Monday, October 2, 2017

The real "Off Church"

279 comments:
 In the Stanton sect, the term "Off Church" has only one meaning: Churches of Christ that do not follow Merie's teachings. Who declared the Churches of Christ to be "Off Churches"? Merie, and only Merie Weiss. No one else has had the authority to declare a church "off."

Years ago, an early follower of Merie, disappointed by Stanton's drift away from some of Merie's core teachings, spoke out against current leaders (just as Merie did against the leadership in her day). She was rebuked, and when she stood her ground (as Merie did), she was "marked and avoided" (an invention of current leaders supposedly harsher than "withdrawal"). Guess what? This disciple of Merie then started her own sect, declaring Stanton to be the Off Church, and her new sect to be the new One True Church. Like "mother," like "daughter."

So I ask you, who is the real Off Church? Is it the original Churches of Christ Merie attended and was baptized into? They had their faults, as we all do. Or was it Stanton, or maybe the newer breakaway sect? Who's the Off Church? How about both of these sects? They are both "off" by intentionally setting out to cause division, then actually accomplishing it by dividing from their previous fellowship. So I say "a pox on both their houses." Both were wrong. Both divided brothers and sisters from one another.

For new readers of this blog, I've explained and documented clearly the history of Merie's withdrawal by the conservative Churches of Christ back in 1958. She may have been withdrawn from up to three times, and did not come back from at least one withdrawal, maybe more of them. But her 1958 withdrawal by the East San Diego Church of Christ for "sowing discord and causing division" is one I've been able to document with a photocopy of the letter of withdrawal. A letter of withdrawal is something the mainline churches provide, but Stanton prefers not to leave a paper trail—it's easier to rewrite or completely hide its history that way.

We know that Merie did not come back from this withdrawal. To her, her "rightness" in her own eyes justified her defiance of the withdrawal. But for those of you still in Stanton, does this sound a little bit hypocritical? I thought someone withdrawn from unjustly should keep quiet until church leaders reached the conclusion that the withdrawal was unjust. Why the double standard for your founder?

Merie declared that the mainline churches had "lost the candlestick," in the early 1970's. This means the church that withdrew from her in 1958, by her own teaching, was the Lord's church. She should have honored that withdrawal without "murmuring" about her teachers and preachers. Merie, a murmurer? Yes, there's no way to plow around this stump, Stanton. Using your own definition and rules regarding murmuring and withdrawal, Merie was a withdrawn from murmurer when she started the Stanton churches.

Merie justified her behavior by saying the original churches had "lost the candlestick." How could she know this without miraculous revelation? Yet we're supposed to just follow a fallible woman's teachings by faith, without questioning them, because she was so much older and wiser than the rest of us. Really? The Bible says to check everything against the scriptures, like the Bereans, and if someone is claiming to have special knowledge that isn't spelled out in the Bible, well—you'll forgive me if I'm not that trusting. I choose to accept the Bible alone as my authority.

The facts are clear. The real Off Church was the one started by Merie. Are there sincere but mistaken believers in their fold? Very likely. But anyone who has come to the conclusion that Stanton is built upon a house of cards, Biblically, and continues to support and defend it, is doing wrong. If you know to do good and don't do it, it is sin, right?

So express your doubts about Merie's leadership, and the unbiblical birth of Stanton. You can even question the veracity of this blog, as well, right here on these pages. I welcome it, because I know that truth doesn't need to be afraid of a lie. But for your own sake, question your teachers and evangelists with boldness, like the Bereans. Do it in a humble spirit of truth-seeking, but don't take the threat of withdrawal for murmuring as an answer. Get to the bottom of your questions. I dare you.

See also:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Should Christians be pacifists? Um, no.

30 comments:
Stanton's version of non-violent philosophy obviously has its roots in Merie's teachings. I remember the night the Stanton congregation discussed whether to fund the publication of Merie's book, Put Up Thy Sword, on this subject. The church's discussion (at least the one I remember; there may have been more) took place in the living room of Dawna Graham (now Bejar), my best friend's mom at the time.

I remember thinking at the time about the discrepancy between the church financing a book written by a fallible human while preaching and teaching against the scores of denominations built on teachings in books written by fallible humans. It seemed incongruous to me, but I wasn't at an age where I was able to voice disagreement with my parents. So in keeping with my Stanton training, I set this discrepancy aside, and figured I'd understand it later.

I read Merie's book in high school at my mom's suggestion. While growing up and grappling with the philosophy of violence and self defense, my immature mind came to accept the premises of pacifism. I didn't call it that—I just rationalized it as being Biblical. The Bible said not to kill and Jesus said to turn the other cheek, right? So I grew up believing I could not pursue a career as a police officer, join the military (although my dad had been in the Navy), or even defend myself or others using force (despite getting bullied by some gang-bangers in junior high from Stanton's infamous Crow Village).

Don't get me wrong—this nonviolent philosophy didn't deter me from supporting the Second Amendment. As an avid marksman, I even paid for a lifetime membership to the NRA as a high schooler out of my own paper route earnings, and enthusiastically read the "Armed Citizen" section of my American Rifleman magazine. But I lived in two different worlds, intellectually. I acknowledge the logic, rationality, and morality of self defense and the defense of the defenseles (for non-Christians, at least) but I believed that the handful of "true" Christians in the world couldn't use force to defend themselves or others.

This conflicted thinking continued into adulthood. I later came to realize the logical and scriptural errors in this thinking, and no longer believe it's Biblical at all. In fact, it runs counter to Biblical principles, "natural law," and common sense. I'll explain.

Thou shalt not kill

For everyone who's been indoctrinated by Stanton, I know you're saying "But what about the sixth command 'Thou shalt not kill?'" Well, let's look at that. That phrase is actually a misunderstanding of the archaic wording of the King James Version of the Bible. In King James' era, the English word "to kill" was used synonymously with the English word "to murder." So it's not fair to call it a "mistranslation," but it is certainly a misunderstanding due to our changing language.

In modern usage, our verb "to murder" means very specifically the illicit or immoral killing of a human being. We don't say "honey, will you murder that fly?" or "honey, can you murder a squash from the garden for dinner tonight?" We only use the word murder for humans, and it always includes a moral judgement. Murder is wrong, every time.

