“Because He is risen, I don’t keep Easter” — plus a great chart contrasting Easter and Passover

Passover Lamb or Easter Bunny? Mr. Mike DeSimone has something worthwhile to say about that. (So does the Bible...)
Passover Lamb or Easter Bunny? Mr. Mike DeSimone has something worthwhile to say about that. (So does the Bible…)

It’s a busy day, today! As did the ancient, faithful Christian Polycrates, my family “observe(s) the day when the people put out the leaven.” With Passover last night and the Days of Unleavened Bread beginning tonight, we’ve got loose ends to tie up — really, final crumbs to throw out. And I can’t stay down here in my hovel typing on my blog while they are doing all the work upstairs. (Or, can I…)

Still, I do like to post something at this time of year — in particular, I like to mention why I, as a Christian, simply cannot keep Easter. So, I thought I would provide some reruns today in the event that some may not have seen them before.

The one post I’ve written on the topic that I like the most is “Because He is risen, I don’t keep Easter” — which was eventually cleaned up and turned into the Tomorrow’s World commentary, “Because He Is Risen, I Do Not Keep Easter.” It’s a rare example where I found the ability to be concise. 🙂

And the Tomorrow’s World website has a number of resources for anyone interested in why Christians should not keep Easter and why they should consider the biblical Holy Days, instead. (You’ll note that the statement presumes that Easter is not a biblical Holy Day. Not an accidental contrast there.)

Speaking (however parenthetically) of contrasts, the commentary published just today (I think) on the Tomorrow’s World website is excellent: “Easter or Passover” by Mr. Mike DeSimone. It includes a very good chart contrasting Easter and the Christian Passover that really nicely lays out points one should consider. I highly recommend it.

That’s all from me today. Those last stubborn crumbs await! For those who keep the biblical Holy Days, I pray that all of us have a meaningful and profitable Days of Unleavened Bread!

Does 1 Timothy 4:14 say that Timothy was given the gift of prophecy by the laying on of hands?

I’m been a bit bloggier this week than I have been for a while, and it’s been sort of a potpourri of different things. Talking about unbiblical calendar ideas on the 23rd (OK, that’s a little more than a week ago), then attacking New Scientist’s ad and the intellectual dishonesty of treating man, apart from God, as something remarkable and unremarkable depending on your whims (or marketing goals) on the 27th, ranting about how some of the most popular multiverse ideas destroy science on the 28th, adding a post about our delightful visit to beautiful, reclaimed Mt. Airy Forest in Cincinnati (now with a handful of pictures from my wife added) in the wee hours of the 29th, passing on a terrible but, sadly, very real tale of one journalist’s imprisonment and torture by Al Qaeda in Syria later the 29th, and, finally, a truly earth-shattering entry concerning the age-old conflict between those who say “pleaded” and those who say “pled” (I can already hear the music from Les Misérables starting: “Do you hear the people sing? Singing of ‘pleaded’ versus ‘pled.’ It is the music of a conflict that just won’t be put to bed…”).

Tonight, to clear my brain before I go to sleep, I thought I would post something quick about a verse I have seen continually misused by someone out there who seems to see it as some sort of validation of his imagined ordination to the office of Prophet.

1 Timothy 4:14 reads, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”

Question: Does anything in this passage say that the “gift” given to Timothy was the gift of prophecy?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: Nooooooooo.

Evidence 1: Just read the passage. The English is not confusing. The gift is not prophecy. The gift is given to him by prophecy. If I am given money by my grandma, that doesn’t mean my grandma is money, right? Again: Just read the passage. The plainest evidence against interpreting 1 Timothy 4:14 to mean that the gift is one of prophecy is, well, the actual text of 1 Timothy 4:14.

(If you think that the Greek says any different you are free to check. In fact, here is a link to the same verse in multiple translations, along with commentary entries who say the same thing I’m saying. There is literally not an iota of this verse that says Timothy was given the gift of prophecy. He was, rather, given a gift by prophecy, or prophecies were made that he was to be given a gift.)

Evidence 2: This isn’t the only place that this is mentioned. Look in the same book a little earlier: 1 Timothy 1:18-20, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

This, in the very same letter, matches the accurate, plain reading of 1 Timothy 4:14, that prophecies were made about him–that God may have guided prophets at the time to see that he was to be given an ordination, thus “the gift… which was given to you by prophecy…” — again, not the gift of prophecy.

Evidence 3: This is also a good parallel of how Paul, himself, was commissioned by God in his ordination by prophecy — that is, the prophecy of others about him. Barnabas, too. Acts 13:1-3, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers… As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, they laid hands on them, then they sent them away.”

Note the parallel: God (through His Holy Spirit in the prophets present) speaks and says that Saul and Barnabas are to be set apart for ministry and the ministers lay hands on Saul and Barnabas to ordain them. How perfect a parallel to what Paul says of Timothy! Nowhere does it say that the gift of prophecy was given to Paul and Barnabas. Rather, it was by prophecy that they were given the gifts of ordination for their ministerial calling and sent into their work.

I really can’t understand why 1 Timothy 4:14 would be understood any other way. I could see the mistake being made by not reading carefully, and I’ve certainly made similar mistakes, if not worse ones (actually, I am sure I have definitely made worse ones). But, really, after reading the verse again, one should realize, “Oh! That’s not what that says! I must have read it too fast.”

(For the record, in terms of Church literature the only, single reference I can find published where this verse is misinterpreted is by Mr. William Ellis in an old 1965 Good News, though it should be pointed out that even there Mr. Ellis was careful to explain that he did not mean “prophecy” in the sense that Mr. Armstrong meant when one is an actual Prophet, but merely “inspired speaking,” which is not unique to Prophets and their office, at all. Regardless, this is the only reference I can find in old Church literature where the verse is explained in this mistaken fashion. The article is otherwise excellent. I’ve made worse mistakes, even on the telecast, where I once referred to Hab. 2:6-7 as a prophecy about America. I’d count that as a worse mistake, so I’m willing to give Mr. Ellis some room. 🙂 )

Now, that said, I can understand why some would want to understand it differently. Some want to enhance their life story in such a way that they can read more into happenings than should be read, and such an inaccurate understanding of that verse would help. However, the cost to one’s integrity for “interpreting” the verse that way for one’s own purposes would be just too much. The first time it’s pointed out to others in a “See, this justifies me!” sort of way, chalk it up to a mistaken reading. But constantly offering it up again, and again, and again, and again? That isn’t doing one’s integrity much good.

Sorry, but to interpret 1 Timothy 4:14 to mean that Timothy was given the gift of prophecy is just mistaken. Say it once–in an article, blog post, or whatever–it can be written off as a mistake of haste. Say it over and over and over, then we have issues. And to persist in reading it that way, one will have to do battle with (1) the English and Greek languages, (2) the words of Paul elsewhere in the very same book that parallel the matter, and (3) the life of Paul and his own example that paralleled his comments to Timothy.

And our approach, as always, is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. In this case, actually, given how plainly the verse actually reads, we can simply say, “Let your sixth-grade English teacher interpret the verse.” It reads pretty plainly.

So, did Timothy have the gift of prophecy? Not just inspired speaking (which is part of the gifts relating to preaching and not unique to prophets, at all), but the gift of prophecy in the sense of receiving God’s revelations directly apart from Scripture, as Mr. Armstrong explained about those who hold the office of Prophet? I don’t see anywhere where the Bible says one way or the other. And even if I am missing some other passage (I am pretty tired right now), 1 Timothy 4:14 sure doesn’t say one way or the other. It says hands were laid on him and a gift was given to him by prophecy, not that a gift of prophecy was given to him. The gift of ordination and the charge to evangelize was given to Paul and Barnabas by prophecy, as well, in the same manner. It’s all pretty plain. In fact, it’s the plain truth!

So, if someone ever accosts you on the street and says, “Hey, dude — hands were laid on me to make me a Prophet, just like Timothy experienced in 1 Timothy 4:14!” You can say, “Hey, fellow dude (or dudette, I suppose), you clearly need to re-read that verse. I’d rather see actual prophetic fruits, instead, à la Matthew 7:16-20. And none of that ‘wax fruit’ stuff — I want to see the real deal.” (After that, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting. 🙂 )

Think you understand what a “week” is? Maybe you don’t! (Actually, yes you do…)

It's not that hard...
For those who can count to seven, finding the Sabbath is pretty easy…

Someone recently asked me a question that brought to mind a couple of thoughts about the structure and knowledge of the “week,” and I thought they might make for a nice blog post.

