Saturday, December 31, 2016

The surprising truth about Christian music and the Bible

Many from Church of Christ backgrounds have been taught that instruments are unacceptable to God. Some take this to an extreme and try to suggest that the Bible condemns them outright. Others take a more moderate approach, and apply their prohibition only to church. Which is it? Can a Christian listen to contemporary Christian music? Are they in danger of hell fire for doing so? Are there good reasons to listen to Christian music, or to stay away from it?

After giving serious thought to this subject from a scriptural standpoint, I came to the realization that there is nothing intrinsically or Biblically wrong with Christian music, and there is a lot of positive in it, in any setting (at home, in church, etc.). Each person is free to hold whatever opinion they want on this, but I address it here because most readers are from the acappella wing of the Church of Christ. For them, this can be a troubling question.

There are several avenues of thought I want to explore on this topic:
  1. What does the Bible say about instrumental music?
  2. Did the early church use instruments, and is that important?
  3. What are the benefits of listening to contemporary Christian music?
  4. Should Christians learn to play an instrument?
  5. Isn't the contemporary Christian music scene filled with hypocrites, shallow theology, and people seeking to monetize the gospel? Is that important?
What does the Bible say about instrumental music?

This is a pretty straightforward question. The Old Testament views instruments neutrally, negatively, and approvingly, depending on the context. A man named Jubal was credited in Genesis for being "the father of all who played stringed instruments and pipes:"
Genesis 4:20-21 - Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.
We also see David being credited with "inventing" and "making" many kinds of instruments:
1 Chronicles 23:5 - Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the LORD with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith. 
2 Chronicles 7:6 - And the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of music of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because his mercy endures for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood. 
2 Chronicles 29:26 - And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. 
Amos 6:5 - That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David;
A common misunderstanding is that David invented them and introduced them into worship against God's will, as many in the Church of Christ have been taught. The truth is quite the opposite, actually. It turns out that instrumental worship was commanded by God through Nathan the prophet:
2 Chronicles 29:25 - He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through his prophets.
What's the matter? You didn't know this? I know, it was a surprising discovery to me, too. I had always been taught that David invented musical instruments and introduced them into the worship of his own volition. That is just not the case.

It also turns out that the psalms of David, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, were written and arranged to be accompanied by instruments:
Psalm 33:2 - Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. 
Psalm 43:4 - Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. 
Psalm 49:4 - I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. 
Psalm 57:8 - Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. 
Psalm 71:22 - I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel. 
Psalm 81:2 - Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. 
Psalm 92:1-4 – It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most high: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound. For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. 
Psalm 98:5 - Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 
Psalm 108:2 - Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. 
Psalm 137:2 - We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. 
Psalm 147:7 - Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: 
Psalm 149:3 - Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. 
Psalm 150:3 - Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
The unmistakably clear fact that God commanded instruments in Old Testament worship and clearly approved of them in worship and praise is a devastating blow to the claim that instruments are in any way looked down upon by God. God commanded them, and he doesn't change.

But what about the New Testament, you say? Consider these scriptures:
Ephesians 5:19 - speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord...
Colossians 3:16 - Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Notice something very important things about these verses. The word psalms is used, in addition to hymns and spiritual songs. These different words are choses for a reason. What does the word psalm mean? It literally means to pluck the strings of an instrument. This is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of the theory that instruments are prohibited in the OT or NT scriptures.
psalmos: primarily denoted "a striking or twitching with the fingers (on musical strings);" then, "a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment, a psalm."
The book of Psalms itself, along with definition of psalmos indicate that the term has always implied musical accompaniment. So when Paul used the word in reference to Christian music, I believe he very clearly is authorizing musical instruments in praise and worship, whether the first century church ever had the opportunity to use them or not.

Did the early church use instruments, and is that important?

So did the first century church actually use instruments? Note that this is a separate question from whether instruments are allowed. I may allow my kids to have three pieces of cake at every meal. But if there's no cake in the house, they wouldn't be able to take advantage of that liberty. It is quite possible, I would even say certain, that a host of things are allowed by God—even good and honorable—which are not required.

This is where we're at with musical instruments in the first century. I believe Paul makes it clear by use of the word psalmos and psallo that musical instruments are perfectly acceptable in worship and praise of God. The word itself means to pluck the strings of a musical instrument. So this is not even debatable that Paul had in mind an instrumental accompaniment when he wrote those letters to the Ephesian and Colossian churches.