The verb "to kill," on the other hand, could be used for any kind of killing. It can be used for hunting, whether legal or illegal. Note that even illegal hunting (off season) or immoral killing of animals (gratuitous animal torture, for instance) are never, ever called murder. That is reserved for illegal or immoral killing of humans only. But the verb "to kill" can be used in reference to any life form. Bugs, animals, fish, jellyfish (which don't even have a brain), and plants; all these can be killed with or without any moral implication.

So what did the the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" really mean, then? If we look to the Hebrew, we find that in modern English, a more accurate translation is Do not murder." First, here's what Webster has to say about the English word "to kill:"
  • To kill - to deprive of life :  cause the death of
Remember, God has authorized us to eat meat, and of course plants. So if the commandment really is "Do not kill," this presents a dilemma. It would mean that the Old Testament is completely contradictory, giving the Israelites commands that were impossible and illogical to keep. For example, the same God who commanded the Jews not to "kill," acknowledged the difference between accidental deaths, premeditated murder, avenged deaths, and capital punishment.

That's why we have the word "murder:"
  • To murder - the crime of unlawfully killing a person, especially with malice aforethought
Guess which Hebrew word is used in the Decalogue's sixth commandment?
Here's a short but very informative Prager University video that explains the very important difference:


So that's the Old Testament treatment of the Sixth Command, but what about Jesus' supposedly pacifist teachings?

Was Jesus a pacifist?

Those who look up to the generally non-violent teachings of Jesus, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. might think the ideologies of these thinkers are contradictory to the idea of self-defense. But that's not accurate at all. All three of these leaders made a crucial distinction between non-violence as a tool of political and social reform, and defense of self or other humans against the violent actions of criminals.

One can make a moral defense of non-violent political reform, as all three of these leaders did. But there is no moral defense for refusing, given the opportunity, to stop a criminal who is about to kill, torture, or violate innocent human life. Allowing evil to happen when it's in our power to stop it is itself evil:
James 4:17 - Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Consequently, one could also infer that there is no moral defense for governments or religious sects that seek to make their citizens defenseless against those who would do violence to them. If we have the power to stop an evil act against an innocent person, I believe we are morally bound to attempt to stop it—by force, if necessary.

Are there moral exceptions? Perhaps. Just read Jesus Freaks for some examples of nonviolence used intentionally to advance the message of the gospel. In those rare instances of religious persecution, there is some moral and intellectual foundation for nonviolence. But keep in mind, this puts the subject back into the context of a social, religious, or political movement. Jesus never advocated violence to advance the gospel or reform society. He did advocate the defense of innocent life.

The teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, and King are too often portrayed to promote a radically non-violent ideology, or pacifism, when that was never what they taught. These great leaders instead rose to fame speaking about matters of political, social, and spiritual reform, not the pragmatic world of self-defense. Where they did address the use of force in self-defense, all three allowed for it. They did not prohibit self-defense; they encouraged it.

Jesus' application of nonviolence

To understand Jesus's teaching to "turn the other cheek," we have to understand that he was most often addressing the Sanhedrin and Pharisees, the hypocritical political and religious leaders of the day who lived by the creed "an eye for an eye." That is a far cry from what I advocate in defense of self defense.

Keep in mind that Jesus lived in a society that faced political turmoil. The Jewish people lived under the thumb of the Roman government, and they expected a coming Messiah to rise up in a violent overthrow (something the religious sect called the Zealots actively promoted). Jesus' teachings were designed to exemplify a different concept of the Kingdom of God, teaching his followers to view this Kingdom as a spiritual entity rather than a political one. The Jewish culture expected a political overthrow, and Jesus taught against that. But his teaching of nonviolence was an entirely different topic than that of self defense.

In fact, the subject of self defense went almost, but not completely untouched by Jesus. Pacifists will cite Jesus's famous reproof of Peter to "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). However, even this event occurred in the context of Jesus leading what amounts to a nonviolent protest against the leaders of the day who opposed his message. He was not giving any instruction against self-defense, but against violent political activism.

In fact, I don't believe for a moment that Jesus taught individuals not to defend themselves or their families against criminals. That would be morally reprehensible. How could a loving God desire a husband to let a criminal rape his wife while simply non-violently protesting the act, when it is within his power to stop it?

And expecting the victim of a rape to simply talk the perpetrator out of it? That's just wrong on so many levels. The Bible makes it clear that all violence is not equal; there is moral violence and immoral violence. For example, did you know that Jesus specifically instructed his disciples to sell some of their garments and buy a sword for their dangerous journey?
Luke 22:36-38 - He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors;' and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment." 38 The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That’s enough!" he replied.
This may be the first Biblical advocacy of open carry of a weapon, and it's from God himself. Paul writes about the dangers of his missionary travels, including encountering bands of robbers (2 Corinthians 11:26-28) on the road:
2 Corinthians 11:26-28 - I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Carrying their swords openly would have led to fewer conflicts with the baser sorts they might have encountered in their travels. I think it's safe to assume, given Jesus's instruction to his disciples to carry a sword, that Paul didn't turn the other cheek to the bandits, but wielded his sword when necessary. If he carried it in plain view, he probably didn't have to use it often.

What about Gandhi and MLK?

Gandhi's teachings on nonviolence are much easier to correlate with the practical idea of self-defense, because he openly taught that non-violence was a tool that should be considered first, but not exclusively. He addressed self-defense and defense of the defenseless this way:
"I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death may ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live for ever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully. ... 
"I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence, so-called. Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made, many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it was fraught with danger to one's life. As a teacher of nonviolence, I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief. 
"Self-defence ... is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation. Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right." (Source: The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi)
Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.'s espousal of non-violence was clearly promoted in the context of political and social reform, not personal self-defense or the defense of other defenseless people. In fact, it's a matter of historical record that King at one point applied for a concealed carry license, and almost always traveled with armed guards. Glenn Smiley, one of his closest advisors, described King's home as "an arsenal" for a reason. He once almost sat on a loaded gun on a chair at a meeting in his home. King wrote:
Here one must be clear that there are three different views on the subject of violence. One is the approach of pure nonviolence, which cannot readily or easily attract large masses, for it requires extraordinary discipline and courage. The second is violence exercised in self-defense, which all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept as moral and legal. The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi, who sanctioned it for those unable to master pure nonviolence. The third is the advocacy of violence as a tool of advancement, organized as in warfare, deliberately and consciously. There are incalculable perils in this approach. (Source: The Social Organization of Non-Violence)
Those "evil" guns

We hear most about the evils of violence when there is a mass shooting, not when an armed citizen defends herself from a rapist, or her family from an attacker. These things happen every day across America, and as a result, progressives and pacifists are able to promote a sanitized view of non-violence. Liberal theologians and left-wing politicians in ivory towers don't have to address the messy reality of a fallen world, which includes criminals who want to hurt you and your family.

