truly "have it all together," we have to be humble enough to realize that we don't. How's that for irony?

In my quest to rethink the Bible and make my opinions my own--and I mean to really take ownership of them, not just accept someone else's opinion on the strength of their convictions--I had to go through a process of clearing out my misunderstandings of the Bible and reading it again with fresh eyes. No notes, no cross references, no commentaries--just the words on the page as recorded faithfully by the various authors. This is what I've called the Clean Bible Challenge. You should try it, if you haven't already.

For those who may have never even attempted reading the Bible for the first time, or who have been utterly confused by it when they did try, I recommend first reading the following synopsis I wrote probably about 20 years ago or more. This brief outline is intended to be a very simple Introduction to the Bible to help someone understand the big picture of what they're reading before they even read it.

Introduction to the Bible

The Bible is not a novel, so it wasn’t meant to be read like one. Actually, it’s a lot like a collection of short, real-life stories, along with some poetry, books of wisdom, prophecy, and even personal letters. All of these different pieces of literature are about 2000 years old or more, but have been preserved for us to read today. There is no other single book in the entire world that is anything like the Bible.

The Bible was written by the hands of many different human authors under the supervision of God Himself over the course of thousands of years. What is fascinating about the Bible is that in spite of its many different authors, there are no factual errors of history or science, and there is a clear theme that holds it all together. From the opening words of Genesis to the end of Revelation, that theme is Jesus Christ.


The Old Testament tells the story of the beginning of the world and of human history through the eyes of God’s people, called the Children of Israel. It is through this civilization that Jesus Christ would eventually come. The word “testament” means “agreement” or “covenant;” the “old covenant” was a kind of contractual agreement between Abraham and God that the world would be blessed with the coming king (Jesus) through Abraham’s descendants. In the old covenant scriptures (what people call the Old Testament) we see the rise and fall of the ancient nation of Israel, with many prophecies (predictions) about a future Messiah (anointed king) who would rescue the people of Israel from the troubles they were having.

The Old Testament is composed of ancient writings from thousands of years ago, and includes the following writings:

1) The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

These books tell the story of Creation, the flood of Noah’s time, the beginnings of the Israelite nation, and it’s period of slavery in ancient Egypt. They also tell about the Israelites’ miraculous escape from Egypt, and about the laws God gave to Moses for the Children of Israel to obey. Sometimes these five books are referred to as “the Law” or the “Pentateuch.”

2) The books of history (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)

These books contain true stories that are sometimes suspenseful, occasionally unsettling, but always meaningful to us today in that they show us the character of God and how He protects those who serve Him. The history of the rise and fall of the Hebrew nation is recorded faithfully—not just their triumphs, but their failures as well, which few other ancient civilizations wrote about themselves. We have the story of how they came to settle in the land of Canaan, which is now called Israel. We’re told about their periods of faithfulness to God, and the times they turned from Him. We’re also told about their “judges” (military deliverers) and kings, about the rise of their prosperous civilization under kings David and Solomon, and ultimately about their decline into captivity under Assyria (modern Iraq), Babylon (also modern Iraq) and Persia (modern Iran).

3) The books of wisdom and poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations)

The book of Job is famous for its story of a man persecuted by Satan himself and how he personally dealt with those difficult times. Most of the Psalms were written by King David; the book is actually a collection of individual songs. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were largely written by King Solomon, who recorded both witty and wise observations about human nature, moral conduct, and life itself. Lamentations was written by Jeremiah the prophet in poem form, and is about his sadness at the destruction of Jerusalem, the City of David, when it was overtaken by Babylon.

4) The prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

These books contain both predictions about Israel’s history that would come to pass many years later, and passionate instruction to the backsliding nation to turn from its errors. Israel, like mankind in general, naturally moved away from God over time, and most of the prophets wrote their books specifically to encourage the people to go back to obeying God’s laws. The prophets wrote many things about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, that happen exactly as predicted.


The new covenant scriptures, often called the New Testament, tell us about the arrival of the Messiah. Christ means “anointed one,” since kings were often anointed with oil in the old days, and Christians look to Jesus as a spiritual “king.” The “new covenant” (or contract) fulfilled the terms of the old one (the Old Testament) and put in place a new one that would be in effect until the end of the world. In the New Testament we find the history and teachings of Jesus Christ and of his earliest followers, called his apostles (or messengers).