We honestly don't know whether first century believers used instruments. It's certainly possible some did. We do know that instruments are implied as being OK because of Paul's choice of words, and we know they were clearly approved by God in OT scripture. We have no reason to think that changed.

First century believers, particularly Christians trying to meet under the radar of a hostile Roman and Jewish society, may not have had the financial luxury of owning an instrument at that time, or the skill to play one. But that is a different matter altogether. The most important question for modern believers is whether instruments are allowed, not whether they were used in the first century.

What are the benefits of listening to contemporary Christian music?

This is where this subject gets more exciting, because this is where Christian music can become a very practical part of a Christian's life. God gave us an appreciation for music (I'll get to that in more depth later). Why not use the beauty of music to fill our minds with positive messages, and to make the communication of positive messages enjoyable? True, one could listen to a sermon to hear a positive message. But why strip ourselves of the ability to put positive messages to music and listen to them for teaching and encouragement throughout the day?

My wife and I made the decision early in our marriage not to bring secular music into our home. My kids are now mostly adults, and I can say without hesitation that this was one of the best parenting decisions we made. Most secular music, whether top 40, country, or any other genre, is at best unhealthy spiritually, and too often a cesspool of immoral messages. It teaches ideas and behaviors contrary to the views of most parents, not to mention Christian parents. And the lyrics do have an effect on us. Stripping all of that out where possible, and replacing it with wholesome songs with positive lyrics that include teaching and encouragement about God and faith, was a huge blessing for my family.

All of my adult kids are baptized believers. Christian music is certainly not the only reason, of course. I'm not suggesting they're perfect, or better than anyone else's kids, or even that they've all continued to shun secular music (although I hope they will reach that decision eventually). But I can say that they are all growing in their own faith, and have not turned tail and run away from God. I believe the constant flow of positive music in our home for their entire lives played a positive role in their upbringing, and I think they would all agree with that.

If Christian music is not wrong, and is a healthy, positive replacement for something bad in our culture, why would someone not want to take advantage of contemporary Christian music? It makes absolutely no sense to me that some Christians will accept instrumental accompaniment in secular music, but reject it in songs of praise and worship. We should want to let our faith spill over into every area of our lives, including our music choices.

Should Christians learn to play an instrument?

The creativity and skill required to make music is actually a powerful argument for investing the time required to use it to worship and praise God. Music was created by God, and heaven itself is even described as having instruments. Think about the science of music and sound. Wave patterns hit our eardrums for our brains to interpret. God created this phenomenon. God is a creator and he made us in his image as creative beings. This is a trait that sets us apart from the animals.

Some sounds are unpleasant. Some sounds (words) can be used to communicate ideas and information. And some sounds are simply harmonious, and beautiful, and lift the spirit. Why not use our ability to create to edify each other and glorify God?

In fact, the appreciation of beauty, sometimes shunned by intellectuals who think it beneath them, is an idea that is unique to humans, and a gift from God meant as a blessing. Animals don't understand beauty. They don't intentionally create it for their enjoyment, and don't appreciate it. Humans, on the other hand, were created in the image of the Master Creator to be creators themselves. Music is one of the things we create.

With these facts as a backdrop, consider what Solomon instructed:
Ecclesiastes 9:10 - Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Now see how that meshes with what Paul wrote to the Colossian church:
Colossians 3:17 - And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 
Colossians 3:23 - Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
If a Christian is at liberty to listen to music, and to learn to play it, and he can also use it to edify; shouldn't he do so with all his heart, as to the Lord? I think so.

Does listening to Christian music mean I'm endorsing the Christian artists?

But the contemporary Christian music scene seems to be filled with hypocrites, you say. The songs have shallow theology, and the artists and labels appear to be trying to monetize the gospel. Yes, that is sometimes the case. There are always going to be charlatans and hucksters preaching the gospel, some for money, some for power, some for fame. But we can't judge everyone in the music industry with such a broad brush. God knows their heart. If the music they create is Biblically accurate and spiritually useful for encouragement and teaching, there is no need to judge the hearts of those who produce it. Companies make money off of printing Bibles as well. That shouldn't stop us from buying them.