The little-known truth is that civil rights era leaders like John Salter, the famous organizer of the 1963 sit-ins, travelled armed, and praised the Second Amendment for allowing him and his fellow organizers to protest and reform society while keeping some level of personal safety for themselves and their families. In fact, the oft-maligned NRA stood side-by-side with black civil rights leaders helping to ensure their legal right to arm themselves as protection against the violent KKK. But that fact is conveniently airbrushed out of the record by modern pundits.

Guns are therefore not just a quaint and nostalgic part of American culture; they have been central to its preservation of freedom, advancement of human rights, and ability to reform itself against injustices along the way. Our culture, and certainly Stanton's, are philosophically illiterate on the subjects of non-violence and gun ownership. It is one thing to sit in the Agora in our philosophers' robes and discuss the theory of pacifism detached from the need to actually put it into practice. It is quite another to sit in a crowded theater and watch innocent people, unarmed by the theater chain's policy against concealed carry, be murdered in cold blood.

The brand of non-violence that leaves the defenseless incapable of protecting innocent life is not at all what Jesus, Gandhi, or King advocated. That philosophy is a fabrication of politicians and misguided Christians and philosophers who can theorize all they want about life in their ivory towers without consequence. But the philosophy of non-violence was never meant by its most famous advocates to prohibit ownership of weapons, or to prohibit defending oneself or other innocents against evil people.

As for me, I will choose to protect my family today and worry about explaining it to the armchair philosophers tomorrow. Could there be eternal consequences? Yes, there could be eternal consequences for refusing to protect my family against aggressors just because I don't want to hurt the aggressor. That would be neither loving to my family nor just. At least my family will still be alive to have that debate.

To be clear, I would never take any satisfaction in taking a human life. It would be with great sadness if I was forced to do so, because each human life is of value to God and therefore to me. I'd much rather love that person and make a convert of them. But I've been given a responsibility to love the victim, as well. So could I pull the trigger if faced with the reality of my child or wife or even a stranger being in immediate physical danger? Absolutely. I wouldn't take joy in it, but I would sleep well at night knowing I was on the right side of God's moral law.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let's dispel the myth of the Lord's Treasury

106 comments:
One of the most divisive doctrines churches in the Stone/Campbell movement have come up with is the notion that the treasury—the money donated by church members—is somehow a sacred fund, or the "Lord's Treasury." This belief naturally creates an explosive cache of ammunition with which to shell "the enemy" over every difference of opinion on how to use those funds. Stanton is not the only group to fall into this error; it's also common in mainline and conservative factions of the churches of Christ.

Here are a few disputes that have created schisms among believers:
  • Can a church build kitchens and fellowship halls with the "Lord's money?"
  • Can churches support Christian colleges with the "Lord's money," individually, or not at all?
  • Can members hold bake sales and other fund raisers to supplement the "Lord's Treasury?"
  • Is it OK to take up a second collection of any sort for any purpose (like Sunday afternoon)?
  • Etc.
But the idea that the "treasury" (never once does the New Testament call it that, by the way) is a sacred fund is foreign to the scriptures. In fact, you may be shocked to learn that that nowhere does the New Testament teach us that we're even to give our money to the Lord in order for it to be redistributed according to all the rules various factions have laid out.

How many times have we all heard the phrase "We're now going to give back to the Lord a portion of what he's blessed us with?" Giving every week for all time is foreign to scripture, and was never said to be the Lord's money. Really, all of our money is the Lord's:
Psalm 24:1 - The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein...
Some will say the church can donate to any cause they want, as long as it's run through Biblical channels of authority (meaning elderswhoops, Stanton doesn't have any). Others say even that wouldn't allow supporting Bible colleges, orphanages, or other types of ministries with this "Lord's money."

The fact is, there is zero evidence that the New Testament church was ever intended to maintain a standing treasury, much less own property, build buildings, or regularly collect and disburse funds. I am not necessarily opposed to these practices, but let's just be honest—they are innovations. They are foreign to New Testament scripture, at the very least.

Part of the problem may be the misunderstanding that "the collection" referred to by Paul is the money, rather than the act of collecting it. It is a subtle difference, but one that has huge implications when we understand it properly.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 - Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (NKJV)
Note that he did not say "Now concerning the treasury of the saints...," which seems to take for granted that there will always be one. Instead, he's saying "Now concerning the gathering of funds for the saints...."

This is grammatically and contextually correct, and it makes it clear that Paul is simply giving instructions for dealing with a particular need. This silly misunderstanding has caused us to be too quick to seize these verses as a legal precedent for a standing "treasury" for the church.

But if these verses command a standing treasury, then what do we do with verse 3?
1 Corinthians 16:3 - And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
We'll be waiting a long time for Paul to show up in our congregations to bring our liberality to Jerusalem. Of course, that's absurd, but my point is this: Where do we get the idea that Galatian and Corinthian churches we're meant to keep donating to a standing fund after Paul picked up the benevolence for the Jerusalem brethren? Certainly not from the New Testament. That's our own interpretation added to what the scriptures actually say.

Now it's true that the apostles, in the days following Pentecost in Acts 2, created a common fund in Jerusalem:
Acts 4:32-37 - Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
But I would point out that there is no indication that the common fund was anything more than a means to accomplish the desired end of supplying the needs of saints who suddenly converted to a new faith on Pentecost while hundreds of miles away from their own homes. Needs were great, and the saints pitched in to help each other out. That's all there is to it.

When our country was formed, many were adamantly opposed to the creation of a standing army. They felt that it was just asking for trouble to place too much power in the hands of a military force that would not be needed very often. What does it do when there is no war? They had just shaken off one tyrannical ruler who used his army against his own people, and they did not want another one.

The same fears are applicable to the creation of a standing "church treasury." By having a common purse, the question naturally follows "How can we fund it?" and "How are we going to spend it?" Enter diverse opinions and doctrinal disputes, and voila, we have all of the fruitless debates we see today in some factions of Christendom.