As one who has encountered a number of weird, private calendar ideas, I would say that one of the most novel is the idea that the week should restart or “reboot” with each month. For example: In one formulation, the first day of the month is always the first day of the week, the second day of the month is the second day of the week, etc. In such a formulation, the seventh-day “Sabbath” (I use “scare quotes” around the word Sabbath there because it would not really be the true seventh-day “Sabbath”) would always be the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of the month. In varying months, then, there would be variously eight or nine days from the beginning of the last Sabbath of one month (the 28th) to the beginning of the first Sabbath of the next (the 7th). That is, the seven-day cycle is broken at the end of each month, since there are variously 29 or 30 days in a month and each of those numbers is not divisible by 7.

In another formulation, the 1st day of the month is named the “weekly Sabbath” thus making the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th of each month “Sabbaths.” In this instance, there are variously zero or only one day between the last Sabbath of one month (the 29th) and the first Sabbath of the next month (the 1st).

Both of these, however, fail when compared to Scripture. There are a number of ways to demonstrate that, but two are quick-and-easy clinchers for me.

(1) The Sabbath command clearly defines a seven-day week, and not just because it calls the Sabbath the “seventh day” (Ex. 20:10). It also clearly says, “six days you shall labor” (Ex. 20:9), tying them to God’s own acts of creation (Ex. 20:11). You can’t work for exactly six days if there are 8, 7, 1, or even zero days between Sabbaths. God defines the Sabbath in the commandment very clearly, and it is not as particular days of the month, but as the seventh in a sequence of seven days.

(2) The example of the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ, Himself, demonstrates these “week” formulations to be false. He was crucified on a Wednesday Passover on the 14th of the first month of the year. This is impossible to reconcile with these “monthly reboot” ideas. Each of those other formulations would require Him to be sacrificed on the Sabbath, itself, or on a Friday, neither of which fits the “three days and three nights” requirement He set forth for His time in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).

Actually, on a second point, looking at Jesus’ own practice is also my favorite way of answering the “Has time been lost?” question concerning the seventh day – that is, the question some have about whether or not our seven-day week, today, still matches the seven days of Creation or whether some time over the last 6,000 years some mistake has been made, shifting it an unknown number of days and leaving the “true” seventh day a mystery.

There is no mystery. While it is possible to trace back a line of people from Creation to today who could ensure that knowledge of the correct seventh day of the week has been passed on accurately and faithfully to our own times, as far as I am concerned we don’t actually have to go back the full 6,000 years — we only have to go back 2,000 years to the life of Jesus Christ. And if anyone in the world knew when the Sabbath was, I’m pretty sure Jesus Christ did! After all, He created the week to begin with (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16). Plus, we know that Jesus Christ’s own obedience to God’s law, including His Sabbath-keeping, was perfect (1 Peter 2:21-22; Hebrews 4:15). And the record of the last 2,000 years is clear and well documented.

I’ve known some who consider themselves “Christian” who say that they would keep the Sabbath if they could only be sure that today’s “seventh day” of the week was the right one. When demonstrated that today’s “seventh day” is exactly the same as Jesus’ “seventh day,” though, they have always seemed to find new reasons not to keep the Sabbath. (Which seems all the more contradictory, to me, since the answer to their question is being rooted in the actions of the very Savior they claim to follow.) Sometimes our reasons are only our excuses, it seems.

We can be thankful that some things really are as simple as they seem — like counting to seven. 🙂

Sweden’s brats

I get some flack from time to time here on the Internet because I am not opposed to corporal punishment of children by their parents when done in a loving and appropriate manner.

(Aside: Yes, I know… Some of you who will come across this post believe that “loving, appropriate corporal punishment” is one big oxymoron, and my own reflections and observations on my own upbringing are a lie my heart whispers to me. Got it. Also, some of you who will come across this like to say “hitting children” instead of “spanking” because you think equivocation is a great way to win arguments without actually making your case. Got it. Thanks for playing.)

It’s a topic that I visit from time to time. Some related posts that come to mind (rather, that pop out of a textual search on my blog) would be…

It came to mind, this morning, when I read this Wall Street Journal piece: “Is Sweden Raising a Generation of Brats?” (article may be behind a pay wall or require registration, I am not sure).

In 1979 Sweden became the first country to make spanking children completely illegal on a national scale. Consequently, the current state of its “social experiment” is of interest to many–and, as I will try to make sure I mention, erroneous conclusions will surely be drawn by both sides of the issue (or by all three/four/five/etc. sides of the issue–in case I missed anyone). So what is going on with Sweden’s children?

Well, apparently if you ask Dr. David Eberhard, they are being turned into undisciplined tyrants who are increasingly running their families and the country. That seems to be the thrust of his book How Children Took Power, published last year.

Dr. Eberhard is a Swedish psychologist and father of six, and his book is apparently splitting the sentiment of Swedes down the middle. And, to be clear, he isn’t necessarily saying that spanking should be allowed again in Sweden; rather, he is arguing that the child-centric policy of the country is ruining children, families, and their society. As the WSJ reports:

“Dr. Eberhard says Sweden’s child-centric model has ‘gone too far’ and his book suggests the over-sensitivity to children and a reluctance to discipline has bred a nation of ouppfostrade, which loosely translates to ‘badly raised children.’ ‘All this kowtowing to the kids actually causes kids and society more harm than good,’ Dr. Eberhard said in an interview. He suggests the trend could contribute to higher anxiety levels or depression at a later stage in life for these children.”

He admits that his book is not based on particular scientific studies but, rather, on his own observations:

“Core to Dr. Eberhard’s argument is his observation of an increase in anxiety disorders and self-harming problems as Swedish children get older and find themselves ‘poorly equipped to deal with adult life,’ he says. Dr. Eberhard is head of the psychiatric ward at Danderyds Sjukhus, a hospital north of Stockholm.”

Again, to be clear, he says, “I’m not advocating going back to slapping (sic) kids,” lest anyone say I am trying to imply he does. Rather, he ties what he sees into a much larger modern, cultural package that has enthroned children at their own expense.

However, do I believe that the move Sweden made to ban loving, appropriate spanking under any circumstances is a symptom of the attitude that has caused the mess that Swedes are beginning to see? Yes, I do.

Could the good doctor be wrong? Certainly. One teacher outside of Stockholm is quoted by the WSJ as saying, “The kids of today, who are the children of parents who did not experience much discipline themselves, become very obstinate and self-centered,” but, you know, maybe she’s wrong, too. Some who point to what seems to be a deteriorating childhood culture in Sweden will want to fix on the ban on spanking as “the” cause, while others who believe permissiveness is a virtue and that restraints on childhood wants and passions in violations of their rights as, what Sweden calls, “competent individuals” (in contradiction to Proverbs’ statement that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”) will look for what silver linings they can point to, instead, and proclaim victory.

For me, it isn’t just one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism), but one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism) can serve as a telling symptom indicating the possible presence of much larger and more destructive issues (anti-children worldviews masquerading as pro-children worldviews).

The ramifications of some choices can take a lot of time to show themselves. Child-rearing philosophies? Sometimes multiple generations. And, whether they will be happy with the results in the end or not, multiple generations of Swedish citizens are apparently serving as the world’s lab rats concerning a minimal-discipline philosophy. Barely two generations in, the real results–the full results–are yet to be seen.

However, it should get our attention that in a nation which we have often identified as one of the ten tribes of Israel, possibly Naphthali, some are seeing a trend that is reminiscent of the prophecy of Isaiah 3:12, “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.” Regardless, another prophecy of Israel comes to mind, where God says of those who abandon His laws and way of life, “Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb” (Deut 28:18, ESV). When a nation completely abandons God as a guiding light and trusts in its own wisdom apart from Him (Prov. 3:7), its children are going to suffer.

The Joy of Romans 11:32

It doesn't end this way. Not even close.
It doesn’t end this way. Not even close.

My wife’s Bible study this morning led her to ask me a question, which led us into a discussion, which led me to Romans 11:32 —

“For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

I love that verse. The whole passage–really, chapters–leading up to Romans 11:32 are worthwhile, of course, but for me that verse is the kicker. It also lays a foundation for helping some who don’t understand into the truth of the Last Great Day and the Great White Throne Judgment.