Then we have this:
Philippians 1:15-18 - It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice....
That's right. What's important is that Christ be preached, not that everyone has pure motives doing it. We don't need to know or judge motives. I've learned in life to always assume good motives, even when it seems obvious that someone's motives aren't as pure as we'd like them to be. That's OK. Be patient with them. I think this is a good rule, because we can only accurately judge outward actions, not motives.

Let's leave it to God to judge the inner thoughts and motives of the heart. In the meantime, if someone has a talent from God to put inspiring words to beautiful music, I'm happy to be a customer. I'd rather support them and get something useful and uplifting in return than to turn my nose up at the their talents provided to them by God.
1 Timothy 5:18 - For Scripture says, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."
If you've avoided contemporary Christian music until now, and want to explore it as an alternative to the often anti-Christian product the secular industry puts out, a good place to start is to look up your local Air 1 or KLOVE radio station. You can stream either of these on your phone. You can also probably find a local Christian radio station with its own format and choices of songs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What are Jesus' commands?

No comments:
I often hear believers quote Jesus assuredly: "If you love me, keep my commands," as John records him saying. It seems that more often than not, though, what they mean is "If you loved Jesus, you would be keeping all of his commands like I am, and you clearly aren't."

loving Jesus = keeping his commands

I've personally found the subject of Jesus' commands a rewarding study. After all, if the Bible says loving Jesus means keeping his commands, I think it has to be pretty important to know what his commands are.

This is an exercise everyone should try. Take out a pen and paper (or open up a Word file) and list all of the things you think of when you quote Jesus' words (or when you hear others do so): "If you love me, keep my commands." This is just brainstorming right now, so don't second guess yourself and slow your thought process down. Go with what whatever you think of. You can always verify it later.

You may have thought of some things like the traditional church of Christ "five acts of worship:" singing, praying, giving, the Lord's Supper, and preaching (or is being preached to the supposed command?). That's fine. Write them down on this list. Is personal work, or attending fellowship, or studying for class, or taking notes in class, or making a comment in class, or wearing your nicest clothes at church on the list? Now continue brainstorming all the things you can think of that you believe Jesus has commanded you.

Now comes the hard part. Take another sheet of paper, or open another Word file, and think more seriously about this question. Write down only the actual commands of Jesus from your first list that can be backed up with book, chapter, and verse. And by "actual commands," I mean that. Only list the actual commands that Jesus himself gave us. It's important not to clutter your list with things that are not truly commands, or were not actually commanded by Jesus.

I understand the attraction of wanting to lump the traditional church of Christ things like "command, example, and necessary inference" altogether in one list, but you can do that another time. If you want to understand what it means to love Jesus, first understand what his actual commands are, without introducing human reasoning.

Obviously, some of these commands were directed to his apostles or disciples. That's fine. Make a note of who was directly commanded in that context. This could take some time, but it is worth the thought experiment. If loving Jesus means following all of his commands, then frankly, it's worth spending whatever time is necessary investigating what they are. You might be surprised by what you find.

Feel free to share your observations in the comments.

Ready? Go.

P.s. - If you want to cheat, here are some other people's attempts to formulate a list of Jesus' commands: List 1 | List 2. If you want to cheat some more and understand some of my thinking on Jesus' commands, here are a couple of articles I've written about them: Article 1 | Article 2.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The slippery slope of truth-seeking

I believe all biblical scripture is inspired and useful for our learning, even though the conclusions I draw from their writings have evolved as I get older, acquire more knowledge, and (I hope), mature in the faith. I understand that it's my understanding of Scripture that has evolved, not Truth. Truth is not relative, but our fallible understanding of it is; which is why our opinions about Truth can and should evolve as we gain years and wisdom. If they don't, we're not growing as Christians.

So when we anchor Biblical truth in our minds by some past popular understanding of it–whether so-called "historical Christianity," or the teachings of the [church/sect/cult] we grew up in—we are risking measuring ourselves by ourselves. We are putting our faith in some man or woman, or some fallible line of reasoning, or some verdict from a May Meeting, in order to get around what the Bible clearly says.

I think the guidepost for the Christian faith should not be the opinions of the church we grew up in, or the church that first brought us into Christianity, or some really smart person we trust—but the Bible itself. We should not be anchored to human opinions, not prevailing opinions of really smart people or even this blog. We are anchored to God alone, and his revealed Word found in the text of the Bible alone. If I contradict your understanding of scripture, then follow your understanding of scripture. But don't confuse scripture itself with your understanding of it. We all have to reserve some humility and acknowledge that our understanding of scriptural truth grows over time. That's why it's so dangerous to bind our opinions at any given point in our growth on others.

