"I remember growing up hearing so many people mock other churches where all the preacher ever talks about is love. Given that love is THE trait that God defines himself as, it is truly sad to think about how little this group knows about the subject of unconditional love and compassion for a lost world. I can promise you this—once you get away from the teachings of men, your understanding of love will grow and will change your life. You're just going to have to trust me on that."

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Some of you reading this have been "withdrawn from" (an unscriptural term, how Stanton uses it) and others have spouses, mothers, fathers, or siblings who have been, thereby creating an intricate web of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

Conclusion

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?

3 comments:
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

3 comments:
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

References:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rethinking and reframing the Bible the way it was intended

4 comments:
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 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 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 TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES


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.

WARNING
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?

3 comments:
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:

HUMAN OPINIONS < JESUS

Or better yet:

JESUS > HUMAN OPINIONS

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

The need for "Pure Doctrine"

No comments:
Many people can attest to the fact that the church has taught for years that doctrine must be "pure" for it to lead one to salvation. If a person believes impure doctrine, even if it's 99% right, Stanton says they will not be saved.
"They can be teaching everything 99% correct, but if salvation is not taught correctly then sin is not forgiven and you are not added to the church of Christ."
Source: http://whatisthedoctrineofchrist.blogspot.com/2012/05/church-of-christ.html
This is not a straw man that I'm trying to set up in order to smack down easily. This Doctrine of Pure Doctrine is a staple of church teaching, as just about anyone who has spent any time in the group can attest, and it is used to deny that the baptisms of 99% of the Christians in the world today are valid. One must, according to their teaching, be baptized by the One True Church (theirs, of course), identified by its supposed 100% Pure Doctrine, in order to be saved. Anyone who believes that, doesn't truly understand what the Doctrine of Christ really means.
The problem with this myth of Pure Doctrine is that it condemns the very person who teaches it. Is Stanton foolish enough to claim that it's teachings over the years have been 100% correct? I'd like to see anyone try to make that case with a straight face. If they cannot, their Doctrine of Pure Doctrine is self-condemning.

There is no denying that Stanton's doctrines have been changed, revised, modified, updated, tweaked, and otherwise upgraded to the new and improved doctrines we see today. Since truth never changes, we know that either the original doctrines were not "the truth;" the current doctrines are not; or neither are. Those are the only three options.

In other words, it was never "pure doctrine" to say that women shouldn't wear pants with zippers on the front. That was an untrue teaching of fallible men and women. It was never pure doctrine to say that Christians couldn't visit another congregation on Sunday, or take a family vacation, or refrain from going to bowling allies, or any of the other changing doctrines Stanton has taught.

If we are at all to believe Matthew 7:2, then the rule Stanton makes for others must be applied to itself. Any untrue doctrines being taught today, or that have been taught in the past, completely de-legitimize the church's authority as the One True Church, and negates the validity of all its baptisms over the years.
Matthew 7:2 - For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Of course, my real point is to illustrate that no human understanding of a doctrine can be "pure" because our understandings, no matter how enlightened by the Holy Spirit we may think them to be, are subject to human error--as Stanton's own history attests. If truth is an all or nothing proposition--either we have all of it in 100% pure form, or it's useless to us--then we are doomed, brothers, because last I checked, we were all human.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Suitcase of Books

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One of the best teaching tools the Stanton Church of Christ had going for it in its old Non-Member Classes was the infamous Suitcase of Books. Eventually the inconvenience of passing it around to the next Non-Member Class Teacher, or perhaps the hypocrisy of it, led to its demise. Nevertheless, The Suitcase of Books played a convincing role in many conversions to the sect, because it truly was a unique and effective visual illustration of the confusion caused by the doctrines and traditions of fallible men.

I'm not positive the Suitcase of Books has been retired completely, actually. If it hasn't, it most definitely has lost some of its rhetorical power, because alas, the point made by the Teachers using the Suitcase has come back to point the finger at them.

So what was the Suitcase of Books, and how was it used?

Prior to each Non-Member Class (traditionally on Thursday evenings), a big suitcase would be passed to the next teacher of the class. When I was growing up in Stanton, California, there were several who took turns teaching the class, and each passed the suitcase on to the next Teacher.

At the beginning of the class, the suitcase was always sitting, either on the table, or next to the Teacher's chair. At some point during the class, the Teacher would start talking about all the religions out there that have arisen due to men's fallible and changing doctrines. As each sect was brought up, the Teacher would display a book by the founder of that sect.