I’ve often argued–both in person and on the telecast–that Paul’s statements  that “all Israel shall be saved” (v.26a) and the blindness of the Jews, about which he was expounding, makes no sense if this life is the only age of forgiveness. Even Jesus Christ’s own words point to a future age of forgiveness, though they are often missed in the glare of the implications of an unpardonable sin: “…it will not be forgiven him in this age, or in the age to come.” After all, his inclusion of the concept of no forgiveness for some in the age to come wouldn’t make as much sense if there were no forgiveness for anyone in the age to come.

But back to Romans 11:32… Paul’s comments about God’s willingness to allow spiritual blindness to remain in some cases and to overtake some so that, in the end, He can extend mercy in an even greater fashion is simply nonsensical without the concept of a general resurrection of the dead in which forgiveness will be made available. Really–think about it. If all we do is die and go to heaven or hell (which we don’t, thankfully! Watch this and read this!) regardless of what we have been allowed to understand in this age, then how in the world is it merciful for God to allow multiple generations to pass in ignorance of salvation–as Paul clear explains He does–when it means that will be condemned to an eternal hellfire for it? How is that an example of God “hav[ing] mercy on all”? Are the countless generation of Jews to whom Paul’s words have applied over the centuries simply not a part of the “all” Paul is talking about? Is God willing to doom the 1000 to eternal torture, without hope of escaping it, for the sake of the 1?

Or is His plan bigger than that? When He says through Paul that He has committed entire generations and peoples to disobedience, allowing them to continue in their unenlightened ignorance, for the sake of ultimately having mercy on all of them, does He mean it? I believe He means it. And the idea that they are dead forever without hope of living again and learning the truth crashes against the rock of the plain meaning of Romans 11:32.

Now, the mechanics of why things work out better this way, I won’t pretend to know for a certainty. I’m happy to plead “know in part” on this matter. 🙂 I could hypothesize and speculate to my heart’s content (and, frankly, I often do so on this particular matter), but I know that His ways are higher than I can imagine with my little pea brain, so I don’t blow a fuse when I realize that I may not know for sure.

Even Paul, who spoke, er, wrote the words of Romans 11:32 seems to have a sense of that. The words of his that immediately follow that verse seem, to me, to reflect his own comprehension that the beautiful truth of Romans 11:32 takes him to the edge of his understanding concerning the Planning God… a God whose understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5), and whose plans possess qualities of profound mercy and wondrous grandeur which seem to mutually excel each other:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

I can hardly think of a more glorious idea that would in any way be more worthy of such exclamations of wonder and praise than the all-encompassing Plan of God. Who can blame Paul for being so moved? Not me.

I know for most of the few of you out there who read this post, you already understand the beautiful truth we celebrate on the Last Great Day. But in the event there is anyone who comes across it who does not, you owe it to yourself to read the free booklet, Is This the ONLY Day of Salvation?

Click to read or request a copy
Click to read or request a copy

Christians and Heathen Prophecy

Heard someone’s perspective on this recently, and it seemed a good blog topic. Frankly, it’s been on my mind for a long time, so this is likely going to be a long one. You might want to get some coffee–I can’t guarantee it will be exciting enough to keep you awake…

Is it OK for Christians or Christian teachers to cite heathen prophecies–that is, to refer to them? Of course it is. There is nothing wrong with simply referring to them. We’ve done so in the Tomorrow’s World magazine, for instance, when Pope Francis I was elected. We mentioned the so-called St. Malarkey… (oops! sorry…) Malachy “prophecy” of the list of popes building up to the supposed final pope “Petrus Romanus.” The list, by the way, is surely fraudulent and is easily demonstrated to be a rather inaccurate “prophecy” likely motivated by Catholic politics (actually, the Wikipedia article on it is not bad; I personally think that Louis Moréri had it right), but it is still a curiosity and there is nothing wrong with mentioning it. Also, Mr. Meredith mentioned as 2012 arrived that, given the hoopla surrounding the date drummed up by ninnies and “spiritualists,” it would be interesting if demons took advantage of the year and the sentiment, though nothing on a grand scale happened at all (breathless commentary and predictions by non-prophets notwithstanding). And in the past, Mr. David Jon Hill authored an article for the Good News magazine about how some heathen, Catholic prophecies looked like deceitful perversions of the true prophecies of the Bible. (Some say he wrote two different articles, but on reading them it is clear that he did not. It is one article published twice with some “sprucing up” done to the later version to add contemporary news information.)

There is nothing wrong with simply referring to heathen prophecies, especially if it is to show them for the junk they are. Jeremiah exposed Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, just as Micaiah does to Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 18, both pointing out that lying spirits were at work in the false prophecies of their contemporaries. (I note here that they did not use the false prophecies for anything; they simply exposed them for what they were: lies.) We have no record of Peter, Paul, or the other apostles doing anything too similar in the New Testament–Paul quotes the “prophets” (poets) Aratus and Epimenides in his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17) and in his letter to Titus (Titus 1) but does not quote any real “prophecies”–but we can comfortably say, I believe, that if a false prophecy were being actively spread in their presence that needed to be addressed, they would have no problem addressing it.

But the context in which I heard about this question recently presented it as a straw man to attack. The problem isn’t simply referring to heathen prophecies in such manners. The problem is wallowing in them and seeking to obtain new prophetic information from them. The Bible makes God’s abhorrence of such activity plain and ties the use of heathen prophetic sources in that manner to false prophets misusing the name of God. I’ve heard many excuses from those addicted to divining new details about the future from heathen prophecy, and none of them pass muster. Let’s look at some, and I will mention the things we need to keep in mind among my responses.

Excuse: But sometimes the devil may inspire true prophecy! If we use the Bible to discern truth from error, perhaps we can learn new details about the future from what the devil may have inspired.

Answer: The devil loves excuses like that. But it doesn’t fit the Bible, and for multiple reasons.

For instance, in Acts 16, a demon-possessed slave girl keeps following Paul and Silas and proclaiming, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” We note that (1) the “spirit of divination” that possessed the girl may have been accurate sometimes, as her owners apparently made a very good profit from her “fortune-telling” (v.16), and (2) she was actually saying something true! Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God and they were proclaiming the way to salvation!

What was Paul’s reaction? After all, some would say that this girl’s comments added to their credibility.

But rather than allow it to go on and on, Paul couldn’t withhold himself any longer and he commanded the spirit to leave the girl, in the name of Jesus Christ. In essence, he said, “Shut up!”

True servants of God do not need the testimony of demons or demon-inspired prophecy. God’s word can stand on its own just fine.

Does it matter if heathen prophecy is true? Does that mean that it is OK to play with it and to try and sneak information out of it, past the devil’s nose? To build new knowledge on it? No, it simply does not. No one can read Deuteronomy 18 and come to any different conclusion:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

Can God be any clearer? The heathens have their soothsayers, diviners, etc. But the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.

If God Almighty has not appointed those heathen prophets, fortune tellers, diviners, etc. for us, then are we not in opposition to Him if we seek to pull knowledge and information about the future from their words? Even if we use God’s word to “filter” it, has He appointed that “information” for us to filter?

Frankly, that’s the same excuse many give for keeping the pagan practices of Christmas, Easter, etc. “Yes, they are from heathen sources, but we only use them in good ways and we discard the bad, based on God’s Word.” But what if God says it is all bad? What if He says that it isn’t appointed for you in the first place? Who do we think we are to say, “Well, God, don’t worry–I know what I’m doing…”?

Consider, too, Isaiah 8. Verse 19 is often quoted when it comes to identifying false teachers and false prophets, as well it should be:

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19)

In fact, several self-appointed (false) prophets over the years who have come from the Church of God tradition like to quote v.19 because they feel it backs them up (which technically, it can’t do; it can shoot down others, but, alone, it can’t validate them). “After all,” perhaps they surmise, “I keep the Sabbath! I keep the Holy Days! I love the commandments! Isaiah 8:19 doesn’t apply to me!”