In the history of Christianity, the idea of giving authority to the Bible alone has been called sola scriptura, or scripture alone. It simply means that there is no other source that is authoritative in faith or practice. Not a denomination, not a single church, not a single person. Where a person's, or church's, or denomination's teachings contradict what the Bible says, we have to be courageous enough to trust the clarity of God's word over someone else's opinion of it. That may be easy, or that may be hard, depending on the topic. But as believers, we have to retain that kind of radical independence from human institution—or shall we say, radical dependence upon the Word of God. This takes a level of self-awareness that many don't have, or haven't yet learned.

Prevailing opinions have changed dramatically over the two millennia that have passed since Jesus walked the earth. We have had numerous fads in hermeneutics, theology, Christology, and eschatology come and go. There is Gnosticism, Arianism, Docetism, Humanism, and dozens of others philosophical or systematic theology fads that Christians over the past two millennia have gotten caught up in. We have thousands of denominations come and go, each claiming its own "distinctive" raison d'etre.

I personally believe the doctrine-du-jour of a premillennial rapture is a modern fad. By most accounts, it did not originate until the 18th century, and wasn’t popularized until the 19th century. If “orthodoxy” or “historical Christianity” are our guides, this teaching ought to have been met with suspicion, or at least examined more rigorously in light of scripture when it first arrived on the scene. Yet here we are, over 200 years later, and premillennialism seems to be the dominant opinion in pop-Christianity.

This is not to say that prevailing opinions within modern Christianity and what we call "historical Christianity" should be taken lightly. To the contrary, we should take seriously any departure from how our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith currently understand the scriptures, and how they have historically understood it for the past 2,000 years. But preserve fallible opinions in a glass box to be worshiped for all time? Sorry, I’m not going to go there, whether that glass box was created in 325 (First Council of Nicaea), 381 (First Council of Constantinople, 431 (First Council of Ephesus), 451 (Council of Chalcedon), 553 (Second Council of Constantinople), 680-681 (Third Council of Constantinople), 787 (Second Council of Nicaea) or at last year's May Meeting.

We should certainly learn from the viewpoints of those who have gone before us. But we shouldn’t take those viewpoints—either individually, or in composite—as the last word to define acceptable boundaries in our faith. The last word should be the Word itself, and I think that is a precept we have to all unite around, if we are ever going to unite per Jesus' prayer. But it’s only when you come to disagree with prevailing opinion that this thesis gets truly tested. It’s easy to agree with the right to dissent when you’re in the majority with the popular thinking on a subject. When you’re in the minority, it's a bit harder.

So what do you do when you’re in that dreaded minority? Do you stick with your principles and vocally hold up the Bible above the opinions of men, even if that means you stick out like a sore thumb? Do you go on the offensive, trying to drop self-styled "truth bombs" on the world, thinking that will convert them? Do you conform to the masses, and assume God would not allow the majority to be wrong for 2,000 years of church history?

What principles do you sacrifice? The ones that say you can only associate with those who are as righteous, and as correct as you? Or the ones that say to love your neighbor even if he's wrong, with the goal of persuading him of his error?

By now, maybe you’re a little uncomfortable with where this is leading. And you should be, frankly. The possibilities of where one could be led by the slippery slope of truth-seeking, stripped of the peer pressure of our friends and associates in "churchianity," should make anyone a little uncomfortable. We shouldn’t be flippant, after all, about parting ways with the many wise and honored contributors to Christian thinking of the past two millennia, the past two centuries, or the past 48 years. Yet you may be surprised to learn that the inspired authors of the New Testament scriptures believed some things that would be heretical to moderns. Were they wrong, or are we? Hmmm, I wonder.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Am I sowing seeds of discord?

A commenter named David posted a question recently that Google somehow managed to bury where I couldn't find it. So in the spirit of dialogue, I thought I'd address his question in a post for your consideration.