Instead, we just need to realize that the church treasury is simply a fund created by and for a congregation to use in a way that they believe advances the cause of Christ. We may be as conservative or as "liberal" as we like in our own congregation, but we have no right to create our own laws and regulations governing the use of another congregation's money. We can offer our opinions. We can suggest the wisdom of one approach over another. But it is their money, entrusted to them by the Lord, donated for the purpose of funding their own congregation's work as they understand to be the wisest use.

In fact, when we properly understand the Christian faith and the liberty we have in Jesus Christ, we will understand that we are not confined by some convoluted legal framework of "command, example, and necessary inference." No, Jesus' love doesn't confine us, it liberates us to serve God and our fellow man creatively. We should be looking for new, different, and more effective ways to use the resources God gives us to serve God and serve people, not looking for ways to restrict ourselves and others.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How to disagree with people you love

62 comments:
Some commenters here wrote recently about disagreeing without being disagreeable. As a result, I thought it would be good to write about how to disagree with people you love. That should be everyone, right?

I've actually heard SCOC members mock the saying, "we can disagree without being disagreeable." To them, that's false unity, because disagreeing and remaining brothers in good standing are mutually contradictory. I'll attempt to show you why they are not—in fact brothers in disagreement is the only way we can ever be. That's because the basis of brotherhood is relationship, not shared opinions, and the basis for maintaining that relationship is love.

If you love someone as a brother, as a spouse, or as a son or daughter, of course you aren't guaranteed to agree with them on everything. But you love them anyway, and you tolerate a lot, because they're family. You have a pre-existing relationship with them.

But have you ever thought about the fact that we have a pre-existing relationship with our spiritual family, as well? Just as we aren't the deciders of who gets to be our biological, or even adopted brother or sister, we don't get to choose who gets to become our spiritual brother or sister. That decision is above our pay grade. Who is and isn't our brother isn't our decision. It's God's, and God's alone.

In fact, brotherhood is the key to unlocking the related and wildly misunderstood topic of "fellowship." Fellowship (the state of being "fellow" followers of Christ, or peers, or brothers) is not something that we establish ourselves, nor can we withdraw it. People talk of "withdrawing fellowship," but this is a misnomer. Our job is simply to live out the relationship God has placed us mutually into. Stanton is big on emphasizing that we don't join the church, God adds us to it. Exactly. And what God has added, we don't have the authority to subtract. But I digress.

In both our family and brotherly relationships, love sometimes requires us to overlook a disagreement or fault for the sake of the relationship. Other times, love might require us to express our disagreement. In both cases, the criteria for voicing our disagreement or letting it go is love.

This, my friends, is how to disagree with someone you love, particularly a brother in Christ. Disagreement is inevitable. In fact, it's impossible to be human and to agree on everything.

There are good reasons for that. The young have not yet learned all of life's lessons (does anyone ever learn them all?). We all start out with beliefs and theories about life, parenting, and God; then those theories get tested by experience and (hopefully) scripture. The old may have misunderstood some of their early lessons of life, or lived a large portion of their lives apart from God completely. Now they're playing catch-up, trying to make sense of life's lessons from the rear view mirror.

As a result, no two people can ever be in the same place spiritually at the same time. And that's OK. To pretend it's even possible, as Stanton does—that unanimous understanding of the Bible is absolute and required—is ludicrous on its face. That's not humanly possible, and this is evidenced by the fact that Stanton itself claims the Holy Spirit's guidance "into all truth," yet are constantly changing their "understanding" of that truth at their May meetings. If the Holy Spirit truly guided them into unanimity, pretended as it is, they wouldn't need May Week to make It happen. It would just happen automatically, like Paul when he obtained the gospel directly from Jesus Christ without conferring with the other apostles.

Romans 14-15:7

The scriptures that have had the greatest impact on me regarding disagreement between brothers come from Paul, particularly Romans 14 through 15:7. Read the whole passage, then I'll address some key points here. He writes:
Romans 14:1-4 - 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.
First, what's a disputable matter? Well, if we could agree on what's disputable, it wouldn't be in dispute, would it? Too many Christians like to limit this verse's damage to their worldview by adjusting what's a "disputable matter" and what's not. That's not a fair interpretation of this verse. Clearly, there is great latitude on differences of opinion between brothers. Paul's instruction is to accept our brother without quarreling about those opinions.

Now notice a few more important verses:
Romans 14:19 - Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Romans 14:22 - So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
This is a particularly powerful one:
Romans 15:1 - We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
We need to bear with, or be patient with the failings of the weak. That word failings is translated infirmities in KJV, which means an error arising from weakness of mind. This means our brother may be in error on something because they simply haven't come to understand that subject. Or vice versa. Yet we are to be patient with each other nonetheless.

What can this mean other than that some people are going to be at different places in their faith and understanding than others, and we all need to be OK with that. Can it mean anything else? The real question is what's our attitude and how do we act when we find ourselves in disagreement with our brother? Do we try to marginalize them and push them out of the church?

Paul gets even clearer at the end of this section of his letter:
Romans 15:7 - Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
We are to accept one another "just as Christ accepted" us, and this brings praise to God. Hmm. Let me ask you this: How did Christ accept you? Was it on the condition of a perfect understanding of the Bible, and all the ins and outs of doctrine? Did the Jews who were pricked in their hearts on the Day of Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2 have a deep knowledge of doctrine and the Christian faith?

I would suggest that we take this very seriously and think through the consequences of our answer. On the same basis Jesus accepted me, I need to accept my brother. If I was accepted into the body of Christ (not some denomination, church, sect, or cult) on the basis of the gospel and my obedience to it, that and that alone is the basis for me accepting my brother.

I would be remiss if I didn't address Stanton's go-to passage on unity, 1 Corinthians 1:10, when discussing differences of opinion. I discuss that more fully in the context of Stanton's false idea of church unanimity, but I'll briefly address it here:
1 Corinthians 1:10 - I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
The key to understanding this passage is (surprise) the rest of the passage:
1 Corinthians 1:11-17 - For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The people in Corinth had serious unity problems, meaning they were literally dividing the church up according to their favorite teacher, or who baptized them. Paul's letters don't contradict one another. He didn't tell the Roman church to chill about those different opinions and "judgments" and accept one another, only to insist that the Corinthian church be unanimous in all their opinions and judgments. No, being of the same mind is best undertstood as being of the same Christlike attitude, as he wrote to the Ephesian church:
Ephesians 4:1-3 - I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing [being patient with] one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This is perfectly in keeping with his instruction to Rome here:
Romans 15:5-6 - May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, while we're in the flesh, brothers will disagree. There's no other way we can be besides in disagreement over something. This is evidenced by the fact that Stanton's so-called agreement has to be forced at the threat of withdrawal for murmuring. The key to disagreeing with our brothers while remaining faithful is to seek truth, obey our conscience, and be loving and patient with our brothers whose consciences are different than ours.