Ah, not so fast. Isaiah 8:19 does not exist in a vacuum. It is, actually, the climactic statement of a paragraph that gives it context. If the false prophets Isaiah was writing about were failing to keep to the law and were contradicting the testimony, where were they failing? If they were not speaking “according to this word,” what mistake were they making? The verses immediately before give the answer! Look at it again, but look at the preceding verse, not just v.19:

“And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:18-19)

So clear! Someone who tells you to consider what a heathen prophet is saying, because the devil may have inspired something in them that could be true–or because we can use the Bible to “decode” the heathen prophecy to our benefit–so that we can glean new, potential details about the future is, essentially, saying, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter…”

“Hey, look at what Dead St. So-and-So said about the future! And look, here, at what Nostradummy divined! Since we know the truth in God’s Word, we can avoid the devil’s traps and maybe learn some details about his plan for the future!” Wrong, but thanks for playing… Isaiah 8:18 says that a “prophet” who wallows in such mire is to be avoided (again, the words of Dead St. So-and-So and Nostradummy “are not appointed for us,” God says — Deut. 18:14.) How ironic that some out there addicted to divining new information from heathen prophecies will quote Isaiah 8:19 when their violation of v.18 shows that v.19 actually condemns them.

In fact, the very idea that we should somehow “mix” holy, biblical prophecy with the heathen prophecies of pagans and apostates in an effort to divine new details about the future beyond what God’s Word reveals should be nauseating to us. Paul said very clearly, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16). What communion, indeed! The idea that Christians–let alone anyone claiming to bear Christ’s standard as a “leader” of Christians–would make a common practice to mingle the unclean and the clean, the prophecies of Christ and of Belial, in an effort to somehow divine additional knowledge and extra-biblical details of future events is simply vomitous. Paul’s command in that passage is quite the opposite and is very clear: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

Be separate! Come out! Do not touch what is unclean! Hardly the same as, “Well, go ahead and dive deeply into the devil’s prophecies looking for new details about the future, as long as you use the Bible to, you know, sort it all out and stuff.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I’m spending a lot on this excuse, but let me make a personal observation based on a woman I spoke with once. She was a woman who had been very deep in the occult and demonism. She was seeking to get out of those things, but old friends of hers were often trying to get her back into them. Once, she said, some of her friends mentioned a book they had gotten that explained people could supposedly capture a demon and trap him in your basement so that you could use him for your purposes but he would be unable to harm you if you stayed out of the basement. Her response, based on her experiences, was instructive. She saw through the foolishness of her friends’ claims, and said, “That’s the thing with the devil. He tricks you into thinking you have him and you can safely use him. But it’s always the other way around: he has you.”

Those who think that, armed with their Bibles, they can wade into the prophecies of heathens to glean new possible details about the future have fallen into the devil’s trap. Deuteronomy 18 and other passages make it clear that God does not give us permission to use His Word to help us divine new, extra-biblical details about prophecy from the realm of the devil, and we are spiritual morons if we think that God is bound to honor our actions and bless our understanding if we seek to do so.

Enough of that one — let’s look at a different excuse…

Excuse: But the Apostle Paul used the writings of heathens to relate to heathen cultures. Shouldn’t we strive to be “all things to all people”?

Answer: Yes, it’s a great idea to strive to be “all things to all people,” but it is not an excuse to sinfully wallow in heathen prophecies seeking to divine extra-biblical insights into the future, which Paul never, ever did.

Why in the world would someone think Paul dabbled in interpreting heathen prophecy to divine details about the future?

It is certainly true that Paul sought to approach his listeners from their point of view. In my opinion, from what we have recorded, he was a master. We see him arguing in the synagogue with the Jews from the Scriptures in Acts 13. And we see him in the Areopagus arguing with the gentiles from reason and logic in Acts 17, even though his goal was a biblical one (to help them realize that God disapproves of idolatry).

To that end, at the Areopagus he apparently quotes a couple of heathen poets: Epimenides and Aratus. Here is the passage in Acts 17:26-28:

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)
Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)

The statement “For we are also His offspring” from one of “[their] own poets” seems to come from Aratus, who wrote in his Phaenomena:

“Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

While it is possible that it may be a poet other than Aratus, by Paul’s own words it is some heathen poet.

Also, Paul says “some of your own poets,” indicating that he may have been referring to the comments of more than one. And, in fact, the statement he makes right before that, “for in Him we live and move and have our being,” does match precisely to a pagan poet–indeed, a specific paragraph (“stanza” for sticklers) of a pagan poem–we know from a different part of Scripture Paul was familiar with: Epimenides. Here is the paragraph from Epimenides’ Cretica:

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.

Epimenides of Crete
Epimenides of Crete

Not only does the last line (in a passage also about Zeus) match Paul’s own words, but the additional line I placed in bold, about Cretans, will be familiar to those who remember Paul’s words to Titus: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons'” (Titus 1:12).

So, Paul did, indeed, use turns of phrase from the culture of the Greeks in his efforts to preach the truth to them. When Paul said that he strove to “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22), he wasn’t kidding.

But to conflate Paul’s wise and effective approach with consorting with the devil’s prophecies and seeking to divine new prophetic details from them is to abuse both the man and the Scriptures–and for several reasons.

Here’s one (and not even the biggest): As one writer I read many years ago noted, it is foolish to take these statements as evidence that Paul studiously poured over the writings of the heathens to put these statements together. These statements were very possibly (even probably) very commonly known and recognized statements of the day. Not only is this idea bolstered by the observation that both of Paul’s quotes come from the very same paragraph of Epimenides, but it is also bolstered by common sense. (Admittedly, common sense is in short supply today, but still…) How many of us can quote, “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” or “Et tu, Brute?” without being even half-way diligent students of Shakespeare? How many of us talk about the (admittedly disputed) Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” without having studied Chinese culture? How many know the proverb, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” without having gotten a Masters Degree in Klingon culture?

It makes sense that Paul was not using some obscure poems and uncommon texts to appeal to the crowd but, rather, was using statements that would have been commonly heard at the time–all the better to warm the crowd to his message, by using turns of phrase that were common knowledge with which they were all familiar. No diligent study of Greek poetry (let alone prophecy) necessary at all.

But that isn’t even the most important point. Even more damaging to the excuse is the fact that these couple of quotes are FAR from examples of Paul using pagan prophecy to divine additional details about the future. They are not even close. As we’ve already highlighted, such attempts at divination would be forbidden by God, and Paul clearly does nothing of the sort. To try and dissect heathen prophecies–human-inspired at best and demon-inspired at worst–to discover new, extra-biblical details about the Two Witnesses, or the Beast Power, or the final Antichrist, etc. and then to point to Paul’s quotes of Epimenides and Aratus as supposed “examples” is a hideous perversion of what Paul actually did and an insult to the Apostle.

Rather, what would be the real equivalent of Paul’s quotes from these men? Easy enough! I’ve heard some in the Church quote from the famous and well-known poem (or “proem” as it may be, since some tellings do not rhyme), “Footprints in the Sand” (or just “Footprints”). C’mon–you know you know it! A person is walking with Christ along the beach, symbolizing his walking with Christ, and at times there is only one set of footprints instead of two, etc. It’s a moving depiction, commonly known in our culture, and easily accessible to those in our culture. Using that poem to help explain the comfort Christ provides in difficult times would be an example of what Paul did. Also, using a choice quote about God or manhood from C. S. Lewis in a sermon might be an example–taking advantage of a good turn of phrase that would carry weight in the culture, but without endorsing everything the man said or wrote. Mr. Armstrong’s quoting Huxley on occasion would be an example.

Here’s an example from Jerome, a Catholic “luminary,” I could quote: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” And it’s true! Such a turn of phrase could be helpful to reaching some Catholics, perhaps. No problem.

But what all of these, along with Paul’s quotes, have in common is that they are not what the perverse purveyor of pagan prophecies claims is “OK” in the name of being all things to all people: Attempting to divine additional, extra-biblical details about the future from heathen, ungodly prophecies.

To one who says that we should be able to dip ourselves into the muck of heathen, potentially devilish prophecies to hunt around for new insights into how the future might unfold and who point to Paul’s couple of quotes as supposed “examples,” I would ask: “Please show me where Paul has done as you do by delving in great depth into obscure and generally arcane heathen prophecies to divine additional potential details about future prophetic fulfillment in contradiction to God’s Word?” There can only be two possible responses to such a question: silence or lies.

So, the excuse maker would be 0 for 2! Let’s consider another excuse one might give…

Excuse: Well, the Church of God has derived new prophetic details from heathen prophecies before! Look at David Jon Hill!