He wrote:
What is "Sowing seeds of discord"? as stated in Proverbs 6. 
Please avoid telling me what other people may say about it. Tell me what you know of the meaning. To say it is just dissention is a copout. Paul and Barnabus had contentions as did others. To say it is only dissention, as many say, is to say; the first person to point the finger and shout "sowing seeds of discord" WINS! We still have to discern between dissention and contending. Paul had to contend for the truth with Peter as we all know; where as the contention between Paul and Barnabus was such as was seemingly respectful but issues of different opinion. 
Sow I await your answers.
I will take a gander that verses 12-19 are what he's referring to:
Proverbs 6:12-19 - A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks maliciously with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart—he always stirs up conflict. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: ... a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
I should add a few more verses to consider on this subject:
Romans 16:17-18 - I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Galatians 6:1 - Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Ephesians 5:11 - Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Titus 3:9-11 - But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Matthew 18:15-20 - "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
I'll first note that a "troublemaker" is in the eyes of the beholder. To the class of teachers and preachers who literally refuse to answer objections with Biblical authority, I suppose I'm a troublemaker of sorts. But I don't fancy myself as that, and certainly don't aspire to it. My goal is to be a peacemaker, but when the sect leaders don't respond to Biblical questions—in fact, their approach is to literally ignore dissent—then I'm not sure what there is to do other than speak truth in love and let the chips fall as they may.

The above verses and many others teach us to avoid intentional and unnecessary conflict. Generating conflict for the sake of conflict is evil, and I would compare it to online trolling. It has no place in Christian dialogue. If I were picking fights with Stanton with no Biblical agenda, I'd understand this concern. But I do believe we have an obligation to teach truth, albeit in a loving manner. That means any criticism needs to be handled with a measure of gentleness and patience, and always communicated in love.

In all good conscience, I have sought to do that extensively on this blog. I can't answer for the consciences of all those commenting. By far, most have been respectful and, I can only assume, well-intentioned. But it's still important, if you are to understand the usefulness of this blog, to distinguish between the content I write, and the conversation it generates in the comment section.

While I do my best to "call fouls" when it's appropriate, I also want to avoid shutting down dialogue altogether simply because I don't agree with someone else. For that reason, I allow and encourage comments in opposition to my own thinking, because I value dialogue. It's how I might convince some of you of my approach to the world, and it's how you might convince me. That's the model of the church as a community of believers, all in different places in their spiritual maturity; iron sharpening iron.

But dialogue is exactly what Stanton doesn't do. If you'll notice, they don't respond to anyone asking honest questions about their doctrine. Ask them to defend it Biblically, and they will just ignore you. As GP said in his talk Not ready to give an answer:
And I know how I respond. That's the basis of this lesson. I refuse. I refuse, to the uttermost of my being to dignify the absurdity of the questions and the challenges in which it is that people will present. What I mean by that is that I will not honor, they are not worthy of my consideration.
So what does one do when an institution claiming to speak in the place of God is teaching things that are unbiblical? Do we just let it happen, or do we speak out and confront error in a loving manner when we have the opportunity? I would suggest the latter. I've been given an opportunity to reason together with readers, and that's what I do.

Just remember that people are in different places in their faith (or unbelief) when they comment here. I don't have the time or inclination to filter comments to my own standards of evidence, dialogue, or Biblical knowledge. But rather than limit all dialogue to only the those whom I agree with, the comment section of this blog is intended to give people who may have thought they were alone, and maybe rejected God because of the doctrinal abuses of the Stanton sect, a voice to connect with others with similar experiences.

I'd rather keep lines of communication open and help people reach a better understanding of God than police everyone's comments like the Ministry of Truth. I'm more interested in persuading people than coercing or silencing them. I'm definitely not interested in controversy for the sake of controversy, and if you gathered such from something I wrote, I do apologize. Yet we must deal realistically with the fact that sometimes truth is controversial. Hence, my philosophy is to speak truth in love, always trying to honestly examine my heart and motivations in writing what I write.

I hope this helps.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Convince people, don't insult them

My interest in the traffic to this blog is not about numbers of visitors, or how many people comment, or how to inflict the most damage on the institution of the Stanton sect of the Church of Christ. No, it's always and only been about one thing: uncovering the historical roots of the sect, and encouraging and motivating people impacted by its unbiblical doctrines to learn more about our loving God and forsake the teachings of men for the Bible alone. It's about spurring one another on toward love and good works.
John 8:32 - Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Hebrews 10:24 - And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...
As such, it's awesome to receive things like the postcard I got in the mail the other day from a reader. He thanked me for the encouragement the blog offers, but the real thanks goes out to him and all the others who are actually awake, paying attention, and engaging in a meaningful way with the information and conversation here. You've encouraged me to keep moving forward with this project, and I can tell it's done some tangible good. So thank you. It's truly a blessing to be part of anything that brings people closer to the God of love I know.