You had Charles Taze Russell's Watchtower writings, which led to the eventual founding of the Jehovah's Witnesses. You had the teachings of Joseph Smith, and the subsequent formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You had Ellen G. White's teachings, which led to the Seventh Day Adventists, and Mary Baker Eddie's teachings, which led to Church of Christ, Scientists.

The list went on and on, and the rhetorical impact grew, as the pile on the desk (usually a T.V. tray) grew larger and larger. Then, the illustration would culminate with the idea that we don't really need all these teachings of men. We just need the Bible alone, and all these religions may change and update their teachings, but the Truth never changes. Therefore, any church which changed its teachings could not possibly be teaching only the Truth. The Bible, it was concluded, was sufficient for learning all of what Jesus taught. We didn't need the Bible plus some other book or audio of the teachings of fallible men and women.

So why has the Suitcase of Books perhaps fallen out of use? Maybe it's because now, a large amount of the teachings of the Stanton churches cannot be found in the Bible at all, and in fact, can only be defended based on the "doctrines and commandments of men;" mere opinions, usually couched as "judgments" of the church, and often formed based on the church's founding documents or a long tradition of May Meetings. To add to the weight of hypocrisy, while other religions were excoriated for "changing" and updating their doctrines from time to time, Stanton gets a free pass to do this each May (or March, as the case may be).

The hypocrisy of waging rhetorical battle against the writings and teachings of men in other sects, while passing around their own writings and teachings of men as the basis for church doctrine, was not un-anticipated at the time, either. I clearly remember the objections of members at a discussion in the home of my best friend's mom, over sending church funds to help publish Merie Weiss's book Put Up Thy Sword, while the church regularly taught that it didn't need men's books plus the Bible--it just needed the Bible alone.

But the objection, as far as my young memory serves me, was overruled, and the church did support the publishing of Merie's book. While the hypocrisy in that case was blatant, the more subtle hypocrisy was (and is) that the church continues to publish and distribute the lessons of its current crop of Teachers in the church with 21st Century vigor. Distribution of these teachings of men is accomplished with CDs, carefully organized Dropbox accounts, iPods, and MP3 players. The buzz following each meeting always builds around this person or that person's talk at the most recent meeting.

Am I saying it's wrong to publish sermons? Of course not. If we truly believe what we are saying, we should want our words published, albeit publicly, not secretly to protect them from criticism. But when the teachings of men become so devoid of any valid Biblical basis so no one can point to book, chapter and verse for any of the church's controversial teachings, rules or judgments, isn't it clear that the real lesson of the Suitcase of Books has been lost?

The Suitcase of Books showed that followers of Jesus only need the Bible to learn about his life, example, and teachings. Perhaps this is a good time for "members" to re-learn that once-foundational "non-member" lesson.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Should Christians go to college?

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One of the teachings of the Stanton Church of Christ that goes way back to the early days is that Christians should not send their kids to college. The reasons I've heard in defense of this teaching are more practical than scriptural. A verse like 2 Timothy 2:4 might be thrown around to suggest that going to college is "entangling" oneself with the affairs of the world, but this is a tenuous argument at best. Why is college "entangling," but studying to learn a trade and advance through certifications is not?

The most common defense of the anti-college teaching I've heard is that colleges promote a lot of anti-Christian rhetoric, and there is a statistically large number of kids raised in Christian homes who depart from their parents beliefs when they get into college. With this basic fact I wholeheartedly agree. It's Stanton's conclusion--"Let's make a rule about it"-- that I disagree with.

Because of Stanton's extreme legalism (rule-keeping), their first response to a question like this is to seek to find or make a rule, law, or judgment (whatever they want to call it) for all Christians to follow. This is not a scriptural approach. In fact, it's completely unscriptural, because it necessarily requires one to teach doctrines which are the commandments of men.

While I can't answer definitively the question of whether all Christians should or should not go to college, I believe there is wisdom the Bible offers that will direct us one way or the other. This wisdom cannot be applied universally in the same way to every family or every teen. Let me explain my own approach to this subject--both scripturally and practically. I have seven kids, most of whom are teens or early 20's, so this is something my wife and I have given a great deal of thought, study and prayer to.

The college experience

First, I'll stipulate right away that I don't have romanticized ideas about wanting "The College Experience" for my kids. I see the typical "college experience" as nothing to be wished upon any teen unless he or she needs it.

In my opinion, college is a means to an end, not a required step everyone needs to take to "grow up" or "be responsible." Some of the most financially successful business people either dropped out of college, or never went. College uses a cookie cutter approach which tend to create cookie cutter employees. Of course, there are exceptions, and I'm not going to try to even argue this point. You are free to believe what you wish about the quality of the education most colleges offer.