These principles should be self-evident, because they can be understood from the Golden Rule. If I would like my brothers to be patient with my wrong opinions when I have them, then I'd better be patient and loving toward them with theirs. That's not so hard, is it?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How can a loving God send someone to hell?

6 comments:
The fierce wrath of God is used a lot by Stanton in their fear campaigns to recruit new members and keep them in line. This abuse of the fear of God, though, is not without cost. Former members and children of members are often left disenchanted with the God of the Bible. How could a loving God torture his own sons and daughters in this place we call hell? Their answer is usually either that there is no God, or if there is, he's certainly not loving.

This age-old objection to the Biblical God due to his supposedly harsh judgment of hell is not unique to those who have been impacted by Stanton's bad theology, unfortunately. Answers to this objection by believers have too often been clichéd and glib. But I think it's far better to acknowledge that this is a legitimate line of questioning for those struggling to understand the God of the Bible. We don't convince anyone in the relativist cultural soup of the 21st century by firing back with the same kind of harsh judgmentalism that they are recoiling from in the first place.

To be clear, tactics don't trump truth. I hold the Bible as the ultimate authority on the matter. But does that mean God is a harsh and unforgiving lawgiver and dictator? Does a Biblical view of hell mean I'm a fundamentalist hell-fire-breathing judgmental Christian? Absolutely not.

If a fiery place of eternal torture for a few momentary wrongs in this life is what God has ordained, then I have to go with that, whether I like it or not. But I'm not so sure that is what the Bible teaches. In fact, I'm pretty sure it isn't. Here are my thoughts at this point in my life. Take them or leave them. Feel free to agree or disagree, and comment if you have objections. I'm interested in hearing your views.

Is hell a physical place?

This is an important first question, and fortunately, it's easily answered. Hell is clearly not a physical place (gasp—is Kevin a liberal?). We can know that with certainty, because hell is called a fiery lake of burning sulfer in Revelation:
Revelation 21:8 - But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
But since a literal fire would emit literal light, and hell is also described as a place of darkness, we can reason that this is simply metaphorical language:
2 Peter 2:4 - For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;
Matthew 8:12 - But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If hell is not a physical place, that means it does not occupy space and time. Perhaps we could describe it as a spiritual "place," then. But what is that, really? Is that really just another metaphor? We honestly don't know. That's above our pay grade.

We have no way of defining or describing a spiritual "place" like heaven or hell other than by using materialistic words, which is like trying to describe an infite being like God in the language of finite humans. It can't be done, and it's why the Bible can be so easily misapplied and misunderstood when it comes to descriptions of the immaterial.

What's the purpose of hell?

If hell is not a physical place, then whatever it is, we have limited capacity to understand it. Perhaps if we can't understand the nature of it, we can at least come to understand its intent.

We've already agreed above that the "place" language is metaphorical, because a spiritual "thing" does not occupy space and time. But whatever hell is, I think we can also agree that its purpose is one of punishment:
Matthew 25:46 - Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Mark 9:43 - If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 
Now, before you atheists get all up in arms about the injustice of eternal "punishment," read on. There's more ground we have to cover, but I promise, I'll come back to that.

What is heaven?

It's impossible to define evil without a proper definition of good. Eastern philosophies developed the idea of yin/yang to explain this, although this concept falls extremely short of a truly moral view of good and evil. But that's another subject. For now, we just need to understand that the presence of good helps define its opposite, evil.

Scripturally, heaven is described metaphorically, just like hell. Are there really streets of gold, or pearly gates, or a city foursquare, or is that figurative language to say "it's breathtakingly awesome?" Will we really be singing literally around a literal throne for all eternity? I could get used to that, because I love to sing. To others, that sounds too much like a church service and they wouldn't find that enjoyable at all! More on the enjoyment factor later, but the point is that heaven and hell are both described in materialistic terms, because that is all we can understand in the material world we live in.

It's my understanding of scripture that heaven is simply being in the presence of God. It's not a place, just like hell is not a place. If God is as the Bible says, the very definition of love and all that is good—then living in the presence of that goodness for all eternity seems like a very attractive thing to me. If I were able to glimpse into that "place," I can only imagine what it would be like.



There are some verses that seem to equate heaven and God as a way of communicating the reality of an infinite God to the human mind, which has trouble comprehending anything other than finite material things.

Since the Jewish people maintained such reverence for the name YWH that they wouldn't speak his name out loud, other words were used in its place. The word "heaven" became one of many substitute words, or euphemisms, like Lord, or The Almighty. For this reason, these passages make sense:
Matthew 21:25 - the baptism of John...was it from heaven or from men? 
Matthew 23:22 - he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. 
Luke 15:21 - I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. 
John 3:27 - A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given to him from heaven.
The word heaven is used in place of God in these passages. Isn't being "in heaven" to be literally "in God" or "in the presence of God," then? Both of these are accurate.

So if "going to heaven" means "going to be in the presence of God," that puts a slightly different twist on things. But that slight difference makes all the difference.

If heaven is the presence of God, then hell is simply separation from God

This slight change in our understanding of heaven has major consequences for our understanding of hell. If heaven is the presence of God, then hell, it's opposite, must simply be separation from God. This fits perfectly with what Paul says:
2 Thessalonians 1:9 - They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
Just as the blessings of heaven are from being in the presence of the only source of ultimate goodness, the "punishment" of hell comes from the fact that we are cut off from that ultimate source of goodness. By being separated from God, we are separated from love, joy, peace, compassion, justice—everything good that we could possibly think of. Because goodness is God's nature. He is not just loving. He is love.

This separation from God and everything that is good is the best explanation of total darkness, or wailing and gnashing of teeth, or a lake of fire, that I can think of. But the important thing here is that the darkness and the torment is all of a person's own choosing. Why would a loving God force someone to live in his presence eternally after death if they didn't want anything to do with him in life?

So do people really "choose" hell?