Yet some people—those who have "come to spy out our liberty," perhaps—assume different motives (I think we'd call that "evil surmising"), and suggest that the blog is nothing more than a tool to engage in a war of words with Stanton. For them, it is about politics, not ideas. This is evidenced by the occasional troll who pops in and tries to take a swipe at me, or the blog, or its readers or commenters without having read the posts and articles.

I can't speak for the motives of every reader and commenter. I think most have genuinely good motives, but I'll stipulate that everyone who reads this blog is in a different phase of understanding and dealing with the harm inflicted by Stanton's teachings. Some are professed believers, some are not. This blog gives voice to both from time to time, and attempts to be fair and accurate in the process.

But we should acknowledge that trolling is a practice that lowers discourse from a conversation about ideas to a political sport where we're rooting for teams, not truth. Trolling is not about communicating ideas and conversing about them. It is about appealing to our baser instincts, such as the pride of winning an argument, or sticking it to the opposition with a good "zinger." None of us are above these human motivations; they can crop up at any time in any conversation, and I have to hold them in check as much as the next person. But the truth is that "zingers" rarely lead a conversation into productive territory. Just watch the presidential debates if you doubt me.

These types of comments are not about seeking to convince anyone, nor are they about seeking to understand, educate, encourage, or enlighten one another. They are solely about sabotaging the conversation between seekers of truth who are attempting to reason together.

This blog is intended to be just that—seekers of truth returning to the Bible alone for their authority in doctrine and practice. But for the Stanton loyalists who choose to troll this blog from time to time, it's clearly not about that. It's more about rooting for their team to "win" the debate. And with that attitude, everyone loses.

It's been awhile since I've shared traffic analytics, so here are some stats you might find interesting. Aside from the >110,000 page views and >2825 comments, there is this:

Here you'll see that in any given day, there are an average of 14 active users. For the past 30 days, there have been an average of 388 active users.

It is also interesting to me to see what posts and articles get the most readers. Clearly, the article on Fear and Intimidation Tactics resonates with a large number of readers. But even that is dwarfed by the number of people interested in the historical roots of the church, as evidenced by the pageviews to the historical pages about the church and about Merie Weiss.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Do you believe in love?

Do you believe in love? Before you dismiss this as a trite 80's song, think about it from a Biblical perspective. One of the really interesting things about God's love is that we have to believe it:
1 John 4:16 - So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.
This makes so much sense, when you think about it. Consider a father who loves his child deeply, and wants only the best for her. He raises her in love, corrects her when she's wrong, and teaches her how to be a good adult. But during those teen years, isn't it true that a parent's love is sometimes not felt? It's there. It's being displayed. But it's not being believed. It's being misunderstood, mistrusted, or mistaken altogether for something else.

Most parents reading this are shaking their heads "yes." There might be a teen or two reading this who disagrees, but give it a few years and you'll understand better what I'm saying. Love can be poured out, but the object of our love has the option of choosing to disbelieve it.

But John says "we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us." We have come to know it. That means there was a time when we didn't know it, and coming to know it was a process.

But we have also come to believe it. How do you "believe" God's love? It's easier in theory than in practice, but it takes setting aside the mistrust we might have learned, and accepting the fact that God's desire—his heart—is to love you and know you. God is a loving father who wants a good relationship with his son or daughter, not a dysfunctional one. Why else would he describe himself as a good father? And why else would so many believers around the world describe God as a Good, Good Father? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe they're on to something?

John goes on further to say that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." This says a lot about the nature of God's love for us. It's not a disinterested love, or a love that just works on paper. It's a love that works in real life; a love that seeks to fill that core human need we all have to be loved, and which can only be filled adequately by our creator.

It won't take long to read the entire book of 1 John to get the full context of this brash statement that there is no fear in love, but in the interest of space, let's just take a look at a snippet:
1 John 4:7-21 - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)
Drawing from my own experiences as a father, I have to acknowledge that there are times when instilling a healthy fear into younger kids especially is essential to keeping them safe. We all needed to have some fear of the consequences of our behavior; like running out into the street, or disappearing in a crowded place where bad people might be.