However, Stanton is not alone or even radical in it's recognition that college and university campuses can be the graveyard of a teen's faith if he or she is not grounded and convicted. Therein lies the problem, I believe. Most Christian parents (inside and outside of the Stanton sect) have entrusted the church with the spiritual training of their kids, and have failed to take responsibility for teaching the philosophical foundations for Christianity themselves.

Have you ever talked about atheism with your kids and openly discussed challenging questions? I mean hardball questions, not puff questions that are easily shot down? If you don't provide sound, persuasive reasoning, you can bet they'll be persuaded by the many secular and atheist activists on college campuses. When my teens are challenged by tough questions--like "How can a loving God allow evil to exist?"--I don't want them to suddenly have a crisis of faith and throw God out the window. For that to happen, we have to educate ourselves on what the secularists are teaching and ground our kids deeply in real arguments that counter them.

What about the immoral cesspool that is the modern college campus? From frat parties to the prevalent hookup culture that exists, college is not some wonderful oasis of learning that I want or need all my kids universally to have to put up with. Even a firmly grounded Christian teen can face significant temptations on campus.

Homeschooling

Many of the reasons my wife and I are not big fans of the "college experience" are also reasons we're not big fans of public schools, or group schools of any kind, for that matter. We are not judgmental about how anyone else has chosen to educate their kids, but we have chosen to home school, and have never regretted it. Of course, there are a million different approaches to home schooling, so please don't judge me for that if you had a bad experience home schooling. We love it, and our college age kids, with minor exceptions, appreciate the benefits of how we approached it.

Our philosophy about college has grown out of our experience home schooling. Just as we bring in whatever educational tools and methods we need to reach each of our kids based on their unique personalities, we believe in a very individualized approach to college as well. Each child is different in how God made them, what they enjoy, and how they will use their education. It only makes sense that their education itself should be tailored to those unique needs.

Our individualized approach

I believe that our worldly education, whether that's reading, writing, math, nursing, engineering, or a skill to pursue a trade or specialized job, is a means to an end. Since each person's personality, talents, interests, and therefore desired "end" will be different, each person's educational needs will thus be radically different as well. Most Christians have only thought about college for the purpose of a career or earning money, but what about the "kingdom purpose?" I know using something like a career for showing God's love to the world is a foreign concept in the Stanton churches--how many members have you heard of who have learned a trade or pursued a degree to be able use it in the service of God or people?--but it's a noble goal to think about. Paul used his tent-making to further the kingdom. Why can't we use an engineering or nursing degree to do the same?

What this looks like for our kids is that during the last year of high school (remember, we home school), we encourage our kids to get a job, buy a car, start saving money more aggressively, and start going through what we call "life purpose planning." We were introduced to this term by CollegePlus, a Christian-owned organization that coaches college students on getting the bulk of college credit through "credit by exam." There is a Life Purpose Planning booklet that asks teens a lot of questions about their interests, and how they see the rest of their life unfolding. The information gleaned from those questions can serve as a guide when making future career or educational decisions.

I have a 20 year old daughter who will graduate with a B.A. of communication before she's 21 following the "credit by exam" approach, without having spent single day on a university campus (except to take the exams, which she does at Boise State University's testing center). I have a 21 year old son who will be graduating with a B.A. in business management following this approach.

I have an 18 year old daughter that is very compassionate and wants to become a nurse. She hopes to have the opportunity to serve kids in a third world country before she settles down to start a family. Because you can't get a nursing degree using the "credit by exam" method, she is going to a community college for that.

We also recognize that some of our kids are not college bound at all, nor should they be.  I have a son who hates the thought of college, but he is a very hard worker and extremely entrepreneurial. He is working hard while saving money to start his own business, and devouring books that will teach him the skills he needs to do so.

Some of our teens' educational stories are not written yet, but I expect each story to be very different. The bottom line for each of them is that they are all baptized believers and are pursuing the gifts and talents God has blessed each of them with. For most of them, that doesn't mean a traditional college campus, but when they feel God is calling them to a career that requires time on a college campus, that's what they'll do, and we'll be fully supportive of that.

I am not unconcerned about the temptations and anti-Christian ideology promoted on-campus, but if God is leading the way in their lives, their time on a campus will be an opportunity to let their light shine, not a time to party and get away from mom and dad. The key is to teach our kids young to love God deeply, not because their mom and dad want them to believe the same things they do. I want my kids to be critical thinkers and to own their own faith.

Resources that have helped my family

  • CollegePlus (Christ-centered coaching service to test out of 90% of college credit to get a Bachelor's degree)
  • Reasonable Faith (Podcast that counters atheist arguments against God with deep reasoning to give adults and teens an unshakable foundation for their faith)