How many of you ladies reading this have ever had a suitor who wanted a relationship with you, but you just weren't interested? He started by writing you notes, or bringing you flowers, or asking you out to coffee. Maybe he tried buying you tickets to an event to try to spend time with you, or gave you nice gifts.

You knew he wanted to get to know you, and he was certainly persistent and nice, but you just had other interests. So you start getting more and more clear in your rejection. When you see him coming in the distance, you walk away to avoid crossing paths. When you have even a casual opportunity to talk to him, you don't.

How would you like him to behave at this point? If he truly loves you, don't you think he should walk away and stop pestering you at some point? If he truly loves you, even if he had the power to force you to spend time with him—for eternity, no less—wouldn't it be unloving for him to do so? Even if he knows he could make you happy beyond your wildest dreams, if you aren't convinced of that, doesn't true love let you choose for yourself?

God wants a relationship with us, his creation. But he created us with that pesky little thing called free will. True love allows free will. God didn't make us little robots who have no choice but to love him. He wants us to love him because he's good. He wants a relationship because he knows that's the best thing for us, not because he's some narcissistic megalomaniac in the sky, as the New Atheist movement tries to suggest.

So how can a loving God send someone to a place of eternal torment? Think about it. Isn't it very consistent with a loving God to let people choose whether to reciprocate a relationship with him or not? I don't believe the "torment" is something God is positively doing to those separated from him. It's simply the natural consequences of choosing to live one's life away from the source of all goodness. Hell may just be the ultimate example of the wisdom in the saying to "be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it." Those who don't want a relationship with God in this life aren't going to suddenly want it when they die. God is just giving them what they wanted, what they chose.

God has made himself known to mankind through creation and revelation in order to draw us to him. We can look up at the vastness of the universe, and even a child knows they had to have been created by an intelligent mind. We have to force ourselves to unlearn that in order to accept the preposterous idea of a universe from nothing with no creator.

God even appeared to mankind throughout human history with messages to help guide them into a relationship with him. Angels, prophets, a chosen people to bring about Jesus. Through Jesus, God actually came to Earth to live as one of his own creation to make his case in the flesh. But instead, mankind killed him.

All of that, and so many still choose to reject him. The good thing for those who want a relationship with him is that he's a loving and good God. He'll take you back and meet you where you are. The bad thing for those who don't is also that he's a loving and good God. He won't force us to choose his goodness in heaven any more than he force us to choose it on Earth.

What about justice?

I don't know about the the God you were raised to believe in, or the one you have in your mind's eye when you think about hell, but the God I would trust with my life is the ultimate source of goodness and love. Without the morality that proceeds from his nature, we as humans would have no sense of right and wrong, let alone justice.

Who are we to charge God with injustice when it's his nature and morality that defines it? If we are all just molecules, there is no right or wrong, just preferences for you and preferences for me. Despite many attempts to ground an objective morality in something other than God, philosophers agree that it can't be done.

So whatever justice there is in this world or the next, we know that God has to be the source of it. For that reason, I wouldn't get too caught up in issues where you think God is one way, but it doesn't seem fair that he would do something else. The truth is, he can do anything he wants. Any "rules" you think he has, you understand imperfectly; besides, he can wave the penalty for them if he wants to, for whatever reason. Will he? And for the reasons we want him to? That's his call, not ours. There is very little we know about how God will judge mankind. But what we can know without a doubt is that he will judge justly and in love.

He won't force anyone to be in his presence for eternity if they didn't even want that in their short time on Earth. That would not be loving. He's also not going to send anyone who is truly innocent of wrongdoing away from his presence for all eternity. That would be unjust, and God cannot be unjust. So this is where some level of trust comes in that, whatever we don't know, God will right the injustices in the world. I do believe we can trust that with our lives.

I realize these points don't provide answers for all circumstances, and for some, these may not be entirely satisfactory answers. But if you've been wanting to explore a relationship with the God who created you, but have been turned off by misinformation about him so far, maybe this is enough to give him another try. I pray that it is!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The unwritten rules

83 comments:
I'm told that in an August 2002 meeting between Tacoma and Portland, it was admitted by leadership in a talk that the church has a separate set of unwritten rules outside the Bible. (If anyone has audio of this, I'd love to get a digital copy.)

I'm happy to hear that Stanton's unwritten rules may have been acknowledged publicly. Why no one has called them out over this horribly unbiblical practice in the 15 long years since it was acknowledge in 2002, I have no idea. I can only presume it has something to do with group-think, or the fear of withdrawal for murmuring, or other intimidation tactics that keep people quiet in the face of ludicrously unbiblical nonsense.

Unwritten rules? Really? Non-member classes used to routinely mock other sects for having their books of rules in addition to the Bible. Does not writing extra-Biblical rules down somehow make them more acceptable?

How is this practice in line with sola scriptura, i.e. scripture alone, which I thought we all agreed on in principle? How is this even in the same universe as the Stone/Campbell motto of speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it's silent? Spoiler alert: it's not.

It's way off base, totally unbiblical, and just more evidence of the distance Stanton has traveled away from the Bible. Not that it was terribly close when it started. But that's a different story.

Nevertheless, I will commend leadership for admitting to this practice of binding unwritten rules. Before you can fix a problem, you have to be honest enough to admit you have one.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

An open letter to SCOC preachers, teachers, and evangelists

27 comments:
Dear Stanton leadership,

Merie was a big fan of open letters to the leadership of the churches she disagreed with, so I have to assume that this is an acceptable way to communicate with you. Since I have the benefit of the Internet, I'll refrain from mailing copies to members' homes, as she did. (Wasn't that murmuring, by your definition?)


I have tried other ways to start a friendly dialogue, including an email in 2004, numerous offers to my mom to have anyone talk to me about the Bible, attempts to engage my sister in simple conversation about the Bible, even offering to have coffee with any church leaders who happen to be visiting here in the Boise area. The silence has been deafening. Obviously, silence has been your strategy so far.


Perhaps you mistakenly thought that if you ignored questions long enough, you wouldn't have to answer them; that the questions would just disappear quietly into the night, like the hundreds of members who have left over the years. That's clearly not working. Those ex-members from the past are resurfacing, and readership is growing here by leaps and bounds.


I don't credit the growing readership to anything great or clever that I've done. My mission was, and is, to just publish historical and Biblical truth about Stanton in a Christ-centered attitude of love and sincere scriptural inquiry. I didn't seek out an audience for the blog; the audience truly sought this blog out themselves and put it on the map.