Answer: Actually, no, the Church of God has not. If you think that you are either self-deceived or being deceitful…

Don’t take my word for it. Read Mr. David Jon Hill’s 1961 Good News article for yourself. Click here for a PDF copy of the original article. It is a good read, and it’s point is a good one: There are some heathen prophecies out there that look as though they are perversions of true, biblical prophecy — painting the conquering Messiah as the Antichrist. (Many people have noted the same thing about “aliens from space” movies, like “Independence Day.”) It’s a great article! It was reprinted later in a 1964 Good News with an updated introduction.

However, that article is not only a rarity (one article and one updated reprint in more than half-a-century’s worth of articles), it is also not at all what some are doing with heathen prophecy. That is, it is not an attempt to divine a host of new prophetic details from extra-biblical prophecies. Notice what is actually done in the article… It never divines “new” prophetic details about the future from the heathen sources. Mr. Hill is consistent: He establishes what will happen from the Scripture and biblical prophecy, and then only uses the heathen sources (mostly Hippolytus) to show how those things can be twisted to deceive. He never uses Catholic “prophecies” to determine a menagerie “new possibilities” about the future, sticking only to God’s Word for such things.

The idea of swimming in one heathen prophecy after another like a rat in a sewer is simply not a practice seen in the publications of the Church of God over the better part of the last century and certainly not in the Bible. About such an obsession, some may wish to argue that their perverse fascination should be acceptable, but we can use the words of the Apostle Paul: “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).

And we don’t. Again, we’ve referred to heathen prophecies (ancient frauds like the Malarkey…(there I go again!)…the Malachy “Prophecy” and modern frauds like the non-Mayan non-pocalypse), and there’s nothing wrong with pointing them out as curiosities, as frauds, as hoaxes, as counterfeits, etc. But seeking to derive new prophetic knowledge from them? Determining that one of the Two Witnesses will like wearing dark suits or the name of his hometown or whether he will be thin of fat? Sorry — that’s divination. And God is clear: It isn’t appointed for us.

One last excuse comes to mind, for now…

Excuse: Paul says that we shouldn’t be ignorant of the devil’s devices! By exploring all of these pagan prophecies, we can come to understand his plan better–in fact, we’re actually obeying Paul’s command by doing so.

Answer: Wow. That is just… Wow. The devil must be giddy that you actually think that. Is that really what Paul is telling us to do? Let’s look at that…

First, instead of just grabbing a convenient verse and paraphrasing it in the way we believe it will suit us best, let’s read the actual verse in its context:

“Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:10-11).

Taking this statement and turning it into an endorsement of using pagan prophecies for delving into future events is vastly more than a simple “stretch”–it does violence to Paul’s words and pridefully turns them into license for sin. (We’ve already established: God says that those diviners, soothsayers, fortune-tellers are not appointed for us, remember?)

Yes, we are aware of his devices, and lies are definitely among his devices, including lying prophecies. But does that mean that we should give ourselves license to ignore God’s Word, delve into the arcane details of heathen prophecies, and try to divine additional details about the future? Who would be so insane as to suggest that this is what Paul meant?

For instance, among Satan’s devices is to pull us away into sexual lust. Must we study and explore all the perverted means by which Satan does that? Every enticement, every perversion, every–whatever? Or is it simply necessary to know the truth about godly sexuality and to ensure we are fortified in what God’s Word has to say about it? Isn’t that sufficient? As in recognizing counterfeits, isn’t the key to know the truth thoroughly and not to memorize every possible counterfeit? (Hmmm… I’ve seen a telecast that talks about that…)

In fact–and I will try to talk more about this when I wrap up this post–other than the fact that it is sin to wallow in the mire of diviners and soothsayers, one of the strongest reasons why we should not try to filter details out about the future from the devil’s prophecies is precisely because we know his devices! Let me explain…

The devil is a liar. He is the father of lies. Jesus describes lying as an essential part of the devil’s very nature, saying that “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44-47). However, that does not mean that he is unwilling to use the truth. In fact, a great quote comes to mind: “The devil will tell a thousand truths to sell one lie.”

I’m not disputing the idea that the devil’s prophecy contains both truth and lies. The devil is unimaginably skilled at using truths in the service of lies. Of course there will be elements of truth in his lying prophecies. Those things that contradict Scripture will, of course, be lies. But those things that do not contradict Scripture aren’t necessarily truths, either. All of it is part of the spider’s web. And those who are not ignorant of his devices will avoid the web altogether. They will not fall for the lie that the fly can decide which parts of the web are safe and which parts of the web trigger the spider. They don’t believe, in pride and vanity, that they can tease the relevant truths out of the lies and not be tainted and caught in the trap.

That is the path of fools–those who claim to know the devil’s devices but clearly do not truly understand them. Such fools think they can use the devil for their own purposes, even press him into service for God. But the young woman I talked to is right: You think you have him, but he has you.

God’s advice is universally the opposite in Scripture: Put distance between you and the devil. Don’t dance with him, thinking that you are leading. Don’t play games with him, thinking that you are winning. Don’t linger in contact with him, thinking that you remain clean. Those who think they can do otherwise are flies in the web, and by telling those around them, “See, look at what I found!” all they do is get those who pay them any mind entangled in the devil’s web with them.

Yes, Christ gives us victory over Satan and his demons. Yes, there are times when demons must be confronted, just as Christ did. But the purpose for confrontation is to cast out–“out,” as in “away.” We never say, “Demon, be gone! But, you know, not too gone… Hang around a little so that I can squeeze a few facts out of you at my own discretion, OK buddy?” We just cast them out.

The devil wants us to do otherwise. He wants us to see some of what he has done, or some of what he inspires within the latitude God allows him, as useful to us in some way. That way, rather than cast it completely aside, we will hold on to it a bit. “Sure it’s the devil’s, but it can be made useful if we’re careful, right?” No. Not right.

Jesus said that Satan had “nothing in him” (John 14:30). When the devil offered Him a shortcut to world rulership, Jesus shut Him down and wouldn’t touch his offer for a moment (Luke 4:5-8). He didn’t strike a bargain. He didn’t use the devil for anything. He lived uncorrupted by the ruler of this world, and He died uncorrupted by Him. It is His example we are to follow.

We don’t dive into the prophecies and visions of heathens and pagans in order to try to divine the devil’s plan. We avoid getting caught up in such things and binding ourselves to them because we are already aware of his devices. And we know that such foolishness is exactly what he would want us to do.

Really, think about it… Imagine you have your Bible open on your study desk as well as a book of Catholic, Buddhist, New Age, [fill in the blank] visions, divinations, and prophecies, while you try to use God’s Word to help you tease out some true tidbits and details about the future in addition to what God’s Word reveals. Which do you think is likely true…

(A) Satan the Devil is watching you figure things out and is cowering and trembling in a corner, saying, “Oh no! Oh NO! He’s going to figure out parts of my plan! Oh whatever shall I DO?!?!” Or…

(B) Satan the Devil is watching you as a big grin starts to form on his face?

I’m sorry, but to me the answer is obvious.

But apparently it isn’t to others.

It is easy to imagine someone who has delved very deeply into the prophecies of heathens, far beyond the boundaries of what God would ever allow–perhaps, caring more about the private prophecies of Catholics than even Catholics do. I could easily imagine such a one. I can imagine him beginning to see himself in those “prophecies”–with the obscure word here and the pleasant coincidence there combining with the prideful self-esteem he already held toward himself, but enhancing it… strengthening it. Next thing he knows, he is looking for other passages that could confirm his suspicion that he is a Prophet–even one of the Two Witnesses. “I’ll use the Douay translation there–I like the way it spells that word more like my own last name… That literal description fits me there!… That description there doesn’t, hmmm… BUT, it could be speaking symbolically instead of literally, so it actually could fit me!…” He doesn’t actually think those words, of course, but those are the whispers of his Jeremiah 17:9 heart. The crazy dance would go on, with him and the devil. As time goes on, he would believe that he is using God’s truth to whittle away the lies and reduce the devil’s prophecies down to useful, precious, additional little understandings and details, but–in actuality–like someone wading through the muck of the sewers looking for some morsels of undigested food, he would find that some efforts aren’t worth the price you pay. As Paul warns us, little leaven leavens the whole lump, and the corruption would spread. Thinking he could use the Bible to help him sort the truth from the lie in the devil’s prophecies, it would work the other way around, and the corrupt touch of the devil’s prophecies would begin to infect his own understanding of the Bible. In time, it would be almost impossible for him to see anything clearly anymore.

You think you have him. But he has you.