But if our entire relationship with our parents is based on fear of consequences rather than knowing and believing that they love us, that's what's called a dysfunctional home. As a foster family, my wife and I have spent years trying to pick up the pieces in the lives of kids who have had the trauma of not being raised in a loving home. We form our perception of the world at a very young age, and it is difficult to convince youth to trust adults enough to actually believe they are loved when their experiences teach them to the contrary.

Is it any different between us and God? If our (mis)understanding of him is formed at a young age, how hard is it to convince ourselves to believe that he really is the God of love he says he is? Doesn't that seem a little too good to be true?

How hard is it to "come to know and to believe the love that God has for us?" And how hard is it to expel the fear that we learned at a young age in place of that love?

But for those who find themselves in that situation, the parent analogy may be your lifeline to know and believe the love that God has for you again. Because if your relationship with your child, if you have one, is not one of controlling them through fear, but persuading them through love, you have what you need to understand your relationship with the God of the universe. And now it can be built, as it should be, on love, not fear. But first you must come to know and believe the love God has for us.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Does evil exist?

This is a little poem I wrote awhile back based on the moral argument for God. I know there are readers of this blog who struggle to believe that God exists due to their experiences with the Stanton sect. I just want to encourage you to dig further. We should all be able to agree that evil exists. This poem makes the case that the existence of what we call evil is not evidence that there is no God, but evidence that there is a God without whom we would not have any frame of reference to decide what is evil and what isn't.

I hope this poem makes the case persuasively. In any case, I can assure you that God is alive and well, and he's waiting for a relationship with his children.
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
Like 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 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 fixed moral compass 
You see, your personal 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's 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 trying to describe love
Without knowing who God is
Read more on the moral argument for God

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to read the Bible—and how not to.


The Bible is feared reading for some. If you were raised in the Stanton sect, it may seem to you like a mass of confusing cross references, chain references, commands, and vague inferences. Remember the trusty Thompson Chain Reference Bible? Yeah, I thought so.

Understanding how to read the Bible is critical to developing a love for the Word. It's not as confusing as Stanton would make it seem. It's actually exciting, if you take the clean Bible challenge. But it's important not to read it like a novel. It's not one. And it's also not a law book to be dissected and argued like in the Pharisaic courtroom of May Week deliberations, either.

Here's the simple truth: The Bible is basically 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.

Here's a quick synopsis that will make your reading of the Bible much more meaningful.

The old testament scriptures

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 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 testament scriptures

The new covenant scriptures, often called the New Testament, tell us about the arrival of the Messiah. The word "Christ" simply means “the anointed one,” since kings were often anointed with oil in the old days, and Christians look to Jesus as our 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 time. 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 church, 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. Instead, find out what it really says!

Enjoy the journey of discovering God and the true story of Jesus Christ. Remember, it's not so much about the Bible itself—that can become an idol, just as any church can become an idol when it stands in the place of God. No, it's about the Jesus the Bible tells us about.

This is what Jesus told the Pharisees:
John 5: 39 - You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts."

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why won't Stanton confess its own public sins?

Stanton teaches that private sins require private confessions, and public sins require public ones. Thus, if a person runs a red light, they are in public and must confess that sin publicly before God will forgive them. This is, of course, completely foreign to the scriptures, but that is what Stanton teaches.

But what about sins committed by the church body as a whole? It turns out that the whole idea of enforced unity through May Week is a two-edged sword for Stanton. If their unity is so commendable on good things, when they're wrong, isn't it a liability? Isn't that a collective sin that can bring the whole ship down? You can't have it both ways.

Let's remember that May Week is essentially a church council. Starting with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., this practice of convening representatives of each church to deliberate on doctrine was justified back then using the same scriptures Stanton uses—incorrectly—to justify May Week. This false image of unity they boast of is frequently unity on error, rather than unity on truth, and we can trace back the major apostacies of the church to their attempts to enforce unity.

But is it really a unity borne of the Holy Spirit when humans have to convene and debate the subjects endlessly to arrive at it? If it were from the Holy Spirit, they would be unified without a church council, or May Meeting, like Paul when he "conferred not with flesh and blood" after his conversion:
Galatians 1:11-16 - I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.
To further insult our intelligence, when they use this pretense of unity to agree on incorrect teachings, a "new understanding" is reached later and simply whitewashed. They minimize the sin and hurt done to the people affected by those incorrect doctrines.