Perhaps you distrust my intentions. I want to assure you that I have no desire to "play gotcha" as I've been accused of in a 2013 Labor Day talk. Yes, I do use some good natured satire and sarcasm on this blog for the purpose of making a point now and then, as others did in Biblical times. Please don't take it personally. I have always tried to make it abundantly clear that I hold no ill will toward Stanton membership or leadership, and am completely open to having friendly conversations about anything.


Those aren't empty words. I truly do try to practice what I preach about our Greatest Commands to love God and love people. I figure that if God loved you enough to die for you, then I ought to love you as well, and seek your best interest. That's good enough for me.


If you are not sure how this blog seeks your best interest, let me just say this: call me, and let's have a real conversation about it. You can call, text or email anytime to challenge my Biblical understandings, or even explain something that maybe I have wrong. I'm open to that. Convince me.


I'll definitely listen to what you have to say. Try me, and get to know me better so you can determine for yourself whether I'm to be trusted. I can assure you, you have nothing to fear; I'm just some guy with a blog.


I want you to know that any conversation I have with anyone—member, teacher, preacher, or evangelist—for any purpose, will be kept in complete confidence. Unless you agree for me to write about our conversation, it won't be discussed here on the blog. You won't wake up the next day to find a conversation you thought was in confidence poured out on the Internet for "gotcha" purposes. That's just not how I roll. Everyone on this blog, from anonymous commenters to leadership, needs to be able to trust that when I say confidential, I mean confidential.


I know there are teachers still in the group who read the blog, and either quietly question the church's stance along with me, or who want to defend it and explain it. It is in our nature to think, to question, to wonder, to examine, and sometimes to debate and defend. The latter is sometimes not productive, but sometimes it can be. Understandings can be formed, and relationships built, when there is friendly communication.


If you've been the least bit troubled by the lack of Biblical support for the church's teachings (doctrines, judgments, or whatever you want to call them), we should talk. Even if you are rock solid in your belief that Stanton is the One True Church, we should talk. What's to fear in having a conversation with me or anyone else who might challenge your view? Truth, after all, shouldn't be afraid of a lie.


I'm not writing this open letter to taunt or to grandstand, or to get a one-sided conversation with you. It really is the only way I know to communicate directly to you, and I really do want to listen to your point of view. If you are fearful of talking me, or want others to be fearful of talking to me, why is that? I sincerely want to know.


If you think I've erred, and need to be corrected, why don't you do the loving thing, and share with me where I've erred? Let's talk sincerely, long into the night if we need to, about the scriptures we both love and respect. I don't want to be in error, and I go to great lengths to keep my words and actions in line with scripture. So if you truly love my soul, help me understand the way of the Lord more perfectly. I truly love your soul, so come, let us reason together.


If you don't want to talk, that's fine. I understand that you have no obligation to speak to a lowly guy like me. But in this Internet age, the consequences of trying to control your own narrative about church history, doctrines, and practices, may not work out in your favor. Paul would have loved the Gutenberg press, let alone the Internet. Why not embrace the transparency the Internet provides as a tool of communication?


But if your response continues to be silence—to ignore honest questions—you can't blame anyone but yourselves for losing more members, much less failing to evangelize a lost world. Fifty years in existence and no elders, and there is not even one of your churches in every state? OK, I'm sorry—maybe that crosses the line into taunting. But it doesn't appear that you are fighting for truth, but hiding from it. And if you're not fighting, as I recall, that only leaves "dying" or "dead." Which is it?


In Christian Love,


--Kevin


P.s. - You might rightfully ask what I hope might come out of a conversation. The real answer is that I don't yet know. I just think the time may be right to have one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rules for relocation

18 comments:
It has come to our attention that members of Stanton mistakenly believe they are free to relocate their families anywhere they wish. This is simply not the case. God has ordained every member to be a part of the body where he sees fit, and he's clearly put us in charge of telling you where that is. Relocating because of a job, school opportunity, or worldly reason like raising your family in a better community is not allowed under any circumstance, unless it is your unbelieving spouse forcing it on you. This way, they take the blame with God for the unauthorized move, not you.

To avoid further confusion, we thought it best to publish an updated list of rules to guide members in relocation decisions. Frankly, you don't really need to read them; just ask us for counsel, and we'll tell you if it's OK to relocate. It probably isn't. But if you must know the rules, here they are.

Approved reasons to relocate

It is understood that in all cases, counsel must be sought for relocation and approval granted from a teacher. Keep in mind that not all teachers will give the same counsel, so we recommend asking around (carefully, to avoid being withdrawn from for murmuring) to find out which teacher is likely to approve your request.

Remember when you were a child and knew which parent to ask for different things? It's exactly like that. By all means, develop a close relationship with the most lenient teacher. Here are the most common types of relocation requests granted.
  • Non-member spouse is forcing the church member to move. There are no geographic limitations in this case.
  • Sick relative needs care. There are no geographic limitations, but counsel must be sought and approval granted.
  • Sickness due to climate. This is only acceptable if the member has been told by a medical professional that a different climate would help them feel better.
  • Specifically helping a congregation. This is arranged by the church.
  • Marriage of two Christians living in different congregations. In this case, one would be allowed to move if they seek counsel and permission is granted.
  • Courtship between two Christians living in different congregations. One may be allowed to move with permission from a teacher.
Unapproved reasons to relocate

This is only a small sample of the types of relocation requests that will be denied.
  • Better job transfer or opportunity.
  • Better schooling or training opportunity.
  • Better weather (when health can't be reasonably blamed).
  • Better location to raise a family.
  • Better proximity to family.
  • Desire to be in a smaller, larger, or better city.
  • Desire to be part of a better congregation, or under a better preacher or teacher.
  • Desire to be in a better congregation for your teens to find a mate.
In short, we've found that if your reason for the relocation includes the word "better," it's probably a worldly reason to move and will be denied.