The New Testament is composed of the following writings from the 1st century AD:

1) The “gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)

These four books are called the gospels because they document the “good news” of Jesus’ life from beginning to end. The word “gospel” means “good news.” They tell the story of Jesus’ life, and eventual death on the cross, from four different perspectives; Matthew, a Jewish tax collector turned follower; Mark, a Jew with Roman training; Luke, a physician; and John, a close friend (and some people think a cousin) of Jesus.

2) True stories of the Apostles’ early evangelism (Acts)

This book is called the Acts of the Apostles because it is an historical account of what Jesus’ apostles (His hand-picked messengers) did to aid in establishing Christ’s church.

3) The Apostle Paul’s letters to various first-century churches (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians)

These letters were generally written to instruct the young churches (groups of believers) in how to behave as Christians. They cover topics like morality, faith, immersion (baptism), salvation, living a godly life of service to others, and many, many more.

4) The Apostle Paul’s letters to various individuals (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon)

These letters were written to the individuals after whom they are named, and contain valuable, God-breathed instruction directly from Paul to these men.

5) An open letter to 1st century Christians of Jewish descent (Hebrews)

Many of the Jewish people who converted to Christianity during the early years of the church had a deep understanding of the Old Testament. This open letter was written to reassure them in their faith in Christ, and remind them, based on many Old Testament references they would easily understand, how the Jewish religion fit into God’s plan for the Messiah.

6) Letters by various individuals to first-century churches (James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude)

Like Paul’s letters to various churches, these letters (written by the authors after whom they are named) enjoyed wide circulation among first-century believers. Since they didn’t have the Internet or the printing press, the letters were hand copied and passed from church to church to provide centuries of encouragement and instruction for Christians.

7) Book of prophecy (Revelation)

This is often the first book people turn to when they start reading the New Testament, but the numerous conflicting opinions on its interpretation can make it the most confusing. It contains a prophetic revelation to seven churches of the first century, with many appropriate lessons for our churches today. The book goes on to give us a great picture of the place He has prepared for the righteous after judgment, and develops the theme of how God’s forces will be victorious over evil in the end.

For the rest of your life, remember that men and women have added “helpful comments” to just about every edition of the Bible that has been printed. All of them, including the words in this Introduction to the Bible, are written by fallible people. Never assume to be true what a book, preacher, pastor, friend, or teacher tells you about the Bible, without finding out for yourself if it’s true. This rule should keep you searching the Bible for the rest of your life, because there is no end of people willing to tell you what they THINK about it. Enjoy it – it provides a roadmap for life, marriage, parenting, everything. But probably not at all in the way you've been taught. ;-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are you Christian or Christlike?

As any adult can verify from personal experience, words change meanings over time as their contemporary usage changes. What used to be "groovy" in my older siblings' day became "radical" in mine, then "cool" or "bad," and now "sick" or "tight." As fewer and fewer people use the word "sick" in the way it was used even 5 years ago, so fewer and fewer people use the word "Christian" to simply describe someone who is Christlike. In fact, most of us probably have never considered that the two words should be synonymous.

To the English teachers reading this, I know—the former is most often used as a noun, while the latter is an adjective. But think about this for a moment. Wouldn't the term "Christian" be more meaningful when used as an adjective, rather than a noun? Shouldn't "Christian" describe someone's behavior, not just be a label on some box we want to put them in? Isn't that what the whole "salt, light, and a city set on a hill" thing is all about? What's the point of labeling someone as a Christian who does not, in fact, act "Christian?"

Before Christians were first called such in Antioch, they did exist in the eyes of God and men without that name. The term was later applied to the Jesus-followers who were already in existence, but it's not like God created a "Christian" label. Men did, and the writers of the New Testament scriptures adopted it in its common usage. The first Christians were first described as disciples, or followers of Jesus. A Christ-follower, or disciple of Jesus, ought to be one and the same as a Christian. In fact, it would be a misuse of the term "Christian" to apply it to someone who did not at least attempt to pattern his life from top to bottom—including thoughts, words, and actions—after the Master.

So it turns out that "Christlike" is the forgotten synonym for "Christian," and where we find a Christian in name (used as a noun), we ought to find a Christlike person in deed where "Christian" can be used as an adjective to describe him. This means a person called a Christian should not engage in unchristian activities. Gossip, slander, and backbiting should be put away from our lips. Every word spoken should be done with the motivation to encourage someone in Christ or bring them to Him.