The people who were targets of the destructive doctrines needed to humble themselves anyway, they say. Or they eventually "fell away" from the church, so they aren't worth seeking out to ask their forgiveness. They probably won't come back, and they're going to hell anyway. So why bother?

Stanton, here's why you should bother. Because what you did was wrong. It was a sin to question peoples' innermost thought lives and expose them to the congregation—including children. It was a sin to promulgate a doctrine that encouraged marriages to be broken up unjustly, and children to grow up in a broken homes as a result.

It was a sin to publicly humiliate people for their private sexual sins and addictions, especially since there was no attempt to help them overcome those temptations or addictions. It was a sin for wives to publicly rebuke and withdraw from their own husbands for these matters that were truly between themselves and God. It was a sin to have every person in the congregation see these people come and sit in "withdrawal," knowing what they had publicly been disciplined for.

It was also a sin to have open conversations about these topics in the presence of very young children. Whispering at fellowships, rides home from church, conversations on the telephone—all of those were fair game to discuss these subjects, and at five years old, you can't unhear them. Those images came into my head for many years when I would see these people sitting in withdrawal for a decade or more. And I am not the only one who remembers hearing what was happening in bedrooms as early as five and six years old.

According to Stanton, isn't a confession to be as public as the sin? Stanton, take a look at the verses you hold out to defend standing for public confession, and those same verses describe when Israel had sinned as a nation greatly, and was returning to God with a repentant heart. There was weeping, sitting around in sackcloth all day, and offering of sacrifices for the sins of the nation. They were publicly remorseful for these national sins.

Remorse? Are you kidding? That's not even in Stanton's vocabulary. Instead, they minimize it, saying they just "grew in understanding"—meaning essentially that it was the Holy Spirit's fault for not leading them to this "new understanding" sooner. Have you ever heard of Stanton falling on its collective knees to repent of any of its past sinful "judgments" and the harm they caused to real people, men, women and children alike?

The human cost of these "national sins" of Stanton is great. The list is long of people whose view of God was severely damaged by these teachings and practices. Kids who have vowed to never set foot in a church building again. Adults whose view of God was so tainted that they don't believe in God anymore, because of that's what God tells Stanton to do, they want nothing to do with him.

In fact, the irony is that these are real examples of "bringing reproach on the church," yet the church itself did it, and has made no efforts to make amends with the people hurt in the process. Worse, the church has brought a major reproach on the name of God (the real meaning of the commandment not to take God's name in vain, which means essentially to drag it through the mud). The "national sins" of Stanton have clearly left a stench in the nostrils of many people, and reproached a loving God and father-figure with their practices.

But the whitewashing of the past continues. When it comes to the "national sins" of Stanton, I keep waiting for a collective confession of guilt and desire to simply apologize to the people whose lives and families have been forever impacted by those hurtful teachings. I do hope it happens, and I will welcome it and applaud it if it does. Until then, the silence is deafening.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The hypocrisy of Merie's withdrawal

No comments:
If I were to ask one question of Stanton members, it would be this: Did Merie ever make herself right from her withdrawal for sowing seeds of discord and causing division?

Here is her letter of withdrawal from 1958. (Mainline churches actually leave a paper trail for their disciplinary actions, unlike Stanton COC, which prefers to keep its business under the cover of secrecy.)

To me, this is the question that strikes at the root of the tree of the Stanton sect. According to Merie's own teaching, the mainline churches didn't "lose the candlestick" until sometime in the mid-70's. This means her withdrawal was put into place by a church that even she recognized. Now remember that by Stanton COC teachings, even unjust withdrawals need to be honored until the church obtains a "new understanding" from the Holy Spirit.

So their own teachings undercut the authenticity of the sect. Spring Valley, much less Stanton or any of the others, should have never been started, and should not then currently exist, by virtue of the fact that Merie was withdrawn from the entire time she was starting and building her little sect.

Remember, a sect is simply a division. Isn't it obvious then that the basis for her withdrawal was accurate? She actively sought to divide the church, and succeeded in that effort.

Even if the things she was saying were right (which they weren't), by their own standard, she should have kept quiet until the church came around to the correct view. Furthermore, she would have been guilty of murmuring if she vocalize any dissent. She should have humbled herself during her withdrawal and sought to "make herself right."

But no. Stanton's own rules for others don't apply to themselves. This is the height of Pharisaism, and the kind of unrepentant hypocrisy that has no defense.