For more rules, see also:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rules for prayer

90 comments:

Prayer is such an important topic, so it's important that we do it right. We would not want anyone talking to their creator as if he's their father, or anything gushy like that. We must always approach the throne of grace cautiously, with a great deal of formality, keeping in mind our own superstitions, cultural norms, and rules of men.
  1. Only pray for Stanton members. God has enough on his hands dealing with our little group, we shouldn't burden him with requests regarding non-members we don't even know personally. The only time you can pray for someone NOT in the Stanton Church of Christ is if it's for their salvation. This means you should not pray for your enemies (real Christians have a lot of them), nor should you pray for the health of sick or dying family members or co-workers. By no means should you offer to pray for the health of non-members in your workplace.
  2. Don't hold hands during a prayer. This could give way to lascivious, flirtatious, or other inappropriate behavior while everyone's eyes are closed. But mostly, it's just socially uncomfortable in Stanton Churches of Christ. We just don't do that.
  3. Don't lift up your hands in prayer. It's important not to lift up your hands in prayer (or worship—that would be wholly innappropriate). Stanton is definitley not a handraising church, since we should not want to do things that the denominational world does, even if they are Biblically sanctioned.
  4. You must say "in Jesus name, amen." At the end of each prayer, you must say "in Jesus name, amen" for it to be heard by God. This is the only proper formula, much like the Catholic Rosary or other prayer formulas. Do not say "in our Savior's name," "in the name of the Lord Jesus," "in your son's name," or any other variation, because your prayer won't be heard. It's true that Colossions 3:14 says to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus—like doing our jobs, camping with our families, or tucking our kids in at night—but of course we only apply this verse to prayer. It's just easier to make a formula out of it.
  5. Disrespect others' prayers. If someone is praying and they aren't part of the Stanton Church of Christ, you must do one or more of the following:

    a) Leave the room.
    b) Keep your eyes open.
    c) Don't bow your head.
    d) Say your own private prayer, making sure to keep your eyes closed until AFTER the sinner's prayer (no pun intended) is finished. This is the preferred option, in most cases.

    While there is some latitude in applying this rule, the most important thing is that you can't give anyone the impression that their prayer was heard by God. You alone must judge their standing before God and the acceptability of their prayer.

    Note: It's true that the person who said "we all know that God doesn't hear the prayers of a sinner" was speaking as an uninspired man to the Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus. But don't worry, "we all know" he was right, because it's self-evident.
  6. Only call on good rule-keepers to pray publicly. It's important not to call on someone to pray who is not properly adhering to the rules for attire or the other rules listed below. If you know someone is questioning even one church teaching to see if it's Biblical, it's important not to reward them by calling on them for public prayer. That, after all, is the purpose of public prayer—to show how holy the pray-er is, and to show the approval before men of the one calling on him.
For more rules, see also:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Did Moses write Genesis—and if so, how?

No comments:
Was Genesis written by Moses, or mashed up from unknown sources by unknown editors, as proponents of something called the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) would like us to believe? Maybe neither, as it turns out. There is an alternative hypothesis that makes a lot of sense and still allows for the divine caretaking of the history of mankind.

Could God have miraculously revealed to Moses direct knowledge of events and private conversations that he himself was not privy to in order to create the book of Genesis? Absolutely. But is that the most likely explanation? Probably not, in my opinion.

The Wiseman Hypothesis, sometimes called the Tablet Theory, provides a beautifully simple explanation of how Moses could have come into such detailed knowledge of events that happened long before his time. The basis for this persuasive theory is that in ancient Mesopotamia, it was a common practice for the patriarch of a family to record his family history on a tablet and sign it with his name at the end.

When you go through the Genesis record, there are actually many such "signatures" (called colophons, in the study of antiquities) that likely represent the end of one clay tablet source and the beginning of another. If you're like me, you've read them numerous times without even noticing them:
  • "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 2:4)
  • "This is the book of the generations of Adam" (Genesis 5:1)
  • "These are the generations of Noah" (Genesis 6:9)
  • "Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Genesis 10:1)
  • "These are the generations of Shem" (Genesis 11:10)
  • "Now these are the generations of Terah" (Genesis 11:27)
  • "Now these are the generations of Ishmael" (Genesis 25:12)
  • "And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son" (Genesis 25:19)
  • "Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom" (Genesis 36:1)
  • "And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir" (Genesis 36:9)
  • "These are the generations of Jacob" (Genesis 37:2)
If these colophons really do represent the end of one tablet and the beginning of another, then Moses was really doing with Genesis exactly what the compiler of 1 and 2 Chronicles, and 1 and 2 Kings did. He was taking existing source documents and compiling them, with divine guidance, into a single set of documents that could be passed down from scribe to scribe, generation to generation. What better history of mankind could we ask for, absent a YouTube video from God?

There is some disagreement about whether these colophons, or signatures, take place at the beginning or end of each source tablet. But the ancient Babylonian practice was to place them at the end, and that makes a lot of sense with the text. After the death of a patriarch, the next generation would close the tablet out in his father's name, and start a new one of his own.

It was a very practical way for families to pass down a heritage to their progeny. A heritage of information. This is the primary difference between animals and humans. We long for information. Data. Facts. History. Animals simply respond instinctively to what they feel.

Note that this theory is not an attempt to take God out of the process of Biblical authorship. After all, where did the first tablet come from, and who made sure these tablets were passed from one patriarch to the next? And of more interest, who recorded the history—the information—in Adam's tablet prior to his existence? Since we have record of the hand of God writing on tablets of stone in the story of the Ten Commandments, it's not far-fetched to think that God, the creator of languge itself (more on that later), handed Adam a clay tablet with the story of creation.

I've adopted three, going on four kids. Every one of them have varying amounts of yearning for knowledge of their biological parents. They want to know their story, including where they came from, and why they ended up in my family. As a young, and somewhat naive adoptive parent, I dismissed this craving for knowledge of their roots as "just" a psychological phenomenon that can easily be overcome by the love of the adoptive parent. But I've since realized that it runs far deeper than that. This yearning to understand our origins is something God put into our DNA, like animals that instinctively know where to breed.

I believe this instinct to want to know our beginnings is what the clichéd "God-shaped hole inside of all of us" is all about. Pascal (yes, the ground-breaking mathematician) wrote in his defense of theism:
"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself." 
Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)
As children, we want to know our origins, and we're more open to God. Then our self-will sets in, and it sinks in that if there's a God, we're under a higher authority. So our human nature sets out to rationalize and unlearn what we instinctively knew from a very young age; that we were created with a purpose by an all-powerful God who wants a relationship with us.

If we know what's good for us, we'll again seek that relationship with God Almighty, who defines himself as love personified. Only then will our craving for that instinctive knowledge of our origins even come close to being satisfied.
Psalm 107:9 - For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. 
John 4:13-14 - Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."