Very easy to imagine… Thankfully, if I were ever to get delusions of grandeur and think I were one of the Two Witnesses (haven’t yet, by the way!), my wife would be quick to pitch in and douse the flames of my insanity. “Don’t get the big head,” she would say. “I’ve seen you in your underwear.” Yes, she actually does say that sometimes, and we laugh when she does, but it always does the trick! 🙂 [French essayist Michel de Montaigne also had a quote that helps put in perspective those who think they are high and mighty, but it is a bit crude to write in a post in a family blog.]

But not everyone has a wife kind enough to put him in his place when needed and remind him that, “No, the Bible is not actually talking about you. And, no, those Catholic / Buddhist / Alien / Whatever prophecies aren’t talking about you–put them down, leave them alone, and back away.” And, admittedly, if I were so inclined to delusions of grandeur, it might be that nothing she said could keep me from such lies. We all have free will. The devil, aided by our personal ambitions and our Jeremiah 17:9 hearts, can do a lot of damage to us if we choose to let him. And, sadly, some do.

I’ve gotten off track a good bit. Suffice it to say: We avoid the trap of trying to decipher the prophecies of heathens to entice new prophetic truths out of them because we are not ignorant of the devil’s devices, not because we need to indulge in them to discover his devices. That is simply not sane. At the very least, it isn’t biblical.

Frankly, the idea that we must gluttonously feed on the prophecies of deceived heathens in addition to the Bible in order to fight the devil more effectively sounds very devilish, indeed. I won’t fall for that. Will you? Are you ignorant of his devices?

In summary:

Anyone who engorges himself in a multitude of the prophecies of those deceived by the devil in order to discern new tidbits of prophetic understanding is violating Scripture, disqualifying himself according to Isaiah 8:18-19, corrupting his understanding, and falling for the devil’s tactics while deluding himself that he is somehow uncovering them. Self-delusion is almost certain to follow. Those who so engorge themselves are not working to be all things to all men. They are working to be of no use to anyone but the devil. Saying that, “Well, the end times are here, so we now need to do these things,” is a lie. God’s commands don’t change.

Yes, the Church of God has noted from time to rare time that there are such “prophecies” out there. It has noted them as curiosities. It has shown them as false and deceptive. It has noted that the devil has counterfeited the truth in some of them. And it has spent far more of its time on other things. It has not made a habit of wallowing in such “prophecies” and in the words and writings of heathen seers and deceived mystics in a satanic effort to divine numerous additional details about the future from such sources, in defiance of the commands of God Almighty in His Word. It has not returned like a dog to its vomit or a washed sow to its mire, after escaping such pollutions through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22). Who in the world would wish to set aside the mercy of God in order to do such a thing?

God says plainly and simply that such things are not appointed for us (Deut. 18:14). And if God has not appointed them for us, then who has?

No, wallowing in the prophecies of the heathen to discern new prophetic possibilities is not for Christians. May God have mercy on those who give themselves over to doing so. It is a mercy they will surely and sorely need.

Zombie ministers: How some abuse the dead

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite pictures of Mr. Herbert Armstrong.
One day some folks are going to have to answer to Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Ogwyn, Mr. McNair, and others for what they have done with their good names since their deaths.

There is a tendency out there amongst some that I find very frustrating, but I’m learning to be more balanced about it. It’s the tendency of those who wish to go their own way in the COGiverse to abuse the dead in their own cause.

Energetic, unstoppable zombies have become all the rage in movies and literature these days, but the classic zombie was supposed to be something quite different: The body of someone who had died but which is reanimated by a practitioner of some “dark arts” to serve as a sort of lumbering, mindless slave to support the dark one’s evil purposes. The convenient dictionary.com entry on zombie reads: “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.”

That is what some have done to well-respected ministers now that they have died. There is a good number of them. Mr. John Ogwyn is one. I saw someone a few weeks ago try to recruit him from the dead to support their own ideas. Mr. Carl McNair is another. I know of some who regularly use old video sermons from those men to create their own “church”—installing them as “virtual ministers”—something that those men, were they alive, would find appalling and would never condone.

And like the perfect zombie, these “virtual ministers” do nothing but their animator’s bidding. In the videos chosen, they “preach” only the messages that their “congregants” want to hear, never having the opportunity to consider, identify, and address their hearers’ actual needs.

Having been blessed with the humbling task of pastoring churches for a while, now, I can say that such a circumstance s a farce. As a pastor, you don’t just preach on topics, you preach to people. You seek to know your flock (cf. Prov. 27:23) and to serve them—and specifically them—with your messages, as best you can. Some who hear me give the same sermon in different locations tell me that the message often differs from place to place, and I do pray that God is willing to vary my messages according to who is hearing it and according to their needs. Even DVDs from our Headquarters are given by men who know the state of the Church and their sermons are given with that awareness in mind. Yet these good men I mentioned above are pressed in this way after their deaths into service by a “congregation” they have never truly known and into circumstances they cannot adapt to. What they would really say to those sitting in front of their DVD players or listening to their CDs is withheld, awaiting a day when they truly will see life again, and when they will be made aware of what was done in their name and how their credibility was stolen to lend credence to the choices of those with whom they would very likely greatly and passionately disagree.

But of all the ministers in the modern era of the Church who have died before us and whose names are misused and abused without their permission, none in the Church of God is so abused as is Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.

How many are there in this world who use Mr. Armstrong’s name to support their own personal causes and to inflate their own sense of self-approval, self-importance, and pride?

I have been accosted by a few people over the years on my blog and on Facebook (people who, I should add, would disagree with each other to the bitter end) who take me to task for not fitting into their own personal “vision” based on their own personal version of Mr. Armstrong—often because of, frankly, stupid reasons. Yet, what used to amaze me (it used to amaze me much, now only a little) how they, themselves, fail to see how they, in every case, have come to differ so much more powerfully from the teachings of Mr. Armstrong even compared to their own misguided accusations of me. Many of them have thrown out his teachings about government, about the Work, about the purpose of the Church, about being “independent Christians,” about one of the major signs of the true Church of God, about how to understand prophecy, about (believe it or not) birth control, about his own teachings and writings—about a countless host of things. Yet, somehow, the Church I love is apostate because it doesn’t teach that make up is always a sin. Or because we’ve come to see something in prophecy based on how history has developed. Or because of, well, whatever. As an ex-Marine friend of mine once told me, when you want your way any excuse will do. And what is very clear about these fellows from the outset is they want their way above all.

Of course, it isn’t Herbert Armstrong they are supporting. It is their version of Herbert Armstrong: A version that says only the things they want him to say but none of the things they don’t want him to say. A version whose words can be interpreted in the way they like, because he isn’t around to tell anyone any different. They never have to compare themselves to the things he said and wrote that they don’t like or to defend how they apply what he said (and how they discard many things he said), because he’s dead and now he only “says” what they want him to. They have made him a zombie minister—dutifully “saying” whatever they need him to in order for them to feel empowered, emboldened, and, frankly, better than everyone else.

In my experience, if you confront them with something that Mr. Armstrong said that contradicts their own personal teaching and practice (which they would never quote themselves), they bob and weave—huff and puff—and then change the subject. Oddly, when I confront them with the Bible—always my first choice—they generally don’t answer back with the Bible. In fact, some have adamantly refused to discuss the Bible with me. Weird. What a dishonor to Mr. Armstrong.

[Aside: Actually, in one case (which I believe I have mentioned before), I know of one self-appointed apostle who could not avoid what Mr. Armstrong said that destroys his position on the Gospel, because the quote is so damning of his own, personal interpretation. So he works hard to twist what Mr. Armstrong said by breaking up what he wrote and inserting his own commentary—in the end making Mr. Armstrong seem like one of the worst writers in history, who can’t even string even two sentences together sensibly. When you let Mr. Armstrong speak for himself, he does just fine. No help needed, Mr. Self-Appointed Apostle. Thanks anyway. Instead of twisting his words, try reading them. For any confused about where Mr. Armstrong stood on the Gospel, this post might be helpful: “Herbert W. Armstrong and the ‘Whole, Pure Gospel’.” It puts the lie to those who pervert what Mr. Armstrong said about the gospel and provides links to sources so that no one can claim that the quotes are out of context. The proof of the message of the Gospel is in the Bible, but those who zombify Mr. Armstrong to make him seem to disagree with the Bible and agree, instead, with their own personal heresies and “idea babies” will have a lot to answer for.]