We can probably all attest to the fact that this is not always the case. I myself fall short of my own goals for goodness every day. As C.S. Lewis so brilliantly pointed out, humans almost instinctively know right from wrong, and still as instinctively, usually choose the latter.

Rather than write in the safety of the third person, I'll take a big dose of this medicine by asking myself how many years I've been a noun-Christian without necessarily being an adjective-Christian? Have I always made a concerted effort to emulate Christ's character traits such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and patience? It's my life's regret that I can't answer in the affirmative. But I can say without hesitation that I want it to be the primary focus of my life–to pattern my life after Jesus Christ.

I fail at it miserably on a daily basis. It's a high standard to hold to. But I truly want to become More Like the Master, not just sing that old hymn every once in awhile. I want the word "Christian" to mean more than just the fact that I've obeyed my five point checklist of things to do. I don't want to use it as a noun, but as an adjective. Sure, I'm a Christian. But I hope to be more than that and actually be Christian.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Procrastinating truth another year

No comments:
Truth is timeless. It is unchanging. It maintains its value through the always-evolving marketplace of ideas, like the gold standard in a world of paper currencies. Trends in human thought come and go, and philosophies rise and fall in popularity like fad diets, but truth is like a rock, never succumbing to the pressures of relativistic philosophies or changing "understandings." It is what it is, and what it always has been. The Truth.

It also doesn't need to wait another year for us to acknowledge it, either. Or figure it out, or agree upon it, or agree to teach it. Truth just needs to be discovered and immediately taught. This is why Christianity in the first century thrived and turned the world upside down--because people didn't wait for their synagogues to adopt this new doctrine. They recognized the truth of this man named Jesus, and consequently, the errors of their Pharisaical Teachers. They chose Jesus in droves.

It's important that we put our trust in truths that are firm and unchanging, and stand confidently in them, not "hiding them under a bushel" until next May Week. How exactly is basing one's hope for the future of the church on the whims of changing May Week "judgments" different from Jehovah's Witnesses basing theirs on the latest Watchtower dogma? How is it different from Mormons basing theirs on the latest teachings of their Prophet or their Apostles? How is it different than Catholics basing theirs on the latest papal decree?

In a world with precious few enduring truths, it only makes sense to build our hope on nothing less than Jesus. When our faith is in men, or in human institutions such as "the church" (as you understand it, at least) or "May Week" or your Teacher or Preacher or Evangelist, it will always come down like a house of cards at some point. Fallible men and women always fail eventually. Always. You can count on it as surely as death and taxes.

Can we agree that the latest May Week rulings, or the latest opinions of respected Preachers, Teachers and Evangelists, are at least fallible? And don't these May Week rulings (or judgments, if you prefer), and counsel from respected Preachers, Teachers, and Evangelists, constitute the doctrines (teachings) of the church? So aren't the doctrines of the church, then, fallible?

Let's diagram it something like this:


Or better yet:


So why is there always such excitement in the air around May Week each year? Why, when people recognize that doctrines need to change, do their hopes and aspirations for that change revolve around the fallible human opinions expressed in May Week? Why do they revolve around having purportedly unofficial delegates discuss questions in an unofficial gathering (church council, anyone?) to send back revised unofficial doctrines to the home congregations to be unofficially adopted? Why not just unofficially start teaching the truth now, and let the chips fall where they may?

Why is it that if something didn't get fixed this year in the church's doctrine, we have to hope and pray that truth prevails next year? Shouldn't truth prevail now? If not, why not? And if not now, when?

Don't keep procrastinating truth, my friends. The time to accept, face and teach the truth is now. Stop letting the fallible opinions of men rule over your faith.

Monday, July 28, 2014

After further consideration

No comments:
After further consideration, I've decided to remove my "open letter" regarding the aforementioned blog. Even though the author remains completely anonymous to me, and I honestly thought I was vigorously protecting their anonymity, I can see how my letter may have discouraged them or anyone else from communicating privately with me. I also made some assumptions about the author's intentions regarding the blog being private. I had no business doing that, and want to apologize on that count as well.

I want to reassure everyone that I will not make this mistake this again. What you email to me remains between you and me unless you give me permission to write about it on these pages.

#notperfect #willingtoadmitit