Not only does virtually every little personal ministry out there claiming to carry Mr. Armstrong’s banner (odd, that, since Mr. Armstrong sought to carry Christ’s, not his own) twist or cherry-pick what Mr. Armstrong wrote for their own benefit, but even if they didn’t, it still would not be sufficient to demonstrate where Mr. Armstrong would be and what he would say today.

Mr. Armstrong died in 1986. My desire to know where Christ is, aside (though, of course, never actually aside, for it is the main thing!), where Mr. Armstrong would be in 2014—28 years later?

What would he have grown to see over those almost 30 years? In what ways would he have brought the Church even closer to God’s Word in those almost three decades? That was his pattern, that was his passion, and that was his practice: Closer and closer to God’s Word. It was Herbert Armstrong, himself, who stressed 2 Peter 3:18 was a matter of doctrine and self-correction, and he practiced what he preached—even declaring it a major sign of the true Church of God.

When you subtract the 1986-2014 difference of 28 years from 1986, you get 1958. How much did the Church grow in understanding between 1958 and 1986? While we shouldn’t expect that much growth in the last 28 years, at the same time is it even remotely reasonable that the Church now under those he personally trained would learn absolutely nothing at all in the 28 years after 1986? No growth in even the tiniest amount in the understanding of prophecy as time has moved on? No added wisdom in the application of even a single element of God’s beautiful way of life? I’m sorry, but that is not the biblical Church that Mr. Armstrong described and fought for, nor the one he worked so hard to invigorate—the one he poured his very life into.

I hope I don’t come across wrong. I am equally irritated by those who far too easily toss out those things Mr. Armstrong and the Church learned through hard work and sacrifice—not just doctrine, but tradition and practice. It is as if some have forgotten that there was ever an apostle in our midst. When Mr. Armstrong listed what he felt God had helped him to restore to the Church, those things continue to stand. They have been attacked and belittled, yet they mock those who assail them and they continue to stand the test of time. We continue to stand and build on the foundation Jesus Christ laid down in the Church through that man, and his work continues to be an incredible blessing to the Church. We continue to have people contact us after seeing us on television or the Internet, or after coming across one of our magazines, saying, “I remember when I heard Herbert Armstrong preaching those things!” While much time has passed and many who come with us have never heard of him and were born after his death, the work God did through him still impacts their lives through the work Christ is doing in His Church today.

But at the same time, it is also as if some have forgotten that Jesus Christ, to whom Mr. Armstrong passionately pointed all of us, is the living and active Head of the Church. Jesus Christ is still alive. And He is still in charge. And He is still active.

What I see in our leadership—in Mr. Meredith and in those who advise him in the Council of Elders—is exactly what I have always hoped I would see: a group of men who are striving to lead the Church as they believe Mr. Armstrong would have them lead it were he alive today. More importantly, what I see is what I’ve prayed for: Men striving to lead the Church wherever they see Jesus Christ leading it and who are passionately devoted to God’s Word as their guide.

And what a blessing it is to have the experience of men like the late Mr. Dibar Apartian and Mr. Roderick Meredith, who aren’t stuck with merely the printed words of Mr. Armstrong and a few recordings—who aren’t stuck crafting a zombie or Frankenstein’s monster out of the man, recrafting him in their own different, individual images. They had so much more than the writings. They had the man. They knew him. Like no one else alive today, they could speak with authority about what Mr. Armstrong actually would do if he were alive today.

None of the quote jugglers out there can come within miles of their credibility concerning what a living Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong would say today.

Truly, no one out there spouting their quotes of choice and linking to their favorite articles and boasting about their own imagined credentials as Mr. Armstrong’s supposed “successor” even matches a tenth of their credibility—let alone their faithfulness.

My every experience with Mr. Meredith and the Council of Elders is only additional confirmation of the fact. Thank God for Mr. Meredith. And I pray that those so obsessed with making zombies of dead ministers merely so they can support their own personal ministries or their own personal brand of rebellion eventually learn what it means to truly respect those men. After all, those men will one day live again. And they will have something to say about how their good names have been treated.

Flashback: Thank you, Mr. Armstrong

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite pictures of Mr. Herbert Armstrong.
Herbert and Loma Armstrong

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the death of Herbert W. Armstrong. I hope that we’re all thankful for the work he did–really, the work that God did through him–and for the impact it had and continues to have as the ministry he invigorated continues through those he personally trained to carry on God’s Work.

I was starting to write something today about Mr. Armstrong (in fact, I already had it titled: “Many thanks, Herbert W. Armstrong”) when I realized while adding a link that virtually everything I wanted to say I had already written exactly two years ago on this same anniversary in a previous post: “Thank you, Mr. Armstrong.” Rather than essentially rewrite the same post over again, I think I will just refer folks to that one and make today a “rerun” day.

So as not to split the topic’s comments into two different locations, I will disable comments on this post, but comments can still be made on that post by following the link.

Here’s the post: “Thank you, Mr. Armstrong”

Because He was born, I do not keep Christmas

Movie poster from the new film "Thor 3: Attack of the Sugar Plum Faries"
Movie poster from the new film “Thor 3: Attack of the Sugar Plum Faries”

I forgot today was Christmas.

Last night my family and I arrived home after a long drive, and early this morning I had to drive my son to work. As we were driving through town it was eerie and calm. The “school zone” light was blinking, but there were no children and no cars on the road, and I said, “Wow, it’s creepy! Like some sort of ghost town.” He responded, “Yeah, I wonder why it’s like this?” We half-jokingly speculated that everyone knew something we didn’t, considering biohazard accidents and the rest.

Then it hit us: Oh, yeah! It’s Christmas!

Actually, the whole reason I was even taking him to work is because his employer is in our Church and he, too, was working. Today Boy #1 was apparently going to be helping to clean up after a little local flooding from some rains this weekend.

It aided our ignorance that we were on the road for ten hours last night, coming in a bit late. The fact that it was Christmas Eve meant that many of our potential stops for dinner were closed, but other than that the normal things associated with the evening (comments on TV, etc.) weren’t there, allowing us to wake up in our little bubble of no-Christmas reality.

Every year (or, perhaps, almost every year) I try to write a bit about why I don’t keep Christmas. I’ll try to keep it quick and simple this year: It is because of the fact of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that I don’t keep Christmas.

I wholeheartedly do believe that more than 2000 years ago a child was born of a virgin in the “little town of Bethlehem.” That child was God Incarnate–He was the Living Word who had existed with the One we now call God the Father for all Eternity Past. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And then, all of a sudden, here He was, in mortal, vulnerable, human flesh: One of us. I believe that He lived a life in perfect obedience to God, that He taught of the coming Kingdom of God and that God commands repentance to be a part of that Kingdom, that He was executed unjustly, that His blood was shed for humanity’s sins, that He was raised from the grave, and that He is in Heaven now, at His Father’s right hand, interceding for the saints, living within converted Christians through His Spirit, and awaiting the moment when He will return to complete the work of destroying the works of the devil and bringing to complete fullness the Kingdom of God in the Creation.

I am a Christian, and I believe with my whole heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, my Lord and Savior, my High Priest, and my soon coming King.

Consequently, I do not celebrate Christmas.

The reason is simple: The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ would not want me to do so. And if I seek to follow Him, I will not keep a tradition He would find displeasing.

That Christmas is a celebration of pagan origins is an undisputed fact of history. Even mainstream Christianity agrees. I’ve seen Dr. James Dobson agree. I’ve seen Dr. R. C. Sproul agree. What we now call “Christmas” was introduced into Christianity from pagan sources, well after the time when Christians were being warned to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered” (Jude 3) due to the corrupting influences coming into that faith. From Christmas Trees to the gifts beneath them, from the wreath of holly on the door to the mistletoe above it, from the burning Yule logs in the hearth to the ornaments that reflect its light–all of them are customs originating in pagan observances and worship traditions. Even some of the most conservative of mainstream Christian scholars agree on these facts.

The relevant question is whether or not Jesus Christ cares.

That really is the question: whether or not we keep such customs — whether or not we accept a day bearing His name that represents an observance born of the heathen worship days and customs of Saturnalia, Bruma, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, and the rest — really comes down to whether or not our Lord and Savior wants us to do so.

And our means for knowing whether He would want us to is the Word He has left us with, the Bible, and how His Spirit confirms that word.

From the Bible’s perspective, the facts are simple. Jesus Christ condemned violating God’s laws and commandments in favor of our traditions, regardless of how “religious” those traditions might be (e.g., Mark 7:6-9). God clearly does not want us to adopt pagan customs to worship Him (e.g., Deut. 12:29-31, Jer. 10:1-2).

In the Scriptures we find clear condemnation of adopting the practices of heathen cultures and worship traditions for the sake of worshiping God. It doesn’t make a difference if we claim to be worshiping God instead of the false gods for which those practices were originally designed. Consider Deut. 12:31a, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way…” and Aaron’s comment in Exodus 32:5b, where Aaron declared time set aside to worship the golden calf idol a “feast to the LORD (YHVH).” Attaching God’s name to something He forbade and choosing to worship Him with those practices did not make them acceptable in God’s eyes.

Such commands stand between us and the Christmas celebration. And what did our living Lord and Savior tell us? Does He give us permission to set aside those commands so that they are no obstacle between us and the traditions we want? No, He did quite the opposite. He condemned such choices: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:8). Jesus loved God’s commands, and He taught His followers not to lay those commands aside in order to keep traditions we think are better.

God commands not to worship Him through the practices of the pagans. Jesus condemns laying aside those commands for the sake of our traditions, however well-loved they may be.

Consequently, as a follower of Jesus Christ and a believer in the fact of His birth to a virgin so long ago, I cannot observe Christmas.

I know many who do, to be sure. My mother, until she died, kept Christmas. She didn’t understand what I and those who worship God in my Church have mercifully been shown. I know that she will have an opportunity in the future to learn, and I am thankful for that. I do not judge the sincerity of those who do keep these days — many of them do so with a passion and a zeal that I look at as an example to me, personally. But good intention does not excuse those who know better. And–through no wisdom or intelligence of my own, to be sure!–I know better.

I choose to worship Jesus Christ. I want Him to see in me, however imperfectly, someone He would see as a disciple–as a Christian. So I do not keep the day the world has attached His name to. I do not observe Christmas.

And I’m happy that way. Even if He had not provided other, biblical Holy Days to observe (and thankfully He has), I would still be happy. For although Christmas is generally understood and experienced as a day of joy for those who keep it, there is a profound joy I never would have accessed had I not learned the blessing of stepping away from Christmas and toward Christ. And in His mercy, He helped me to do that.

I know some who come across this post will find it offensive. It isn’t meant to be, and, yet, at the same time I would simply challenge you to make it a profitable offense and begin studying the matter. You might be surprised by what you find, but not all surprises are a bad thing. And it will be a more life changing surprise than anything you found under the tree this morning.

If you’ve got the courage, check out these magazine articles and explanatory booklets:

For those interested in past blog posts on the same or similar subjects, here are some:

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology

This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn't! So, does that make ma a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)
This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn’t! So, does that make me a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)

I have thought for some time that it would be fun to make a tongue-in-cheek series of posts titled “How To Be a Convincing False Prophet 101” in which I list common techniques of Non-Prophets or S.A.P.’s (Self-Appointed Prophets) to appear powerfully predictive and prophetic when, in reality, they are absolutely not in any way.

However, I have been trying to reign in that impulse to be tongue-in-cheek so often. It isn’t an evil impulse in and of itself, but it does risk spraining the tongue and bruising the cheek if done too often. But the information about the techniques such Non-Prophets use is still worthwhile, so today I list one: “Arbitrage through Tautology.”

In my studies as an actuary, arbitrage opportunities in investment were one of the elements we examined, looking at how a perfect theoretical market allows no arbitrage. Arbitrage is essentially a risk-free profit opportunity. It should never exist in a perfect market, because there is supposed to be an inviolable relationship between risk and reward: No risk = no reward; greater risk = greater potential reward (or failure). Wikipedia (“Always right, except when it’s not!”™) describes arbitrage very simply: “the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost” In that way, the name fits the technique I am about to mention perfectly: Non-prophet arbitrage is the possibility of risk-free “prophecy” at zero cost. (Except the cost isn’t truly zero, since it destroys your credibility among those who are paying attention…)

Consider the following statement — a mercifully paraphrased version of a statement actually seen in the wild: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the antichrist.”

Wow! Sounds powerful and prophetic! Except that it is neither powerful nor prophetic. It is actually contains virtually no information whatsoever and is a risk-free pronouncement since it is virtually a tautology — that is, a statement that must be true and cannot be false. In rhetoric, a tautology is a statement that is constructed in such a way that it appears to be saying something when, in the end, it really says nothing. For instance, had someone said last year, “I can tell you one thing, either President Obama will win in 2012 or else he won’t,” he would, in the end, be saying exactly nothing. Of course the President will either win the election or he won’t. In the late 80s, the proper response to such a statement was, “No duh.” (And I note that James Taranto of the WSJ’s “Best of the Web Today” feature consistently mocks such statements in the news under his regular “Out on a Limb” feature.)

This explains why statements about the pope such as that one are neither powerful nor prophetic in any way. They are, instead, what experts call “super-duper wimpy” (a technical theological term).

Let’s look at it: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the final antichrist.”

Given that the pope is in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, this statement is virtually a tautology — a statement that cannot be false in any way. For instance, consider the universe of possibilities:

1) The next pope is the final antichrist. Done! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2) The next pope is not the final antichrist. Is still correct! Look at possibilities:

2A) The next pope continues Catholic teachings as they are. Done! Time moves forward, the stage continues to be set for the final antichrist, and the way continues to be paved! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2B) The next pope changes things. Well, if he changes them in a way that would make things more like what one would picture concerning the final antichrist: Done! The way continues to be paved, only faster. But, if he changes them in a way that would seem to resist the sort of arrangement that the future final antichrist would want: Still done! His actions resist the direction of the final antichrist. In both cases, non-prophet is “proven” correct.

Really, how can such a statement be false? It can’t be. No matter what happens, the “statement” is correct. It’s risk-free and completely non-prophetic. It’s a gutless statement that makes a mockery of the biblical office of Prophet.

Now, it isn’t that statements such as that don’t have a function in instruction, such as in clarifying the universe of choices for a person in terms they can understand. I do it all the time with my kids. But when it comes to prophecy, they are pointless. One might as well go to Disneyland, point at the guy wearing the Mickey suit and say, “If he lives long enough, Mickey Mouse either will be the final antichrist, will support the final antichrist, or will be against the final antichrist.” Given that in the context of biblical prophecy, neutrality is not an option, such a statement is going to be true no matter what happens in the future. And when a pronouncement is just as true of Mickey Mouse as it is the pope, you don’t have a Prophet in your midst.

And, importantly, when someone makes such a statement and then points back to it (“See, I said that the next pope might pave the way for the final antichrist!”), they are making no substantive claim whatsoever. Though claiming prophecy-proving fruits, in reality they are making no claim at all. Their previous comment was completely devoid of information, so they were making a risk-free statement: Creating a cost-free, risk-free arbitrage opportunity for themselves. Not exactly the biblical model for prophetic statements. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s neither prophecy nor even carnal “prediction” — it’s just wasted words.

Yet, as I mentioned, it isn’t truly cost-free. When such statements are made, those who are thinking will notice and will understand the spirit that motivates them, and it isn’t a “prophetic” one. And the Non-Prophet will lose credibility. At least, we should hope so.

I’ll consider posting more such deceptive techniques in the future, and regrettably “Arbitrage through Tautology” is only one of many. The Bible says that there would be many false prophets in the end times seeking to deceive God’s people and coming in Christ’s name (e.g., Matt. 7:15-20; 24:4-5, 11; 2 Peter 2:1; et al.), and they may be sincere — not just deceiving, but self-deceived, as well (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13), since Jeremiah 17:9 applies to all of us — but as Mr. Armstrong frequently said, one can be sincere but sincerely wrong. Frankly, such wishy-washy, risk-free tautologies aren’t necessarily crafted by people out to deceive in many cases — often the statement is simply an outgrown of the person’s own inner doubts and the fact that they are not, actually, a prophet. So in expressing all the possibilities they need to express in order to ensure they will be correct, the result is a tautology that never will be — the only kind of guaranteed “prophecy” a plain old, human, carnal mind can come up with.

Making statements and pronouncements that sound impressive but, in reality, are wishy-washy and cannot truly ever be false because they cover every realistic possibility does not a Prophet make. But for a Non-Prophet wanting to look prophetic, they do great.